Last month – in our August Edition – I interviewed congressional candidate Jim Francis about himself, his campaign and his vision for Louisiana and America. The conversation could not have been more pleasant, as I found Jim to be warm and funny. His responses were just as kind and measured as he was.

This month – for our September Edition – we have an interview with his Democratic colleague and party challenger, Tammy Savoie. Below, I chat with her about the personality she carries, the ideas she has and her overall spirit for this state and country. She and her team were most welcoming, absolutely excited for this opportunity to explain and expand on a few issues.

Through whatever mudslinging may be happening and may yet occur, Jim and Tammy are both superb choices for Scalise’s seat.  Either one will bring vigor, passion, and craft to Washington, making our voices heard tenfold, even in differing ways.

[Author’s Note: Without endorsing either candidate yet, let it be understood that I’m looking forward (literally, figuratively and politically) to seeing any debate between these two Democrats, which should serve to push things forwards progressively.]

Bill Arceneaux: Your “Bring It On” campaign video really hit me in a positive way. Healthy, strong and educated is how you want America’s children to turn out. Concise and straightforward, you spelled out the issues that matter most to you and should to everyone in our state and country. As ineffective as this Congress has been, do you think there is hope and optimism for across the board change to occur in our bureaucracy and beyond?

Tammy Savoie: There is always hope and optimism. I believe that we have a good chance to flip the House this November and possibly the Senate. People in Louisiana are angry at the current state of affairs and hungry for change. I believe that change will start in November 2018 and will continue into 2019 in the Louisiana State Legislature and then in 2020 when we will take back the Presidency. Indeed, there is hope!

BA: A woman, a psychologist and an Air Force veteran. This makes you a kind of triple threat so to speak for progressives. Have there been any difficult expectations you’ve experienced from local Democrats since announcing your campaign? What have you done/plan on doing to embrace and even break away from labels?

Tammy: I embrace my service to our country. It has been my pride and joy to serve and I hope to serve again. My experiences as a woman, psychologist and Air Force Officer is what makes me uniquely qualified to take on Scalise and challenge him on his policies and his voting record. I’m incredibly proud to be a Louisiana native, a UNO graduate, a Mom and an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.), among many other things. I haven’t experienced any labels that I need to break away from, nor have I experienced any difficult expectations from local Dems, just unyielding support. We’ve been endorsed by the State Party, most of the local parish parties and a long list of faith and community leaders.

BA: As a political candidate, your website is quite interesting, as it appears to just be a portal for voters to contact you and your team about issues they care about. There’s some biographical information but nothing on policies you support. What is your platform and how have the people of south Louisiana responded to your call for input?

Tammy: The people of south Louisiana have been wonderful in their support and openness about the issues that are of concern to them. In the last 3 months, I have crisscrossed southern Louisiana many times over, been to over 100 events and have talked to thousands of hardworking families and small business owners. The major concerns that I have found are outlined below:

Economic Prosperity: Americans are working longer for less. Inflation-adjusted median income for male workers is almost $800.00 less than in 1974; the median for women is about $1300 less than in 2007. Our bedrock Middle Class has been shrinking for 40 years, and less than 20 % of wealth is now held by the Middle Class – putting America last among 21 countries, and these numbers have only gotten worse under Congressman Steve Scalise’s decade in Washington, D.C. No wonder more and more people are disenchanted with our leadership in Congress.

To provide economic prosperity for all, we must:

  • Provide a livable wage. The current minimum wage is $7.25. No one can support themselves, much less a family on this wage.
  • Provide a fair tax structure: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was fiscally irresponsible and skewed towards the rich. The tax cuts will add $1T to the debt and will add that much to our deficits over the next ten years. In order to make up for these deficits, Republicans are proposing to cut Social Security for the elderly and the disabled, Medicare and Medicaid, education and training, and infrastructure investment. These cuts will further gut the middle class and add to the economic disparities that we already see in the country.
  • Protect workers’ rights, Public and Private. Protect the right of workers to collective bargain.
  • End the tariffs which are and will continue to crush Louisiana workers. One in six jobs in Louisiana is related to international trade which has been plummeting since this administration’s tariffs have gone into effect. The tariffs hit Louisiana workers harder than any other state in the Union. Our farmers, dock workers, mariners, riverboat pilots and anyone in associated jobs will be affected and this means families will suffer.
  • Invest in our local businesses and bring new businesses into our state.

