Interview: Dr Kyle Horton, NC’s Trailblazing Politician Who Refuses Corporate PAC Money
“I think that if we elect a new generation of leaders that I hope to be, that we could actually change the tide in Washington,” – Dr. Kyle Horton, NC 7th District candidate for Congress.
For the first time in history, eight female physicians are vying for Congressional seats this November. Until now only one female physician has ever served in Congress. One of the women hoping to become the second female physician in Congres is Dr. Kyle Horton who is competing for a seat in Eastern North Carolina.
Citizen Truth’s Peter Castagno, who has volunteered for Dr. Horton’s campaign, sat down with the candidate to talk about a wide range of issues she is passionate about. The two talked about Dr. Horton’s commitment to veterans issues stemming from her time working at the VA, her recent work helping NC recover from Hurricane Florence, her pledge to not take corporate PAC money or money from big polluters, North Carolina’s unique struggles with racial issues and the opioid crisis, and much more.
Citizen Truth: Dr. Horton, thank you so much for taking some time off the campaign trail to come talk to me.
Dr. Horton: Thank you! It’s my pleasure.
Citizen Truth: So recently, from what I understand, you’ve been primarily focused on helping local communities in the aftermath of the hurricane.
Dr. Horton: Yes, that is exactly what we have been doing, because we cover nine counties in the seventh congressional district. We’ve essentially tried to get out to every community that was hit hard by (Hurricane) Florence. And make sure we got out to distribution centers, that we got to the shelters, and that we really made sure that we hit the hardest hit areas.
Citizen Truth: That’s awesome, what would you say some of your biggest takeaways from that experience, or from really firsthand seeing the aftermath of the Hurricane?
Dr. Horton: I’ll tell you, the worst thing has been that there were people that were the hardest hit by (Hurricane) Mathew, which was two years ago now, that essentially never recovered from Mathew, and then got hit again with utter devastation. Speaking as a candidate and someone who really wants to make a difference in the public health, it’s devastating that people are hit this time with basically a toxic sludge that’s flooding their homes. It’s a mix of hog waste, coal ash, and then we had several waste treatment plants overflow. And so, it has really been a public health crisis since day one when Florence hit. And people have been dealing with and standing in these toxic flood waters.
Citizen Truth: Yea, I’ve done a little bit of reading about this- including Smithfield- like the area you said got hit again since Hurricane Mathew, from my understanding, the hog waste spilled over from lagoons that are on low floodplain areas.
Dr. Horton: That’s right, and you know, basically for generations, we had hog and poultry farms in North Carolina without significant issues. But now, we’ve turned farming into basically a factory operation and many of these companies are now multinational corporations, in many cases that are being run out of China. They have abandoned what we know to be the most effective ways to manage waste.
And so, they’ve placed all of the risk onto small-family farmers to manage waste and to basically risk their livelihoods if they don’t do what they tell them to do. What’s ended up happening is that we have farmers who are at risk of losing their livelihoods unnecessarily, and every time that we have a storm these hog lagoons are fundamentally at risk of overflowing, and this has become a public health crisis as the Neuse River and the Cape River, in particular, were impacted in this crisis.
Citizen Truth: And also, from what I understand, Smithfield has the capacity to upgrade their infrastructure to protect against these kinds of extreme disasters but has opted not to.
Dr. Horton: That’s exactly right, the larger corporations basically contract out raising the animals and that’s why it’s such a big ordeal because these larger corporations could absolutely afford to manage the waste effectively and keep us healthy, but they are choosing not to. And essentially, the US Department of Agriculture has become the department of “Big Ag,” and they’re not doing what they need to be doing to protect our family farms, and to protect the people of Eastern North Carolina.
Citizen Truth: In large part, because the funds for the clean-up comes from taxpayer dollars.
Dr. Horton: That’s right, across the board, the cost of cleaning up coal ash is going to fall on Duke Energy customers instead of these larger corporations, and it’s shameful. We shouldn’t have to pick up the tab for biggest polluters, and that’s part of the reason why, with our campaign we have elected not to take corporate political action committee money and big polluter money, including fossil fuel industry money, because we really want to stand up for every day North Carolinians.
Citizen Truth: Absolutely, and I think that’s one of the most compelling aspects about your campaign. Due to the fact that you’re not constrained by the financial binds of most politicians, you can serve the people with integrity. And I was looking at some of your campaign financing and I believe it is less than a third of your opponent, the incumbent Representative Dave Rouzer, who is largely the opposite. Most of your funding comes from less-than-a-thousand dollar donations from grassroots groups, whereas he’s largely funded by those exact corporations we are talking about, such as DowDupont.
