Candidates vying for First District Congressional seat weigh in on issues


Editor’s Note: The Johnson City News & Neighbor sent the same 10 questions to six local candidates seeking election as the representative of Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives: Former Kingsport Mayor John Clark, Tennessee State Senator Rusty Crowe, former Johnson City Mayor Steve Darden, pharmacist Diana Harshbarger, Tennessee State Representatives David Hawk and Timothy Hill. Five responded with answers starting here and on pages six and seven.

What are your primary motivations for seeking election as the U.S. Representative for Tennessee’s 1st District?

John Clark

John Clark: I want to fight alongside President Trump to rebuild our economy and stand against the liberal socialist Democrats in Washington who are trying to take away our freedoms. My parents fled Communist Cuba to legally immigrate to America and I don’t want the kinds of socialist policies that have ruined Cuba to destroy America. I want to fight to keep the country we love for future generations.

Rusty Crowe: I have worked with four farm bureau presidents, from Joe Hawkins to Jeff Aiken and five governors from Ned McWherter to Bill Lee, and with colleagues on the floor of the Tennessee senate to put Tennessee on top. We are the envy of the nation. I will take those values and principles I have used to make Tennessee great to Washington DC. DC needs a good dose of Tennessee. Like Congressman Phil Roe, I have chaired the Joint Select Committee on veterans affairs for many years and currently serve on the Governor’s commission on armed forces, veterans and their families. Like Senator Lamar Alexander, I chair the Tennessee Health and Welfare Committee at the state level. The institutional knowledge and experience I have gained and the back and forth with Washington DC, leading those efforts, will hopefully allow me to take the ball from Congressman Roe and quickly run with it.

Steve Darden: I seek to be our Congressman for a simple reason — to make lives better for the people who live in the 12 counties within the 1st Congressional District of Tennessee.  If we are going to become more regionally united for economic development and job creation, we need an Ambassador like me with my skill set to tell the rest of the state, nation and world what we already know: Our District has incredible outdoors, fascinating history, great people and fewer problems than most areas in our country.  Our Congressman is an important component of our economic future; the question is whether we will turn to a typical bland career politician, or someone with zero experience, or to me — a candidate who combines small business ownership and ten years of success as a locally elected official?

David Hawk: My primary motive to seek election as our next U.S. Representative is to continue and extend the reach of the good works that I have been able to accomplish as a Tennessee State Representative, by helping even more residents in Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District.

Timothy Hill: I am running because I believe we need a fighter for our region’s conservative values including upholding the right to life and our second amendment rights, supporting President Trump’s efforts to continue to grow our economy, and working for people to cut through the red tape of the federal bureaucracy.

How have your prior experiences prepared you for the demands of this office?

Rusty Crowe

Clark: As a local elected official in Kingsport and in the private sector, I helped to create jobs. Nothing is more important right now than getting our economy back on track. My experiences working with a wide range of constituents, from small businesses, to other elected officials, to our neighboring cities has prepared me well for the job.

Crowe: The background knowledge and experience gained through my tenure in the executive branch of Tennessee government as a commissioner in the Tennessee Department of Corrections and in the Tennessee senate, as chair, for many years, of the Joint Select committee on Veterans Affairs and as Chair of the Tennessee senate Health and Welfare Committee should provide me that institutional background, experience and knowledge to well prepare me to take the ball from Congressman Roe and successfully run with it.

Darden: I learned to work and serve others early in life, around age 8, washing dishes at our restaurant.  I’m the only Republican candidate who combines small business ownership with prior local government service.  With accounting and law degrees from UT, I can understand complex topics and budgets and communicate effectively.  I have the skill set to argue a position and persuade others or, as a mediator, seek the win-win outcomes so desperately needed in a dysfunctional Congress.  As Mayor and City Commissioner, I balanced ten budgets, strongly supported public education, and made decisions that helped Johnson City’s downtown thrive, including the Tweetsie Trail and Founders Park, while recruiting industry to Johnson City and the Washington County Industrial Park.  I’ve visited elected officials, business leaders and citizens in all 12 counties.  Each county needs a Congressman like me who will be accessible, listen and work tirelessly to meet their needs.

Hawk: My 20 years of small business experience and 18 years of state legislative experience have ably prepared me to hit the ground running on day one of being elected as our 1st District Congressman.  I understand how committees work.  I understand how leadership in Congress works.  I know how to pass good legislation and know how to stop potentially bad legislation, to best serve our region.