Education: Currently Louisiana ranks 49th in education for 2018. We will not be able to bring in new industry or business without a first-rate education system. Children in Louisiana face obstacles before they reach kindergarten that impact their ability to thrive in the classroom such as food insecurity and poor health care. We must:

  • Invest in access to early childhood education for all of our children so that they will be prepared for success from the beginning.
  • Shore up our K-12 curriculum.
  • Provide our teachers with the resources they need to teach and the salaries they need to live.
  • Provide a meaningful raise to Louisiana teachers so we can attract top talent.

Healthcare: Our guiding light should be access to affordable, quality healthcare for all. The US health industry consumes over 17% of the nation’s GDP and affects the lives of every person in Louisiana’s 1st Congressional District – including those who need treatment and those who need the assurance that affordable care will be there if they do. We must:

  • Maintain the Basic tenets of the Affordable Care Act which includes Medicaid Expansion.
  • Protect Medicare for the elderly in the face of the budget deficit created by the leadership in Congress.
  • Provide for a Public Option: As a moral nation, we must offer a national health insurance plan or allow individuals to choose Medicare as their insurer. A public option would require commercial insurers to compete directly with the government program for patient business, thus driving down prices.
  • Emphasize Women’s Health: Women are the progenitors of our American future; and we are not protecting or investing in that future. The ramifications of not investing in women’s health have cumulative effects across the lifetime of our children as seen in their lack of readiness to enter kindergarten, in the deficient performance seen on standardized tests and in our poor graduation rates.

Criminal Justice Reform: Louisiana is known as the prison capital of the world. We have a lot of work to do.  We must:

  • Eliminate for-profit, private prisons.
  • Eliminate mandatory minimums which destroy families and communities.
  • Eliminate discrepancies between minority and white prison sentences for the same crime.
  • Demilitarize police forces.
  • Provide for rehabilitative services for prisoners to decrease recidivism rates.
  • Increase training for police officers.
  • Increase community policing and draw police officers from the community in which they serve.

Protect our Coast, Take Care of Our Environment:

Louisiana has a rich cultural heritage closely connected to the land and water. Between 2004 and 2008 Louisiana lost more than 300 square miles of marshland due to hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike. Our land loss is due to multiple factors among those are climate change and sea level rise, hurricanes, and storm surges. Land loss reduces our shorelines, marshes, and swamps which are vital barriers against storm surge and flooding. We must:

  • Support Governor John Bel Edwards’ Master Coastal Plan.
  • Fund and implement science-based coastal planning to spur investment and innovation.
  • Fund and implement strategic measures to reduce and mitigate risk and improve sustainability to the coast.
  • Develop and implement sustainable energy strategies.
  • Develop and implement strategies to reduce the use of plastic in Louisiana.

National Security and Border Security: We must:

  • We must hold Russia accountable for influencing our elections, hacking our databases and infiltrating our infrastructure.
  • We must enforce the sanctions.
  • We must allow the Mueller investigation to go forward; we must live by the rule of law.
  • We must secure our border while at the same time maintain the moral high ground by not separating mothers and babies.
  • Find a path to citizenship for the Dreamers.

BA: You’re a member of Emerge Louisiana, an organization dedicated to giving women interested in running for office the tools they need to succeed. I’ve always felt an overwhelming insecurity in male officials when it comes to female counterparts, giving me the inkling that true strength and courage comes from character. Now more than ever, how important is it for women to run in politics?

Tammy: It is essential that women run for office now and that they continue to run into the future. Women are underrepresented at all levels of government, particularly in Louisiana. When women are underrepresented, everyone loses. We lose the energy, perspective and consensus building that women bring to the table not to mention a focus on issues that impact women, children, and families, such as healthcare, education, jobs/economy and criminal justice reform.  

BA: Steve Scalise – whom you’re up against – was a gun violence victim while in the line of duty but has remained a hard right gun advocate since, not changing his views for a second. Where do you stand on the 2nd Amendment and gun control/regulation?

Tammy: I am a proud native Louisianian. We are the “Sportsman’s Paradise” and we have a culture of hunting, fishing and outdoor activity. I support the 2nd Amendment and believe that all families in Louisiana have a right to defend their homes. I served 38 years in the military defending our country. In my younger years in the Air National Guard, I carried an M-16 and a .38 (I’m dating myself.) I was in Law Enforcement and Security Forces. I’m familiar with weapons. While on active-duty when I deployed to Afghanistan I carried an M-9.

