In the midst of a pandemic that has disproportionately affected Hispanic and Black communities, Republican candidate Tony Gonzales addressed how he would support people in the 23rd Congressional District, the majority of whom are Hispanic.
Gonzales sat down (virtually) Thursday with Texas Tribune political reporter Patrick Svitek to discuss his run against Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones for the seat now held by retiring U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes. They touched on Gonzales' positions on the Affordable Care Act, the coronavirus relief bill and the border wall.
"When I talk about the American dream, when I talk about fighting for the American dream — I am the American dream,” Gonzales said. “So this district represents me, represents my values, and I represent them and their values.”
Here are some highlights of the conversation.
Svitek: A lot of the Democratic attack ads against you in this race are based on a candidate questionnaire you filled out during the election when you seemed to express support for eliminating the Affordable Care Act, which protects people with preexisting conditions. You said you support people with preexisting conditions, so do you have any regret in filling out that questionnaire that way or do you still support that stance?
Gonzales said he still supports protecting people with preexisting conditions. He said it is a personal issue for him as he deals with a preexisting condition himself — he was in the hospital for 23 days last year after being incorrectly intubated during a routine procedure. He said during that time, he went into a coma for three days and suffered brain trauma and kidney failure.
Visiting a dialysis facility in San Antonio made him realize that the people in the district with preexisting conditions need protections, he said.
"The takeaway ... was that everybody in that room was Hispanic, everybody. Everybody in that room was Mexican. Most of them didn't speak English," Gonzales said. "When I talk about representing their values, that's part of it."
However, Gonzales said when he visits rural hospitals in the district, people tell him that the Affordable Care Act is broken.
"It's not an easy fix. It takes folks to come together and come up with a solution to it. It's not a one size fits all," Gonzales said. "In District 23, the Affordable Care Act does not work right, so we need to come up with a replacement to that. I look forward to getting on the Hill and working toward a replacement that covers preexisting conditions."
Svitek: Do you support any additional construction to the border wall?
Yes, as well as added technology, in a targeted way, Gonzales said. But he said he does not support imposing a wall on private property. While he has been targeted for previously saying in an ad that he wanted to "finish the wall,” he said he thinks that building a wall across the entire border is a waste of resources.
"My thought process is, I respect private property and what I don't want to have happen is the federal government come down and dictate to farmers, to ranchers, to public property owners, that this is what will happen," Gonzales said.
He said he wants the conversation to shift toward legal immigration, even though he said the Trump administration's efforts in building additional security along the border is working to keep illegal immigrants out of the country.
"The American Dream doesn't always start in America and I think it is beautiful that we attract these people here," he said. "They should come in through the front door, we should know who is coming into our country, but that's what makes America so special is our diversity."
Svitek: What would you like to see in the coronavirus relief package if you were currently in Congress?
Gonzales said he supports a second stimulus package. He said while traveling the district, people told him that they are hurting but want to go back to work and are asking for the border to reopen for economic purposes.
"Governing is about unity and coming together and making a package that benefits everybody, not just the people that are going to vote for you."
Gonzales, however, said he did not support the Heroes Act, a proposed $3 trillion stimulus package passed by the House in May, because of the large price tag. He said Congress should not be "shelling out $4 trillion bills" that are filled with “wants.” He said he would want to see more Paycheck Protection Program loans included for small businesses that did not receive them in the first package.
Svitek: How are you campaigning in a safe and responsible way when you have returned to in-person campaigning and events?
Despite the pandemic, Gonzales said, the only way to connect with voters is to interact with them in person and meet them where they are, following safety guidelines.
Gonzales, who has been criticized for not wearing masks in photos and at public appearances, admitted to not wearing masks in outdoor, public settings. He said he believes it comes down to being respectful and sensible around others.
“Coronavirus is real. People are hurting. People are dying. We have to take it as such,” he said. “At the same time, we have to live our lives. We can’t just hunker down.”
Svitek: What do you have to offer to voters who support Joe Biden and other Democrats, and how do you separate yourself from the president?
Gonzales said he appeals to voters in ways that Jones does not.
“At the end of the day, I’m Hispanic and she’s not Hispanic,” he said. Jones is Filipina American.
Jones campaign spokesperson Sharon Yang later said: "The key difference in this campaign isn’t Tony Gonzales and Gina Ortiz Jones’ ethnicity – it’s that Tony Gonzales supports ‘eliminating’ the Affordable Care Act and its protections for Texans with preexisting conditions in the middle of a crisis that’s disproportionately hurting Hispanic families, while Gina is working to expand access to quality, affordable health care for Texans.”
During the event, Gonzales also falsely claimed that his opponent does not live in the district. Jones grew up in San Antonio and moved back to the district in 2017 when she ran against Hurd.
He said ultimately, voters in the district will support him because they care about family and faith.
“These things matter. They matter in a district that is 71% Hispanic,” Gonzales said. “This is who I am, and by the way, I am a lot like you.”