Renee Swann, 64, retired chief operations manager of ophthalmologist Russell E. Swann’s Brazos Eye Surgery of Texas, seeks to succeed Republican Congressman Bill Flores in representing Congressional District 17. A Republican, she touts herself as a small-business owner, proud conservative and a Texas job creator. On her website and in her profusion of mailers, she proclaims she is committed to “stopping the rise of socialism in our country and protecting the God-given liberties that have made America the greatest nation in the history of all mankind.” She expresses strong support of President Trump for doing a “phenomenal job for the American people.” In candidate forums, she speaks forcefully of hardships regarding impositions of health regulations. This Trib editorial board interview with Swann was necessarily rushed to accommodate the candidate who scheduled another meeting in another part of the district during the same general time bloc. Although we found Swann quite impassioned on topics in a general sense, she demonstrated a lack of knowledge, depth and context on even basic issues. On Saturday Congressman Flores endorsed her, noting: “She’s the type of thoughtful, effective leadership we need in Washington today and I’d be honored to have her take this seat moving forward.”
Q Why are you running?
A I took a personal inventory after I retired from my husband’s medical practice in June, thinking I was going to spend time getting to know my grandkids because they live hither and yon. I’m not fortunate enough to have them live here. Anyway, just in that quiet time of “what does life look like from 65 on,” for me it’s not that I was lacking anything. Life was very fulfilling. But my head, and the concerns on what I see going on culturally, politically in our country, the divisiveness, the heart of the people being discouraged, young people not caring — I’ve spoken to young people that don’t think they need to even be having children because they don’t see a bright future. And it was heartbreaking to me, and I have grandchildren. So if I still have mental clarity, ability and energy, and I believe that I can contribute something, then I don’t get to just go on vacations and play with grandchildren. I need to serve and that’s what I do. I’ve done that all my life. I am someone that takes care of people. That’s my greatest joy.
Q Given your specific background and skillset, what issue would you most readily be able to help address on Capitol Hill?
A Well, I think we need to look at the health-care reimbursement system. I think we need to remove regulations that we’ve suffered under for years, and then open it to a free market because that will restore the physician-patient relationship. If we get rid of the middlemen, we’re going to get rid of a whole lot of waste. We’re going to make the health-care dollar far more effective for the patient. We’re going to restore the honor that physicians once felt. I remember the years that we started going through a transition. At one point I jokingly said, “I don’t know if I’m going to show up at the post office and my husband’s picture is going to be up there, simply because he has MD after his name.” We were being demonized to people in order to change the hearts of the people. They became fearful of their doctors. And the doctors became frustrated with the regulations that were being pushed and, oh, by the way, there was the threat, or at least the inferred threat, that if [they] didn’t meet certain regulations the way they were giving it to us, and they could change on a given day, they could change in a week — it just depended what bureaucracy decided to place yet another extension—
Q Who are you talking about as the middleman?
A Just insurance carriers, the people that go in and decide what the reimbursement rates are going to be. What’s the algorithm? What’s the value of what that physician is giving? What’s the value of what the patient needs? Someone else is deciding that instead of the two people that are core to that relationship. And it’s a relationship. It’s not a manufacturing plant, it’s a relationship. And that threat really did a lot of damage to the whole system.
Q You mentioned to our reporter a few weeks ago that you want “children and grandchildren to live in a country like I grew up in and our forefathers fought for.” What period of time are you speaking of? Describe what made it worthy compared to present times.
A I’ve really had the sweet privilege of growing up in little old Odessa, Texas. I spent my childhood out there.
We lived right off of West County Road. Now, it was paved, but where we lived was not paved. It was dirt.
Q So that’s better?
A Oh, yeah.
Q What period of time are you speaking of? Describe what made it worthy compared to present times. That’s the question.
A So in the ’50s, we played outside. We created our own world. We found, we explored, we discovered. Our children are being so inundated with data, with stimulus, that is distracting. I’ve raised four kids. I raised four very bright, very strong-willed sons, [raised them] to keep them on track — not following some distraction where if it flashes and moves, they’re going to go for it. The simpler times, I think, helped build stronger character. You discovered from that which was within, instead of being influenced by that which was without.
Q You’re talking about rolling back all the social media, the video games, the way we get our movies. How would you do that?
A Oh, just let parents have the confidence to be parents.
Q Who’s keeping parents from doing that?
A I think culturally, when we see TV shows that make a joke of the head of the household, or a joke of a special people group, it just demeans our humanity and self-respect, respect for one another.
Q But that’s First Amendment. You don’t have anything to do with that.
Q So how do you propose we get back to simpler times?
A Just to be an encouraging society.
Q But what does that got to do with Congress?
A Because we’re leaders. If we’re there being divisive and discouraging, we’re not setting the example that we’re supposed to be setting. We’re not taking our role very seriously.
Q You talk about going back to simpler values, perhaps from a leadership position. Yet we have a president who mocked a New York Times journalist with a physical disability, ridiculed a U.S. senator for being a prisoner of war, made reference to blood in a way intended to degrade a female journalist, linked Sen. Ted Cruz’s father to the assassination of JFK and claimed Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, was foreign-born. You’re suggesting leadership should lead us to higher moral ground. Is this a good leadership example for our children and grandchildren?
