Tuesday evening in Grapevine, five Republican candidates participated in a forum for Texas’ 24th Congressional District, an open seat following Congressman Kenny Marchant’s retirement announcement last August.
Beth Van Duyne, Desi Maes, Sunny Chaparala, Jeron Liverman, and David Fegan are all running to secure the Republican Party’s nomination in the suburban district which covers the area northeast of Fort Worth in Tarrant County, northwest of Dallas in Dallas County, and extends upward into the southeastern portion of Denton County.
Democrats have targeted the district as a possible pick up opportunity in the November elections, seeing it as a vulnerable seat following Marchant’s narrow win in 2018.
The two leading Democratic contenders, Kim Olson and Candace Valenzuela, have raised $827,000 and $330,000 dollars for their respective campaigns according to the latest Federal Election Commission (FEC) data.
Van Duyne, former mayor of Irving and more recently a regional administrator for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under President Trump, is generally considered the Republican frontrunner with nearly $600,000 in campaign contributions according to the latest available FEC reports.
Tuesday evening’s forum had a primarily positive tone, with candidates choosing to focus on their own personal qualifications and policy stances with few exceptions.
Chaparala, a business owner and first-generation American who arrived in Texas from India in 2001, contributed to the lighter tone.
Offering frequent back-pats, verbal encouragement, and even punctuating a fellow candidate’s comments with applause, Chaparala’s enthusiasm for the process was evident. Near the end of the forum, one moderator quipped, regarding Chaparala, “Well we all know who Miss Congeniality is.”
Even so, a few mild clashes did occur during the course of the evening.
One such instance occurred during a discussion of red flag legislation, a proposal that would allow individuals to petition for court-ordered confiscation of firearms from those they consider a threat.
Van Duyne drew indirect fire from Fegan, a 25-year-old property manager and native of the district.
Fegan strongly denounced Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX-2), who previously suggested his openness to taking a look at red flag proposals, as a RINO, throwing out the comment, “and I think one of them,” indicating the other candidates, “got endorsed by him.”
Van Duyne, the candidate who received an early endorsement from Crenshaw, did not directly respond to Fegan’s comment.
On qualifications, both Fegan and Chaparala touted their position as political outsiders, claiming their lack of government experience presented voters with a fresh alternative to politics as usual in Washington.
Liverman, a real estate broker, based his personal qualification for office on 28 years of self-employment as well as being personally free from debt, “If more people who are in public positions and public office would come from that attitude, we might find ourselves debt-free as a nation,” he stated.
Maes, a veteran with over 20 years of military service, including as an Army Special Forces Green Beret and as an Army Ranger, boasts 17 years of executive and business-owner experience as well.
Maes also claimed humble beginnings. “I grew up in the back of a pickup truck and a camper on a construction site in the middle of Texas. I worked hard to get where I am today.”
When asked about his qualifications, Maes cited his service and experience, but concluded “most importantly, I come from ‘one of us.’ As a business person, I know what it takes to get things done.”
Van Duyne resisted being labeled a career politician, arguing, “If being an elected official disqualifies you as a career politician, I got paid six hundred bucks a month. I don’t know if that counts or not,” she concluded, to chuckles from the audience.
Van Duyne emphasized her 12 years in elected office, both as Irving City Councilwoman and then as Mayor of Irving, stating, “I think it’s very important that you know how the county works, what the city government does, what you can do at the state level and what you can do at the federal level.”
Van Duyne also argued that her experience successfully running for office demonstrated her ability to win against a Democrat in a hotly contested seat. “You need somebody in this race who can actually win. I have proven that I’ve got that ability,” she stated.
While Van Duyne, Liverman, and Maes all claimed healthcare, infrastructure, and border security or immigration to be their top-three legislative priorities, Fegan listed pro-life legislation and removing regulations on firearms in addition to immigration as his top three priorities if elected.
When addressing her legislative priorities, Chaparal claimed that “every new bill or law is an infringement of our liberty.” Stating that while she would support President Trump’s agenda, “generally speaking, I would like government to be smaller.”
The event wrapped up with rapid-fire questions to which the candidates could only reply “yes” or “no,” using a flash-card.
This portion of the forum appeared to confuse many of the candidates, several of whom changed their votes multiple times during some of the questions, seemed to need additional clarification of the questions, and not-infrequently held their notecards to reflect different answers to different sides of the room by mistake.
To the final question, however, all candidates responded unequivocally. When asked whether Donald Trump would win the 2020 election, the “yes” cards were held high and accompanied by the crowd’s loud cheers.
The event garnered a crowd of well over one hundred attendees, with committed voters wearing the campaign stickers of their candidates and attending the event alongside the voters who were still undecided.
Hosting the event along with Grapevine Republican Club and Keller Republican Club, were the presidents of Southlake Republican Club, Colleyville Republican Club, Northeast Tarrant County Republican Club, as well as the CEO of True Texas Project paneled the event, presenting their own questions to the candidates as well as those from the audience.
Early voting begins February 18, with the primary election falling on Tuesday, March 3.
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Charity Nicholson graduated from the Honors Academy at Howard Payne University where she double-majored in Political Science and Communication. After working in various state political campaigns and as Director of Constituent Services for Senator Konni Burton, she began working full-time as a mother to two toddlers. When not chasing after tiny humans, Charity enjoys exploring National Parks with her family, reading historical non-fiction, and listening to true-crime podcasts.