Hank Gilbert, Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress District 1, said he wants to be a voice for every resident in the district, which is why he is running for office.
“In my job, the way I see it, is to be the voice for every resident in this Congressional district whether they voted for me or not,” he said. “My sole and only job is to go up there and fight for things that will make their lives better.”
Gilbert — a retired educator, rancher and small business owner — is challenging longtime Republican incumbent Louie Gohmert. Gilbert said it’s time for term limits and time for a fiscal conservative Democrat to be in office.
“Prior to the Voting Rights Act and prior to Ronald Reagan becoming president, the entire South was composed of Democrats, but they were fiscal conservative Democrats. The same folks are still here,” Gilbert said. “They’ve just been holding their nose to vote for Louie Gohmert and other Republicans like him, because no Democratic candidates had stepped up that met that bill.
“Well, I am a fiscal conservative Democrat. I was born and raised that way,” he said.
Gilbert decided to run after watching Gohmert grill and accuse former special counsel Robert Mueller of perpetuating injustice as Mueller testified before the House Judiciary Committee in July 2019.
“My late wife had always wanted me to, and after watching the Mueller hearing and the way Louie Gohmert treated Robert Mueller in that hearing, she whispered in my ear from the grave that it was time for me to do this, and I did,” Gilbert said.
He said he’s also tired of the incumbent not holding President Donald Trump accountable for his actions, even when it comes to military matters.
“I had a brother that served in the Vietnam War, so I’m very sympathetic, and he received some injuries from that experience and died at an early age, at 58,” Gilbert said.
He said Gohmert, who served in the JAG Corps at Fort Benning, is a veteran, but hasn’t said anything about Trump allegedly having knowledge of Russian bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan and hasn’t taken any action.
“It’s been over 90 days now since it was made public that this president knew that Russia was putting bounties on our soldiers’ heads for paying Taliban soldiers to kill American soldiers. And not only has the president not done anything to stop it, Louie has yet to come out and condemn this president from allowing it to happen,” Gilbert said.
He said Gohmert also has not responded to the on-the-record information in journalist Bob Woodward’s book, “Rage,” regarding the president’s acknowledgment that he tried to downplay the coronavirus threat.
“Today, we have over 200,000 people dead” from the virus, Gilbert said.
“If you consider yourself an Evangelical (Christian), how can you support not only this administration but how can you support people like Louie who have enabled this administration to do what they’ve done?” he said.
Gilbert said one of his main priorities in the race is making sure health care is accessible to everyone.
“We can’t afford Medicare for all, but we can afford to fix the Affordable Care Act and provide a public option for everyone else,” he said.
Gilbert said the country must also do something to decrease the cost of prescription drugs, which he says is greatly impacted by pharmaceutical benefit managers, known as PBMs. His plan calls for the abolishment of PBMs. Along those same lines, Gilbert said he’d also like to get rid of GPOs, or group purchasing organizations, which he says are also driving up the price of medical care.
“We have organizations called GPOs, which now when they were created were supposed to act as an intermediary between the medical suppliers, the manufacturers that billed medical equipment and manufactured medical supplies and the institutions themselves — the hospitals or the doctors’ clinics,” Gilbert said. “They now have realized the profit they can make. And so a lot of the reason for the high cost of medical care is because of these GPOs. We need to do the same thing with the GPOs — get rid of them — and let the hospitals deal directly with the manufacturers.”
Besides health care, Gilbert also wants to make rural broadband Internet and 5G cell phone service accessible in the district.
“If the coronavirus hadn’t shown us anything, it has shown us how important that is,” Gilbert said of high-speed internet service. “As an ex-educator, I am scared to death about the generations of children that we are attempting to teach now and how much are they losing because of their lack of accessibility to the internet to do their schoolwork.”
Gilbert said his biggest concern is the loss of industry throughout Gohmert’s tenure.
“He has yet to save a single one of those industries,” he said.
The Democratic candidate said he’s spoken with industry leaders who would love to relocate to the district because of the various institutions of higher education that are offered.
“Texas, this district, the United States and the world, is right now experiencing a shortage of trades people,” Gilbert said.
He said he’s instituted a plan to provide the first two years of college free in exchange for training a good labor force that will invest back into the economy.
“You have to listen to the whole plan, because most Republicans, when you say free college, paint you as a fiery liberal; but when they hear my plan, they realize how fiscally conservative it really is,” Gilbert said. “Because when you invest $15,000 or $20,000 in that individual upfront, it’s no more different than taking $15,000 or $20,000 and putting it in the stock market, only you’re actually putting it in an American, in a citizen, and you’re saying, ‘Hey, I want you to be successful.’ And as long as they stay in that career they’re going to pay taxes for the next 35 years. That guarantees us a vibrant economy for now on, because we have more taxpayers.”
Gilbert said he’s running on term limits because he doesn’t believe any member of Congress should have longer term limits than the president. He said term limits are important in order to offer a new perspective.
“As a teacher, I understand how the only way that we make this country move forward is with fresh ideas, and so many of our members of Congress, on both sides, once they stay, 10 or 12 or in the case of Louie Gohmert, 16 years or longer, they’re not there about the people anymore,” Gilbert said. “They’re there about themselves, about their egos and they have the same old ideas today as they had the day they went in there.
“My philosophy is if you’re lucky enough to get elected that many times, serve your eight years and go home, and let somebody younger and smarter come in behind you and take that ball that you’ve been advancing and advance it even farther.”
Gilbert said, as a Congressman, he would host town hall meetings twice a year throughout the district when lawmakers are on break. For further transparency, he said he’ll also keep constituents posted on the latest proposed bills through mailings and provide a copy of the bills at the library of each county seat.
He vowed not to be influenced by politics, but to vote what’s best for the district. He urges voters to evaluate the candidates in this election and what they’ll do for the country, regardless of the party affiliation.
“We never had a more pivotal election in my lifetime, because we’re on the verge of losing something that hundreds of thousands of people, including relatives of mine, fought and died for and that’s a democracy,” he said. “And I’m afraid if we go with the same system we have now on November 3 that this may be the last opportunity we ever have to have a free election. ”
Gilbert is a lifelong Smith County resident. The retired agriculture educator runs a charity he founded with his late wife to help furnish the homes of domestic violence survivors as they transition from the East Texas Crisis Center in Tyler.
Early voting began Tuesday. Election Day is Nov. 3.
Robin Y. Richardson is a reporter for the Marshall News-Messenger, which, along with the Kilgore News Herald, is a part of M. Roberts Media.