PHYSICIAN CANDIDATES: Growing Numbers Run For Congress
A feature in today's Dallas Morning News looks at the wave of doctors running for Congress this term and why such a trend may have taken hold. Overall, 39 doctors or other medical professionals are either serving in the U.S. Congress or running for a seat. Texas has six physicians seeking congressional office, while Illinois has three. "Doctors have served the Republic at least since 1793," the Morning News reports, and the current 14 elected doctors -- 13 in the House and one in the Senate -- appear to be an "all-time high." Doctors may be helping to fill the void created by the drop in lawyer-legislators, whose numbers have dropped by about 80 since the 1950s, down to 171 today. While the public's opinion of lawyers has fallen, "doctors and dentists garner more respect than most professionals." As such, "[t]hey're tough to label as career politicians, experts say." And Congress tends to defer to the doctors in their ranks on questions of medical policy. Garrison Nelson, a congressional scholar at the University of Vermont, said, "Doctor-legislators get a relatively wide berth on these matters. They can do and say things that others can't." In fact, their desire to voice an opinion on such issues may actually drive some into politics. Dr. Jim Lohmeyer (R), an anesthesiologist running for the seat held by Rep. Ralph Hall (D-TX), said, "The government is regulating health care more at all levels. ... You don't give up a career like dentistry or being a physician to go into politics just because you're upset. But it's helped drive it." Congressional analyst Stuart Rothenberg agreed: "There seem to be a lot. It's one of those industries where there's a lot of regulation, a lot of bureaucracy. ... People like that have found that they're in a more political environment than they realized."
On The Hustings
Being a doctor, which often means being financially successful, makes it easier to leave a career to try politics and then go back afterward, the Morning News reports. Their career "gives them a better starting point than say, an insurance salesman or a small businessperson," said Dr. David Cannon, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin. Most physician candidates are Republicans, which is unsurprising given the party's emphasis on less regulation and lower taxes. Most physicians emphasize their profession on the stump. But not all donors look favorably on doctor-candidates. In the Hall-Lohmeyer race, for instance, The American Society of Anesthesiologists gave the "lawyer-incumbent $6,500 and the pain-killing challenger nothing." Additionally, says Nelson, "once the novelty is over, and you've got to get down to the nitty gritty of government," doctors do not necessarily outperform their lay counterparts. Compromise, he said, is the "heart and soul of the legislative process [but] you don't negotiate bypass surgery." Even Hall, defending his seat against a physician, said, "The doctors that we have up there are good members" (Gillman, 10/15).