An attentive audience filled Victory Life Church Tuesday night to hear candidates in the Brown County Republican Party primary election make their cases.
A total of 15 candidates in three contested races — 11th Congressional District, Texas House District 60 and 11th Court of Appeals Place 2 justice — spoke at the forum, which was hosted by the Brown County Republican Party. Early voting in the March 3 primary election begins Feb. 18 and ends Feb. 28.
Candidates gave introductory comments, and all but the appellate court justice candidates answered questions compiled by a committee of the Brown County Republican Party.
Questions were not submitted to the justice candidates because they are prohibited from making campaign promises and stating how they would rule on issues, Brown County Republican Party Chairman Robert Porter said.
Nine of the 10 candidates running for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway’s seat in the 11th Congressional District were present. Gene Barber was not present.
The congressional candidates were asked a single question: what sets each one apart from the others?
Those attending were:
• Brandon Batch, a business developer from Midland
• Jamie Berryhill, a business owner from Odessa
• J.D. Faircloth, a certified public accountant from Midland
• J. Ross Lacy, a businessman from Midland
• August Pfluger, a former Air Force fighter pilot from San Angelo and an Air Force reservist who founded an energy investment company
• Robert Tucker, a retired pastor, business owner and military veteran from Comanche
• Wesley Virdell, a small business owner and Air Force veteran from Brady
• Ned Luscombe, a registered nurse from Midland
• Casey Gray, a veteran, former CIA employee and veteran advocate from Odessa
Batch previously worked for another Texas congressman, Michael McCaul, holding jobs including senior policy adviser. In that position, Batch helped draft, introduce and implement the legislation coming out of McCaul’s office.
“So I’ve seen how Washington works,” Batch said. “I understand why it’s not working and I want to go back and fix some of the things that really bothered me which caused me to leave.”
“I am pro life, pro Second Amendment, believe in a strong border. In short, I’m experienced. I’m the only candidate that’s ever worked in congress. I’m the only candidate that can say I can legitimately hit the ground running on day one.
Batch said he can “help broaden the Republican umbrella, reach out to different demographics, explain to them what it means to become Republican and get them to become Republican.”
Batch said he wants to highlight his experience. “As a senior policy adviser I advised the congressman on everything from his foreign policy to his defense policy, energy, trade and agriculture," Batch said. "And I was a successful policy adviser in that regard. A lot of candidates talk about what they’re going to do. I would love to have a conversation with you about what I’ve already done.”
“We are living in a critical hour,” Berryhill said. “What we truly have is a battle, a war between light and dark and if we do not make the right choices today, we’re not going to have the freedom to make the choices.
“For the past 47 yeas I have been operating businesses, creating jobs. Thirty-seven years ago the Lord got my attention and I have spent this time developing a working relationship with the God that our founding forefathers acknowledged four times in the Declaration of Independence."
Berryhill said he has “with God’s help delivered multiple companies out of millions of dollars in debt. The same truths have enabled me to revitalize communities through economic diversification.”
Berryhill said he and his wife have had a ministry “where we’ve watched women and children be delivered out of drugs, opioids, sex trafficking and all sorts of abuses. Those same principles will work in Washington, D.C.”
Berryhill added, “Except God build the city, they that labor, labor in vain. They that guard the city, guard in vain.”
“I have a proven track record as a fiscal conservative,” Faircloth said.
Noting that all of the candidates “believe in the basic issues of border security and immigration, a strong military, protecting the unborn, and protecting the Second Amendment,” Faircloth said he is the only candidate running out of concern for the national debt.
“It is $23 trillion and our deficits are over a trillion dollars each year,” Faircloth said. “And there are only eight CPAs in all of Congress, so we need more CPAs who are experienced and know how to cut the budget. I have done that as a mayor and it is not going to be easy.”
Faircloth said if he’s elected, one of his first priorities would be to recommend legislation to create a federal sunset commission. "I think we have to shrink the size of the government," Faircloth said. "We have 465 agencies in Washington. We have to eliminate and consolidate those agencies so that they become more efficient.
"I am focused on controlling our national debt and controlling our thousand billion dollar deficits to make America financially strong again."
A Bangs High School graduate, Gray served in the Navy, worked for the CIA and entered the Army. Gray said he lived in Israel on diplomatic missions.
“I’ve seen walls work in Israel,” Gray said. “They protect the Israelis and they work. We need our wall to be built here and make a sovereign nation.”
Gray said he wanted to talk about what he can do differently from the other candidates.
Saying he is an NRA instructor, Gray referred to Frederick Douglas, who said in 1867 “a man’s rights rest in three boxes: the jury box, the ballot box and a cartridge box,” Gray said.
Gray added, “I put my life on the line and gave an oath to protect this country from all enemies foreign and domestic three times — one to the Navy, Army and with the CIA. One of those blank checks that I wrote was cashed.”
Gray was referring to a helicopter crash that left him with major injuries.
Gray said he didn’t know telling people he is a Christian is a “resume point. I just assumed that because we’re conservatives and Republicans, we believe in God and it’s right on my card — God, country and constitution," Gray said. “I’m willing to sign that blank check again if you send me to Congress. I will fight for you and will make sure that the constituents here come first.”
Gray said while he appreciates the 300 hours of air combat logged by candidate August Pfluger, “I have 37,000 hours of combat.”
