(From left) Candidates for House Seat District 21 Chip Roy, Joseph Kopser, and Lee Santos participate in a debate.
(From left) Candidates for Congressional District 21 Republican Chip Roy, Democrat Joseph Kopser, and Libertarian Lee Santos participate in a debate. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

For the first and last time, all three candidates vying for the 21st Congressional District seat met for a debate Thursday evening.

Republican Chip Roy, Democrat Joseph Kopser, and Libertarian Lee Santos answered questions about immigration, health care, guns, and climate change during an hour-long debate hosted by the League of Women Voters and KLRN. Whoever wins November’s election will replace long-time Republican U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, who announced his retirement last November.

Roy, who has worked as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s chief of staff and served as first assistant attorney general under Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, emphasized his conservative values throughout the debate. He voiced strong opposition to abortion, the Affordable Care Act, and environmental regulations. While both Kopser and Santos said they support gun regulations of some sort, Roy does not.

“Our Bill of Rights is critically foundational to the ability of all Americans to live by their God-given rights,” he said. “The Second Amendment is obviously one of them. I believe we should be able to defend our families, defend our nation unfettered by regulations by some who like to, as [Chicago Mayor] Rahm Emanuel said, never let a crisis go to waste.”

Though Roy said he does not dispute that humans have had an effect on the environment and climate change, he argued that increased regulations would decrease quality of life.

“Of course there is climate change going on,” Roy said. “There has been since the beginning of time. But as the climate has changed, the question is how can humans adapt to it? Energy is the very thing that allows us to adapt to it, to be able to have climate-controlled places in which to live and operate.”

Kopser, a businessman and Army veteran from Austin, urged Texans to consider that Hurricane Harvey and subsequent storms were caused by warming temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, and that encouraging alternative energy use would be a boon for the Texas economy.

“We’ve got to make sure we are doing everything we can to move off of fossil fuels that are accelerating the speed [at which climate change] is happening,” he said. “It’s not only going to be able to save lives, but it will create jobs in the state. Texas was an energy leader for the last 100 years and is poised perfectly to be a leader for the next 100 years. We are building more jobs in solar and wind here [than] in any other state.”

Santos, who is retired and lists radio personality, car dealer, and repair shop owner as previous occupations, pushed for a transition away from fossil fuel-powered cars to electric ones. She said she is an avid recycler and pointed to missed opportunities in decreasing trash and increasing recycling.

“We’re throwing away massive amounts of food that could be made into mulch,” Santos said. “We need to push that effort forward and stop throwing away so much.”

She also said the country’s $21 trillion debt was only exacerbated by military spending on wars that “benefit nobody.”

“These kinds of things that taxpayers are paying for are causing a giant deficit that we cannot afford, along with other things like [President Donald Trump’s proposed military branch] Space Force and a wall along the border,” she said. “The deficit is so out of control that our children inherited this from Democrats and Republicans, and it’s not fair to saddle them with this debt.”

Santos, who describes herself as a “hardcore libertarian,” said her main priorities in office would be to end the war in Afghanistan, legalize marijuana, and encourage students to learn technical skills and prepare themselves for the workforce.

Kopser emphasized his commitment to working across the political aisle and said the only way to find a solution to immigration issues is to sit at the table together. The United States can accept immigrants who move here for jobs or their families or are seeking asylum, he said, and still give so-called Dreamers legal status.

“We can … give Dreamers the status that they have been promised, give them the certainty so they can stay here, work here, and raise families,” Kopser said. “We can do all of that while at the same time maintaining security of our borders.

“We are a good and welcoming country, and we need to maintain those values as Americans and Texans.”

Kopser said he wants to represent the people who may not attend rallies or sit at the “extremes” of the political spectrum, but care about political issues.

“I am not going to Washington, D.C. for any one particular party,” he said. “I am prepared to push back on both sides when necessary. I get flack from all sides because I’m not pure enough for any group, and I think that probably tells me I’m doing something right.”

The Congressional District 21 encompasses parts of Austin, San Marcos, New Braunfels, and San Antonio west of Interstate 35. It stretches to include all of Bandera, Blanco, Gillespie, Kendall, Kerr, and Real counties.

Early voting starts Monday, Oct. 22, and runs through Friday, Nov. 2. Election Day is Nov. 6.

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.