TMA: More Docs Than Ever in Texas Politics
The largest doctors association in the state says it can’t remember a time when so many Texas physicians have been in politics. But sometimes their medical backgrounds put them at odds with their party.
Doctors’ beliefs fall across the political spectrum. Howard Dean is a doctor. He served six terms as Vermont governor and was one of the most socially liberal candidates in the 2004 Democratic presidential primary. Texas Congressman Ron Paul is also a doctor, and he ran for president on a plan to eliminate five federal agencies.
“Even in situations where they may disagree, they certainly bring an educated decision in why they may not agree,” said Darren Whitehurst, a lobbyist with the Texas Medical Association, which represents more than 45,000 doctors across the state.
Whitehurst counts five members of the TMA in the Legislature and one in Congress. That might not seem like a lot, but he can’t remember when it’s been higher.
“Certainly not any in my history, and I guess I’ve been doing this since ’88, ’89,” he said. “I think for the last four cycles we will have elected new physician members to the Legislature.”
In Texas, all the doctors in office and all the doctors seeking office are Republicans. But sometimes their medical backgrounds put them into conflict with their lawmaker colleagues. State Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, for example, differs with some of his fellow conservatives on government funding for family planning services.
“Should government provide family planning? Ultimately probably not, but it’s a lesser of two undesirables,” Deuell said. “If you don’t do that, then you’re going to have more unwanted pregnancies. What happens to that, there’s a variety of things that can happen.”
Among those things is an abortion, which is something Deuell fiercely opposes. He also voted in 2009 to allow unmarried teenage mothers ages 16 and 17 to get prescription contraception without a parent’s consent. That landed him in hot water with the tea party during his Republican primary this year.
Deuell also supports needle-exchange programs for drug addicts.
“Everywhere that it’s done, the evidence is undeniable that we reduce HIV, we reduce hepatitis,” he said. “Some people do not want to be confused with facts.”
U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, says he was motivated to get into politics because of the 9/11 attacks. But now that Burgess has found his place on Capitol Hill, he has delved into health care. In late 2009, Burgess was the only Republican to vote for a bill that would replace the system to calculate Medicare payments to doctors known as the sustainable growth rate formula.
“We were coming up to the end of the year,” Burgess said. “We were looking at another round of cuts under the sustainable growth rate formula, and this was really the last chance to show the physicians of the country that I was indeed serious about fixing this problem. So I voted with the Democrats that day.”
After this election the ranks of physician lawmakers could grow even further in Texas. Three doctors are seeking their first terms in the Legislature, including one district that covers part of Austin south of Lady Bird Lake. Tea party favorite Donna Campbell is facing Democrat John Courage in Senate District 25.