Congressional candidate John Lira makes campaign stop at Presidio – The Big Bend Sentinel

PRESIDIO — Last Thursday, the American Legion Hall in the Presidio hosted Democratic congressional candidate John Lira for a meeting with voters during his run against incumbent Tony Gonzales. Musical duo Primo y Beebe de Marfa set the mood with music, and attendees munched conchas while discussing the needs and future of the controversial TX-23 neighborhood.

TX-23 is a huge district that covers most of the state west of San Antonio. Lira has called his campaign the “Boots on the Ground” tour and hopes to have face time with voters in each of the 29 counties he could potentially represent. “If this district were a state, it would be the 25th largest state in our nation,” he said. “We have rural areas, urban areas, agricultural trade, border trade. We were gerrymanders together, but we’re lucky because we have very unique communities.

In her stump speech, Lira used her time in the United States Marine Corps to temper traditional Democratic talking points while criticizing Republican tactics. He first touched on immigration policy, which has been a burning issue in Texas – from Governor Abbott’s $4 billion push to bolster border security to Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara proclamation of an “invasion” by migrants. “I was on the front line in Iraq in 2003,” he said. “What we have here on our border is not an invasion. What I experienced there – planes, tanks, bullets – it was an invasion.

Despite all the money the state has poured into local law enforcement, Lira hasn’t been able to see any positive results from this push. “I think Republicans are doing a good job pointing out border complications and a host of issues,” he said. “Since Greg Abbott has been in power, he has poured billions of dollars across the border, and it hasn’t really had an impact. If you want a more militarized border, what will that do to our tourism? What will this do to our businesses? To our residents?

Lira also said his experience as a veteran informs his stance on gun control, which he describes as “bipartisan” — he personally owns guns and occasionally carries them. Uvalde — which suffered a school shooting that killed 21 people earlier this year — is part of the sprawling TX-23 district. “It really thrust this race into the national spotlight and highlighted a lot of our gun policies here in Texas,” he said. “I’m not anti-Second Amendment, I’m a Marine. But I would like to see some kind of background check and some kind of training.

Regarding abortion, Lira said he opposes the recent reversal of Roe vs. Wade by the Supreme Court, limiting access to the procedure. He said he was personally surprised by the backlash. “I didn’t know how the world would react to this, but it turns out women like their privacy,” he said. “In a freedom-loving, freedom-loving Texas? Of course, our women are mad that their liberty and liberty have been stripped from them.

One of the more complex local issues discussed at Thursday’s event was the state of health care in Big Bend. Democratic candidate for county judge Joe Portillo updated Lira on the many challenges facing county residents. Although many Presidio residents can travel to Mexico for basic checkups and treatment, emergencies must be handled in an entirely different way. “Our ambulances have to travel 180 miles round trip just to get the first level of care,” Portillo said. “It is totally unacceptable.”

Lira said that since so many counties in the district are rural, he had given the matter a lot of thought. “How does the army handle this? They go there, and they set up level 1 surgery centers in the desert in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, and spend millions of dollars on that,” he explained.

He reasoned that using elements of the military approach — along with recruiting top talent from medical schools — could serve as a two-pronged plan to start solving the problem. “One of my main goals is to expand access to professionals here – once you get out of those [urban] curls, the treatment dries quickly. You get sick and now you’re spending half your savings account because you have to travel a lot,” he said.

To end the event on a light note, Presidio County 4 prospect David Beebe asked Lira how many miles he put on his car on his push to tour the district’s 29 counties. “I was using my car until the engine burned out,” Lira said. For this leg of the journey, he had to borrow his mother’s car – on which he quickly drove 23,000 miles. “Sometimes it feels like driving on a treadmill, but I really liked it – there are beautiful landscapes, and they all have their own flavor.”

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