Party tickets take shape in District 1 House race

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The filing period for the 2018 primary election ends Monday: Congressman  Louie Gohmert will have at least two challengers for his District 1 seat.

Brent Beal and Roshin Rowjee will both appear on the primary ticket, Beal as a Democrat and Rowjee as a Republican who will square off opposite Gohmert on the Republican ballot March 6. 

Shirley McKellar, Anthony Culler and David Tatum have also been discussed as candidates, but as of press time, Beal and Rowjee were the only two candidates listed on the Secretary of State’s website as Gohmert’s challengers.

Texas’ 1st Congressional District encompasses 10 counties in full (Gregg, Rusk, Angelina, Harrison, Nacogdoches, Panola, San Augustine, Sabine, Shelby and Smith) and portions of Wood and Upshur Counties. 

Republican candidates

First being elected in 2004 to the United States Congress, Gohmert said, he wants to serve “at least one more term” to continue the work Congress has done, including securing the border. 

In an interview between casting his Congressional votes in Washington, D.C., he cited the economy during former President Barack Obama’s presidency, saying “the wealthy got wealthier, but everyone else just kind of made it, barely survived.” 

“The economy has come back a little bit, but for the last several years, the only people making great money was Wall Street… We want to see the economy come back and people start getting raises and better paying jobs. We’ve lost a lot of jobs all over,” he said, noting he thinks every county in East Texas has seen a loss of jobs. “We’ve pulled some in and thank God there are people who see the beauty and the greatness of moving businesses to East Texas.” 

In order to improve the economy, industry and manufacturing jobs have to move back to America.

Another focus of his campaign, Gohmert said, is returning aspects of the freedom of religion he feels Americans have lost, including being able to cite teachings from the Bible as reasons to participate, engage or encourage certain activities or behaviors. 

“This is the first time in American history, going back to the very beginning of the country before it was a country, that people could not follow their deeply held religious beliefs,” Gohmert said. 

Gohmert also wants to focus on gun ownership, immigration and passing the tax reform bill that, he said, cuts taxes to all Americans except the 39.6 percent rate for the wealthiest Americans. 

Going into the 2018 campaign, he said, 75 percent of the district agrees with the positions he has taken – enough to reelect him to a seventh term in 2016.

“I’m going to continue to stand for what the majority of East Texans stand for,” he said, noting it does not matter who tries to intimidate him.

Having been in Washington, D.C., for  13 years, he said, he can listen to the perspectives of people he disagrees with, noting he hugged Rep. Al Green, even though Gohmert does not agree with Green’s stance on wanting to impeach President Donald Trump.

Whether or not people agree with him, Gohmert said, other members of Congress know him to be a person of integrity, established with a reputation working with other people.

“If people are willing to give me a chance to continue representing them, I will continue working the 20-or-so hour days when I’m in Washington and keep standing for what I believe is right,” he said. 

The economy is a focus of Rowjee’s campaign too, noting  “devastating” loss of jobs his home of Lufkin has experienced in Gohmert’s tenure. 

Rowjee moved to Lufkin with his parents in 1978 after a short stint in Toronto following their flight from the apartheid-torn South Africa. After spending the last five years in the New York and New Jersey area, Rowjee returned to Lufkin in March. 

He decided in July to run for Gohmert’s seat after people – both lifelong friends and strangers – in casual conversations suggested he run for the office. 

“Personally, I think that’s one of the highest compliments a person can get is they trust you enough to even make that suggestion,” Rowjee said.

The conversations always led back to the loss of industry in Deep East Texas and the negative impact that loss had had on people’s lives. 

“I’m basically echoing their sentiments of feeling dissolutions that they’re being underrepresented or no representation at all,” he said. “They’re basing all this on the fact that every few years under Mr. Gohmert’s watch there’s been an industry that’s been shut down and thousands of jobs are lost and he hasn’t brought any jobs back. It’s profoundly impacted people’s livelihood.” 

After praying about it, Rowjee said, he asked God for a sign to tell him if he should run for the office or not. A Gohmert appearance on TV was that sign and led Rowjee to launch a campaign. 

That sign came in July 2017 when he saw a speech Gohmert was giving on C-SPAN in which Tyler, Longview and Nacogdoches were listed as the locations he represented. Lufkin was not included.

“I’m thinking to myself, ‘This is unbelievable because this is exactly what people in this area have been saying,’” he said. 

People who had come up to him, including a woman from Huntington, had told Rowjee they felt they were not just underrepresented but not represented at all by Gohmert. 

“When I saw that, I thought God was shining a light right down from the heavens and saying, ‘Hey, you asked for your sign; there it is,’” Rowjee said.

Rowjee said he sees District 1 as being split between north and south with the north showing economic progress while the south continues to struggle economically. 

“For us here in the southern part of the district, to be quite honest, we aspire to be as economically vibrant as the Tyler-Longview area, the northern part of the district… It’s important for the southern half of this district to get back to standing on their own two feet because in the end it makes the entire district stronger.” 

After redistricting in 2003, he said, the people’s votes became unfair with the larger cities of Tyler and Longview overpowering the votes of smaller, rural communities and Lufkin and Nacogdoches. 

Rowjee’s focus is to work for people’s interests, not the party, calling his political leanings as “center-right.”

In addition to his goals of improving the economy in the Deep East Texas portion of the district, Rowjee said, he also included on his agenda sheet the international goal of achieving a resolution in the conflict between Israel and Palestine. That resolution, he said, came to him when a child appeared to him in his sleep telling him the resolution. 

Americans can live harmoniously, no matter their religion or cultures, he said, if everyone lived by God’s basic message of love, peace, compassion and respect for life. 

Democratic candidate

The economy and equality are two of Brent Beal’s main points in the campaign also, he said. 

One of the concerns Beal found when talking to people is that people who work full-time jobs cannot afford food, shelter or a vehicle. 

“There’s people in this district – all over this district – that work 40 hours a week and honestly can’t make ends make. They can’t afford food and shelter. That’s hard for them,” he said. “There’s people who work 40 hours a week and tell me they can’t afford a car; that they have to live next to where they work because even though they’re working full  time they can’t afford a vehicle. There’s something fundamentally broken with our economy when that’s the case… Those are people getting up every morning, working a full day, full week, full month and at the end of it can’t make it. I don’t know how you defend an economy that produces those kind of outcomes.” 

He noted the unfair tax laws for businesses that allow franchises pay lower taxes than local, small businesses and entrepreneurs. 

Ultimately, Beal said, “Mr. Gohmert is just not doing his job. He hasn’t been an effective legislator. He hasn’t built any coalitions. He’s part of Congress – 435 people. You have to cooperate you have to build coalitions to get things done and he hasn’t. He hasn’t passed any legislation, hasn’t defended us effectively in DC.” 

As a business professor at the University of Texas at Tyler, Beal has studied income inequality and the effect it has on political engagement, he said.

“The greater the distance between the haves and the have-nots, the lower the political engagement,” he said. “That’s a huge conclusion that seems to hold pretty universally.” 

Beal said it worried him to see the political disconnect and cynicism he found on a 50-city tour he conducted this fall throughout the district. 

When people stop actively engaging in politics, Beal said, they start to look for simple solutions that do not exist. At that point, voters no longer become concerned about voting for people who will do a good job or defend their interest in a common sense way. 

“Now we’re arguing about who’s part of who’s tribe. Who’s on who’s team? We’re defending the indefensible because they’re on our team, or we’re attacking everything the other team does, and that doesn’t produce good government,” he said.

Beal says if he is elected, he will not be on the “Democrat’s team” or only represent their views. 

“When you win an election, you belong to everybody,” he said. “That’s the basis of a representative democracy. I may be running as a Democrat, but if I were fortunate enough to win this seat, then the day after the election is over, I no longer work just for the Democrats, if I ever did… If I were to get elected, I would honestly try to serve the public interest. Not what the liberals want, not what the religious right wants, not what the party wants. I’m running to represent this entire district and everybody in it.”

Beal chose to file for elect because of his own frustrations with the lack of representation he saw from Gohmert for his own community. 

He had never felt the need to run for political office and said the campaign is not one of vanity or for ego. 

“If there were a better candidate, I would vote for them,” Beal said. “I would happily vote for them because it wouldn’t be me in all honestly, but there’s not. I’ve grown frustrated with that too.”

Without a significant challenger in Gohmert’s previous elections, the representative has won the seat with typically more than 60 percent of the vote. 

“If there was a tipping point, it was just that. The presidential election and then just seeing that nothing was changing,” he said. 

During his tour, Beal said, he talked with people in towns of all sizes and people from all backgrounds and heard their concerns, which included the cost of college, immigration and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and criminal justice reform. 

Beal does not plan to fight for groups or names. Instead, he said, he will stand up for values, including defending DACA “dreamers,” working class citizens, members of the LGBT community, women and minorities. 

“The value is that we should treat everybody fairly and with respect,” he said. “I can apply that to any community you want.”

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