True Texas Project hosted a Republican gubernatorial candidate forum Monday evening in The Woodlands moderated by group leaders Fran Rhodes and Julie McCarty. 

Gov. Greg Abbott was invited but declined to attend and answer to his constituents. His Republican challengers—former State Sen. Don Huffines, media personality Chad Prather, and former Texas GOP Chair Allen West—each shared their views on a multitude of issues. 

The discussion began with the topic of abortion, which remains legal in Texas despite the pro-life victory earlier this year in the passage of the Heartbeat Act.

Huffines promised to completely abolish abortion in Texas, stating, “I’m pro-life from conception to natural death. No exceptions.”

Also promising total abolition of abortion in Texas, Prather said, “I believe from fertilization to natural death that life matters, and we can’t deal with any other issue that’s on the table unless we believe in the sanctity of life. I believe that abortion is murder under any circumstance.”

Meanwhile, responding to criticism that he is not sufficiently pro-life due to his personal belief in a rape and incest exception, West said, “My personal belief is that if my daughters were criminally violated, I’d love to be able to have that discussion with God and with family, but I would do what the people would have me to do.” 

West’s statement leaves room for voters to voice their opinions regarding a rape and incest exception and suggests that he would follow the will of his constituents. 

Another concern of voters across the state, property taxes are continually on the rise, and Gov. Abbott and the Republican Legislature have repeatedly refused to provide any true property tax relief to citizens suffering under burdensome tax bills. 

Huffines referenced his plan to phase out property taxes over a period of 8-10 years and promised that his plan will be a constitutional amendment for citizens to vote on. 

“We’re never going to have an income tax. And we’re going to keep local governments fully funded. And now we’re going to do that as we’re taking a surplus in revenue from the state of Texas. And we’re going to buy down property taxes with it,” said Huffines. 

With a property tax plan to incentivize smaller government and replace power in the hands of local citizens, Prather said, “We’ve got to cut state spending; we’ve got to use that to buy down this tax. Then we need to incentivize people to go out there in the private sector to do the things that we have expected the government to do over the years in a mediocre fashion.” 

West addressed the issue of property taxes as problem of poor budgeting, stating, “We have to move the Texas state government away from what is called a baseline budget system … [to] what’s called a zero-based budget system.”

West, intending to take into account recommendations by the Sunset Advisory Commission (a legislative commission tasked with identifying wasteful spending in Texas agencies), said, “Every single budget cycle, every agency, has to once again validate its existence, validate any programs that it wants to have. … And it starts with the budget that I proposed and I will put out there that will show that I’m serious about cutting the spending, not the rate of the increase of the spending.” 

Another use of taxpayer dollars by local governments is taxpayer-funded lobbying, which Fran Rhodes questioned the candidates on. 

Referencing his time in the Texas Senate, Huffines said, “I was trying to audit a tollway authority down in Austin. They hired five lobbyists. [You’d have] thought I was trying to kill their mother or something. It was unbelievable. And I got the bill [written]. I got it out of the Senate. But, of course, they killed it.” 

He went on to say, “There’s a lot of corruption in Austin. There’s a lot of corruption in government. And I’m going to find it.” 

West also brought to light some of the ways local entities use their tax dollars by discussing the Texas Association of School Boards. TASB is a taxpayer-funded organization, yet it uses its funds to support the national organization, which has called parents “domestic terrorists.” 

“Texas Association of School Boards will go away if there [is] a Governor West,” he said. 

“It’s going to take somebody with backbone, with a willingness to say [we are] no longer going to illegally, or immorally … line our pockets for political gain. The lobbyists have to go,” said Prather. 

Meanwhile, border security has become a top priority for Texans across the state. Each candidate has spoken passionately about the crisis and shared their plans for a secure Texas border.   

Huffines wants to finish Trump’s border wall, deploy the National Guard, and halt incoming commercial trucks from Mexico to economically pressure the Mexican government into securing their side of the Texas-Mexico border. 

He said, “The only chance we have of securing the border is of a courageous governor of Texas. And let me tell you, the key to my plan is I will never ask permission from the federal government to secure the Texas border.”

Focusing on the operational security of the border, West said, “We’re going to make sure that our men and women that we put down there, they have the ability to arrest or detain and deport. We’re going to make sure our constitutional officers who are our sheriffs, they have the ability to detain and to deport and not on trespassing. We’re going to make sure that where it is appropriate, where it’s proper, we do put in a border obstacle, a physical barrier, that we can [use to] channel people and so that we have better ground surveillance systems and ground troops that could afford that.”

Prather plans to disincentivize this border crisis. “The reason these illegals are coming to the state of Texas [is that the] federal government is bringing them here. This is a targeted attack. We have the eighth largest, ninth largest economy in the world. We have the ability economically to put a lot of feet to the fire in Washington, D.C. We can hold out. That’s one of the reasons I am an advocate for the Texas bill being on the ballot for you to vote on. I do believe that we need to push back.” 

The Republican primary is scheduled for March 1. Early voting begins February 14. The full video of the debate can be viewed here.