Carter, Hegar in heated congressional race
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
The District 31 U.S. House of Representatives seat has been firmly in the hands of Republicans since John Carter was first elected in 2002, but area Democrats are counting on veteran MJ Hegar to challenge that control.
District 31 includes Liberty Hill, most of Williamson and Bell counties as well as Fort Hood and has a population of about 720,000.
The two candidates have stark differences on nearly every issue, from how they view the current economy and what should be done about healthcare, to Hegar’s claim that Carter isn’t responsive to his constituents against Carter’s insistence that he is.
Prior to his eight terms in Congress, Carter served as a district judge in Williamson County for 20 years. As the Republican seeks his ninth term, Carter said he believes what he calls a record economy speaks for itself.
“The tax cuts have jump-started the economy to record numbers we haven’t seen in 15 to 30 years,” he said. “Basically all the numbers are fantastic. Small business people are expanding, new businesses are opening, and there are an abundance of jobs available for our public.”
The rising deficit is one part of the economic picture Carter said will need to be monitored, along with expenditures, but he argues that the results of the tax cuts will take care of that issue.
“There is going to be a deficit challenge, but we’ve always learned that when we put America back to work, that the tax revenues actually go up, contrary to scoring the government gives it,” he said. “If you go back to the tax cuts of John Kennedy when you put America back to work, more taxes flowed in. You go back to the time of Ronald Reagan, tax cuts went in, the revenues went up. Tax cuts have proven to be an ultimate revenue increaser.”
A longtime supporter of efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Carter said Americans will get the best healthcare through open markets. He does not support single-payer healthcare.
“I don’t think the answer to healthcare is going to government-controlled socialistic healthcare as my opponent seems to think is the right idea,” he said. “Medicare for all will speed up to light speed the disruption of Medicare. We’ve already got a short-range view of Medicare that says it’s in trouble and we have to be careful, but we’re right now keeping Medicare at a functionary level, but if you start taking and putting the whole country on Medicare it won’t be sustainable. We need to go back to a functioning market, not a government-regulated market, and let the market drive the system. That’s the solution to healthcare. Healthcare is the most price-fixed industry we have in the country right now and it’s the government fixing the prices.”
Immigration issues have been something Carter has worked on for years, and he bristles at talk of a literal wall along the length of the U.S. southern border with Mexico.
“The experts on how to control the border are on the border, they’re called the border patrol. I actually have a border patrol person who works in my office because until very recently I was chairman of the Homeland Security Appropriations Committee,” Carter said. “There are places on the border where barriers are needed to keep people from rapidly entering the country in a place where those who have a duty to stop them can’t get to them. We’re not talking about building the Great Wall of China, we’re not talking about a wall that stretches from Brownsville to San Diego, that is insane and doesn’t make any sense.
“We’re talking about areas where we don’t currently have a barrier that prevents them from coming through and those places have already been picked out and designated. People are painting a picture that is a false picture. This is planned out by people who do the job, where barriers will be placed, and if you want to call that a wall, that’s a wall, but it’s not a wall that’s going to stretch long distances.”
As Chairman of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Appropriations, and representative of Fort Hood, Carter focuses on a number of military issues.
“This year we passed the largest Veterans Affairs funding bill in the history of the agency, and our whole purpose is to make sure the veterans are getting the best healthcare available, and it gives them options on their healthcare,” he said. “It is a very far-reaching bill.”
He takes pride in the Veterans Transplant Coverage Act, which helps veterans have better access to organ transplants.
“It has already allowed many veterans to get live tissue transplants they couldn’t afford to get because of bad policy at the Veterans Administration,” he said.
The Justice Served Act, which has passed through the House of Representatives, is meant to provide additional resources for solving cold cases.
“It gives prosecutors resources for cold case files,” Carter said. “We gave them money to do the rape kits on cold case files and it increased exponentially the number of cases they were able to make on people, and from that they needed more money on every level to prosecute the cases.”
Carter has raised $1.01 million in campaign contributions from January 2017 to June 2018 according filings with the Federal Elections Commission, and he took aim at Hegar’s fundraising.
“My opponent’s money is coming from California, New York and Boston, as are her consultants and the people running her campaign,” he said. “People outside our state are trying to buy multiple districts in this state with money and I don’t believe the people are going to let out of state money change the fact that we want someone who is a neighbor to do this job.”
According to his reports, Carter has received $496,612 from committees and $516,264 from individuals.
When asked about what appears to be increasing divisiveness in politics today, Carter said that’s not what he sees in comparison to his early years in the House.
“I don’t see any more divisiveness under Trump than I saw under George W. Bush or Barack Obama,” Carter said. “It was divisive when I got there. I haven’t let any of that influence how I do business. I have probably worked across the aisle as much as anybody in the entire Texas delegation.”
Citing the allegations of Hegar, other Democrats in the primary and his Republican opponent Mike Sweeney, Carter insists that he spends a great deal of time in the district and in contact with voters.
“That’s purely political, none of that is actually true,” he said. “I am here every weekend. I go to businesses and I hold town hall meetings with their employees and I give them free access to ask questions and I get good ideas from them. I’d say I am more accessible than 90 percent of the people in Congress. That’s really hogwash.
“The thing I am most proud of is I have an awful lot of interaction with my constituents. I’ve been out doing 12 to 14 hour days this entire time and that’s not because it is an election year, that’s pretty normal to what I do when I’m back in the district, and I’m back in the district every weekend.”
He is relying on his track record and familiarity to area voters in November.
“I think the voters know me, they’ve known me for a long time and what kind of person I am,” Carter said. “They know my family and what my morals and ethics are.”
A combat veteran, with three tours in Afghanistan, Hegar believes she has what it takes to unseat Carter in this district.
