Three candidates. One hour, and a lot left on the table.
The Johnson City/Washington County NAACP-sponsored candidate forum Monday night in the Johnson City Public Library offered a chance for community members to get a feel for the candidates’ general leanings and top concerns about a month prior to the Nov. 6 general election.
It was not a debate, as Ralph Davis, the organization’s vice president made clear. But the forum was useful in clearing the air a little.
A total of nine candidates were invited; three showed up: U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, who is running for his third term in the House after gliding to the nomination with no Republican opposition in the August state primary, and Gray attorney Alan Woodruff, the lone Democrat fighting for that seat. Finally, Johnson City’s Nancy Fischman, a Democrat taking on Republican incumbent State Rep. Matthew Hill, 7th, also made an appearance.
The format was simple. A few questions for each candidate, and a three minute time limit.
First, the “tell us about yourself” open.
Roe: “This is the worst economic recovery since the 1930s. Developing energy resources is a way to bring back jobs. We have natural resources here in America. Regarding health care (reform): there are nine doctors in Congress, and none of us were asked what we thought about health care reform.”
Woodruff: “Phil, don’t you touch my Medicare. Jobs, tax reform -- these are the problems that confront you. I’m arguing qualifications. Phil is an obstetrician. You wouldn’t do a heart transplant, would you? I’m non-partisan. We have to work together. We’ve got to deal with issues and not politics.”
Fischman: “If elected, I’ll help pave the way for job growth. I want fair and friendly state regulations to recruit new industry to the area. I’m a strong supporter of public education, and we need to make sure students have access to the type of education they desire. We need to make sure they have access to grants and low-interest loans.”
Q: Will reducing corporate tax help revive the economy?
Woodruff: “It’s true that the tax rate is among the highest in the world, but we also have far more tax breaks. So we have to start from what the taxes paid really are. One of the fallacies is that small business is taxed at a higher rate. Most small businesses are not corporations.”
Roe, responding to Woodruff’s “qualification” jab: When I came on the Johnson City Commission, the city had a $2 million balance. When I left for Congress, it had $24 million. That’s just a smidgen of my qualifications. Japan, Switzerland, they dropped their corporate taxes and business prospered. Every time we’ve lowered capital gains taxes, revenue has gone up.”
Fischman: “We’ve got to increase the skill level of our workers and promote small business in the area. Businesses developed in Washington County are more likely to stay in Washington County.”
Q: What about Obamacare?
Woodruff: “It was passed as a health care act, but it’s a health care spending program. We have to reduce health care costs one way or the other. There needs to be a system that promotes coverage for all. The majority of health insurance is paid for by employer-based plans. In many countries, it’s a government-based plan.”
Roe: “The biggest problem with the American health care system is that it’s too expensive. Also, we have too many people that can’t afford a thousand dollars a month for coverage. The Affordable Health Care Act helped access for some people, but it didn’t address spending. In 10 years we’re going to have 35 million more people with three hundred billion fewer dollars to spend.”
Q: Is education a one size fits all?
Fischman: “Race to the Top has been in place for a year. There have been increases in math and science scores. I think the push to make everyone study at the college level is not right. We also need vocational training. Don’t put every student in the same box.”
Candidates were given time for a short closing statement. And boiled down to the rawest of elements, Roe reminded attendees that they lived in the greatest country on Earth and to never let anyone tell you otherwise; Woodruff said if political agendas are put aside and the problems a seriously analyzed, answers will follow; and Fischman called for a more dynamic education system, access to job training and a highly skilled workforce.
This was followed by a meet-and-greet and one-on-one questions; cookies and Chex Mix included.
Candidates not attending included contestants for Roe’s seat: Green Party candidate Robert Smith of Greeneville and independents Karen Sherry Brackett, Johnson City, and Michael Salyer, Mount Carmel.
Also Jonesborough’s Micah Van Huss, a Republican newcomer, who surprised incumbent state Rep. Dale Ford, was a no-show as was Gray Democrat Michael Clark who is running against Van Huss for the right to serve in Nashville as the 6th District House representative.
Matthew Hill also was not in attendance.