Dist. 27 State Senate Candidates share views in forum

Hinojosa, LaMantia clash on border security, abortion stances

The only candidates that attended a Futuro RGV political forum on Saturday were the two newcomers vying for Texas Senate District 27, which hasn’t seen a new face in more than three decades.

Republican Adam Hinojosa and Democrat Morgan LaMantia, who are trying to fill the seat that will soon be vacated by state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., were the only ones to speak about their stance on issues that impact the lives of Rio Grande Valley residents.

The forum, which was hosted by AIM Media Texas, was held at The Monitor in McAllen.

Hinojosa and LaMantia clashed on issues like border security and abortion, but they agreed on the need to bolster support for teachers and small businesses. They also acknowledged chronic drainage problems in South Texas.

The district mostly encompasses Cameron and Willacy counties, but it now also includes a significant portion of eastern Hidalgo County after it was redistricted. Its western boundary reaches McAllen.

Futuro RGV has been hosting candidate forums since 2001, but this year, potential Valley leaders, mostly Republicans, failed to participate in the 22-year-old tradition.

Republican nominee Adam Hinojosa in a photo from video
Democratic nominee Morgan Lamantia in a photo from video.

 

“I’m just sorry that we are not able to present more of them, but when candidates don’t respond you can’t have a good forum,” Nedra Kinerk, president of Futuro RGV, previously said.

Only candidates in two other races agreed to participate, those running for State Board of Education District 2 and Texas Senate District 20.

The forum was supposed to feature Democrat Victor Perez and Republican LJ Francis, who are running for a place on the state’s board of education, as well as Democratic incumbent Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and his Republican challenger Westly Wright, who are vying for State Senate District 20.

However, on Saturday morning, Kinerk said on Facebook that Francis and Wright, both Republicans, said they were ill and could not attend.

But LaMantia and Hinojosa did attend and answered more than a dozen questions from Monitor Metro Editor Naxiely Lopez-Puente and reporter Matt Wilson.

MAJOR PRIORITIES

The moderators began the discussion by asking what their priorities would be if elected.

LaMantia, who answered first, said she would seek to bolster higher-paying jobs and expand access to health care for Valley residents, while also working to fix Texas’ electric grid, which tossed the state into a crisis in 2021 during Winter Storm Uri.

Hinojosa said his priorities would include border security and making sure schools don’t indoctrinate and sexualize children in the classrooms. He also said he wants to prepare children to be successful in the workforce, while also focusing on economic growth, reducing taxes, and targeting the development of businesses in the district.

LEGISLATION

When asked what his first bill would be if elected, Hinojosa said his absolute number one issue is border security. Hinojosa said he would seek more public funding to make sure law enforcement agencies are fully equipped and hiring more personnel.

A lack of federal oversight in the Valley is forcing the state to take up the responsibility, he said.

LaMantia honed in on a bill she said didn’t pass due to the 2021 quorum break by Texas Democrats, who wanted to stifle the passage of Republican Senate Bill 1, a voting bill that eventually passed.

The legislation LaMantia referred to involves the use of color-coded symbols on vanity license plates that would relay information to law enforcement that indicates an occupant has a special needs diagnosis. In return, the officer would be better prepared to address and understand the situation during a traffic stop.

LaMantia said the bill would have been self-funded and would have paid for additional training for law enforcement by using the fees collected for the vanity license plate.

SENATE BILL 1

The next question centered on Senate Bill 1, which passed during the last legislative session and tightened Texas’ voting laws, while also diminishing local control over elections.

LaMantia said she did not support the bill, arguing it hinders the right to vote and infringes on civic involvement, which she said is a fundamental right.

Hinojosa said he supported the law because he said elections are the most important aspect of a republic and must be secure. He said the law makes sure there is no outside election interference while also noting that people in the Valley have been previously convicted of voter fraud.

THE FREEZE

Hinojosa said he was surprised and dismayed by the 2021 freeze, but he added he was pleasantly pleased that the state hasn’t seen a comparable instance since then.

He credited Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for addressing what he said were leadership issues with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, better known as ERCOT, and addressing the grid. If elected, Hinojosa said he would work to maintain the proper amount of energy needed to provide services to families and businesses.

