Dr. Mary HeadrickDr. Mary Headrick
If you read the news the morning after the Aug. 2 primary elections for Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District, you might have never known a Democrat was running for that office. But Mary Headrick emerged victorious against competitor Bill Taylor—and she’s serious about her candidacy in a district that hasn’t been served by a Democrat in 18 years.
First of all, congratulations! Let’s start with the primary elections on Aug. 2. We were somewhat surprised that not only did you win the Democratic primary for the 3rd Congressional District, but you won by a commanding 2-1 margin over competitor Bill Taylor. Neither one of you appeared to have much money to spend on advertising, but Taylor seemed to have been more visible. On a ballot that included a fringe candidate for Senate (the disavowed Democratic candidate Mark Clayton), was it surprising to you and to what do you attribute that support?
I entered election night happy because I liked Bill Taylor, his positions, intellect and integrity, and knew I would help him if he won. I expected our vote totals to be very close and was surprised by my margin of victory. I think I won because I made more voter contacts than Bill, and “H” comes before “T’ for those who voted alphabetically and didn’t know us. Some voted for me because I am a woman, but I distinguished myself as a Progressive Democrat rather than Bill’s Yellow Dog or Moderate Southern Democrat. I think that gained me some votes.
What was also surprising to us was the lack of coverage of your win in the daily paper. On the day after the election, one would have thought there were no Democratic candidates for Congress. We saw your name only in the last sentence of the front-page story heralding Chuck Fleischmann’s victory over the other Republican candidates. Were you insulted?
I was not insulted, but I am very frustrated by media bias in favor of the Republicans. Media bias cheats the public. My uphill challenge is to engage the voter with factual information, to synthesize complex issues for voters in a way that gets past the anger and sound bites. Too many voters are polarized by wedge issues.
On the plus side, the TFP’s left-leaning Times-side editorial ranked Democrats above the Republican candidates. They wrote: “The irony of the lopsided focus is lamentable. Headrick and Taylor both stand head and shoulders above the GOP contenders in the range, quality and insight of their thinking on the issues that most affect the overwhelming majority of Tennessee voters and families.” Does the local media matter in the sense that their endorsements affect voters one way or the other?
I did not have much print nor TV media coverage. I think everyone should listen carefully to Harry Austin. Bill, not me, was endorsed by the Knoxville News Sentinel, so the weight of print media endorsements in the primaries seems minimal. I suspect it will be the same in the general election.
In your view, what is the biggest issue facing the 3rd District and what do you intend to do about it?
Money currently buys laws, regulations, budgets and enforcement via campaign donations, lobbyists and large public relations firms. This benefits the pocket books of large, often multi-national corporations, and wealthy individuals. Therefore, the middle class, the underrepresented, is disappearing, falling into the low-income class. Jobs are going overseas. Water, air and soil are threatened. Public education is under attack. “Labor” is being crushed by “Capital.” I will help voters understand when their interests are being attacked. I’ll work hard with all officials who hold the interest of the people at heart. Our economic system is rigged to help the rich get richer and destroy the security and happiness of the average American.
Your fundraising efforts—and those of your fellow Democrats—pale in comparison to your Republican opponents. Can you win without “big money” and how?
Over 40 years ago, I began my civic activism using a mimeograph machine and phone trees. I hope I can win without big money for TV ads. I cannot be bought. I hope the in-kind, hard work of supporters will overcome the moneybags of my opponent.
Tennessee Democrats have been marginalized and all but shut out in the years since Marilyn Lloyd retired her congressional seat in 1995 after 20 years in office. The so-called Red Tide began with the Newt Gingrich’s “Republican Revolution” in 1994 and has continued ever since. The 2010 mid-term elections were specifically painful for Democrats, losing the House and barely holding on to a majority in the Senate. What went wrong?
I think sound bites and wedge issues, together with racial prejudice led the 2010 defeats. David Koch very effectively funded and began the Tea Party. Newt Gingrich very effectively seized the evangelist religious voters. Democrats have been disorganized. The average voter has been misled by PR campaigns. For example, why was the sugar drink tax to help fund the Affordable Care Act abandoned? Those drinks cause much of the obesity that increases health care costs. It makes no sense to fund ACA with a real estate transfer tax on sales over $250,000.
Tell us a bit about yourself beyond what your website and talking points reveals. From all we’ve read, you are a successful doctor and might otherwise be enjoying the later years of your life. What gives? Have you always been interested in politics and why did you decide to run for office now?
I have always loved children, my family, my patients. I have always loved our democracy. I don’t have a greedy bone in my body. I am not hungry for power. However, I have been losing sleep for years worrying about the threats to our children, their families, our democracy and our rule of law. Newt Gingrich’s religious right threatened my religious freedom. Osama Bin Laden’s al-Quaeda still threatens our lives and society. President Bush endangered us by declaring war in Iraq. Leaders endanger us by ignoring science and climate change, by allowing big banks and the financial sector to steal our pension funds, jobs and assets, including our homes and by failing to tax fairly and budget well. Drug abuse threatens our communities.
I feel I personally am at a stage in my life where I can make a political difference. If not now, then when? If not me, then who? Frankly, if I had known Bill Taylor in December 2011, as I do now, I would have worked for him and let him do it. We need change and we are running out of time.
With respect to the past, I worked for the so-called motor-voter law, for health care affordability and for clean water, air and soil, among other issues. However, my family and careers did not leave much free time in the past. I have always had the passion for good government and a just, fair society. Now I have more time for that.
Our first Lightning Round deals with technology, so quickly now:
• iPhone or Android? Huh? I just got a flip phone!
• Mac or PC? PC.
• The better genius: Steve Jobs or Bill Gates? I need a third choice. I am mad at both of them. Jobs for sending jobs overseas; Gates for threatening public education and competitors.
