In the first of what is expected to be many such forums over the next several months, three Republican challengers vying to be the next governor of Texas met in Decatur on Wednesday evening to answer questions about what they would do if given the opportunity to lead the state.

Taking part in the gubernatorial forum—hosted jointly by conservative organizations from Wise, Parker, Grayson, and Cooke counties—were former State Sen. Don Huffines, former Texas GOP Chair Allen West, and media personality Chad Prather.

But while the candidates were largely in sync on the problems facing the state—as well as their solutions—much of the discussion was focused on one candidate who wasn’t in attendance: incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott.

It was not for a lack of trying. Indeed, Abbott had been invited in July to take part in the discussion, but he declined the invitation due to “scheduling conflicts.”

The audience, which consisted of many voters who labeled themselves as supporters of “anybody but Abbott,” didn’t seem to mind.

The roughly 90-minute discussion was moderated by Dallas salon owner and former state Senate candidate Shelley Luther, who was famously jailed after opening her business in defiance of orders from Abbott and local officials. 

The first topic of discussion? Border security, which has garnered significant attention in light of the surge of illegal aliens flooding Texas’ southern border this year.

Huffines used the opportunity to plug his plan to secure the border, a hallmark of his campaign, which includes finishing the border wall, closing ports of entry with Mexico, as well as sending the entire Texas National Guard, of which there are more than 20,000 members, to stop the invasion and immediately deport anyone that gets across the river.

“This is very doable. If Abbott wanted to do it, he could have done it seven years ago. I could do it tomorrow. He doesn’t have the political will to do it. That’s why he’s not doing it. I’m going to get done in 30 days, but no one in this country’s ever been able to do,” said Huffines.

West’s plan, he shared, involves a more targeted use of forces—up to 7,000 members of the Texas National Guard—placed on major infiltration routes to act as a deterrent force.

West also called for drug cartels to be declared terrorist organizations.

“Once we declare them as a terrorist organization, we are going to freeze their assets, we’re going to go out there and seize those assets, we’re going to go after the people that are selling these stash houses, we’re going to take those assets and use it for our own border security fund,” West explained.

Prather noted that current National Guardsmen and Department of Public Safety officers deployed to the border are currently being used to help process, rather than deter, illegal aliens.

“In fact, in many cases, they’re acting as an Uber driver to get them to a processing center where they get a slap on the wrist. They get papers and [an] airplane ticket to go somewhere in the state and they disappear in the night, never to return. I’ve been to the border numerous times. I’ve seen the buses driving them out,” Prather explained.

The candidates also took aim at the failure of Texas’ electrical grid earlier this year, which left millions of Texans without power while a winter storm ravaged the state. 

All three targeted unreliable energy sources, like wind and solar, as being largely to blame.

“For whatever reason, we have dedicated 23 to almost 26 percent of our energy distribution to an unreliable energy source, which is wind and solar. And all you have to do is, as they say in politics, you follow the money. As a matter of fact, one of the things you have to be very concerned about is that there was an energy company here in the state of Texas that made $2.3 billion while you were freezing, while an 11-year-old died in his bed in Conroe, Texas. And that exact same energy company wrote Greg Abbott a $1 million campaign contribution check. That tells you something,” said West.

Prather agreed.

“We have to stop subsidizing these green energy plants and these green energy companies and let them stand on their own two feet.  When they fail, they fail. We’re not going to bail them out,” said Prather. “I’m all for having green and renewable sources of energy. And sustainability is great. But at the end of the day, they have to stand on their own two feet, because that is the only way they’re going to truly be innovative.”

Huffines also noted some of the other negative impacts of increased state subsidies of windmills, calling it an “ecological disaster.”

“Did you know if you have a ranch out there and somebody sticks a windmill up next to you, your property value just went down 30 percent or more? Everybody in the Legislature knows who ERCOT is. We’re all very familiar with it. This isn’t some secret we talk about in every session. Greg Abbott certainly knows all about it,” said Huffines.

A topic on many attendees’ minds was vaccine mandates, as thousands of Texans are facing potential termination from their jobs for not complying with requirements to receive the COVID vaccine.

Prather called the mandates “corporate and medical tyranny.”

“There is no government entity. There is no government, there is no politician. There’s no representative of the government that has the right to violate your body—not in any way, shape, or form. And we’ve got to push that through,” said Prather.

Huffines said Abbott’s response to COVID was a big part of why he was running.

“This is one of the main issues or the catalyst for me to want to run: When Greg Abbott listened to that lying piece of crap, Fauci,” said Huffines. 

“I will never as your governor allow anyone to be forcibly vaccinated for any reason if they don’t want to be. Whether it’s a business or the government doing it, or your children. I will never let anyone forcibly require a mask on you or your children.”

“I’ve never taken the vaccine, and I never will,” he added.

West, who was recently “hit with Mr. Wuhan,” as he referred to his recent hospitalization due to COVID, shared his preferred treatments for the virus.

“We made the decisions about what went inside our bodies: the monoclonal antibody therapy and fusion treatment, ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, zinc, vitamin C, D3. That’s what a governor and a leader does. He says you make the choice about what therapies, protocols, and treatments that you want. I don’t make those decisions for you,” said West.

The Republican primary election is scheduled for March 1, 2022, although redistricting lawsuits could delay that date.

The full video of the debate can be viewed here.

Brandon Waltens

Brandon serves as the Managing Editor for Texas Scorecard. After managing successful campaigns for top conservative legislators and serving as a Chief of Staff in the Texas Capitol, Brandon moved outside the dome in order to shine a spotlight on conservative victories and establishment corruption in Austin. @bwaltens

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