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Robert Houk

Opinion Page Editor
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Columns As I See It

Rep. Phil Roe's fourth bid for Congress may not be his last

June 26th, 2014 3:51 pm by Robert Houk

As he did for his previous three successful campaigns for Congress, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe kicked off his re-election bid Monday at Johnson City’s Municipal and Safety Building. The Johnson City Republican shouldn’t have any problems in winning a fourth term in the 1st District seat. The question now is: How long does Roe plan to remain in Congress?

Roe told me last week he would like to move up to a chairmanship of a standing House committee (either Veterans’ Affairs or Education and the Workforce, where he currently chairs a subcommittee).

Republicans have limited themselves to serving no more than six years as a committee chairman. That means if Roe is named a chairman next year, he might be making two more campaign kickoff speeches at the Municipal and Safety Building.

In the meantime, those with their own burning aspirations to run for Congress could be wondering whatever happened to the candidate who told the Press in 2008 that he only wanted to serve a “couple of terms.”

Here are some more notes from a political pundit’s notebook:

• U.S. Sen. Bob Corker is never shy when it comes to locking arms with a colleague across the aisle to sponsor legislation on a difficult issue. Such was the case last week when Tennessee’s junior senator told reporters he was teaming up with Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., to raise the federal gas tax by 12 cents over the next two years.

Raising any tax has become the political third rail for Republicans in recent years, with many GOPers taking Grover Norquist’s irresponsible pledge to never, ever (even under the threat of waterboarding) raise taxes. So why is Corker going where few Republicans dare to tread?

The answer is simple: There is a $160 billion shortfall in the federal Highway Trust Fund, which Corker insists will result in the loss of 666,000 jobs and deep cuts to state highway budgets, including that of Tennessee.

The Volunteer state is already facing a dilemma when it comes to financing bridge and road projects. The state’s gas tax is tapped out.

Of course, there are many who argue Corker should be lowering the federal gas tax instead of raising it. That might not necessarily be a good thing here in Tennessee, where lawmakers passed a bill in the mid-1990s to raise the state’s gas tax anytime the Feds lowered its tax. The hike would recoup any highway construction funds lost by the federal gas tax reduction.

• I heard from several area Democrats last week who didn’t think a comment I made about there being more hockey fans in Tennessee than Democrats was very cute. One party member emailed me to say there may be fewer Democrats in Tennessee today, but they are nonetheless dedicated.

There were Democrats in Blountville on Saturday to meet their party’s candidates for federal, state and local offices. Among the candidates were Gordon Ball and Terry Adams, who are running for the U.S. Senate, and Sullivan County’s own John McKamey, who is running for governor.

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at Like him on Facebook at Follow him at

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