Dr. Kurt Schrader
Dr. Kurt Schrader of Canby, Ore., will be the only veterinarian in the U.S. House of Representatives when he takes office next year.
The Democrat won in Oregon's 5th District, and he will be serving his first term in Congress. The U.S. Senate also will have one veterinarian in the 111th Congress, Dr. John Ensign, who is in his second term.
"We are very excited to have another veterinarian serving in the U.S. Congress," said Dr. W. Ron DeHaven, AVMA chief executive officer. "We look forward to working with Congressman-elect Schrader and his colleagues in the 111th Congress on key federal issues such as food safety, bioterrorism, and animal health and well-being."
Dr. Schrader has been a member of the Oregon Senate since 2003, serving as co-chair of the Ways and Means Committee. He was a member of the Oregon House from 1997-2003.
The veterinarian continued practicing three mornings a week even during his congressional campaign. He owns Clackamas County Veterinary near Portland, which evolved from a mixed animal practice to a small animal practice as the area urbanized.
Dr. Schrader spoke with JAVMA News the day after the election.
Why did you run for Congress?
I ran for Congress because as a state legislator I saw what the federal government wasn't doing for the states. The federal government has been missing in action or largely irrelevant to the basic needs of the people of this country—and by that I mean education, health care, and public safety. We spend more money overseas taking care of other people's public safety. The health care issue is truly ignored. And to support education, we need the federal government to kick in its fair share.
How does your veterinary background come into play in public office?
I've found, in my state legislative experience, that my colleagues would defer generally to veterinarians on animal and food safety issues, regardless of party. You were held in high esteem because you had some special knowledge. I look forward to being a voice in the House of Representatives for veterinary medicine.
Being a small-business man is going to be equally important in Congress. The first thing we need to do is get our fiscal house in order, just like we do as veterinarians. We are passionate about animals and do everything we can for them, but we also realize we have to maintain a business and our clients can only afford so much.
Are you going to be looking at health insurance for small businesses?
One of the agendas that I really got behind in our state is health care reform. Oregon has a good health care system that's about as low-cost as anywhere in the nation and still provides quality medicine. However, we struggle like everyone else with affordability.
Small businesses are now under siege. It's tough to offer health care when it's a cost that goes up and you have no control over it. So I believe the time has come for a health care system for every American, but one that is based on cost containment. The solution is coming up with smart ideas to create a quality health care program that is not on the back of small business. Everyone should pay into this system.
How would you make veterinary colleges more affordable or help reduce student debt?
I've done that in Oregon for our undergraduate programs. In 2007, I sponsored a bill that basically guaranteed a debt-free community college experience and a four-year university experience with (an average of) $13,000 in debt to every Oregonian who is willing to work during the summer and part time during the school year. The next step is to bring the same sort of discussion to graduate school—whether it's veterinary medicine or other disciplines.
The veterinary manpower situation is critical in our country right now. Hopefully, we can build on the work I've done in Oregon to make sure we have the best and brightest home grown in this country. We should be doing loan forgiveness, low-interest loans, and scholarship programs that reward people for working. The loan forgiveness program especially should serve rural areas and the livestock industry.
How do you think the new administration and election of more Democrats to Congress will impact the profession?
Veterinarians, in my experience, are conservative by nature, and they're mostly small-business people. I think their overriding concerns are that this will be a lurch to the left, taxes will be raised, and there will be a lot of spending on programs that we can't afford. I don't see that future. Congressional leaders understand they're getting a majority by electing people like me—a fiscally conservative Democrat—and they're not going to keep the majority if they start doing things that don't appeal to swing legislators. A lot of us are small-business men, and I hope we'll be a solid voice that congressional leaders will listen to—not just to keep the majority but also to put our country back on track.