Dr. Marty Olsen was listening to the radio in 2017, when the health care debate was raging across the country. The discussion centered on repealing the Affordable Care Act.
He had been contemplating what he could do to help take the country in a different direction. The health care discussion spurred him into action.
“I recognized that my congressman was a physician who was going to vote to move 22 million people off their health care rolls, and these were the people I take care of,” he said, referring to U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, a retired physician. “I said, ‘Well, that’s wrong.’ And so, I just thought, ‘If you think it’s wrong, then go do something.’”
So the 59-year-old obstetrician/gynecologist decided to throw his hat in the race for the 1st District U.S. House seat. While Olsen said he has been an independent most of his life, he decided to run as the lone candidate on the Democratic ticket in the upcoming primary election Aug. 2.
The married father of one grew up on a farm in West Virginia. He moved to Johnson City 26 years ago and began teaching medical students and OB/GYN residents at the East Tennessee State University James H. Quillen College of Medicine. He chaired the department for a while and said that experience helped him understand how to run a small business.
He has applied his teaching skills around the world.
“I’ve been to Iraq 15 times to teach and a total of 20 countries to teach,” he said. “So I know a little bit about how to get along with people that have different views.”
In his medical practice, Olsen currently works with pregnant women addicted to opioids. He said he is working to reduce the number of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome. He said it was a challenging group of patients but a very satisfying group to work with because they are more motivated than an average addicted patient.
Tackling the opioid crisis would be at the top of Olsen’s agenda if he is elected in November.
“The opioid epidemic is not just a problem for the patients, not just a problem for their families, it’s a drain on our entire economy,” he said. “If we address it immediately, it’s going to take decades. If we fail to address it, it may take generations. This is a negative downward spiral we must address.”
If elected, he said he may be the only congressman who helped someone kicked their opioid addiction. So he would be able to hit the ground running on that issue.
Olsen said he is a moderate — he is an avid deer hunter and member of the Unaka Rod and Gun Club — but has been embraced by the state Democratic Party.
One of the highlights of his campaign was his weeklong, 180-mile bike tour. Olsen went to every county in the district to meet potential voters.
“It was very well received,” he said. “People are so excited that someone cares what they think. People also recognize it has been single party rule for a long time and the fact that this year they have a choice … so I think people are excited about that.”
Early voting is underway and will end Saturday.