WASHINGTON — If North Texas lawyer Stephen Daniel has his way, the race for Texas’ 6th Congressional District will be decided on the issue of health care.
But U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Arlington, says his battle with cancer amid the campaign has given him an up-close look at the health care system and why the Democratic policies that Daniel is campaigning on would be bad for North Texas.
Across the board, the campaign has been defined by the coronavirus pandemic and Wright’s cancer diagnosis.
Daniel, 44, says both highlight the need to improve the nation’s health care system and make it more equitable for Texans living in the district.
“My opponent goes around and he’s bragged about what great health care he gets, and he consistently votes against everyone else’s health care and denies everyone else the same great health care that he gets,” Daniel said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News.
“That’s something that has really bothered me in this race. It’s that type of mentality that we just don’t need in Washington. We should all have access to great affordable health care and great [prescription] drugs at low prices,” he added.
Wright, 67, announced in July 2019 that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer earlier that year. He said he had “no intention of slowing down” but was hospitalized twice last month due to complications with his treatment and has been unable to campaign since then.
Due to his health, Wright was unable to participate in an interview, but he provided statements in response to questions from The News.
“As I’ve battled cancer while remaining hard at work, I’ve come to understand just how reliant on American healthcare ingenuity the rest of the world is,” Wright said. “If we go down the road Democrats demand, mainly the complete government takeover of our healthcare system, we will forever diminish our ability to innovate and find new treatments. We will also destroy what’s left of competition in the healthcare arena, driving up costs for the taxpayer.”
Daniel hit Wright for the GOP’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and his vote last year against a Democratic-led bill that would reverse a decision from President Donald Trump to relax a provision of the ACA that allows states to receive federal financial support and to waive the ACA’s mandates, known as Section 1332. In return for the flexibility, states are required to guarantee coverage that is as comprehensive and accessible as that provided by the ACA.
“I have friends and family that paid more for health insurance per month than they do for their house or their car,” Daniel said. “In Texas, we have the highest uninsured rate of any place in the nation, and it’s only gotten worse during the pandemic with people losing their jobs. That’s the main reason I got into [the race]. I was so struck by how nightmarish the health care system is.”
Wright, the former tax assessor-collector for Tarrant County, is in his first term in Congress, succeeding longtime U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, who Wright worked for as chief of staff and district director from 2000 to 2009. Wright’s been involved in North Texas politics for decades, serving on the Arlington City Council from 2000 to 2008.
In 2018, Wright secured his seat by an 8% margin and won an uncontested primary in March of this year.
Daniel was born in Austin, moving to the North Texas town of Itasca as an infant. He attended the University of Texas at Austin, becoming the first member of his family to graduate from college in 1999. Daniel then attended St. Mary’s Law School in San Antonio, graduating in 2002, and now works for Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins’ law firm.
Daniel became the Democratic nominee for the district in March when he also won an uncontested race.
Most of the district’s population is in suburban Arlington and the southeast corner of Tarrant County. The district stretches to the southeast, encompassing Waxahachie, Corsicana and the rural areas around the two towns.
National Democrats are targeting Wright’s district and have it on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s list of districts that it’s seeking to flip this November. The DCCC, the campaign arm for House Democrats, polled the district in June, finding just a single-digit lead for Wright. Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’rourke also outperformed Wright’s 2018 challenger in the district in his race against Sen. Ted Cruz.
Priorities in Washington
Along with health care, Daniel said he will prioritize improving public schools, increasing access to broadband internet in rural areas and assisting small businesses hurt by the pandemic, if elected in November.
Wright promised to defend conservative values and rebuild the economy from the damage caused by the pandemic.
“I prioritize constituent services at home, and in D.C. I stand up for the common-sense, conservative values of our district,” Wright said. “Our campaign is all about getting our nation back to work after the COVID pandemic, fighting for true border security, including stopping human trafficking, and returning fiscal sanity to Washington by reducing spending and waste.”
Daniel turned Wright’s conservatism against him, calling him an “extremist” who follows his party’s lead when voting on legislation. Several controversial opinion columns that Wright wrote for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in the 1990s are further proof of that extremism, said Daniel, promising to be a congressman who works with members in both parties.
“I am not just a checkbox for a party vote, and I think that’s what separates us. People are tired of the extremism in Washington,” Daniel said. “I know I am.”
When Wright’s columns resurfaced this year, his campaign called the columns “out of context” comments from two decades ago and accused Daniel of embracing “mob-mentality cancel culture.”
Wright continues to play up his conservative bonafides, highlighting his decades of service in the district.
“I’ve served this district for many years,” Wright said. “Be it as Tarrant Co. Tax Assessor-Collector, Chief of Staff for CD-06, or as your Congressman, I’ve been a taxpayer watchdog, fighter for the unborn, and strong advocate for ending illegal immigration and human trafficking on our southern border.”
Despite the outside support, Daniel faces an uphill battle to unseat Wright.
Wright reported just over $105,000 in cash on hand at the end of the last fundraising period in June. Daniel reported $84,900 in cash on hand at the end of the same period.
Neither man has been able to campaign in person recently, with Daniel holding online events due to the pandemic and Wright on bed rest due to his hospitalizations.
“You try to get your message out any way you can,” Daniel said.