Stewart, a Democrat serving the 14th Tennessee Senate District, and Republican Shannon Kelley are on the ballot to unseat Republican incumbent Scott DeJarlis in the 4th U.S. Congressional District. DeJarlis and 3rd District incumbent Rep. Chuck Fleischmann were absent because a vote was called in the House of Representatives. Independent Matthew Deniston was absent as were Kelley and Republican Scottie Mayfield. No reasons were given for their absences.
Third Congressional District candidates, Republicans Ron Bhalla and Weston Wamp, and Democrats Dr. Mary Headrick and Bill Taylor each stated their positions in response to series of questions from moderator James Logan.
Stewart said Washington, D.C., is broken and the blame cannot be laid squarely at the feet of Democrats or Republicans. Both parties are at fault.
“When one side stands over there and throws stones at the other side and one person is for something just because the other person is against it, that is no way to lead our country. We’re better than that. We’re a lot better than that as a country. We are a country that was built and brought up by working families, by families that get up every morning, put on the pants and shoes, go to work and try to make a living for their families.”
He said working families would make the United States strong again in the future. But right now, families and small businesses are struggling. They don’t have money for investing in small businesses or for buying products to support the local economies.
“Nobody knows how to build a community better than those who live in it,” he said. “As your congressman, state senator or state representative, it’s not my job to tell you this is what we need to do in this community. It’s my job to help you build it. It’s my job to help you grow it. You can’t do that when all you are doing is fighting.”
In the 3rd Congressional District race, the candidates gave their opinions on the topics of campaign reform, tax reform, health care reform. When asked which cabinet they favored eliminating, all would do away with the Department of Education.
When asked about their positions on repealing the Affordable Health Care Act and if they do support repealing the act, would they support the three exceptions of full portability, prohibition against denial because of a pre-existing condition and allowing people to keep their children on their health insurance until they reach 26 years of age.
All of the candidates agreed the president’s Affordable Care Act needed to be repealed or vastly improved, but they all agreed to keep the three exceptions. Wamp said he does supports full repeal of the act with no more enthusiasm than he supports health care reform. There are still millions of people without insurance, there are rising costs and this is an example where he believes Congress should show some courage and allow free market forces to bring a better product to the marketplace.
Taylor said the law is a good first step. Anyone who works in the business day in and day out knows there are four to six large insurance companies no one can negotiate with and addressing that will require intervention of the federal government. The affordable care act has many good features, including the 80 percent health insurance companies are required to spend on health care. There are elements that need to be repealed and others that need strengthening.
Headrick said steam rises from the top of her head when she hears someone support a free enterprise system for health care. When someone has appendicitis, they are in no position to deal with an unregulated insurance environment. She has seen too many instances of insurance companies refusing to pay for previously approved operations. However, the health care act needs improvement to solve its problems. “I think this notion that it can be done through free enterprise needs to be thrown out with the garbage,” she said. “We need regulation in health care.”
All of the candidates agreed campaign finance reform is needed. Their responses ranged from don’t accept money from political action committees to constitutional amendments to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission. Headrick said the Supreme Court ruled the First Amendment prohibited restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions. Overturning that decision would require a constitutional amendment because of the makeup and inclination of the U.S. Supreme Court. She said constitutional amendments are doable. “Remember, we passed an amendment giving 18-year-olds the right to vote in only six months. If we have the political will, we can do it quickly. It doesn’t need to take the 70-plus years it took for women to get the right to vote.”
Bhalla said he has not accepted money from political action committees and there is no need. “Whoever accepts that kind of money means that is who they are working for — those people, the big contributors.”
Wamp said super PACS might well mean the end of free elections the way they are known and trusted in America. There is nothing to prohibit a large corporation from sponsoring their own candidates.
“As individual voters, super PACS weaken our personal ability to influence the outcome of a presidential race to the degree that elections are supposed to be in this country. If you call a spade a spade, super PACS have turned presidential elections into a game — a very high-stakes game for billionaires and corporate interests.”
Taylor said the difficulty of campaign finance reform is that it is a free speech issue. He said super PACS and nonprofit 501(c)(4) organizations take money from a wide variety of places to spend on their favorite candidates. He argued for full disclosure to the FEC no matter who raised the money. “There are a lot of things in this country we should take personal responsibility for,” Taylor said. “Citizens United troubles me. As a certified public accountant, I understand that a corporation is a separate entity from shareholders and therefore it’s called a ‘person’ in legal terms. But, I know corporations aren’t people because when they do bad things you can’t put one in jail.”
Concerning tax reform, Bhalla said tax reform is needed to close the many loopholes in the tax code that can be taken advantage of by those who can afford to hire tax attorneys. He said Mitt Romney paid about 14 percent and President Barack Obama paid about 20 percent on his income while the average person pays about 25 percent. He suggested a flat tax could be more easily understood and simpler to file.
Wamp said he believes there is a lot of common ground on tax reform and it is one of the issues he would like to see tackled in Washington. He has not spoken to anyone who is opposed to falling within tax brackets of 8, 14 or 23 percent as suggested by the Simpson-Bowles Commission. However, that legislation has never made it to the floor. He said a tax return should be no more than one page.
“The fundamental problem in Washington is no one has the guts to close the loopholes, end subsidies or remove some of the unnecessary deductions,” he said. “There are not that many people in Washington willing to take that step and close the door on special interests and do what’s necessary. Frankly, a 4 million-word tax code is embarrassing.”
Taylor said there are 165 tax deductions and loopholes in the tax code that cost $1 trillion a year. He said the country would only get out of deficit through a combination of spending cuts and raising revenue. He said tax receipts are the lowest since 1950 while spending is the highest since the Vietnam War.
“Most of us do not benefit the economy as a whole and do not benefit employment as a whole. We’ve got to get people off unemployment rolls and back to paying taxes because they are working for a living. That’s how we’re going to work our way out of deficit,” he said. “I don’t think we should raise tax rates because we have some of the highest rates in the world. What we need to do is reduce the level of deductions, preferences and loopholes to have everybody start paying their fair share.”
Headrick said all four candidates agree the tax code is an unjust system. To her, paying taxes means she has worked hard, has been rewarded for that work and contributed to society.
“When you look at how we balance and apply a percent for taxes, I have to question why we value capital investment so much that we think it needs to be protected by a 15 percent capital investment tax and yet someone who is doing back-breaking labor, out digging a ditch in the hard clay in East Tennessee must pay, not only a payroll tax, but also a graduated income tax for that labor,” she said.