LaMantia said the efforts weren’t enough. She said ERCOT needs more accountability and oversight and that the state needs a mechanism to make sure that there is oversight for the required weatherization procedures at power plants. She also singled out natural gas power plants, specifically saying they need to be weatherized.

Texas largely relies on natural gas production for energy, which ground to a halt during the freeze, according to the Texas Tribune.

BORDER SECURITY

Abbott has sent news release after news release over the past few months that highlight his efforts to bus migrants out of the Lone Star State to sanctuary cities like New York City, Washington D.C., and Chicago.

LaMantia called it a political stunt but acknowledged there is an immigration problem at the border.

However, she shot back at national media portrayals of the region, saying the Valley was not a third-world country nor a war zone. But the region does need the federal government to handle the situation because the nonprofits that help migrants are at a breaking point, she said.

Hinojosa said everyone who crosses the border illegally is touched by the cartels, while also noting the deadly narcotic fentanyl continues to come across the border.

However, federal charges against people for smuggling fentanyl in the Valley are sparse. The Monitor checks federal criminal complaints daily.

Hinojosa also said there is an influx of illegal migrants and said now isn’t the time to politicize the issue or be wishy-washy. Instead, he said, now is the time to be strong and secure the border. The Valley has a large and ever-present force of law enforcement from the county to the state and federal levels.

INFLATION

When asked about inflation and its impact on the everyday lives of residents, Hinojosa blamed it on over taxation, suggesting that perhaps a state surplus in taxes could result in a tax break. He also said, without identifying them, that the state should remove overburdensome regulations.

LaMantia said that the solution to inflation is education to break the cycle of poverty here, which she said would result in higher paying jobs and new industries.

CRITICAL RACE THEORY

While it’s not taught in Texas schools, the issue of critical race theory has become a huge talking point for politicians, particularly Republicans, over the past few years.

In short, critical race theory is the study of laws that have been used to discriminate against minorities in the United States.

Last year, Texas passed a law that bans the teaching of critical race theory in public schools — even though it’s not taught in public schools. Critical race theory is a college-level course.

Hinojosa supported the bill, calling critical race theory racist. He also said it indoctrinates children and claimed that pornography is in school libraries and that “drag shows” are showcased in schools. LaMantia noted that critical race theory is not taught in public schools and said the state should just trust teachers to teach.

EXPANDING MEDICAID

Texas has not expanded Medicaid following the passage of the Affordable Healthcare Act in 2010.

LaMantia said the state should accept those federal dollars because Texas has the highest rate of uninsured people in the country.

Hinojosa, however, blamed migrants for overwhelming the healthcare system and said the state needs to expand telehealth and telemedicine services and have more standalone emergency rooms.

HEARTBEAT BILL

The candidates also weighed in on Texas’ Heartbeat Bill, which makes abortion illegal after six weeks.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade, which had given women across the country access to abortions.

Hinojosa unapologetically supports the bill but said there is a concern about Texas’ trigger law, which is now in effect because it does not consider women who are impregnated through rape or incest. He also claimed LaMantia refuses to protect the life of the unborn and described the Valley as a Christian community.

LaMantia said she did not support the Heartbeat Bill, saying it turned regular people into vigilantes who would go against women in a vulnerable position. The law prevents abortion after six weeks and allows civilians to sue anyone who aids or abets an abortion.

She also noted that the legislation does not protect women who are victims of rape or incest or 10-year-olds who have been raped.

LOWERING THE TEMPERATURE

In what can only be described as a hyper-partisan political atmosphere, both candidates were asked what they would be willing to do to lower the temperature in Austin.

Hinojosa said he has wonderful relationships at the state capitol and would be more effective than a Democrat.

LaMantia said people need to get off their soap boxes and find common-sense solutions and come across the aisle to work together.

COMMON GROUND

When asked about common ground, LaMantia said the most important thing to do is fight for the community. Drainage and a second causeway to South Padre Island are among their commonalities, she said.

LaMantia distanced herself from Democrats in Washington D.C. and assured voters she is part of the middle ground.

Hinojosa said his concerns about public safety, economics, children, and infrastructure are all areas on which he can work with Democrats.

The full forum, which also includes questions about labor shortages, is available for viewing on Futuro RGV’s Facebook page and their website.

Voters will have the ultimate say on Election Day, Nov. 8.

BY MARK REAGAN

THE MONITOR STAFF WRITER