In a little more than a week, the Election Day dust will settle, revealing who will be the next representative of Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District.
The election is Nov. 3 and voters in Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District will vote for the next president, senator and congressman to represent them. In Sullivan County, early voting started last week and will continue until Oct. 29.
Recently, Republican candidate Diana Harshbarger, Democratic candidate Blair Walsingham and Independent candidate Steven Holder talked to the Bristol Herald Courier about their positions on various issues facing Northeast Tennessee and the U.S. at large.
COVID-19 and economic recovery
The COVID-19 pandemic has put the U.S. economy on the ropes, millions of people have ended up unemployed and nearly every industry has been impacted with many business both small and large suffering.
Harshbarger, 60, said the key to economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is reopening the country while taking the threat of the virus seriously. She said reopening the economy will provide stability for families that are the most in need under the pandemic. She added that at the current moment aid must be provided to business owners and others who need assistance.
Holder, 65 said balancing safety with the needs of the economy is like walking a tight rope, but people need to be keep working, children need to be kept in schools and everything needs to be done to keep society functioning.
“We need to do all we can to try to maintain our lives as normally as we can,” Holder said.
Walsingham, 32 said the first thing to do is make sure everyone can get the health care they need, including quick and highly accessible COVID-19 testing. She added the key to economic recovery is investing in a variety of job fields. By expanding broadband internet infrastructure, many people in Northeast Tennessee would be able to good paying jobs that can be done remotely, such as in the telehealth field, she said.
The topic of health care coverage has long been a subject of political debate, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of people being able to access, get and afford the care they need.
Harshbarger, a pharmacy owner from Kingsport, said because of her more than three decades of experience as a pharmacist, she believes she can help provide legislation that will bring down the prices of pharmaceuticals and health insurance plans.
She said health care needs to become affordable to everyone who needs it and the key is to give people options. She said insurance agencies should be allowed to provide coverage across state lines as well as individuals and families given greater control over the personalization of their insurance plans.
Holder supports the establishment of a single payer health care system or one that ensures everyone can get the care they need from birth until death. He added that he is willing to work with any lawmaker to implement universal health care coverage.
“Everybody deserves free health care,” Holder said. “The President [Donald Trump] certainly got good health care when he went to the hospital recently for his COVID and I’m sure that didn’t cost him a penny. So if we can get that for people like him, you know, why can’t we do that for the rest of us?”
Walsingham said that she wants everyone to be able to access and get the health care they need regardless of income. That goes for all health care including emergency, dental, eye, hearing, mental health and anything else. She supports maintaining the private health insurance industry, while expanding Medicaid so anyone can join while leaving Medicare untouched.
She said many people don’t seek preventative care because of the cost of health care, which ends up costing them massive sums if they then have to get emergency or high risk treatment. She said she wants everyone able to get preventative care.
Mental health care
Harshbarger said she believes a lot can be done to improve the mental health care market and she’s open to discussions on the subject. She added that mental health issues, especially those that veterans face, such as outsized suicide rates should be addressed.
Holder said the remaining stigmas prevent people from seeking help for addiction or mental illness. He said people should be able to access and get the mental health care they need regardless of their income or location.
“A lot more people are committing suicide than they used to and that’s horrible,” Holder said. “There’s a lot more drug abuse, alcohol abuse, a lot more child abuse, a lot more domestic violence issues.”
Walsingham said everyone should be able access and receive mental health care regardless of income. She said she also wants to ensure that opportunities are facilitated that allow more people to enter the mental health field and operate in rural areas as well as removing obstacles that make operating in rural areas difficult.
The 1st District’s outgoing Republican Congressman, Rep. Phil Roe, has been commended for his record on veterans issues and all three candidates said they would seek to pass legislation that helps veterans.
Harshbarger said she would like to continue Roe’s work, but go beyond. She said veterans need to be able to access the mental health resources they need.
“I want to carry the torch for the veterans and give them what they need,” Harshbarger said.
