AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Texas’ 31st Congressional District, north of Austin, has never elected a Democrat since it was created in 2002, and the decorated Air Force veteran seeking to oust eight-term Republican Congressman John Carter, who defended his seat by a 22 percentage point margin in 2016, has a tough fight on her hands.
The 31st Congressional District spans more than 50 miles from North Austin to Fort Hood, the country’s largest active-duty armored military post. The district is home to tens of thousands of veterans, including Democratic candidate M.J. Hegar, a Purple Heart recipient who was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor for her service as an Air Force search and rescue pilot.
Several hundred Fort Hood soldiers are among the more than 5,200 troops the Pentagon is sending to the border, at the order of President Trump, to meet a migrant caravan that is nearly 1,000 miles and weeks away from the U.S. border.
“It is such a transparent political move which is so offensive to me as a veteran,” Hegar told Courthouse News Tuesday.
“When you deploy the military two months before they’re needed, and way more people than they need, as a political move, you’re disrupting people’s lives. You’re making family members miss birthdays. They’re going to miss Thanksgiving!”
Mary Ottilie Jennings Hegar, 42, who goes by M.J., wrote the 2017 book “Shoot Like a Girl,” about her three tours of duty in Afghanistan, during which she flew more than 100 missions. The Taliban shot down her helicopter in Kandahar Province during her third tour of duty in 2009, but she was rescued by another chopper. Because it was full, she was flown out on the skids, from which she returned fire to Taliban forces on the ground.
Hegar said in an interview this week that the troops already at the Mexican border say there is not much for them to. She called Trump’s sending more than twice as many troops to the border as are fighting ISIS in Syria “fear-mongering” a week before midterm elections. The real threat, Hegar said, is gang violence in the immigrants’ homelands.
“We need comprehensive immigration reform that prioritizes the security of our country, the security of our border, but we have to provide a humanitarian response to a humanitarian crisis,” Hegar said.
She said our country needs more leaders who have military experience. Military veterans “understand the sacrifice,” Hegar said. “You understand how terrifying it is. … We need more combat veterans in office, because we understand the things we’re fighting for, but we also understand the awesome price of deploying troops, not just to combat zones but around the world.”
Along with affordable healthcare and campaign finance reform, veterans’ issues are a key part of Hegar’s platform. She wants to ensure that active military members keep getting their paychecks during government shutdowns, help veterans make the transition to civilian life, and make sure they get better care and access to services.
Incumbent Republican Carter, 76, has represented the district since it was created. He too is stressing veterans’ in his campaign. A member of the Tea Party Caucus, Carter did not serve in the military, but is chairman of the House Appropriations Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee.
In a Wednesday email to Courthouse News, Carter said his most meaningful achievement in office was securing Purple Hearts for the victims of the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood.