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From A Pool Of 15, Four Candidates Seek Texas' 17th Congressional District Open Seat

Clockwise from top left: Renee Swan, Rick Kennedy, Pete Sessions and David Jaramillo, make up the four hopefuls to represent the sprawling 17th District in Congress.
Courtesy of the candidates
Clockwise from top left: Renee Swan, Rick Kennedy, Pete Sessions and David Jaramillo, make up the four hopefuls to represent the sprawling 17th District in Congress.

When Republican Congressman Bill Flores announced he was retiring, a large group of hopefuls jumped at the chance to represent Texas’ sprawling 17th Congressional District. The district includes parts of 12 counties — stretching from Pflugerville to Waco and east to College Station. Twelve Republicans and three Democrats were on the ballot in the March primary.

Now, we’re down to two from each party.

The two Republicans in the primary runoff — Renee Swann and Pete Sessions — both said they were unable to be interviewed for this story. But they have used their online platforms to make their stances clear on certain issues.

Swann is originally from West Texas. She’s a small business owner in Waco who’s been outspoken in support of President Donald Trump. She also wants to see term limits for the job she hopes to win.

“Term limits would stop Congress from becoming career politicians who abuse the system,” Swann said in a video she posted to her campaign Facebook page.

Swann called her runoff opponent a “career politician,” taking aim at his years already served in Congress. Sessions served in District 5 and District 21, and his tenure as a representative extends from 1997 to 2019, after losing a reelection bid in 2018.  

Sessions has also expressed his support for Trump and would back the president’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and strengthen immigration laws. The Waco native says that he hopes to balance the federal budget without raising any new taxes. 

“I am a conservative Republican,” Sessions said in a press conference covered by KCEN News. “I believe that conservative Republican politics make a difference with the policies that we support, and they are alive and well today. All you have to do is go anywhere in Texas and you will see a vibrant economy.” 

The two candidates competing for the Democratic nomination in the runoff are Rick Kennedy and David Jaramillo.

Kennedy is returning after a failed bid against Flores in 2018. The engineer says he’s back for the same reason as before: the 2016 election was a turning point for him, and when looking at what he calls a “hyper-partisan Congress,” he didn’t feel like he and his views had a voice. 

“Key to easing the divisiveness that pervades both our politics and our society at this point is opening lines of communication,” he said.

Kennedy said he considers his children when he thinks about policy, which drives issues like climate change to the forefront of his campaign.

“It is a factor in almost every policy decision that we need to make going forward,” Kennedy said. “I think we need to move carefully, but at the same time relentlessly, towards a renewable energy future.”

Jaramillo said his reason for running goes back to his military career. A former U.S. marine, Jaramillo has focused on veteran affairs, health care and criminal justice reform.

“I work for the VA, and I was seeing how veterans were having to fight for the benefits they so rightfully deserve, and sometimes it will take a decade for them to receive their benefits,” Jaramillo said. “I'm also running on prison reform to invest more in rehabilitation and less on maximum prison sentences, where we invest more in counseling on job training and education opportunities.”

Jaramillo said he is the more “progressive” Democrat between the two.

“That’s what [Kennedy has] labeled me as so he can distinguish himself from me, and I'll be proud to say that, because if I want equality for everyone, if I want health care for everyone, then OK. I'm progressive,” Jaramillo said.

Got a tip? Email Allyson Ortegon at Follow her @allysonortegon

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Allyson Ortegon is a former Williamson County reporter for KUT.
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