Last night I attended a Meet the Candidates event sponsored by the Springtown Community Support Group at their volunteer fire house in Polk County. After a wardrobe malfunction caused me to ditch my shirt and tie for a polo shirt–but it was an orange polo, which might as well be formal wear in East Tennessee–I made the hour-plus drive to Springtown. Once I arrived, Bill Russell, the organizer of the event, greeted me, explained the rules (five minute intro, five minutes of questions, then mingle), and directed me to my seat.
Four other candidates attended:
- Mike Friedman – Democrat
- Melody Shekari – Democrat
- Geoff Smith – Republican
- Rick Tyler – Independent
Needless to say, despite Tyler running as an Independent, he’s on the right end of the political spectrum. So, at this event, Friedman and Shekari are running to the left of me, Smith and Tyler to the right. I guess I’m stuck in the middle with you. Despite the title of this post, none of my competitors are clowns or jokers. We all want what is best for the 3rd District: We just don’t agree on what is best and how to get there–except that getting Fleischmann out would help. Smith and Shekari each came with an assistant, but Friedman, Tyler, and I were flying solo.
I didn’t do great, but I didn’t do badly. I botched my answer to one question. In my introduction, I commented on how wasteful it was that Fleischmann had voted forty-plus times to defund Obamacare, knowing all along that this was a waste of time, since even if any of these got past the Senate–they didn’t–Obama would surely veto, and there was no chance of an override. The questioner asked if there were any issues where I would try, even knowing there was no chance of success. I stupidly answered that I would fight to get veterans’ benefits properly funded, because people have been trying for a few decades to fix the VA fixed, but that was a horrible answer.
If I were in Congress, I wouldn’t fight for an issue that had no chance of success. I don’t have the right to waste the taxpayers’ money on hopeless causes. Now, I might fight for structural or systemic changes to move these issues into the realm of possibility; for example, by supporting candidates who would support these proposals. It’s important to choose your battles and when to fight them. The government is large enough and complex enough that there is always something worth fighting for that is a solvable problem.
I enjoyed speaking with the people, but I was definitely to the left of them. Most rural counties tend toward conservatism, and Polk County is no different. They have legitimate concerns. One questioner complained about the lack of high-speed internet access in the county. Another resident complained about Forest Service trucks destroying the roads and the county not having the funds to fix them. A school board member spoke with me about extremely tight budgets forcing cutting of music programs. There was quite a bit of the standard Southern anti-federal sentiment, with a solid consensus that the federal government does too much and spends way too much. The evils of the Federal Reserve Bank were brought up more than once. There’s a ton of concern about illegal immigration, but I am not sure what to think of that. Polk County is 98.5% white (U.S. Census data), with only about 1.6% Hispanic. It doesn’t strike me that illegal immigrants are a huge problem there, but I could be wrong.
I did learn that I need to figure out how to better deliver my message. There were a couple of times when I thought members of the audience had a system crash when I tried to explain how one issue was linked to another, because they aren’t used to seeing those connexions (yeah, it’s a quirky–but legitimate–alternative spelling). There was some interesting emotional shifts in conversations, like when I agreed that we needed to control the federal debt, but that the way I would do it is to remove loopholes and raise taxes on the rich and on large corporations, because I think we have already cut most discretionary spending to extremes.
I got a chance to speak with Smith, Tyler, and Friedman, and I will post more about their candidacies in the next week or so. I regret that I didn’t get a chance to speak with Shekari. The Springtown Community Support Group did a great job with this event, and I hope they continue doing this sort of thing.