More on CD 10

Doherty and Grant on issues in the congressional primary race

My interviews with Dan Grant and Larry Joe Doherty covered much more than could fit in print; below are some other topics we touched on. – L.N.

How do we bring down the federal debt and eliminate the budget deficit?

Larry Joe Doherty: Fiscal solvency ought to play some part in the financial goals we seek to achieve. Our federal government is the only branch that's allowed to operate at a deficit. Reducing our dependence on foreign oil, developing a green strategy, and paying attention to the environment in the first place would have avoided the need for the oil addiction that produced that war. Until that spending started, the Clinton administration had our government and the economy that was working under it – whether he gets credit for it or not – functioning in at least an arguable positive. Now, you talk to all the Republicans that don't want to recognize that those were good economic circumstances for America, and they can complain that Social Security is going to outstrip our government's ability to fund it, maybe before I'm dead. Maybe that's true, but the overhaul of that system now can't even be considered until we do something to reduce our national dependence on borrowed money. That's just a pyramid scheme that's waiting to collapse.

Dan Grant: I'd be in favor of rolling back the Bush tax cuts. And this isn't really an issue of left or right – it's about what's financially sound. I was just reading an article in the Wall Street Journal [about] how the Republican Party is losing its brand as being friendly to business and financially responsible, where there's a mass defection of Republicans to Democrats. Bill Clinton said it actually, about eight or 10 months ago, where if you are a traditional Republican who likes fiscal responsibility, a sober and cautious and considered foreign policy, and if you think that the government really shouldn't be poking around all that much in your private life, then guess who you have to vote for now? Because these were all central principles for the Republican Party a long time ago, and they've abandoned them completely, and I'm in favor of all those things.

Do you support single-payer universal health care coverage or some other means to deal with our health care costs?

Dan Grant: In short, the health care system in the U.S. is broken. I'm in favor of what's been promoted by Clinton and Edwards: all Americans are required to have health insurance, which eliminates free-riding, and lowers systemic costs (if all are insured, then healthy individuals help offset the costs of sick ones). There should be exemptions for people under a certain income floor, and choice of caregivers is critical so that Americans can be free to select their doctors. I'm intrigued by the idea of tax credits for self-employed families and small businesses so they don't bear an undue burden.

At base, the lack of an overarching health care system is causing systemic problems across the country: Uninsured adults and children cause drops in productivity and spikes in school absences; and American companies that bear the cost of health care are less competitive internationally with companies from countries that have government-financed systems. A good example of this is when Toyota recently opted to open plants in Canada instead of the U.S., as the costs to the company would be lower – the Canadian government would handle health care, rather than Toyota. The U.S. operates at a competitive disadvantage in our current arrangement, which is unwise for our long-term economic stability.

Finally, there's a moral element to this subject that's often repeated, but it's the most important part of the discussion: the United States is the only first-world country that doesn't have a health care system. We have the largest economy on the planet, but George Bush and Michael McCaul won't insure our children. This is shameful.

Larry Joe Doherty: Doctors are going to give us a plan. The American Medical Association, the Texas Medical Association, medical associations all over the country, are already embracing a national health care plan, they just haven't put together what it's going to look like. The patient-physician relationship needs to be reestablished without having an insurance company claims man standing between the doctor and the patient. And that plan will be put together with the doctors having a say in what it's going to look like. It should. The congressman should facilitate the development of laws that reflect what is good for the country rather than dictate or rubber-stamp what somebody else dictates is a party policy.

For all of its criticism, the Veterans Administration hospital system is national government health care without an insurance company representative in between and it's been winning awards for its efficiency, and primarily, having electronic medical records increases its efficiency. In a national health care plan it would be crazy not to have a unified system of well-protected but electronic medical data. Then you wouldn't have Rush Limbaugh going to several different doctors to fill his prescription.

You wouldn't want to institute a government-sponsored health care plan that precluded the ability of people to pay extra for extra. It wouldn't prevent the insurance companies from continuing to play their risk game. But it would prevent insurance companies from dictating that Americans have to gamble their wealth against their health. Today, if you're below a certain age and you need critical care, you have to divest yourself of all assets. There was a report that a third of all bankruptcies filed last year were health-care related. That's obscene. What is the American dream of improving your lot in life worth if it all has to be reduced to zero to deal with a catastrophic health care claim later in life?

Other crucial issues for the district:

Larry Joe Doherty: The common issue, the one that I know is going to be most important is not on very many people's radar screens – it's certainly something that if Dan knows about, he certainly doesn't have any experience in – and that's open space land use. Native grass development, where the first raindrop falls. Which translates into, our ability to have a clean water supply in these urban areas that are at either end of this district. And the key to keeping water supply abundant, available, and affordable, is the very thing that connects the two urban areas in this gerrymandered district – and I know they weren't intending to do that – and that's the rural community in between in the open space and how we manage that land, and what provision we make for recharge zones in our aquifers, and what provision we make for keeping that open space functioning as a natural water filter. The rural communities and the urban communities are in this together, but it's not about the war. It's not about the health care. It is about education, and it's all about the environment. The two interact and work together. They need a representative that understands that.