Dr. Horton: That’s right, he’s been hovering around like just over 50 to 60 percent of his funding comes from political action committees, and on the flip side its been around less than two percent of his actual campaign financing is from small-dollar, individual donations. On the contrary, the vast majority, about 70% of our funds, have come from inside the 7th congressional district, and over 90% of our funds are from individual donors.
Citizen Truth: And it’s definitely a factor that has inhibited him from taking any action involving GenX, a contaminant that has been proven with lab animals to be carcinogenic and has also been linked to, or is similar to C8, a (toxic) chemical from DuPont. He’s taken zero action involving that.
Dr. Horton: With GenX, what we’re seeing is that he took money from the DuPont good government fund- which I do realize the words DuPont and good government belong nowhere near to each other- but he took that money and has basically ushered in an agenda of defunding and dismantling the EPA, he introduced a bill that was “Stopping the EPA Overreach Act” he has been one of those individuals who was most inclined to promote the agenda of big polluters.
Our kids should never be guinea pigs at the hands of a Fortune 500 polluter, that’s essentially what happened, with GenX it’s probably a carcinogen as it is so closely related to C8, that we do not have good standards to test individuals or to verify that they are safe, we don’t know as doctors how to effectively protect people from our contaminated water, and the reason we don’t know is because individuals like my opponent have attempted to defund and dismantle the EPA and undo any common sense regulations against these corporate polluters. And if you didn’t realize Dupont after they dump they are also one of the leading
manufacturers of reverse osmosis filtration systems, which means that they profit from the one system that will actually clean up after they dump.
Citizen Truth: Wow, yeah it’s insane. What would be some of the policy action that you would strive to implement to combat these kind of corporate loopholes or efforts to make these tiny differences in chemicals before they have been properly regulated to continue toxifying our drinking water supplies?
Dr. Horton: Well some of the key things we need to do- we need to basically empower the public health side through the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). And so, a lot of folks don’t realize CDC, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has an environmental public health network, and part of what they are supposed to do is study the effects of emerging contaminants like GenX, and enable individuals in the community to report what they’ve been exposed to and the concerns that they have.
So technically you’re enabling the public, and to be able to report we need to empower the CDC to deal with these emerging contaminants. We need to enable the EPA and empower them to crack down on these big polluters. As a third point, we need to make sure that people have the teeth and the technology to be able to enforce whatever standards are put in place by the EPA. Which means that the EPA needs to be able to work closely with county health departments and with the state departments of environmental quality to enforce the standards that are set.
And one of the things I do want to highlight that a lot of reporters have not picked up on, is the same class of chemicals, you know POAs vs. PFOSs- PFOSs, that are very closely akin to GenX- they’ve been found in very high levels from firefighting foam that the DoD uses, so then they have found high levels of PFOSs around the air force base that is around our district as well. This is going to be an issue that these potential cancer-causing agents are next to a large number, I think it was a hundred twenty-six, at last count department of defense installations.
Citizen Truth: It’s nice to hear your level of policy knowledge concerning this issue, because it’s a multifaceted thing, it’s difficult to combat. And continuing on kind of the assault on science- another shocking fact- is the legislation that was passed in 2012 concerning sea level rise and coastal development. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Dr. Horton: So as you probably recognize, my opponent was one of the primary sponsors in the state senate of the bill that banned the consideration of accelerated sea level rise in planning. And as you recognize, when we don’t accept the scientific reality of climate change, and when we don’t plan appropriately, what happens is that it costs us billions as taxpayers in clean up after storms. Because properties are inappropriately located in floodplains, and coastal property is highly lucrative and its likely to be damaged. We need to use the best scientific evidence that we have available. And instead, my opponent has chosen to put the Koch brothers, and an anti-science agenda first. And it has everything to do with him taking a bunch of money to fund his campaign from the oil and gas industry. He is the tune of like, it’s over $90,000 dollars he got in his career, to fund his campaign from oil and gas. And for fun, Steven Colbert did a segment back when he did the Colbert Report, that he called it “E=MC Scared.” If you look up the Colbert Report “Sink or Swim,” he made fun of us (North Carolina) denying the scientific reality of climate change in a fun way. But on a serious note, I think it is really critical that we elect leaders, in this next Congress, who understand the scientific reality of climate change and who also will protect our coast, the Atlantic coast has now been opened up to Off-Shore Drilling. My opponent is one of the only coastal Reps, Republican or Democrat, who is pro-drilling. And that would risk our economy, there is roughly $95 billion in GDP and 1.4 million jobs in clean industries like fishing, recreation, and tourism, that would be at risk with Atlantic offshore drilling.
