BOSTON — Following Monday’s interview with Republican candidate and Marine Corps reservist Sean Bielat, we continue our coverage of the Republican race in the 4th Congressional District in Massachusetts. Analysts say the redrawn boundaries will make the race especially competitive this year, and several Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination.
WBUR’s Morning Edition host Bob Oakes spoke with Brookline psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Childs, who is launching her first run for Congress after years of voting as a Democrat and serving as the state’s mental health commissioner under Gov. Mitt Romney.
Elizabeth Childs: I decided to run last summer because I believe that our children deserve a much better future than what the politicians in Washington are preparing to leave them. And on both sides of the aisle, the finger-pointing and the demonizing is getting in way of constructive dialogue, let alone solutions.
Bob Oakes: You were a Democrat for decades, though.
I was brought up as a Republican. And my values never changed. And when the Republicans changed their platform in the late ’80s to exclude women like myself and many other women, who believed in the right to make our own health care choices, I and many women left the Republican Party. Over the past few years, it’s become clear to me that there are two issues that make it difficult for me to be a Democrat. The first one is that I think in public leadership you must be free to make decisions in the public’s best interest and if you are beholden to unions for votes and money, you’re not free to do that. And the second one is that I think there is a collective denial in the Democratic Party around the fiscal tsunami that is starting to face our country and what we’re going to have to do to deal with that.
I have to ask you: You voted in 11 Democratic state and presidential primaries since 1996. Why should Republicans believe that you are a Republican?
I believe the Republican Party can be bigger and should include people like me who are pro-choice Massachusetts Republicans. And I think that if we start excluding people based on all sorts of things, that that is not good for any kind of public dialogue.
All right, let’s talk about some issues. What can Washington do, what should Washington do, to lower gas prices? Can gas prices be lowered?
There’s a bigger question here, which is that we have the opportunity in America to completely change our energy dependence, and we need to take that opportunity and run with it. And that means tapping our natural gas resources. I think it is important for us to pursue the Keystone pipeline.
Are you a Sarah Palin, “drill, baby, drill” person?
It is absolutely possible to respect our environment and take care of our environment, but that does not mean that we don’t extract responsibly. It’s a little hypocritical of us to think that it’s OK to drill off the coast of Venezuela, but not to drill off of our own coast. Frankly, I would trust our regulations and our companies to do that more responsibly.
Well, I have to ask then, what’s that mean for the possibility of drilling in George’s Bank?
I don’t think I would rule out drilling in places off our coast that are considered safe and evaluated to be safe to drill.
Of course, you know it’s a great concern to New Bedford fishermen and fishermen up and down the Atlantic seaboard here.
Yeah. You would have to weigh the risks to the fishing industry there as well.
But not rule out. Weigh the risk, but you’re not ruling it out.
I would not. I think we need to be courageous enough to evaluate each opportunity, weighing its risks and benefits for America.
The U.S. Supreme Court is now considering the arguments it heard in challenge to the national health care overhaul. How do you hope the court rules?
I’m not a lawyer, I’m a doctor. I believe that what we need to do with health care is to repeal and replace the federal health care bill with a bill that is more visionary and is more likely to serve America. Every American should have access to have quality health care; that should be one of the principles that we hold by at federal level.
I’d like to clarify. Should there be a federal health care law that comes as close to universal coverage as the current law does?
No, I think the federal role in health care is to hold the states accountable and to work with the states, align incentives with the states, so that every state can reach the goal of all Americans having access to quality health care.
How do you think your background in both the public and private sectors in health care and mental health care inform your health care policy-building decisions on this issue and others in the field?
I hold the doctor and the patient relationship really at the core of how we think about our health care system. When doctors and patients have to work together and solve problems, surprise, surprise, we almost always figure out how to make it work. And the higher up you pull decision-making, the harder it is to solve the problems at an individual level.
Jobs and the economy: What’s the No. 1 thing that Congress can and should do that it hasn’t done yet to create jobs and boost the economy?
One in seven Americans are out of work, and one of the greatest things we can do to solve that is get a handle on our federal debt. There is bipartisan support to simplify the tax code, close loopholes, lower the overall base rates, including the corporate rate, and to get government out of the business of picking winners and losers. On the spending side, we need to have the courage to reform Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security so that they are there for people.
So then do you see a day whereby retirees will not be getting their Social Security check from the government?
I think all options should be discussed, frankly, about how you get there. Because we need that program to be there, so we have to figure out how are we going to make it stay.
War in Afghanistan and the timetable of U.S. soldiers withdrawing from Afghanistan: How fast should we get out?
I’m not in a position to know. But I do think that we need to look to our military leaders to tell us that. I think that we need to make sure our troops that are there are safeguarded. I also think that we need to make sure that we don’t leave the country more destabilized than when we entered it.
Back to politics. You’re running against Sean Bielat for the Republican nomination in September. How do you differentiate yourself from Mr. Bielat?
I have more experience than Bielat and Kennedy combined. And you know, I’m not a 30-year-old ambitious guy without a job looking for work.
The Democrat in the race in November is of course likely to be Joe Kennedy III, who’s as high-profile as Barney Frank, if not higher, and heir to the Camelot throne. Is Kennedy invincible or do you see him as vulnerable?
I think he’s vulnerable. I think he doesn’t have a proven track record — I do. I think that he doesn’t know the district — he had to tour it. I didn’t need to tour it, I did know it. I think the voters here are more independently minded. They are willing to vote for the candidate that they think best will represent them and advocate for them and be their best voice in Congress.