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How Julie Oliver’s Personal Experiences With Healthcare And Housing Have Influenced Her Run For Congress

‘Our Congress should be reflective of the people here, and it’s not,’ the Texas resident said.

(Photo by Alicia Roth Weigel)

Julie Oliver lost her healthcare on her 18th birthday, two months after giving birth to her daughter. 

“Your Medicaid benefits run out 60 days after giving birth,” she told The Appeal. “My daughter was born May 24. My 18th birthday was July 25. So my healthcare went away.”

At 17, she had run away from her family’s home in Dallas. A few months later, she learned she was pregnant. 

“I remember thinking, ‘I don’t want to have a baby on my hip and live in abandoned buildings or, you know, be homeless. So I went back home,’” she said. “I’m grateful my mother took me back in.”

Oliver says her mother worked two jobs—one as a public school music teacher and the other as a housecleaner—and her dad ran a pawn shop. After returning to school, Oliver graduated from high school and then college. With the assistance of Pell grants and tax credits, she didn’t acquire any student loan debt. After attending law school, she began work as a healthcare finance analyst. 

Now, she’s the Democratic nominee for the 25th Congressional District in Texas, running against Republican incumbent Representative Roger Williams. In the spring, she defeated Heidi Sloan, a community activist and member of the Austin chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. 

Oliver spoke with The Appeal about running for office, what she plans to do if elected, and the importance of having nurses, teachers, and grocery store clerks run for public office. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What inspired you to run for political office?

I ran in the 2018 cycle and I’d never considered it before. [In 2018, Oliver was the Democratic nominee and lost against Williams.] My congressman voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017, and I have a son—he’s faced a lifetime of healthcare challenges. Really, he’s been fighting just to be healthy. And so when Congressman Williams voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017, I looked at my husband. I said, “Honey, I have a terrible idea. I need you to talk me out of it. I want to run for Congress. And he didn’t.”

Someone could you look at you and say, “Well, the system works.” What would you say to them?

Our country made an investment in me. We’ve got to be willing to make that same investment in people today. Instead, we have people in Congress who do not reflect the values of the American people, who are there to enrich themselves, who are there to help out their donors, who are there to fatten the bottom line of corporations.

Instead of making investments in people, they’re leaving people behind.

Talking about those kinds of investments, what kinds of policies you would support if elected? Do you support a Medicare for All system?

I absolutely support Medicare For All.  

We’ve seen, living through a pandemic, the absurdity of tethering your healthcare coverage to your employment. People have been laid off. They’ve lost that health insurance coverage and with that, the ability to pay for their family’s healthcare.

This is ludicrous, that in the wealthiest country in the world, we can’t provide universal healthcare. Medicare for All is the best system that we can offer. It’s got the lowest overhead. It covers the most people. It’s an expansion on the Medicare services we currently have. 

Medicare in its current iteration provides healthcare coverage, but this would be dental, vision, and mental healthcare services. We can provide still more services to everybody and do it for a lower cost point than what we are paying now into our healthcare system, so we save lives, improve outcomes, and lower our costs at the same time.

There has been a call for there to be an absolute moratorium on evictions for homes and rentals, as well as a movement for rent to be canceled. What’s your position on those two demands we’re hearing from housing rights activists?

When you have a national leadership and even a state leadership here in Texas that is doing little to contain this pandemic, we absolutely have to have a moratorium on rent and mortgages.

People should not be losing their houses because our president and our governor have failed in their duties to protect the American population in Texas. I absolutely, wholeheartedly stand by that. 

We need a credit moratorium, quite honestly. Big banks should not be getting away with record-breaking profits. They should not become the owners of properties because people have lost their jobs and can’t make the mortgage.

Some of the wealthiest people in our country, their wealth has actually increased during the pandemic. Can you talk about what you would do in terms of raising revenue and trying to advocate for a more progressive taxation system?

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was a horrible giveaway to corporations and the wealthiest people in America. It was the single largest transfer of wealth that our country has given to corporations and the wealthy. 

That should be your patriotic duty to pay your fair share into this system. You should be paying for the education of your future workers. You should be paying for your workers to have a living wage. So yes, we need a far more equitable tax system. 

I went to law school thinking I would be a tax attorney. Our tax code is one of the biggest tools that we can use to level the playing field and create some source of equity.

We should revoke corporate PAC [political action committee] tax exempt status and tax them 90 percent. Let’s tax them so onerously that you discourage that investment in a corporate PAC to begin with and our whole campaign finance system. 

Let’s tax corporate PACs [and] create a revenue stream from that taxation that can fund publicly funded campaigns so we get more teachers, we get more nurses in Congress. 

More of our frontline workers, people who have been working through a pandemic, should be able to run for Congress, and from that experience of having their lives on the line at a grocery store, should be able to legislate from that experience. But they can’t because they don’t have a roster of donors. And so let’s create that funding stream so that they can run for Congress. Our Congress should be reflective of the people here and it’s not.

What do you say to people who are feeling discouraged in the face of what we’re seeing with the federal government?

What I say to folks who feel they’ve been left out of the system is: One, I get that. It’s naive to think that voting will solve everything, but it is naive to think that it will solve nothing, and there’s so much power in the vote. And when you don’t vote you are ceding it to that very system you feel discouraged by. 

Two, run for office. Run. We need good people to run. We need people who are not corrupted by an ungodly amount of wealth running for office, knowing what it’s like to live a life of struggle and challenge.

I know that it seems like you’re pushing a boulder up a hill, but if enough of us get behind this boulder, that boulder’s going to make it to the top.