J. Ross Lacy
“We’re running for a few reasons,” Lacy said. “Number one is to stand with President Trump. I am sick and tired of the liberal left and the liberal media trying to tear that man down. The American people gave that man the presidency. He needs true conservative fighters who will fight for him.”
Republicans are needed who are not “Republicans in name only, going up there to be part of the establishment,” Lacy said.
“I am a strong defender of the Second Amendment. I do not support the AR-15 ban. I do not support red flag laws. I think the number one tragedy in the United States of America is the 63-plus million babies that have been killed since 1973. Every child is a gift from God. No exceptions.”
Lacy said he’s separated from the other candidates by being “a businessman and a job creator. I’m the only one in this race with true oil and gas experience and know how important this industry is.
“Of the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, I would be, if elected, the only oil and gas operator. That’s something to say, especially when you realize how the Democrats in the Obama administration weaponized the Endangered Species Act to try to shut us down."
Luscombe said he is a constitutional conservative, and said the Second Amendment “is designed to protect us from tyrannical governments, foreign or domestic.”
Luscombe said he is “as pro life as you can be.”
When he was 12, Luscombe said, his dad couldn’t work due to arthritis. “We went for a year without social security or veterans benefits,” Luscombe said.
He said he put himself through the University of Texas and became a registered nurse, and owns a staff relief company.
“I walked away from a full time income in nursing because I felt this was that important,” Luscombe said. “My reasons for running — they’re trying to tear apart our republic. They don’t like free speech, due process, the Second Amendment, religious liberties, the unborn. They want open borders. One of the biggest reasons I ran is because I was afraid we would end up with an establishment candidate. Not this time. Can’t happen.”
Luscombe said he’s not a politician and voters tell him they don’t want a politician. “They don’t want someone who’s been in Washington to be their next congressman,” Luscombe said.
“I’m also old enough to where I don’t need another career. I’ve had a 45-year career and that makes me someone who can go up there and if I need to be a source of irritation, especially in relationship to spending bills, then I can do so.”
Pfluger said he spent 20 years “fighting for this country as an F-15 and F-22 fighter pilot. I have 300 hours of combat.”
Pfluger said he’s fought against ISIS and “enemies around this world who don’t like our way of life and don’t like the freedoms that are worth fighting for.
“I’m a conservative Republican, a devoted follower of Jesus Christ and believe very strongly in defending our Second Amendment rights. I’m pro life and I didn’t spend 20 years fighting for this country outside of these borders just to come home and see an unsecure, porous border.”
Pfluger said he worked in Washington, D.C. at the Pentagon and at the White House on the National Security Council for President Trump.
“President Trump is standing up for this country, he is standing up for rural America and he needs fighters and warriors to go to Washington and drain the swamp and represent District 11,” Pfluger said.
“What separates me is that service before self isn’t something that I just woke up yesterday and thought about. I’ve been wearing the uniform for 20 years and understand what it means to fight for this country and put my life on the line. I’ve got the experience working in the White House to understand why President Trump is doing the things he is doing. We need somebody to stand with President Trump and I’m going to raise my hand to be that person.”
Pfluger said his top priority will be securing the border, noting that “every option should be on the table.”
“We either need to go back to what the founding fathers envisioned for this country or we’re going down the socialist path,” Tucker said. “We need to encourage each other and more people to get involved in politics. We need to be preaching it from our pulpits."
Tucker, a military veteran, said he was injured in Iraq in 2005. In addition to the military, Tucker said he had several jobs, owned two businesses and now is a “volunteer pastor” in Comanche.
Tucker said he’s separated from the other candidates because “first and foremost, I’m a strict original intent constitutionalist and a conservative. And when I say that, that means do not raise the debt one penny more than what we’ve got now.
“We are at the precipice. We have got to get this country turned back around. We can raise minimum wage all day long. It does nothing because goods and services follow. The only way that we’re going to erase poverty is by strengthening the dollar. The only way to strengthen the dollar is to stop spending and start cutting the deficit. That will increase the value of the dollar and also we’ve got to audit the fed, get rid of the fed, and there’s several more things that we have to do.”
Wesley W. Virdell
“I believe in a free market, and watching the government prop up businesses that should have been allowed to fail got underneath my skin,” Virdell said, referring to the bailout of the Obama administration.
“I micro-focused on that voting record and the voting record of those in Congress. We know Democrats aren’t going to vote like Republicans, but my problem is, Republicans don’t vote like Republicans. Out of 535 members in the house and the senate, only about 40 of them actually vote with Republican values.”
“We controlled the house, the senate, the judiciary and the executive, and they promised us they would repeal Obamacare and they did nothing about it.”
Referring to the Second Amendment, Virdell said, “Those who have the guns control those who don’t. We should understand that and absolutely fight to never be in that position of the people who don’t have the guns.”
Virdell said he disagrees with "catch and release" on the border. "That’s where they catch an illegal immigrant, and they basically process them and allow them to go out to our general public," Virdell said. "They should be processed with criminal trespassing and immediately deported, and if they do that twice, I think that they should lose the right to ever apply for citizenship because they can’t follow our basic laws.”
Virdell said he is “a working class citizen. When I got out of the military in 2008, I went back and worked with our family business in diesel repair. My hands are covered in scars. I’m proud of most of them.
“I consider myself a Jeffersonian Republican and I believe very heavily in what Thomas Jefferson stood for. We’re not supposed to have a nationalist government that reaches into every one of your lives and tells you how to live. We’re supposed to have a limited federal government.”