Four Republicans and five Democrats are vying for the U.S. District 31 seat, held since 2003 by Republican John Carter, who also is a candidate.

Carter’s challengers in the Republican primary are Abhiram Garapati, owner of Ant Savings, an Austin-based investment firm; Christopher Wall, a patrol sergeant for the city of Elgin; and Mike Williams, a retired member of the Austin Fire Department.

The Democratic primary race is also getting heated, with five candidates hoping to win their party’s spot on the ballot. The challengers on the Democrat side are Eric Hanke, a retirement counselor and singer/songwriter; Donna Imam, a computer engineer; Dan Janjigian, an Austin-based sales and management consultant; Christine Mann, a family practice physician in Cedar Park; and Tammy Young, a member of Round Rock’s city council.

U.S. District 31 includes Killeen. Harker Heights, Nolanville and Temple and goes as far south as Round Rock.

Texas’ congressional seats come up for reelection every two years. In the 2018 primary elections, incumbent Carter beat his sole opponent, Mike Sweeney, with 65.5% of the vote. In the Democratic primary, candidate M.J. Hegar took the top spot with 44.9% of the vote, while current candidate Mann came in second. With Hegar running for U.S. Senate this year against Republican incumbent John Cornyn, Mann is the only challenger on the ballot who ran in 2018.

All of the candidates from both parties were contacted and asked a series of questions. The candidates were given 100-word limits on their each response, and trims were made if responses ran over 100 words.

Republican candidate Christopher Wall did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

What are your top three issues and why?

Republicans

Carter (R) (i): Congressional District 31 is home to the largest armored military installation in the free world, and the largest population of veterans of any Texas district. Taking care of our military and their families, and our veterans, are my top two priorities. As the Republican leader on the Military Construction and Veterans funding committee, I’m in a position to deliver results on both fronts. Additionally, I’m committed to ensuring the safety and security of my constituents. That means financial security, safe schools and communities, and a focus on supporting our local law enforcement officers so they can do their jobs effectively.

Garapati (R): I will work on accomplishing the following 5 audacious goals by 2050 to “Make America Win” for our future generations:

Paying off the national debt and balancing the budget

Infrastructure projects like the Hyperloop and Subway train systems

Zero Landfill waste

Safest country in the world

Healthiest country in the world

Wall (R):

Williams (R): 

1. Constitutional principles; I’m very concerned with the progression from safe, rare and legal to states introducing infanticide elements into the abortion issue. I believe heartbeat legislation is a solution most Americans will agree is a reasonable measure to address the issue. Constitutional measures to add boundaries to the Legislative Branch. Judicial Branch consequences for extraconstitutional legislating from the bench. Statehood requirements effecting electoral disenfranchisement of voters in most populous states.

2. Enhancing Civil Liberties/Rights and Parental Rights protections. Attacks on these fundamental rights must be stopped.

3. Border security and merit-based immigration. Finish the Wall — Fix the Law.

2. Enhancing Civil Liberties/Rights and Parental Rights protections. Attacks on these fundamental rights must be stopped.

3. Border security and merit-based immigration. Finish the Wall — Fix the Law.

Democrats

Hanke (D): 

I believe allowing anyone to buy into Medicare for healthcare coverage is the surest path to universal coverage. I also believe Congress must do more to address rising prescription drug prices, including allowing Medicare to negotiate rates and updating our patent laws.

Soon more money will be drawn from Social Security than is being put in. The cap on income that is taxed for Social Security should be removed; there is no reason someone who makes $134 million should be paying the same into Social Security as someone who makes $134,000.

Economic opportunity is tied to so many issues.

Imam (D): When I talk to voters in our district, the single biggest concern for all voters is economic insecurity driven by the skyrocketing cost of living, healthcare, childcare, and education. Many residents of Bell County are forced to commute to Austin for a decent paying job but can’t afford to live there.

I’m proposing solutions that lower the cost of healthcare and prescription drugs with Medicare for All. As an engineer, I realize that we need to bring high-wage tech jobs to Bell County and debt-free education for those who serve in rural and underserved areas of our district.

