It was a strange moment of triumph against racism: The gun-slinging white supremacist Craig Cobb, dressed up for daytime TV in a dark suit and red tie, hearing that his DNA testing revealed his ancestry to be only "86 percent European, and ... 14 percent Sub-Saharan African." The studio audience whooped and laughed and cheered. And…
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Unseating U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Republican from Silt who represents Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, is a strong motivator for three Democratic primary candidates who spoke at a candidate forum in Grand Junction on Wednesday.
Boebert will first have to beat her primary challenger, Don Coram, a Republican state senator and former state representative from Montrose.
“I’m running as a father, businessman, local community activist, former city council member, and to make sure Lauren Boebert doesn’t win a second term,” said Aspen businessman Adam Frisch. “She’s an embarrassment and not fighting for the people who voted her in.”
“She did not win her home county,” he added.
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The candidate forum held at Colorado Mesa University also included Sol Sandoval, a community organizer from Pueblo, and Alex Walker, who runs a tech business in Grand Junction.
Approximately 140 people attended the event.
Sandoval shared that she didn’t sleep well the night before, with the recent school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, on her mind, and concern for own children attending school.
“I’m here today as a mother, and a daughter of courageous immigrants,” Sandoval said. “I’m from a pro-union working family. I’ve worked as a social worker and community organizer” and have been trained to listen to people’s issues, she said.
Sandoval, who announced her candidacy within a month after Boebert took office, has spent the last year-and-a-half traveling around Colorado visiting with both Republicans and Democrats who are struggling to make ends meet.
“We have to work across party lines,” she said. “As an organizer, my friends throughout the district will make a difference. I’m here because know I know we can win this district. I have $800,000 from voters in the district — that demonstrates my grassroots campaign.”
Walker, expressed anger at the Democratic Party for being too “polite” and occasionally used expletives as he conveyed his frustration with Democrats playing too nice.
“I’m running for my survival,” Walker said. “Since Lauren Boebert and Donald Trump were elected I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been called a (slur for “gay”). They’ve emboldened a hateful streak in people. I’m here to work like hell for my survival. And for a future of clean jobs, real wages, basic human rights and accessible health care. We need people to stand up to Lauren Boebert.”
After mentioning “the two horrific acts in the past two weeks,” the forum moderator asked each candidate if they would support a ban on assault rifles. On May 14, a man killed 10 people in a Buffalo, N.Y. supermarket in an apparent racist attack.
The Second Amendment topic comes up a lot during his visits with people in the district, and there needs to be a respect for gun ownership, Frisch said. He said he’s not sure what the answer is to stopping America’s all-too-common mass shootings but that certain people should be restricted from accessing firearms.
Sandoval said she’s a gun owner and recognizes the importance of the Second Amendment for rural Coloradans. However, “there are practical things we can support in the bill in the Senate that addresses background checks,” she added.
The Bipartisan Background Checks Act would expand federal background checks required for gun purchases and ensure that individuals experiencing a mental health crisis would not be able to access guns, she said.
Walker said he would close the loophole for background checks, ban assault rifles, and send to prison people who bring guns to schools.
Candidates were also asked if they’ve considered the fate of oil and gas, as well as coal industry workers as Colorado moves toward achieving 100% renewable energy by 2040.
Walker responded that there’s a demand for clean energy and that people will actually earn more money in the renewable energy industry.
“Embracing clean technology is an incredible opportunity for Colorado’s future,” he said.
Sandoval, who mentioned growing up in poverty and is sympathetic to people’s fears about job losses, said she would support the training needed to transition away from fossil fuel development and into renewable energy.
Frisch said a lot of people working in the fossil fuel industry are aware of changes in weather, implying that workers are aware that the future will require learning new skills.
When asked about current federal legislation that would protect employees’ rights to organize and collectively bargain in the workplace, Frisch agreed that there must be protections for wages and benefits and that he would not stand in the way of workers who want to organize.
Sandoval contended that an entire region improves when there’s a union employer in the area.
