In the Democratic race to challenge U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, Central Health board member Julie Oliver has accused her opponent, Austin defense attorney Chris Perri, of club stacking, an ethically murky but legal practice by candidates who fill political clubs with their supporters to win endorsements. Sometimes, candidates will even pay membership dues for their supporters.
“It’s not truly a democratic process. It’s unethical,” Oliver said of the alleged club stacking. “I’ve seen photos of a consultant handing in a stack of ballots, and I’ve seen a photo of a consultant standing over ballot counters as they counted votes.”
Perri, who has raised more than twice as much as Oliver and has won several endorsements of area Democratic groups and labor and industry associations, has denied the club stacking charge, and so have officials with at least four clubs that have given their support to Perri.
Perri said Oliver has lobbed such accusations because she’s losing.
“That’s just besmirching my character, and it’s not very democratic. It’s an insult to every club leader who created a formal endorsement process,” Perri said.
Perri received 32.8 percent of the vote in the March primary. Oliver received 26.4 percent.
Both are headed to the May 22 Democratic primary runoff in the 25th Congressional District, which sprawls from Wimberley to near Fort Worth and includes Lakeway, West Lake Hills, Rollingwood and the Austin neighborhoods of Circle C Ranch, Tarrytown, Hyde Park, Hancock, Blackshear/Prospect Hill, Cherrywood, Mueller, Windsor Park and University Hills. Early voting will start May 14.
The winner of the runoff will face Williams, an Austin Republican, in November.
Perri and Oliver consider themselves progressive, although Perri pointed to a recent interview with the Killeen Daily Herald in which Oliver called herself a centrist Democrat. Oliver said she meant she wants to unite Texans.
Both candidates say they will fight for universal health care by expanding Medicare to all people regardless of age and will work to shore up laws that curb campaign contributions and influences of large private entities and foreign countries.
“If you introduce a public option that competes with the private option, insurance companies are either going to have to bring their costs down to compete with the Medicare option or people won’t buy their product,” Oliver said.
Oliver relied on Medicaid for prenatal care when she became pregnant at age 17. She is now a division controller for St. David’s HealthCare.
If elected, Oliver said she would hold monthly town hall meetings in the district, open to both Democrats and Republicans. She and others have accused Williams of preventing constituents from attending a recent meeting, which was organized by the conservative groups Texas Public Policy Foundation and Americans for Prosperity.
Jerome Greener with Americans for Prosperity told the American-Statesman that organizers accidentally left the registration window open after it was supposed to close and had to turn away people who had RSVP’d to attend. Even though all who registered and came early were welcome to attend, the meeting was not meant to be a public town hall meeting but instead was narrowly focused on tax reform, Greener added.
Oliver also said she wants to require 501(c) nonprofits to disclose campaign contributions to federal political candidates and tax those entities on their political activities above a certain amount. She said she prides herself on not accepting any money from anyone other than individuals and not PACs or consultants.
Oliver has the endorsements of two of the three Democrats who failed to make it to the runoff in the district — Kathi Thomas and West Hansen. The other primary candidate, Chetan Panda, hasn’t made an endorsement.
If elected, Perri said, he’s committed to bolstering anti-trust laws and giving more funding to the Federal Trade Commission to prevent corporate monopolies. He said monopolies in various industries are driving up consumer costs, limiting choice and influencing lawmakers.
“Fewer and fewer small businesses can come in because these monopoly powers are squeezing out a bulk of them. They’re lowering worker wages, hurting working conditions. So I think standing up to the monopolies is really key,” Perri said.
He said he also wants to end partisan gerrymandering and is open to ideas of creating a federal job guarantee program, particularly to improve roads, expand high-speed internet access and develop renewable energy sources.
About the candidates
Julie Oliver, 45, is an attorney and controller for St. David’s HealthCare. She has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Texas at Arlington and a law degree from UT.
Civic participation: Oliver is a Central Health board member and has volunteered for 15 years to deliver meals with Meals on Wheels.
Chris Perri, 36, is a defense attorney. He has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Southwestern University, a law degree from UT and a master’s degree in economics from the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Civic participation: Perri is a founder of Texas Law Expunction Project, a free law clinic for low-income Central Texans. He is on the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Association board of directors and previously was a member of Leadership Austin.
Rep. Roger Williams, 68, is serving his third term in the U.S. House. He previously served as Texas secretary of state under Gov. Rick Perry and owns a car dealership in Weatherford.
Voting record: He has supported a ban on citizens from Muslim-majority countries entering the U.S. He opposes elective abortions. He supports penalizing so-called sanctuary cities and states. He voted in favor of an $8 billion Hurricane Harvey relief package in September.