Janjigian (D):My top 3 issues center around Health Care, Climate Change, and Immigration. For the last 15 years, I’ve been working directly on the health care side, watching as some of my clients have lost their homes, or had to declare bankruptcy due to health care issues. The truly frustrating part is that in most cases, they had the coverage that any of us would have thought should cover them. Climate change is arguably the most important thing we should be discussing, because if the planet isn’t livable, then all other items are non-issues. We need to make drastic changes today to stop further permanent damage from happening. Immigrants should be treated with respect. There should be a lawful path to entry available to everyone, but especially those that have no where else to go.

Mann (D): Ensure healthcare is accessible to all — universal coverage birth to death so patients never go without necessary care. Fight for equality and opportunity for all Texans, veterans, women, immigrants, LGBTQ+, all disenfranchised in our broken systems. We need a representative who will focus on people; I recently toured Ft. Hood, and soldiers described challenges of dilapidated infrastructure, fixing the VA, and need for help transitioning to civilian life. Lastly, defending our democracy by securing our elections, ending corruption, working alongside community leaders for criminal justice reform, and protecting our environment, so we have a future with this country and planet.

Young (D): People across the district have shared their deep concerns about health care, good paying jobs, and keeping our communities safe. Everyone must have access to quality health care they can afford. Texas should lead the economy in clean energy job creation. We must pass bipartisan, broadly supported regulations to keep weapons out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them so our children and neighbors are safe again. I will address these issues immediately as your Congresswoman and always put our needs as Central Texans above any Washington special interests.

What sets you apart from the other candidates?

Republicans

Carter (R) (i): Central Texans have trusted me to keep our community safe and secure first as a District Judge and now as their Representative. I have a proven track record of fighting for the 92,000 veterans that live in TX-31, providing much needed resources to Ft. Hood, and advocating on behalf of thousands of families that call Central Texas home. As an experienced leader on the committees that are important to this region, I’m able to deliver tangible results for Central Texans.

Garapati (R): Coming to a new country on a one way flight ticket, escaping utter poverty in Socialist India and worked hard for 20 years to successfully build Ant Savings into a $20 million dollar business and then running for congress can only happen in the USA and it is called the American Dream. Based on my background and experience, 31st district will get the hardest working congressman who wants to dream big and set some big goals for our nation and accomplish them to “Make America Win” for our future generations.

Wall (R):

Williams (R): I have written down in very specific terms the objectives I hope to accomplish. Issues not listed (maintaining a strong Defense — Veterans affairs — Economy) are issues already heading in a direction I support; those issues listed are the items not being satisfactorily addressed that I believe need to be.

Democrats

Hanke (D): 

To win in TX-31, we need to inspire Democrats while also building a bridge that welcomes independents and moderate Republicans who are disgusted with what is happening in DC into our coalition.

I believe that my life story as the son of immigrants who came to America after WWII and were able to pursue the American dream through the support of their union (UAW Local 383), my unique ability to communicate as a singer-songwriter that has been telling people’s stories for over twenty years, and my work in public service counseling the county & district employees give me the history and credibility to connect most broadly with voters.

Imam (D): As an engineer, I designed smart meters. I’ve led large product lines from business-class notebooks used by tens of millions worldwide to microcontrollers found in virtually everything from washing machines to jets. In addition to my non-profit work, I founded my tech consulting firm.

Lowering the cost of healthcare is an engineering scaling problem. Using tech to lower the cost of education is a business problem. Bringing quality talent to rural and underserved communities in our district is an incentivizing problem. Creating high-paying jobs in all parts of the district is an entrepreneurship problem. I’ve successfully implemented all these solutions.

Janjigian (D):We’ve been waiting nearly 2 decades just to get the current congressman out of this seat, and we’re seeing the same players go through the same process to try and remove him. What’s the definition of insanity? My background is getting past the finish line. Whether it’s been in business, my Olympic career, or whatever goal, we’ve pushed through to get results. If we don’t put the right candidate forward in this race, we’ll simply be doing the same thing we’ve done cycle after cycle, and expect a different result, and it’s time to break that pattern.