“Pueblo is a union town,” she said. “Everyone’s lives improve. I know the importance of collective power and standing up to corporations.”
Candidates were also asked how they would protect Colorado during an era of unprecedented wildfires. Walker said he would protect Colorado with carbon tax incentives and reforestation. He also emphasized the importance of renegotiating the Colorado River Compact guidelines for sharing water with downstream users.
Sandoval mentioned the need for conserving water and protecting the water that originates in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, while Frisch added that Coloradans should not turn down funding that would help states deal with forest fires — a reference to Boebert, who voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better Act.
Frisch said Democrats have a unique opportunity to beat Boebert if she wins the primary but that Democrats must build a coalition that includes unaffiliated voters.
“It would be a shame if this district blows this opportunity,” he said. “Lauren Boebert is more vulnerable than people realize.”
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On Thursday, the Brownsville Herald reported that two students from the Donna Independent School District in South Texas have been charged with second-degree felonies over an alleged "credible threat."
"Four students were arrested Wednesday and two of them faced criminal charges on Thursday," reported Francisco E. Jiminez. "Nathaniel Seth Montelongo and Barbarito Pantoja, both 17 years old, were charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a second-degree felony. The other two students are minors and will face a judge Friday."
"All of them were arrested after police received an anonymous tip that the group was planning to carry out a threat at a school," continued the report. "Donna officials refused to say which campus was being targeted."
A separate report earlier this morning indicated that authorities uncovered an AK-47 rifle and a "hit list" as part of the alleged threat. However, per the Herald, "investigators refused to give any details about weapons, including if any were seized, and said there was no hit list."
This comes after the horrific mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 elementary schoolers and two teachers dead. Police have come under heavy criticism in that case amid allegations they stood outside for up to an hour while the shooting was going on and prevented parents from trying to rescue their children.
It also comes as law enforcement react to more threats around the state, including a high school student in Richardson arrested after trying to bring an AK-47 and AR-style rifle onto school premises.
Tale of two senators: Cruz doubles down against gun regulation while Cornyn leads GOP in negotiations
“That doesn’t work. It’s not effective. It doesn’t prevent crime,” he said.
He’s since done a string of other interviews that have inflamed the left and encouraged the right, chastising Democrats and the media.
Meanwhile, Texas’ senior senator, John Cornyn, has taken a different route. He’s quietly, but openly, leading the party to work with some Democrats to pass bipartisan gun legislation — a role familiar to him as he has a track record of moving small pieces of gun policy into law in the wake of mass murders.
“I met with Sen. Cornyn this morning,” U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told CNN. “As you know, he went home yesterday to see the family members and begin the fact-finding of this awful massacre, and I have encouraged him to talk with Sen. [Chris] Murphy and Sen. [Kyrsten] Sinema and others who are interested in trying to get an outcome that is directly related to the problem.”
“I am hopeful that we could come up with a bipartisan solution,” he added.
Sinema, from Arizona, is a Democrat with whom Republicans say they can trust in the deal-making process. Murphy, from Connecticut, is the de facto Democratic leader on gun policy.
Both Cornyn and Cruz are top Senate recipients of gun industry political donations, per OpenSecrets.org.
And both senators were scheduled to attend the National Rifle Association annual convention in Houston on Friday. Cornyn’s team told reporters he could no longer attend because of “an unexpected change in his schedule.” Cruz’s team did not respond to requests for comment about whether he would attend.
To be sure, Cornyn has touted an A+ rating with the NRA and has repeatedly voted with Cruz and other Republicans to stymie gun restriction legislation proposed by Democrats.
But in the decade since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the two Texans have diverged in how they respond politically to shooting tragedies.
In the hours after the shooting, Cruz quickly started talking about the need for more resources to secure schools. It’s a cause he has chased almost since he first came to the Senate and one he revisited repeatedly in interviews in recent days.
Cruz argued on Fox News that if the funding he had proposed multiple times over the years in the School Security Enhancement Act had passed, the school would have had an armed officer monitoring the door.
“If those federal grants had gone to this school when that psychopath arrived, the armed police officers could have taken him out,” Cruz said Wednesday.
