TX-32-- Why Lillian Salerno?

TX-32 was carefully gerrymandered district in the northern Dallas metro to specifically exclude minority voters in order to keep crooked GOP hack Pete Sessions safe. Last year the district PVI was R+10. Despite the gerrymandering that removed minority heavy areas around Irving and Grand Prairie, the new PVI is R+5. McCain beat Obama 55-44% there and Romney did even better-- 57-42%. But TX-32 was not Trump country in 2016. Hillary didn't campaign there or run ads there but she beat Señor Trumpanzee 48.5% to 46.6%. The backward-looking and incredibly incompetent DCCC didn't bother even fielding a candidate and Sessions cruised to reelection against a couple of un-funded independents with 71.1%. The DCCC hasn't paid any attention to Sessions and his district since he beat powerful Democratic incumbent Martin Frost there in 2004. There are three Democrats running seriously competitive campaigns going into the March 6-- and, presumably, the May 22 runoff-- primary: Edward Meier, a status quo type Hillary person; Colin Allred, a football player who worked had a low level job in the Obama administration; and Lillian Salerno, a progressive who Obama appointed deputy undersecretary of rural development for the Department of Agriculture. Almost a year ago, She wrote an OpEd for the Washington Post, Want To Rescue Rural America? Bust Monopolies. "For decades," she wrote, "rural America has been punished by bad policy that places too much power in the hands of distant financiers and middlemen through the formation of monopolies, which undermines small, local businesses and drains communities of resources. I know, because I started a company in rural Texas, and the challenges I faced illustrate the problem.

After the Great Depression, the government used antimonopoly laws to keep markets open and fair for smaller, independent businesses-- in other words, to keep mom-and-pop shops open and Main Street buzzing. These were businesses run by people who cared about and understood their communities, that kept wealth circulating locally, that created the vast majority of new jobs and that were often the source of game-changing innovation.

But in the 1980s, folks in power decided bigger was better, and conventional political wisdom followed suit. For the federal officials charged with protecting competition, that meant that cheap consumer prices trumped all other values, including the preservation of American jobs, open and competitive markets where innovation could flourish, and maintaining level playing fields for start-ups and small businesses. To this day, when government officials evaluate mergers, it’s considered a good thing when they result in job losses-- because that means, in the twisted reasoning we still use, gains in economic efficiency. The hard-working Americans turned out on the street corner to look for new jobs are the human sacrifices to the insatiable beast of corporate concentration.

This slow-rolling wave of corporate mergers has left almost all major markets-- airlines, telecommunications, health care, retail, milk, seeds for growing crops, hardware, even cowboy boots-- dominated by a cluster of mega-corporations, cloaked behind a plethora of brand names. These behemoths now hold unprecedented power over thousands of once-thriving community economies.

Corporate concentration has hit farmers, ranchers and agricultural workers especially hard. Many markets are entirely monopolized by a single company that dictates the terms of business to suppliers. Two decades ago, in the seed industry alone, 600 independent companies existed. Today there are six giants, several of which are pursuing high-profile mergers that will result in even more radical concentration. Similar levels of concentration exist for the beef, pork, chicken and dairy industries. The result is that the farmer’s share of each retail dollar of food has been collapsing, while consumers pay either the same or higher prices. Mega-corporations in the middle exploit their dominant market positions to reap all the profits.

It is a myth that the economic challenges that rural and small-town America face are caused by forces largely outside our control, like globalization or improvements in technology. We have the ability to help restore competition and economic vibrancy in rural America and beyond. The government has the authority to ensure markets are once again open and competitive so that communities have a chance to shape their own economic destinies. The question is whether we will recognize the error of our ways and put taking on monopolies high on the economic agenda-- for rural and small-town America, and for everyone who wants to ensure our country can once again be the land of opportunity.

Goal ThermometerPartially based on this incisive OpEd and the thinking-- and resolve-- behind it, Blue America decided to endorse her. Yesterday we asked her to explain some of the lessons she learned as a Texas healthcare entrepreneur in regard to how monopolies stifle innovation in the healthcare industry. Please give it a read. And if you like what you see and would rather have Lillian serving in Congress than shameless Big Business puppet Pete Sessions, please consider clicking on the Turning Texas Blue Again thermometer on the right and contributing to Lillian's campaign.