Mann (D): As a family practice doctor, all my patients have in common the daily struggle of trying to make it. Empowering people for progress and ending the lack of access is the driving force for why I am running; so everyone has access to quality healthcare, lower prescription drug costs, and livable wages. In school and residency I was a single working mom, the challenges our working families are going through with low minimum wage, no affordable childcare option, and costly medical services are the same and we need someone who will listen/fix these problems, unlike our current representative. I have decades of grassroots work in public policy across the community and am ready to be more effective in Washington.

Young (D): I know the stakes we’re facing. Lowering health care costs, addressing gun violence, and the importance of good paying jobs aren’t talking points for me — these are struggles I’ve lived. There are enough members of Congress advocating for the wealthy and well connected. In Congress, I’ll always put the needs of Central Texas first. There are certainly more than enough members of Congress focusing on partisan fights instead of getting things done. I want to change that. In Congress, I will bring my local, bipartisan experience and my lived experience to find solutions that will finally make a difference in the lives of Texans.

Many veterans of Middle East deployments are becoming ill due to what is believed to be exposure to toxic smoke from the military’s open burn pits. What is your plan to ensure these veterans receive the necessary care through the Department of Veterans Affairs and are able to claim the illnesses as service-connected disabilities?

Republicans

Carter (R) (i): As a member of the Veterans funding committee, I’ve secured over $15 million for the Airborne Hazards and Burn Pits Center of Excellence to continue the VA’s research into burn pits related illnesses, and that is just the beginning. I’ve been very engaged with VA leadership about the veterans who are suffering from illnesses caused by burn pits exposure. These efforts will continue be a priority for my work this year on the committee. I’m dedicated to ensuring veterans receive the very best healthcare from the VA for their service connected illnesses.

Garapati (R): First I will ban any and all open burn pits to get rid of waste. If any veterans claim any illnesses due to exposure to these open burn pits, I will make sure that our veterans get the necessary care and support from the VA and pass any legislation that is needed on a priority basis. This is exactly the leadership that I will provide in Congress towards accomplishing one of my audacious goals I set for our nation - Zero landfill waste by 2050 which will eliminate this problem.

Wall (R):

Williams (R): This issue has come up in the past with Viet Nam vets (Agent Orange exposure) and by Firefighters claims of job-related exposures to hazardous substances. These service-related exposures resulting in chronic health issues must be addressed and managed with emphasis on affording discretion to service members claims as being legitimate and treatment for chronic health issues being provided.

Democrats

Hanke (D): First and foremost, we need to do all we can to call attention to this issue. On February 15th, our campaign will be hosting a Town Hall at Killeen Community Center with Gold Star Wives whose spouses were made sick by burn pit exposure. In Congress, I hope to be in a position on the Veteran Affairs Committee to compel the VA and DoD to recognize the connection between veterans who are impacted by sudden illness and their service and dedicate appropriate resources to take care of these service members and their families.

Imam (D): Today, many Veterans are forced to take a whole day off work to see a doctor in a VA clinic often quite far from where they live, only to be turned away. My Healthcare for All plan would guarantee coverage for Veterans at any clinic or hospital and improve the quality of care with more doctors and nurses to cover everyone. We need to stop denying Veterans earned benefits and start providing counseling services that include their family members.

Janjigian (D):My views on health care are well documented, and the plan that we’d like to pursue would absolutely insure that veterans and all citizens would have the care necessary throughout the remainder of their lives. Additionally, in cases of disability with our service members, programs need to be in place that allow them to be taken care of, and in respect to the service that they gave in protection of their country.

Mann (D): Currently the U.S. VA website doesn’t discuss long term effects of chemical fumes, medical/human waste, metal, munitions, etc. yet, we know exposure to burn pit toxins is a very real health hazard. It’s our duty to do everything within our power to protect those who served. We need the voluntary registry expanded to continuous mandated screenings in order to catch early signs of sickness, earmark funding for alternative disposal methods (incinerators, etc.), and immediately end use of open-air burn pits. I’ll work with veteran coalitions for legislation that ensures deaths are categorized accordingly and families receive due benefits.