Hill: As a state representative I have been a conservative champion in Nashville.  I have been a fighter for the rights of the unborn and I’m proud to say I helped pass the Heartbeat Bill earlier this year.  I’ve also been a tireless advocate for the 2nd Amendment and for tax relief for Tennesseans.  And finally I’ve been such a strong supporter of President Trump that I was personally invited to the White House for the USMCA signing.

If elected, what will be your top priorities?

Steve Darden

Clark: I view priorities in two “buckets” – here in the First District and up in Washington DC. The priorities here in the District are to help create jobs and improve our rural healthcare. The local Congressional office can play a role in both. One of my commitments is to hire an economic development expert on my district office staff who can work with the local communities in our region on job growth. In Washington, my priority will be to fight to preserve our freedom. The leftist socialists in the Democrat Party are trying to destroy everything we believe in here in East Tennessee and we need a voice to challenge them.

Crowe: To concentrate on equal representation of the entire 1st Congressional District from Johnson County to Sevier County, first and foremost, and to continue to support the greatest values of our nation that are reflected in “all” the citizens of the 1st District while working to continue the great work begun by congressman Roe for our veterans, our economy, our infrastructure, our agriculture, our parks and our tourism sectors.

Darden: The job is to provide constituent service throughout the District.  The organizational structure must be effective and staff members must be hard-working and responsive.  A Congressman should be the eyes and ears of the federal government so that Washington is not the problem but is a force for good. I’ll intervene to protect citizens and businesses from overreach by the government or unsympathetic bureaucrats.    Example: family farmers who are smothered by excessive federal regulations or overzealous federal agents need relief so they can thrive rather than merely survive.  Industry sometimes faces the same burden.  My staff and I will continue Congressman Roe’s focus on veterans.  Given my central role in economic development issues for the past 20 years, and my practice as advisor to businesses, I am the strongest candidate by far to assist with job creation and in being the Ambassador we need as the face of our District.

Hawk: We must work toward balancing our Federal budget.  $25 trillion in Federal debt has created an enormous national security risk.  We must improve our federal system of care for mental health and substance abuse treatment.  For far too long, families have suffered in silence and we need to help them.  Our country’s infrastructure is aging.  We must make greater investments in repairing our roads and bridges, and water and sewer systems in order to keep our communities strong.  All these investments need to be made within the confines of reasonable, balanced Federal budgets.

Hill: My top priorities would be fighting for our region’s conservative values including upholding the right to life and our second amendment rights, supporting President Trump’s efforts to continue to grow our economy, and representing my constituents’ needs from the federal bureaucracy.

What issues of particular impact on Tennessee’s 1st District do you believe a freshman congressman will have the best chance to significantly address?

David Hawk

Clark: My first priority is going to be jobs and my votes in Washington will reflect that. I will vote at every opportunity for pro-growth, pro-jobs legislation. I will use my platform here in the district to bring together our economic development experts, job creators, educators, etc., to identify opportunities to bring new businesses and jobs to our area. 

Crowe: Rebooting the economy has to be on the front burner. I am the current recipient of the National Federation of Independent Business “Guardian of Small Business award” for having demonstrated a commitment to our economy and for promoting a stable and predictable environment for our Tennessee small businesses. Small business is the backbone of our economy. The UT Boyd report has made clear that the metropolitan areas of our state will see the major growth in our state with the other urban and rural areas seeing much slower growth. I want to see our East Tennessee cities and counties work together like we did in developing our Tri-Cities Aerospace Park project. I have worked for many years with federal and state economic development partners to generate economic development for our region and have the background, knowledge and institutional experience to be very successful for the 1st congressional district.

Darden: A major component of the job is to provide constituent service.  A freshman who understands the job as I do can hit the ground running. I’ll intervene to protect citizens / businesses from overreach by the government.  Example: family farmers who are smothered by excessive federal regulations or overzealous federal agents need relief so they can thrive rather than survive.  Industry sometimes faces the same burden.  We will continue Congressman Roe’s focus on veterans.  It is crucial that we receive our fair share of federal grants and programs.  The Appalachian Regional Commission was established to assist our local communities and I will maximize its impact in our District, working with our local Development Districts.  I have been involved in economic development and job creation for decades.  Ronald Reagan said the best social program is a good job and I will work to bring more and better jobs to our area.

Hawk: The experience of being a freshman Congressman, although carrying with it a great honor, will be just like another day at the office for me.  My decade of work on Tennessee’s $40+ billion budget has given me keen insight into how we should properly balance our Federal budget, as well.  There will just be a couple more zeros on the end of the next budget I work on.

