Holly Rockwell-Celerier was slammed with shockingly expensive medical bills after suffering a bad shoulder break that required surgery and physical therapy.
“I was looking at $35,000 (£35,000),” she says. “I wriggled and wiggled, and wheeled and dealt, and threatened and pleaded to get it way down. At this point, I’ve still got about $1,000 (£757) left to pay.”
The 67-year-old Democratic voter lives in New Orleans, Louisiana with her husband, a musician. The couple permanently settled in the iconic French Quarter shortly after Hurricane Katrina, though they had long spent their winters in the southern city.
Rockwell-Celerier receives social security, and works part-time as a New Orleans tour guide, leaving her with just enough money at the end of each month to split the bills with her husband, who also collects benefits.
“I can only send them $50 (£37) a month … There isn’t any extra money anywhere,” she says about paying off her medical debts. Rockwell-Celerier notes in a recent interview with The Independent that this ordeal has made her all too aware of the US healthcare industry’s many flaws, including soaring prices that leave folks like her with crushing debt.
The issue of healthcare reform is among her top focuses in the 2020 presidential election, along with climate change.
Rockwell-Celerier worries New Orleans will soon face catastrophic environmental harm as the region’s vast westlands are torn apart to make way for for tens of thousands of miles of pipelines, shipping channels and canals with floating drilling rigs. As the marsh and swamps are cleared, devastating floods could further impact the city.
“The weather is changing,” Rockwell-Celerier notes, recalling how New Orleans used to be known for its short scatters of rain whereas now “we go a week without any at all”.
“It’s getting hotter,” she adds. “I mean last summer was awful, we were in over 43C.”
An election commissioner-in-charge, Rockwell-Celerier oversees the election process for one of the city’s local precincts. She says she takes it “very seriously” and that, while she has always voted and even joined the civil rights protests in the 1960s, the work is “the only thing I’ve ever done consistently in politics”.
She’s also been paying close attention to the campaign trail, and says defeating Donald Trump is another key priority of hers in 2020. However, she seems to think that none of the candidates in the once-crowded Democratic primary field stand a chance of defeating the incumbent president.
“Very early on, I was thinking of supporting Joe Biden,” she says. “I thought he might possibly be the one person conservative enough to bring middle-of-the-road people behind him to beat Trump. Now I don’t think so.”
Rockwell-Celerier lists off several other candidates and their apparent challenges, saying that – even though she is not opposed to voting for a woman or openly gay candidate – Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg won’t be able to garner enough support to defeat the president in the general election.
“I love Bernie Sanders,” she says, before quickly adding: “But I don’t have the confidence that he’s going to beat Trump.”
Rockwell-Celerier volunteered for Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, conducting door-to-door canvassing during the Democratic primaries.
“That’s not easy in Louisiana,” she says, laughing. “It’s like there’s one Democrat for every 100 Republicans – and they all have guns.”
She adds that Sanders’ socialist label will likely deter “on-the-fence Republicans” who may be considering supporting an alternative to Trump in the upcoming elections.
She doesn’t like the president, his agenda or the way she says he abuses his power, including the recent pardoning spree he went on for well-connected wealthy political insiders. But don’t get her started on Mike Bloomberg.
“He’s a bad guy,” she says. “A bad guy.”
There have been an onslaught of recently resurfaced clips showing Bloomberg making controversial remarks about crime impacting black and brown communities. But Rockwell-Celerier says his dismissive comments about farmers seen in a 2016 video that recently went viral will damage his chances of picking up crucial support from the voting bloc that spans the country, after the billionaire told a crowd he could “teach anybody to be a farmer”.
Bloomberg “is a closet racist,” Rockwell-Celerier says. “He’s not as overt as the Republicans are, but he is. He’s not necessarily racist by color, he’s racist by class. If you’re in information technology, or have a lot of money, you’re in his circle and you’re OK. But if you’re outside that circle ... then he’s not going to deal fairly with you.”
“The Democrats don’t have one candidate that’s going to pull everybody in,” she says. “I will vote Democratic – I may do what I did last election, when I held my nose and voted for Hillary.”
“My main concern is beating Trump,” Rockwell-Celerier concludes. “Whoever is going to be able to do that is probably who I’m going to vote for, whether I really like them or not.”