Citizen Truth: Yeah, it is clearly profit over people over there. And I think it’s awesome how your background as a physician – and you also have an MBA – so you’re coming at it with an empirical, rational perspective that is also founded on real-life experience and compassion. As I understand, the detrimental effects of environmental degradation have severely impacted your personal life. I was reading about how you lost a family member in the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig explosion.
Dr. Horton: We did, Dewey was one of the eleven people killed in that catastrophic explosion, and unfortunately, he never got to meet his grandchildren, he never got to walk his youngest daughter down the aisle, because of what happened on that fateful day. There were several points at which BP could have stepped up for the safety of workers, that have been called the “Well from Hell,” as it was causing them problems with high-pressure readings throughout the time that they were drilling.
It’s important that people know, at the time that Dewey died, oil and gas workers were seven times more likely to die on the job than other US workers. Just this past week, the Trump Administration rolled back the rest of the safety regulations that were put in place after the Deepwater Horizon accident. And one of the things that they rolled back was requiring third-party inspections on safety measures and basic safety equipment on these off-shore oil platforms. We need to elect a new generation of leaders who will hold these polluting industries accountable.
Citizen Truth: Absolutely, and it’s clear that with your level of policy knowledge you would be a great fighter for the environment, but I think another thing that makes you interesting and unique is your background with veterans, because I think a lot of politicians have tried to vicariously take on the honor and bravery of veterans without striving to actually take care of them and looking at the unique struggles they face, and I know that one of the main motivating factors in getting you involved with this was to try to take care of veterans.
Dr. Horton: That’s absolutely right, I worked as a VA physician and it was one of the big factors when I looked at where I wanted to train to become a doctor in a residency program – was that I wanted to care about combat veterans. And part of that was because my Dad lost his older brother eight weeks after Vietnam. And I think the notion of losing veterans state-side after they are supposed to be safe at home- the unfairness of that stuck with me my entire life. So then after I was working as a VA doctor, unfortunately, I near tragically lost patients to suicide, and almost other ones to delays in routine medical care. And so, that came back to me and came home to me that was going to continue to happen, that we were going to lose veterans stateside if we didn’t make a substantive difference in how we take care of our veterans.
And so, I had been with my MD and MDA I was talking to my administration because I care about improving our health care systems and cutting through the bureaucracy and red tape to really reform the VA, and one day my boss said, “Well I don’t know what to tell you Kyle, it’s going to take an act of Congress to fix the VA.” And then I just became set, in my heart, on getting an act of Congress. And so as you probably recognize, I worked on veteran suicide prevention, I worked on opiate safety related to veterans, and then I worked on some toxic exposure, because like, for example, one of my veterans that attempted suicide, his dad that he
wanted me to meet, was nearly tragically lost after a misdiagnosis from agent orange exposure in Vietnam.
And we’re doing the same thing with young veterans that have been exposed to burn pits in the Middle East, and that has not been a service-connected condition even though we’ve seen pancreatic, and then swallowing pipe esophageal cancers in young veterans exposed to burn pits. And so these are issues that concern who we are as patriots and Americans, and unlike my opponent I understand that being a patriot is about more than photo ops and parades, it is about lifting up and taking care of our veterans, because we have a sacred
obligation to take care of those who bravely served this country.
Citizen Truth: And from that experience, in the VA, you come with a deep comprehensive understanding of America’s healthcare system and its serious issues. We spend way more than any other developed country, yet don’t provide coverage to all our citizens. Prescription drugs are continuously skyrocketing in price. So, what would you identify as some of the broadest issues concerning national health care and how we can improve them?
Dr. Horton: Many of us recognize that every American deserves the right to quality health care, that health care should be a basic right in this country and not just for the privileged. As you mentioned, while every other developed country in the world basically recognizes this, and they set up a safety net to ensure that those who are struggling and are the most vulnerable-whether they are seniors, or kids, or those struggling with an opiate addiction- they make sure that they can get healthcare without tremendous costs.
We have a fragmented system that works really well for the biggest pharmaceutical companies and the insurance companies and their lobbyists, but that do not work well for the average American. And so, what I would propose is that we have to reign in the influence of some of the biggest pharmaceutical companies, that we really have to put patients over politics, and that we invest in Medicare and Medicaid, and that we allow those programs to negotiate better drug prices and that we control costs in a way that is accountable and transparent.
