A public school teacher and cattleman hopes to bring a focus on infrastructure, free education and health care to Washington in a campaign to unseat eight-term U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert.
Democrat Hank Gilbert announced his bid for his party’s nomination Thursday in Longview, Tyler and Nacogdoches. The cattleman and retired teacher, who lives near the Gregg/Smith County line, said East Texans grew up being taught values from their parents and churches.
“Unfortunately, we have a congressman who grew up in the same area but has lost those values,” Gilbert, 59, told five or six supporters on the Gregg County Courthouse lawn. “We have got a representative now that’s in his 15th year (in Congress) that believes more in representing what the president and millionaires want ... than he does the working people of East Texas.”
A former high school teacher, 4-H sponsor and owner of a carpet cleaning and water restoration business for more than 30 years, Gilbert said Gohmert’s alignment with President Donald Trump has harmed people who live in the dozen counties of the 1st Congressional District.
Filing for the 2020 primary elections starts Nov. 9 and continues through Dec. 9.
“The Gohmert-Trump tariffs and the Gohmert-Trump tax bill are prime examples of how our current congressman is out of touch with East Texas,” Gilbert said, singling out the tax bill as promising middle-class relief that instead benefited the wealthy. “They get to buy another yacht or another jet on the backs of the working people. That’s got to stop.”
The president’s trade tariffs, he said, are a burden on more than just manufacturers who pay them.
“The U.S. companies are paying for these tariffs, and they are passing them on to the taxpayers in this country,” he said.
Gilbert, a widowed father of two grown sons, announced a plan to make two-year higher education free, including for certifications in trades such as welding and electrical fields.
“Those jobs are there, waiting for somebody to take them,” he said. “They are going to pay that debt manifold in their lifetime. That’s an investment.”
Students on four-year college paths would get the first two years free, and all of those education loans would be interest-free, he said. Payments would not start for three years — the first year to use the education in public service in a program similar to Peace Corps, followed by two years to get careers underway.
Gilbert said Gohmert has stood idle while hospitals and medical clinics in Northeast Texas have closed.
“Under the watch of this congressman, we’ve had countless health care centers close in this district,” he said.
To contrast himself with Gohmert, who refuses to hold town hall meetings with residents, Gilbert said he would have those public Q&A sessions in each county in the district twice a year.
“And I’ll invite everyone to attend,” he said.
Gohmert has said he doesn’t have town hall meetings for fear they could turn violent. Gilbert said Gohmert misses an opportunity to be a voice for his constituents.
“The only thing we, unfortunately, don’t have are political leaders who will speak on our behalf,” Gilbert said. “And Louie Gohmert is a prime example of that.”
The Democrat vowed to restart congressional action on repairing the nation’s infrastructure, a goal blocked by the Republican Congress under President Barack Obama and that remains an unfulfilled campaign pledge of Trump.
“The first of my goals as congressman will be to get infrastructure to the top of the ticket,” he said.
Gilbert was the Democratic nominee for state agriculture commissioner in 2006 and 2010, garnering 36 percent of the vote in the most recent race to incumbent Todd Staples’ 61 percent.
“I’ll work both sides of the aisle,” he said after promising not to spend his time on television opinion/news shows. “Am I bucking for a position on Fox News like it looks like my opponent is? No. I’ll talk to anybody that wants to listen with an open mind.”