TYLER, Texas. (KSLA) — U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert Jr., a Republican, faces Democratic opponent Hank Gilbert in the polls as voters in East Texas decide who will represent the state’s 1st Congressional District.
The district includes Angelina, Gregg, Harrison, Nacogdoches, Panola, Rusk, Sabine, San Augustine, Shelby and Smith counties along with parts of Upshur and Wood counties.
“We’re in a battle for continuing opportunity and freedom or turning this place over to a totalitarian government,” Gohmert said.
He credits his 15-year run in the U.S. House of Representatives to his ability to build trust with the people of East Texas.
“I’ve taken on Republican leadership as well as Democratic leadership. I’ve been true to my word. They know I’m going to fight for what’s right.”
His opponent has raised more money than any other Democratic opponent in the past.
“In fact, we’ve raised way more money in this race than he has, which has allowed us to get our message out even in the time of corona,” Gilbert said.
Shirley McKellar’s campaign raised about $41,000 when she, for the fourth consecutive time, ran against Gohmert in 2018. By comparison, Gilbert’s campaign had raised more than $600,000 as of Oct. 25.
Gilbert said he wants people to know that he is running for them.
“When you also look at the voting record of our congressman, he’s done absolutely nothing except vote against what the people of this district need: high-speed internet access, 5G access to our rural hospitals ... to lower prescription drug prices, to lower medical costs, to make insurance more affordable, rather than supporting the abolishment of the ACA, like he is doing.”
Gohmert said his platform is based on freedom. “We are on the brink of losing our freedoms, of losing our freedom of assembly – we’ve seen that through COVID – losing our right to worship, freedom of religion, freedom of speech – that’s being censored now.”
When it comes to police reform, both candidates agree that there needs to be change.
Gohmert said he wants law enforcement to be held accountable at the federal and local levels.
“We do need to stop federal agents from being able to wiretap or surveil or search without probable cause. We need to get back to that. As far as local law enforcement, if there is any place where there is racial discrimination, then it needs to be addressed.”
Gilbert said the phrase “defund the police" has been misconstrued.
“There are a lot of instances in which 911 is called or police are called out where you don’t need officers with guns; you need a social worker or you may need a mental health worker. The Black Lives Matter movement has gotten so many people, particularly with white supremacist tendencies like my opponent, so rattled that they believe it’s a movement to take over the country and they chastise all the looting and violence and all that."
Gohmert has faced criticism for not wearing a mask and then contracting the virus. “I normally didn’t [wear a mask]. But about 2-3 weeks before I came down with COVID, tested positive for it, the rule was mandated.”
However, he said he does not necessarily agree with some of the measures put in place, like requiring masks and shutting down businesses.
“We have never in the history of this country put orders onto people who were well," Gohmert said. “This is the first time in our history where we’ve ordered businesses, where people were not sick, to shut their business down even if they went bankrupt.”
He said he thinks it should be “a matter of freedom.” He also denied any allegations that he belittled his team for wearing masks.
“The thing I told my staff, and continue to tell them, if you feel like you need to wear a mask – even before it was mandated – and especially if you have any kind of pre-existing condition, please wear a mask,” Gohmert said.
Oct. 30 is the last day for early voting in Texas.