By Suzann Thompson

In an online meeting on August 25, 2020, two candidates discussed issues of interest to rural voters with Carl Jones of the Rural Outreach Caucus of the Texas Democratic Party. Julie Oliver is running to represent Texas Congressional District 25 in Washington DC, and Clayton Tucker is running for the Texas Senate, District 24. The districts overlap in five Texas counties.

Opening with the rural healthcare crisis in Texas, Oliver pointed out that rural hospitals have a large uninsured population, but even when patients have insurance, they are often underinsured or unable to pay large deductibles. Tucker told about the unique problems of rural residents, like snake-bites and injuries caused by livestock.

For the 3.7 million adults and 700,000 children in Texas who don’t have health insurance, Tucker said, Medicaid Expansion could go far in closing the coverage gap. The number of uninsured he quoted was before people lost their jobs due to the COVID pandemic. For this very reason, Oliver said, “Healthcare should never be tethered to employment.”

Oliver said that she has worked in hospital finance for 15 years, “and there’s a way to run our healthcare system that will bring down property taxes, recoup our income tax, and save lives.” Since Texas has not adopted Medicaid Expansion, our income tax money goes to support states that have already done so. Oliver would like to bring those tax dollars home. Uninsured patient care is partially covered by property taxes. Medicaid Expansion will insure more people, and Texans’ property taxes will go down.

Tucker prefers the term “usable healthcare,” saying that it would encourage people to go to the doctor when they begin to feel bad, instead of waiting until they are in an emergency situation. Medicaid Expansion gives people incentive to get care earlier, as well as providing hospitals with more resources for taking care of patients. It is “all around good for Texas communities,” he said.

Regarding the United States Postal Service, the candidates were against privatizing the Post Office and felt that since businesses were eligible for financial help during the COVID pandemic, the Postal Service should have financial help, too. Tucker advocated bringing back Post Office banking, and pointed out that the postal service employs many military veterans. Oliver said that sending a letter via a private corporation currently costs about $8.00. Oliver said her opponent takes campaign donations from private carriers, so has less interest in keeping the USPS working at full capacity.

In 1999, Governor George W. Bush signed into law a bill that set the stage for Texas becoming a leader in wind-powered electricity. The jobs that wind power and other alternative energy sources bring, can reverse the depressed rural economy, Clayton Tucker said. He advocated for very low interest government loans to help farmers and ranchers harvest energy by building solar panels and more windmills. Acknowledging the feast and famine cycles of the oil and gas industry, Tucker said, “…the wind always blows.”

Julie Oliver suggested that tax incentives would work well to encourage green energy development in Texas.” She reminded attendees that free markets don’t work in the fossil fuel industry, because it is subsidized by tax payers to the tune of around $650 billion per year.

Turning to rural broadband, Oliver and Tucker pointed to the electrification of rural Texas in the 1930s and 40s as a blueprint for bringing high speed internet to everyone in Texas. Oliver suggested a federal jobs program to train people to lay wiring for broadband. “Electric co-ops can undertake part of the investments and costs,” she said, “but it will need federal investment” as well. Co-ops would recoup their investment over time.

Tucker said new technologies, like high-speed internet through cellular signals, can work in place of laying actual cable, to bring wi-fi to rural areas.

The candidates closed with so-called elevator pitches, quickly sharing their priorities. Both had healthcare reform high on their list. Tucker also wants to preserve Texans’ access to clean water, as well as protecting public education, from kindergarten through college or technical school. His opponent is involved in a for-profit college. Read more about Tucker at www.tuckerfortexas.com.

Healthcare was the most important reason Oliver entered the race for U. S. Congress in TX-District 25. She added that, “We can’t entrust our economy and our lives to the party who ran them into the ground.” Oliver takes no money from political action committees. She said, “I’m not bought by UPS or FedEx or oil and gas…and that leaves me accountable to the people in my district.”

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