Young (D): Our men and women in uniform put it all on the line for our country to keep us safe. After bravely serving their country, the last thing our veterans need is bureaucracy standing between them and the health care they’ve earned. We need to support claims of presumption and expand the definitions of exposure where appropriate. Additional studies are needed to determine the potential impact for those exposed to the fumes from burning metal and other toxic materials. In Congress, I will always stand up for the health and well-being of our soldiers and their families.

Are you concerned about the national deficit? What congressional action would you support to address the issue?

Republicans

Carter (R) (i): The national deficit is a serious concern. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I have two responsibilities: fund the government and do so wisely. I never forget that the funding I appropriate comes from Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars. That is why I focus my efforts on ending duplicative and wasteful programs, increasing oversight to fight bureaucratic waste, fraud and abuse, and cutting spending. For example, this year, Republicans cut $1 billion in wasteful Housing and Urban Development spending. I support a balanced budget and reforms to spending so that our grandchildren aren’t saddled with the debt from today’s spending when they’re adults.

Garapati (R): My first and foremost audacious goal is balancing the budget and paying off our national debt by 2050. As a nation, we all need to save money and be thrifty. I live within my means and you do too and all my 31st district constituents live within their means. Why does the same principle not apply to the federal government. I am passionate about selling off some federal assets to raise money to pay down debt. Congress will give me a platform to raise awareness on saving and paying down both our national and household debts.

Wall (R):

Williams (R): Yes. The term limit initiative is an indirect action that could affect deficit spending. Direct action such as moving away from omnibus spending practices would have a significant impact on deficit spending, but it circles back to how to get responsible people in place who control the checkbook.

Democrats

Hanke (D): I am. I believe Congress has been extraordinarily irresponsible over the last few years in matching historic expansions in defense spending that our military is saying it doesn’t need with historic tax cuts for the wealthiest among us. In Congress, I will fight to ensure that wealthy Americans are taxed fairly so that American can address it’s growing debt obligation while also maintaining needed investments in communities and the social safety net.

Imam (D); People who work for a living create all of America’s wealth and pay all the taxes. Our government is wasting our money by giving subsidies to corporations that then turn around and offshore jobs and stash profits in tax havens.

We need to be able to negotiate drug prices under Medicare, use technology to reduce government waste, end contracts with private prisons, and stop funding endless wars.

Janjigian (D):The national deficit is an enormous issue that starts with balancing our annual budgets. The idea that you can continue to cut taxes for corporations and the wealthiest in the country (and let’s be clear, this segment controls 95% of all the money), and that you’re going to be able to balance a national budget is ludicrous. Earmarks, private contracts, and other inefficiencies have created a groundswell of corruption in how finances are handled. The first congressional action that would need to be taken to move things into a manageable direction would be updating the newly passed tax code, to tax corporations such as Amazon and Apple, who effectively pay little to no tax at all. These same rules need to apply to the wealthiest Americans, who can hide the greatest amounts of their income in expenses.

Mann (D): Yes, recently the CBO projected the national deficit will hit highest levels since WWII. Instead of putting money into maintaining debt, investing in our infrastructure is necessary. The combination of corporate and 1% tax cuts has left the middle class with the burden for offsetting this, and that’s simply unfair to working families already struggling with multiple jobs. Universal coverage would also economically benefit us as operation cost would significantly decrease with increased coverage for all. Among other benefits, people will be able to put money into our communities with estimated creation of almost 5000 jobs in Bell County alone.

Young (D): On the City Council, I work across party lines to balance our budget and maintain one of the highest bond ratings in the state while making long-term investments in our infrastructure and workforce training. That’s the kind of fiscal discipline and smart investments I will bring with me to Congress. I would roll back tax cuts for those at the very top, keeping tax relief for middle class families and small businesses that need it. Additionally, I support cracking down on companies that use offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. taxes. Every American who works for a living pays their fair share in taxes, and U.S. companies should do the same.

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