With the picturesque backdrop of Canyon Lake almost a stone’s throw away, Comal County Democrats gathered on Saturday to hear from their two TX-21 primary candidates: Wendy Davis and Jennie Lou Leeder.
A day after the U.S. Senate voted not to hear new witnesses during its impeachment trial, the pair of candidates each highlighted their eventual opponent’s — incumbent GOP Congressman Chip Roy — opposition to impeachment of the president. But impeachment did not turn out to be the main theme of the afternoon.
The phrase “work across the aisle” (or some derivation of that) had to be the most frequently cited axiom of the day by the candidates.
It’s a phrase that is not just a common campaign slogan for candidates seeking to present a moderate image, but a fact of life which Comal County Democrats must grapple with. They are outnumbered, but as Comal County Democratic Chairwoman Gloria Meehan stressed, they do exist.
In 2018’s 21st Congressional District race, the Democratic candidate received just under 25 percent in Comal County. In 2016, the Democrat received even less support, pulling in below 18 percent of support.
Both candidates stressed their desire to work with Republicans in some capacity, though they were relatively light on specifics.
All the while, both Davis and Leeder accused Roy of not only refusing to work across the aisle, but refusing to work within his own.
“Chip Roy not only doesn’t work across the aisle, but he’s working against his own party,” Davis stated. Leeder followed, stating, “Chip Roy does not know how to work in his own party or with Democrats.”
In that criticism, Davis pointed to Roy’s votes against the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and stalling the $19.1 billion disaster aid package.
Regarding the former, Roy has stated that he opposed VAWA due to its proposed gun restrictions for offenses that are neither felonies nor domestic violence-related. Davis also mentioned the so-called “boyfriend loophole” which purportedly allows individuals who abuse their partners to still purchase a firearm.
While this is not “closed” at the federal level, according to gun control advocacy organization Giffords Law Center, Texas is one of 23 states to have closed it fully for those under “protective orders” and partially for those convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors — “only if [the] victim is a current or former household member.”
Regarding the latter point, Roy — famously or infamously, depending on one’s perspective — stalled the $19.1 billion aid package by objecting to a unanimous consent motion to pass the legislation back in May.
Unanimous consent does not require either a roll call vote or members to be present. Roy’s objection was his belief that Congress should not be passing such massive spending bills without actually voting on the legislation.
The bill was ultimately passed by the House 11 days later after Roy and several other Republicans effectively forced the House to cast a vote.
In addition to criticism of Roy, the duo remarked on a handful of issues such as climate change, entitlements, immigration, discrimination against the gay and lesbian community, and gun violence.
On climate change, Leeder immediately announced her support for the Green New Deal. She added that America must become carbon-neutral by 2035. Part of that, Leeder explained, is “get[ting] away from the petroleum engineering, and educat[ing] those [petrochemical workers] into new job industries such as wind and solar.”
Davis took a slightly different approach, focusing on restoring all the Obama-era EPA regulations the Trump administration has rolled back. Specifically, Davis mourned the recent overhaul of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, stating “our children are threatened with unclean air and water” as a result.
WOTUS is an Obama-era EPA rule that stretched the definition of “navigable waterways” that fall under regulatory purview to include bodies of water that would have included drainage ditches and small ponds. Many farmers, ranchers, and property owners in Texas and across the nation lobbied hard to have the Obama-era WOTUS overturned out of concerns over compliance cost and federal overreach.
The new rule, proposed on January 23, institutes four explicit categories to avoid ambiguity.
More generally, Davis stated, “One of the first things we need to do is to unwind so many of the harmful actions by the Trump administration.”
A similar question asked the candidates about the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). TCEQ is tasked with establishing permits for oil and gas companies to drill and investigating supposed violations by those companies.
Both candidates accused the TCEQ of over-permitting and under-regulating.
Davis stated, “Our protective agencies are letting us down.”
On so-called “entitlements,” specifically Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, both candidates expressed their desire to preserve and expand each. Pointing to the 2017 tax cuts as a cause for turmoil, Leeder stated, “We need to roll back the Trump tax scam…the top one percent are benefitting and the rest of us are sacrificing.”
She also said she wants to increase the contribution limit for Social Security and prohibit the windfall elimination provision — a formula that some see as undercutting benefits drawn from Social Security if one also has a pension from which the job never paid into Social Security.
Davis, meanwhile, focused on preventing private insurance from supplanting government-managed public options.
Regarding immigration, Davis stated she wants to work with Republicans to “enact comprehensive immigration reform.” Parts of that reform would include “reopening the legal access points that have been trimmed down,” hiring more judges to adjudicate immigration cases more efficiently, ending the “Remain in Mexico” policy, and “reopening our Visa system.”
Leeder wants to reinstate the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order which President Trump ended in 2017. She also wants to increase the Visa limit and take in more asylum-seekers.
In early January, Governor Greg Abbott decided to opt Texas out of the refugee resettlement program — meaning that Texas would not take in any more refugees in Fiscal Year 2020. In 2019, Texas ranked first by a wide margin in refugee resettlement, taking in 2,500 individuals.
Over the past 10 years, Texas has resettled more refugees than any other state.
On purported gay and lesbian discrimination, Davis touted her work on the Fort Worth City Council to pass “the first city LGBTIA protections.”
Davis then mentioned she hopes to pass “a comprehensive anti-discrimination law.”
Leeder emphasized her support for H.R. 5, a bill prohibiting discrimination “based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.”
Gun violence was the final topic of the day, which marked six months since the El Paso shooting wherein a madman murdered 20 people and injured 26 more at a Walmart.
Both candidates declared support for red flag laws and stated, “the online/gun show loopholes must be closed.”
Davis also added her desire to pass universal background check legislation and preventing the “ability to buy military-style assault weapons.” She also touted her “F” grade from the NRA.
At the end of the forum, both candidates received a standing ovation and those in attendance stressed their belief that whoever emerges from the primary will unseat Rep. Chip Roy in November.
In the race, Davis has brought in just under $2 million and currently has $1.2 million cash-on-hand. Leeder, who has been officially running for longer than Davis, has raised under $30,000 and only has under $4,000 cash-on-hand.
In a fitting occurrence, Texas’ last Democratic Senator — Bob Krueger — was in attendance on Saturday.
Given the fact that both Davis and Leeder are hoping to flip a district that hasn’t been won by a Democrat since 1976, whoever emerges from the primary will attempt to emulate the success of the last Democrat to win the 21st Congressional District: one Bob Krueger.
Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.