|Job description||Represents his/her district in the US House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the legislative branch of the United States. Term is two years.|
|Roger Williams (incumbent)|
Note: Candidate answers are shown alphabetically by last name.
What is your current occupation? Educational background? What experiences do you have that make you the best candidate for US Representative?
Chetan Panda: I was a successful leader at a globally recognized mutual fund company. I worked to protect and grow the retirement savings of police officers, teachers, and other hard-working Americans. I was entrusted with managing billions of dollars in retirement funds and leading a program that earned additional revenue on behalf of retirees. I solved complex problems, created new products, and worked with people from different groups and companies to get things done. Further, I attended the London School of Economics and Georgetown University, where I graduated with a degree in international economics. I have a strong understanding of the economy and how we can enable all Americans to succeed. I am also a millennial. I will be able to bring fresh perspectives and new ideas to Congress and help prepare our country for the 21st century. Lastly, I volunteered in the community by coaching, tutoring, and mentoring kids, which has given me an understanding of what we are trying to do: fight for every American to advance.
Chris Perri: For over a decade, I’ve been a criminal defense attorney in Central Texas, protecting the constitutional rights of those accused of crimes. I earned my law degree from the University of Texas in 2005 and subsequently earned a master’s in economics from the University of Illinois-Chicago. I believe that the amount of money people make or the color of their skin should neither determine outcomes in the criminal justice system nor people’s voice in government.
As a community leader and volunteer in Central Texas, I’ve continued my fight for justice, serving as supervising attorney for UT Law’s pro bono Texas Expunction Project since its inception in 2014. The Expunction Project has assisted hundreds of Texans who can’t afford lawyers clear wrongful arrests from their backgrounds so that they can better compete in the job market and find housing.
I’ve dedicated my career to representing people and fighting for their rights. With this administration trampling the foundations of our democracy, the constituents of District 25 need someone who will listen to their concerns and fight to make their lives better.
Kathi Thomas: Current Occupation: I own and operate Kathi Thomas Design, a small eco-friendly special event plan/design business. I put it on hold this year, so that I can focus on the campaign.
Education: I attended public schools in SE Texas, Sam Houston State University for 2 years on a full music scholarship, and then transferred to UT-Austin, on a work-study scholarship with the Longhorn Band. I earned a Bachelor of Music degree. I am the first in my family to earn a 4-year college degree.
Experiences: I’ve taught in public school (band), private school (music & government), community college (floral design, a vocational course,) and owned a floral design school, where I taught the business and artistic aspects of floral design. I’ve worked for an international corporation, but for the past 27 years, have had my own business. I am a “jill of all trades” doing every job from bookkeeper to company President. My parents started their own small business when I was in grade school, so I know the challenges. “Mom and Pop” businesses are important to our economy–something I understand.
Representing CD25, I think, requires the member of Congress to know the district inside and out. I do. I am a dedicated participant in my community. I’ve volunteered in school classrooms, in the PTA, and with Band Boosters. I’m a substitute delivery driver for meals to elderly people, and an active member of our local women’s club. I’m active in my church as a volunteer, doing things like coordinating a weekly concert series since 2003 and cooking dinners for our church members. I’ve prepared meals for the homeless housed in our church through the Interfaith Hospitality Network, and have been an overnight host for this program as well. I’ve been a Sunday School teacher, served as moderator of Christian Education and Worship teams, and am active in Austin’s Pan American Round Table (PART). My American ancestors go back to the 1700’s. I am an active member of Daughters of the American Revolution. I host foreign government officials for dinner and conversation as part of “Global Austin,” and I’ve been the coordinator for the Christmas International House for 15 years. I’ve traveled all over the world, and lived in Sucre, Bolivia when I was a child. The reason I mention these life experiences is that better enable me to represent the people in CD25. Rather than reinventing the wheel, I can draw on experience to be relatable and to solve problems. As a creative person, I tend to think more holistically and bring a perspective that enables seeing solutions that more linear thinkers don’t.
What percentage of your campaign donations comes from individuals? What percentage comes from PACs?
Chetan Panda: 100% from individuals; 0% from PACs
Chris Perri: We do not take corporate PAC money, and we’ve raised over $100,000 through a people-powered campaign. We received $490 from the Circle C Area Democrats’ club upon earning their endorsement (the club is organized as a PAC). So, less than 0.5% of our contributions are from PACs. The rest of the donations are from individuals, except for a $4,000 in-kind contribution from the Texas Democratic Party (related to the purchase of the Voter Activation Network (VAN)).
