- Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales of Texas will now face two GOP challengers in 2024, should he seek reelection, following his censureship by the state’s Republican party.
- Former special ICE agent, Victor Avila, and Medina County Republican chair, Julie Clark, have declared their candidacy against Gonzales, arguing Gonzales no longer represents the values of the party or his constituents.
- “If he wants to vote with the Democrats … there is a Democratic Party that [he] can run for,” Avila told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
GOP Rep. Tony Gonzales of Texas faces two other Republican challengers in 2024 after being censured by the state party in early March.
The Republican Party of Texas censured Gonzales due to a perceived “lack of fidelity” to the party’s core principles, resulting in a loss of party support should he seek reelection and opening the door for GOP challengers. Former U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agent Victor Avila and Medina County GOP Chair Julie Clark have declared a run for his seat in the 2024 Republican primaries, as they don’t believe Gonzales represents the constituents in District 23, the two contenders told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
“I’m running on my merit, I’m running on my integrity, and I’m running because I think the citizens and Texans deserve a better representation than what’s occurring right now,” Avila told the DCNF. “I want them to know that there is a choice, there is a difference, and that person is me.”
The border crisis is paramount to this congressional district that stretches from El Paso to San Antonio, with 843 miles bordering Mexico. Avila, who is running on his experience as a “border security expert,” is from El Paso, lived in San Antonio and has spent most of his life working in the area, on both sides of the border, he said.
“The border has been my life,” he told the DCNF. “I really bring the experience and solutions to really tackle this, instead of fighting border security bills and not representing the people.”
I will never forget the faces of children I rescued from human traffickers. Each was as heartbreaking as this.
This is a daily reality along the border.
It is inhumane and it needs to end. https://t.co/Cx0xqaEVqU
— Victor Avila (@VictorAvilaTX) March 21, 2023
Gonzales was the only Texas Republican congressman who voted against the Border Safety and Security Act, a border security bill introduced by Rep. Chip Roy – a fellow Texas GOP member – which requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to deny non-citizens entry into the U.S. without proper documentation.
The congressman believes the legislation doesn’t identify or target the “root causes” of the border crisis and merely turns asylum-seekers away, regardless of their situation. This “un-American and inhumane” policy could incentivize human smuggling even more, he said in an op-ed for the DCNF.
“Too many of my colleagues prefer to score political points with messaging bills that will never be signed into law,” Gonzales said in reference to the bill. “Congress needs to fix it [illegal immigration] from the ground up. It can do that by adding more immigration judges to the system, investing in Border Patrol resources, and deporting unmerited claimants more quickly.”
Illegal immigration has surged at the U.S.-Mexico border under the Biden administration, prompting Congress to intervene. In fiscal year 2022, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) encountered over 2.3 million migrants.
The former ICE agent said he brings “integrity” and “transparency” to the table, which he feels Gonzales has lacked. The people in the district feel wronged that he isn’t representing their interests in Washington, said Avila.
“If he wants to vote with the Democrats … there is a Democratic Party that [he] can run for,” Avila said. (RELATED: REP. TONY GONZALES: Why This Republican Opposes His Colleague’s Border Security Bill)
Clark is the GOP chair for Medina County, the county that initiated Gonzales’ censureship resolution, which 15 other counties in the 29-county district followed.
“Tony Gonzales not only lacks conservative principles, but is an opportunist that has let Washington D.C. dictate his new positions,” said Clark.
The chairwoman said that Gonzales betrayed former President Donald Trump by accepting his endorsement just to vote for the formation of a Jan. 6 committee to investigate the Capitol riots. She also criticized the congressman for not supporting the building of a border wall.
“The reason I am running is simple; Tony Gonzales has forgotten conservatives in South Texas,” Clark told the DCNF. “I am the true conservative in this race and I believe the voters in CD-23 will see that as well.”
The two will face off against each other and Gonzales – if he runs for reelection – on May 28, 2024.
With two decades of military experience, Gonzales worked for Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as a Department of Defense legislative fellow, and went on to become a national security fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Gonzales was first elected to Congress in 2020, and just began his second term in January.
Though both Avila and Clark argue the congressman isn’t representing their district properly, Mark Mackowiak, a Texas political operative and GOP chair for Travis County, told the DCNF that Gonzales is a strong, bipartisan leader in Congress. Gonzales is a valued member of House leadership, said Mackowiak, serving as a senior member of the Appropriations Committee.
“He’s a really effective member of the legislature and he works pretty much harder than anyone I’ve seen,” said Mackowiak.
It will be difficult for his two Republican challengers to succeed in a 2024 GOP primary against an incumbent member of Congress, and a successful one at that, said Mackowiak. He questioned their ability to fundraise enough and garner the name recognition they’d need to compete with Gonzales, and said they’ll need a lot more than a state censure to do so.
“I don’t know that a state party ‘endorsement’ or lack of endorsement ultimately will be a decisive factor,” he said. “That would surprise me.”
If an elected official takes at least three actions that go against the Republican Party of Texas’ preamble during the current biennium – which began in June 2022 – they can be subjected to censureship, James Wesolek, Texas GOP spokesman, told the DCNF.
The Medina County GOP drafted a censureship resolution that detailed Gonzales’ five violations – two for supporting the Respect for Marriage Act, one regarding the border crisis, one for voting against House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s rules package and one for supporting the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act gun bill, according to the resolution.
Once it cleared the county level, with many other District 23 counties concurring, the State Republican Executive Committee passed the resolution, and officially censured Gonzales on March 4.
“There’s two penalties that are provided in the rules: one is ‘please don’t run again as a Republican’ and the other allows the party to spend up to 12% of our general budget on voter education in the district. Medina County recommended that we impose both penalties,” said Wesolek. “We have asked Congressman Gonzales not to run again as a Republican, and if he chooses to do so, we will be able to expend resources against him.”
Gonzales has not officially announced that he is running for Congress again, but if he does, it will be without the support of the Republican Party of Texas.
“I strongly expect he’ll seek reelection,” said Mackowiak. “I’d be shocked if he didn’t.”
Gonzales did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
This article has been updated.
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