She has lived in Williamson County almost her whole life, graduating from Leander High School. In the military, she served five years as an aircraft maintenance officer then became a combat search and rescue pilot.
Ironically, her journey into politics can be partially attributed to what she calls Carter’s lack of representation of his constituents.
“For me this is not a talking point, it is part of why I am running,” she said. “This is why I quit my job and put my life on hold to try and serve my district. It is not personal or just me. It is not because he disagreed with me. I am meeting with groups all the time that are thanking me for meeting with them because they haven’t been able to get a meeting with Congressman Carter ever. That is something I hear every single day.”
She added the qualification that choosing to meet with some groups and not others is not the same.
“The fact that he is meeting with donors, the fact that he holds very highly scrutinized and controlled meetings that are not open to the public and not announced to the district, those aren’t town halls,” Hegar said.
Knowing the needs and people of the district can only come by spending time with all of them.
“I would say the way you behave on the way to a place is the way you are going to behave when you get there, and I grew up in this district, but I have learned so much about this district along the way,” Hegar said of her journey through the campaign. “If he would just take the time to do the work – I can understand not wanting to do the work it is hard work, it is tiring – but we need someone who is going to have the energy and work ethic to do the work, to meet with people and collaborate.”
Hegar prefers not to focus on the stories in the national economy, but instead, the needs she sees in District 31.
“What I’m focused on is how they impact my district,” she said. “My district has a higher than national and state average for unemployment and wages are trending lower. The veteran population in my district was damaged with the tax reform because it removed a corporate benefit for hiring disabled veterans.
“I don’t see a lot of the GOP talking about the economy reflected in the reality in my district. What I’d like to see is more job creation in my district, more removing of barriers for small business creation.”
A key to removing those barriers for Hegar is about security and relieving the economic burden on voters.
“Too many people are afraid to quit their jobs because they are tied to their employer through their healthcare plan,” Hegar said. “They are burdened by student loan debt. They are trapped in their house due to housing costs and school district choice, so there’s not a lot of freedom to move around and be innovative, which is a big part of the American dream.”
The Democrat that raises taxes and spends more money is something Hegar sees as an old stereotype meant to mislead voters.
“I think it is an antiquated view of the two-party system that one party is fiscally responsible and the other is not,” she said. “I’ve always been very fiscally responsible, that’s why I used to vote for John Carter, despite our disagreements on social platforms. But now, given the fact that his actions are not fiscally responsible, there’s no reason for people who are only voting Republican for their fiscal beliefs to continue voting for Republicans based on that alone.”
The government is spending the money, she said, and the focus should be on how.
“It’s not a question anymore about how much is spent, but what the money is spent on,” Hegar said. “I think we need to be eliminating waste and becoming more efficient, and that doesn’t mean cutting consumer protections, cutting education, cutting patient rights and those types of things.”
Hegar believes patients should get as much consideration as the healthcare industry when determining how to improve healthcare in the United States.
“I’m a capitalist. For capitalism to work you have to regulate for corruption and greed. Corruption and greed are the two things that can render capitalism obsolete,” she said. “I believe we need to incentivize quality and innovation. But that does not mean cutting patient rights. It does not mean looking out for pharmaceutical companies and wealthy special interest groups. What it does mean is streamlining, being more efficient and modernizing.”
The current approach to immigration, whether it is talking about building walls or separating families at the border, is something Hegar says does great damage to the U.S. on the world stage and threatens the country’s standing.
“I think beyond the moral issue – which can’t be overstated – of separating families and labeling people who are asylum seekers as some kind of criminals, we need to start thinking of our position on the world stage and our reputation as a country,” Hegar said. “Putting America first is not about being isolationist and ruining our relationships with the rest of the world. Those relationships are what put America first. Our influence through our relationship with our allies and our strategic humanitarian aid are what make us a world superpower.”
With an agenda that includes healthcare, education, women’s rights and education, one of the causes dear to Hegar is veterans issues, and first on her list should she win is jobs, especially for veterans.
“We need to reinstate the corporate tax break for hiring disabled veterans,” she said. “Immediately we need to have elected officials who collaborate with unions and other vocational apprenticeship programs. We need to invest in infrastructure and broadband access, and we need to work on removing barriers to small business creation, which is the number three job creator in the district.”
On the issue of divisiveness, Hegar points to a lack of veterans serving in elected office today.
“I think there is no coincidence there is a record-low level of veteran representation in government and a record-high amount of hyper-partisanship,” she said. “We need to start electing people who are not just going to say they are going to unite people. We need to elect people who have a record of working with people whom they disagree with and have the ability to be a servant leader instead of putting their ego ahead.”
Political money has been an issue for Hegar, as well as Carter, and she points out that a majority of Carter’s contributions come from political action committees.
“I think it is really telling that he gets most of his money from PACs,” she said. “He gets a lot of money from the private prison system for example. I feel like he probably doesn’t appreciate that we are running a people-powered largely individual donor campaign.”
Hegar has raised $1.68 million since January 2017, with $1.54 million of that coming from individual donors and $59,885 coming from political action committees.
Grassroots has been her focus, and Hegar believes Congress needs more people who are not career politicians.
“We need to have more regular people elected, who have actually faced the challenges they are trying to legislate solutions to,” she said. “I’d like to see more people elected who are not independently wealthy, who are concerned about taking care of their parents, and protecting Social Security and Medicare, who are concerned about the quality of public education because they’re not sending their kids to private school, who are concerned about the cost of healthcare because they’re having to choose between taking their kids to the doctor and putting food on the table.
“I grew up in this district, and it is time we lock arms and demand the representation. We insist that our elected officials don’t feel safe and don’t feel that they don’t have to answer to their constituents.”