Kathi Thomas: 100% of my donations have come from individuals, with a median donation of $10, with an average of $43, so my money is coming from the very folks in this District who are being left behind.
If elected, what would be the first piece of legislation that you would propose?
Chetan Panda: I would propose legislation to invest in our nation’s infrastructure because it will create jobs, promote additional economic development, and repair our outdated, crumbling infrastructure. I would like the following to be elements of an infrastructure bill: (1) expand high-speed internet to rural Texas so all Texans can be a part of the digital economy and make use of services such as telemedicine; (2) make investments in airways, seaways, rail, roads, and public transit to facilitate the easier movement of goods and people; (3) fund the weatherization of buildings to reduce their energy usage; (4) invest in the electrical grid to improve efficiency; and (5) ensure that everyone has access to safe drinking water.
Chris Perri: The first legislation I would propose is a bill that would mandate that all federal district lines be drawn by independent, non-partisan commissions. Partisan gerrymandering has disenfranchised millions of American. If we want to restore our democracy, voters must choose their representatives, instead of the other way around.
Kathi Thomas: Since we have no clue what this president is going to pull next, I won’t promise my first legislative initiative. If Democrats take over Congress, I will join forces with like-minded members to impeach, as I think the totality of his indiscretions rise to the level of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ as envisioned by the founders. Many of my hot-button issues are already being proposed, so it is more likely that I’d be co-sponsoring bills. I’ve not seen the exact healthcare bill I’d like to propose, so that could be it: Medicare opt-in, beginning at 55, and lowering the qualifying age each year. We’d eventually move to Universal Healthcare, funded like Social Security, which should be less expensive and cover everyone.
What is your position on the legalization of recreational and medical marijuana? What regulations should there be on marijuana usage?
Chetan Panda: I believe that we should legalize recreational and medical marijuana. In general, for recreational marijuana, the same rules that apply to alcohol should apply to marijuana. For medical use, marijuana usage should require a prescription.
Chris Perri: Marijuana should be legal for both recreational and medical purposes. Medical marijuana can be a substitute for many addictive opioids, and this would also save over $1 billion in Medicaid expenses. Also, we need to scientifically study the medical effects of marijuana in order to assess its viability as a treatment for illnesses, such as cancer. As long as marijuana is illegal, we won’t have the type of robust studies that are needed to make this determination. Moreover, marijuana arrests contribute to the mass incarceration problem in our country, which disproportionately affects African-Americans. Legalizing recreational marijuana would help reduce such incarceration. The federal government should regulate marijuana similar to the way it regulates alcohol and tobacco, and a federal marijuana tax could be used to raise billions of dollars for health care, education, environmental protection (e.g., laying the renewable energy infrastructure), and job creation.
Kathi Thomas: This is a complex issue with a lot of emotion on both sides, but the balance of the argument sides with legalization, which I support. The fact that marijuana is still listed as a Schedule I drug, on par with heroin, in the Controlled Substances Act needs to be changed. Schedule I drugs allegedly have no medicinal use. This is patently false. In addition, prisons across America are full of non-violent offenders, many of whom have committed no other crime than one associated with marijuana. The success that states such as Colorado and Washington have had with responsible legalization shows us all it can and should be done at the Federal level. Using the best practices and lessons from states should provide the foundation for federal laws on the issue. States have found that regulations are difficult to write and hard to enforce, but progress is being made in leaps and bounds. They control all aspects of the supply chain from seed inventory, to counting plants, to weighing output, to distribution. They are deriving impairment laws that mirror those for alcohol. And fair taxation has led to windfalls from those who recognize the cost of participation. I believe one should be able to grow up to 4 plants for their own use, as is the law in some states.
The answer for compassionate medical use is even easier. Today medical professionals are permitted to write prescriptions for all manner of controlled substances that have dubious efficacies. They should be permitted to add cannabis to their tool boxes.
What are your priorities for comprehensive immigration reform?
Chetan Panda: Our current immigration system is outdated, inefficient, and encourages undocumented immigration. I would fix our legal immigration system, so it improves our economy and security. I support the passage of a clean DACA bill. I would also create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently in the US if they meet certain criteria.
Chris Perri: We need a clean Dream Act in order to protect the nearly 800,000 DACA recipients who are subject to deportation. I also support comprehensive immigration reform that creates a reasonable, certain pathway to citizenship. We need to increase the per-country caps so that people don’t have to wait 15-20 years to become a citizen. America has a moral duty to welcome immigrants (as long as they pass certain security measures, such as criminal background checks), as diversity makes our nation stronger. Moreover, nearly every economist agrees that immigration strengthens our economy and our safety net.
