With the retirement of Dr. Phil Roe from Congress, a field of almost 20 candidates has qualified to run for the seat of 1st District United States Representative from the state of Tennessee. After weeks of campaigning, it has become apparent through polling and campaign finance reports that Dr. Roe’s successor will be one of six candidates: former Kingsport Mayor John Clark, Tennessee State Senator Rusty Crowe, former Johnson City Mayor Steve Darden, pharmacist Diana Harshbarger, Tennessee State Representative David Hawk, and Tennessee State Representative Timothy Hill. The Business Journal emailed the same ten questions to each of those six candidates’ campaigns, and representatives from all six campaigns confirmed their intention to respond. By deadline, five of the candidates had responded. Their answers follow. It is The Business Journal’s hope that publication of these responses will give you, the businesspeople of the region, a better idea of where the candidates stand on business issues that have faced Congress this term, or are likely to come up in the next.
What are your primary motivations for seeking election as the U.S. Representative for Tennessee’s 1st District?
John Clark: I want to fight alongside President Trump to rebuild our economy and stand against the liberal socialist Democrats in Washington who are trying to take away our freedoms. My parents fled Communist Cuba to legally immigrate to America and I don’t want the kinds of socialist policies that have ruined Cuba to destroy America. I want to fight to keep the country we love for future generations.
Rusty Crowe: I have worked with four farm bureau presidents, from Joe Hawkins to Jeff Aiken and five governors from Ned McWherter to Bill Lee; and with colleagues on the floor of the Tennessee senate to put Tennessee on top. We are the envy of the nation. I will take those values and principles I have used to make Tennessee great to Washington DC. DC needs a good dose of Tennessee. Like Congressman Phil Roe, I have chaired the Joint Select Committee on veterans affairs for many years and currently serve on the Governor’s commission on armed forces, veterans and their families. Like Senator Lamar Alexander, I chair the Tennessee Health and Welfare Committee at the state level. The institutional knowledge and experience I have gained and the back and forth with Washington DC, leading those efforts, will hopefully allow me to take the ball from Congressman Roe and quickly run with it.
Steve Darden: I seek to be our Congressman for a simple reason — to make lives better for the people who live in the 12 counties within the 1st Congressional District of Tennessee. If we are going to become more regionally united for economic development and job creation, we need an Ambassador like me with my skill set to tell the rest of the state, nation and world what we already know: Our District has incredible outdoors, fascinating history, great people and fewer problems than most areas in our country. Our Congressman is an important component of our economic future; the question is whether we will turn to a typical bland career politician, or someone with zero experience, or to me — a candidate who combines small business ownership and ten years of success as a locally elected official?
David Hawk: My primary motive to seek election as our next U.S. Representative is to continue and extend the reach of the good works that I have been able to accomplish as a Tennessee State Representative, by helping even more residents in Tennessee’s 1 st Congressional District.
Timothy Hill: I am running because I believe we need a fighter for our region’s conservative values including upholding the right to life and our second amendment rights, supporting President Trump’s efforts to continue to grow our economy, and working for people to cut through the red tape of the federal bureaucracy.
What issues of particular impact on Tennessee’s 1st district do you believe a freshman congressman will have the best chance to significantly address?
Clark: My first priority is going to be jobs and my votes in Washington will reflect that. I will vote at every opportunity for pro-growth, pro-jobs legislation. I will use my platform here in the district to bring together our economic development experts, job creators, educators, etc., to identify opportunities to bring new businesses and jobs to our area.
Crowe: Rebooting the economy has to be on the front burner. I am the current recipient of the National Federation of Independent Business “Guardian of small Business award “ for having demonstrated a commitment to our economy and for promoting a stable and predictable environment for our Tennessee small businesses. Small business is the backbone of our economy. The UT Boyd report has made clear that the metropolitan areas of our state will see the major growth in our state with the other urban and rural areas seeing much slower growth. I want to see our East Tennessee cities and counties work together like we did in developing our Tri Cities Aerospace Park project. I have worked for many years with federal and state economic development partners to generate economic development for our region and have the background, knowledge and institutional experience to be very successful for the first congressional district.
