EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A West Texas congressional House seat that often alternates Democrats and Republicans is again up for grabs in November.
And while incumbent freshman U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, has quickly secured leadership roles in House committees and caucuses, and become a leading GOP voice on border security, a Democrat is calling him out on abortion and infrastructure needs in his district.
“Government should not have a role, or legal standing, in denying women of their individual rights to make their own reproductive decisions,” said John Lira, the Democratic candidate for Texas’ 23rd Congressional District. “I wholeheartedly condemn the Supreme Court’s intention to overturn Roe v. Wade and to permanently deny women their right to determine for themselves what happens to their body.”
That was in response to Gonzales, who reacted with a Bible verse to Monday’s leaked Supreme Court draft decision overturning abortion. “We must keep up the good fight defending the unborn! We can save millions of lives,” Gonzales tweeted.
Lira on Thursday began a three-day campaign swing through El Paso. The district includes 800 miles of U.S.-Mexico border beginning far in El Paso’s Lower Valley and ending near Uvalde. It has grown to include much of Northeast El Paso and stretches to the Western skirts of San Antonio.
Lira on Friday told Border Report he has visited the westernmost part of the district four times already and sees lots of unmet needs. “I was told that these communities felt overlooked and neglected by leadership in Austin and Washington. To me this is more than just a photo op, to me this is a ‘listen and act’ tour; it is an opportunity to hear the truth about what’s on the minds and hearts of voters,” he said.
Lira and Gonzales are both ex-servicemen. Gonzales was a Navy Master Chief Petty Officer and Lira served in the U.S. Marine Corps. Both say standing up and providing for Fort Bliss is a priority. Gonzales recently announced a $150 million appropriation for a new El Paso Veterans Affairs Healthcare Center.
With such a large swath of border to account for, Gonzales is pushing for consequences to illegal migration and for better protection for residents of countless rural enclaves where local sheriffs are their only recourse. Gonzales recently led a Republican delegation to Eagle Pass calling to halt termination of the Title 42 public health policy that allows border agents to immediately expel unauthorized crossers.
Title 42 is a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention measure that the Trump administration invoked to prevent the cross-border spread of COVID-19, but has become a stop-gap against an unprecedented surge in migrant encounters.
Lira supports the administration’s lifting of Title 42 but calls for a nuanced approach.
“COVID will not disappear overnight, and I believe it makes no sense to lift Title 42 overnight. I do not support the Center for Disease Control’s decision to lift Title 42 all at once; rather, I support a phased drawdown of Title 42 to give federal, state, and local agencies time to prepare and accommodate the annual spring (migrant) surge,” Lira said.
The Democrat wants the Biden administration to give itself time to properly prepare, to coordinate details with state and local leaders and for Congress to supply the necessary resources.
“I stand ready to support local law enforcement organizations who are already stretched thin and the expected surge could diminish any gains they have made,” Lira said.
Aside from that, Lira said he supports fellow Texas Democrat and U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar’s Reimagining Processing Asylum Act and creating humanitarian processing centers.
“I have spoken with ranchers and farmers in the district and they have told me that they lack the workers they need to support their businesses,” Lira said. “I support policies that grant more migrant work visas so we can incorporate them into the revival of our post-covid economy and allow them to work, earn a paycheck, and even help generate taxes.”
Records show Gonzales so far has outraised Lira 8-1 and outspent him by a 5-to-1 margin.