Howey Politics Indiana - "HPI Interview: Dr. Woody Myers"


Location: Indianapolis, IN

Howey Politics Indiana - "HPI Interview: Dr. Woody Myers"

HPI's Brian A. Howey sat down with Dr. Woodrow Myers at his 30 S. Meridian St., campaign headquarters to talk about his 7th CD campaign on Tuesday:

HPI: Have you ever read Kevin Phillips' book "American Dynasty"?

Myers: No, I haven't.

HPI: It's fascinating and here in Indiana Democratic politics, we also have a dynastic tradition. How is it running against the Carson dynasty?

Myers: My original plan was to wait until the term she would have occupied in ‘09 was over and then I'd have a year or more to prepare and I could have leisurely breakfasts and lunches with all the major folks in the district and do it the more traditional, old-fashioned way. That didn't happen, unfortunately. The good Lord had other plans for Mrs. Carson and that changed the schedule.

HPI: So here we have the grandson. What's it been like running against the Carson dynasty?

Myers: I don't consider myself running against the Carson dynasty. If you look at the record, I was one of Mrs. Carson's most active supporters. I dare you to find someone who was more actively financially involved. My son worked for her on the campaign. I believed in her and worked with her, so I don't consider myself running against any kind of dynasty at all. I have a great deal of respect for all the candidates I know.

HPI: You haven't met Hippie Joe Stockett?

Myers: I couldn't pick him out of the crowd.

HPI: Probably the one with long hair?

Myers: But for the people I know, the voters are going to have some choices this time. They're going to have to do their homework, listen to us and make a decision. They've got some good choices. Andre Carson now has the incumbency breaks, so that makes it a more difficult challenge. It is a spirited contest.

HPI: Carson's TV ad says "I'm already in Congress."

Myers: (laughs).

HPI: Do you sense the same weight of incumbency with Andre Carson that you would with Julia?

Myers: I get the sense that voters are pretty smart. They know that Andre is a different person than Mrs. Carson. The voters are going to have to make a decision based on what they see of him and what they see of the other competitors and what they see of me. Our goal is going to be to use the next 30 days to show that I'm the most experienced choice; that I've got the talent, enthusiasm and energy to get the job done better for them than anybody else. But ultimately they get to decide. I'm basically applying for a job.

HPI: I hear the word experience and, of course, we're seeing that with Hillary Clinton, and yet I hear you say "change" and I hear that from Barack Obama. You're talking about experience and yet you're an agent of change.

Myers: Well, you've nailed our brochure. Thank you, Brian Howey, for making it work.

HPI: You're trying to get the best of both worlds.

Myers: I think I am the best of both records. I have lived my career at the junction of medicine, business and politics. Everything I have done has involved those three aspects of what we do in American life. I have been a public servant at the city level, state level and federal level. I have worked at the second largest manfuacturing company in the world, Ford Motor Co., and I've worked for the largest health care company in the United States, Wellpoint, and I've taken care of patients at Wishard Hospital. If you spend any time at the Wishard Hospital emergency room, that is the place where all the problems of Marion County converge. You've got child abuse, you've got neglect, you've got homelessness, alchoholism, you've got drug abuse, gun violence, everything that is wrong with society ends up ultimately in the Wishard ER. I've had the opportunity to see what affects the people whose lives are not going in the right direction in this county. I have insight into those experiences and I want to do something about them,

HPI: When you were Indiana health commissioner you actually would work shifts at Wishard ER.

Myers: I did.

HPI: Tell me how you did that.

Myers: The good news is the director of ER allowed me to do that Friday and Saturday nights. The other good news was I did it for free. They didn't have to pay me; they covered my malpractice insurance. I got the opportunity to see what was going on in the community, to continue to practice medicine, to teach. I got a good chance to work with medical students, interns and residents. For me it was a lot of fun and it gave me a lot of things to communicate with them about what I did and what they are going to do with their careers. I know that experience benefitted me. I hope it benefitted my patients. I fact, one of the most interesting things that has happened to me on the campaign so far is that people I took care of at Wishard have come up to me and said, "You don't remember me, but you took care of my Mom in ER." That was just another experience that led me to the conclusion that this was another experience and this was the next best way to use my talents.

HPI: You were Indiana health commissioner when the AIDS crisis began, through Ryan White. You worked at Ford, Wellpoint. How would these experiences make you a good congressman?