As an U.S. Army veteran, Holder said he would work in congress to address long wait times that veterans sometimes face when they seek care at hospitals run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He said he would also like to see more steps implemented to help keep veterans who suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction or other mental health problems from falling through the cracks.
Walsingham, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, said she would work to make sure no one is left behind by the VA. She said the biggest issue that needs to be addressed is mental health issues among veterans.
“I want to see mental health be readily available, easily accessible and destigmatized,” Walsingham said.
She said veterans who have special security clearance face special obstacles because they can only talk to mental health professionals with the same level of security clearance or else they must maintain confidentiality.
Since the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others killed by police, protests have broken out across the country and there have been national calls to defund the police, reform policing or abolish police.
Harshbarger said she supports police officers and defunding the police is not an option. But she said there needs to be some discretion in the hiring process of police officers and training has to be implemented.
Holder said he supports the police and everything possible needs to be done to support good police officers, but bad officers need to be dealt with harshly. He added that police forces should be demilitarized and funds diverted from building up police arsenals to social services that will help address poverty and drug issues.
Walsingham said she wants to see law enforcement refunded and reimagined so that police officers are responding to calls they are best suited to deal with, while other specialists can be tapped for other emergencies.
“We’re asking our police to come out to anything and everything from a cat of a tree to an armed robbery,” Walsingham said.
She said there are already successful programs in place where social workers respond to 911 calls for people experiencing mental health or drug addiction emergencies and handle those situations rather than police. She added because of the disproportionately high rates of suicide among police officers and the large amount of pressure officers are under, she wants to see mental health evaluations and support for officers expanded.
Across the nation many prisons and jails are overcrowded and it’s no different in Northeast Tennessee, where the Sullivan County Jail is chronically overcrowded and has been for years.
Harshbarger said it’s more expensive to keep people in jail or prison than it is to prevent them from getting involved with the justice system in the first place. She added many people turn to drugs or crime because of a lack of opportunity.
“When you have some kind of economic development plan that will educate them and give them a skill or trade skill, something to that effect that may very well alleviate the problems in our jail system,” Harshbarger said.
Holder said that he believes a way to deal with overcrowding in prisons and jails is to place non-violent criminals under house arrest with supervision, but still allow them to work. He said jails and prisons should be reserved for violent offenders and non-violent offenders who don’t comply with alternatives to incarceration.
He also said the private prison industry needs to be abolished to remove any profit motive behind locking people up. He said that the bail system favors the wealthy and people charged with non-violent crimes shouldn’t be kept in jail because they couldn’t post bail.
Walsingham said in the U.S., poverty, mental health and drug addiction are often criminalized, which needs to change. She said if police are called because someone is suicidal or having a mental health emergency they should be taken where they can get the help they need rather than incarcerated.
“We can do things like, end the war on drugs and legalize marijuana, that helps even the opioid crisis, as much as it brings jobs and economy to the forefront,” Walsingham said.
But she also said she still wants to see full and harsh punishments for violent crimes. She added that the bail bond system is overused and was originally intended to be used for people who had a proven record of being a flight risk. Its usage should be scaled back to match the original intent, she said.
Ancient glaciers are melting, sea levels are rising, natural disasters like hurricanes and forest fires are becoming more frequent as well as severe and climate scientists continue to warn world leaders that drastic steps need to be taken to prevent catastrophic and irreversible changes to the planet.
Harshbarger said she believes America is doing a lot to address climate change with efforts like emissions reduction. She said China and India are the countries that need to do more.
“It’s other countries that need to step up and do their part in order to diminish the climate change from happening,” Harshbarger said.
Holder said the U.S. has to do everything it can to implement comprehensive reforms that will address issues like fracking, spillage by oil tankers and pipelines as well as going further to limit emissions by large corporations.
“Our children, our grandchildren and our great grandchildren, you know, they need to have a world to live in, but we’re not taking care of it,” Holder said.
Walsingham said she doesn’t argue with people on whether climate change is natural or man-made, but it needs to be addressed and the key is to invest in renewable and sustainable jobs. She said not only are those jobs good for the planet, but they are high paying as well.
276-645-2512 | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @Leif_Greiss