Photos Andy Calvert
Original interview: 2/29/2020
At its inception, the United States government was formed to serve the people by electing representatives who have a common interest in the welfare of their families and friends. By choosing our leaders from the same streets we call home, we find a sense of ease and the idea that they will serve our interests before the will of outside influences.
Northwest Georgians have the option to do just that during the next election cycle. Dr. John Cowan has joined the list of candidates hoping to represent the 14th District of Georgia if he wins a seat in the U.S. Congress. For voters who will pull the lever in November of 2020, it is nice to have an opportunity to pull back the curtain and reveal the character of a candidate who could possibly be the voice of us all.
In the following text, John not only lets us see the show, but he gives us exclusive backstage passes to his life as a child, a husband, a father and a member of the Appalachian foothills that made him a man.
“I’m a local of Northwest Georgia. I was raised in Bartow County, just on the other side of Kingston, Georgia, on our family’s cattle farm,” John says.
“I have fond memories of learning how to bale hay at a very early age. My grandad had me working out in the field all of the time—either picking up square bales, or on the roof of our barns mending the structure. I learned to get up early during those days because when you’re working on a hot tin roof, you get burned, of course,” he chuckles. “You’ve got to be off by around 6:30 a.m., so I like to say that’s where I learned to be disciplined. Working on the farm instilled in me the work ethic of getting things done.”
Not only did John learn the importance of hard work from working on his family’s farm, but by watching his father, who was a successful physician, and his mother, who taught school for 30 years. He also credits a lot of his success to his grandfather, a retired politician and small business owner in Cartersville, Georgia.
“All of those years working on the farm and watching my parents and my grandad made me appreciate the education I was so lucky to receive,” he says.
John graduated as valedictorian from Cartersville High School before attending Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina. There, he finished with an undergraduate degree in physics, with honors and near the top of his class. His next goal was to continue on to medical school at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.
This hopeful congressman encountered several life-changing events during his time at Johns Hopkins; both were moments that would make huge impacts on his path forward.
“While I was in school at Johns Hopkins, I was given the opportunity to work with and study under Dr. Ben Carson, who since has become a lifelong acquaintance and friend. He is just an amazing human being who lives his life the way he asks others to live,” says John. “I also met my wife while studying there. So, I definitely made some great memories that I cherish.”
John’s wife, Dr. Annie Cowan, is an anesthesiologist at Floyd Medical Center who specializes in Anesthesiology and Internal Medicine. Annie started the Perioperative Evaluation Center at Floyd Medical Center, which is dedicated to creating the best possible outcomes for patients by working with surgeons to create quality care procedures before, during and after surgery.
John and his wife both attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Here, he completed his general surgery and neurosurgery training, totaling to a lengthy seven-year stay in Michigan.
“While I was completing my residency at Michigan, I actually received several letters from my church family in Rome informing me that there was a need for a neurosurgeon in the community and if I would consider moving back home,” recalls John. “All of this was unbeknownst to my parents, by the way, who have attended the First Presbyterian Church of Rome for 25 years. So, to have these people reach out to us was very meaningful, which made it that much more welcoming when we made the move.”
John and his family moved to Rome in 2008. “I learned very quickly that Rome was a great place to practice medicine. I soon learned that Rome would be an incredible place to raise a family. Honestly, there was really no question that one day we would eventually move closer to home.”
His love for Northwest Georgia and the community that surrounds him fueled his desire to do more.
And do more he did.
“For years, I’ve been fortunate to serve as a Sunday school teacher, a deacon and an elder at my church. I’ve gone on mission trips and been able to really engage the community through my work at the church.
“I’ve also been involved with the Community Foundation for Greater Rome, which is a group that was started around six years ago to raise awareness for local charities in Floyd County,” he explains. “Through the Community Foundation for Greater Rome, we offer two or three grants every year to non-profits in the area. That has been very rewarding because of the ways we have been able to help. Restoration Rome, for example, was one of our first grant recipients. That is truly such an amazing program that Jeff and Mary Margaret Mauer have created, and they look back at that grant as the thing that really helped them get off the ground, to make them financially viable and to help them develop their mission.”
John has also worked alongside Tom Holt with the End Slavery Georgia project, where women who have been part of the sex trade are rescued and given a place where they can go for rehabilitation, counseling, nurturing or just a safe place to heal.
“We developed that program several years ago and it has been a real blessing. We are serving a real need and the program is now getting a little more attention. It has become a real focal point of some of our outreach efforts,” John says.
He also works closely with the Rome Floyd Chamber of Commerce, which fueled his passion for small business. That passion helped to kickstart his toy company, Cortex Toys, a now-international company that is based in Rome.
“Previously, I served as the Vice Chair of the Economic Development Committee for the Chamber. I really enjoyed working with both Al Hodge and now Jeanne Krueger and her team to promote small business and encourage the recruitment of large business in our community,” says John.
