Mann, Hegar face off once more for Dem nomination
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Christine Mann and MJ Hegar may be new to running for office, but neither are new to fighting for the causes they believe in on a political stage.
The pair emerged as the top two candidates in a four-way race for the Democratic nomination for U.S. House District 31 in March. While Hegar garnered 44.3 percent of the vote, it was short of the majority needed to win the nomination, setting up a runoff with Mann who totaled 35.6 percent. The runoff election is May 22, with early voting from May 14-18.
Both are looking for the opportunity to take on incumbent Republican John Carter, who carried 65 percent of the vote in the Republican primary in his bid for reelection.
Being a military veteran with a lifelong connection to the area is what Hegar says makes her the right choice for the Democratic nomination.
“We’ve seen success in other races across the country when we choose the candidate that matches the district perfectly,” she said. “I am a perfect match to this district. I have lived here my whole life. We have more veterans that live here than 97 percent of the rest of the country and I think the district needs to be represented by a veteran.”
The ability to win the race in November is also a benefit she said brings to the Democratic Party.
“I am going to be the better candidate to win in the General Election,” Hegar said. “Not only am I running the type of campaign that can and will unseat an entrenched, establishment incumbent – raising the resources, building the grassroots organization – more importantly, I do believe I have the breadth of experience and the demonstrated successful change management background.”
Her reason for running is simple and close to home.
“I need to do more to protect my kids and I need to give them the opportunities I felt like I had growing up,” she said. “I owe it to them and this country I love so much to try to protect the world they are growing up into. To make sure they can be happy, proud of this country, free to love who they want, free to practice what religion they want, without being intimidated and bullied and oppressed.”
Hegar said 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, serving three tours in Afghanistan. She said she is the Democrat that can take on and defeat Carter.
“We deserve better representation in this district,” she said. “We deserve someone who has a history of being able to work with people that they disagree with. We need to send people to represent us in DC who share our values and are able to work with people and have shown not just a passion about our values but being effective in fighting for those values.”
When she spent time working on issues in Congress, Hegar was stunned to find out there was one person who would not meet with her.
“During my meetings with people from both sides of the aisle, the Senate and House Armed Services Committee and people like that, John Carter wouldn’t take a meeting with me,” she said. “My representative wouldn’t take a meeting with me. I think we deserve better representation and I’m here to provide that.”
Bringing back the success during the Obama administration is her focus.
“My campaign slogan is ‘Protect our Progress’, because when the Democrats had control of the House and Obama was our president, we accomplished so much legislatively that we thought we were entering this golden age and we took our eye off the ball a little bit,” she said. “What Democrats have to do differently is not compromise and not become moderate, but control the narrative and the messaging.”
Much of District 31 is characterized by urban voters, but most of the district continues to be rural. Concerns Hegar has heard among rural voters are the economy and job creation, feeding their families and their finances.
“Specifically among rural voters living in this district, the greatest concern is finances, the impact that laws, regulations and the access to quality, affordable healthcare services, and infrastructure investment will have on their day to day financial life,” she said. “When Democrats forget about that, we lose at the polls, and we should.”
Hegar calls the campaign process inspiring, but said it has come with some stark realities and reminders.
“I try to stay inspired and not jaded,” she said. “But I’ve definitely learned some things I think are unfortunate about the political system. Things like how critical it is you run a full-time campaign and how important fundraising is, and I don’t think those things should be the key. I don’t think you should have to be a full-time candidate.”
Focusing on the excitement she sees along the way, though, eclipses those harsh realities.
“The more important things I have learned are exciting and inspirational and that is that people are getting a lot more civically engaged, the number of time volunteers that I have who are door-knocking for the first time ever is exciting,” Hegar said. “The fact that people are kind of fed up with the system period and don’t want to hear about left versus right or us versus them, they just want better representation.”
She is proud to run as a Democrat, but is quick to point out that labels are not what she is focused on and not what voters want.
“I think it is a trend that people don’t even like answering the question, are you a Democrat or are you a Republican. People do not like labels,” she said. “I think that it is more important to identify, and this is what I consider myself, the leaders who show a managerial intestinal courage. We need to send people to Congress who have integrity, who have a history of service and understand what sacrifice and service is, instead of people who are trying to be elected for personal reasons or for ego.”
The advantage she held in the primary has Hegar optimistic about victory, but she is determined not to take that for granted.
“We go into the runoff very confident, but I think there is very little more dangerous to a democracy than an overconfident legislator or candidate. You should never take your constituents or support for granted,” she said, offering to be a representative for everyone in the district. “I will provide good representation to the people in this district. Not just the people who agree with me, not just the people who donate to me, not just even the registered voters, but all of the people who live in this district.”