Darden: A major component of the job is to provide constituent service. A freshman who understands the job as I do can hit the ground running. I’ll intervene to protect citizens / businesses from overreach by the government. Example: family farmers who are smothered by excessive federal regulations or overzealous federal agents need relief so they can thrive rather than survive. Industry sometimes faces the same burden. We will continue Congressman Roe’s focus on veterans. It is crucial that we receive our fair share of federal grants and programs. The Appalachian Regional Commission was established to assist our local communities and I will maximize its impact in our District, working with our local Development Districts. I have been involved in economic development and job creation for decades. Ronald Reagan said the best social program is a good job and I will work to bring more and better jobs to our area.
Hawk: My 20 years of small business experience and 18 years of state legislative experience have ably prepared me to “hit the ground running” on day one of being elected as our 1st District Congressman. The experience of being a freshman Congressman, although carrying with it a great honor, will be just like another day at the office to me. My decade of work on Tennessee’s $40+ billion budget gives me keen insight into how we should properly prioritize spending at a Federal level, as well. There will just be a couple more zeros on the end of our Federal budget document when I work on it.
Hill: I believe my voice as a conservative champion for President Trump’s agenda will advance his mission to rebuild the strongest economy in American history and to protect our constitutional rights.
Would you support selling off the TVA?
Crowe: No. The Tennessee Valley Authority has been the backbone of raising the entire region it serves with economical electrical power. This must be kept in the public control to continue to have the ongoing impact beyond the power grid developing the regional economy. I look forward to strong leadership from that board at the TVA with capable leadership like our own Dr. Brian Noland, ETSU President, can provide as a member.
Darden: Selling off TVA is a bad idea for the Tennessee Valley and especially East Tennessee at the present time. TVA has been vital to the Tennessee Valley over several decades, beginning in the Great Depression when floods ravaged the Tennessee Valley. Benefits and services include reliability and affordability of electrical power, economic development, management of waterways and many, many more services that extend beyond providing electrical power.
Hill: I would not take such an irreversible, significant step without serious study of the issue.
Do you believe the COVID-related unemployment spike has made border security a more urgent issue to protect American jobs?
Clark: Border security has been an urgent issue for decades. The southern border is porous and, while security has improved, it is nowhere near what is necessary to help end the flow of illegal drugs into the United States. That is the ultimate problem with the border – the ability of Mexican cartels to allow drugs to flow into the country that devastate our communities, including here in East Tennessee.
Crowe: Border security is essential. Coming to America, being a U.S. Citizen, comes with the greatest benefits and safeguards are still critically important for our national security. COVID is a new experience for all of us. We have to work to reopen and reenergize the economy but continue to adapt to the impact in this era. I believe we will have to create more jobs. But I also think it is vital to restore American based manufacturing of products we have lost to other countries so we are not faced with the challenges we have seen. Essential business and manufacturing will have to include essential products MADE IN THE USA.
Darden: Border security is a crucial national security and economic issue on its own, without regard to COVID. Sound immigration policy starts with zero tolerance for trespassers who enter our country unlawfully but also must provide a well-regulated process for individuals to seek approved status and merit-based paths to citizenship in a lawful manner. When the brightest and best of other countries seek to come here to create jobs and seek the American dream, we should encourage it. The U.S. Congress has failed to deal with immigration issues for decades now and we are confronted with the consequences of such inactivity. Congress should resolve the DACA issue once and for all, so that “DACA kids” who have behaved properly and been productive are allowed to remain here.
Hawk: Border security is an urgent issue, period. It must be better addressed for national security reasons, not necessarily jobs. COVID-19 has just brought greater focus to the issue.
Hill: Border security has been and still is an urgent issue and it’s shameful that politicians have refused to fix the problem and build the wall. When I’m elected, I’ll support President Trump’s plans to build the wall and crack down on illegal immigration.
What are the best ways to pay down the ballooning deficit? Would you be in favor of removing the maximum taxable earnings level or making other changes to Social Security, instituting across the board federal spending cuts – including entitlements and defense, raising taxes or making other politically unpopular decisions?
