Audrey Spanko mug official

As a social worker, Audrey Spanko has seen, up close and personal, the struggles that many people in rural Texas face. Now, she hopes to enact change from the state capitol, as a member of the Texas Senate.

Spanko, a Democrat from Mineola, officially declared her candidacy for the Senate today in the District 1 race against Republican incumbent Bryan Hughes.

She has worked as a licensed social worker for roughly a decade and has worked with numerous nonprofits and organizations over the years. Recently, Spanko worked with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, which she said played a role in her decision to run for office.

“In social work, there’s two types of work: you can do direct work with people in person to help them, which I did for a number of years, and you can also work to enact change through policy. And I think one of the best ways to do that is through public office,” she said.

Spanko identified improving state health care as one of the key pillars to her platform. In the district, she said, are 41,000 people without health insurance, which is something she hopes to rectify.

Texas, and in specific Northeast Texas, has some of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country, Spanko said. She hopes to fight that problem by expanding health care access. Accepting federal dollars to expand Medicaid is the first and biggest improvement that can be made, she said.

“I worked with a lot of uninsured or underinsured who didn’t have the health care access they needed to take care of themselves,” Spanko said. “When you can’t take care of yourself, when you can’t stay healthy because you can’t afford the care you need, then work becomes an issue, and when you can’t work, paying your rent becomes an issue. It really creates a cycle.”

Also among her top issues is improving education, she said. In particular, Spanko wants to improve conditions for teachers. As a daughter of a Texas educator, Spanko said she understands the situation many teachers are in.

“Our teachers need a true ally in Austin — someone who believes in a strong public school system and who values the positive impact they make,” Spanko said. “The money put into schools from the last session isn’t allocated forever. We need to invest in our public schools and make sure the dollars are available.”

One of the ways she proposed ensuring that funds would be available for education is through stopping corporate tax breaks.

Spanko also hopes to fight for better conditions for workers, she said, including raising the minimum wage to at least $10 per hour, ensuring workers have access to leave and more.

Ultimately, Spanko said, she thinks her experience working with people in need is what will set her apart and make her an asset to the Senate.

“I think I offer a totally new perspective,” she said. “In the Senate, the median age is 58, and most of them are men. So I break that norm. But also, my profession allowed me to connect with people on a different level and allowed me to see their struggles.”

Tommy Culkin is a staff writer for The Paris News. He can be reached at 903-785-6972 or at tommy.culkin@theparisnews.com.

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