Hill: I believe my voice as a conservative champion for President Trump’s agenda will advance his mission to rebuild the strongest economy in American history and to protect our constitutional rights.

Would you support selling off the TVA?

Timothy Hill

Clark: No.

Crowe: No. The Tennessee Valley Authority has been the backbone of raising the entire region it serves with economical electrical power.  This must be a kept in the public control to continue to have the ongoing impact beyond the power grid developing the regional economy.  I look forward to strong leadership from that board at the TVA with capable leadership like our own Dr. Brian Noland, ETSU President, can provide as a member.

Darden:  Selling off TVA is a bad idea for the Tennessee Valley and especially East Tennessee at the present time.  TVA has been vital to the Tennessee valley over several decades, beginning in the Great Depression when floods ravaged the Tennessee valley.  Benefits and services include reliability and affordability of electrical power, economic development, management of waterways and many, many more services that extend beyond providing electrical power.

Hawk: No.

Hill: I would not take such an irreversible, significant step without serious study of the issue.

What are the best ways to pay down the ballooning deficit? Would you be in favor of removing the maximum taxable earnings level or making other changes to Social Security, instituting across the board federal spending cuts – including entitlements and defense, raising taxes – or making other politically unpopular decisions?

Clark: We absolutely must balance the budget. I think that by balancing the budget once – and proving it can be done – that will help set the tone to do it every year. Members of Congress will need to make tough decisions, and everyone will have to give a little in order to come to a balanced budget agreement. I do not support cutting Social Security or veterans benefits in order to balance the budget. These are promises made to our seniors and our military members and we can’t turn our backs on those promises.

Crowe: As a Tennessee State Senator, I have been a part of the efforts in this state to control our fiscal solvency. We are No. 1 in fiscal management and reducing debt and the burden on future generations is vital. We are the envy of the nation. We have responsibilities to the people we must uphold and Social Security is one of those. Across the board adjustments to cut taxes and tighten government spending must be accomplished in a methodical manner and with sensible change. I will also support a balanced budget amendment.

Darden: The best way to reduce our national debt, which has accumulated over many years now, and our annual deficit, which adds to the national debt annually is to have a robust economy with as many taxpayers as possible.  Rather than wait for a crisis, we must reduce entitlements and consider out-of-the-box thinking to shrink the size and costs of the federal government.  For example, the Department of Education became a cabinet level agency during the Carter Administration in 1979.  Its unfunded mandates tend to be a burden on local education when we would be better off if education were addressed by state and local officials.  President Trump was correct in insisting that our NATO partners pay their fair share.  All spending, including defense spending, must always be carefully evaluated to make sure that it is not excessive.  Our national debt is a threat to our future prosperity.

Hawk: We must simply stop spending more taxpayer dollars than we receive.  When I get to Washington, I will be in favor of working with Congressional leadership to open discussions on every entitlement program, in order to weigh the pros and cons of each.  If a program no longer makes sense or has a negative effect, it should be cut.  This is where I will begin to address our $25 trillion deficit.

Hill: I will oppose any cuts to Social Security, my pledge to our seniors is a promise made is a promise kept.  I would propose auditing federal spending to cut waste, fraud, and abuse in the bureaucracy.

Would you support regional economic development by proposing changes at the Office of Management and Budget that would allow the Johnson City and Kingsport-Bristol MSAs to reunite?

Clark: I am strongly in favor of regional economic development efforts, especially for a region that is so integrated like the Tri-Cities area. This is why I made the commitment to add an economic development staff member to my Congressional district office staff, so that I can help facilitate these kinds of regional economic development efforts. I would support joining the MSA regions to allow greater federal funding to our area. 

Crowe: The merged MSA’s makes good sense and yes I would support this effort.  As a market among the largest, we get more attention for site selection in retail and are seen as a place of desirable size with amenities for businesses to grow.  Our regional strength is diminished in its current OMB view.

Darden: The Johnson City and Kingsport-Bristol MSAs were unified until a few years ago.  It would enhance regional economic development and regional cooperation for the entire Tri-Cities region to be under the same MSA.  If our local economic development professionals and government partners agree that a single MSA is in the best interest of the business community and citizens of our area, then I will be a strong advocate for such a measure with the Office of Management and Budget.

Hawk: Regional economic development needs to include the whole region.  I would like to see partnerships created within and among all 12 Tennessee Counties in the 1st District.  We need to look more closely at potential synergies that could be accomplished in the field of education, as well as economic and retail development.

Hill: Yes I will support this effort and continue Congressman Roe’s campaign to make this change.

