AUSTIN — Texans know Congressional districts can be a tricky thing.
Every 10 years after the census, the Texas Legislature meets and redraws the lines. Oftentimes, to favor whichever political party is in power. The state has been sued, judges rule the state is wrong, maps change but it continues to happen.
One clear example is Austin. During the 1994 election, the bulk of Austin and Travis County was in District 10. By the time the 2004 election rolled around, Travis County had been split into three districts and Downtown Austin was lumped in with a bunch of southern counties to form District 25. Downtown Austin then got a new number for the 2012 election, the one it holds today, District 35. The district stretches east of Austin and down to San Antonio.
Through all the line changes and number changes, one man has survived the gerrymandering, representing Austin since 1995, Democrat Lloyd Doggett. He's the only Democratic representative in Congress in all of Central Texas.
This Midterm Election, Republican David Smalling, an electrical inspector, is challenging Doggett.
Doggett sat down with KVUE's Ashley Goudeau to discuss why he wants voters to reelect him.
Ashley Goudeau: What do you feel are the top three issues to the people in your district?
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett: "I think there's a top one issue. I, a few decades back, served as captain of the safety patrol at my elementary school here in Austin and now I feel like I'm on a safety patrol of a different kind. President Trump is a constant threat to our democracy and to our security as families. And I think it's really important to push back, to exercise the genuine checks and balances that our founders envisioned for America, and we're not getting enough of that in Congress. He continues to be encouraged by his enablers in Congress to attack a free press and freedom of expressions. To attack our justice system, to encourage violence, and I think this is very dangerous. And this election, I think we always say everyone's the most important, this is a really important election to ensure that our democracy is not continually eroded."
Goudeau: Since you feel that way, what things are you personally doing as a current congressman to try to impact some of that?
Doggett: "Well, number one, I'm trying to get some reinforcements up there. You know, almost the entire time that I have served in Congress, I've been in the minority. I believe we need a genuine check and balance on the president by having a House that is under Democratic control not just because it's Democratic, but because it's an alternative to what he's doing and because his Republican supporters do. If he engages in something really insulting or really outrageous, they just kind of duck and cover or occasionally pat him on the back, and so I'm working to try and help MJ Hegar, Joseph Kopser, Julie Oliver, Mike Siegel serve with me in Congress and certainly Beto O'Rourke, my colleague, to be in the Senate. And I realize that the gerrymandering that split me up from some of the constituents that I've represented here in Central Texas occurs at the Texas Legislature. And so it's really important that we elect some new House members that will recognize its just wrong for Austin to be the largest city in the entire country to not have a majority of its population in any congressional district. And that's why I think Vickit Goodman, Jimmy Talarico and John Bousey and Erin Zwiener are so important to get elected to the Texas House.
Goudeau: Let's talk about some of the issues important to people in the district. Immigration is on the minds of many right now, particularly when we saw the family separations happening at the border. It is a broad question to say 'what do you want to see done about immigration,' but give us some of your thoughts on what you think we can do to address it.
Doggett: "Well, I think that certainly we need to have secure borders. We cannot accept everyone who wants to come to America. But we can have humanity in the way we approach these problems. Unfortunately, this is a subject about which the president lies every day and lies frequently. This caravan coming north to Texas is not filled with Middle Eastern terrorists. It's filled with mothers, distraught that their daughter might be raped, that their son might be recruited into a criminal gang. And this administration is trying to use fear of foreigners and bigotry as a tool in this election and it seems to be working for him in too many places, unfortunately. I think that our immigration system needs total revision. We saw how it should be done about six years ago when the United States Senate, by an overwhelming bipartisan majority with a number of Republican leaders participating in it, proposed comprehensive immigration reform. Unfortunately, the Republican Speaker of the House would never even permit us to vote on that bill. There are bits and pieces of it that we might be able to attach to must pass legislation next year, certainly to stop this family separation of tearing toddlers from their mothers forever from this administration. Something that didn't happen by accident, by negligence. It was a deliberate policy of this administration, indifferent to the impact, the child abuse on these children, to use that as a deterrent from people coming here. And then I met with so many of our Dreamers throughout my years in Congress. Young people who have so much to give, many of them are already contributing as teachers. I met a cardiac nurse the other day here in Austin. These are young people that came here as a child, have never known another country in the main, may not even be able to speak the language of that country. They've cleared a criminal background check, they paid a fee, they're doing right by America and yet some of my Republican colleagues would deport them. I just think that's wrong. They're protected now by some court decisions, but it's essential next year that we pass legislation to guarantee their safety and participation as a significant contribution to our economy, especially in Texas."
