By Scott Hamilton | WECT
Some of the numbers Dr. Kyle Horton can spout out are learned, facts and figures lamenting the state of public education, the economy or the environment. It’s the kind of information that’s retained over the course of an 11-month push to become only the second female physician to serve in Congress.
Other stats and anecdotes were simply absorbed through the osmosis that comes with being encompassed for 38 years by the military service of her family and a career that provided an unfiltered glimpse into troubled lives.
In other words, she’s seen things. And the two arenas – a push for public service and a private life – merge fittingly in the form of her campaign logo.
Horton, who will oppose Goldsboro businessman Grayson Parker in the 7th Congressional District Democratic Primary on May 7, integrated 20 stars into the brand. (Editor’s note: Parker did not respond to multiple requests to be interviewed). They mirror the approximate number of American veterans who commit suicide on a daily basis, an astonishingly high total that hits home for Horton, who reside in Kure Beach.
First there was the questionable death of an uncle only eight weeks after his return from Vietnam. The “unfairness” of it all – a family that had celebration reversed into mourning – continues to resonate with her.
Decades later, while serving as a doctor for Veteran Affairs, she had an inside-the-ropes view of a fractured system. She said VA facilities have seen a 50-percent rise in patient visits over the past decade, though only a 10-percent increase in doctors and nurses. You don’t need to be a summa cum laude graduate of UNC Wilmington or have a medical degree from Wright State University – both of which Horton achieved – to realize that’s an example of bad math.
Horton nearly lost one of her patients to suicide as mental health treatment she had referred was stymied by steady delays. An ill-fated attempt to take his own life resulted. That goaded Horton to dive into policy work in an effort to usher in changes such as timely patient services, help fight veteran homelessness and work on the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act (which was ultimately killed by republican Sen. Tom Soburn of Oklahoma, himself also a physician).
She turned it up a notch in the spring of 2017 as Congress was making a push to repeal the Affordable Care Act without having an alternative plan. Having a congressional seat and a vote to go along with her voice, she reasoned, would be more impactful.
“The notion of losing veterans stateside has stuck with me,” said Horton, who had two grandfathers serve in World War II and whose father was stationed at the Pentagon while serving in the Army. “… I feel like those who wrote a blank check with their lives in service of this country deserve for us to defend them for a change. So I’m fighting for our veterans.”
Still one cause does not a campaign make. And Horton has taken a position on issues ranging from the opioid epidemic and school safety to improved water quality and an increase in wages.
And, of course, healthcare, healthcare, healthcare.
Part of her platform, again, comes from personal experience. But the majority of it is propped up by input she has received from 10 town hall-style meetings that allowed her to engage voters in a 12-county district that stretches from Wilmington to the edges of Raleigh. That’s provided the funding for her campaign, as well, with Horton saying that 99 percent of its money came from individual donors – 85 percent of whom live in the district.
“We’re hearing repeatedly that people are really concerned about the fact that our economy doesn’t really reward hard work – it more so rewards hoarded wealth,” Horton, who’s on hiatus from practicing medicine during the campaign, said. “They’re concerned about good paying jobs and they’re concerned about healthcare. Healthcare costs are skyrocketing. The health and well being of our families are under threat every day when even our drinking water is contaminated. I’m passionate about reviving the American dream to create opportunities for all Americans, to save our healthcare and also to clean our water.”
Horton would become only the second female physician to serve in congress should she defeat Parker and incumbent David Rouzer, who is running unopposed in the Republican primary, in November. Donna Christensen, a Democrat, represented the U.S. Virgin Islands from 1996 to 2015.
The difference, however, is that Horton would be a full voting member of Congress, something not afforded representatives of U.S. territories.
“It’s important to me that on both of the House side many of the healthcare discussions were behind closed doors and all men,” Horton said. “On Senate side, it was 16 men and so it’s important I’m a woman, but especially a physician who has both public and private sector experience.”