Should big tech companies be broken up? If so, how do you square that with the need for less government regulation of private business?

Clark: I am not in favor of government breaking up private companies or additional government regulation of private companies. I do believe that there should be consequences for tech companies when their platforms are misused or abused.

Crowe: Big tech companies must play by the rules that are set for business. Competition in this space is better than monopolies.  Add in the privacy issues and communications standards, the big tech companies have brought a new dimension to society. Thoughtful management of the issues on all parts is necessary.

Darden: I’m reluctant to support the break-up of big tech companies unless their practices are so predatory and anti-competitive that anti-trust laws are violated or others cannot enter the market.  There is precedent, however, for single businesses to have become so dominant that they were broken up. (See Teddy Roosevelt) Great care must be taken when dealing with tech companies that First Amendment rights are not violated.  The First Amendment was placed first by the Founders because of its paramount importance.  They were fierce advocates of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression / conscience, and I will be too. Big tech plays a huge role in American life and must act responsibly. But these are private sector businesses, and regulation aimed at holding big tech accountable must preserve First Amendment liberties.

Hawk: No.

Hill: I believe federal interference in private industry is rarely warranted and I have not seen sufficient reason to interfere in this industry.

One of Congressman Roe’s top priorities has been finding ways to improve conditions for veterans while working on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. Given the fact that Tennessee’s First District is home to a large veteran population, how do you plan to carry on his work?

Clark: I commend Congressman Roe for his work on veterans’ issues and I am absolutely committed to doing everything I can to continue serving the veterans who live in our area. One way to make sure veterans are being supported is by making sure they are represented on my Congressional staff. I would also commit to regular meetings and roundtables with veterans groups in our district to make sure I am aware of any needs they have.

Crowe: As a decorated army veteran of the Vietnam War; a longstanding current member of the governor’s council for Armed Forces, veterans and their families and as Chair of our Tennessee joint select committee on veterans affairs, for many years, I should be well suited to carry on the work of Congressman Roe should I be elected to represent the 1st Congressional District.

Darden: Differences in this race include my service alongside Congressman Roe on the Johnson City City Commission, and the fact that my brother Bill Darden is his District Director.  I have seen up close and personal how hard they work and how committed they are to our veteran population and other constituencies.  I will continue Congressman Roe’s approach.  I have been to many of the meetings that Congressman Roe has conducted in the District, as well as meetings of the Tri-Cities Military Affairs Council and other veteran advocate groups.  I am very familiar with the Mountain Home Veterans Administration Hospital and its importance to our Congressional District cannot be overstated.  My wife Anne and I come from military families and I am proud to have voted as a Johnson City City Commissioner to donate the land on which the Washington County Veterans Memorial is located.

Hawk: Congressman Roe’s legacy of serving our Veterans must be continued, and I look forward to expanding on his good works.  I will tirelessly support our local Veterans and our Veterans Administration Hospital, to ensure that our men and women of the military receive the medical and mental health benefits that they deserve.  I will be available to our Veterans every day of the week, night or day to provide needed assistance.

Hill: I will continue the work I have done as a state representative in advocating for our veterans.

Should the federal government mandate that more critical medical products and supplies be produced domestically, even if it means interfering in the free market and paying more?

Clark: The pandemic has shown us that we cannot rely on China for critical medical and national security supplies. Those supply chains must be brought home. I was the first candidate to call for this and I have pledged to support Senator Cotton and Rep. Gallagher’s legislation that would bring these critical supply chains back to America.

Crowe: Protecting our citizens is one of the most honored responsibilities of government.  Access to medical products made here is vital, as we have seen most recently.  The markets will adjust as we have seen.  But healthcare is a national security issue now more than ever before and self-sufficiency rises to the top of the concerns for that protection.

Darden: The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that there are certain products and supplies that must be produced domestically and yes, such production must be restored to the U.S.A.  I reject the notion that doing so would “interfere” in free markets or result in higher costs, especially if competition is present among domestic manufacturers, producers and suppliers.  But, if the costs go up to insure that supplies are not interrupted and proper care is provided, then it is a cost worth absorbing.

Hawk: Forced or mandated production on business by the Federal government is not advisable.  I do support open conversations between the public and private sectors, to encourage partnerships that make sense to both business and government.  Hopefully, these conversations would create an opportunity to develop reasonably priced domestic products, if and as needed.

Hill: Medical supplies are an essential part of our national security and I do not believe it’s safe to rely on an untrustworthy actor like China when it comes to our security.


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