Clark: We absolutely must balance the budget. I think that by balancing the budget once – and proving it can be done – that will help set the tone to do it every year. Members of Congress will need to make tough decisions, and everyone will have to give a little in order to come to a balanced budget agreement. I do not support cutting Social Security or veterans benefits in order to balance the budget. These are promises made to our seniors and our military members and we can’t turn our backs on those promises.
Crowe: As a Tennessee State Senator, I have been a part of the efforts in this state to control our fiscal solvency. We are No.1 in fiscal management and Reducing debt and the burden on future generations is vital. We are the envy of the nation. We have responsibilities to the people we must uphold and Social Security is one of those. Across the board adjustments to cut taxes and tighten government spending must be accomplished in a methodical manner and with sensible change. I will also support a balanced budget amendment.
Darden: The best way to reduce our national debt, which has accumulated over many years now, and our annual deficit, which adds to the national debt annually is to have a robust economy with as many taxpayers as possible. Rather than wait for a crisis, we must reduce entitlements and consider out-of-the-box thinking to shrink the size and costs of the federal government. For example, the Department of Education became a cabinet level agency during the Carter Administration in 1979. Its unfunded mandates tend to be a burden on local education when we would be better off if education were addressed by state and local officials. President Trump was correct in insisting that our NATO partners pay their fair share. All spending, including defense spending, must always be carefully evaluated to make sure that it is not excessive. Our national debt is a threat to our future prosperity.
Hawk: We simply must stop spending more taxpayer dollars than we receive. When I get to Washington, I will be in favor of working with Congressional leadership to open discussions on every entitlement program, in order to weigh the pros and cons of each. If a program no longer makes sense or has a negative effect, it should be cut. This is where I will begin to address our $25 trillion deficit.
Hill: I will oppose any cuts to Social Security, my pledge to our seniors is a promise made is a promise kept. I would propose auditing federal spending to cut waste, fraud, and abuse in the bureaucracy.
Should the federal government mandate that more critical medical products and supplies be produced domestically, even if it means interfering in free markets and paying more?
Clark: The pandemic has shown us that we cannot rely on China for critical medical and national security supplies. Those supply chains must be brought home. I was the first candidate to call for this and I have pledged to support Senator Cotton and Rep. Gallagher’s legislation that would bring these critical supply chains back to America.
Crowe: Protecting our citizens is one of the most honored responsibilities of government. Access to medical products made here is vital, as we have seen most recently. The markets will adjust as we have seen. But healthcare is a national security issue now more than ever before and self-sufficiency rises to the top of the concerns for that protection.
Darden: The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that there are certain products and supplies that must be produced domestically and yes, such production must be restored to the U.S.A. I reject the notion that doing so would “interfere” in free markets or result in higher costs, especially if competition is present among domestic manufacturers, producers and suppliers. But, if the costs go up to insure that supplies are not interrupted and proper care is provided, then it is a cost worth absorbing.
Hawk: Forced or mandated production on business by the federal government is not advisable. I do support open conversations between the public and private sectors, to encourage partnerships that make sense to both business and government. Hopefully, these conversations would create an opportunity to develop reasonably priced domestic products, if and as needed.
Hill: Medical supplies are an essential part of our national security and I do not believe it’s safe to rely on an untrustworthy actor like China when it comes to our security.
Which is more important – maintaining the gains realized in the trade war with China – or – holding China accountable for COVID?
Clark: I don’t believe these are mutually exclusive. China has unleashed a pandemic on the world that has been made worse thanks to their lies and obfuscation. They must be held accountable for that not only by the United States but by all of the world’s nations.
Crowe: Simply both are important. We always want to maintain gains. Trade should be stable for the needs of our national economy. Our need to manufacture at home for our own protection will have an impact. COVID is an international matter that requires the truth and proper safeguards. Border security has a health aspect now more than ever in protecting our citizens. Ultimately, we need to know the truth and respond accordingly. China needs to be held accountable.
