A passion for politics was on display on Friday night in Killeen, as around 50 people packed the lobby of the Hilton Garden Inn in Killeen for a meet-and-greet with congressional candidate MJ Hegar.

Hegar, a Democrat, is running for U.S. House District 31 against Republican incumbent John Carter.

"The kids are why I'm doing this," Hegar told the Herald. "I want to make sure they have the same country, freedom and civil liberties."

Hegar gave a short speech and then took questions from the crowd.

"We deserve a lot better than what we have right now," Hegar said. "Our voices are not being heard."

Hegar implored people to get involved. "I need you to volunteer for the campaign, to talk to your neighbors," she said. "There are more of us than you think."

Military issues

The Bell County Democratic Party chairwoman said she is proud to have a combat veteran as a congressional candidate.

"We have a lot of veterans in Bell County who are hurting and need someone to take their concerns to Congress," said Chris Rosenberg.

Hegar did three tours as a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot in Afghanistan, where she earned the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor.

Erin Shank, an attorney in Killeen, said she thinks Hegar will be present for veterans and will help fix the VA system. "I want to be able to call my congresswoman and say, 'This veteran needs help.'"

Hegar noted the number of veterans running for office in the midterm election, on both sides of the aisle. "That's because it's issue-based and veterans are people who are trained to run to where the fire is. The fire is in Washington D.C."

Other issues

Killeen Councilwoman Shirley Fleming asked Hegar what her number one priority is, and the candidate answered that the district needs business development, investment in infrastructure and an increase in broadband Internet access.

Another person asked about gun control.

"I have five firearms," Hegar said. "The idea that it's an either-or, either protect our children or protect our Second Amendment rights, is a forced division. The best approach is to do something about the gun violence epidemic but the hardest thing to do is change culture."

Representatives from the Texas State Teacher's Association were on hand after she won their endorsement.

Rick Beaule, who is on the board of directors for theassociation, said Hegar impressed him when they met previously.

"John Carter has not been accessible to us," he said. "When we first met MJ, she asked detailed questions, locked in and tried to get to the root of the problem. She wanted to understand."

A big part of the meet-and-greet centered on getting folks out to vote, and a voter registrar was on hand.

Before Hegar spoke to the crowd, organizer Aya Eneli passed around a handful of portraits of people who died for voting rights, including the Reverend George W. Lee. Lee was a pastor who used his printing press for voter registration drives in 1950s Mississippi.

The civil rights leader was assassinated in 1955.

"He received death threats but he refused to stop because he understood how important it was to participate in our democracy," she said. "People died so that you and I could have a choice on whether to vote or not. What would stop you from voting, volunteering, giving money? What will stop you?"

Emily Hilley-Sierzchula is reporter for the Killeen Daily Herald. Reach her at emilys@kdhnews.com

Herald reporter

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