Julie Oliver, in TX-25, is running one of the most inspiring campaigns of 2018

After years of establishment Democrats running rote, indistinguishable TV ads and peddling cautious, focus-group-tested messaging, a wave of fresh, progressive candidates have decided to communicate like actual humans. Fresh faces such as Randy Bryce and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have produced a series of especially moving digital ads that have gone viral, and this week, even amidst the Kavanaugh calamity, a new progressive star was born.

Julie Oliver, who is running to represent Texas’s 25th district in Congress, narrates her own life story in the ad; she grew up in near-poverty and ran away from home as a teenager, squatting in abandoned buildings until she got pregnant at 17. Shunned by her boyfriend’s family, she returned home, where her mother agreed to help her — on the condition that she get back to school.

The rest is the sort of up-from-your-bootstraps American Dream success story that seems to only happen in movies or very hypothetical conservative scenarios: Oliver worked and raised her family while attending college and law school, and now at 45-years-old, she’s an accomplished lawyer and community leader running for Congress. Her experience makes her uniquely empathetic to the needs of working people, a quality in short supply in Washington today.

“We have a president who keeps me in this fight because we’re given reasons every day to fight or to stand in a fight with somebody,” Oliver told Progressives Everywhere last week. “Whether it’s immigrants, it’s kids who deserve a fantastic, great public education, or our veterans, I’m standing in the fight with them.”

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Oliver felt compelled to run in the summer of 2017, during the heat of the GOP attempt to overturn Obamacare. She spent years working in healthcare finance and law and was intimately familiar with the issues facing both the system and individual patients — the cost of being uninsured, the stress on rural hospitals and clinics, and the still-too-high uninsured rate, which sits at 16.6% in Texas. The Republican obsession with exacerbating all those issues spurred her to action.

“A year ago when Congress met to repeal the ACA and didn’t have a plan to replace it, they just wanted to yank the rug out from under millions of Americans,” Oliver explained. “I said, this is so ludicrous that they would do this. Millions of people benefit from having healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and even though it’s not perfect, it works for a lot of people.”

She has personal stake in the ongoing fight, as her son has an immune system issue that would qualify as a pre-existing condition under any insurer. Her family would have been yet another to fall victim to medical bankruptcy had the ACA not guaranteed coverage. Having spent so much time in the healthcare industry, she is strongly in favor of moving to a Medicare for All system and suggests that should she win, she’d sponsor a House version of the Choose Medicare Act, which would create a public option and be a big first step toward a single-payer system.

After winning a close Democratic primary settled in a run-off election, her GOP opponent in the long, gerrymandered district is Rep. Roger Williams, who has been in office since 2011. Williams has accomplished little more than taking some photos with Donald Trump and collecting lobbyist donations. Oliver has sworn off all PAC donations and has an innovative proposal for creating a public campaign finance system, which would be funded by using Congress’s broad authority to levy taxes to tax Super PACs. It’s not a pipe dream, legally speaking — Oliver worked for years in tax law, and so she is intimately familiar with the ins and outs of our complicated system.

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“Not taking PAC money really is so I can say that I want to be a representative for the district and for me to be able to talk to somebody who might not see eye-to-eye with me politically,” she said. “That’s a game-changer, when I say that I don’t take PAC money.”

Being in Texas means that there will be plenty of voters who are not immediately predisposed to voting for a progressive Democrat, if only due to years of fear-mongering by Republicans and half-hearted efforts by local Democrats. Oliver laments the toxicity of the current political climate and has resolved to overcome hurdles inherent to Democrats in Texas one voter at a time, even in a district that stretches over 400 miles.

While Williams has been criticized for being relatively absent from the community he represents, Oliver has dedicated herself to door-to-door campaigning, town halls and senior center visits, trying to create “the human-to-human touch that has been missing” over the last decade or more. The district, which stretches from Fort Worth to Austin, is a +11 Republican district, which is red, but not nearly as red as some of the other districts that have flipped already this year. And there is hunger for more change.

Watching the Kavanaugh hearings, as painful as they were, reminded her of just how different 2018 feels, of how the furor being experienced by women and anyone with a conscience has become so overpowering that no level of obstruction or institutional unfairness can stem the rising tide of rebellion.

“I believe that women are going to going to get woke, for lack of a better term, and they’re going to come out and vote,” Oliver, who has two adult daughters, said. “The misogyny and the patriarchy that we see that has been going on for a long time and coming down from the highest levels of office — we’ve got to smash it, smash the patriarchy.”

And no matter what happens in her race, she’s already doing her part to advance the cause of working people and inspire women with her action and her story.

“A dad reached out to me on Facebook yesterday and he said, ‘Your story is so eerily similar to my daughter’s. She’s pregnant now and she’ll be raising the baby by herself as a single mom. She didn’t think that she had a future,'” Oliver recalled. “And he said, ‘I started talking to her about you about a month ago, and then she saw your video and she texted me today and said that she had enrolled in her first college course.’ I just started crying.”