Goudeau: You mentioned the border, we are very aware that President Donald Trump would very much like to see a wall built along our border. Where do you stand on the idea of a border wall?
Doggett: "You know, every time I'm asked, especially in San Antonio, 'where do you live?' I say I-35, because it seems to me that's where I find myself almost every day. We need major infrastructure improvements but they're not a wall in the middle of the desert to waste concrete there. We ought to be using those resources to upgrade our transportation system, apparently here in Austin, our water system, so that we always have good, safe drinkable water. Our various other infrastructure needs and not waste it on a wall. I think the whole, Trump campaign, remember he was going to have Mexico pay for that wall, he gave up on that phony process but he continues to insist on a wall that we don't need, that won't serve its purpose, that will only waste tax payer money."
Goudeau: We heard cries after the tragedies at Sutherland Springs, Sante Fe High School, for something to be done about guns. Where do you stand, do you think we need to reform our system, our current rules on guns? And If so, what would you like to see?
Doggett: "Absolutely. I support March For Our Lives, Moms Demand Action, Texas Gun Sense, the other responsible citizen groups that have been as concerned as I am about the safety of my own grandchildren, when they go to school here in our area about what could happen. Or anyone going to ACL, or just a concert venue, the dangers that exist there. This congress will not do anything meaningful about this. The only way we will change the laws on gun safety is to change the lawmakers. We have to have some reinforcements up there. I think of the various things that have been suggested, the one that would do the most good is comprehensive background checks. I respect the second amendment but there's, most people, you know, that would go in a gun shop right here in Central Texas and buy a gun, they will get a background check now. But there's many ways around it for someone who's been involved in domestic abuse, who has been violent or has had a criminal history to go on the internet, to go to a gun show, to take advantage of the boyfriend loophole that exists. We should close those loopholes and have a fast, well-funded, expeditious way to ensure that people who buy guns should have a gun."
Goudeau: Let's talk a little bit about healthcare. Texas has the highest rate of people who are uninsured in the entire country. What can we do on a federal level to change that?
Doggett: "There's so much that we can and should do. I've served on the health subcommittee, may well serve as the chair of the health subcommittee in ways and means next year. Our number one concern, of course, is the protection of pre-existing conditions. There was much controversy, we've discussed it before, about ObamaCare and what that meant. There are many flaws in it that need to be corrected and the law needs to be strengthened. But one thing it did, and did really well, is to protect people with pre-existing conditions. Almost half of our neighbors as insurance companies define it, have a pre-existing condition. It might be a victim of domestic violence, it might be a child born with a disability, it might be somebody who's been in an accident or had an illness that affects them, so that they would find, under Republican policy, that they could either get no coverage for what they need most or they would find that their premiums soared to such a level that they couldn't afford to get coverage. I think we need to strengthen the Affordable Care Act to take care of those issues and the things that it did not adequately address, especially for small business and the high premiums they've had to pay. And then as you know, Ashley, from our visits, one of the things that I've been most concerned about in forming and leading the House Democratic Affordable Prescription Drug Caucus, the soaring price of prescription drugs. Usually, drugs that were paid for, the research much of it, by taxpayer money. And yet these pharmaceutical companies that get a monopoly granted by the government charged unrestrained monopoly prices. Whatever the sick and dying would pay. I have people contact me all the time that cannot afford their medications, that are put in a really difficult position. I've offered legislation that I will reintroduce next year that has now 100 co-sponsors, to let Medicare negotiate, much as the Veteran's Administration does, to lower the price of prescription drugs. And if the pharmaceutical manufacturers won't do that, to have what I call competitive licensing to license generic companies to come in and use good old American competition to help drive down the price. So those are some of the things, there are many more, that really do need to be addressed in the health area."
