Chris Miller, 25, of Waco, investigator for the local Daniel/Stark law firm and a Baylor University graduate, is a Democratic candidate for state representative in Texas House District 12. The seat is occupied by Republican Kyle Kacal of College Station who is running for re-election. Early voting in the Democratic primary election begins on Feb. 20 with Election Day on March 6.
Q Tell us about your work.
You’re generally trying to help people get compensation after being hurt in accidents.
A Typically, it’s getting the medical bills paid. An EMS ride can cost anywhere between $800-$2,000 and an ER visit, $850, somewhere around there. Then the insurance company offers to pay $1,000 for it. It’s a shame there are predatory actions like that, but we’re kind of like the check and balance. I like to see it that way.
Q What’s the most interesting investigation you’ve conducted?
A The most interesting involved a lady who had her feet up on the dash and got hit head-on on the highway. She was a passenger. She broke both her legs. Then you get some really sad ones. This guy was with his 5-year-old son, 6-year-old daughter. He was texting and driving, swerved into oncoming traffic. Hit our client. He died. His 5-year-old son died and the 6-year-old daughter was in ICU. Our client had a 7-year-old daughter who broke her back. No insurance. They had to be airlifted. Being airlifted is $30,000 at least.
Q Why so expensive?
A There are a lot of issues with it. It does cost an incredible amount to purchase a helicopter and all the medical equipment within it. People who provide medical equipment are able to charge an incredible amount. And then insurance covers most of it, if you have health insurance.
Q You’re in a very conservative stretch in Texas. What prompts you, as a Democrat, to want to run to become a state lawmaker?
A Several reasons. One is health care. Back in September 2016 my mom was diagnosed with an incredibly aggressive form of cancer in her uterus. She had to have a hysterectomy, but [her uterus] ruptured during surgery. She had to go through an enormous amount of chemo. And about eight months before that her employer for the previous 33 years announced they had stopped covering retirees. Without Obamacare, well, that’s a pre-existing condition. She’s on the exchange right now, paying an enormous cost. Her rates are $900 a month.
Q So you’ve seen how health care can really hit somebody.
A Absolutely. My parents have resources to pay for her chemo, but they’d probably have to sell their house and really uproot their entire life without Obamacare. Without that guaranteed coverage, she would have been very deeply affected.
Q What can you do about that in the Texas Legislature?
A At the state level, there’s not a lot because health care is a federal-level issue. Expansion of Medicaid [as managed by the state] is a real important issue because I feel it’s pretty awful that [legislators] didn’t expand Medicaid [after passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010]. They were given the opportunity, [with costs] almost entirely covered by the federal government, to expand Medicaid. But partisan politics took over.
Q That’s one issue prompting you to run. Anything else?
A So many issues in the education system need massive reform. I grew up in a wealthy area. I sort of grew up in a bubble, being told, “If you work hard, you’ll be fine. And everybody who doesn’t have as much money as we do, they didn’t work as hard as us.” My parents didn’t instill that in me, but my community did. I grew up in a very conservative, wealthy part of Austin called West Lake Hills. Once I got to Waco, I got to see poverty. The poverty rate here — 26 percent — is double the national average. And when you go into the community — that’s part of my job , meeting with all walks of people in our community and seeing their struggles. They feel safe around me because they know I’m there to help them and I hear people talking about their lives and talking about their struggles. You find that rich school districts are spending around $65,000 more per classroom than poor school districts. And anyone who argues the system provides equal opportunity is just lying. Obviously money is not all of it. There are other enormous issues in the educational system. There’s standardized testing, forcing an enormous amount of resources toward that, both money-wise and in class time.
Q Do you want to do away with standardized testing?
A I think that may be going a little too far. I did speak with several people in the education system who have been in it for a really long time and say they want to do completely away with it. I think there is some value in standardized testing. But the SAT and ACT would be good enough. Allow them to be the basis.
Q Tell me a little about the district.
