Up until last year, running for a major political office had never really crossed emergency room doctor Rob Davidson’s mind.
“I never was like, ‘Hey, I want to run for Congress some day,'” Davidson said. “I was happily a doctor, a dad and a school board member, and that was going to be my biography.”
That all changed when talks to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act gained steam at the federal level. When U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, held a series of in-district town halls in early 2017, Davidson showed up in his scrubs, and shared stories of the struggles his patients have had with affording the care they need.
Things snowballed from there, and now Davidson is running in the 2nd Congressional District Democratic primary in the hopes of taking on Republican incumbent Huizenga in November. He is one of a handful of doctors running for statewide or federal office this election cycle.
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In another west Michigan district, Dr. Matt Longjohn is hoping his background as a physician and former National Health Officer for the YMCA will carry him through a competitive Democratic primary in the 6th Congressional District, a seat currently held by incumbent Republican Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph.
And in the governor’s race, both the Republican and Democratic ticket include a candidate with a medical background.
Republican Jim Hines – who is running against Attorney General Bill Schuette, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and state Sen. Patrick Colbeck – is a obstetrician from Saginaw who has also helped run medical organizations.
Democrat Abdul El-Sayed took his medical degree to the public sector, running Detroit’s health department prior to becoming a gubernatorial candidate. He’s now running against former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer and businessman Shri Thanedar in the primary.
Hines says his background in the medical field gives him a unique perspective that would suit the governor’s office well.
Owning a practice has given him a good mind for business, he said, and he has extensive experience working with people at an individual level.
“I’ve worked with people at solving problems together and looking at the options of what we can do or should do for an issue, and then help a patient decide what’s best to do,” he said. “When you think about it, that’s what governors do – they uphold the law, but they cast a vision, they give some leadership.”
Hines said he believes the office of governor doesn’t require extensive political experience, but should be someone with varied experience “who is able to work with people, is able to read people and cast a vision and a mission.”
When it comes to health care policy, Hines supports free market health care, entailing competition among providers, patient choice and transparency in how much services and treatments would cost.
El-Sayed’s experience in medical school and the public health sector has informed many of his political positions during the governor’s race. During a recent Democratic debate, he used that experience as leverage: “I’m a doctor, and unlike the other two I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to talk face-to-face with people who cannot afford health care,” he said.
In a later question about his views on abortion, El-Sayed referenced an experience he had in medical school sitting with a young woman who was making a decision on whether or not she wanted to undergo an abortion.
“I learned then and there this is always a hard decision, but it’s always an individual decision,” he said.
El-Sayed’s health care platform includes a plan for a state single-payer health care system dubbed MichCare, which he says would lower health care costs for Michigan residents. He’s also expressed his desire to get corporate money out of the health care system.
When Longjohn – who is running against George Franklin, David Benac and Rich Eichholz – entered the 6th Congressional District Democratic primary race, he said he was doing so specifically to hold Upton “accountable” for supporting an amended version of the American Health Care Act, a plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“At that point it felt like a duty for me to get in,” Longjohn said at the time.
Longjohn ran community health programs as the national health officer of the YMCA prior to stepping down to focus on his run. He has said he’s helped educate lawmakers on health policy in more than a dozen states, and that his expertise could help Democrats and Republicans come to an effective solution to the country’s health care needs.
Longjohn’s health care policy platforms include an increased focus on local public health efforts, reducing drug prices, more resources for mental health and rural health care and a long-term strategy for expanding Medicare and Medicaid.
As he continues his campaign in the 2nd Congressional District, Davidson continues to work shifts at the hospital.
One video Davidson shared about his experience and his support for a single-payer health care system took off on Twitter, garnering more than 500,000 views. His other health care policy platforms include protecting people with pre-existing conditions, covering general health care, mental health and substance abuse treatment and lowering costs for prescriptions.
Davidson said going from full-time doctor to part-time candidate has been a big upheaval in his life, but said he appreciates being able to hear from people all over his district about their health care concerns and other issues.
“This has been a huge curveball – it’s totally disruptive to our normal life as we knew it,” Davidson said. “And yet it’s so fulfilling, win or lose…I feel really lucky.”