The biggest concern among residents of the seventh congressional district, according to U.S. Rep. John Culberson, is not the Iraq War, it's illegal immigration.
"And now that I've achieved my first goal in Congress, which was to get the Katy Freeway rebuilt ASAP, I am totally focused on securing our border and enforcing the immigration laws," Culberson says.
Still, the congressman has some ideas on Iraq. These include, you might be surprised to learn, carpet-bombing some of the cities there.
U.S. Rep. John Culberson
"I think the military ought to just take the gloves off and do what they do best," he says. "Just give them the complete freedom to use their best judgment. They're Americans, they've got good judgment, they're going to do all they can to protect women and children and innocent life...If there's an area where the terrorists have been active in and we're having trouble getting them out, the military should be able to go in, and if they've tried everything else and there's no other recourse, to notify everybody in the area and tell them they've got 72 hours, women and children, to get out and we're gonna send the bombers in."
Culberson says he still supports the decision to invade Iraq, but says he is "deeply troubled by the way the war has been conducted since we eliminated Saddam's army and captured Saddam. The administration has done a miserable job of administering Iraq and handling the reconstruction."
This all seems like a somewhat new attitude on the part of the hawkish congressman, who hasn't exactly been a leading public critic of the war. He's speaking out now partly because, he says, he's been reading Bob Woodward's State of Denial.
But don't get the idea that this is an election-season change. He's been angry for a while, not just as November 7 nears, as the following dialogue shows:
Culberson: It's vital the president do something different and change the approach they've followed in the war...
Houston Press: Have you been vocal about this before now?
Culberson: Anyone that's ever asked me, sure.
HP: Because I couldn't find anything where you had been.
Culberson: No one's ever asked me.
HP: Umm, OK.
Culberson: Have you ever asked me? Has the Houston Press? Has the Houston Chronicle? Nobody's ever asked me.
HP: Well, I would think on such a critical issue, if you had doubts and concerns, I don't know if you would wait to be asked, right? You'd speak out.
Culberson: I would certainly -- I don't need to, I don't need to, unless it's -- I certainly raised them with the chairman of the Armed Services Committee...I raise it with other members of Congress constantly. When we're in Congress, every single day, you know, 'What's going on, what are we going to do to get out of there?'"
The war may be, as Culberson says, "like holding a wolf by the ears -- it's hard to let go and hard to hold on." Whatever it is, it's not as important as battling illegal immigrants.
"In a very real sense, the Rio Grande area is the front line on terror...There are Middle Easterners from countries with known Al-Qaeda connections who have adopted false Hispanic identities, who learn Spanish, pretend to be Hispanic immigrants and went to Mexico and crossed into the U.S. over our open southern borders, pretending to be illegal immigrants, and disappeared."
He says he is "very frustrated, and I'm fed up" with the Bush administration's "refusal to enforce the laws or protect the borders."
Culberson says he is confident of re-election but is not taking it for granted.
"I run every campaign as if I'm behind," he says. "I never take anything for granted."
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