State of Texas: Building the border wall and tracking turnout in a special election

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) – The past two weeks have brought a surge in construction on border wall projects in Texas. The progress comes after two recent court rulings, one to divert military funding to pay for a taxpayer-funded wall, the other affecting a privately-funded border wall project.

Contractor Tommy Fisher has invested millions of dollars into building segments of border wall on private land without a government contract. That wall is going up faster than the government can build their own.

Sandra Sanchez, South Texas correspondent for Border Report, met with Tommy Fisher at the construction site of Fisher’s privately funded border wall along the Rio Grande river. Sanchez said in three days, Fisher was able to build half a mile of border wall, more than the federal government was able to accomplish in two months just 25 miles away in Donna, Texas.

Fisher is funding the $42 million project almost entirely by himself, spending $22 million out of pocket and taking out an additional $22 million in loans according to Sanchez. Fisher is currently in an agreement with the non-profit We Build the Wall, to receive $8 million. Sanchez said Fisher told her he’s only received $1.5 million from the group so far.

Fisher’s multi-million dollar investment may pay off in the long run. Fisher accepted a $400 million government contract in December to build 30 miles of border wall near Lukeville, Arizona.

Fisher’s wall does not meet the government requirements of being at least 30 feet tall, but Sanchez said his wall can be built much faster.

“He has a patent pending system, special hydraulic earth movers, these Caterpillar units. And he’s got this special these two special jibs that allow it so he can do 40 feet at a time,” Sanchez said.

Fisher’s project was blocked temporarily by International Boundary and Water Commission, which was concerned about the pouring of concrete so close to the Rio Grande. After a federal judge lifted the restraining order, Sanchez said Fisher’s construction team went straight to work, putting up more border wall in three days than the federal government could in two months.

Early voting data in Fort Bend special election favors Republicans

Tuesday is election day in a runoff for a Texas State House seat near Houston. Many Democrats and Republicans believe the outcome could be an indicator for general elections in the fall, when voters will determine which party controls the state house.

The District 28 race pits Democrat Eliz Markowitz against Republican Gary Gates. The special election comes after incumbent Republican John Zerwas stepped down to take a position with the University of Texas system.

The district is in Fort Bend County, which is a Republican stronghold. But population growth is changing demographics in the district, giving Democrats hope to possibly take the seat.

The party has increased voter outreach efforts in District 28. Markowitz also received high-profile help from Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro, with both former presidential candidates holding block-walking events for her campaign.

But that may not be enough to overcome the Republican advantage in the district. Scott Braddock, who covers Texas politics for the Quorum Report, says early voting data favors Gary Gates.  The data does not show who people voted for in this election, but it does show how they voted in previous elections.

Braddock said the numbers show about half of early voters had previously voted in Republican primaries, compared with about a third with a history of voting in Democratic primaries.

“The Democrats would have to make up a lot of votes among those who had no history to be able to make this a real race,” Braddock said.

Braddock said although Republicans have a historical numbers advantage in the district, Democrats are touting their voter registration efforts. It’s not clear how that will affect the result on election day.

“There are a lot of first time voters and we’re seeing a lot of enthusiasm out there,” Braddock said. “The Democrats have the enthusiasm, but the Republicans just have the numbers.” 

Besides the battle for the Texas House seat in Fort Bend County, Braddock said other state elections have been relatively quiet in regards to campaign spending.

“When you look at the Republican primaries, that’s usually where the action is in Texas and not so much this year,” Braddock said. “Looks like more of those dollars are aimed toward November and these efforts by Democrats to try to make up some more ground in the state.”

Oliver touts health care ideas in District 25 primary

Democrat Julie Oliver wants a rematch. The candidate for Congress in District 25 lost in 2018 to Republican incumbent Roger Williams. Oliver now faces Heidi Sloan in the March primary, hoping to win another chance to be on the November ballot.

“There’s still work to be done,” Oliver said. She said she has several priorities that led her to run again. “Millions of our fellow Texans can’t afford to see a doctor have no health insurance coverage. We have a burning planet and a climate crisis and gun violence that claims the lives of thousands of Americans every year, leaving a lot of devastation and trauma for thousands more.”

Oliver said health care is the issue that motivated her to run, in part for personal reasons. “I have a son that I affectionately call the walking preexisting condition,” Oliver said. She explained that when congressional leaders tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017, she decided to run for office.

Oliver believes a single-payer system is the best way to improve care and cut costs. “I am in favor of Medicare for all because it has one of the lowest administrative costs and it covers the most people,” Oliver explained.

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