U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) took to the road this week for his DC2DQ trek across the state, hosting town hall meetings at nearly every “Texas stop sign,” or Dairy Queen, within his district between El Paso and San Antonio – 20 stops in all.

Though opponents brought signs of their own, protesting everything from his stand on Planned Parenthood to the divisive climate in Washington, D.C., Hurd spoke of the bills he’s sponsored, made promises on tax reform, and answered a blizzard of constituent questions.

“One of the reasons we like to bring people down here is to make sure you put a face with a name and they can understand and see these issues, these communities. That’s why we’ve been crisscrossing the district,” he told the crowd in Devine, a town of about 4,000 southwest of San Antonio.

Devine has recently struggled with water quality issues, and residents questioned Hurd on that topic as well as water conservation. They pressed the congressman about support for veterans, gun control, for-profit colleges, and North Korea.

The meeting became heated when Bexar County Democrat Precinct Chair Rosey Abuabara and others interrupted Hurd repeatedly throughout his talk. “I’ve been waiting for a long time. You will talk to me,” she told Hurd. Police officers intervened when other constituents became agitated.

Abuabara expressed concerns about Planned Parenthood funding, to which Hurd responded that he advocates putting more money into community health care centers and improving access to health care in rural towns like Devine.

Rosey Abuabara (left) interjects her opinion during Congressman Will Hurd's (R-Texas) responses to questions of the crowd at a Diary Queen in Devine, Texas, at a stop along his Third Annual Town Hall Series DC2DQ.
Rosey Abuabara (left) interjects her opinion during U.S. Rep. Will Hurd’s (R-Texas) response to an audience member’s question at a Dairy Queen in Devine, a stop along his third annual Town Hall Series, DC2DQ. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Hurd is getting his first major Democratic challenger for re-election in Texas’ swing 23rd congressional district. Gina Ortiz Jones, a former Air Force intelligence officer, is entering the race, wading into a potentially crowded primary field for a shot at Hurd. Jones has said she was inspired to come home to San Antonio and run for Congress after witnessing Donald Trump’s presidency as a director in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Trump, health care, and Medicaid concerns came up again in Castroville, at the next-to-last stop of his tour, where about 50 people of all ages – some who had been at the Devine town hall as well – gathered at the Octane coffee shop, a venue more sizable than the town’s Dairy Queen.

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) speaks to a crowd gathered in Castroville. Credit: Shari Biediger / San Antonio Report

A newcomer from Brooklyn, N.Y., asked what was likely on many minds: “Is there a plan to get things done in Washington?”

Hurd spoke about the failed health care bill and the debt ceiling as issues Congress has not been able to agree on. “Despite these problems, there is a spark of some good things happening. When we talk about border security, I’ve introduced legislation for a ‘smart wall,’” he said. “Building a wall from sea to shining sea is the most expensive and least effective way to do border security.”

In addition, he said, there is agreement already in Congress for how to pass tax reform in September. “So this is something we are going to double-down on. Because many of y’all, your businesses, you pay your taxes on individual rates. If we can bring those rates down, you’re going to have more money in your pockets in order to continue to invest in your business, to continue to hire more people.

“That’s how we’re going to supercharge our economy and it is within our grasp.”

Hurd called himself a proud supporter of the Second Amendment, Texas public schools, and an alum of the Central Intelligence Agency, and praised the appointment of Mike Pompeo as CIA director, and James Mattis as secretary of defense.

“I’ve been fairly straightforward and honest. The Russians attempted to influence our elections,” he said. “They did not mess with the vote counting machines, so the vote was fair and square. But this was an attempt by the Russians to erode trust in our Democratic institutions. And I’m against that. That’s why I’ve been talking about this counter-covert intelligence strategy we have to have.”

“We don’t have confidence in our White House,” attendee Art Lomas told Hurd, challenging him on Trump’s “vulgar” rhetoric and bullying nature.

“I try to be an example of how people should behave, I try to be able to disagree without being disagreeable,” Hurd said. “This is why I come out and have these conversations. This is why I talk the way I do. We should be able to talk more about what unites us and ultimately, as I said under the last administration, when I agree, I agree, when I disagree, I disagree. We didn’t elect an emperor, we elected a president. And Congress is an equal branch of government.”

At the last stop on the tour, Helotes’ Floore’s Country Store, popular Texas singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen introduced Hurd to a crowd of about 100. Also in the dance hall were Hurd’s family members and longtime friend, Roger Kramer. Hurd credited Kramer for turning-point advice after Hurd lost his first election: Do something meaningful and hard.

A crowd gathers at Floore’s Country Store in Helotes to hear U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) speak. Credit: Shari Biediger / San Antonio Report

Frank Harrell said he came to ask hard questions, but grumbled about the event. “He should be up in Washington working, especially now,” the Helotes grandfather said. “I’ve been a Republican all my life, but it’s getting harder all the time. Democrats, at least they stick together, even if I don’t like what they do. But that’s the problem, they won’t compromise.”

Hurd called D.C. a “circus,” but again at his final town hall, assured constituents that Republicans and Democrats are working on the issues they care about. Constituents at the event pressed him on Republican policies regarding the environment, Medicaid cuts, abortion, and cyberwarfare.

When asked about Trump’s recent “fire and fury” threats, Hurd said, “If [North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-un] uses weapons of mass destruction, our response will be swift and great. But 10 days ago, China and Russia agreed to tough economic sanctions against North Korea, and that was a major diplomatic success story.”

Before answering last questions at the town hall, Hurd called for a moment of silence after being informed by his chief of staff, Stoney Burke, of fatalities at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Keen closed the event performing his 2011 hit “I Gotta Go,” after which Hurd spoke with the Rivard Report and recalled some memorable moments while on tour.

“In Alpine, where we didn’t win, people were appreciative of our staff, and they got a standing ovation for responding to people,” he said. “There were some young people in Eagle Pass who introduced me [talking about] their experience in D.C., and it was really moving and powerful. We had a young kid who just turned 16 and he’s driven to a number of our [town halls].

“That’s the kind of stuff that, to me, is pretty cool, and we learned a lot along the way.”

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.