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Another Democratic uprising in Texas puts a deep red GOP district at play with progressive policy

When I started Progressives Everywhere last year, it was with candidates like Miguel Levario in mind. In order to truly rebuild a better Democratic Party, we need to work to build it everywhere. Too many states had been instantly surrendered to Republicans, which, along with enabling corrupt politicians to govern millions of people, had the effect of making our political map smaller and smaller.

There were far too many districts that didn’t even field Democratic candidates for local and federal office in 2016 — including Levario’s northwest Texas district, TX-19, which includes cities like Abilene and Lubbock and major schools such as Texas Tech University.

Levario is a professor of history at Texas Tech and the first Democrat to seriously run to represent the district since 2004, when Texas’s extreme partisan gerrymander made it deep red. But between Texas’s seismic and ongoing demographic shifts, the district’s changing profile, and the wave of progressive energy sweeping a nation disgusted with GOP grifters, Levario figures he has a pretty decent shot at pulling off the upset. His opponent is against an unremarkable Republican, Rep. Jodey Arrington, who is running for re-election for the first time, improving his odds even further.

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“In the 19 months we’ve been running, I’ve met more independents than in the first 11 years I lived here,” Levario told Progressives Everywhere last month, laughing at the observation. “Before, everybody was proud to be a Republican and proud to be conservative and they didn’t hide it. Now, whether it’s because of the White House or Congress or just the divisiveness in society, I have Republicans telling me, ‘I can’t believe I’m meeting with a Democrat and I like you.'”

The northwest Texas district is still predominantly rural, but the growth in the universities and the further development of medical/biotech hubs in Lubbock and Abilene have brought an influx of younger, more progressive residents in more urban and suburban areas.

That leads to some divergent concerns, but Levario is bridging the gap by running on an unapologetically progressive platform that aggressively challenges entrenched corporate interests, addresses cultural divisions pushed by the GOP, and includes policies such as Medicare for All.

“We’re not getting the anti-Obamacare rhetoric, even from Republicans. When we talk about healthcare, they’re afraid they’re going lose the little bit that they have,” Levario reports. “In our smaller areas, they’re already seeing the clinics close down and at the very least they’re seeing services being taken away because they simply cannot afford it because Texas did not take the Medicaid expansion. I find it ironic that some of our clinics are in heavily Republican, pro-life areas, yet they can’t deliver babies because they can’t afford to it.”

He’s no longer hearing misguided hysterics over “socialized medicine,” given the rising cost of healthcare and the increasingly limited availability. One voter that he met on the trail told Levario that he had to go to Europe to get affordable care for his cancer; many others have had family members or friends forgo medical care, due to the expense, until it was too late.

The cruel reality of the modern medical business, even in a district with so many medical research centers, has changed the attitude of voters there.

“We haven’t moved our platform to the center,” Levario says. “We believe in people. We don’t shy away from Medicare for All because that’s what people want.”

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It also helps that Arrington is such a hardcore more Republican. He worked for George W. Bush when he was both Governor and President, now supports Trump’s Muslim ban, and uses bible verses to justify cutting off food stamps. It puts him far outside any American mainstream, and as Republicans lose grip on Texas — look at the Beto O’Rourke surge against Ted Cruz — it also puts Arrington further on the right wing even in that state.

Still, when Levario began his campaign, he heard from plenty of old-school Democrats — the remains of the party, those that didn’t convert to the GOP after the LBJ years — that he had to play it safe to have a shot.

“They said you’ve got to be more moderate. People 60 and older were still believing that we’ve got tread lightly here, saying we live in a conservative district and we should more in the middle,” he relayed. “I listened, but then as I said, when we go and talk to people, they don’t want ‘moderate,’ they want what they want. They want healthcare, they want funding for their schools. They want their teachers to get paid.

“We don’t frame it as being liberal, progressive, socialist, or Democrat,” he continued. “That might turn off people because of the cultural context here. But the platform and the plans and proposals that we offer are certainly along those lines of a progressive candidate.”

The growing Hispanic population in the district has yet to equate to a political shift, but as Levario notes, he’s the first Latino candidate to run for office there, and he’s predicting the beginning of the sea change that many have been bracing for in Texas.

“The thing is, Latinos vote. They just never had somebody to vote for. Lubbock is a very segregated city. So we’ve spent time in the neighborhoods that are predominantly Latino and African American. They know us and they said, yeah, you’re the first and only candidate that’s been out here in God knows when.”

That points to how Levario is running his campaign. Money is often tight, as it’s hard to get big Democratic donors to look at rural Texas when so many more obvious swing districts are at play. They’ve eschewed many TV ads or billboards on Texas highways, instead relying on grassroots support, going door-to-door in both cities and rural neighborhoods, holding events and shaking a lot of hands.

An influx of donations would go to digital campaigning — social media and Google ads — instead of the tradition of pouring money into TV or local radio, which provides less and less bang for their buck.

The core of the Levario campaign will always being present in the community, opening minds to Democrats and progressive policy one voter at the time.

“I always tell people it’s more expensive to avoid your constituents,” the candidate says. “You’ve got to make commercials and all kinds of stuff so that you can avoid them, but if you just confront them, it’s actually much cheaper. Just have to pay for gas.”

If Democrats can win a district like this, the GOP’s hold on so much of the country will no longer be a sure thing. And that would truly change America.

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