Darden: Responding to the question, trade and the COVID-19 crisis are separate issues. There have been winners and losers in the trade war with China. How Chinese affairs are managed is one of the most important issues for the future of both nations and thus the world, and we must insist on good faith dealing by China and openness so that events like COVID-19 do not occur in the future. We also must be firm in our insistence that China respects the basic human rights of those in its sphere and that it cease its military buildup on artificial islands in the South China Sea. It would be a gross oversimplification to suggest that relations with China are a mere “either or” choice between trade and holding China accountable for COVID.
Hawk: Maintaining the gains realized in the trade war with China.
Hill: They are both rooted in the same fundamental problem, which is that China is led by a regime which does not act in good faith. They have repeatedly covered up critical facts and whether its technology theft or covering up COVID, it has harmed Americans health and pocketbooks.
Do you favor coal industry subsidies?
Clark: Generally speaking, I do not favor government subsidies of industries. I do support trying to find a way to protect the pension funds of retired coal miners whose retirement income is at risk due to the bankruptcy of coal companies and the decline of the industry.
Crowe: Coal is vital still to our region. It has a role going forward and the need for options on energy resources is an issue of economy and security. Yes, I am for continuing subsidies.
Darden: I do not favor coal industry subsidies.
Hawk: I will initially support these subsidies, but my belief is that every individual and every business should work toward self-sufficiency.
Hill: I generally do not support subsidizing any industries. In the case of coal, it is essential that we continue to roll back the onerous regulations that the EPA imposed during Barack Obama’s presidency.
Should big tech companies be broken up? If so, how do you square that with the need for less government regulation of private business?
Clark: I am not in favor of government breaking up private companies or additional government regulation of private companies. I do believe that there should be consequences for tech companies when their platforms are misused or abused.
Crowe: Big tech companies must play by the rules that are set for business. Competition in this space is better than monopolies. Add in the privacy issues and communications standards, the big tech companies have brought a new dimension to society. Thoughtful management of the issues on all parts is necessary.
Darden: I’m reluctant to support the break-up of big tech companies unless their practices are so predatory and anti-competitive that anti-trust laws are violated or others cannot enter the market. There is precedent, however, for single businesses to have become so dominant that they were broken up. (See Teddy Roosevelt) Great care must be taken when dealing with tech companies that First Amendment rights are not violated. The First Amendment was placed first by the Founders because of its paramount importance. They were fierce advocates of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression / conscience, and I will be too. Big tech plays a huge role in American life and must act responsibly. But these are private sector businesses, and regulation aimed at holding big tech accountable must preserve First Amendment liberties.
Hill: I believe federal interference in private industry is rarely warranted and I have not seen sufficient reason to interfere in this industry.
Would you support regional economic development by proposing changes at the Office of Management and Budget that would allow the Johnson City and Kingsport-Bristol MSAs to reunite?
Clark: I am strongly in favor of regional economic development efforts, especially for a region that is so integrated like the Tri-Cities area. This is why I made the commitment to add an economic development staff member to my Congressional district office staff, so that I can help facilitate these kinds of regional economic development efforts. I would support joining the MSA regions to allow greater federal funding to our area.
Crowe: The merged MSA’s makes good sense and yes, I would support this effort. As a market among the largest, we get more attention for site selection in retail and are seen as a place of desirable size with amenities for businesses to grow. Our regional strength is diminished in its current OMB view.
Darden: The Johnson City and Kingsport-Bristol MSAs were unified until a few years ago. It would enhance regional economic development and regional cooperation for the entire Tri-Cities region to be under the same MSA. If our local economic development professionals and government partners agree that a single MSA is in the best interest of the business community and citizens of our area, then I will be a strong advocate for such a measure with the Office of Management and Budget.
Hawk: Regional economic development needs to include the whole region. I would like to see partnerships created within and among all 12 Tennessee counties in the 1st District. We need to look more closely at potential synergies that could be accomplished in the field of education, as well as in economic and retail development.
Hill: Yes, I will support this effort and continue Congressman Roe’s campaign to make this change.