“The biggest moral failure in this legislature has been the failure to expand Medicaid. We must do that. It is my first priority, and I’m serious when I say this,” Fitzhugh said, speaking to a room full of Democratic supporters during a visit to Johnson City.
“They say, ‘How can you do it when the popular Republican governor (Bill Haslam) and the supermajority couldn’t do it?’ Well, there are no reasons left that we haven’t answered to that majority in why we shouldn’t do this. It is the moral thing to do, it is the material thing to do, it is the medical thing to do and it is monetary thing to do. It is going to happen, and we’re going to get it done.”
Speaking earlier in the day to the Johnson City Press editorial team, Fitzhugh said, as Tennessee’s governor, he would not shy away from pressuring the Republican supermajority, if that’s what it took to expand Medicaid.
“I think I know my colleagues in the legislature enough to get them to vote for this, and we may have to put a little pressure on them. We might have to veto a few bills early on to get their attention, but that’s OK. We’ll do that,” said Fitzhugh, a state representative for the 82nd District and House minority leader.
“We have to do this. We have lost $4.5 billion (in federal funding) so far.”
In addition to creating more jobs, Fitzhugh said Medicaid expansion would help solve a host of other healthcare-related issues, such as expanding opioid addiction treatment and helping keep rural hospitals open.
Fitzhugh made the trip to Johnson City following a Sunday night televised debate in Knoxville against Democratic challenger Karl Dean, a former Nashville mayor.
When asked what sets himself apart from the similar stances of Dean, Fitzhugh began his answer with the caveat, “I’m not knocking him here,” a gentle jab compared to the barbs being thrown back and forth by the Republican candidates.
“I’m just saying his body of work has been in a silo that’s been completely in the city hall of one city. ... He started as an assistant public defender in City Hall, a public defender, then a law director and then a mayor. All in that silo. My corn has been spread out all over the country. So I think that’s one difference we have,” Fitzhugh said.
When it comes to the issues, Fitzhugh, who’s served in the General Assembly for over two decades, said the big difference between himself and Dean is public education and charter schools.
“I think we should have the best public education for every child, and when we’re 46 in education funding, we can’t afford to take money out of that and give it to a voucher for a private school or give it to a nonprofit for a charter school. It’s the same thing,” Fitzhugh said.
“Now, (Dean) tries to split the hair there and say he’s not for private charter (schools) but public charter (schools). Well, a public charter is nothing than outsourcing your public school and taking money out of that public fund. So that’s where we just have a difference.”
While he doesn’t support for-profit charter schools, Dean has supported the idea of nonprofit charter schools in larger urban districts, but not in rural areas.
The Fitzhugh campaign hosted the Down Home event, which began with a performance from the Brother Boys and Ed Snodderly. Washington County Democratic Party members were also in attendance, as was 1st Congressional District Democratic candidate Marty Olsen, state House 7th District candidate Nathan Farnor and Johnson City Commission candidate Jeff Clark.
Olsen spoke briefly to the crowd about his campaign and made a brief comment about his perceived path to victory in succeeding incumbent U.S. Rep. Phil Roe.
“So my math is if I get one out of four Republicans then I easily win. And if you do some other math, you find out that one out of four Republicans thinks election integrity is important. One out of four Republicans think it’s important that Congress keep a check on the executive branch. So the math is there,” Olsen said.
Aug. 2 is the primary election day for state and federal races. The general election will be on Nov. 6.