“We have had a great time with Cortex Toys,” he says with a smile. With children leaning more and more on electronic devices for their entertainment needs, this is a feat in itself. “We have been able to employ people in our community; we have a distribution warehouse where other providers have sought to have their products distributed by my team. I have learned a lot about international business during this time, and it has given me a really good appreciation of what small businesspeople go through. I have lived it.”
Along with Cortex Toys, he also started a Frios franchise here in town, a local popsicle shop now located in Doug’s Deli. John also mentioned his involvement with a sports academy he helped to start at Chapel Hill United Methodist Church. Inside the facility, there is also a school for autistic children called Apple Seeds. John helped to start the school that is located near the front of the sports academy.
“I’m not happy staying still,” John says, which is apparent from his long list of professional and philanthropic accomplishments. “My family, especially my grandfather, instilled in me that my goal on Earth is to leave this place better than I found it. I try to do that with my patients. I try to make their health better; I try to leave them better than when I first encounter them. I’ve tried to do that locally with Rome and Floyd County through my service in the community, by creating jobs, creating enterprise, and working with nonprofits to make Northwest Georgia a great place to live. Now, I feel this call to do that job at the federal level and I have asked myself, ‘how do we preserve this district that we live in? How, at the federal level, do we protect the things we enjoy here?’
“We are going to do this by going up to Congress and fighting for this district, but also fighting to change the narrative in Washington,” John continues. “I really feel like being from this district, enjoying the fruits of this district and fighting for them locally, that I can be a great representative in Washington D.C. by focusing my efforts on what matters to the people here. What Congress is doing has real consequences, not only in Rome, but in Dalton, Bremen, Calhoun, Dade County and other areas of our state. It is time we thought twice about policy and how to move forward.”
Using his 12 years of experience as a practicing physician, John plans on finding amicable solutions for our nation’s healthcare system.
John’s three main policies for working towards improving the healthcare system are tort reform, tax deduction of care and free market purchasing of health insurance. He believes we need patient-centered solutions for relieving hard-working people from the costly nature of quality healthcare. “I will use my background and direct experience with patients every day to develop solutions and bring them to a national level,” John says.
“If you look at our healthcare system right now, it is the leading driver for our national deficit by two-fold,” he explains. “Over the next 20 years, it will add $100 trillion to the deficit along the current curves that we are on. It’s also a system that is not necessarily making people healthier.
“It takes a physician to lead a successful healthcare initiative. And that is something I think is at an all-time low. I think we need more physicians in Congress. If we aren’t careful, we are going to go down a slippery slope where people are simply going to push healthcare towards socialized medicine because they don’t have a better solution, or because they don’t really understand what that model will look like.
“We could actually have a free market solution without jeopardizing people’s access to care and people’s health outcomes,” continues John. “Physicians understand that the primary thing we need to focus on is the doctor-patient relationship. If we remove all the hands inside of that relationship, we could actually take great care of patients for a lot less money than we are spending now.”
“The biggest thing we’ve got to do in this country, healthcare-wise, is put in place a significant National Tort Reform policy. Doctors, for too long, have practiced with this guillotine over their heads. Any slip, or any mistake, miscommunication or bad outcome, is going to be a threat to their ability to practice. I, fortunately, have never been sued. I count that as a blessing, because in my field, people get sued every other year,” says John.
“It is something we think about every day,” he continues. “I have seen a lawsuit crush amazing doctors for no reason other than a bad outcome, or someone who just thought they would roll the dice. There’s no one that hurts more when someone has a bad outcome more than the doctors involved, I can guarantee that.”
“I think these will be the first real steps of bending the expenditure curve on healthcare in this country. It’s not hyperbole to predict a 20 to 30 percent reduction in utilization; no more redundant tests where we repeat scans. I’ve seen patients who come into ERs and they get ten CT scans in one month… that is thousands and thousands of dollars, with no benefit to the patient. All they need is a physician to offer them confidence that they’re going to be fine. The problem is, the one in 20,000 chance that they will develop cancer during that time scares the life out of doctors, who aren’t incentivized to not order those extra tests. Doctors only bear risks when they try to actually be a responsible steward of their resources and the costs associated with those resources,” John explains.
According to John, the quality of healthcare is not an issue, but it is the access to care that is. “The quality of care we provide in the United States is outstanding. The issues in our healthcare system are not about quality they are about access. Because the cost of insurance premiums and deductibles is skyrocketing, it penalizes people for getting primary care and leads to further, potentially chronic, illness. In turn, this costs them and the rest of society thousands of dollars. We need solutions that make it easier for doctors to take care of a patient in need for free by calling that a gift, or a donation. If we were to provide a tax deduction to physicians who provide free care, this would incentivize doctors to donate care and patients to seek primary care. That will keep patients out of emergency rooms and will save our society tens upon hundreds of thousands of dollars for a very minimal deduction,” John explains.