Fixing Healthcare-- The ACA Was A First Step, But Not Sufficient
- by Lillian Salerno

Every person deserves quality, affordable healthcare. A healthcare system that robs individuals of this fundamental right is a moral and economic failure.

We made tremendous progress in passing the Affordable Care Act. It did a lot of good things-- ensuring children could stay on their parent’s plan until they were 26, made sure that no one could be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition, and ended lifetime insurance caps. But it was far from perfect and America cannot live up to its potential until every single person has quality, affordable healthcare.  During the healthcare negotiations, I worked alongside nurses, small businesses, patients and healthcare providers trying to lower costs and increase transparency, but the medicine’s middlemen (i.e. pharmaceutical, insurance companies, pharma, big medical supply houses) on the other side of the table. They had all the power-- which prevented us from passing a bill that would fix our broken healthcare system.

To truly fix it, we must create transparency in costs, break up monopolies in the healthcare industry, make Medicare available to everyone and work towards single-payer healthcare.

I am running for Congress in TX-32 because we can all sense that America is in trouble. It’s not just Trump, who is a dangerous person. Or Pete Sessions, his lapdog. It’s everywhere.

For instance, there’s a company called Luxturna which makes a remarkable new medical treatment to treat blindness. They use genetic technology. Amazing stuff.
But they have decided to charge $850,000 for it, or $425,000 per eye, because that’s the maximum amount they think someone will pay not to be blind. They have taken medicine, and have turned it into a ransom note. When they were kids, the scientists who discovered this probably said they wanted to help people. None of them grew up saying they wanted to grow up to figure out the maximum amount someone would pay to be able to see. Yet that is the society we have today.

We must stop this madness. When we invented penicillin, the idea was to save lives, not to serve Wall Street. We can restore the America we know and love. But it is going to take all of us. It’s going to take courage. And it’s going to take political leadership.

Everyone I know has a nightmare healthcare story. A medical emergency that leads to bankruptcy. A chronic condition that they spend 20 hours a week fighting to get the insurance company to cover the treatment for.  An impossibly expensive medication that insurance won’t pay for. Or just the inability to see the doctor for a routine problem because of the co-pays and deductibles and opaqueness of knowing the cost of a visit.

We must have transparency in healthcare costs. One of my constituents was telling me this weekend about her experience. She said that because she is trained as a nurse and has the time to negotiate and shop around, she pays out of pocket when she needs most medical procedures or tests, such as an x-ray of her foot because of an injury. She negotiates for herself because if she went through her healthcare company she would have no idea how much it would cost until she saw the bill 2 months later. She knows most people can’t do that, but it’s the only way she can keep the costs down.

Healthcare costs should be like a menu, just like any other service or good that we purchase, and it’s up to the government to make this a reality for Americans. It’s the only thing we don’t know the cost of what we are purchasing upfront. There are currently models that could help. For example, you can call up Planned Parenthood and ask what the cost of any of their services are. They have a menu of services with prices-- so if you only have a certain amount of money you can spend today, you can take care of the most urgent things first. No surprises. The same must be true for medicine and all the other pieces of the healthcare industry.

We must also break up monopolies in the healthcare sector. In 1994, at the height of the AIDS crisis, in which I lost several friends and a beloved employee to the disease, I started a manufacturing company in Little Elm, Texas about 35 miles north of Dallas, to produce the first-ever automatically retracting syringe to eliminate the risk of nurses contracting HIV through accidental needle sticks. The syringe received rave reviews from nurses, hospital executives and public health officials, a major grant from the National Institutes of Health and robust private investment. But when my partners and I tried to sell it to hospitals, we were told time and time again that even though it was a better product-- a lifesaving product-- they weren’t able to purchase it. The primary supplier of syringes, which controlled 80 percent of the market, structured an arrangement with a vast network of hospitals that essentially closed our industry to new firms for good. And this is not a unique story. Innovation and entrepreneurship is stifled in healthcare and all industries because we have allowed monopolies to thrive and do not exercise the political will to enforce our anti-trust laws.

We must do better. We cannot continue to spend 40% more on healthcare costs than other developed countries with worse outcomes. We cannot continue to bankrupt our citizens while corporations profit off of our illness and vulnerability. We need political leadership. We cannot continue to lose out on important innovations that increase the health and safety of our citizens. We can and we will fix healthcare.


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