State Sen. Janice Bowling wasn’t in attendance, but the three people looking to replace her in the Tennessee Senate were in McMinnville last week for a Southern Standard/ WCPI political forum.
Warren County resident Michael Shane Wilcher is facing Bowling, a Tullahoma resident, in the Republican primary. Early voting is under way for that race with election day set for Aug. 4.
In the Democratic primary, Tullahoma resident Mike Winton is facing Whitwell resident Alice Demetreon.
The winners of the two primaries will square off in November for the 16th District Tennessee Senate seat Bowling has held for one term.
Wilcher is a current Warren County commissioner. He said he decided to run for office at the local level, and now at the state level, because he was dissatisfied with government.
“The main reason I’m up here is three or four years ago, I wasn’t getting served here in Warren County by my elected officials the way I felt like a citizen should be,” said Wilcher. “I believe I’m most like you because at some point most of us who care anything about politics or how our country is run have thought, ‘I would do things differently if I was up there.’ That’s one of the conversations I would have, so it got to the point where I had to stop saying that and do something about it.”
Much of Demetreon’s opening remarks centered around healthcare and the need to extend coverage to reach some 280,000 uninsured Tennesseans.
“I firmly believe healthcare is a right and Insure Tennessee should have been passed,” said Demetreon. “After the joke of further studying the issue, we now have to wait for approval for BethCare, first at the federal level then at the state level,” she said referring to a proposal by House Speaker Beth Harwell. “Will it be passed? I don’t know. Meanwhile, Tennesseans die unnecessarily. We need action now. Are you tired of hospitals closing and healthcare prices rising? I know I am.”
Winton said he started working at age 12 and held a third-shift job at a gas station while in high school. When asked about Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to have a higher gas tax to pay for road and bridge infrastructure upgrades, Winton said he believes a lower gas tax would better stimulate the economy.
“I may go so far as to say we could reduce our gas taxes because if you look at our interstate system, 40, 24, 65, 75, we have some of the most traveled commercial interstate systems in the U.S.,” said Winton. “If we reduced our gas tax by 10 cents, our fuel would be 10 cents cheaper than Georgia, 10 cents cheaper than Carolina. Every company that’s out there wants to know where’s the best place to fuel? Where can we save the most money? If we make that Tennessee, we’re going to gain sales tax because people are going to be stopping to buy fuel. We’re going to expand businesses because new fuel stops are going to need to be put in our system and we’re going to benefit from those increased taxes.”
When asked about a new Tennessee law being implemented this summer that allows some school officials to carry guns on college campuses, Wilcher said he doesn’t have a problem with properly trained adults carrying firearms.
“It does not make me feel less safe to know people who are licensed have firearms on college campuses,” said Wilcher. “I have a carry permit and I’ve had it for 17 or so years and you’re never going to be able to stop somebody who wants to do harm to someone else. It doesn’t matter what tool they pick. But there have been instances, I believe, where a person who has been trained and has a firearm could have ended some tragedies, not all, you won’t end them all. But I don’t have a problem with someone who is licensed and who is an adult carrying a firearm on a college campus.”
When asked about large campaign contributions influencing elected officials, Winton said big money should not be a part of politics.
“I truly, truly believe being a state Senator or being a member of the House of Representatives, we should be there to serve,” said Winton. “It shouldn’t be about the money. I think it’s a travesty that it may cost $150,000 or $200,000 to be elected to a state senator office to serve you folks for four years. Anytime you allow big money to be involved in politics, you are eroding your rights as a citizen. I don’t think outside money needs to influence my vote and it will not influence my vote. You will influence my vote. You telling me what you need will influence my vote. Nobody is going to buy me. I truly believe if we could run campaigns on a low budget and allow you folks to select the right people, we’d be much better off.”
When asked about the Bible and the push to make it the official state book, Demetreon said government shouldn’t endorse one religion over another.
“I’m one who believes in separation of religion and state,” said Demetreon. “Religion is great, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t feel it belongs in our legislature. We do have moral responsibilities, but if we choose the Bible what about all the other great religions? All great religions have the same basic tenant. My personal thing is do unto others as you would have them do unto you. To me, if we would all treat others that way, we’d be a lot further along in the world. With all that we have going on, I would like to see more done with Insure Tennessee, more with some gun control measures. I feel there are a lot more things that could have been addressed as opposed to a state book or a state gun for that matter. I don’t feel any religious text should be a state book.”
The forum can be seen in its entirety at www.southernstandard.com.