“The final issue is the control of costs in healthcare, and we should have a system that provides free-market solutions for purchasing healthcare. We have to start thinking outside the box about employee-sponsored healthcare. If employees are going to contribute to healthcare, then they need to be able to take their policy with them. Your employer does not own your auto insurance policy, or your life insurance policy. You can take those with you if you leave. We have to have a system in our country where people actually own the health insurance they’re paying for.”
As a practicing physician, John plans to bring those solutions to the table for discussion. “I’ve got thousands of physicians behind me that will say ‘Amen’ to every one of those things I mentioned,” he says.
When he is not in the operating room or volunteering for one of the many causes he supports, he is a conservative who enjoys the values this country was built on and is a strong supporter of people’s rights from sea to shining sea.
“Being a conservative Republican, I am very much pro-Trump. I think Donald Trump has done a great job serving as President of the United States. He has done exactly what he said he was going to do in his campaign. It has been refreshing to watch a politician who runs on a certain platform actually do what they promise after they get elected. And I do think that when he gets elected again, we will see the completion of some of those promises.
“The economy is as good as it has been in 30 years. Jobless rates are the lowest they’ve been, across all demographics, and that is something the President highlighted during the State of the Union Address. One thing I believe we have got to do better with is increasing our civil discourse. We can have a disagreement, but we have to start talking about issues rather than getting into petty disagreements,” John says.
“I am pro-life,” John explains. “I’ve spent my career saving lives and I take a real philosophical and religious approach to my decision. I think a society that allows abortion has completely failed women. They failed women because they failed in preventing pregnancy, and they failed in helping a woman after they have delivered a child. What we have done, because of our apathy in preventing pregnancy and our apathy after a child has been born, was create this segment of this pregnant-but-not-born-yet, and the easy solution is to give a woman a choice of death. I think that is a travesty. I also think when we look back on it as a free society, and as the wealthiest nation this world has ever seen, that we can do better.
“I know people are in difficult situations,” he continues. “I know people get pregnant by means that they did not intend to. But I think our communities can surround people, love people and help people get through the nine months where a beautiful life is created. This may be a life that cures cancer or becomes the next President of the United States…we just don’t know. And for us to create this segment of society that says, ‘we don’t want to deal with you before you get pregnant and we don’t want to deal with you after you give birth, we’re just going to focus here,’ I think we let these women down. We have spent too much time focusing on the wrong issue when it comes to abortion. I think that if this country, if we said, ‘we are going to be pro-life,’ that means being pro the mother’s life before they get pregnant, and pro a mother and child’s life after they deliver, then I think we can move this discussion away from being so dichotomous. No more making people choose between being pro-choice and pro-life.”
“I’ll be very much a proponent of the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment was put in the Bill of Rights intentionally, because I think our Founders certainly felt that freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion were preeminent rights that we, as Americans, should enjoy. This is why they gave their time, treasure, talents and their lives in many cases, to fight for these rights. But they also knew that soon after announcing those rights, they had put a line in the sand with the Second Amendment. We can have a well-regulated militia; we can have the right to bear arms and that shall not be infringed upon. That is put there so that we can enforce these other rights, God forbid we have to.
“I think it’s a slippery slope, that if we don’t stand up for these fundamental rights and say, ‘if you respect the First Amendment right, you have to respect the Second Amendment and hold them as most important because they are essential for defending those First Amendment rights.’”
It is for these reasons that Dr. John Cowan wants to serve our district at the federal level.
“I believe I am the type of candidate that the Founders intended to run for the People’s House,” says John. “They set up a People’s House so that the people who go and serve there represent the people, and they represent the people of their district. They didn’t anticipate political opportunists or career politicians, and they didn’t anticipate political activists seeking these seats in the House for their own egos, or for their own agendas. That’s the problem. We see too many people on TV who are using their congressional seat to get book deals so they can raise money, instead of people who generally come back to serve the people that were sent to represent.
“I think someone, like myself, who has not been a career politician, is not a political activist for any particular issue, but who has worked hard in their community, is who we need in office now,” continues John. “At a church level, a small business level, a healthcare level and a family level, I believe in our community and the work we do. I want to work to make Northwest Georgia a better community. I’m taking on this challenge to go and serve in the People’s House to protect these freedoms for the people that I know and love. I hope others will look at that when they are voting, truly think about what the Founders intended, and explore the motivations of the people putting their name on the ballot.”
Be sure to exercise your vote by participating in the Primary Election on May 19.
You can also visit John and his team at their headquarters located at 420 Broad St, Rome, GA 30161.