By Matt Hagerman, Gazette correspondent
“If we’re interrupting your lunch, I apologize,” the tall congressman shouted inside a fast food restaurant on the outskirts of Alpine last Friday.
Twenty-nine counties along the Mexican border in between San Antonio and El Paso make up the 23rd Congressional District of Texas, one of the largest in America. The district will likely host one of the most competitive races in the nation this November.
First-term Republican Will Hurd narrowly defeated Democrat Pete Gallego in 2014, but is facing him again in the fall. Gallego was a west Texas fixture in the state legislature for over 20 years and will certainly benefit from anti-Trump voters, although Hurd has nothing good to say about the GOP presidential candidate.
“My position on Donald Trump has remained unchanged,” Hurd told the Gazette. “I’m not endorsing the guy until he shows a real national security plan, until he shows more respect for women and minorities.”
Hurd attempted to reach as many voters as he could last week, over a six-day period visiting 22 Dairy Queens and one coffee shop in the west Texas desert. One of his final stops was in Gallego’s former hometown, Alpine, where the Democrat’s campaign posters dominate the landscape in all shapes and sizes.
A crowd of about 50 sat attentively and listened, above the noise of milkshake machines, before Hurd took questions. The former CIA officer never identified himself as a Republican, instead referring to “the organization I’m now a member of.”
“When I was in the CIA,” he told the crowd, “I had to brief members of Congress, and I was pretty shocked by the caliber of our elected leaders. Washington, D.C. is a bit of a circus. But despite that circus, a couple of good things have actually happened.”
The congressman pointed to successful bills that funded community health clinics, simplified the tax code for small businesses, and replaced the No Child Left Behind education initiative. Hurd himself sponsored bills that maintained Border Patrol pay and border infrastructure.
“We should be talking about building bridges and roads, not walls. You can’t have a one-size-fits-all solution for border security. You know who knows best?” he continued. “The people on the ground. One of the things I have to educate my colleagues on is that not every place is Juarez from 2008.”
He addressed gas pipeline opponents who came to see him. Although he has not taken a strong stand against the controversial Trans-Pecos Pipeline project, he did tell one Alpine farmer, “If you want to see some changes, it has to be done in Austin. I’m sorry I don’t have a better answer for you.”
Veterans Affairs are certainly important to Will Hurd. He was eager to brag about all of the complaints and issues he was able to resolve with individual patients, but couldn’t deny that problems persist at all levels of the V.A. from basic to urgent care.
Local veteran Ray Santos vocalized his perspective: “When I was discharged in ’73, I was given a promise that I would be taken care of, healthwise, until I die, and they’ll even give me a stone. We don’t have the help we need. Everyone’s pointing fingers when we’re asking whose gonna pay our bills?”
Hurd encouraged him to sign some paperwork so his staff could handle his case personally, one voter at a time.