The 3rd District has been realigned due to redistricting and now cuts a wide swath of Eastern Tennessee from Chattanooga to Oak Ridge. That’s quite a territory to represent, but the district has been historically centered in Chattanooga. Do you see any differences in voters from, say, Athens, and smaller areas than larger cities such as Chattanooga?
Good grief, yes! Differences include broadband connectivity, Internet use, well water, septic or sewer, gardens and cooking, parking, roads, public and private education, formal education, dress code, cell reception, transportation options, total miles to travel, job availability, TV reception (cable, satellite, free airwaves), hobbies, magazines, crimes, their pets, insects and other critters. They are, however, alike in dedication to religion and family, in feeling time-pressured, in disgust of the D.C. partisan tug-of-war.
As a physician, we figure you’re qualified to comment on Obamacare, aka the Affordable Care Act. What’s your verdict?
Half a loaf is better than no loaf at all. Obamacare is a huge leap forward with respect to insurance reform. Just eliminating the exclusion for pre-existing illness, outlawing premium charges based on disease risk and declaring insurance companies must spend 80 percent or more on the patient are huge gains. We have endured too many health insurance abuses. ACA still needs the public option or should move to a single-payer system. Otherwise the for-profit insurance companies and providers will just keep running up the price tag. The Independent Payment Advisory Board should not have the authority to implement cost controls. It should evaluate care efficacy and cost and make recommendations. We elect officials to determine the budgets. I wish the insurance companies in the exchanges were nonprofit.
Assuming you win, freshman members of Congress typically spend the first year acclimating themselves to the dizzying environment of Washington. It’s expensive and the demands on your time are extreme. Do you think it’s unfair that representatives only have two years to prove themselves?
Yes. Probably three- to four-year terms would be more effective.
We’ve read you’re into carpentry. What’s the most ambitious project you’ve attempted?
I am in the process of building a set of stairs up a 200-foot cliff. I paddle boat supplies to the bottom area. I divide 80-pound concrete bags into thirds and, at times, rappel them up the cliff along with the lumber and other tools. We built most of our home. My trim work for the windows was challenging.
Our next Lightning Round explores music, movies and books:
• Your favorite song—ever—is: Paul Simon’s “One Trick Pony”or The Beatles “Hey Jude.”
• The last movie I saw was: “The Hunger Games.”
• The last book I read was: “The Price of Inequality” by Joseph Stiglitz.
It’s no secret that The Pulse is a liberal-leaning, progressive paper and not-so-subliminally pro Obama. On a national level, what is your long view of how the president has performed?
President Obama is a very smart fellow with great speaking skills. The more I think about the way he created stimulus (for example, the 4.2 percent employee payroll tax) and ACA plus Medicare revenue (a progressive Medicare payroll tax), the more impressed I am with his problem solving in the face of “Just Say No” opposition. However, Mr. Obama’s listening to Geithner and Summers in the bank bail-out and the generals in advising ramp up in Afghanistan are, in my opinion, big mistakes. He is doing a good job in the midst of a societal divide, recession and bigotry.
Mitt Romney, in our view, is a self-absorbed, wealthy businessman with an inferiority complex who simply “wants” to be the president. In our view, merely wanting to be the president is not enough. So, he “hires” Paul Ryan to add some far-right substance to his ticket. But in the advanced, yet often nominal, democracy we live in, he could very well be elected. In the post-Bush years, nothing surprises or scares us. Does a President Romney send chills through your veins?
A Romney win terrifies me. A Romney/Ryan win will destroy the remaining middle class, public education and will indenture labor. He will rapidly steal from the poor and middle class to further enrich the 1 percent while destroying our planet. His Supreme Court appointments will codify the abuses and make it all worse.
In our view, Democrats generally tend to be more specific and realistic about their plans and outlook, while Republicans tend toward the broad-brush approach. For example, President Obama paints a picture of the current economic outlooks as a realistic “no pain, no gain” path and delineates specifics that some may not like but are necessary to get us out of this mess. On the other hand, Romney says he has an unspecified plan that appears to eliminate much of the scary Ryan approach, but seems to be a vague version of trickle-down economics. The base view pits the very wealthy versus a not-so-healthy and diminishing middle class. It’s not pretty in Congress. Are we doomed?
If Romney wins and the middle class is destroyed, then many well-armed people will have nothing to lose. Eventually there could be a bloody revolution and civil war.
The current Congress has the lowest approval ratings of any in history. Do you believe the Tea Party is to blame? Even most traditional Republicans think they’ve gone too far.
Yes, the Tea Party has gone too far. They are bullies eating their young. The blame lies with Newt Gingrich’s negative and polarizing attacks, the Tea Party, the uninformed voter, the profit mongers using the PR firms to mislead and Citizens United together with other lack of campaign finance regulation.
Finally, as a doctor you must be an expert on Medicare. What are your thoughts on the competing plans and what do you think has to take place to ensure these benefits—and those of Social Security—continue in perpetuity?
I am not an expert on Medicare, but I know who to ask. Medicare, other health care, and Social Security need benefit prioritization, careful budgeting and means testing to function well for many future decades. Medicare costs are more challenging than Social Security. Social Security has a current $2.4-trillion trust fund surplus and, even with a 4.2 percent payroll tax, we took in more than was paid in benefits last year. Medicare costs rise with longevity, technology advancements and disease prevalence, like obesity. There is too much “profit extraction” in our health system. Our fee-for-service approach fails to align medical system use with outcomes and cost. Doctors often prescribe patented rather than generic meds with no efficacy difference. In Haiti, AIDS treatment dropped from $1,500 per patient a year to $450 with the same life expectancy by using a protocol of generic medicines.