The first forum included Republican candidates for the 10th Tennessee Senate District, followed by the two Democratic candidates. The winners of the Aug. 2 primaries will face each other in the November general elections. Candidates in the 22nd and 24th districts in the Tennessee House of Representatives made up the third panel.
In the 24th District race between incumbent Kevin Brooks and challenger Jack Epperson, the two opponents shared the podium with State Rep. Eric Watson, 22nd Legislative District. Seated at the far end of the table was David Kimbro, who is challenging Watson.
Epperson said in his opening remarks, “I am not a politician. If I get elected 10 times I still won’t be a politician.”
Brooks spoke of the privilege it is to serve in the General Assembly.
“I don’t believe that I’m a politician,” Brooks said in his opening remarks. “I’ve never used that word. I’ve actually said ‘public servant’ from day one. I believe we are called to serve and I believe that’s the most important calling we can have whether that’s in a church, which I’ve done for many years, or if it’s in public service.”
Kimbro was born in Orlando, Fla. He is a Vietnam era veteran and taught school for five years until he found out he could make a better living building homes. He has owned two small restaurants.
“I’ve done whatever it takes to make a living and I feel like that’s what the majority of people in the 22nd District do. They do what they have to do to make a living,” he said.
He said he has never been involved in politics or government, but “I know how government should work.”
Watson said in his opening remarks that government is about teamwork and many accomplishments have taken place since he and Brooks were elected in 2006 to their House seats. The East Coast Lighting Distribution Center, Wacker and Amazon have brought in more than $80 million in payroll, he said. Watson also named Whirlpool and Olin Corporation, two major employers who opted to modernize operations in Bradley County.
Two Democrats and two Republicans are vying for the newly created 10th Senate District created by the General Assembly. Sen. Andy Berke, who represents the 10th District in its current form, is running for mayor of Chattanooga. All four candidates live in Hamilton County, but wasted no time in pointing out their ties to Bradley County.
The Democratic candidates are David Testerman, Quenston Coleman and Chattanooga City Councilman Andraé McGary. McGrary could not participate because he had to attend a Council meeting. Testerman is a retired educator and current member of the Hamilton County School Board.
The candidates were asked what the two Democrats offered to historically Republican-leaning Bradley County voters.
Coleman said he believes in the same things as Republicans and that elected officials have to represent all of the people.
“What I bring to the table is the ability to understand the challenges and knowing what the operations of state government are,” Coleman said. “Also, I have worked in federal, state and local government in supervisory or professional capacities and being a retired state employee after 30 years, I think I know some of the issues people have concerning government. It doesn’t matter if I’m a Democrat or a Republican. What matters is I have integrity, that I have leadership ability, I am a conservative and that’s what I bring to the table.”
Testerman said, “I am an American. I am a Tennessean. I eat and sleep just like you do and I believe in almost all the same things you believe. I am a conservative person. I have worked 30 years in education. A public educator learns how to give. You learn to be in touch with your community.” As the last director of youth employment training of Hamilton County Schools, “I know how important it is today that we have our children trained and know how to go to work and behave. We don’t do that anymore. We stopped doing it. That needs to come back and that’s why I can represent you as a Democrat.”
Republicans Greg Vital and Todd Gardenhire are candidates for the Republican nomination in the 10th Tennessee Senate District.
Gardenhire, who spoke first, said in his opening remarks that he is seeking a legislative seat, not an administrative seat.
“The person you elect to this position must understand and have the experience of listening, understanding where everyone is coming from and asking the right questions so that the actions that are taken are consistent with the goals that you have,” he said. “The bad thing about all this is there are a lot of unintended consequences and that’s what you have to study.”
He said during his 42 years in politics, he has never supported a Democrat. He was recently endorsed by the Tennessee Conservative Union and Tennessee Right for Life organization.
He said his goals are to establish a job training-type program in the inner cities.
Vital said, “I’m not a politician. I’m a businessman. I’m a father, a farmer and a person who cares about the community. I’m not running for public office. I’m running because I believe in public service. That’s why I got involved in the 1970s.”
He said he has washed windows for Republican headquarters and took a job at McKee Baking Company to start paying his way through school. “I worked for five years trying to get ahead. I believe in free enterprise. A lot of people raise the question that after 140-some-odd hours of school, did I graduate. No, I didn’t graduate. I spent more hours in school than was necessary because I believed in taking courses that would help me build my career.”
He said he is running because, like many other small business owners, he has faced the brunt of what comes down from Nashville.
The second forum will be on Thursday, July 12. Candidates for the Bradley County School Board and the Cleveland City Council will present their positions to the public at the Dixon Center commencing at 6:30 p.m.
The third forum will be held at Cleveland State Community College in the newly renovated Johnson Theatre beginning at 6:30 p.m. Candidates for the Congressional races in the 3rd and 4th districts are invited to appear and present their positions. It is anticipated there will also be a presentation for the wheel tax referendum which will be decided in the August election.