MCALLEN, Texas – Chambers of Commerce and civic groups in Hidalgo County are still trying to find Monica De La Cruz.
The groups have been calling and emailing for weeks but the Republican candidate for Congressional District 15 has not responded.
The McAllen Chamber of Commerce, the Pharr Chamber of Commerce, and Futuro RGV/McAllen Citizens League/League of Women Voters each want to put on a candidate forum featuring the two CD 15 candidates. De La Cruz’s opponent, Democrat Michelle Vallejo, has said “yes” to all three.
The chambers of commerce believe an impartial and professionally produced candidate forum would be beneficial for the voters. They believe it is justified because CD 15 is shaping up to be the closely contested congressional race in Texas this election cycle. The chambers have held candidate forums in the past.
“We have tried every number given to us for Monica but we have not received a call back,” said a staff member for one of the chambers. The staff member said he did not want his name to be given out.
“We do not want to antagonize Monica. We will have to work with her if she wins,” the staffer said. “But, her not returning calls and not participating in at least one forum, we feel, is disrespectful to our chamber and our members. This is a big election for an open seat.”
One of the chambers reached out to the Rio Grande Guardian to see if we knew how to reach De La Cruz. Like the chambers, our calls to the De La Cruz campaign were not returned. So, via email, we contacted Macarena Martinez, Texas communications director of the Republican National Committee.
I write to ask if you know how to reach Monica De La Cruz, the Republican candidate for Congressional District 15?
I am trying to reach her for a story on whether she will be participating in any of three CD 15 candidate forums that have been organized. One is being put on by Futuro RGV, one by the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, and one by the Pharr Chamber of Commerce.
One of the two chambers called me today to say they have tried every phone number they can find for Monica but they cannot reach her. Futuro RGV said the same.
If you have a phone number for Monica, perhaps you could share it with me? We would like to ask Monica if she will be responding to the invitations from the three organizations.
Thanks for your help with this.
Martinez did not respond to the email but did take our call the next day. Martinez said the best person to talk to would be Giancarlo Sopo. Sopo then sent us a text. He was at pains to point out he was not part of the De La Cruz campaign, just an advisor. Via text, he asked how he could help.
The Guardian responded:
“Hi Giancarlo. Thanks for writing. As you know, three groups have been trying to arrange CD 15 candidate forums, namely the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, the Pharr Chamber of Commerce, and Futuro RGV. I got a call from one of the chambers the other day asking for help. They said they had called every number they know for Monica but had not had a call back. They asked if we knew how to reach Monica. I tried the number on the campaign website but have not had a call back. So I reached out to Macarena. Futuro said they, too, had not had any luck reaching Monica either. So, I thought I would do a story on the subject. My question would be, will Monica be doing any of the three forums? And, what is the best number for the three groups to reach Monica? Thanks.”
Sopo said he would get back to us. And he did. He said:
“Hola, Steve. Please attribute this quote on the record to Monica De La Cruz:
“My opponent and I already shared a stage earlier this year where she laid out her radical agenda and I explained that my vision for our country is rooted in the values of South Texas. I understand why she wants to redefine herself, but my beliefs have not changed. There will be plenty of opportunities for the voters to hear about our very different ideas for the country. I look forward to continuing to share my plans for lowering food prices, strengthening our economy, and securing the border over the coming weeks.”
The Guardian responded:
Giancarlo, I had contacted you about the two chambers of commerce. How do they get a response from Monica? They tell me they cannot reach her. Do you have a number they can call in order to see if she will participate in their candidate forums?
Sopo replied: [email protected]
Unfortunately, that email address was a dead end. The chambers and the civil groups say they have had no luck getting a reply from that email address.
“We sent two formal invites via email to Monica but we got no response,” Futuro RGV President Nedra Kinerk told the Guardian.
The date Futuro RGV/McAllen Citizens League/League of Women Voters had in mind for the CD 15 candidate forum was Sept. 17. They provisionally booked the McAllen Convention Center for the forum.
“We had to cancel. We could not reach Monica,” Kinerk confirmed.
Kinerk said she contacted Adrienne Peña Garza, chairwoman of Hidalgo County Republican Party. “Adrienne did give me contact information but I got no response from it.”
Kinerk said Futuro is now trying to formulate a Plan B. “We are looking for alternatives to get the voters the information on candidates,” she said.
Asked if she was disappointed not to hear back from De La Cruz, Kinerk said: “We have been doing candidate forums since the year 2000. The mission of Futuro RGV and our partners is to get the information to the voters about the candidates who want to serve them locally, or in Austin or in Washington before they vote. Then we encourage them to go out and vote. To do their duty and responsibility and vote. To make our democracy strong. And that is the only way you can do it. By knowing the candidates and voting.”
The McAllen Chamber and the Pharr Chamber are still hoping to host their CD 15 candidate forums. The McAllen Chamber event is slated to take place Oct. 6 at the Radisson Hotel McAllen Airport. The Pharr Chamber event is slated to take place Oct. 27 at the Pepe Salinas Memorial Civic Center.
The CD 15 race is one of the most hotly contested races in Texas this election cycle. It is an open seat because the incumbent member for CD 15, Congressman Vicente Gonzalez, has chosen to run for neighboring CD34.
Asked for his view, former UT-Brownsville political scientist Tony Knopp said: “When candidates are provided an opportunity to debate the issues in a political campaign, and are assured that the debate will be conducted in a fair and balanced manner, it is in the public interest for the candidates to participate.”
Veteran TV broadcaster Ron Whitlock said he has been left frustrated in the past by candidates refusing to participate in a forum. He offered a suggestion to the McAllen Chamber, the Pharr Chamber and Futuro: stage a forum with the candidate who is willing to participate, along with an empty chair.
“We did this back when Blake Farenthold was trying to unseat Congressman Solomon Ortiz. Ortiz, a Democrat, would not agree to a debate. Farenthold, his Republican challenger, seized on this. He called Ortiz chicken and traipsed around Brownsville with a large plastic chicken. So, we staged a debate on KVEO Channel 23 between Farenthold and the chicken. Farenthold went on to win.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows CD 25 candidate Monica De La Cruz. Photo credit: Monica De La Cruz website.
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