On Wednesday afternoon, Cruz went to Uvalde Elementary School and gave an interview with reporters, lamenting that the school’s back door was unlocked.
“The killer entered here the same way the killer entered in Santa Fe, through the back door, an unlocked back door,” he said, noting that after the shooting at Santa Fe High School in 2018, he spoke with members of the community about the need to ensure entry points were minimized.
He later engaged with a reporter from British-based Sky News and blamed Democrats and the media for politicizing the shooting when asked about gun policy. Cruz began to walk away after the reporter asked him why the United States has such an outsized number of mass shootings compared with the rest of the world.
“You know, I’m sorry you think American exceptionalism is awful,” Cruz said. “You’ve got your political agenda. God love you.”
Cornyn, a former judge and state attorney general, is a close ally of McConnell. Until he was term-limited out of the post in 2019, he served as the Republican Senate whip, meaning he long had his finger on the pulse of his conference members.
While not a favorite of Senate Democrats, he does have relationships with members on the other side, including Sinema and Murphy.
Sinema is a more junior senator, but she has enraged Democrats for her insistence on keeping the filibuster in place.
Murphy won his first Senate race in November 2012. About a month after he won that race, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred in the House district he represented. That day defined his career to the extent he sometimes wears a Newtown jersey when playing in the Congressional Baseball Game.
The two men met today to initiate conversations, and they have a productive history.
He and Cornyn worked together on the Fix NICS Act, which Cornyn helped author in the wake of the 2017 Sutherland Springs church shooting near San Antonio. The legislation, referring to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, was intended improve the system in order to prevent felons and domestic abusers from purchasing firearms. The bill passed as a small section in a massive 2018 spending bill.
Prior to that bill, Cornyn shepherded into law the Mental Health and Safe Communities Act, a piece of legislation that funded the screening and treatment of offenders with mental illness. Cruz backed that measure when it was added to a larger bill addressing innovation in medicine.
And after a 2017 mass shooting on the Las Vegas strip, Cornyn was a leading advocate in banning “bump stocks,” which allow semiautomatic guns to fire faster. President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice banned the devices in 2018.
Cruz has not joined in with Cornyn’s approach. When Cornyn introduced his signature gun bill, the Fix NICs Act, he was able to wrangle 77 senators, including many Republicans, to sign on as co-sponsors. Cruz was not one of them.
The center of these negotiations is the U.S. Senate.
The House already passed background check legislation this term, and according to a New York Times survey of senators, there is no path to get a House-passed bill through a Senate filibuster.
So far there is no sense of what a bill would address. Republicans like McConnell say they will only support a bill that is directly related to the Uvalde shooting, and that investigation is ongoing and murky.
To pass anything, Senate Democrats will have to consider how far they are willing to pare down their gun policy ambitions, which usually involve banning assault rifles and expanding background checks. At the same time, at least 10 Republicans will have to decide how far they are willing to go in angering the base.
Cornyn has had success in the past at passing small gun measures that mostly avoid a significant far-right backlash.
But the last time the Democrat-controlled Senate went big on gun policy with legislation to require universal background checks in the aftermath of the Newtown school shooting, the entire legislative push expired at the hands of a mostly Republican bloc that included Cruz and Cornyn.
It fell apart in such a painful way for Democrats that many on the Hill began to accept it was impossible to change gun policy without winning the 60 seats needed to override a filibuster.
As for Cornyn, he telegraphed on the Senate floor Thursday that he intended to let the Uvalde investigation play out before making any significant moves.
“At this point, law enforcement is still investigating and piecing together the full story,” Cornyn said, indicating the specificity in his approach. “In the coming days I expect we will have better information about the shooter and his background and the circumstances that led to this senseless, brutal act.”
“Once it does, I’m eager to see whether there were any gaps that might have done something to make this attack less likely, that might have even prevented this attack from taking place.”
Disclosure: The New York Times has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/05/26/ted-cruz-john-cornyn-gun-legislation-texas/.
The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.