AUSTIN — U.S. Congressional District 25 stretches from Cleburne, Texas, down to Dripping Springs with Marble Falls and parts of Austin in the district lines. Since 2013, Republican Roger Williams has represented the area. This year, Austin Attorney Julie Oliver is challenging him.
She sat down with Ashley Goudeau to discuss the race.
Goudeau: First and foremost, tell our viewers a little bit about yourself and why you're running for Congress.
Oliver: "Well, I'm a mother of four -- a working mother of four. Although I've taken a leave of absence since the primary to run. One of the things that got me into this race was healthcare. A year ago when congressional leaders met to repeal and supposedly replace the ACA, they never had a plan to replace it, I decided, I was like, 'I have to get in this!' I have a career in healthcare finance so I know how the health care system is financed, I know the inequity in it, I know how expensive it is. I know all of the terrible outcomes. Especially in Texas, we have a terrible maternal mortality rate and I have a son with pre-existing conditions. And one of the most important provisions of the Affordable Care Act is the patient bill of rights which prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to folks with pre-existing conditions. And in this district, District 25, there are 325,000 people under the age of 65 so they don't qualify for Medicare but they have pre-existing conditions that an insurance company could deny them coverage for."
Goudeau: And so that is why you're running?
Oliver: "That is why I'm running. I also grew up very, very poor. I grew up in poverty in South Dallas. I made some rebellious choices as a teenager. I ran away from home, I dropped out of high school, I got pregnant at the age of 17 and because we were a poor family, we didn't have insurance. So I was a Medicaid mom and my daughter was a Medicaid child. Had my daughter at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. And several years after that, the Medicaid benefits ran out. I was uninsured. And I remember when I graduated from law school and I got my first job where I had insurance, I felt so incredibly grateful that I had healthcare coverage. And that my children had healthcare coverage because by then I had three kiddos. And it was just, I felt so blessed, so blessed. And there are many people like me who don't know how they're going to afford a doctor's visit. They don't know what's going to happen if their child gets into a little accident or falls out of a tree and breaks their arm. And that's a worry many people throughout this district -- throughout the state -- have concerns about and in Texas, we still have 16 percent of our population that is uninsured. And that is far too many people who don't have healthcare coverage. And when they get sick, when they get injured, they go to the ERs. And ERs are the most expensive level of care there are. And hospitals have to treat people who come to their emergency rooms. So we end up paying for it in our insurance premiums. We end up paying for it in our property taxes. And it's unsustainable."
Goudeau: When we look at your history, you've never run for a political office before and you decided your first go should be Congress. Do you think that's a little ambitious?
Oliver: "I don't. When I look, you know here's the thing. In Austin I feel like we are so fortunate the elected officials that we have listen to us, they take our concerns to heart, you can actually meet with them, they will meet with you, they will have town halls, they're accessible. So local leadership is highly accessible here in Austin. And when I started going up the chain, I realized our congressional leaders in Austin, except for Lloyd Doggett, are not at all accessible. And I've committed in running for office, once I win, I will host once a month, town hall meetings throughout this district and everybody is welcome to come. Everybody is welcomed to share their concerns, their ideas, because I want to be a representative to everybody, not just Democrats. Republicans, Independents, non-voters; everybody. That's what representative democracy is all about."
Goudeau: Looking at District 25, it is currently represented by Roger Williams. What is it about his performance that says it's time for new leadership?
Oliver: "Well I think on several fronts, he's not an accessible representative. He doesn't believe in hosting town halls. He will meet with donors, he will meet with small groups where the public is not invited and that is not representative democracy. I don't understand why he wants to be in this position if he isn't going to take the concerns of the constituents back to Washington D.C. and legislate from there. He takes the concerns of his donors, and you can follow the money trail. Whoever writes a donation to Roger Williams, he will vote in favor of them. And for the most part, it's banks, payday lenders, even a little bit of the NRA. You've got, wherever those special interests are, corporate special interests, that's how he's going to vote. He has voted against the Affordable Care Act every time it's come up for a vote. He is touting right now he wants to further expand the tax cuts that were implemented and enacted last December, he wants to make them permanent. But a very important part of his tax plan is cutting the payroll tax in half. And I have to take exception with this. Our payroll taxes fund Social Security and Medicare. There are two components of payroll tax -- Social Security and Medicare -- and if you cut it in half, you're cutting funding for Social Security and Medicare. And he has not told us yet how he plans to make up that shortfall. So if you're cutting revenue to Social Security and Medicare, you're going to be cutting the benefits to Social Security and Medicare and I don't understand why he would want to do that because it's so harmful to many people who've worked their entire lives for these benefits."
