President Donald J. Trump rolled into Odessa Wednesday for a private campaign fundraiser at the Odessa Marriott Hotel & Conference Center and was greeted by Odessans waving flags and banners in the streets.
An estimated 550 to 600 people attended “A Permian Basin Special Event with Donald J. Trump, President of the United States” with a ticket for the lunch priced at $2,800 and the options of a $50,000 per couple photo with the president or a $100,000 per person roundtable with him. The event raised about $7 million.
Organized by Bubba Saulsbury, executive vice president of Saulsbury Industries, Odessa oilman Kirk Edwards and Ector County Republican Women’s Club President Sherry Hurt, the luncheon consisted of Texas-style beef and potatoes.
Many supporters lined the streets cheering, waving flags, holding up Trump signs and wearing Trump T-shirts and hats in his honor.
Texas State Rep. Brooks Landgraf said the event was well attended.
“The president expressed his support for the Permian Basin and for the energy industry," Landgraf said. “(The president) really demonstrated how important our part of West Texas is for America’s energy independence.”
“We have so many hardworking men and women out here in the Permian Basin,” Landgraf added. “When you live and work out here in the oil patch, you know how important what we do is for the rest of the country.”
Landgraf said the environment was very safe.
“Social distancing was being practiced. It was everything it was expected to be,” Landgraf said.
Edwards said the luncheon and roundtable discussion with President Trump were memorable events that included Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, former Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the former longtime governor of Texas, and “at least 10 congressmen and congressional candidates.”
“It was a great day to have a sitting president of the United States in Odessa, Texas, with a group of people who wanted to hear from him,” said Edwards, who took part in the roundtable. “He delivered a message that was very positive and uplifting to everyone in attendance. He covered a variety of topics with energy being one of the main themes for his being here.
“The president distinguished between himself and his energy plan and the plan of (presumptive Democratic presidential nominee) Joe Biden, which is to get rid of the oil and gas industry. He really hit home with a lot of people here.”
Edwards said Trump also reviewed his administration’s program for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and that he said a vaccine will soon be in use.
The oilman said Abbott, Patrick and Perry addressed the crowd while the roundtable was in progress in a different area. “For him to bring out this kind of audience with this kind of importance in the State of Texas in Odessa shows the importance of the energy industry and the people of Texas,” Edwards said.
August Pfluger, who is the Republican nominee to replace U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway, said he rode in the president’s motorcade.
“… And there were literally thousands of people lining the roads, showing their support for the president,” Pfluger said. “It was so impressive to see how people came out along the route to wave to the president and show their support.”
Pfluger noted that Trump showed strong support for the oil and gas industry.
“He understands just how important what we do out here in the Permian Basin (is),” Pfluger said. “It’s not lost on him. There’s probably quite a few people who will be able to see that commitment and appreciate that.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, said it “was an immense honor to show the President of the United States around my hometown and have the opportunity to speak candidly with him about the significance of the Permian Basin and its critical contributions to national security and the economy.
“President Trump was able to learn more about the oil and gas business, go up on a rig and see the faces of the men and women who do this hard work on behalf of the United States every day,” Conaway said. “He remains an outspoken supporter for our industry, and this visit will give him a better understanding when making decisions that affect energy production.
“He has defended American energy on the global stage in the past and is resolved to keep American energy at the forefront of the world moving forward. I cannot overstate the importance of keeping a pro-energy President in the White House to stand up for West Texas and our way of life and I thank him for making the trip out to the Permian Basin.”
Odessa Mayor David Turner said Trump’s talk ranged from COVID-19 to his stance opposing the Green New Deal, a package of federal legislation focused on economic inequality and climate change.
“He talked a lot about the proposed Green New Deal,” Turner said, “talking about what it’s gonna do to fracking. It’s gonna ban fracking and is a big threat to the oil industry, which we kind of knew, but we didn’t know the details.”
Turner said the Trump campaign gave him a free ticket and that Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway were all in attendance.
“Odessa was very well represented,” Turner said, “The Marriott looked fantastic. Everybody was complimenting the facility and talking about how nice the people are out here.”
Director of Economic Development at the Odessa Chamber of Commerce Wesley Burnett said that hopefully Trump’s visit will bring some support to the city during an economic downturn.
“We hope he sees what’s going on and the effect this situation has had on us and see anything he can do to move along our area,” Burnett said.
Burnett added that he hoped the chamber’s “The Permian Fuels America” campaign message came across regarding the importance of the Basin in the overall big picture of the energy sector.
The luncheon ended after 2 p.m., at which point a convoy of law enforcement escorted the President to his next stop at an oil rig at Double Eagle Energy near Midland.
City of Odessa Public Information Officer Devin Sanchez said in a phone interview that the city “did not purchase (tickets) or provide any council members or staff or anyone with a ticket to attend the fundraiser.”
Sanchez said that the City of Odessa provided traffic control support with Odessa Fire Rescue and Odessa Police Department.
