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6 GOP candidates debate at Northeast State Community College
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6 GOP candidates debate at Northeast State Community College

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BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. — Multiple Republican primary candidates for Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District squared off on topics such as passenger rail and the opioid epidemic, entrepreneurship and jobs in a Thursday night debate.

The debate between six of the 16 Republicans candidates on the ballot for the Aug. 6 primary, was held at Northeast State Community College. Titled “Your Voice, Your Future,” it was hosted by the Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City Chambers of Commerce, as well as Greene County Partnership, the college and News 5 WCYB.

The candidates who were invited and attended were Josh Gapp of Knoxville, Steve Darden of Johnson City, Timothy Hill of Blountville, John Clark of Kingsport, David Hawk of Greeneville and Jay Adkins of Elizabethton.

The candidates had shared similar perspectives on the subject of a proposed Amtrak passenger railway expansion into Bristol, Tennessee and Virginia from Roanoke.

Darden said he was all for expanding Amtrak and added that highways and bridges also need to be maintained.

Clark said his role as congressman would be to make the expansion happen if a majority of constituents wanted it, but he would first have to study the cost of the project. Hawk said he would personally look forward to taking a passenger rail from Bristol to D.C. as congressman, but he warned that the government has to be careful about getting into the private sector.

But there were times when candidates called each other out or shamed candidates who were not present. On the subject of job creation and the economy, Clark interrogated Darden on how many jobs he had created. Darden responded that he had been hands-on with the recruitment of employers like Nakatetsu Machine Technologies, which has a location in Telford, Tennessee.

Hill also said he was disappointed that the subject of Ballad Health was not brought up and criticized fellow Republican congressional candidate Rusty Crowe for serving on Ballad’s board and supporting legislation allowing its creation. He said candidates needed to discuss the subject because Ballad’s organization — a merger between the former Wellmont Health System and Mountain States Health Alliance — was harming people in the region.

Prior to the debate, two Republican candidates, Nichole Williams of Kingsport and Carter Quillen of Elizabethton, told the Bristol Herald Courier they would have liked to attend the debate but were not invited because their campaigns hadn’t raised enough money.

Beth Rhinehart, president and CEO of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, did not immediately respond when asked what criteria were used to select who was invited to the debate.

Blair Walsingham, the only Democratic candidate on the Aug. 6 primary ballot who is still running, was not invited to attend. Laura Del Savio, communications director for Walsingham’s campaign, said when they inquired as to why she was not invited, they were told that it was a debate for Republican candidates.

Williams, Quillen, Republican candidate Chance Cansler and Walsingham attended and participated in a different congressional candidate debate last week at Walters State Community College in Morristown.

lgreiss@bristolnews.com | 276-645-2412 | Twitter: @Leif_Greiss

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