Citizen Truth: Another thing this ties into a little bit that you spoke on before, is the opioid crisis. Which has seriously impacted district seven and the nation as a whole. That’s definitely another multifaceted issue that comes from mental health issues that have yet to really be properly understood or appreciated in the public eye, and also corporate malfeasance. Like you said, our (health care) system is set up to serve the interests of the pharmaceutical companies before people. I know that Purdue Pharmaceutical lied about the addictive properties of OxyContin to the medical community. Can you talk about the opioid crisis a little bit, and maybe some potential solutions?
Dr. Horton: Yeah, so, as you mentioned, Bladen County even in the seventh congressional district, it is one of the counties where there were roughly enough kills for every adult man and woman- (connection breaks up)- So Wilmington is one of the cities in the US that has one of the highest per capita abuse of opiates in the country and what we know is that the drug companies and manufacturers have poured these highly addictive drugs into small-town America and that this has perpetuated a crisis.
We need to protect patients that have benefitted, and need these painkillers, and protect health care providers that are prescribing these medications for chronic pain, but that we make sure that we are not enabling drug manufacturers to make a profit from addicting patients.
-(Connection breaks up)
I care about investing in law enforcement. I care about investing in Medicaid, a lot of people don’t realize that Medicaid accounts for roughly a quarter of mental health care coverage and a fifth of substance abuse care in this country. So while my opponent has tried to cut Medicaid it is critically important at this phase of the opiate crisis that we actually invest in Medicaid.
Citizen Truth: I totally agree about Medicaid, that’s an important point. And often the administrative costs of Medicaid are lower than private insurance.
Dr. Horton: That’s absolutely true. So while a lot of big-time politicians tout that we need Medicaid reform, its important to know that the administrative and overhead costs for Medicare and Medicaid tend to be far lower, even as much as 60% lower than private insurance companies. Medicare and Medicaid are highly efficient compared to a lot of our private, for-profit insurance companies.
Citizen Truth: Definitely. Another thing I wanted to ask you about, is the extreme polarization in America, most evidently clear in the recent Kavanagh hearings, where you can scroll through Facebook and see the most vicious arguments taking place. I feel with your temperament, I know you will strive for bipartisan solutions while maintaining your integrity. Can you talk about that a little bit, working across the aisle?
Dr. Horton: Yea, it’s really important to me, as you know I worked with Senator Tillis, for example, on legislation to help veterans that were exposed to burn pits in the Middle East. And I’ve worked across the aisle on opiate safety for veterans. Senator Richard Burr, from North Carolina, worked on the suicide prevention bill that I had worked on called the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention For American Veterans Act. So its really important to the American people, that they understand, that the integrity of our democracy relies on people working across the aisle. And that people strive for the greatest solutions that adhere to common sense, and adhere to common principals of what our country was founded on. What concerns me nowadays, is that the partisan polarization has become basically tribal. How many of us as adults, work with people we don’t really like on a daily basis. It is part of being an adult, to manage and do what’s best for the greater good.
But in Washington, it seems like people end up there and they become entrenched in Washington politics as usual that they’re more concerned about the lobbyists and the biggest special interests than they are the people of their district. But I think that if we elect a new generation of leaders that I hope to be, that we could actually change the tide in Washington.
Citizen Truth: Absolutely, and I think you bring more of a desire to actually help people than any ideological absolute commitment I think you’re actually looking at policies that work as opposed to a fixation, or some of these kind of ego issues that hold back a lot politicians.
There’s two more things I wanted to ask you. In America, the quality of opportunity often fails to be provided along racial lines. For example, in one of the areas in our district and my hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina is the site of the only successfully coup d’état in American history, in which white supremacists overthrew a fusionist interracial government and massacred the black community there. In the aftermath of this, the black community is still impacted by things like redlining, racial gerrymandering, segregated schools with unequal funding, while a lot of these co-conspirators in the coup have their names laminated on major building throughout Wilmington. And another thing I think you can bring to the table, is to try to provide equal opportunity to some of our most traditionally marginalized communities.
Dr. Horton: In Wilmington and throughout Eastern North Carolina, there is a devastating legacy of segregation and its perpetuated itself in modern times at the epicenter of many environmental justice challenges. We’re also at the epicenter of challenges with resegregation of our schools, we essentially have a school to prison pipeline that’s perpetuated by suspensions that begin at a very early age for many of our kids. And so, it is critically important that our leaders recognize that we have to do better in protecting people from the perspective of basic and fundamental right. I’m deeply concerned about the fact that if you look at how we responded to the cocaine epidemic in comparison to the opioid crisis, there are fundamental
differences when the color of people’s skin is different.