Myers: I've seen every aspect of health care, and health care is really a metaphor for everything else in society. I've seen it as a physician, certainly with some of the problems that have occurred in my family. I'm a guardian of my 96-year-old aunt. I've seen health care from the point of view of businesses who are trying to create products, from the point of view of insurance companies trying to help employers, from companies who are trying to make new and better products. My own company, Myers Ventures, has me on the board of five different health care companies, four of which are now public. And in those companies, they all have innovative products that are going to improve what we're able to do today for patients. I've seen health care from every vantage point there is. What I've learned from that is the people who have the best health care plans, who have the best experiences in the health care system, are the people with the best jobs. The people with the best jobs are the people who have the best education. We in Indianapolis and Central Indiana have problems in all three areas. The good news is we have a fairly good public health infrastructure with Wishard, Methodist and St. Vincent's. What we don't have are good places to go to get care on an urgent basis. Wishard is so full on many days it takes 30 days to get an appointment for an out-patient visit. That's one of the few places you can go if you don't have insurance. We've got to make improvements. With respect to jobs, we clearly need to do more to bring jobs to Central Indianapolis. I think we're doing a fairly good job in Boone County, in Hendricks County. Some of the people who will work in those plants will come from the 7th Congressional District. We've got to do a better job inside Indianapolis as well. We've got to prioritize the vacant factories. Those are the kind of jobs that are going to offer health care plans so people can get the prevention and care they need. Finally, for people to take advantage of those jobs, we've got to do a much better job of education. Indianapolis is second worst in the nation in high school dropouts. C'mon! That's unforgiveable. I don't blame Gene White. He's been a breath of fresh air to IPS. He's got to get help. He's been given a $20 million budget deficit to fight. We are spending $5,000 a second in Iraq. If my math is correct, what we spend in an hour in Iraq would wipe away Gene's $20 million headache. We ought to be bringing those dollars home.

HPI: The dropout rate is a real black eye for the city. Should 16-year-old kids just be able to drop out? Shouldn't they be required to go into, say, military prep or Americorps or something? When they drop out, it gives them a free pass to destruction.

Myers: Of course not. The problem is we've got 16-year-olds making very bad decisions. You haven't got parents steering them into a different direction. How can we expect a 16-year-old to have any understanding of what the consquences are? We have to make it enticing for them to stay in school. We've got to make it difficult to leave school. We need to empower people like Gene (White), not burden them.

HPI: What's your take on universal health care in Massachusetts?

Myers: I think they have terrific goals. But I'm a believer that we have to work at the federal level. We can't depend on 50 states to figure out their own way. We have to recreate our system in the mode of universal access for everyone. What that means is we have to make this wonderful system available to all our citizens. When I was chief medical officer at Ford Motor Company, Ford had plants in 38 counties. I visited 20 of them. I would visit hospitals where the average Ford worker went. I would also visit the hospital where the executives would go. I got to compare health care systems in about 20 counties with the one I know so well here. My conclusion is I would not trade our system for any system, anywhere else in the world, including Canada, England, including Singapore. Even with our problems, we have the best system in the world. The question is, how do we make it better? How can we give everybody access to it and get rid of the waste and inefficiency. The only people in my family that have electronic medical records were Cola our dog and Frisky our cat. The veterinarians have an electronic system in place. Any vet taking care of any pet can get the record immediately. Why can't we do that with people? That's the kind of problem I want to solve. We have to have leadership. We have to have one standard. We have to make Medicare and Medicaid lead the way. The Department of Defense and VA have done some very innovative things with health care. We need to have that exported out of government to the private sector. Those ate the kinds of things I know about, care about and want to do.

HPI: Massachusetts now has 380,000 people, a little over half, in the system and it's swamped. Do we even have the personnel resources?

Myers: No, we do not have the capacity. My profession made a mistake over the last couple of decades. We under-produced the staff needed to take care of the Baby Boom generation. There is going to be a doctor shortage and a nurse shortage even, if we went all out now. We need to increase substantially the number of doctors, nurses and pharmacists we are training in the United States so we can take care of our own people. We are importing some of the best minds from other counties … that need them there. We used to have the Doctor's Manpower Bureau, but that got killed three or four presidents ago.

HPI: How do you win the primary?

Myers: One vote at a time.

HPI: The buzz in political circles is you have no natural constituency, unlike Reps. Mays or Orentlicher or Andre Carson.

Myers: I do as many interviews as people let me do, go to as many kaffee klatches, neighborhood meetings, community forums, meet & greets. I also use the resources available to me to go on TV and radio.

HPI: How much are you going to spend? I've heard $1 million (the Indianapolis Star on Wednesday put the figure at $800,000).

Myers: I don't know. We'll put in whatever it takes to be effective.

HPI: What impact is the Clinton-Obama race having on the 7th?

Myers: The good news is there's a lot of excitement. The bad news is there's a lot of excitement about that race. They are bringing out new voters. They are creating a lot of buzz in Indiana and that's going to increase the turnout. But it crowds available space to get your own message out. I have to be even more aggressive to make sure our voices are being heard.

HPI: Are you seeing new voters?

Myers: One of the most fun experience I've had campaigning was finding a long line on Washington Street of people waiting for the free Dave Matthews tickets for Obama at IU. I worked that line from beginning to end. Those are the voters I need to get. They are coming into the process with an open mind. If I have to depend on the voters who have voted in the district for the last 50 years I probably wouldn't be successful.