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.”
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.
“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.”