Goudeau: Some argue that one of the greatest threats to America right now is the rising debt and with those new tax cuts that were approved and signed by the president, the debt is expected to increase, I believe it's by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. What do you want to see done to address the debt?
Doggett: "It is a huge problem. And so many of those Republican deficit hawks that were complaining anytime President Obama proposed raising spending a dollar, they seemed to have flown south and stayed there for the winter and spring and summer. This is a problem that if all of the Republican tax proposals that have either been signed into law or passed the House, we'd have over $3 trillion of additional debt. That is going to slow our economy, it's going to transfer a significant burden to our children and our grandchildren, and it will certainly jeopardize the future of Social Security and Medicare and investment in education in our children if you have that much debt. It's already being used by Mitch McConnell and some others to say we have to limit the benefits available through Medicare and Social Security. I think we have to look at every dollar that any Democrat proposes to spend or any Republican proposes to cut from revenue, and be sure were not expanding that debt. I think we need to review all the changes. Currently, I serve as the top Democrat on the Tax Policy Committee opposing that tax bill, particularly the additional cut that was added at the last minute for those at the very top, that lowered their tax bracket, that needs to be restored. Also, there are provisions in the tax law that I think actually encouraged the outsourcing of American jobs and made it less expensive from a tax standpoint to build new factories and invest abroad than to invest right here in Texas. Those need to be changed, we need to try both on the revenue side and by exercising restraint on spending to see we do not expand this debt and see if there aren't some ways to try to bring it down before it does great harm to our economy."
Goudeau: You have served in the U.S Congress since 1995. Your opponent in this race, Republican David Smalling, calls you a 'career politician' and says that you should instead step down and let the next generation come up. What do you say to that type of criticism?
Doggett: "I say that with each election, I get two years to work. And I'm applying and asking my neighbors to give me a chance to serve another two years. I think I've reflected the values of our community, that I have worked effectively to try to find common ground with Republicans in the few areas we can do that and to push back against Donald Trump at every opportunity in a non-violent way that I possibly can. So, the citizens of this district can limit my term in any election. I'm asking for two more years to be able to continue to do this. I do hope that we get some new people into the Congress. That's why I'm working so hard to get Joseph Kopser and MJ Hager, to get Julie Oliver and Mike Siegel there because I think that their coming will give me the reinforcements to be even more effective, in resisting Trump and taking some of the initiatives that we need to do to make lives better for families here in Central Texas."
Goudeau: During your time in office, tell us what are you most proud of, the work that you feel has really made an impact?
Doggett: "Well, I've worked effectively on the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which gives a credit, actually cutting taxes, for those who have tuition and instructional materials to encourage more educational opportunity. I was actively involved in opposing the tragic invasion of Iraq. I wish we could have done more there because that continues to cause harm to us and trillions of dollars of expense as a result of that engagement. But I will tell you that in the entire time I've been in office, Democrats have controlled the House and the presidency for exactly two years. Those were the two years where we passed the Affordable Care Act and tried to put some restraint on the excesses of Wall Street and the harm that some banks were doing to consumers. Now I'm seeking two more years when we might have at least a Democratic House to make some progress and to prevent us from being drug even further backward by Donald Trump.
Goudeau: Do you have any final thoughts for our viewers on why they should elect you Nov. 6?
Doggett: "Well, I like the advertisement I've seen from my friend MJ Hager over in Williamson County when she says that it's not just her going to Washington, but she's going to take all these folks with her. That's the approach that I've always tried to take. I don't think I have a monopoly on truth. I've been very fortunate, despite all the gerrymandering, to represent this community that Libby and I love so very much. And I would ask for that additional two years and that input that's so vital to me. I've always felt that the best campaigning is just to provide good government. We've tried to provide good and responsive government for the people that we serve here and many of our neighboring neighborhoods and I hope I'll be able to continue to do that."