HOOKSETT, New Hampshire – Sen. Ted Cruz got unusually personal on the campaign trail Thursday, talking about his sister Miriam’s battle and eventual death from drug addiction to voters in a state that’s been ravaged by heroin addiction.
Cruz described how he watched his sister struggle from his youth – when she would steal his saved-up allowance to feed her addictions – to his adulthood, when he took out a $20,000 cash allowance on a credit card to put his nephew into boarding school while she was living in a crack den. He told of how he watched her go through the ups and downs of addiction and temporary recovery.
“Then a few years ago, Miriam died of an overdose. Joey, her son, found her in her bed. The coroner ruled it accidental. We’ll never know,” he said. “These tragedies are happening all over the country.”
The unusually personal tales come as Cruz looks to appeal to New Hampshire voters – a slightly more moderate and less religious group of Republicans than the ones who carried him to a first-place finish in Iowa’s caucuses on Monday. It was far from the jovial, happy-warrior speech Cruz usually gives. He read from notes when describing the heroin epidemic that’s hit New Hampshire and Vermont so hard, and he spoke carefully and deliberately about his families personal tale.
While personal and humanizing, Cruz offered few actual policy proposals at the Addiction Policy Forum, where a number of local advocates spoke. Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin also spoke as a surrogate for Hillary Clinton.
“These are personal journeys," Cruz said. "There’s no uniform solution that fixes it all. It’s certainly not going to be Washington, D.C., that steps in and solves these problems. “It’s gonna be friends and family, churches, charities, loved ones, treatment centers, people working to help those who are struggling overcome their addiction.”
He applauded programs like Alcoholics Anonymous that are self-sustaining and do not accept outside donations. When pressed by a treatment center founder, Cruz said he was supporting a Senate bill that would "redirect resources" to treatment centers like hers, though it’s unclear which bill that is, and Cruz’s staff did not answer inquiries seeking specifics.
The only time Cruz seemed more comfortable and got specific was when talking about sealing the U.S.-Mexican border, over which most of the heroin in the country travels; talking about illegal immigration brought the senator back to his usual, red-meat-throwing stump speech.
“If we want to turn around the drug crisis, we need to turn around the border,” Cruz said, citing statistics that showed that nearly four times the amount of heroin was coming across the border in 2012 than in 2008. He slammed Democrats, arguing that they were not stopping the flow of drugs across the border in favor of importing “undocumented Democrats” – immigrants who might one day vote for them. “Stopping the drug traffic gets de-emphasized because their policy view instead is to open the borders to illegal immigration,” he said.
While the handful of Cruz supporters seemed largely pleased with his participation in the somewhat sparsely attended event, nodding happily and speaking in affirmation, there was palpable tension when a Cruz volunteer and recovering addict on the panel told a father who had lost a child to addiction that they should have let her hit rock bottom and not tried to help her.
“Courtney hit rock bottom,” an audience member fired back about the young woman.
Cheryl Marlow, a Massachusetts voter who described her political views as “middle of the road,” said it felt like it was a political spectacle.
“Even when he was telling his story, he didn’t show even emotion, I didn’t think. I mean, I just buried a daughter,” she said. Marlow’s daughter, Stephenie Jesi, died just before Christmas from a heroin overdose. “I’m sure there were a lot of families in there looking for answers, and I don’t think they heard a lot of answers in there today.”
She pulled the event’s program out of her bag, noting that it was pegged as a policy-focused event. “Isn’t that what the thing said? It did say that.”
Marlow’s friend, Cheryl Goyett, agreed.
“It was political and self-serving,” she said.