A political adversary of the then-mayor of Irving, Texas once counselled a visiting journalist from Dallas, “Don’t meet with [the Mayor]. She’s too charming.”
Well, the then-mayor of Irving is now Rep. Beth Van Duyne (pronounced: Van Dine), who will represent Texas’ 24th congressional district. It is a suburban district between Dallas and Fort Worth. Democrats had hoped to pick up the seat after the longtime Republican incumbent retired, but Van Duyne triumphed in a close race. She was the only Republican to win a race in a district that President Trump carried in 2016 but President-Elect Biden won in 2020.
Van Duyne is still charming, but her political foe might have another caution for the reporter. As a Texan might put it, “Don’t mess with charming Beth.”
Van Duyne’s struggle to meet her daughter’s requirements has made her sensitive to the medical needs of other families.
Here is what Beth Van Duyne did when an insurance company was refusing to cover the medical care for her daughter, Katie, who was born in 1999, with an eye condition that required numerous operations.
Van Duyne placed a call to the company’s CEO. “I had to threaten that if the CEO would not call me back to at least tell me to my face, why the operation wouldn’t be covered, that I would bring my daughter, who was about four months old, into his office and hang out there. At some point in time, he’s going to have to leave his office to either go to the bathroom or to go home.” The insurance company agreed to pay the medical expenses.
Van Duyne’s struggle to meet her daughter’s requirements has made her sensitive to the medical needs of other families. “I don’t think any parent should have to fight to make sure that an essential, critical surgery that needs to be performed on their child is covered,” Van Duyne told Fox News.
Among Van Duyne’s prescriptions: more “personalized” insurance plans. She says people need more options to fit their specific situation and the needs of their families, rather than being forced to buy coverage they do not want or need. She often cites how she, as a mother with two children in college, should not have to pay for coverage of a pregnancy as she is done having children.
When Van Duyne was on the City Council, neighborhood mothers told her, “You are a role model for our daughters. We love being able to say that Miss Beth does this, this, and this.”
“The Affordable Care Act was one of the biggest lies that has ever been promulgated in U.S. history,” she said in the same interview. “The fact that you’re going to be able to keep your doctor; it’s going to lower your health care costs; it’s going to increase your quality — those were all lies. That did not happen. In fact, it was quite the opposite.”
It was also Katie’s needs that triggered Van Duyne’s public career. She explains: “Whenever we went to the park, Katie would have to cover her eye because she’s really sensitive to sunlight. I went to our parks committee and I asked if we could get some shade in the park. And after asking a number of times, I eventually became the chairman of our parks committee and got the park built. Along the way, I encouraged a couple hundred of our neighbors to help build it. Once you get something like that done, then you’re asked to do other things. We had a zoning case, and I was asked to speak about it with one of our council representatives.” When the councilman refused to help, there was a move to persuade Van Duyne to run against him. Van Duyne says, “I had a two-year-old and a five-year-old at that time. I thought that was a pretty poor excuse for not giving people a chance to vote against him. So, I ran.”
Van Duyne served two three-year terms on the City Council. “I remember sitting down with my daughter after three years and she convinced me to run for the second term. She thought it was the coolest thing ever,” Van Duyne says. “And some of the moms around the neighborhood thought it was the coolest thing ever, too. They said to me, ‘You are a role model for our daughters. We love being able to say that Miss Beth does this, this, and this.”
The daughter of an Air Force family, Van Duyne was born in upstate New York. The family moved frequently because of her father’s career. “I never went to the same school for more than two years until college,” she recalls. When Beth was 15, the family moved to Texas, where it put down roots. Beth went to Greenhill School, a private school outside Dallas. At the age of 17, strong-willed Beth moved out to be on her own. How did she support herself? “Well, let me see,” she says. “I was a waitress at Olive Garden. I was a file clerk at a law firm downtown. I was a receptionist at Westway Ford. They were jobs I could get without a college degree or job experience.”
While mayor, Van Duyne delivered tremendous successes for the people of Irving, Texas.
During her childhood in upstate New York, Van Duyne had gone to summer camp at Cornell University and set her sights on that university. “There was nothing I didn’t love about Cornell,” she recalls. When she said she planned to be a lawyer, a Cornell administrator commented that that was great—it meant she would be able to pay off her college loans. Van Duyne graduated magna cum laude with a major that included city and regional planning, law, and government. She did not go to law school. She had met the man she would marry at Cornell, and he wanted to go to business school. Business school was two years, and law was three. The couple decided they could live on one salary for two years, and Beth was having doubts about being a lawyer anyway. He enrolled in SMU’s business school and Beth got a job in marketing and communications. (Van Duyne since divorced and is the mother of two, Katie, 21, and a son, 18.)
It took Van Duyne ten years to pay off her college loans. “Yeah, ten years,” she says, “and given the same circumstances, I’d do it again.” What does she think about college loan debt forgiveness? “Obviously, I’m against that. I think you do value what you pay for. Because I was paying for it, I took seriously every one of my classes and every one of my opportunities when I was in college. I took advantage of them. I had great relationships with my professors. I went to office hours. I excelled in school because I realized that there was a purpose for me to go, and it was costing me.”
She is critical of the way colleges spend money, however. “Part of the issue with the high cost of tuition: a lot of the money that goes into the increased cost has to do with capital improvements on campus. Now I don’t know about you, but when I went to college, I lived in a ratty, little one-bedroom apartment that I paid for. Dorms were not fancy. We didn’t have marble countertops. And colleges are spending a lot of money to compete based on what dorms and gyms are like. I think universities that have these huge endowments really need to start paying attention to the investment in their students. Instead of the federal government – and taxpayers basically—having to take the financial risk that students are going to be able to pay back their loans and have a successful career, the universities charging these outrageous tuitions should take the risk with loans. These institutions should be on the front line of offering loans to students, so that they actually have skin in the game and are invested in their students being successful.”
It took Van Duyne ten years to pay off her college loans. She is against college debt forgiveness.
As fate would have it, her first marketing job involved health care. “It was a start-up,” she says. “We were focused on the doctor-patient relationship and the idea that insurance companies were messing that up and charging exorbitant fees but not providing the kind of quality health care that people needed. Our whole focus was for physicians to be more engaged with patients. We were trying to create a multi-specialty group of physicians that was going to be able to directly contract with businesses, and avoid the insurance companies. It was the primary care model we talk about today.”
After serving six years on the City Council, Van Duyne turned her attention to the top local job: mayor. “There was this good ole boy system, and it’s not a stretch to say it was corrupt,” contends Van Duyne. “When I got off the City Council, there was a developer-focused project, an entertainment center, that was going to cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars, and we were giving up pretty much everything in order to build it. The investment from the city was supposed to be $40 million, and it went up to $250 million in one year. So, people begged me, begged me, to run.” It was a nasty race, but Van Duyne won. She was mayor of Irving from 2011 until 2017, when she was named regional director of the Trump Department of Housing and Urban Development.
While mayor, Van Duyne delivered tremendous successes for the people of Irving: a relentless business recruiter, Beth helped expand Irving’s job opportunities with over 40,000 new jobs and more than $3 billion of new or planned development for the city. And under her leadership, Irving was recognized as the 5th safest city in the nation as well as one of the best to find a new job.
With her combination of Texas charm and Texas tough, Beth Van Duyne is going to be a formidable addition to the 117th Congress.