By Mitch Borden
Texas’ Congressional District 11 covers 29 counties and clocks in at almost 30,000 miles spanning from the Permian Basin all the way to the Hill Country. And, for the past 16 years, it’s been home to one of the most powerful Republicans in Texas — Congressman Mike Conaway. But in 2019, he announced his retirement from Congress, setting the stage for the crowded and competitive Republican primary currently taking place in the solidly conservative district.
Ten candidates have stepped forward to compete for the GOP slot this election. CD11 has been reliably red — meaning this primary is the true contest to determine who will serve the Permian Basin in the U.S. House of Representatives.
With 10 candidates running in the primary, Marfa Public Radio has narrowed down the field to the top five candidates who have raised the most money for their campaigns in 2019.
To listen to an extended conversation between Marfa Public Radio’s Carlos Morales and Mitch Borden concerning the race click on the audio player at the top of the page.
When looking at the values and platforms candidates are running on, they all agree on most topics. All of them would make securing and hardening the U.S.-Mexico Border a priority; preserving the 2nd Amendment is important; rolling back regulations on the oil and gas industry is a must; each candidate considers themselves pro-life; and every candidate in this race says they support President Donald Trump.
However, the difference between the candidates is clearer when you look at their backgrounds, how they approach issues and their attitudes on certain subjects.
“The Fighter Pilot”
Leading the pack of CD11 candidates — both financially and in terms of endorsements — is Lt. Colonel August Pfluger. Originally from San Angelo, he’s a seventh-generation Texan who comes from a ranching family, but Pfluger has only recently moved back to West Texas. He went to the Air Force Academy and then spent almost 20 years in the service rising to the rank of Lt. Colonel as a fighter pilot. He is currently still in the air force reserve.
After leaving full-time military service, he went to Washington D.C. where he worked at a think tank focusing on foreign policy. Pfluger was then tapped to serve as an advisor on President Trump’s National Security Council. With this background, he frames himself as the “national security” candidate.
Pfluger believes the Permian Basin and CD11 provide the United States with a lot of power on the world stage and that the region deserves more credit. He says the assassination of the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani would have had dire consequences for the American energy sector had the U.S. not been the top oil producer in the world (which is in large part thanks to the recent oil boom in West Texas.)
The Republican candidate says one of the biggest challenges if elected will be educating people about the importance of CD11 when it comes to America’s security and showing how the region’s resources can be leveraged “in a way the President and that our government can use as a position of power — as an instrument power — around the world.”
Pfluger only recently returned to San Angelo once Mike Conaway announced his retirement — which he’s taken some criticism for. Pfluger also has never previously voted in a Republican primary, which he explains was a choice he made while serving in the armed forces because he served under Democrat and Republican Presidents and says he didn’t want to be partisan.
Earlier this month, President Trump endorsed Pfluger via twitter. The leading candidate has also received over $1 million in campaign contributions, which no other candidate has come close to with their fundraising.
The first person to announce their campaign for CD11’s Congressional seat was former Midland City Councilman J. Ross Lacy. Lacy served on the governing body for the Permian’s de facto corporate capital for six years before announcing his run for Congress.
Lacy has some of the most hands-on experience with the oil industry in the Republican primary. He owns two oil companies and helped lead Midland through the largest boom in the region’s history. Lacy says this experience is the reason residents in the Permian should send him to congress. He says voters want a businessman who can “balance a checkbook.”
The traffic from the recent oil boom has brought to the region has caused roads to fall into disrepair. Lacy says if he’s elected he’ll make funding infrastructure improvements across the oil patch a priority in his first term. The goal comes with a hefty price tag. But, Lacy is confident that funds generated by the oil boom — and currently going to, what he sees as, wasteful programs and departments — can be redirected back to West Texas.
From his perspective, the federal government is “completely misusing and spending money in the wrong way.” Lacy also says he’d work to get rid of departments he sees as unconstitutional, like the Department of Education. “The federal government has no business being in the education business.”
Another priority for Lacy is making the individual tax cuts provided through President Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2018 permanent. Right now, those cuts are set to expire in 2025.
At this point, Lacy doesn’t believe he will win the most votes in the March 3 primary. He told Marfa Public Radio that he’s on track for “second place.” Lacy, and the other Republicans running for CD11 are banking on the large field of candidates to fragment the vote, forcing a runoff in May.
