PHARR, RGV – The one and only LIVE TV forum for the open Congressional District 15 primary election is being held tonight at the Pharr Events Center.

The forum will be shown LIVE on CBS 4 News from 5 to 5:30 p.m. and from 6 to 7 p.m. The 5:30 to 6 p.m. slot will feature the national news. Questions will be posed by reporters from CBS 4 News, News Talk 710 KURV and the Rio Grande Guardian. The event is open to the public and there is no entrance fee.

Tim Westley, GOP candidate for Congressional District 15.
Tim Westley, GOP candidate for Congressional District 15.

CD 15 is an open seat because longtime Congressman Rubén Hinojosa is not running for re-election. The district stretches from Hidalgo in the south to Seguin in the north. It is sometimes referred to as the fajita district because of its bizarre shape.

The Democratic Party candidates vying to replace Hinojosa are Dolly Elizondo, Vicente Gonzalez, Joel Quintanilla, Sonny Palacios, Ruben Ramirez, and Randy Sweeten. The Republican Party candidates running for CD 15 are Xavier Salinas, Ruben Villarreal, and Tim Westley.

The Rio Grande Guardian caught up with some of the candidates on the campaign trail. Quintanilla, a former Hidalgo County Commissioner and mayor of Mercedes, said he feels like he has already won.

“We feel so blessed. To my way of thinking, like I told my lovely wife, we have pretty much already won this election. I am not talking about at the polls. I am talking about how much we have grown as people; the experience we have gained, Quintanilla said.

The needs of the residents of District 15 are different in the north to the south, the candidate has found. “In the northern counties they do not care so much about border security. Their No. 1 issue is economic development and jobs. They have been left reeling by the downturn in the oil and gas industry,” Quintanilla said.

Quintanilla said he feels sure he is connecting well with voters. “The citizens of this district have opened their doors to us. Many of them are very committed to our campaign because they feel I am the most qualified candidate.”

Westley, a U.S. Army veteran and educator, is the only candidate running who lives in the northern part of the district. In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Westley said the voters want a change.

“If the voters elect me to Congress they are going to have someone who will listen to them, whether they are from the northern part of the district, the southern part of the district or the central part of the district. I will be communicating with the mayors and the city managers, with different organizations throughout the district. Too often, we find members of Congress go to Washington with ideas about what they think the people want. But, they don’t listen to what the voters are actually saying. We need strong representation. Someone who listens to the concerns of the people,” Westley said.

The Rio Grande Guardian caught up with Gonzalez, an attorney, after he had just finished knocking on doors in Las Milpas. He was accompanied on his block walk by DREAM Act students.

“They are amazing, these kids. They are a great example to our communities and to our country. They are the type of kids we need to conserve and keep in our country,” Gonzalez said. “We need to fix our broken immigration system. We need to integrate these students into our society to ensure they fully contribute to our society. They need a dignified path to citizenship. These kids did not come to this country of their own volition. We have to give the DREAMers their dream.”

Elizondo said her campaign has been buoyed by the recent endorsement of Emily’s List, the nation’s largest resource for women in politics. The group has raised over $400 million to support pro-choice Democratic women candidates.

“Dolly Elizondo is a champion for Texas women and families,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List. “As a former teacher and a successful entrepreneur, Dolly fights tirelessly to increase economic opportunity for students, families, and communities. Texas is home to millions of Latinas, but the state has never elected a Latina to Congress. When elected, Dolly will be a forceful advocate for Texans whose voices aren’t being heard in Washington, and the EMILY’s List community of over three million members is excited to endorse her historic campaign in 2016.”

The Congressional District 15 primary is on March 1. Early voting starts tomorrow, February 16.

Congressional District 15 candidate Vicente Gonzalez is pictured with DREAM Act students while campaigning in Las Milpas.
Congressional District 15 candidate Vicente Gonzalez is pictured with DREAM Act students while campaigning in Las Milpas.