Political forums are often at their most useful when they allow voters to draw a distinction between the candidates. During the Tennessee House of Representatives for the 43rd District portion of the Southern Standard – WCPI Political Forum Monday night, the distinction between incumbent Republican Paul Sherrell and Democratic challenger Cheryl Uselton became most stark when the issue of abortion was broached.
During opening statements, Uselton touted her Warren County roots and her faith in Christ and added a focus of her campaign was education. “Part of my platform I’m going to be concentrating on is our teachers and keeping our schools as public schools. I want to work with the poor and elderly and take their voice to Nashville to help them better with insurance and more affordable housing. And I’d like to be able to help our homeless and our veterans and work with them a little more,” Uselton said.
She went on to question the current handling of health insurance by the state. “There is federal money out there that would help over 300,000 Tennesseans with insurance but Governor Lee is sitting on that money. And I don’t see any reason we should be charging our homeless as a felony. I want to work with the leaders of both counties to see what we can do to make a better Tennessee. We have to work together to make this happen,” Uselton said.
During Sherrell’s opening, he thanked the people of the 43rd District, which includes all of Warren and White counties, as well as showing gratitude to his wife and God. He then spoke of his achievements while in office as well as laying out his beliefs. “As your state representative, the Republican house caucus has elected me to serve as majority floor leader for the last four years. The floor leader has the responsibility to make sure that all Republican representatives are prepared to present their bills on the house floor as well as other duties,” Sherrell said. “I work to protect our rights to bear arms as long as you are legally and lawfully allowed. I am a member of the NRA and the Tennessee Firearms Association and am the only candidate endorsed by the NRA. I understand and believe that life starts at conception. Marriage is between a man and a woman, according to the Bible. I try my best to support our children, our teachers and education staff, administrators and everyone who has a part in their education. We also try to support our farmers and our nursery businessmen as they provide our food. And we support our veterans, military personnel, our law enforcement and emergency personnel as they serve and protect us,” said Sherrell.
During the question portion, the candidates were asked, “What is your position on Tennessee’s abortion ban as it currently exists and would you support any changes?”
Uselton said, “I most definitely would support changes. I’m pro-choice. That doesn’t mean pro-abortion. I don’t believe in abortion. I’ve never had one, never wanted one. But I don’t believe that our government needs to be in our business telling us what we can and can’t do with our own bodies.”
Uselton went on to share a personal anecdote, “I’ve had two miscarriages before I had a live birth. If this had been now, I would probably be in jail because of the trigger laws that we have. I’d be investigated and so would the doctor. We’d either be fined or in jail. So I do support pro-choice but I don’t support pro-abortion. I just believe that we all have a right to choose.”
Sherrell fielded the same question, stating, “Let’s go back to what the Bible says. Life starts at conception. I know some people don’t believe that … Life starts at conception. It’s common sense. Is abortion good or bad? Abortion is bad because it kills a baby that can’t defend itself.” Pivoting to the second part of the question, Sherrell said, “Does anything need to be change about (the law)? I don’t know that anything needs to be changed about it. We’ve got to protect the life that cannot protect itself. I do want to support the women the best we can. I thank the good Lord that I’m not the one that carries that child, but we’ve got to protect that child. Abortion is wrong. I thank the good Lord that someone had enough common sense up there in Washington D.C. to vote to change it from where it was 50 years ago. I’m glad.”
For the closing statements, Uselton circled back to the issue of abortion. “Like he says, life may begin at conception, but does that mean child care is going to start at that time? There’s people out there that are having kids that don’t want them and they’re being abused. I wonder which is going to be better – to have an abortion and get rid of that child before it has feelings – or to have that child and then have it to be abused, to be starved to death by someone that didn’t want him to begin with? … There have been babies killed every day by abuse and I don’t believe that abortion is right but I don’t believe this gentleman (gesturing at Sherrell) or any other gentleman has a right to tell us what we can or cannot do with our own bodies. That’s just the way I believe. I’m not out here to be a’ baby killer’ as Democrats are called. We are not. We don’t want to kill babies. We just don’t want people telling us what we can do and cannot do, because it won’t stop there. Contraception, I think, is the next thing they want to do away with, and that’s wrong too.”
Sherrell responded by saying, “If you don’t want the child, there are a lot of people who do want a child and they spend thousands of dollars to adopt a child. So give these unborn children a chance to come into our society and let some of these people who want to adopt a child adopt them and let them live.” The remark brought applause from part of the crowd gathered at the Warren County Administrative Building. Sherrell then turned from the abortion issue to speak more on his efforts while in office. “Anyways, let’s change the subject a little bit,” Sherrell said. “I can go back to the first bill I carried when I was first elected in 2016 to try to help our volunteer fire departments and volunteer rescue squad people to help them have a license plate. They work for us for nothing so we try to help them through the state so they don’t have to pay for the license plate. We try to help people with whatever we can if they call.”
Early voting begins Oct. 19 and continues through Nov. 3 Mondays 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Tuesdays thru Fridays 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Saturdays 9 a.m. to noon. Election Day is Nov. 8. Warren County polls open at 8 a.m. at all 20 precincts and close at 7 p.m.