“People over profits.”
“Voters over donors.”
“Flipping the Seventh.”
They were only some of rallying cries heard at last Friday afternoon’s kick-off to Dr. Kyle Horton’s campaign for NC’s 7th U.S. Congressional District. It was a hot and sticky day on the Cape Fear River, and Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman” played as I weaved in and out of the crowd of about 200 or 300 before Horton took the stage.
“I know you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired,” she told cheering citizens. “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired, too. But we have to fight. Let’s do this in 2018.”
Folks have been urging Horton—a physician who also holds her MBA—to run for office for a while. Some local Democratic representatives were showing their support, including Elizabeth Redenbaugh (2014 candidate for District 9 and NHC Board of Education member from 2008-12) and County Commissioner Rob Zapple. He met Dr. Horton back when he first ran for county commissioner in 2012.
“[Dr. Horton] knows New Hanover County from every cul-de-sac and every public meeting,” Zapple said. “What I really love about her is her focus on veterans and being an advocate for veterans at all levels—especially at the VA hospital. Her heart’s in the right place, and she’s got the background to really make a difference in New Hanover County at the local level and the federal level. . . . The more you get to know her, the more you’ll like her, and you’ll vote for her.”
While public education, environment and living wages were among talking points, a main pillar of her campaign is healthcare, especially for veterans. On her campaign logo rests 20 stars, one for every estimated veteran suicide each day in the U.S. Dr. Horton, also involved with Invisible Wounds of War (read pg. 28), has spent a great deal of time on Capitol Hill combating the very issue, working on the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act or the Clay Hunt SAV Act (2015-16), only for it to be blocked by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), also a medical physician.
As Dr. Horton and I sat together after her speech, cooling off in the air-conditioned lobby at the Battleship entry, she told me how serving God and country was instilled in her at an early age with Girl Scouts of the USA. However, one of her most influential moments during her formative years was learning her uncle, who served in Vietnam, didn’t lose his life to war but died eight weeks after returning home.
“The notion of losing veterans stateside . . . something about the unfairness of that, I think, is what kept me engaged with working with active duty families [and] working with veterans,” she told. “I’ve never wanted power for power’s sake but between the ACA vote and what’s going on with Hurricane Matthew relief and what’s going on with veteran’s healthcare, I felt like, as a physician, if I didn’t step up for patients and veterans, then who was going to tell their story?”
Access to affordable physical and mental healthcare is a major concern of Pam Sabalos from Shallotte, who endearingly refers to her candidate as “Dr. Kyle.” She was hard to miss carrying her giant poster: “Social Workers for Dr. Kyle.” Sabalos has been a licensed clinical social worker for 30 years and was attracted to Horton’s advocacy for the Affordable Care Act in NC. She’s concerned with health insurance, food stamps, social safety networks, immigration, environment, and how they all affect folks who don’t have a voice.
“Dr. Kyle is somebody who may be able to challenge the current status quo, which ignores those issues and populations,” she explained. “As social workers one of our ethical obligations is to advocate for social justice. So I’m here today because I think Dr. Kyle’s gonna do the job.”
Sabalos, like others attending Friday’s event, didn’t need to be convinced of Dr. Horton’s merit. They were there because they’re ready to mobilize. It’s more about building a coalition of people to shake things up in 2018.
“What I’m really hoping to see here today is a lot people who are ready to go to work,” Sabalos added. “I think this is a really motivated, active group of people. . . . We need to get fired up because this needs to happen.”
Dr. Horton’s dual degrees in medicine and business, paired with her work with real legislation on Capitol Hill, have caught the attention of people like Sean Gallagher, too. He first met Horton at the screening of “Democracy for Sale,” featuring Zach Galifianakis. Dr. Horton spoke alongside NAACP representatives at the screening earlier this year. Though Gallagher has actively followed national elections, he admitted he’s just now digging more into local politics. In fact, he’s already thinking of midterm elections.
“I think at this point to be apathetic in the face of what’s going on is absurd,” he said. “Without a doubt, the strongest point on my mind is to knock Rouzer out of office and retake the House.”
Opposition to the policies and voting record of Congressman David Rouzer—who joined many of his colleagues at the NCGOP Convention just across the river last weekend—brought out a lot of folks to Horton’s rally. While hosting the event the same day as the NCGOP Convention was not a calculated move, Horton called it a telling coincidence.
“I think it’s a very important statement that we were here today across the river from them,” she said, “setting our agenda to rebuild from the bottom up and not just to rubber-stamp the agenda of a billionaire or a partisan agenda.”
During her speech, Dr. Horton addressed the potential repeal of the ACA, of which she is against; strengthening public education and the working-middle class; supporting veterans and clean-energy jobs.
“The current congressman who represents this area does not support the environment,” Neil Gilbert stated plainly. “Most of the legislators on the eastern seaboard don’t want to have drilling off their coast, but David Rouzer’s all for it. He votes 97-percent of the time (from what I understand) with Mr. Trump—and I’m not in favor of his policies, and I know Kyle Horton is just the opposite.”
Gilbert—donning a bright blue hat with the words “Make America Smart Again”—is a member of Brunswick Environmental Action Team (BEAT) and understands Horton’s frustrations with political gridlock and obstruction. Once a high-school marine biology teacher for 30 years, Gilbert served on the Sunset Beach Environmental Resource Committee, too. They were assigned to study a dredging project last year, and present scientific facts of the potential environmental effects it would have on the waterways around the island.
“Unfortunately, three of our five town council members at Sunset Beach did not agree with our science,” Gilbert told. “So they moved to disband us.”
Though BEAT is a nonpartisan group, they support issues that are in line with their mission—which tends to overlap and coincide with Dr. Horton’s platform.
“We want Kyle!” echoed across the Battleship lawn more than once last weekend. The doc hopes to keep the momentum going strong. Her plan is to continuously engage folks in policy conversations that affect their daily lives, such as the local economy or continued effects of Hurricane Matthew and relief funds. Horton wants to showcase her experience in public advocacy and policy, while setting herself apart from career politicians. She wants people to get to know her stances on the issues by getting to know her personally.
“We deliberated a lot about when was the right time to get into this race,” Horton recalled. “We have a long campaign ahead of us, but as you’re seeing today, people are fired up. They’re ready to get engaged now and they’re ready for a candidate who’s going to deliver strong leadership.”
While they’ll continuously host fundraisers and other grassroots events, Dr. Horton will soon start a “listening tour.” She envisions getting to know more issues and stories of diverse communities she would represent if elected.
“We are committed to doing events in all of the counties,” she added. “It’s very important to me not to rubber-stamp a partisan agenda or a president’s administration, but to speak for the voters of eastern North Carolina.”