PHARR, Texas – Today, Oct. 27, was due to be the day the third and final candidate forum took place featuring the two candidates running for Congressional District 15. 

The event, hosted by the Greater Pharr Chamber of Commerce, was to have taken place at the Pepe Salinas Memorial Civic Center. It would have featured Republican Party candidate Monica De La Cruz and Democratic Party candidate Michelle Vallejo. 

The co-moderators would have been Veronica Gonzales, senior vice president for government and community relations at UT-Rio Grande Valley, and Steve Taylor, editor and publisher of the Rio Grande Guardian.

However, the event is not happening because De La Cruz was unavailable. Cindy Garza, director of external relations for the City of Pharr, offered many dates and times to De La Cruz but none were acceptable. Vallejo said “yes” to the Pharr Chamber invitation.

Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez would have opened the the Pharr Chamber forum, just as he did in a primary election forum earlier this year. Asked earlier this month if there was any chance of the forum being staged, Hernandez said: “We have no news. We did reach out at the onset to the candidates. We’ve not been able to finalize the date, and we’re more than happy to put it on. We actually have been excited about it. But obviously it’s not our race and it’s obviously not our within our parameters to make them show up or participate.”

The early two CD 15 candidate forums, to have been hosted by Futuro RGV and the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, also had to be cancelled. Organizers said De La Cruz did respond to participation requests. Futuro’s forum was to be held at the McAllen Convention Center on Sept. 17. The McAllen Chamber forum was to have been held at Radisson McAllen Airport Hotel on Oct. 6.

When the Rio Grande Guardian contacted De La Cruz to ask if she would be participating in any or all of the candidate forums, she said: “My opponent and I already shared a stage earlier this year.” 

However, the “stage” De La Cruz was referring to was a Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas event held in McAllen back in January, long before De La Cruz or Vallejo had won their primaries. The event featured more than a dozen primary election candidates and so De La Cruz and Vallejo never went head to head.

Vallejo confirmed she was ready to participate in all three CD 15 candidate forums. “I’ve been looking forward to connecting with my community by way of a debate or candidate forum since the day we got into this general election,” she said, earlier this week.

The fact that not been one candidate forum has been held for CD 15, never mind three, has surprised many. After all, being a member of congress for a district is an important position. Neither De La Cruz or Vallejo have served in an elected position before so a forum would have been a good opportunity to see which candidate has the best grasp of the issues important to South Texas.

Attorney Ric Godinez is a former chairman of the Hidalgo County Democratic Party. In the past he has been a member of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce. Asked about the importance of a candidate forum, staged by an impartial and respected organization such as a chamber of commerce, Godinez said:

“Any candidate that is running for office is basically doing a month-long, or year-long, interview for a job with their potential bosses: the voters. As you know, the first part of any job is just showing up, and frankly, I do not know of any job where bosses will not care and hire them if the employee doesn’t even show up for an interview.”

What’s worse, Godinez said, is that local chambers of commerce have been been slighted.

“Monica is ignoring the Chambers of Commerce and the business community they serve. For a politician seeking to represent and lead our community in Congress, to ignore such a large and important constituency for a job that will serve them is unprecedented, and hard to fathom.”

Godinez said he has run, led, and been involved in many campaigns for all sorts of offices, from local, nonpartisan, positions to state and federal elected positions across the region and state.  

“The one thing that I have found to be consistently true is how a campaign is run and managed is a good predictor of just how that candidate will run their office if they win.”

Godinez added that he and every other District 15 resident has seen a barrage of negative ads from groups supporting De La Cruz.

“These ads have questionable if not just plain false allegations against Monica’s opponent. A refusal to answer even the most basic of questions her potential constituents have… is not good for our district and certainly damaging to our politics.”

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