Phil Roe to retire from Congress

Robert Houk • Jan 4, 2020 at 12:00 AM

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, said Friday he will not seek a seventh term to Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District seat in November.

The 74-year-old retired physician said he came to his decision to retire after consulting with his family during the holidays.

“This doesn’t have anything to do with what’s happening in D.C.,“ the congressman said. “It’s a personal decision. I haven’t had two days off back-to-back since I was 60. It’s time to let off the gas.”

Roe also had some pointers for the many candidates he suspects will soon be “coming out of the the woodwork” to succeed him.

“My advice is to get started today,” he said.

Roe, who was elected to Congress in 2007 after unseating incumbent U.S. Rep. David Davis in the Republican Primary, said he promised voters he would serve no more than six terms and would not accept campaign money from political action committees.

“I kept my word,” Roe told reporters on a conference call. “I did what I said I going to do.”

The congressman said he believes his legislative legacy in Congress will be the more than 25 laws he helped to pass dealing with veterans and military service-related health issues. Much of that legislation began during his chairmanship of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

That includes the MISSION Act, the Blue Water Navy Act and the Forever GI Bill.

Roe also said he was “proud of the simple things” he helped to make possible, such as getting epinephrine into public schools for students who suffer from deadly food allergies.

“It’s been privilege to do this,” Roe said.

Elected officials across Tennessee were quick Friday to react to Roe’s announcement. Gov. Bill Lee tweeted that Roe had “represented the Volunteer State in Washington with tremendous distinction, and I wish him well in his next chapter. Many thanks to him for his work on behalf of our students, veterans, and the people of Tennessee.”

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., issued a statement calling Roe “a champion for veterans, for students and for common sense in government.” Alexander, who is also not seeking re-election this year, said Roe’s “background as a practicing physician has been crucial to our work to lower health care costs.”

Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock said she appreciates Roe’s service to the 1st District, and the fact that he started his political career as a member of the City Commission.

“Being someone who is also in an elected position, I understand the dedication and the sacrifices he’s made to represent the people of the 1st District,” said Brock, who added that while she has no interest in seeking the seat herself, she hopes women will enter the race.

Roe’s decision to retire is likely to result in a large field of candidates seeking the 1st District seat this year. The Republican and Democratic primaries for Congress will be on the Aug. 6 ballot.

Candidates can begin picking up their petition papers on Feb. 3, and have until noon on April 2 to qualify in the race.

A number of Republican officeholders at the state and local level have already expressed interest in seeking the congressional seat. A few have also said they have no interest in running for U.S. House. One is state Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, who told the Press: “We are on the verge of abolishing abortion in Tennessee, and I must follow through with our work for the unborn.”

State Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, said he has a “level of interest” in running for Congress, but he also “feels really good about what we’ve been able to do in the Tennessee Senate.”

Former Johnson City Mayor Steve Darden, who served with Roe on the City Commission, said Friday he is “grateful to Roe for his many years of service,” and is “keenly interested” in succeeding him in Washington, D.C.

“It is an amazing opportunity to represent the people of the 1st District in the nation’s Capitol,” Darden said.

Former state Rep. Charles Allen, R-Johnson City, said he that while he is “disappointed to hear” that Roe has decided to not seek re-election, he has also been encouraged to run for the 1st District seat.

“My decision will be based on where I think I can make the greatest impact,” Allen said.

State Reps. David Hawk, R-Greeneville; Timothy Hill, R-Blountville; and Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby; have also been said to be interested in the congressional race.

Tennessee’s 1st District in Congress covers all of Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hamblen, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties and parts of Jefferson and Sevier counties. The district has historically been strongly Republican, with Robert Love Taylor being the last Democrat elected to the seat in 1879.

Air Force veteran Chris Rowe, a Democratic candidate, announced in March he was seeking the 1st District seat during a kick-off event at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park.

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