I've run a wildlife habitat reserve on our 270 acres [in Washington County] since I first got it, and it, just like Texas Justice, it wasn't something that was planned, it just evolved. ... It has been an opportunity to experience a learning curve in the environment that is not just fortuitous, but it's critical. ... I'm telling you now, water is going to be the number one issue affecting all of us because we can't live without it. And in 2015 our population and water use projections are expected to collide. They ain't making any more land. We've got to figure out to use the land, and we know how, to maximize water supply.

Dan Grant: [answering a question about whether rural CD 10 residents can count on an urban Austinite to represent their concerns] The point is to be attentive to every constituency within my district. I'll admit I grew up in Austin, and I wouldn't know how to run a ranch, but my job is to pay attention to the people who do. My job is to be able to discern good policies from bad. A good example is NAIS – the National Animal Identification System. It's a big concern in the rural communities of Texas where a lot of ranchers and farmers are, because it mandates microchipping of livestock, and the cost has to be borne by individual ranchers. And it's very sweeping as well – if have you have [one] horse, you are suddenly classified as a rancher and have to register with the government and pay the cost of the chipping. It seems from all evidence that this is a terrible program that really is designed to be a windfall for the microchip companies and isn't particularly interested in public health. And I can see that, and I don't have to be a guy who runs a ranch to understand it. And I've made a point of listening very carefully to the people in rural counties and getting their sense of it too, because they know their business and they know what they're talking about it. And McCaul was in favor of it. ...

Or more accurately, he wasn't against it. NAIS was created before McCaul joined Congress, but he's had the opportunity to de-fund it and hasn't. On May 23, 2006, McCaul had the opportunity to vote to de-fund NAIS on an amendment that would do so, HR 5384, amendment 885.

Do you support gay marriage?

Larry Joe Doherty: Any consenting adult who wants to establish a relationship of permanent bond and mutual sharing, and can't get the sanction of a church to call it a marriage, ought to have the sanction of the state for the same rights, regardless of what you call it. I think the word "marriage" has a religious connotation. It's a relationship that is a family, and we ought to foster that relationship instead of oppose it. That's a long way to say "yes," but everybody wants to get all bent out of shape about the semantics of it. Under all other circumstances, nobody has any right to interfere in the relationship, but you call it a marriage and suddenly we're making laws respecting the establishment of religion, and our constitution prohibits that.

Dan Grant: The government has no business telling churches who should or shouldn't marry. And if you're a law-abiding taxpayer, you should be able to give your estate to whomever you wish. It's a property rights issue.

On the issues of border security and illegal immigration:

Larry Joe Doherty: We ought not to be talking about how to deport 3 million native-born American children simply because their parents happened to be born in either Mexico or South America. There are crazies that want to do that; I would not do that. ... We need to see whether or not we can devise a fair and honest way of dealing with people who want to come to this country and work and devise a pathway for citizenship, without trying to stigmatize them or dehumanize them as "illegals." Those are humans that are dying out there in the desert, trying to get into this country because there's no opportunity for them where they are.

[On building a border wall] Absolute insanity. I have absolutely no respect for somebody who's a wall-builder. That's just a prison that you're on one side or the other of. Are they fencing people ought of this country, or are they fencing us in? ... A fence solves no problems.

Dan Grant: What I have found is that in this district, it is in fact two issues and not one. One is status of illegal immigrants, and the other is border security. What I have largely found is that people in this district are concerned about border security, which is completely reasonable. I tend to come at it from the perspective of what I've done for a living, stressing the security point. We've got a border that's porous, and anyone from anywhere in the world can come through, and who knows what they are carrying with them.

I'm in favor of increasing the Border Patrol. I absolutely want to make sure that it remains in federal hands – I'm not interested in vigilante groups going around declaring themselves to be those who are carrying out the law of the land. I'm not in favor of a wall, for two reasons: First of all, one purely symbolic, which is the United States is not in the business of building walls in this country. That reminds me too much of East Berlin. Secondly, because it won't work. There's the now clichéd phrase that a $700 million wall will do nothing but increase the sale of $10 ladders, and it's true.

My philosophy is one of, instead of treating it as a crisis, we should treat it as one of surveillance and simple security. Illegal immigrants cross into the United States at points where it is the most porous, and that constantly shifts, so we should have a border security service that is able to respond to these and constantly shift. ... What I want to see is flexibility, so that there is constant checking. Because as long as this country is attractive to people, people are going to want to come in. ... A side effect of the extraordinary good fortune that Americans have for living in this country – and Republicans are the ones who harp on how America is the greatest country on earth ever, and they are right – is that it means people are going to want to come here come hell or high water, and if that is a constant, then we should just treat it as a constant condition that we need to guard against and deflect, but also for the sake of security, I want to make sure that terrorist organizations aren't able to get across the Mexican border with a chemical bomb. That's what motivates me.

Does Larry Joe Doherty's minor celebrity as "Judge Larry Joe" from the Texas Justice series give him an advantage or disadvantage?

Dan Grant: No. ... Some people, from what I've seen, if they are aware of his profession previously, it's an odd piece of trivia, but it doesn't influence who they're going to vote for.

Larry Joe Doherty: I can't imagine that it's going to hurt me, because people don't watch television that don't like it. My concerns about reaction in the community were quickly disabused. Nobody watches a television show that doesn't like it. And if they watch it, they like it, and they see you, they're happy to see you. It was a positive experience. ... It's my practice as a lawyer I'm taking to Congress, not my time on TV.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Congressional primary race, Larry Joe Doherty, Dan Grant, CD 10, Michael McCaul

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