On Friday morning, the Press attempted to reach Van Huss by:
• Leaving messages on his personal telephone.
• Emailing Tennessee House Republican Caucus Press Secretary Cade Cothren, who has in the past facilitated contact with various representatives, including state Rep. Matthew Hill.
• Emailing Van Huss at email@example.com.
Each communication indicated the Press had diligently tried to include him in stories leading up to the Aug. 7 election. A Press reporter then decided to travel to the fire station at Gray Commons Circle in Gray, one of three Washington County early voting sites.
Van Huss was there greeting voters among a swath of his bright blue campaign signs.
“The Johnson City Press doesn’t really want me to win, so I don’t really trust the paper,” the incumbent said after being asked why he refused to return phone calls and other messages.
About an hour earlier, the Press interviewed the incumbent’s Republican opponent, Clayton Stout, for what it hoped would be a rounded story on the 6th District race. Stout said Van Huss has avoided several opportunities to participate in meetings, forums and question-and-answer requests and that constituents in the 6th District should expect more from their representative.
“You owe it to the people to answer their questions,” Stout said. “You’re an elected official. To duck and maneuver around that — you don’t stray away from it — you owe it to the people who elected you. We deserve better than that.”
The Press read that quote to Van Huss verbatim.
“I do not answer to the Johnson City Press; I answer to my constituents,” he replied. “I’ve been standing here greeting constituents. I’ve been knocking on their doors. I’m making myself available to them, and we’ll see what happens here at the polls.”
The newspaper this year did not endorse the House incumbents for the Aug. 7 state primary who represent Washington County. Instead, the Press endorsed Stout, Johnson City’s vice mayor, for the 6th District spot and Phil Carriger, former Johnson City commissioner, for the 7th District seat held by Hill.
Stout has said his opponent was “off base” when he introduced a failed bill to prohibit United Nations’ representatives from monitoring Tennessee elections, as well as successful legislation that limits future law enforcement use of drones (unmanned planes).
“I’m new to politics, but I’m learning,” Van Huss said.
He was given several opportunities to speak further about his campaign, but he declined. Instead he courteously thanked the Press reporter and the two parted ways.
“I’ve been from Harmony to Fall Branch to Towne Acres,” Stout said. “I think that goes a long way. I’ve really put myself out there. I think most of the time, people I meet don’t know who the incumbent is. When I knock on the door, they ask me.”
While both candidates are Christian conservatives and share the same basic values, there are clear differences, Stout said.
“I let my actions do the talking for me,” he said. “God, guns and life are all things I cherish deeply. But this is about working to address unemployment, road projects and other issues. I think the electorate want their representatives to be innovative.
“I still consider myself young, but I have experience in running a business and making a payroll,” he said. “I also have studied in depth the needs of both Johnson City and Washington County. Civil liberties are absolutely important to me, but don’t think the Legislature in Nashville needs to be concerned. If men in dark suits show up in Limestone, I guarantee you we’ll take care of it.”
The vice mayor also said he is concerned about prescription drug abuse in the area and wants to address and solve the problem.
“I also want to work with the governor’s initiative to get high school students interested in the trades — a career field where they learn to be nurses, technicians, welders,” he said. “These are great-paying jobs. The economy has been tough, and there is an emphasis today on obtaining a degree. They spend four years and a ton of money, but many times they are no closer to a career path.”
Follow Gary B. Gray on Twitter @ggrayjcpress. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/garybgrayjcp.