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Candidate differences on display at political forum
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State Sen. Janice Bowling said Monday she supports a school voucher program that would help students in Shelby and Davidson counties go to private schools with financial assistance.
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Sheila Younglove said Monday that expanding the state’s Medicaid program would be paid for 90% by federal dollars and 10% by the Tennessee Hospital Association.

Warren County voters will have two distinct choices when they go to the polls to vote for Tennessee State Senate.

Republican Janice Bowling, the incumbent, and Democrat Sheila Younglove didn’t agree on anything Monday night at a political forum sponsored by the Southern Standard and WCPI.

When it comes to COVID-19, Bowling said the state is doing enough, masks don’t need to be worn, and the virus was developed and intentionally released on the world by the Chinese.

Younglove countered that she believes the state hasn’t done enough to fight COVID, mask policies don’t need to be relaxed, and she doesn’t put much stock in conspiracy theories.

Bowling has been against expanding Medicaid to provide healthcare to more Tennesseans, but she’s for school vouchers to allow tax dollars to be used to pay for tuition at private schools in Shelby and Davidson counties.

Younglove is in favor of expanding Medicaid and she’s against school vouchers.

When asked if Tennessee is doing enough to fight the spread of COVID-19, Bowling answered, “I certainly think we are.”

Bowling went on to say, “I truly believe this was a weaponized virus that was weaponized biologically for psychological fear and for the economy, to destroy our economy. If we believe everything we were told initially by the Communist Chinese, once Americans began treating this disease for ourselves we began to see things that worked better. And now we know you don’t have to immediately put people on a ventilator. You don’t need to shut down. You don’t have to wear a mask. You do need to do what grandma said. You do need to say your prayers, you need to wash your hands and you don’t need to kiss strangers.”

When asked to clarify her comments about the virus being intentionally released as a weapon, Bowling reiterated her belief China is behind it.

“I don’t think anyone who has studied the Communist Chinese would think they wouldn’t be capable of doing this,” said Bowling, who stressed balance is very important to Chinese culture. “I feel the Communist Chinese felt off balance with our president who was changing a lot of the policies that were allowing them to control things in the United States of America. So I think that lack of balance in their eyes gave way to what they’ve done. It’s reprehensible.”

When asked if she believes the virus was intentionally created by the Chinese, Younglove said she does not.

“I haven’t seen any evidence of that,” Younglove said. “Now we’ve all got it and we’ve got to deal with it and it’s not going to be an easy process. Instead of crying out so much that it was the Chinese and saying this is a Chinese virus that has done this to us, we need to get over that and start working on a cure. I usually don’t buy into conspiracy theories.”

When asked about expanding Medicaid, Younglove said she’s firmly in favor of it and she pointed out Bowling has opposed the measure every time it’s been presented. Tennessee is one of 12 states that hasn’t expanded Medicaid.

“I’m in favor of it and I’ll tell you why,” said Younglove. “Medicaid expansion, at this point, is covered 90% by the federal government. The remaining 10% is left up to the states. However, in Tennessee, the hospital association has said they will pay that other 10% and the reason why is we’re having rural hospitals close at an alarming rate in Tennessee. Fourteen have closed in the last decade. There are about 13 or 14 more on the chopping block right now.”

Younglove said expanding Medicaid would allow more people to have healthcare.

“With TennCare, you have to be 138% below the poverty level,” said Younglove. “With Medicaid expansion, you pick it up where that leaves off and run it up to the working poor, basically people who cannot afford private pay. So we have a federal program that’s being subsidized by the hospital association. And if we do adopt Medicaid expansion, we will see about 300,000 citizens receiving healthcare coverage and approximately 89,000 veterans.”

In contrast, Bowling said she believes the state’s nearly $13 billion in annual Medicaid spending is sufficient.

“We already expanded it when we went to TennCare,” said Bowling. “I think Gov. Phil Bredesen did something that had to be done when he was governor. Our Medicaid was attracting people from other states. It was attracting all sorts of people coming in and Medicaid was about to eat our state’s budget literally. Right now, we use our No. 1 appropriation with the state with that mandate from the federal government for our portion of what we pay for Medicaid and that is $12.9 billion that goes to a little over 1 million Tennesseans so we are helping people.”

Bowling said she supports the school voucher program which was approved by the General Assembly. It allows students in two counties, Shelby and Davidson, to use state tax dollars to spend on tuition at private schools if they wish.

“Education is our No. 1 priority in the appropriations we do as a state,” said Bowling, who pointed out funding Medicaid is a federal requirement. “We appropriate $11.8 billion for 975,000 children in the state of Tennessee. That’s a lot of money. That’s a lot of money that could probably be spent wiser.”

Bowling continued, “In education, in Shelby County and in Davidson County, there are children in these schools who are operating in the lowest 1% in state education. Not only is it not educating the children, many times there is also a lot of violence associated with these schools. The parents who qualify for the vouchers are working people who can’t afford for the private education of their children, but they know not only are their children not getting educated but they’re in danger for physical violence. These parents deserve the opportunity to have this voucher.”

When asked she thinks if the voucher system is the best use of tax dollar, Younglove had a different answer.

“No sir, it is not. It is taking public tax dollars and giving it to private schools,” said Younglove. “Most of those, in the district we’re in, are religious-based private schools. It violates the separation of church and state. I’m not against private schools. Don’t get me wrong. But if you’re a private school and you want to offer scholarships to children who couldn’t otherwise afford them, please do, but don’t use my tax dollars to send your child to private school. Let’s properly fund our public schools so we’re not 46th in the nation in per-student funding. The money is there.”