Goudeau: Let's talk more about some of the pressing issues Congress is facing right now. I think the top one on a lot of people's minds is immigration, especially when it comes to those family separations. So talk to us about what you feel should be done to address immigration in the United States right now.
Oliver: "Well Ashley, I'll tell you I was one of the first people who went down with Beto O'Rourke to Tornillo, Texas when they opened up the tent city. It was two days after it opened. And they're housing children in tents in 100-degree weather. And it was hot. You're talking summertime in Texas, it is not 70 degrees. I think it's unconscionable. I think it's un-American. I think it's unpatriotic to separate families at the border who are seeking asylum. America is a country of refugees and asylum seekers. So right off the bat, I think we need to enact policies that don't allow for family separation at borders. And if you can imagine children being placed in cages. I know we all saw the video of children crying, the cages. That is, in my mind, the most un-American thing we can do, the most un-American way we could treat people who are seeking asylum in our country. Further, I do think we need to extend permanent protections to DACA recipients. They're contributing to our communities in the most meaningful of ways and to send them back to a country after we've educated them, after we've created some workforce development programs for them, to send them back to a country they don't even know -- again, it's un-American. And I will say, the Austin Chamber of Commerce, their number two federal issue is ensuring that DACA recipients get to stay in the United States. And if Roger Williams is listening to his constituents like he says he does, then he should listen very strongly to the chambers of commerce who do not want to send DACA recipients back to the countries they do not know."
Goudeau: And so I know it is a very complex issue, but what do we do about our border? You know that the president wants to build a wall.
Oliver: "Well I call the wall a get rich quick scheme for the folks that are going to be building that wall. Contractors that are going to be building that they're going to increase their wealth by $30 billion. How I think that we can enhance border security is actually create more jobs at the border. Hire more customs and border protection agents. And for a lot of folks, they don't know that we already have a very heavily militarized border. We have hundreds of miles of fencing, we have drones, we have drug balloons, we have facial, infrared facial recognition technology embedded, these cameras that are embedded in what looks like trash and clothing. We have a heavily militarized border but we could probably beef up security there through people, through a presence of CBP."
Goudeau: Let's talk about gun control. That also is a very controversial, if you will, issue. What are your thoughts on reforming gun control? Do we need reforms? Is it fine the way it is? What do you want to see?
Oliver: "Well I'd like to see some common-sense gun safety legislation introduced and enacted. And that would include comprehensive background checks, private to private seller even. And I think we do need to bring back an assault weapons ban or an assault weapon type ban. A weapon that is used for military purposes should probably not be in the hands of civilians and certainly shouldn't be in the hands of a 19-year old like we saw at Parkland. And I think there are things that we can do that are well within the scope of the Second Amendment and don't cross that fine line of where are you creating an assault against the Second Amendment. We don't want to do that but there are some common-sense solutions. I do remind people that the Brady Bill, when it was passed and when the NRA decided to go after it as a constitutional assault on our rights, it did not challenge it on Second Amendment rights. So, a lot of people don't know that. They challenged it on 10th Amendment rights. They said it was just an erroneous burden on states. And that's where the federal government can come in and offer some relief and some help to create a comprehensive background check system that isn't a financial burden on states. But I want to remind people, the Brady Bill was never challenged on Second Amendment rights. It was challenged on 10th Amendment Rights."
Goudeau: So even if you are able to put that back into place, what do you do about the weapons that are already out there?
Oliver: "Well we're not looking to take away guns from people. From law-abiding people. That's for sure, we're not looking to take away guns from law-abiding people. And I can tell you I was in Lampasas a few weeks ago at a town hall, and it was a healthcare related town hall because that's my background and my specialty, and I cracked up, the final question I got was about gun safety legislation. And there was one gentleman in the room, he was a Trump supporter and he was a Republican and I welcomed him in because again, he's going to be a constituent just like 700,000 other people in this district will be constituents. And we welcomed him in. And I got a question on gun safety legislation and what was so funny is there was a woman in the audience, she's like, 'I have seven guns at home, locked up.' A Democrat. She's like, 'I have seven guns locked up at home and if anybody comes and tries to take away my guns, there's going to be a problem.' And you should have seen the hands go up around the room, 'Me too! Me too! Me too!' And he suddenly realized he was in a room of like-minded people. So we're not looking to take away guns from law-abiding citizens, but we do need some common-sense measures. And I do think there's an element that having more mothers in Congress would bring different priorities and we do want to keep our communities and our schools safer."