Kathi Thomas: DACA must be passed NOW! DACA recipients might called ‘undocumented Americans.’ They have done everything in their power and shouldn’t be punished because their parents risked everything to get them to a better life. This is the only country they have ever known. Our country has invested in their education. They want to give back to this country that has nourished them. (DACA should be passed long before I’m elected, given that their protections could run out in March 2018.)
Pass a clean DREAM Act, so that all who have been brought here by their parents are protected, not just Dreamers.
The Comprehensive Immigration reform bill is where we’d address issues such as border security, but we don’t need a wall between nations. We need a worker permit program, so that businesses that employ seasonal workers can solicit permits to allow them. The program should employ a central data base of business need to give immigrant workers flexibility and not tie them to businesses. This prevents unscrupulous employers from wielding too much power over the workers. If workers have options, they’re free to go to where they are treated more fairly. That will help improve working conditions. A well-designed program will permit workers to go back and forth to and from their home countries, maintaining family ties.
One aid to our immigration concerns is modernizing our counter-narcotics laws. Most of the violence in Mexico and Central America is associated with drug gangs. Modernize those laws to remove illegality from the supply chain. Bring tax dollars into staving states, put money in programs to help those who are addicted and want help, and cut the profit out from the drug cartels. Their power is derived from the billions they’re making.
When we’re not contributing to the causes for extreme violence in their home countries, people won’t be sending their children to the United States to escape violence.
What solutions do you propose for health care system reform?
Chetan Panda: First, I will work to defend the ACA from GOP attempts to undermine or repeal it, because we cannot go backwards on healthcare. Second, I will work towards Medicare-for-All so we can have quality, affordable healthcare for every single American. To effectively and smoothly transition 20% of our economy to such a system, I support creating a government subsidized healthcare plan that employers and individuals can buy into. Third, I want to cut the cost of healthcare by eliminating redundancies, lowering the price of pharmaceutical drugs, and mandating price/quality transparency by healthcare providers.
Chris Perri: I’m in favor of Medicare-for-All. The for-profit, private health insurance companies have skimmed and scammed Americans for too long, as our hard-earned dollars line the pockets of CEOs instead of being used for actual patient services. Removing this waste from our health care system would reduce costs and increase efficiency. Also, universal coverage is the key to cost control, as preventative care is much cheaper than a costly, life-saving operation.
Medicare-for-All would also facilitate the adoption of an electronic record system that allows any doctor to view a patient’s complete medical history, reducing the likelihood of duplicative testing. Also, moving away from fee-for-service is important so that doctors do not have an incentive to order unnecessary testing. Pay-for-performance systems work better because doctors have an incentive to ensure that their patients receive appropriate preventative care, as doctors are rewarded when patients are healthy.
Another reason for soaring health care costs is the monopolization of our health-care providers, as doctors have had to sell their practices to corporate masters, leading to a lack of competition for health-care services. Antitrust enforcement is necessary to break-up these corporate monopolies and reduce prices for health care services. Regarding expensive pharmaceuticals, the main reason why we pay more for prescription drugs in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world is that the law prevents Medicare (through the HHS) from negotiating directly with drug companies. If Medicare could negotiate directly, it has enough market clout to significantly reduce prescription prices. If elected, I will introduce a bill that allows Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies.
Kathi Thomas: I first want to start by expanding Medicare to younger Americans by enacting an ‘opt-in’ program for people from ages 64 to 55. Then I propose move the qualifying age lower each year until everyone can opt-in. This approach will give Medicare time to ramp-up and allows younger people to see its advantages during the expansion. Medicare isn’t the long-term answer for a variety of reasons including its monthly premiums and added costs for prescription medications. We eventually need to move to a Universal single payer Healthcare program funded like Social Security from payroll taxes, or, perhaps, as Bernie Sanders suggests, by taxing Wall Street, as their contribution to education.
All women’s healthcare must be covered, including pregnancy termination. Women shouldn’t have to buy “rape insurance.”
When people say it is “too expensive,” let’s remind them that the US spends almost twice as much of our GDP as other industrialized nations, covers fewer people, and has worse outcomes. We’ve just given enormous tax cuts to the rich, so don’t tell me we can’t afford it. “Where your heart lies, there, too, lies your treasure.” We can do this if we make it a national priority and line up with every other industrialized nation on Earth.