The Democrat says that Republican efforts to overhaul the Affordable Care Act propelled her into politics.
Last spring, Issaquah pediatrician Kim Schrier joined three other Virginia Mason doctors for a meeting with an aide to U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn.
On their minds: a Republican health-care bill aimed at dismantling the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
At Reichert’s Issaquah district office, Schrier and her colleagues argued against the GOP plan, pointing to estimates it would chop health-care access for tens of thousands of people in the 8th Congressional District.
This is the second in a series of stories about the leading candidates for Congress in the 8th District.
Reichert’s staffer listened attentively and said she’d pass along their feedback to the congressman, according to Schrier and Mark Levy, another doctor at the meeting.
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Within a week or so, Reichert voted to pass the health-care overhaul out of the House Ways and Means Committee. He later voted against the final version, but only after it was clear Republicans had enough votes to pass it without him.
Her experience with Reichert led Schrier to do something she’d never dreamed of: run for Congress against a seven-term incumbent.
“I was ticked off. Frankly, if Congress was doing its job, I would not have to run for office. I would be back holding little babies. But times have changed,” Schrier told volunteers at her campaign headquarters in Issaquah this month.
Reichert later announced his retirement, making the 8th District into one of the top targeted seats for Democrats trying to flip control of the House.
Schrier, 49, is competing in the Aug. 7 “top two” primary, trying to get past rival Democrats Jason Rittereiser, an attorney, and Shannon Hader, a former top federal public-health official, to face presumptive Republican contender Dino Rossi in November.
Her supporters say her profile as a doctor and mom is a powerful one to stack up against Rossi, but critics argue Schrier comes across as too liberal for a congressional district that has never sent a Democrat to Congress.
Schrier grew up in Los Angeles and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in astrophysics. She earned a medical degree from the University of California Davis School of Medicine.
After a residency at Stanford, Schrier worked for a year as a pediatrician in Ashland, Oregon, before taking a job with Virginia Mason in Issaquah.
Like other Democrats in the race, Schrier, who lives with her husband and 9-year-old son in Sammamish, has never run for office before and says she wasn’t all that politically involved before 2016.
But like many women after President Donald Trump’s upset win, Schrier decided she had to do something.
When the GOP health-care bill emerged, she says she went home every day at lunch and called Reichert’s office to register her opposition. She participated in the Seattle women’s march, and upped her donations to the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood.
Schrier’s supporters say her outsider biography is ideal for the 2018 midterms, in which health care is likely a top issue and Democratic women, including many first-time candidates, are finding success.
“She has not been ambitious to be in politics. Neither was Patty Murray. I see them so much alike,” said Pamela Eakes, a longtime Democratic fundraiser for candidates including Hillary Clinton.
Eakes, who has advised Schrier, said voters in 2018 “don’t want the same old typical person who runs for office … they want someone who comes from a different genre.”
In addition to being a doctor and working at a Virginia Mason clinic for 17 years, Schrier was diagnosed as a teen with type 1 diabetes. She wore a portable insulin pump on a recent doorbelling foray, saying she’s seen firsthand the impact of rising drug prices. Insulin that used to cost $40 a bottle has jumped to $260.
“From the doctor’s side and from the patients’ side, I get it,” Schrier said.
Schrier has made health care a centerpiece of her campaign. If elected, she’d work to cut drug costs and stabilize Obamacare while moving gradually toward a “Medicare for all” system.
As a step toward that, she supports allowing every citizen to enroll in Medicare as a “public option” that would compete with private insurance plans on state health-care exchanges.
Schrier also has been critical of Trump’s immigration crackdown, which has included separation of families caught illegally crossing the border.
“This to me is reminiscent of the darkest periods in history … where scapegoating happens, where people of color are discriminated against and are made out to be somehow less than human,” she said.
Some Democratic political activists who support her rivals have argued Schrier may appeal more to Seattle Democrats and national consultants than voters in more conservative stretches of the 8th District, such as Ellensburg and Wenatchee.
Aaron Schuler, chair of the 47th Legislative District Democrats who have endorsed Hader, said outside of the Seattle and Eastside suburbs, Schrier is viewed as “too liberal” though he said the view was impressionistic and “hard to put a specific finger on.”
Schrier’s supporters dismiss those criticisms and point out she’s been living in the 8th District for nearly two decades while Hader and Rittereiser recently moved back to run for office.
With the backing of Democratic power brokers, Schrier has outpaced rival Democrats in fundraising and has led in primary polls.
“She is able to tell a really personal story that gets to why she is doing this. That kind of connection makes her incredibly viable,” said Lucinda Guinn, vice president of campaigns for EMILY’s List, the influential women’s political group that endorsed Schrier and has spent more than $200,000 on mailings to support her.
In a late twist in the race, Hader, the other doctor in the contest, has tried to portray Schrier as opposed to mandatory vaccinations.
Mailers from Hader’s campaign point to a March campaign forum in which Schrier held up a flash card indicating she disagreed with the government requiring mandatory vaccinations for children. After opponents criticized her, Schrier said she had misunderstood the question and has put out statements saying she is for requiring vaccinations and has administered 100,000 herself. Her campaign has called Hader’s fliers dishonest and desperate.
“It kind of drives me nuts because I am such a champion for vaccines,” Schrier said earlier this month. “They’re making me out to be a quack or something.”