While both candidates have indicated their opposition to vaccine mandates, Gray supports a special session to ban vaccine mandates in state law, while Landgraf will not add his name to the growing list of Republican officials calling for a special session.

As pushback against vaccine mandates continues to grow – with numerous federal courts batting down President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates issued by executive order- a growing call for the Texas Legislature to reconvene and ban vaccine mandates by large employers and local governments has become one of the top political issues of the upcoming 2022 elections – and the two contenders to represent West Texans in the HD-81 seat in the Texas House of Representatives have taken very different stances on whether the legislature should reconvene. 

An effort being led by the Republican Party of Texas to call a special session to ban vaccine mandates has seen over 25 state lawmakers sign onto a letter asking Governor Greg Abbott to call the special session, and the growing list of lawmakers now includes other officials such as Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller

Abbott’s office finally broke silence on the issue, confirming the Governor is opposed to calling the special session, and instead intends to rely on his executive orders, which have been called into scrutiny by members of his party. 

Incumbent State Representative Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa), who is seeking re-election, has taken a publicly strong stance against vaccine mandates, and wrote in an op-ed that he has signed onto federal court cases, and will “continue to use every tool available to fight back against Biden’s personal healthcare mandates on Texans.”

But when asked by residents at a recent town hall whether he would add his name to the growing list of Republican officials calling on the Governor to call the special session, Landgraf stated he would not do so because he did not see what a special session could accomplish. 

Odessa Headlines reached out to Landgraf for comment regarding whether his stance has changed in light of his op-ed stating he would use “every tool available.” 

Landgraf responded indicating his position has not changed, and that “as a state legislator, [he] does not have the authority to call a special session, nor would [he] pretend to have that authority.” 

However, Landgraf did add that if the Governor does decide to exercise his power to call a special session to ban vaccine mandates, that he “will proudly be there to support that bill and vote for it.”

Landgraf did not respond to a follow-up question clarifying that lawmakers are simply using their representative voices to let the Governor know the issue is important enough to use his power to call the special session. 

Republican Primary opponent and fellow Odessan Casey Gray took a very different position, saying he would “absolutely” sign the Republican Party’s letter calling for the special session. 

“Both Abbott and Landgraf seem to condone governing Texas by executive order, and to me that violates the very principles of government our state and nation was founded upon,” stated Gray, who continued, “Texans deserve actual laws that protect our God-given rights of freedom, liberty, and our right to decide what medicines we use.” 

Gray elaborated further, explaining his belief that the founding father felt that laws should be written by the duly elected representatives of the legislative branch, and said the growing reliance on using executive orders will lead Texas down a path towards tyranny. 

“We already saw private businesses deemed “non-essential” via illegal orders, mask mandates, and other violations of our rights committed this past year, something Landgraf failed to fix while in session. I intend to restore constitutional order if elected, ban vaccine mandates and end this Obama-like form of governing with a pen and a phone.”

During the third special session of the Texas Legislature earlier this year, a large number of lawmakers, including Landgraf, signed onto House Bill 168, which would have prohibited anyone from coercing another to take a vaccine against their will. However, the legislation was never voted out of committee. 

Gray said he would also support similar legislation but said what distinguishes him from Landgraf is he would go beyond adding his “name to the legislation for bragging rights” and fight to make sure the bill was passed into law. 

In addition, Gray said he has heard that lawmakers are being pressured by the Governor not to sign the letter calling for a special session and said if true that would explain the gap in Landgraf’s position on the issue, leaving a major tool in the toolbox – further adding that if elected “[he] will only be beholden to the people of the district.”

One point that both candidates have agreed on this that neither oppose vaccines, but believe it is the individual’s right to decide whether to take it. 

Matt Stringer is a journalist from Odessa, Texas.