With early voting in Texas less than a month away, Tony Gonzales stopped in San Antonio for a town hall before moving on to another campaign event in Hondo.

The Republican candidate for Texas’ 23rd Congressional District sat down with seven prospective voters Monday evening at St. Bonaventure Church on the South Side of San Antonio. The listeners mostly seemed to approve of Gonzales’s answers to their questions as he touched on reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic, his military career, and ongoing protests around the United States.

Gonzales, a former Navy cryptologist, won the Republican runoff for Texas’ 23rd Congressional District following a narrow margin and vote recount. He faces Democratic candidate and former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer Gina Ortiz Jones in the November election. Jones ran in 2018 against current U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Helotes), who decided not to run for re-election this year.

Gonzales on Monday recalled his tight race against retired Air Force lieutenant colonel Raul Reyes, who had been endorsed by Sen. Ted Cruz. Gonzales had President Donald Trump’s endorsement in the runoff. Though the runoff was marked by these two opposing high-profile endorsements, Gonzales said the difference between him and Reyes came down to their campaign styles.

“I had a difficult primary because my approach was unity,” he said. “People don’t want to hear that. They want to hear, ‘Let’s go burn that other house down.’ And I get it; I understand it, but that’s dangerous.”

Gonzales claimed his ability to work with people of all different backgrounds, perspectives, and political views made him the clear choice for Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, which spans 29 counties between San Antonio and El Paso. Instead of focusing on partisan issues, he said he would rather promote civic engagement at all levels of government. That engagement can take the form of civil protest, Gonzales said, which can also bring important conversations to light. 

“When you want to talk about racism, it’s a very delicate topic,” Gonzales said. “People don’t grow up talking about racism, but it’s real, it’s there, and it happens every day. Some people deal with it a lot more than others. It’s a very sensitive topic. It’s an opportunity to talk about that and deal with it, but it’s getting hijacked. Instead … we talk about the chaos.”

Gonzales said protest is “healthy” for the country, but some organizations want to “strip away what makes America America.” He did not say which organizations those were.

One attendee asked Gonzales for his general perspective on the coronavirus pandemic. He said while it’s become a political flashpoint, everyone is doing their best to survive. He advocated for a return to in-person activities with caution, though he said he would like to see his children back in school.

“I believe we have got to get back to work, church, and school, but we’ve got to do it safely,” he said. “We also have to respect one another as well. I’ve got six children. My 5-year-old just started pre-K. There was a survey, ‘Hey, do you want to do remote, do you want to do in-person, what do you want to do?’ We chose in-person, but we got overruled and it’s remote. But it’s fine, I get that. That’s part of it – let’s get a say, let’s determine it that way.”  

The voter registration deadline is Oct. 5. Early voting begins Oct. 13. Election Day is Nov. 3. Find more information on voter registration and voting here.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.