Johnson is an engineer and former naval aviator with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in orbital mechanics from the University of Texas at Austin. He and his wife, Julie, live in Johnson City. They have three grown children. Johnson serves on the board of directors for the Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness and on the host planning committee for the Remote Area Medical Clinic. He is an active member of the Rotary Club of Johnson City.
Van Huss is a web programmer with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Pensacola Christian College. A former Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq, he has served three terms in the General Assembly. He and his wife, Annie, have one daughter. On his legislative biography page, Van Huss lists his religious affiliation as Christian.
The Johnson City Press asked each candidate to answer four similar questions pertaining to the district and his intentions should he win the seat. Their responses follow.
Q: What are the biggest issues 6th District residents are facing?
Van Huss: Good paying jobs, putting Americans first and the opioid epidemic are at the top of the list.
Johnson: As far as the General Assembly goes, the biggest single issue facing District 6 voters is that they are not being adequately represented. They deserve to have an elected representative who seeks their input and fights for their infrastructure and other funding needs. I intend to be available to my constituents while working with Johnson City and Washington County officials, other legislators, and the governor to make sure that the state budget and spending outlays address the needs of the residents of the 6th District.
Q: If re-elected/elected, what will be your legislative priorities? (please be specific)
Van Huss: I look forward to working with (gubernatorial candidate) Bill Lee continuing to implement policies that ensure our economy grows and our citizens prosper. I will continue to vote against in-state tuition for illegal aliens and ensure that Tennesseans are put first. As a member of the Criminal Justice Committee, I will work to ensure that the necessary resources are available to fight the opioid epidemic.
Johnson: My current specific legislative priorities include expanding Medicaid as well as obtaining funding for the State Route 93 project in Fall Branch and the Exit 17 project in Boones Creek. I see these as reasonable objectives that will help our area and that can be achieved through cooperation with other elected officials.
I’d also like to do what I can to help address the opioid epidemic with realistic legislation. This crisis is a complex societal problem for which there is no simple solution, but there are steps that we can take to move in the right direction. Medicaid expansion is certainly a part of that. I believe that medical cannabis may also play a role, and I think we should give it a shot. These are projects that are already in work, but need support.
Q: Rep. Van Huss, your opponent has criticized the state's two-party system, saying it creates a polarized environment that leads to meaningless legislation aimed at pandering to the parties' bases for votes. What have you experienced interacting with other legislators from both parties, and how has that translated into the legislation you've supported?
Van Huss: On the point of my opponent criticizing the two-party system, you'll remember that he ran as a Democrat only two years ago.
Working across the aisle has been good for Tennesseans. We worked together to pass the School Safety Act of 2018. We worked together to repeal Common Core, to give our veterans property tax relief, to end forced annexation, and to ensure teachers received proper raises all of which the establishment opposed and the people won.
Q: Mr. Johnson, You've criticized the state's two-party system, saying it creates a polarized environment that leads to meaningless legislation aimed at pandering to the parties' bases for votes. If elected as an independent, would you caucus with one of the major parties? If not, do you think being unaffiliated will reduce your effectiveness in influencing legislation?
Johnson: I haven’t seen the caucus system in operation up close, but from a distance, it seems a little anti-democratic. Our representatives should be able to meet and discuss initiatives publicly. They should be able to support bills that will benefit their constituents while opposing those that don’t. Dividing into ideological voting blocs that can be commandeered by a few legislators is a recipe for gridlock and partisanship. The result seems unlikely to actually benefit the majority of constituents.
My plan is to work with anyone who is willing to partner on a good idea. I recognize that obtaining support for a bill that uniquely benefits my district will require lending support to bills that benefit other districts. I think that I will be able to work with members of both parties.
Q: Do you believe there is a path forward for Tennessee to adopt Medicaid expansion?
Van Huss: I don't see it happening in the near future. It continues to come down to how we would pay for it. I will continue to support policies that give folks the opportunity to work good paying jobs — the policies that have made our healthcare system so great that everyone in the world wants to come here for procedures. I will not support socialist policies that encourage people to stay at home and live off of the government and therefore their fellow citizens.
Johnson: I absolutely think that Medicaid expansion is achievable here in Tennessee! I’d like to point out that previous JCP articles have been inaccurate in stating that I support expansion “regardless of cost.” What I support is something along the lines of the Insure Tennessee plan that Governor Haslam negotiated with the Tennessee Hospital Association (THA) in 2014. That plan had the THA picking up the 10 percent that would not be covered by the federal government in 2020 and beyond. There would be no increase in state taxes or debt. The 10 percent would be worth it to the THA to reduce the amount of unreimbursed emergency care that hospitals have to either write-off (raising their costs) or shift to insured patients (raising our costs).
Objections to the Insure Tennessee plan may have made sense when some expected a full repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act several years ago. If the ACA were repealed, the 90 percent federal match would dry up. At this point, however, several parts of the ACA have become too ingrained in the fabric of healthcare to be repealed. Among these is Medicaid expansion, which has been adopted by 33 states and the District of Columbia, including our neighbors Kentucky, Virginia and Arkansas. Idaho, Utah and Nebraska are seriously considering expansion at this time. It’s not a red state/blue state thing; Congress simply can’t afford the backlash of repealing Medicaid expansion, so it's here to stay. The question is, how long will we wait before we start bringing those tax dollars back to Tennessee?