Blackburn is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and she formerly served in the Tennessee General Assembly. Bredesen served as mayor of Nashville before being elected to two terms as governor of Tennessee.
How much will we be seeing you in Northeast Tennessee if you are elected to the U.S. Senate?
Blackburn: “You can count on me to be a voice for Tennesseans and maintain an open line of communication. Part of that involves being present in our communities. Throughout my campaign, I have traveled thousands of miles meeting with Tennesseans, spending much of my time in Northeast Tennessee. Every weekend, I will come home to hear from Tennesseans, and I'll be making frequent visits to Northeast Tennessee.”
Bredesen: “Northeast Tennessee has been really important to me. I’ve spent a lot of time here, and I love this part of the state. I would be honored to represent the people here and assure them that I would do a good job for them and certainly not to be some functionary of any political party or the president. I would like to be someone who works for Northeast Tennessee, and I’m ready to be a champion for the issues that are important in this part of the state.”
Is there something in your background — professionally, politically or personally — that shows you are committed to serving the people of Northeast Tennessee?
Blackburn: “Northeast Tennesseans and I share the same values. Those values are one of the reasons why 76 percent of Northeast Tennessee voted for President Trump in 2016. When President Trump came to Johnson City to hold a rally for my campaign, he was greeted with an enormous crowd and resounding support because Tennesseans know that the accomplishments we've made under the Republican majorities in Congress, such as the historic tax reform, have been hugely beneficial to the Johnson City area. I look forward to advocating for our shared values and working to pass his agenda in the Senate.”
Bredesen: “When I was governor, I worked with former East Tennessee State University President Paul Stanton to develop what became the Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy, which was initially created to address a shortage of pharmacists in the region. Since then, it has graduated more than 700 students who are on the front lines of fighting the opioid crisis in Tennessee. Folks in Northeast Tennessee are looking for a proven leader who will get things done for the region — just like I did when I was governor, rolling up my sleeves and working to deliver on the promise of ETSU's Gatton College of Pharmacy. I’m ready for the job again, this time to champion Northeast Tennesseans in the U.S Senate.”
What is your game plan for tackling the opioid problem in Tennessee? In particular, how would you use federal, state and local resources to deal with this addiction?
Blackburn: “As a mother and a grandmother, my heart breaks for Tennesseans who have lost loved ones to the opioid epidemic. I have been fighting against addiction since my time in the state Senate, where I supported forming drug courts and treatment programs. In Congress, I have continued to push solutions to fight opioid abuse. In March, I introduced the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act 2.0 — a bipartisan bill that increases civil and criminal penalties for bad actors and authorizes vital funding to combat the opioid epidemic. Just recently I co-sponsored a bill to give law enforcement the tools it needs to go after bad actors.
“I meet regularly with law enforcement officials to understand their concerns and recommendations. I recently met with doctors at a recovery center in East Tennessee and with law enforcement officials in Knoxville. Because of this, I have earned support from across the state of many local law enforcement officials, and I am endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police and the Police Benevolent Association. I have advocated for a systemic solution that includes taking a tough stance on the distribution of illicit opioids and engaging the community in prevention and recovery efforts. As our next senator, I will continue to put Tennesseans first and fight to end this crisis.”
Bredesen: “It’s no secret that we have an opioid crisis in Tennessee, and there is no shortage of recommendations to address it. The first step to recovery is for Congress to admit it has an opioid problem. Two years ago, Congress passed a bill — one Big Pharma wanted and one that my opponent co-sponsored — defanging the DEA’s authority to intercept big opioid shipments. Congress could begin recovery by fixing this immediately.
“In August, I announced that my first act as a U.S. Senator would be to introduce legislation that re-empowers law enforcement in their fight against the opioid epidemic and fixes the mess Congresswoman Blackburn’s bill created. Nearly a year ago, she publicly said that she would address the problems that her legislation created but has done nothing. When Congresswoman Blackburn had the opportunity to vote for the “single biggest effort” by Congress to address the opioid epidemic last month, she skipped the vote. She has, however, taken $861,000 in campaign contributions from drug companies, a clear sign that she’s more concerned with drug distributors than Tennessee families who are victims of this epidemic.”
There has been a lot of talk about improving infrastructure in this nation, but so far no one has stepped forward with a plan to fund it. How would you go about replacing crumbling bridges, roads and sewer lines?
Blackburn: “Our nations' infrastructure is crumbling and needs repair. I would like to address this in Tennessee by pairing it with the task of expanding broadband access to our rural communities. Lack of reliable internet access is not just an inconvenience; it is an infrastructure problem that holds Tennesseans back. Without access to reliable internet, children are unable to complete their homework assignments, rural hospitals can’t provide 21st century healthcare, and our small businesses are unable to compete on a larger scale. I believe we can make progress on this issue by pairing the construction of new highways and infrastructure projects with the laying of broadband access at the same time. This will minimize the costs associated while achieving both goals. I am leading the bipartisan effort to bring broadband to rural communities and working to close the digital divide.”
Bredesen: “I think that infrastructure investment is very important and certainly during the time that I was governor saw a number of the issues that exist in terms of decaying infrastructure really makes a difference. There are parts of our state that are very dependent on that infrastructure, things like roads and bridges and rail and are really suffering from not having an adequate amount of it.
“The approach that I think makes the most sense is to do what I did when I was mayor and needed money for projects which is to get very specific about the projects. Not, ‘I need money for education,’ but ‘I want to build a school here of this size and here of this size.’ I really believe that if the Congress could come together and put some really specific proposals together, you could garner some broad support for putting these things in the budget and getting them paid for and start making some really big inroads into the infrastructure problem that we have.”
What role as a U.S. senator from Tennessee would you play in shaping this country's foreign policy? Do you see yourself as a leader or a follower on this issue?
Blackburn: “When I look at American foreign policy, I consider how we address what I call the new ‘Axis of Evil,’ which includes North Korea, China, Syria, Iran and Russia. We have to recognize that these countries are not our friends and do not have the United States' best interests in mind when interacting with us. As the next senator from Tennessee, I will support the needs of Fort Campbell and our National Guard, which each have significant roles in our national security. I will always advocate for foreign policy that protects our homeland. Tennesseans will always know that they have a senator who is consistently supporting policies that keep the safety and security of our nation at the forefront of our minds.”
Bredesen: “I think the United States post World War II has been the leading force for a sensible world order. I want to see us continue to engage with the world. I am disturbed about the way that the president seems to be backing away from that long-term commitment that has worked so well in the past. To do that, I think we have to be willing to treat our friends in the proper way. We need to be willing to work out arrangements. I certainly believe we should be willing to remain in NATO. This country has been thrust in this position of leadership in the world after WWII. It is an enormous source for good. We need to continue to fulfill that role in the world for as long as we possibly can.”