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Two Democrats debate before hundreds, hoping to sway support away from Burgess, GOP

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Kyle Martin, Staff Writer

Well over 200 people gathered in the University of North Texas Union to watch Democratic congressional candidates Linsey Fagan and Will Fisher duke it out using their wits and rhetoric for a friendly debate Saturday night.

Fagan, of Keller, and Fisher, of Flower Mound, will face off in the Democratic primary for the U.S. House District 26 seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Pilot Point. The Democratic nominee will face either Burgess or his Republican challenger, Veronica Birkenstock, of Frisco, on Election Day in November.

Texas primary elections are coming up on March 6, with early voting beginning Feb. 20. 

On Saturday afternoon, many were at the debate to be swayed one way or the other or, if nothing else, to engage in public dialogue.

The event was hosted by the Denton County Democratic Party, along with the UNT College Democrats, and topics of discussion were moderated by Jason Whitely, a senior news reporter for WFAA-TV (Channel 8). 

The debate heavily centered on the candidates’ hopes to unseat Burgess, the past presidential election, voter apathy, health care, and local and national finances, among other things.

“There is a seat in Texas that belongs to the people in 2018, and Michael Burgess is sitting in it,” Fisher said in his opening statements.

Throughout the event, both candidates elicited some applause, cheers or grunts of approval from the audience each time something negative was said about Burgess.

“Our representatives have all abandoned us,” Fagan said during her opening address. “These men are paying corporate donors with our blood.”

Both candidates debated amicably across the stage, agreeing on some topics, such as the need for accessible health care, while disagreeing on practical implementation of a universal system.

Fagan said a single-payer health care system would be “inevitable” in the future, while Fisher disagreed, saying there would be much work to do before the U.S. would adopt government-run health care for all.

When questioned on their upbringings, the candidates described their paths into politics. Fagan described 70- and 80-hour work weeks waiting tables as a single mother in Keller, sometimes sleeping in her car between shifts. And Fisher said he “didn’t have a silver spoon put in my mouth” while growing up in a conservative household — a household that ultimately “paved the way to becoming a liberal,” he said.

While both candidates shared their differing views on many of the topics, they both agreed on one stance: The answer to their issues with Burgess would be to elect a Democrat — a hard sell in a county painted red with active Republican voters.

Julie Goldman, a Flower Mound resident, came to Saturday’s debate ready to be fully convinced of which candidate she’d be gunning for against Burgess, and she agreed with both candidates' hopes to rid Denton County of the incumbent Republican.

“I have found Rep. Burgess to be extremely unresponsive,” Goldman said, expressing her frustration with a lack of feedback from her congressman, despite numerous attempts to reach him.

In Saturday’s debate, Goldman said she was looking to find someone who “will go toe-to-toe with Burgess,” and was ultimately swayed into supporting Fisher, though she acknowledged she was happy to see both sides of the debate.

Another attendee, Olivia Callaway of Roanoke, said she was “extremely proud as a Democrat” to see the two candidates draw hundreds of voters out for discussion.

For her, she said, the debate was a success because of the people who showed up to engage in local politics. After the debate, she said she was “not yet ready to make that decision” between Fagan and Fisher.

After the event, all in attendance, most of whom were liberal- and Democrat-leaning, were invited to further discuss politics and perspectives with the candidates over drinks at The Greenhouse restaurant and bar.

As many were likely trickling into The Greenhouse, less than a mile south was one longtime Denton resident who would not be bothered with such formalities and discussion. It's not that he's frustrated, he said. But apathetic might be a good descriptor.

At Jack's Tavern, Audi Parsons, owner of nearby business Jay’s Upholstery, was enjoying Coors Light in a bottle from atop a barstool on Saturday. He said over the past several years, he hasn’t had much interest in local politics. “[I] really don’t think they’re doing anything for me,” he said.

He was familiar with Burgess, his congressional representative, but he didn’t really have any interest in voting for the incumbent or any of his challengers.

“I’m not a liberal, I’m not a Democrat, I’m not a Republican,” Parsons said. “I’m just here.”