Still no debate between Burgess, challenger

Congressman Michael Burgess speaks at a Republican event at El Chaparral Grill in Denton. (Photo by Leopold Knopp)

A week into early voting in the 2018 primary elections, incumbent congressman Michael Burgess (R-Texas) and challenger Veronica Birkenstock have still not met in a debate setting.

The two were supposed to meet for half an hour at a county Republican event in Denton Feb. 21, but Birkenstock said she was invited at the last minute to a private NRA function with American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp. She said she sent a campaign representative, Patrick Wilson, to speak in her stead, and expressed frustration that he was not allowed to do so. Burgess spoke in her absence.

Both candidates have run on platforms of extreme support for president Donald Trump.

Birkenstock contributed to the Trump campaign in 2016 and more recently went to Alabama to work with Roy Moore’s senate campaign in spite of sexual misconduct allegations because she said she thought he would support Trump’s agenda. She was even selected to be on Trump’s Department of Labor landing committee, though she had to step down because of their business relationship — Birkenstock’s company had supplied seasonal foreign workers to his hotels.

Birkenstock’s campaign website borrows several of Trump’s catchphrases, such as “America first” and “drain the swamp,” and emphasizes her dissatisfaction with Congress’ failure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare” — stances Burgess also clearly holds. The 16-year incumbent congressman has voted in line with Trump’s position 95.4 percent of the time, according to Project 538’s congressional tracking. This includes support of attempts to repeal the ACA.

Burgess said he was asked by vice president Mike Pence personally to run for re-election during this effort.

“Late one night, at these meetings that go on into the night, the vice president looked at me and said, ‘I hope you’re not planning on going anywhere, because we need you in this fight,’” he said.

Burgess said that while 2017 seemed a chaotic year on a day-to-day level, when you look at the totality of the year, the country made great strides. He credited the leadership of the Trump administration for this.

In his comments, Burgess addressed the prospective border wall, which was central to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, saying it is important to have tangible proof of the country’s commitment to border security. When asked about the recent school shooting in Parkland County, Florida, Burgess criticized the failures by federal and local law enforcement to spot shooter Nikolas Cruz, praised Argyle ISD for arming its teachers and said that school security in Texas was tougher in general.

“I’m yet to have a briefing on this, but it looks like he [Cruz] came in through the backdoor unmonitored,” Burgess said. “I don’t know if any of you have visited your kids in school, but around here you’ve got to go through an airlock.”

Though not physically present, Birkenstock got her two cents in with campaign material that was handed out at the event. The material criticizes the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, which Burgess sponsored. It includes a three-page letter from Denton cardiothoracic surgeon Tea Acuff, who called the law a Faustian bargain. Material directly from the Birkenstock campaign said that the act allows lawmakers to have a say in whether or not care is appropriate and that it endangers medical privacy.

Birkenstock seems to be referring here to section 105 of the law on expanding the availability of Medicare data. The law states that any information sharing must be in line with specific requirements, including parts of the Social Security Act.

Early voting for primaries in the 2018 general election began last week, Feb. 20. Election day is March 6. You can find more information about where and when to vote here.