Democrat Beal takes long-shot run at Gohmert post
Feb. 5, 2018 at 12:11 a.m.
A business professor who hopes to represent Northeast Texas in Congress next year says the Republican incumbent is a poor math student.
"There's 700,000 people in this district. I'm not running to represent 350,000 plus 1," University of Texas at Tyler Associate Professor Brent Beal said. "Once you win an election, you belong to everybody."
The Democrat is running to represent the 13 counties in Texas' 1st Congressional District, a seat held by U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler since 2005 — and whom Beal suggests doesn't represent all East Texans.
"Can I win this race? Sure, and if I'm going to win this race, it's by making the argument that I'm the better candidate," Beal recently told the News-Journal editorial board. "Mr. Gohmert just isn't doing a good job representing this community. He's doing a fairly good job representing a small slice of this community."
Beal's first test is March 6, when Democrats will choose between him and longtime Gohmert opponent Democrat Shirley McKellar. Early voting begins Feb. 20.
"Shirley doesn't appear to be all that active," Beal said of the military nurse from Tyler who launched her fourth shot at the seat shortly before the filing deadline last year. "Nobody has taken on Mr. Gohmert. It's increasingly frustrating to see him get away with some of the things he gets away with."
Those things include far-right conspiracy theories peddled by Gohmert and his penchant for speaking to niche news outlet audiences rather than speaking directly to the people he represents.
The Democrat said he's been speaking to "20 people in a coffee shop" any chance he gets, has reached his fundraising goal for the primary election and is finding "more energy on the ground, more groups popping up" to support his campaign.
He also is seeking out civic leaders who, he says, encourage him.
"They don't feel (Gohmert) has any of their concerns on their radar," he said. "And he's not interested in finding out what those interests are."
Beal said he was somewhat surprised by how the different audiences he visits are raising issues while the incumbent shuns town hall meetings. Mostly white audiences ask about college debt, health care and retirement issues, Beal said, but other audiences show a broader range of concerns among East Texans.
"The first time in front of an African-American majority," he said, "the question set was entirely different. I'll bet you seven out of the first 10 were on criminal justice. A lot of Hispanic folks are asking, honestly, 'Does my community want me here?' That's so grim."
Beal, 47, has been on the UT Tyler faculty since fall 2010, where he teaches "Corporate Strategy," the capstone course for UT's Master of Business Administration program.
To say the Texas A&M University alumnus is a bit of a wonk on economic topics is an understatement.
His university biography quotes him describing his use of "value creation as a conceptual framework to theorize about the social (ir)responsibility of different strategic management assumptions and prescriptions."
He speaks much more plainly in person.
"A lot of the positions I have are not appropriate for a bumper sticker — they are hard to explain," he said. "I'm going to work really hard, I'm going to talk to a lot of people. I'm going to do the best I can to explain some of these nuanced issues."
Beal draws significant distinction between the two-thirds of the economy that is free market and the "public goods" such as public education, the military and the transportation and parks systems. He said it's a mistake for government to treat both sectors the same way.
"Those are different lanes," he said. "And you (have to) do each of them well. ... I'm more in favor of public-private partnerships when it comes to infrastructure, not toll projects. ... I'll defend a managed, capitalist economy all day, but, man, if you get me talking about public goods — no vouchers. I don't put (commercial) companies anywhere near public education. But I do if you're talking about toothpicks."
In addition to infrastructure issues, Beal said a focus of discussion should be economic development for East Texas. Progress in that realm, he said, will come from bringing together groups to talk about needs and opportunities and coordinated effort to meet them.
Beal said the midterm election presents an opportunity for the minority party but added he's not in the race to change the White House resident before 2020.
"I'm not one of the people that are pushing for impeachment (of President Donald Trump)," he said. "I think he shouldn't be re-elected based on the things he's done. ... Trump's (State of the Union) speech, as they say, was all hat and no cattle. Worse than that, the glitter masks a stark reality: Once the sugar high wears off, Trump's and the GOP's policies will continue to make life harder for average, hard-working Americans."
For now, though, Beal just wants to ensure Gohmert is not re-elected to an eighth term in Washington.
"Playing to your party base is fine," he said. "But at some point, you've got to govern."