At a candidate forum in Houston yesterday, Republicans vying for a chance to unseat freshman Representative Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX-07) gave voters a glimpse into their respective campaigns.
Rep. Fletcher defeated longtime Republican incumbent John Culberson in 2018 by a healthy five-point margin. She is the first Democrat in 50 years to represent the district.
The sold-out, standing room only event hosted by the Greater Houston Pachyderm Club featured all six Republicans who have filed for Texas’ 7th Congressional District, an historically GOP district with a Cook Partisan Voting Index rating of R+7.
Pertinent to events of the past week, the first question posed was “should the president’s powers to call troops to war be limited?”
In their 30 seconds allotted for response, each candidate replied “no” and most went on to express support for President Trump’s actions in regards to taking out Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.
Candidate Maria Espinoza asserted the president had clear constitutional authority to act, and Wesley Hunt, an Army veteran and former Apache helicopter pilot who served in Iraq, said that Soleimani had been responsible for killing some of his West Point classmates and many others, and asked “If we can’t kill him, who can we kill?”
“If it were Democrats who [killed Soleimani], no one would be saying anything about it,” Hunt added.
All candidates agreed that the U.S. was not doing enough to care for veterans, and former Bellaire Mayor Cindy Siegel noted that the Veterans Administration’s dismal record on healthcare was a “perfect example” of what happens when “government gets involved.”
Hunt stated that Democrats, including incumbent Rep. Fletcher, were promoting healthcare plans that imitated the care system at the Veterans Administration, which he said does not work for the small portion of the population it is intended to serve.
“I can only imagine what that would look like if it were implemented to everyone here right now.”
Although forum questions avoided hotly debated topics of border security and immigration policy, in answering a question on what candidates thought was their most important issue, Maria Espinoza emphasized immigration as a top issue for her, and lamented Republican’s inaction when they controlled both Congress and the White House from 2017 to 2019.
“They sat on their hands and did nothing.”
Espinoza has been a vocal opponent of illegal immigrant “sanctuary city” policies and an advocate for families victimized by crime at the hands of illegal aliens. In response to her advocacy, President Trump created the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) Office in 2017.
Hunt said the oil and gas industry was most important to him and the local economy, and asserted that while Rep. Fletcher claims to support the oil and gas, “she has failed to do her job” and has not fully supported an industry he says is “the heartbeat of this city.”
Siegel stressed the importance of federal appropriations for flood control and flood recovery projects and streamlining HUD rulemaking for such projects.
“This is the number one problem that our district, CD-7 faces.”
In a “lightning round” question that drew groans from the audience, moderator S.J. Swanson asked, “What is the last primary that you voted in, Republican or Democrat? That’s a quick answer – no explanations.”
Two candidates said they had previously voted in a Democrat primary: Kyle Preston in 2018 and Wesley Hunt in 2008. Preston protested the question, saying, “No explanation, that’s not fair.”
After the forum, Hunt explained that like many conservatives in 2008, he voted in the Democratic presidential primary to participate in Rush Limbaugh’s “Operation Chaos.”
In terms of fundraising and endorsements, Wesley Hunt appears to be the front-runner. With nearly $1 million, Hunt has significantly outraised his primary opponents and touts endorsements from Senator Ted Cruz, former Representative Ted Poe, and locally popular Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle (R- Precinct 4).
Second in fundraising with approximately $330,000, Cindy Siegel says her top endorsements include former Texas Federation of Republican Women presidents Karen Newton and Theresa Kosmoski, as well as former State Representative Martha Jee Wong (R-HD 134).
Siegel is the only one of the six Republicans running who has included support for pro-life views on her campaign website thus far, and Hunt has pledged to “defend the sanctity of life” on his campaign materials.
Espinoza listed her top endorsements as those from radio talk show host Chris Salcedo, former acting director of ICE Tom Homan, and Kris Kobach, the former Kansas Secretary of State who served as an immigration policy advisor to President Trump’s transition team.
Rep. Fletcher has displayed strong fundraising numbers, raising some $1.8 million for her re-election efforts thus far.
Although she has worked to present a more moderate image than many of her fellow Democratic colleagues, Republicans have criticized her record on a variety of issues, including her recent vote to impeach President Trump and her vote for Nancy Pelosi to serve as House Speaker.
Update: A previous version of this article mentioned that Cindy Siegel is the only candidate to stake out a pro-life stance via her website. We have corrected that to point out that Wesley Hunt includes pro-life statements on his campaign literature.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.