By Robert Blood
[Editor’s note: The following interview was culled from conversations between the reporter and Dr. David Brill, Democratic candidate for Arizona Congressional District 4. Find out more about his campaign at BrillForCongress.Com.]
How did you end up in Prescott?
My family came as caregivers for my mother-in-law. She was a social worker at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. She was a strong woman and, after her husband died, she decided to move to Prescott so she wouldn’t constantly be babysitting grandchildren. Fast-forward 20 years and each of the six kids is flying out for a week or two every year to take care of mom because her health is failing. At the time I was working at the VA in New York, so I was pretty much free to move around the country in the VA system. The roots came up from the ground for all three of my kids and my wife, so it was kind of miraculous. I took a position in Telehealth for the Hopi and Navajo Nations from the Prescott VA. We came out in 2010. For two years I built up that telemedicine program and, finally, for all of the Southwest from Arizona to western Texas.
Did your perception of Prescott match what you experienced when you first moved here?
Before I came, I got rid of all my gardening tools and tree-pruning equipment – but we ended up getting a property where we could garden and have some trees. My mother-in-law picked an absolutely wonderful part of the world to live in. The hiking and mountain biking out here are outrageously good. When we came out here, I’d either walk to the VA — it’s about a two-mile walk — or ride my bike. You know, the VA actually subsidizes commuting via bike.
What about perceptions of Prescott culture?
I had no idea what social or political life was like here. It’s substantially more conservative than the area of upstate New York I was in, but I had experience working with a lot of different people up there, including several chambers of commerce and angel funding networks for small businesses. We helped revitalize local small towns. One of our investors and advisors said, “David, paint goes a long way if you want to turn around a town.”
Prescott’s part of Arizona District 4, which covers a fairly large area. How do you situate it within the district?
This district has almost the entire border with California along the Colorado River Basin, then it comes down through Yavapai County and Wickenburg and Buckeye so that we have the western, northern and eastern suburbs of Phoenix. Geographically the district is almost a quarter of Arizona, and bigger than the state of South Carolina. It covers parts of seven counties — just under half of Arizona’s counties. It’s an incredibly rural district with almost no urban areas. The Quad Cities are both the geographic center and largest population center in the district.
How do Prescott politics play out on the national stage and vice versa?
We’ve had a representative in Congress for eight years who ideologically wants to shrink the federal government. He has been starving the district and hasn’t been paying attention to the needs of the cities, community colleges, and counties, who’ve all seen their revenues dry up over the past decade. Without funding increases to offset the drops in state assistance, what I’ve found around the district is many city council members who are frustrated with the lack of support from the federal government. Community colleges have been hit especially hard. Yavapai College used to get almost 20 percent of its funding from the state; now it’s near 1 percent and moving down. So, I think we need to invest nationally in our students to give them access to affordable education. I support two years of free community college for those who qualify, and free retraining for people who lose their jobs to automation. That way, we can have a 21st-century work force and still keep people where they are instead of forcing them to move to the cities for jobs.
What do you see as the big issues for Arizona District 4?
Immigration is a hot issue. No one supports an open border. That said, we can find practical solutions. With more short-term visas and immigration reform we can help stabilize the border. Just the city of Yuma needs more than half the short-term agricultural work visas that the federal government issues for the entire country. We need more commuter visas so people can come across the border to work during the day in the fields and go home at night. We need more seasonal or renewable annual visas so people can come across legally and go back with the money they made in the U.S. and buy homes in Mexico. No American or legal resident should ever lose access to a job to a foreign national. So they obviously have first choice of jobs. However, I’d point out, if you’re working here (on a visa), you’re paying into Medicare and Social Security, but you’re never going to collect it. These people are actually subsidizing the system for the rest of us.
Speaking of Social Security and Medicare, those are other big issues here. In December of 2017 the governing party gave well over $1 trillion in tax cuts to the wealthy. They say they’re coming after Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security next, because we supposedly can’t afford it. But more than four-fifths of the tax cut went to the top one percent. I would repeal the tax cuts for the top one percent and make them permanent for low- and middle-income earners. We could use those funds to stabilize the system and maintain services for vulnerable retirees.
There’s also plenty we can cut in health-insurance waste. The first thing to do would be take the handcuffs off Medicare and allow it to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies. We could deregulate to allow us to import safe and effective medications from Canada for half the price we pay here, and I would claw back billions that we overpaid the opioid industry. As a doctor I’m motivated to do these things because at the VA, as managers, we had to count the millions of dollars we sent to pharmaceutical companies with rip-off prices and then had to cut from veteran’s services. Our current congressman has been in office for eight years and hasn’t lifted a finger to reduce pharmaceutical prices — and he’s a former healthcare provider.
How has campaigning in Prescott changed your thoughts on the area?
The thing that’s been most stunning has been making the shift from talking to patients and staff about what’s important to them in their lives to talking to people and working with families and retirees across the district. I find it extremely gratifying and enriching. My views on the Second Amendment and immigration have definitely been influenced. I’ve had some wonderfully intense, heated and lively discussions, as you can imagine, talking to people from Yuma to Kingman to Payson. Talking to a border agent in Yuma drastically changed my thinking on immigration. Talking to a small businessman in Yuma, a libertarian — he gave me some strong pointers on government. Really, though, a lot of it is folks in retirement homes. They’ve taught me about the insecurity of living with rising costs on a fixed income. I’m listening, and I’m influenceable. It’s been a really enriching process. My wife and I have a lot more friends than when we started this campaign.
And, finally, what’s your favorite hike in Prescott?
Of the established marked trails, I like the Ranch Trail — No. 62! I go off the trail for a bit, but it’s got great vista views.
Find out more about Dr. David Brill’s campaign at BrillForCongress.Com.
Robert Blood is a Mayer-ish-based freelance writer and ne’er-do-well who’s working on his last book, which, incidentally, will be his first. Contact him at BloodyBobby5@Gmail.Com.