By Matthew Muir | Staff Writer
Waco’s chapter of the League of Women Voters hosted roughly 20 political candidates for a meet-and-greet Monday night at the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame. The event included candidates from both major political parties running in next month’s primary elections seeking local, state and federal offices.
Ivy Hamerly, the voter services chair for the Waco League of Women Voters, said that Monday night’s event took months of planning. Hamerly is responsible for reviving the League’s Waco chapter following the 2016 election.
She said she wanted to grow a healthy political climate in the local community.
“After the 2016 election I thought what is something I could do that is constructive and that helps improve our democracy?” Hamerly said. “I read about League of Women Voters chapters having meetings and hundreds of people suddenly showing up. I couldn’t find a Waco chapter, it looked like it had gone dormant, and I wrote to the state league and they said ‘would you like to reboot it?’”
Among the candidates in attendance were six prospective representatives for Texas’ 17th congressional district, which included Waco and College Station. Rep. Bill Flores (R) who announced his retirement from the House of Representatives last year, leaving the seat without an incumbent for the upcoming election. Democrats David Anthony Jaramillo, Rick Kennedy and William Foster III, Kristin Alamo Rowin and Laurie Godfrey McReynolds from the Republican Party and Libertarian Ted Brown all came to pitch themselves to voters.
Every attending candidate vying for the seat made healthcare one of their talking points. As the Libertarian nominee, Brown is the only candidate so far guaranteed to be on the ballot for the general election in November. Brown pitched himself as the “anti-war candidate” and said he believes in the libertarian principles of free market economics and personal freedom. This applies to his healthcare proposals as well; Brown said the key to fixing America’s healthcare system is making use of the free market.
“I think there’s too much government involved in healthcare, that what causes it to become so expensive and so over-regulated,” Brown said. “Is healthcare a right or is it a privilege or whatever? I don’t think it’s either, it’s a service, and goods and services should be provided by free-market competition.”
Kennedy, one of three Democrats in March’s primary, secured the party’s nomination in the 2018 election. Kennedy is tight-lipped about his strategy to win, but voiced his opinions on income inequality, infrastructure and healthcare.
Rather than pursuing less government involvement, Kennedy said he would advocate for expanding Medicare to all Americans who want it.
“I would want to open up Medicare to a public option to allow anyone to enroll,” Kennedy said. “You’ll extend healthcare to the 30-plus million Americans who don’t have it, it’s going to start to help bring down costs… it’s going to get people access to primary care… it’ll have protections against bankruptcy due to healthcare costs and it’ll preserve Americans’ choice to stay with their employer-subsidized insurance.”
McReynolds was one of two from the field of 12 Republican challengers to attend the League of Women Voters event. McReynolds said government involvement in healthcare is “killing us,” and that the U.S. should rely more on the free market, but proposed a solution to help those in poverty.
“You need to look per capita and you need to see how many people are at poverty level, and then you figure out how many doctors approximately it would take to take care of that many people,” McReynolds said. “And you don’t give it away… If you could go to the doctor for say $10 or $15 and then get a prescription for $5 or $10, and then you could go get maybe a mammogram… Then I think that I think that you could take care of more people, they would have a little skin in the game.”
Foster, one of Kennedy’s Democratic contemporaries, listed education and jobs along with healthcare as his keynote issues. On the healthcare front, Foster went even further than Kennedy, saying he wants universal healthcare.
“I think that healthcare should be a right for every citizen in this country,” Foster said. “Certainly we can, in District 17, make it a model for the people in the country.”
Republican Kristen Alamo Rowin said her most important issues were “family issues,” which include the economy, unemployment and healthcare.
Alamo Rowin leans strongly toward free market healthcare over government programs, and said Obamacare and Veterans Affairs are proof more government involvement leads to worse outcomes.
“I believe that the [Obamacare individual] mandate was unconstitutional, it hurt people like me, working people that couldn’t afford insurance,” Alamo Rowin said. “I think that we see that in the VA system, which the government runs, there are a lot of deficiencies that we see when the government controls things. I also do not believe that it is the role of the government to secure healthcare because I believe that healthcare is a service, it is not a right.”
Alamo Rowin said her presence at the event was an act of defiance against establishment politics. Late last month, the Republican Party of Texas issued a bulletin to its members advising against attending events with candidates from other parties before the primary election. Alamo Rowin said she thought shutting out non-republican constituents would be the wrong thing to do.
“For me, as I mentioned being the anti-establishment candidate, I will always stand up for what I believe is right, and I believe it is right to reach all of my constituents,” Alamo Rowin said.
Jaramillo, the third Democratic hopeful, is running heavily on healthcare reform. A Marine Corps veteran himself, Jaramillo said his platform includes a focus on veteran care through the VA.
“I’m also running on VA healthcare benefits and reform,” Jaramillo said. “We have made a promise for our veterans to take care of them for their service for our country and we have faltered on that promise.”