A Well, those are accusations, not facts. There are people that have opposite opinions about what each one of those instances were. And that’s been argued and taken out there ad nauseam. That’s part of what—
Q No, they’re not. They’re on videotape, as they say.
A And it’s in clips.
Q Mm-hmm (affirmative).
A And we don’t know what came before, what came after.
Q So if you’re going to excuse that kind of thing—
A I’m not excusing it. Absolutely not. Civility, respect, kindness — those are the greatest and most noble human factors and I think we must all aspire to that, whatever office we serve in or whatever position we have in town, out on the local street, while still allowing people to be human beings. We fail one another. And perhaps the greatest civility is to have the forgiveness and understanding of that. But you don’t sweep things like that under the rug either. Then there’s — let’s talk about it, but not let’s talk about it and condemn someone. Let’s talk about it. If this is in your personality to do these things, do you not understand that you’re now harming me or the influence to my kids hearing it on the TV or reading about it or being told about it. Let’s just start being the most noble people we can and encouraging—
Q Would you tell the president that?
A I would tell anybody that.
Q OK. You insist on your website that the Constitution is being undermined. How so?
A Well, let’s take the 14th Amendment, for example. There’s a misinterpretation, a misunderstanding, of the statement of what it is to become a citizen or to be a citizen, to have citizen rights. And that’s to be native born or naturalized and to be subject to the jurisdiction thereof. I think that’s fairly, plainly written. Now, I understand there are interpretations of that. But to not discuss, to leave off the second part of this, “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” and for us to dig down, drill down to understand what that means to be in a jurisdiction, leaves us vulnerable to having, in people’s minds and hearts, the loss of a standard and a principle that secures the foundation of what it is to become American, be an American.
Q So what would you propose?
A Education. I would propose that we have open discussion about this, that we take the emotionality out, that you step back and instead of hitting it on an emotional level over and over and over again, like you’re poking a wound, let’s talk about jurisdiction, what it is to have laws. Laws are what establish and cause a foundation for us to grow on.
Q So, are there other examples of how we’re undermining the Constitution?
A When we look at the Second Amendment, again, it goes to an emotionality of things that happen when criminals take the law in their own hands.
Q What’s that got to do with the Second Amendment?
A Well, because you get into a Second Amendment debate and someone is saying guns are the problem instead of understanding that people are the problem. We have an amendment that is there to protect us as an American people.
Q And it does. It gives any law-abiding citizen the right to—
A A law-abiding citizen the right to bear arms.
Q OK, let me ask-
A But it ends up getting thrown out. When I hear young people talk about gun control or the Second Amendment, they don’t really know what they’re speaking of. When my own children went through school, they didn’t get as much education in civics, in knowing their Constitution, that I had when I was a child. I mean, there was just so much more. We had, I remember, a wonderful history teacher, Mr. Rock, that was just — he made it living to us.
Q Let’s get back to the Second Amendment. The Heller decision came down written by Antonin Scalia [one of the most conservative members of the Supreme Court till his death in 2016]. What’s wrong with that decision? It says the right to own a firearm is in the Constitution, in the Second Amendment. However, the Heller decision also makes very clear that government has a role in implementing certain regulations and restrictions. Do you disagree with the Heller decision?
A Well, I’d need to have the Heller decision in front of me.
Q That’s a basic constitutional issue, a bedrock decision.
A Well, I’m telling you that I would need to have that in front of me.
Q OK. What do you think of the suggestion of closing off most loopholes, especially in gun transfers between strangers, as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has recommended?
A In closing most loopholes?
Q Let me repeat: What do you think of suggestions of closing off most loopholes, especially in gun transfers between strangers, as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has recently recommended.
A Can you define what the loopholes are to me?
Q No, this is the question if you know the issue. You really don’t understand that question?
A I’m not prepared to answer that question at this time.
Q Tell us your views on Article I and whether you believe it is imperiled. This is something everybody from [House Freedom Caucus member] Louie Gohmert to liberal Democrats talk about.
A Well, I wasn’t prepared. I’m not prepared for a civics exam today. I thought we were going to possibly talk about more issues that had to do with our district.
Q That’s an issue that deals with our district.
A I’ve been concentrating my time on learning what my district’s local needs are. I understand the general topic and concern and I will make sure I get my study time in and discussion time and become much more aware. I don’t come from having spent time on a political staff or in an office. I’ve come out of the citizenry, out of the place of working. And I want to come forward as a citizen to see what I can contribute to what’s already been established by the foundation of the Framers of our constitution. So I’m sorry I’m not meeting a civics measure right now as far as complete understanding. This isn’t the world I’ve been living for 38 years.
Q But you’re running for this job.
Q Your pamphlet says you want to fully fund the military. This year’s military appropriations approach $700 billion. It’s at a record. It’s never been more than it is now. How much is enough for the military, considering we’re also approaching some $23 trillion in debt?
A The No. 1 job of the federal government is to keep our citizens safe, to keep our country safe.
Q But the question is, how much more does the military need to be fully funded?
A Well, wouldn’t I need to sit down with those who are running the military, telling me what their expenditures are when you need some?
Q But you’re saying you want it fully funded. I would hope you would have some idea of how much more money they need compared to what they have.
A I’ve not had access to any of that kind of information. The heart of that message is that I want to make sure our military is fully funded to remain being the very best in the world. It’s my understanding as a citizen that this is a question of concern.