Goudeau: Another big concern among some people is reproductive rights for women. With the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh by President Trump for the Supreme Court, some people are concerned about the future of Roe v Wade. When it comes to protecting women's reproductive rights, what would you like to see done if you are elected to Congress?
Oliver: "I would love to see a Congress that values the lives of women, quite frankly. And I do think you can be pro-choice and pro-life at the same time because valuing the life of the mother and the safety of the mother through all reproductive health is something I would love to see in America. I know we talked about this earlier. Texas has a terrible maternal mortality rate and we're seeing women of color dying from childbirth and shortly after childbirth at rates that sometimes triple, quadruple their Caucasian counterparts. And then also we have an infant mortality rate. So I would love to see a comprehensive solution that allows women freedom of choice through all of their reproductive health. And I want to see women actually have access to reproductive health and comprehensive healthcare for everybody would allow us to get there.
Goudeau: The last subject we want to talk about is education. Particularly in Texas, we know that our school finance system has been defined by a judge as lawful but awful. What do you want to see done on a federal level to help Texas improve its schools?
Oliver: "So much of Texas public education is done at the state level but there are things we can do at the federal level. And before we go there, I want to just pause for a moment, and tell people, I am the embodiment of having, investing in a child's education. We grew up in poverty, my mother was in poverty and because I was able to complete high school and then go onto college and then ultimately law school, I was able to lift our family out of poverty, including my mother. And I took care of my mother until the day she died. She, when she retired, had a $300 a month Social Security check, obviously could not live on that. She would have lived on government housing, government food stamps. And because I was educated and there was an investment in my education at the federal level, I was able to help my mom and now I help my dad as well. So I want to say the best investment we can make is our children and the next generation. And that investment comes through education. And the best possible public education that we can fund. And at a federal level, we can, we can provide grants to rural communities and to inner, urban schools for STEM education, for the arts. I would love to see us invest in the arts because that develops a part of our brain that doesn't get used in day to day life. And it's so important if we want to be the leaders economically in the free world, we need to have some very creative people out there coming up with solutions for the future and we do that through education. And I'll say one final thing -- Fort Hood is in this district and when Betsy DeVos was pulled into the administration, her first budget for impact aid which is a federal program that supports communities that serve a large military installation like Fort Hood, it augments property tax dollars that are lost to a military installation that doesn't pay property tax revenue, her first budget wanted to cut impact aid in half. And thankfully it did not come out of the House committee that way but it was still cut by $100 million. And as we know, education costs are not coming down, they're only increasing. And we need to support our teachers as best as we can so they're not having to reach into their pockets to provide for their students. We should be supporting teachers the best that we can. They deserve it."
Goudeau: But now with those cost increases, where are we going to get the money from?
Oliver: "Well I can tell you where we're going to get that money from. The tax cut and jobs act that was passed last year that gave 83 percent of the benefits to the top 1 percent wealthiest Americans. That's where we can look. We can also look to corporations. Corporations got almost all their taxes cut in half. And again, under the tax reform 2.0 that Roger Williams is wanting to enact, he would cut corporate taxes even further. We can dig deep. I say that Republicans want to borrow and spend. It is true. Their platform is borrowing and spending and we can't afford to do that. We need to collect revenue and we need to fully support our social services and our schools the best that we can because again we are investing in our future and we need to stop ignoring the future. The future is staring at us in the face and we need to invest in that future and we can pay for it through taxes."
Goudeau: Any final thoughts for our viewers on why they should elect you on Nov. 6?
Oliver: "Well I will say that when it comes to healthcare solutions for the United States, we're at a crossroads and we need to make a decision on where we're going. Are we going to prop up an inefficient, expensive, terrible outcome system that our current representative wants to support or do we want to move to something where everybody is covered and everybody's costs come down? If you are in favor of bringing everybody's costs down and actually having health care coverage that you don't have to worry about, then you should vote for me. If you want somebody who has true experience in the tax world; the first five years I came out of law school I spent in the tax world. I understand taxes and I know how you can use taxes to incentivize certain behavior and I know that you can use taxes to discourage certain behavior. And we should be using the tax code in novel ways to do both. And there are, final, I'll leave it with this, I believe we need a Congress that reflects everybody in this community. And currently, Congress is about 80 percent male, 20 percent female. Even though females represent about 50, a little larger than 50 percent of the population. And things would be drastically different if we legislating from the heart of a mother. And I remind people of that all the time. Think about the priorities that would be different if we are truly legislating from the heart of a mother. And that is what I will bring when I come to Congress."
KVUE News has reached out to incumbent Republican Congressman Roger Williams about an opportunity for an interview about this race and we hope to share it with you when it happens.