Once again, the Party of Medicine helped usher in new, needed guests to the four-month policymaking party the Capitol holds every odd-numbered year.
During the 2018 elections, TEXPAC, the Texas Medical Association’s political action committee and bipartisan political arm, backed candidates for the Texas Legislature who demonstrated that they understand what doctors need to succeed. Thanks in part to TEXPAC’s support, a physician’s spouse and a number of other new pro-medicine faces will be sworn in to the House of Representatives when the 2019 session convenes on Jan. 8.
As usual, TEXPAC carefully selected its candidate endorsements based on qualities that best serve the interests of physicians and patients, not on party affiliation.
Throughout the elections, TEXPAC endorsed numerous successful candidates across Texas. Here’s a look at four new representatives-to-be who — with TEXPAC’s support and the backing of local physicians — defeated anti-medicine candidates in some key districts.
District 121: Steve Allison (R-San Antonio)
Mr. Allison will have some of the highest-profile shoes to fill of any new legislator, as he takes over the seat vacated by retiring House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio). Along with TEXPAC, the longtime business attorney earned endorsements from specialty society PACs, including the Texas Society of Anesthesiologists PAC and EYE-PAC, which represents the Texas Ophthalmological Association.
After the March party primary, he faced a runoff in May, winning by 15 percentage points before advancing to November’s general election, where he captured 53 percent of the vote.
Mr. Allison says his legal experience — in which he’s represented both physicians and hospitals — gives him a good health care background. He told Texas Medicine he was planning to request an appointment to the House Committee on Public Health. Health care topics near the top of his list include mental health, expansion of rural health care, and maternal mortality.
San Antonio pathologist and TMA Past President Bill Hinchey, MD, says Mr. Allison will advocate for medicine particularly on balance billing and maintaining tort reform protections for doctors. He says Mr. Allison understands issues surrounding access to care.
“He sat down with people in health care, including a number of doctors, to learn our issues, our concerns going forward,” said Dr. Hinchey, a TEXPAC member. “He is a very levelheaded person, and he is a consensus-builder. He’s a person that … stays calm and he invites conversation to hear views, and will ask good questions. He’s just somebody that I think is approachable by medicine, who we can talk to and who will listen to us.”
District 8: Cody Harris (R-Palestine)
Mr. Harris is the founder and president of a land and ranch development and management company. His campaign focused on his ability to bring a rural voice to the Capitol, and voters in District 8 listened. He won a May GOP runoff by 14 points to advance to the general election, then resoundingly defeated his Democratic opponent by capturing 78 percent of the vote.
Mr. Harris tells Texas Medicine he’ll fight to make sure regulations are fair and predictable, with no new overreaching ones that increase liability or cost to physicians.
“Rural medicine is a very important thing to both me personally and our district,” he said. “Anything we could do to help strengthen the ability of doctors to provide patient care in rural areas, I’m going to be a champion of.”
TEXPAC’s support was instrumental during the campaign, Mr. Harris added.
“Not only are the costs of running a campaign just insurmountable, but TEXPAC is so well-regarded that when they get involved in a race, that helps other trade associations get involved in that same race and participate through their other PACs.”
District 115: Julie Johnson (D-Addison)
Along with the seven physicians returning to their seats in the legislature, Mrs. Johnson’s election added another member to the Capitol’s Family of Medicine: Her wife, Susan Moster, DO, is a Fort Worth gastroenterologist.
“I see up close and personally all of the bureaucratic headaches that physicians have to go through before they even start to help people,” Mrs. Johnson said. “A lot of that needs to be fixed.”
A personal injury attorney, Mrs. Johnson easily defeated the incumbent, a TEXPAC-identified enemy of medicine, in November, taking 57 percent of the vote. Endorsement from one of the recent Republican holders of her seat may have helped; former District 115 Rep. Bennett Ratliff (R-Coppell), who lost his seat in 2014 to Mrs. Johnson’s opponent, threw his support behind her last September.
She says she’ll be a strong voice for medicine “advocating for the principles of health care access for all people, encouraging the state to participate in the Medicaid expansion, funding much-needed residency programs, expanding the role of community colleges in health care education. Basically, figuring out whatever measures we can take and whatever things that we can do to improve the number of medical professionals and access for the people of Texas.”
Dallas anesthesiologist and TEXPAC member Tillmann Hein, MD, says Mrs. Johnson has “a built-in understanding of the things that are important to medicine,” and will work across the aisle.
“You just need to look at the results in her district. That is a district that has always voted Republican. And the fact that she managed to get all of the voters there who are suburban Republicans, basically, all of them to approve of her, that is testimony to her ability to relate to the voters there,” Dr. Hein said. “That leads me to believe that she will likewise do well with colleagues in the legislature.”
District 114: John Turner (D-Dallas)
A North Dallas attorney, Mr. Turner follows in the footsteps of his father, Jim, who served in both chambers of the state legislature and was a U.S. congressman for Texas’ 2nd district from 1997 to 2005.
“In my district, I have a large number of physicians; I think I may have more than any other House district except perhaps one or two, from what I’m told, in my district in North Central Dallas,” John Turner said. “So I’m certainly going to listen closely to the perspectives of physicians on all issues related to health and medicine.
“You can count me as one who will be an advocate for preserving the integrity of the patient-physician relationship and not having government unduly interfere in that relationship.”
He’s also a proponent of “expanded access to health care generally,” including Texas accepting Medicaid expansion dollars under the Affordable Care Act. And Mr. Turner says vaccination legislation will be needed this year in light of falling immunization rates in many parts of the state.
Those rates became a large part of the District 114 race because Mr. Turner’s opponent had the backing of the anti-vaccination community — as well as the far-right group Empower Texans — and used their support to defeat incumbent Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) in the Republican primary election.
Mesquite pediatrician Lisa Swanson, MD, who’s part of TEXPAC’s candidate evaluation committee, says that was a big factor in her support for Mr. Turner. He ultimately had little trouble in the general election, winning by 11 points.
“The other thing is that John himself, everything we’ve heard about him is, he’s just honest, and truthful, and thoughtful. … We heard nothing but wonderful things about him, and all the evidence is he’s going to be a really good friend of medicine,” Dr. Swanson said.
Tex Med. 2019;115(1):30-33
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