A family practice physician in Cedar Park, Mann is looking for nothing more than an opportunity to help even more people than she has in her two decades as a doctor.
“I want to help people,” she said. “I’ve been helping people for 20 years, but my ability to affect people’s lives is limited in my practice, and it would be much more powerful in a political arena. I come from a background of activism. I’ve been an activist politically and in the community for more than a decade.”
The hallmark of her campaign has been voter engagement, spending time going door-to-door and meeting constituents – something she chose to focus on over raising money.
“I’m about listening to people on the ground and not to PACs or high-dollar donors,” Mann said. “I want to take the stories that I have heard, through my practice and through my campaign, those real-life stories of how people are suffering and I want to help them and use what I’ve learned form them to make this country stronger and better.”
In her first campaign, Mann has learned that there are many things involved that pull her out of her comfort zone.
“I’ve learned it is not what I thought it would be,” she said. “It involves exposing yourself and putting yourself in a spotlight that knew existed but didn’t realize the extent of. It involves a lot of self promotion, which for someone like me who is an introvert, is a challenge. It involves asking people to do things they normally wouldn’t do, contributing to the campaign through donations, their time, and energy.”
But in that grass-roots style campaigning, Mann has learned that voters are not as concerned about fundraising and more about issues.
“One of the things that’s really a stark thing for me is the difference in what voters want to talk about and hear about, and what the media and political class like to talk about,” she said. “When I’m talking to voters and I’m knocking on doors and meeting people at town halls, they want to hear where I stand on issues. They want to know what I’m going to do when I’m in Washington. When reporters, or the political class ask me, they want to know how much money I’ve raised. That’s the only question they ask.”
Mann reached a point in her dealings with Carter, the man she hopes to face in November, where he would no longer meet with her on issues she was concerned about. It is another reason she believes that the focus should be on the people and not the money.
“I would love it if we could refocus on that type of grassroots effort,” she said. “People feel like they are not being listened to be anyone and are not being heard by either party. When we show up at their doors, we are showing them that they matter to us, that we’re not just all about gathering dollars from the people who can afford to pay. We are about talking to people on the ground and what they say, even when they don’t have access to money and power. I’m trying to show that is a viable path.”
There’s no data that shows that dollars raised or spent translates into wins, Mann insists, reminding voters that Williamson County Pct. 1 Commissioner Terry Cook was outspent 17-1 by her opponent and won.
“I’m not taking PAC money or courting high-dollar donors or holding high-dollar fundraisers,” she said. “I am listening to people and what their concerns are.”
The issue those voters are talking to Mann about is healthcare, the issue she said is the first almost everyone mentions.
“Healthcare is the first issue, and almost the only issue that people ask me about when I’m knocking on doors,” she said. “I’ve stood for single-payer healthcare since 2009 so that hasn’t changed at all. That’s what people care about, it’s what brings them to the polls. We need someone who is very strong on healthcare.”
She says that being a doctor makes her the right choice to represent District 31 in Washington.
“With healthcare being the number one issue, putting a female Democrat doctor in that seat, is going to be critical to a lot of people,” she said. “This is something that can be done. John Carter is vulnerable, the question is what are the issues that are going to drive people to the polls?
“The last time Democrats were in control, the Affordable Care Act was passed. The weakness in that was they did compromise on too many things. Finding a way to form coalitions to support these things we all need and we all believe in, is critical. There are ways to do that. We look at what is low-hanging fruit, what there is already broad consensus about in the public and we enact those thing right away.”
Even in rural parts of the district, Mann said access to affordable, quality healthcare is number one, along with general infrastructure improvements.
“The number one thing facing rural District 31 is infrastructure,” she said. “The thing about that is it encompasses many things. We often think of infrastructure as roads, but it encompasses healthcare, internet access. Those things are critical. When you invest in infrastructure, the return on investment is between $1.5 and $3, so this is an investment, it is not something where we are losing money.”
Regardless of the issue, Mann says approach is finding solutions the right way.
“I have a background in science that spans three decades, so when I’m in Congress I will be able to take an evidence-based approach to the decision making,” she said. “I have been an activist for two decades, so I am used to working on behalf of other people.”
There are differences Mann said are important for voters to understand regarding the choice between her and her opponent.
“The difference comes in our backgrounds and our priorities and our policies,” she said. “My number one priority is healthcare, which happens to be the number one priority of voters going to the polls. We have a difference in taking PAC money, we have a difference in term limits – I’m in favor of them. We have a difference on gun reform and we have differences in our commitment to single-payer healthcare.”
In the end, she pledges her passion for helping people and dedication to represent the voters rather than other interests.
“If voters want someone who is passionate about representing the average constituent, then I would love to have their support,” she said.