From Alligators to Cartel SWAT Teams, GOP Congressional Forum Gets Doubtful

Cassy Garcia and Sandra Whitten

Remarks made at a policy forum intended to give Republican candidates for the District 28 congressional seat a chance to discuss their platforms turned deceptive when one candidate spoke about security along the border.

Futuro RGV awaited the seven GOP hopefuls seeking the job of incumbent Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar at their forum, which was moderated by former McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, on Monday, but only two showed up: Cassy Garcia and Sandra Whitten.

Hidalgo County is no longer part of District 28, but Starr, Zapata, Webb counties and part of eastern San Antonio are part of this race.

Whitten ran against Cuellar in 2020 and won 39% of the vote in the general election. Previously, she was a housewife and a conservative member of her community, according to her profile on Ballot.

Garcia, a political newcomer, boasted 17 years of public service, including her work for Sen. Ted Cruz and a presidential nomination from Trump to the Hispanic Prosperity Initiative.

Their experiences informed views that at times aligned but more often contrasted sharply, unlike the forum held with the Democratic challengers who took similar positions.

Border issues dominated the forum and covered topics such as immigration reform, increased use of work visas, security along the border and the border wall.

Both candidates supported the use of border walls, but Whitten went further.

“Let’s throw some alligators in there,” Whitten said with a smile. “They are from South Texas.”

Garcia, who won approval from the National Border Patrol Council, said congressional leaders should work with Border Patrol to determine where a wall or technology would be needed.

Views also diverged when discussing border security.

“I can say it’s one of the safest communities,” Garcia said of towns along the border.

As deputy state director to Sen. Ted Cruz, Garcia said she enjoys showing lawmakers the beauty of the regions that live along the Rio Grande.

However, she stressed the need to protect the border at a time when immigrants bypass federal agents when entering the country illegally.

Whitten said talking about border security was one of her favorite topics.

“I never felt safe from anyone in the United States of America; however, I am very careful, ”she prefaced, but then spoke of cartel violence on the American side.

“They’re sending SWAT-style teams to come and neutralize their enemies in the United States,” Whitten said without reporting any actual incidents.

His claims grew bolder saying cartel violence was on the rise in the United States under the Biden administration as it had under the Obama presidency and pointed to an incident The Monitor could not substantiate.

“Zapata County, for example, had someone who was, in fact, dismembered, because it was a cartel hit piece [sic]. And, we know for a fact that the cartel returned to Mexico after killing this young man,” Whitten said.

Zapata County Sheriff Raymundo Del Bosque said he is not aware of anyone who has been dismembered in his county recently or since he worked for the office as early as 2013.

“I’m upset, because it’s not fair,” Del Bosque said Tuesday of Whitten’s claim.

The most recent incident involving cartels in Zapata that the sheriff remembers happened in July of last year when a home invasion turned deadly. Two sicarios, or cartel hitmen, for the Tropa del Infierno, the paramilitary arm of the Cartel del Noreste, crossed the border, entered Zapata and shot and killed a man in his early 20s. Two local men were also arrested, but the incident did not involve dismemberments or cartel SWAT teams.

Del Bosque said he and his office support Cuellar and are grateful for what the incumbent has done for them and residents by providing resources to their border town.

Zapata County came up again when Darling asked if Garcia and Whitten supported federal efforts to expand broadband access in rural communities.

“Is the Internet incredibly important and useful? Absolutely it is,” Whitten said, adding, “but I don’t think it should be a right by any stretch of the imagination.”

She pointed to Zapata County which had a problem accessing water, a basic need, and said the government should make basic needs a priority.

“I disagree with the comment that it’s not necessary,” Zapata County Judge Joe Rathmell said, referencing the internet.

But, he agreed with Whitten, in part: “It would definitely take priority over broadband, but I think we can do both.”

Rural communities struggled to access broadband early in the pandemic, sending towns like Donna to invest heavily in projects to help a community where half of students report poor or no access.

“It was a problem for the parents. Many children did not have access to broadband,” Garcia said. “We are talking about infrastructure, broadband is part of the infrastructure.”

She proposed using more public-private partnerships to create more access for schools, to improve rural healthcare, wireless medical devices and other medical services that rely on internet connectivity.

The forum included other issues where the candidates stood on opposite sides.

Garcia supports creating pathways to citizenship for immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children and believes American industries would benefit from increased work visas.

Whitten opposed both and said she would not approve of the Dreamers Act, which she said was part of open border policies.

Gun control was a topic that presented another chance for great contrast.

Both Whitten and Garcia cited the Second Amendment and felt it was the divine right to self-defense, but they disagreed on universal background checks.

“There are a lot of people who go through the system, who get a background check, but are still able to access a gun and harm innocent lives. So I think there needs to be universal background checks,” Garcia said.

Whitten read the Second Amendment to point out what the law does not mention.

“It is very clear that there is nowhere [sic] universal background checks will protect everyone. People who buy guns don’t go to a Gander Mountain or a Bass and Pro Shop to try to buy a gun. They get it in a back alley,” Whitten said.

However, several mass shooters purchased their firearms legally, including James Holmes who bought a rifle and glock in stores on Gander Mountain, and a handgun and shotgun in a Bass and Pro Shop before opening fire in a Colorado theater in 2016.

The Allen, Texas shooter who traveled to El Paso and killed more than 20 people in 2019 legally bought a gun online and also picked it up from a local store.

Garcia and Whitten have agreed against vaccination mandates requiring the COVID-19 vaccine, although they both say they are not anti-vaccine.

Garcia said she had two shots of COVID-19, and Whitten said her children were vaccinated against other illnesses.

Although the primary will include five other Republican candidates, Whitten thinks the race is all about which Republican will take the Democratic seat.

“It’s not about sending a Republican to Washington DC It’s about sending the right Republican to Washington DC who’s not going to sit here and play games, and who’s going to make sure Nancy Pelosi, AOC and his merry band of socialists stay out of our country and stay out of our state,” Whitten said.

“The American Dream is my reality, and that’s why I’m running for Congress,” Garcia said. “People across the district are looking for new hope in Washington, hope that inspires hope and is focused on creating jobs, protecting the rights of innocent people, securing our border and upholding our rights. constitutional.”

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