While I support the 2nd Amendment, I agree with the rest of Americans there are common sense measures that we can take to protect our children and all Americans from gun violence like universal background checks and disallowing those with a criminal record or other prohibiting factors from owning a gun. We need strong domestic violence laws to keep guns away from abusers; 54 percent of mass shooting incidents are related to domestic or family violence. We need strong mechanisms that allow for the temporary removal of guns from people who have exhibited dangerous recent behavior; 42 percent of mass shooters have exhibited warning signs before the shooting. Of course, there are other things we can do like mandating safety courses to gun owners, safe storage standards, limiting bump stocks and certain types of ammunition and clips.

We have a problem in America. Let’s put our nose to the grindstone, quit the ideological posturing and solve this problem. For the sake of our children, we must do something.

BA: My Mother, a disability rights advocate, has always clarified to me that mental health IS physical health. As a psychologist who has worked with military personnel and veterans alike, is that an accurate statement? If so, Why?

Tammy: As a psychologist, I can confidently say, of course, mental and physical health are inextricably intertwined. It is estimated that 80% of patients seeing their primary care physicians are there for mental health reasons. The production of stress hormones has a significant impact on both physical and mental health and that is one reason we see greater levels of mental health issues in those that suffer from the chronic stresses of poverty, racism, misogyny and any other type of bigotry. The lack of medical care that many disenfranchised communities face leads to increased levels of stress, poorer physical health outcomes and significant mental health issues. Our guiding light should be quality medical care (physical and mental) available and accessible to all Americans.

BA: Why is it so easy to find money for war and so difficult to find money for veteran and civilian health care?

Tammy: As President Eisenhower said, beware of the military industrial complex. I believe in a strong defense and Congress has supported our troops throughout this longest war. We must continue to scrutinize the defense budget and hold the Congress, which ultimately approves funding for the military and for overseas contingencies, accountable.

Regarding our civilian health care system, it’s not that we can’t find the money…the US leads the world in health care spending, but we are sicker and more likely to die of preventable conditions than those in other industrialized countries. According to the Commonwealth Fund, we have disparities in care because of disparities in income, education level, race, or ethnicity. We have other challenges too: high costs, difficulty in accessing primary care, and confusing and inefficient administration. Other countries address these issues through universal health insurance, stronger primary care systems, payment approaches that minimize billing conflicts, and greater investment in social supports that lead to better health. Thus, these countries pay less for healthcare and have better outcomes. We can do this too if we have the right people in Congress.

The VA Health Care System is the largest health care system in the United States. The department has more than 300,000 employees serving more than 9 million veterans at 1,240 facilities. Compared with the rest of the U.S. health-care system, VA’s performance is impressive. Study after study finds that the “quality of care delivered by VA is generally equal to or better than care delivered in the private sector.” This has been true since the mid-1990s. Since then, health-care researchers and veterans’ service organizations have consistently praised the VA’s use of electronic medical records, adherence to evidence-based medicine, patient safety measures, and high levels of care coordination and scientific research. The bipartisan Commission on Care found the quality of VA’s behavioral health programs “largely unrivalled.” The VA also offers specialized polytrauma and rehabilitative care for veterans that can’t be obtained at any price elsewhere. Part of the reason there are so many negative stories about VA health care is that it receives far more scrutiny than our civilian health-care system, including from two standing committees in Congress, an inspector general, veterans service organizations and the press.  

BA: Fortunately, my student loan debt is on the low side, but not many are in my situation. Some are weary of higher education due to the costs, and explore what little alternative options there are. What are your thoughts on public/private higher education now and what can be done to ensure a brighter future for the next generation?

Tammy: College costs have skyrocketed and it’s imperative that we help young people climb out from under that burden of debt with which they graduate. For those who have student debt now, I believe we can reform financial aid and increase Public Service pay-off options. In addition, we can cap interest rates that student loan finance institutions charge.

For those getting ready to go to college, having money should not determine educational opportunities; I believe, like President Kennedy, that young people should be called to understand the civic benefits their country bestows on them and to embrace service to our country. Financial Aid reform can play a significant part in doing that.

We also need to work with the private sector, trade unions, and high schools to create apprenticeship opportunities which lead to skilled jobs and long-term careers. We are sorely in need of these technical training opportunities for our young people entering university or the job market.

BA: What three movies would you pick that best describe your inspiration to campaign?

Tammy: Lincoln, The Candidate and The War Room

BA: Is there a quote from someone, living or passed, that prepares you for each and every day?

Tammy: Theodore Roosevelt is one of my American heroes and I had the opportunity to read Edmund Morris’ trilogy on his life in 2017 (when I had time to read for pleasure). I highly recommend all three books!

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”

Theodore Roosevelt

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