A It’s very gerrymandered. A lot of it is rural, but there are some good population centers in it. There’s part of Waco. It goes down to Navasota. There’s some of the West area. I’m not worried about it being a rural area because I’m here to represent the people. I’m here to listen to the constituents and take in their concerns, let them know that they have a representative who will actually listen to them. If they want to reach out to me and ask questions, I’ll be more than happy to answer them. Transparency is the biggest issue, I think. That’s one of the biggest problems in politics, where these politicians ignore the will of their voters. And arguing that it’s a really conservative area — I wouldn’t say a really, really conservative area. The last opponent for Kacal was in 2012 and he lost by less than seven points. If you get a really good ground game, you can have a campaign that says: “I’m tired of all these partisan politics. I’m tired of everybody fighting and arguing and screaming at each other. We need to sit down like adults.” If a company were to act like Congress, it would go belly up immediately. You’d have people on [corporation] boards saying, “If we don’t go my way, we’re going to burn it all down.” And that’s not how politics should work. We should be able to sit down with people across the aisle and be willing to work together. We need to accept that not everything is going to go my way, not everything is going to go their way, and accept that.
Q Do you notice a sharp urban/rural divide in priorities when you’re out campaigning?
A In rural areas, water rights are important, agriculture rights, private property rights. In the cities, people seem to be more concerned about social issues. In the rural areas, I see them prioritizing getting work, getting jobs. The economy in these rural areas is hurting and we need to do something because you find people in these rural areas having to drive an hour to go to work. We need to focus on providing resources for them to have an economy that doesn’t require them to drive so far.
Q You’re not the first candidate to say we need to revitalize the rural economy. What can be done?
A One is controversial. The other is bringing broadband Internet. That can allow people to work from home. And providing other crops. I support legalization of marijuana. The massive money being raised across the nation [in marijuana] is enormous. It’s creating jobs, it’s stimulating the economy, it’s providing money to the education system, at least in Colorado. I think bringing crops like that to this area — I’m not sure if it would grow in this area, I’m assuming it would — that provides jobs. Then rural Internet is really important. Just like electrification of rural areas really made a massive, positive impact on these areas, the Internet can do the same. It’s an equalizer.
Q How do you define a Democrat these days?
A There are a couple of factions in the Democratic Party. We have the establishment Democrats who really focus on equality on a social level — equal pay for equal work, proper funding of the education system. They’re against charter schools and private schools taking [taxpayer] funds away from public schools. In addition, obviously, LGBT rights. The Texas transgender bathroom bill: Thank goodness it failed. It would have massively hurt our state on an issue that is miniscule. There’s not any documented cases of a transgendered person sexually assaulting a child in a bathroom. On the economy, when it comes to Democrats, people call us socialists because there’s a certain faction of the Democratic Party that does swing that way. But it’s a massive generalization. I support a free-market economy. That’s where innovation happens, where jobs are created. That said, there do need to be regulations in place.
Q Why have Democrats done so poorly, given these stances?
A There’s a portion of the Democratic Party that is so outspoken and so loud, yelling that everything needs to be free. There are socialists in the Democratic Party. It’s a small group, but they’re the most outspoken ones. [Democrats are] so easily branded. But responsibility lies with the Democrats as well. We need to get out there and say, “We want to fight for you. We want to listen to you. We want to work together and better our community as a whole.”
Q Would you consider yourself a conservative Democrat?
A No. I fall in line with what most of the Democratic Party stands for. On a couple of issues, I disagree. Guns, for example. I’m right-wing to the most liberal [Democrats] and left-wing to the most conservative when it comes to guns. I believe in common-sense regulations in place to prevent dangerous people from purchasing firearms. The thing that kills me when it comes to Democrats is a lot of them have a fundamental lack of understanding of how firearms work. You’ll see Democratic leadership in front of cameras talking about how, “This is a machine gun that can shoot a thousand bullets a minute.” And it’s not true. It shows a lack of understanding. But we do need to close the gun-show loophole. And license-to-carry is a joke. It doesn’t teach anything about gun safety. We watch four hours of videos of situations and it’s a joke.
Marianne Arnold, 68, a retired accountant and plant-tissue researcher at Texas A&M University living in Kurten, is a Democratic candidate …