Q&A: Congressman Ted Yoho's veterinary past influences his politics
Florida representative talks about working across the aisle and working his way through veterinary school
Interview by Kaitlyn Mattson
Posted July 24, 2019
Rep. Ted Yoho (Florida '83), a Republican, was first elected in 2012 to Florida's 3rd Congressional District, which encompasses Gainesville, Palatka, and other parts of northern Florida. Prior to his career in politics, he owned and operated several large animal veterinary practices for over 30 years.
Dr. Yoho has introduced or co-sponsored legislation such as the American Grown Act (HR 3019), Transporting Livestock Across America Safely Act (HR 487), and Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act (HR 788). He has used his office to promote and educate the public about the veterinary profession by founding and co-chairing the Veterinary Medicine Caucus with Democratic Congressman Kurt Schrader of Oregon's 5th Congressional District (see story).
Dr. Yoho is also a member of the Republican Study Committee, the House Freedom Caucus, the Congressional Caucus for Effective Foreign Assistance, and the Ports, Opportunity, Renewal, Trade, and Security Caucus. He currently serves on the House Agriculture Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Dr. Yoho won reelection this past year for his fourth term.
JAVMA News caught up with Dr. Yoho to discuss legislation he's involved with, including the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act (HR 2746), and how his career as a veterinarian influences his current work in the House of Representatives. The following responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Q. How did you decide to get into politics?
A. I was at an age that I started paying attention, and I didn't like what was going on in Washington, D.C. Politicians talked about fixing things year after year, and very few things got fixed. We wanted resolution, and we wanted to start fixing things, so we ran on that and got elected on that.
Q. How did your career as a veterinarian prepare you to be a U.S. representative?
A. It prepared me very well for it. As a veterinarian, we are tasked with looking at a sick animal, assessing it, doing subjective and objective testing, coming up with a diagnosis, figuring out a treatment plan, then working the treatment plan, and reassessing the results of that.
That's kind of what we see up here. There are a lot of problems for our nation, but so often, they look at giving a brain tumor an aspirin, hoping it will go away without treating the underlying cause.
A good example is people on nutritional programs—food stamps. They think throwing more money at that will solve the problem versus getting to the underlying cause of why so many people are on nutritional support and that it comes down to education and better-paying jobs.
Q. What legislation are you working on now?
A. On the animal front, we are working on the following:
The Prevent All Soring Tactics Act (HR 693), which prevents soring in horses. That has a lot of momentum behind it, and we look forward to that passing this year.
The Horseracing Integrity Act (HR 1754). I am working with Rep. Andy Barr and Rep. Paul Tonko on that. It is a timely bill in light of what happened in Santa Anita.
The Fairness to Pet Owners Act (HR 1607), which we don't want to pass, so we are running opposition to that.
There are a whole bunch of things on the agricultural side, too. It was our office that had the initiative to get the foot-and-mouth disease vaccine bank into the last farm bill. We are also working in a bipartisan way on the guest-worker program.
[Dr. Yoho examining a miniature horse]
Dr. Ted Yoho is the congressman for Florida's 3rd Congressional District; he has held that office for six years. (Courtesy of Kat Cammack)
Q. What issues do you see veterinarians facing now, such as the shortage in certain sectors or student debt?
A. I think the biggest thing is the shortage.
The debt is a significant stumbling block or challenge, but it is something that is doable. When I went to school, I had some debt, and I had to pay it off. The next generation did, too. I know that school is more expensive, but when we borrowed money in the old days, it went to tuition and books. I didn't intend to live off it. I worked when I went through veterinary school as much as I could on the weekends and during summer break. As much as I could, I worked, and I think that is a component some people have taken out of their educational process. I worked with a veterinarian whom I ended up going to work for when I graduated, and that prepared me to go right into practice as much as the book learning. The practical learning was just as valuable, plus it paid me while I was doing it.
Q. What are your thoughts on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act? Do you support things such as reinstating the Stafford Loan subsidy, lowering interest rates, eliminating subsidies, and removing restrictions on refinancing?
A. I think something has to be done on that. I support some of those. I heard the other day that somebody wanted to take all the interest payments away, and I think that is a mistake. I think there is a better way that we can do the interest payments. When I talk to students wanting to go to a professional school, I remind them that the money they borrow is for tuition and it's not meant to be living money. Many people take the money that was designed for tuition and books, and they pay their rent and their food with it.
I think the loan forgiveness program for people going into underserved areas is a valuable program, so I support those things.
Q. Why did you form the Veterinary Caucus? What impact has it had?
A. Dr. Schrader and I formed that in a bipartisan manner. The purpose of that was to highlight legislation that is animal related, so that we could inform and educate people.
The first bill we passed was the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act (which ensures veterinarians can carry controlled substances outside their workplaces. Prior to passage of this act) it was a real burden for veterinarians to take euthanasia solutions from their clinic out to a farm to euthanize an animal; owners would have had to bring the animal in. That was something that we saw as a burden on the profession.
We have a meeting coming up to discuss animal-related legislation.
Q. How does it feel to be the minority in Congress this session?
A. It is just a state of mind. If you think you are in the minority, you are in the minority. I don't accept I am in the minority in anything. We are working on programs just like we were in the majority. I don't see a change.
I have a good relationship with a lot of the Democrats. In fact, I got invited to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office. I was the only Republican in the meeting. We have some significant legislation that passed last Congress that gave us some more credibility, and we want to build on that.
I don't look at it as being in the minority. I am one of 435 members, and we are going to work to get our stuff done.
Q. What advice would you give to veterinarians who are interested in running for federal office?
A. Understand why they want to run, and if it is to run for a cause, then I encourage them to run. If they're running to make good legislation or to prevent bad legislation from coming out, then those are noble reasons to run. If they are running to get another degree or job, stay home. For the betterment of our country should be the real reason.