AUSTIN (Nexstar) – Annie “Mama” Garcia says she is fed up with issues surrounding healthcare, immigration and gun violence. She’s going as far as to run for U.S. Senate and walk across Texas in protest to prove it.
Garcia filed as a Democrat early in December, joining the crowded field of now 12 candidates. She is an attorney and founder of nonprofit OpHeart, which she created to save infants born with heart defects.
Despite facing experienced candidates who have been campaigning longer, Garcia had a strong showing in the latest poll from the University of Texas at Tyler. The poll showed her tied for second with support from 6% of likely voters along with State Senator Royce West. Air Force veteran MJ Hegar leads with 9%. More than half of respondents answered “not sure” as to who they support in the upcoming Democratic primary.
Despite the recent gains, Garcia is not slowing down on the campaign trail, in fact, she wants to walk it all herself. She set out to cross Texas on foot Sunday, starting in Houston. Garcia plans to finish at the Walmart in El Paso where 22 people were killed in a mass shooting in August.
“I want to show people that I’m different,” Garcia said. “So this was the one thing that I could come up with that is completely within my power, putting one foot in front of the other.”
Garcia said her decision to run for the U.S. Senate began in an emergency room in Spain in 2014 with her then six week old daughter. Her baby was suffering from an undiagnosed heart defect and had been slowly suffocating since birth.
“We did not have insurance,” Garcia said. “So for 12 weeks she was in the ICU and ultimately she underwent two open heart surgeries, dozens of medications and procedures.”
Garcia’s daughter recovered, at the cost of $1.5 million in medical bills.
“The should have wiped us out financially, but she was lucky,” Garcia said. “She was born in Spain and we didn’t need insurance.”
Garcia said she would like the U.S. to adopt a system similar to Spain’s universal healthcare system outside the medicare-for-all system with fewer fees attached.
“We need to create a system where we don’t have coinsurance, co-pays, out-of-network costs, all of the different ways in which people are essentially fleeced when they go into the hospital,” Garcia said.
“Somehow we have a system where we’re paying out the nose for it and yet at the same time, it’s not very good in our outcomes,” Garcia said. “If you look across the world we do not fare as well as the other single-payer or Universal Health Care systems. How do we get to this point where we pay more money —65% of people that declare bankruptcy do so because of medical expenses— and yet 25% of people are inadequately provided for within that system?”
With many migrants being told to wait for years for a hearing in a U.S. immigration court, Garica said immigration issues have become personal issues after directly representing migrants seeking asylum in the U.S.
“I have seen the system firsthand and as a wife and as a family member and then also as an attorney and I tell you it’s broken,” Garcia said. “It does not work for at least fifty percent of the people that it should…We need to look at the people that are currently in our country that are undocumented and we need to figure out how to get them on a pathway to citizenship and then we need to look at people that are trying to enter a country who want to come to our country and make sure that we are honoring our American values and our economic means at the same time.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke sparked intense backlash from Republican lawmakers in Sept. 2018 after calling for mandatory buybacks for assault weapons. Garcia said while she wants to see the issue of gun violence addressed, she does not even consider buybacks a practical solution.
“It’s very problematic and that really upsets people when you talk about that” Garcia said. “Let’s start with putting liability insurance in place. Let’s close the gun show loopholes and then let’s work from there.”