And if you look at Hurricane Maria, in Puerto Rico 1,000’s of individuals died. Can you imagine how differently those people would have been treated if the island was called Nantucket and the faces looked different.
Citizen Truth: Absolutely, I actually volunteered in Puerto Rico for a little over a month. And I actually learned a lot about- the colonial history there is absolutely shocking- eugenics, its actually place where America has bombed its own soil, because of an independence movement.
Dr. Horton: These legacies of segregation and injustice have perpetuated themselves. And its part of why I’ve been so proud to be a leader that has spoke up as part of the racial justice movements that we have seen here, and it is because when you are in entrenched in societal racism or these policies, that impedes your opportunity and the economy. It devastates generations of families. It is not a coincidence that some of the hardest hit communities in the wake of Florence are disproportionately minority communities, that’s also been the case as we’ve looked at challenges from coal ash contamination, these huge environmental justice
challenges are often disproportionately in poor and minority communities. And so, I’m committed to being the kind of leader that stands up for opportunity of all.
Citizen Truth: Definitely, and that leads into another thing I wanted to talk to you about. Perhaps the most disturbing policy of this administration, has been the separation of undocumented families and purposefully detaining children separately. I know that in North Carolina there is a large involvement with that in the agriculture sector, could you maybe talk a bit immigration a bit and developing humane policies regarding that.
Dr. Horton: As a physician and someone who understands public health, I can tell you that separating families is inhumane and cruel. It is something that will devastate people for a lifetime in a way that they will not be able to get over. It is particularly painful in many cases, these are people that were fleeing violence and oppression and seeking political asylum in this country. And it’s been one of our founding principles and values to be a country that is a beacon of democracy and hope. And that is etched in the statue of liberty with the Lazarus poem; “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” And so, what I
think is critically important for us to recognize is that common sense immigration policies are part of our founding principles in this country. They are also part of what makes us great and helps our economy to thrive.
It’s important that people know, there was a study done for example in the height of the recession, there were over 400,000 unemployed North Carolinians, and there were roughly 6,500 jobs in agriculture that were open. Guess how many native US born citizens actually finished the growing season- it was only 7. Agriculture in eastern North Carolina is entirely dependent on migrant worker and immigrant labor. I am committed to respecting the founding principles of this nation and integrating law-abiding and hardworking immigrants into our economy in a way that promotes growth and respects what we need to be a successful nation and country.
Citizen Truth: One last thing, I was looking through your AMA on Reddit and I really liked a quote you put by Elizabeth Warren, “We should give students at the same (interest) rate as big banks.” Can you talk a bit about the economy as a whole and spreading its fruits to all of our citizens?
Dr. Horton: What we have is an economy that has worked incredibly well for the wealthiest one percent and it is leaving hard-working Americans behind. My parents both had manufacturing jobs, both of them retired from working on the GM factory floor. Back then, there were manufacturing jobs that were an avenue to solidly be in the middle class. But now, what we’re seeing is an economy that works really well for segments that are in the risky and speculative segments of our economy, but leaves the rest of us behind. There are those who grow up unprivileged, who don’t have access to privileged education. I don’t think we should be saddling our students with debt for just trying to succeed in a 21 st century economy.
I am very much am in favor of making two-year community colleges free. Let’s face it, vocational trade, technical jobs like plumbers and electricians, solar and wind installation, those are jobs of the 21 st century. And if we make a two-year community college accessible to everyone, that also lowers the costs for everyone trying to go to a four-year university. I believe education is the bootstrap of opportunity that will enable everyone to lift themselves up. And I also believe that we should have an economy that works for hardworking Americans. And that, we should make sure we have basic labor rights and protections. And that we rein in Wall Street so we have an economy that doesn’t just work for our biggest financial institutions, but
also for Main street.
I’m also concerned about what happened with the most recent tax bill, that most of that money is not going back into the pockets of workers, but it is going to stock buybacks and dividends. Yet again, we are perpetuating this cycle of inequality and making sure that hard-working Americans pay more than their fair share, and that needs to stop.
Citizen Truth: Absolutely, and I think that is pretty much everything I had for today. One more thing, you’ve reached out to Dave Rouzer to a debate, correct?
Dr. Horton: We have, he has still not, to our knowledge, agreed to a debate or forum. We have four different forums and he has still not agreed to a single one. He has also not held a single town hall since last year which was his only town hall in the entire two-year cycle. I have taken a town hall pledge so that when we win, I will continue to be accountable and transparent to the people of the seventh district by hosting town halls, and we will be proudly showing up at all four of these forums in our district, even without his participation.