At 30, Brandon Batch is the youngest of the top five candidates. And unlike his competitors, he’s the only person of color running in the congressional race. Batch says being a black Republican is at the heart of his campaign. He looks at his party and sees a diversity problem — that left unchecked could become an existential crisis for the GOP.
At the end of 2020, Republicans will lose Will Hurd, a Republican from Helotes representing the sprawling 23rd Congressional District of Texas. Hurd is the party’s lone black representative in the House. Batch says if Republicans don’t start thinking about how they’ll bring more people of color into their ranks they could lose their grip on national politics.
And — he believes he can reach communities of color and bring them into the GOP.
“This party has to think about how does that bode for the future longevity of this party because if we don’t do something different Texas will be blue. If Texas turns blue I don’t know the next time we’re going to have a Republican president.”
Another part of Batch’s pitch to West Texas voters is that he’s worked in congress before. “I’ve been in the trenches, I’ve seen how this stuff works and I was effectively doing it.”
For over five years, Batch worked under Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul. While in the nation’s capital, Batch says he helped draft legislation ranging from energy to foreign affairs.
Batch has been criticized for never voting before the November general election in 2019 and for moving back to Midland after Rep. Conaway’s retirement. He says this doesn’t bother him too much. Whether he wins the race or not, he plans to stay in Midland.
The national debt. That’s what got former Midland Mayor J.D. Faircloth to throw his hat into this race. He’s a certified accountant with decades of experience. Faircloth is really worried that if something isn’t done soon, the country’s debt — currently over $23 trillion — is going to cause a financial disaster.
Faircloth thinks Democrats and Republicans have allowed America to dig itself into a financial hole. The former mayor of the Tall City says the problem isn’t going to be solved overnight — but he does have ideas on how to begin addressing the debt immediately.
He thinks the nation’s capital could instate a “federal sunset commission” to review government departments every few years to determine whether they are operating efficiently or should even exist. Getting this commission going would be one of Faircloth’s major goals if elected to congress. Another place he’d like to cut spending is in the Defense Department. He believes that its budget has ballooned over the years and a critical eye could find inefficiencies in its spending.
Of all the candidates, Faircloth seems like the most willing to work across the aisle with Democrats.
“I really think the American people want their Congress to do things and work together and solve problems. Some of the other candidates say ‘I’m going to go up there and fight the Democrats. That’s really the problem on both sides, we spend more time fighting each other than solving problems.”
Faircloth also breaks with the rest of his Republican opponents when it comes to gun regulations. He says he’s against “red flag” laws, but would be in favor of expanding background checks to private sales — which no other candidate has said they would push for.
For Jaimie Berryhill, his faith is at the heart of his campaign. He says the country’s character is at stake and believes the U.S. needs to return to its Christian roots. When it comes to schooling — apart from wanting to dismantle the Department of Education — Berryhill says he wants to put Christ back in schools.
“There has literally been a removal since the 1930s of the Judeo-Christian heritage from the textbook yet that has been what made this nation great.”
Berryhill isn’t a reverend or minister. Instead, he is a businessman from Odessa known for starting Mission Messiah, a residency program for single mothers that provides housing along with job training for a year. He also started a television channel of the same name that’s featured on the Israel Network.
Berryhill doesn’t have a lot of specific legislative issues he’d like to address if elected to congress. But one thing he wants to do is repeal the Equality Act, which has passed through the House but has not been picked up by the Senate. The act sets out to protect the rights of those who identify as LGBTQ, which Berryhill is against.
“This whole equality act that the house passed, is absolutely like the nail in the coffin for our freedom of speech and our freedom of worship.”
Recently, some of Berryhill’s comments concerning the U.S.-Mexico border received attention for comparing the border to a woman who has been sexually assaulted. In a Facebook post this month, Berryhill wrote a “nation without borders is like a woman raped and defiled, her precious value pillaged and taken.” He told CBS7 he wouldn’t use that kind of language moving forward but did not apologize. He later accused what he called the liberal media for coming after him.
This isn’t Berryhill’s first time running for Congress. He first ran back in 2004.n,m n but was defeated by Rep. Conaway.
Race For Second
With a crowded primary field, many believe this race will not end in March and instead will lead to a runoff. To win the election a candidate needs to get 50 percent of the vote plus one. If this doesn’t happen, the two candidates with the most votes will head to a runoff that will be held in May.
At this point in the race, polling and fundraising seem to put Pfluger in the lead, but even with over a million dollars and the endorsement of Trump, it doesn’t seem like he’s locked down the race just yet.