“I got encouraged to run again when people read last year that I might not seek re-election,” he said. “I was getting calls from people around the district and folks were coming up to me in the grocery store urging me to run again.”
The qualifying deadline for the Aug. 2 Republican Primary for state offices is April 5.
With nearly 28 years in office, Crowe is the longest-serving member of the Northeast Tennessee’s legislative delegation and is second only to Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, for the number of years served in the Senate.
Crowe credits his constituent service for his long political career. The chairman of the Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee said he is proud to have “touched the lives of so many people” during his years in office.
Tough times on Capitol Hill
Elected as a Democrat in 1990, Crowe shocked Tennessee’s political world five years later when he and another Democratic senator (Milton Hamilton) switched parties at the urging of Gov. Don Sundquist. Crowe said he made the move to better align himself with the people of his district.
“My heart hasn’t changed,” he said. “I’m pretty much the same Rusty.”
Crowe said that was one of the toughest decisions he has made in Nashville because switching parties was very disappointing to his mother.
“She’s a fierce, old-time Democrat, so yes that was a difficult time,” Crowe said.
Another difficult decision in his career, Crowe said, came when he refused to back Sundquist’s efforts to pass a state income tax. Crowe said he promised his constituents he wouldn’t vote for an income tax.
“That was difficult for me, but I was convinced a state income tax was unconstitutional,” Crowe said.
Taking that position strained his relationship with Sundquist and some of his colleagues on Capitol Hill.
“I don’t like a lot of controversy,” the senator said. “I like to please my constituents, but I’ve learned you just can’t ride the fence.”
Feeding off constituents
The 70-year-old lawmaker said he feeds “off the energy” of his constituents. Crowe said it is from them that he he gets most of his ideas for legislation.
One such bill Crowe is sponsoring this year is legislation to help senior citizens to better access a myriad of programs and services for the elderly. Crowe said many times older Tennesseans are not informed they qualify for these resources.
Crowe would also like to pass legislation this year to allow physicians to accept in-kind payments from patients for medical services. He said the idea for that bill came from his childhood memories of a renowned Johnson City physician who made house calls.
“The people who couldn’t pay back then could barter,” he said. “They would offer to paint the doctor’s porch, or he might find a cow tied to a tree.”