Debate pic

Moderator Mark Hyman, left, opens debate on Thursday night.

By Hank Hayes

Kingsport Times News

BLOUNTVILLE — Six Tennessee 1st Congressional District Republican candidates weighed in on what to do about the next pandemic, the federal government’s role in law enforcement and race relations and access to capital during a Thursday night debate held at Northeast State Community College.

Knoxville physician Josh Gapp, former Kingsport Mayor John Clark, state Reps. David Hawk and Timothy Hill, Carter County engineer Jay Adkins and former Johnson City Mayor Steve Darden participated in the debate.

Gapp was asked how the U.S. should prepare for the next pandemic.

“This question in particular is a great question,” Gapp said. “I think we need to stay vigilant with the science behind our monitoring of the different diseases that are out there in the world.”

Clark was asked about the role of the federal government in restoring public confidence in law enforcement.

“Law enforcement, to me, is extremely important in our society,” Clark said. “In my personal experience as mayor of Kingsport, they get support. They also have fantastic community relations. I think law and order will prevail. The key component for law and order from a federal perspective is to have the support of the U.S. government.”

Hawk responded to a question about the federal government’s role in race relations.

“The federal government has a big role to play in improving race relations,” Hawk, R-Greeneville, said. “I think that begins with creating conversation between people than having groups shouting at each other. That’s where we are as a society. I think as your next congressman, I will bring entities together and have conversations about how best we can get along. How can we best understand someone’s concerns.”

Hill was asked where he stands on Amtrak extending passenger rail service to the region.

“I think the congressional office, one of the roles the next congressman is going to play is that of the bully pulpit,” Hill, R-Blountville said. “Whatever is good for this region to help it grow, I would work with everybody to see that happen.”

Adkins was asked about how more entrepreneurs can get more access to capital.

“Job creation, while it is important, is difficult to do until we have a highly skilled workforce,” Adkins said. “I believe in order to have job creators bring jobs to this area, we have to build up our workforce and support places like Northeast State (Community College).”

Darden was asked what’s unique about the 1st Congressional District.

“The uniqueness of our area is that it is the best place to live, work, worship and raise a family that I know of,” Darden said. “I believe my goal is to use the skills I’ve developed in the negotiating rooms, in the board rooms, in the courtrooms of East Tennessee to develop relationships in Washington to benefit us here.”

Lora Barnett, executive director of Government Relations and Workforce Development for the Kingsport Chamber, said the six candidates in the debate were invited to participate because they had the highest fundraising totals. Kingsport pharmacist Diana Harshbarger and state Sen. Rusty Crowe were invited to participate in the debate but did not attend. There are 16 candidates on the ballot in the August GOP primary. Early voting is underway.

Due to COVID-19 safety measures, members of the public were not allowed into the event.

The Bristol, Kingsport, and Johnson City Chambers of Commerce, Greene County Partnership, WCYB News 5 and Northeast State partnered to host the Your Voice, Your Future debate for the Tennessee 1st Congressional District race.