She added that the Lubbock Police Department also helped with the fundraiser because they have a motorcycle unit.
Waiting to get into the fundraiser Wednesday, several supporters talked about what they wanted to hear from the president.
Dr. Jason White said he wanted to come out and support the president and to thank him for all the things he’s done for White’s business and the employees he provides a livelihood for.
Sonya Gallegos said Trump is interested in oil and gas, which is vital to this area.
“We’re from Eunice, N.M., and we're oil and gas definitely over there. We're right in the middle of it,” Gallegos said.
Her husband, David Gallegos, is a state representative for their district in New Mexico and they were invited to come.
Jacki Pick of Dallas said Trump stands with the oil patch as it’s up against one of its toughest times.
“I support the president. I want him to know that he’s still supported, so I want there to be a lot of enthusiasm in the room and a lot of warm bodies and I want to be one of them,” Pick said.
Joseph Kung, who said he owns two shopping centers here, had a Trump jacket he put on before going into the hotel. The Trump supporter said he was expecting good news from the president.
“He’s going to win,” Kung said.
“O is for Oil,” a book by Adrian Vega, executive director of the Education Partnership of the Permian Basin and chief people officer for The Sewell Family of Companies, was presented to the president along with several other gifts.
Vega inscribed it with a note to Trump in part thanking him for visiting the community.
“I think that’s a very surreal kind of unique, I would say maybe once-in-a-lifetime experience unless you're a famous author and maybe write political books or something. But it's just one of those that I don’t even know how to describe,” Vega said.
Richard Acosta, owner-operator of Photos by Richard and director of marketing for UTPB athletics, had a photo of a West Texas sunset with a pumpjack given to Trump.
“I’m above the moon. Having my work selected to represent West Texas to the Office of the Presidency is beyond my wildest dreams,” Acosta said.
Acosta said that Renee Henderson Earls, president and CEO of the Odessa Chamber of Commerce, contacted him and asked if he had any pumpjack pictures or sunset pictures of Odessa.
“Being from Odessa, my first thought was, ‘Yeah, I've got thousands.’ We exchanged text messages and I sent her pictures. I sent her some other pictures I’d taken of downtown Odessa and stuff. She kept emphasizing to make sure it was from Odessa,” Acosta said.
“I had no idea of what it was for because she has contacted me before for the visitors’ guide or for the website. I’ve worked really hard to associate my work with Odessa and West Texas, my landscape stuff in particular,” he added.
“They said, ‘We want this one. We’re going to present it to President Trump as a gift from the community.’ I was taken aback and was just so honored to have my work selected for something like this,” Acosta said.
Wednesday’s Trump visit was a first for Trump as the 45th president of the United States. Vice President Mike Pence was in Midland last year and former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush have been in Odessa. The elder Bush started his oil career in Odessa and moved his young family here before moving to Midland.
Former President Bill Clinton stumped for wife Hillary in February of 2008 at Odessa College. George W. and First Lady Laura Bush landed in Midland Jan. 20, 2009, following his second term in office as President Obama was inaugurated.
Those waiting for a glimpse of Trump at the airport were thrilled to see him.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s an experience that I’m glad that we were able to provide our kids. When we got the invitation, we wanted to make sure that both schools were represented, so it was a great opportunity,” Odessa High School Principal Mauricio Marquez said.
Jeff Ellison, Permian football coach, was gratified to meet Trump.
“It was a great honor to meet him and the other representatives coming off the plane. It’s a once- in-a-lifetime experience to do this and it’s a good feeling for me and also for the kids who were out there today,” Ellison said.
Guy Bender said it felt good to see Trump.
“I feel like he cares,” Bender said of the president visiting the Permian Basin. “I’d like to see him talk him about getting rid of all the Democrats and Republicans and all the fighting. That needs to end. I want to hear him talk about that and people coming together because we’re all Americans,” Bender said.
Chris McMillan said it shows Trump cares about the Basin, “not just the Midland-Odessa area but the Permian Basin as a whole.”
Shelly Butler said the occasion was historic.
“I may not ever see a president come to the Permian Basin again in my lifetime. We drove to El Paso when he was there and went to the rally. For him to be in Odessa and Midland is pretty historic,” Butler said.
Chris McMillan said, “We just now got to where we can import and export oil and I hope that stays because they’re talking about cutting that out and that’s going to hurt us tremendously.”
“That’s our livelihood here. It’s for everyone. It’s not just the oilfield workers, but everyone in the entire Permian Basin is affected by oil here. Hotels, restaurants, shopping, everything depends on the paychecks coming from the oilfield,” Shelly Butler said.
Katherine Ochoa and Vance Thompson came out to show their feelings. “We’re using the rights that we have as American citizens and to come out here and protest,” Ochoa said.
Royal McGregor, Tony Venegas, Sam Waller, Michael Merlo, Michael Bauer, Ruth Campbell, Bob Campbell and Laura Dennis contributed to this story.