By Jeff Keeling
Dr. Phil Roe officially kicked off his campaign to seek a fifth term as Tennessee’s First District Congressman June 29 at Johnson City’s municipal building, where he once served as mayor.
“I would like the opportunity to serve it a little longer, because I think I have something to offer,” Roe said to several dozen supporters, prior to ticking off a laundry list of policy positions and recent accomplishments.
Within two days of Roe’s announcement a would-be Republican primary challenger, Clint Tribble, had withdrawn from the race. Tribble had entered the race in April and attacked Roe’s record with gusto on social media. In a statement, Tribble cited “countless anonymous threats,” most of them, “demanding I quit campaigning,” but also said he didn’t believe Roe or his campaign had any involvement.
Republicans have held Tennessee’s First District uninterrupted since 1881. Alan Bohms is unchallenged in the Democratic primary and will face Roe in November’s general election, as will independent Robert Franklin.
Early in his remarks, Roe noted that despite improving economic numbers nationally, many Americans tell pollsters they feel the country is headed in the wrong direction. Then he propounded a theory. Just 20 of 3,100 American counties have accounted for half of new business formation during the economic recovery.
“Sixty percent of the counties in America had a net business loss,” Roe said. His answer? In part, reducing overburdensome regulations. “One of the things that’s created this problem is the federal government,” Roe said.
He specifically cited a new federal Department of Labor rule governing employee overtime that will shift many workers from salaried to hourly positions. “I spoke with (East Tennessee State University president) Brian Noland Monday. It’s going to cost ETSU $2.1 million, Tennessee Tech $2 million, the University of Tennessee $9 million.
“Guess what that means? It means a 2 percent increase in student fees to go to college, which is already exorbitant.”
Republicans haven’t helped their own cause, Roe suggested, by appearing to the electorate as though they’re mainly interested in thwarting the Democrats and President Barack Obama’s agenda.
“We’ve got to quit talking about what we’re against and start talking about what we’re for,” Roe said.
And the GOP has, Roe said. He referenced a handful of separate task forces that Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan formed last fall. Their topics include reform of the tax code; a Republican version of health care reform; regulatory reform; national security; and what he called “Article I/Power of the Purse.”
The latter relates to the Constitution’s specifically having vested in Congress, and more particularly the House of Representatives, the power to tax and to spend public money for the national government.
“We have the most archaic tax system in the world, the highest corporate tax rate in the world – business is leaving the country for lower tax rates,” Roe said.
He said he had been heavily involved in the recently released GOP healthcare reform plan, and went on to list what he called “actual accomplishments” achieved during the current Congress. They include passage of a federal highway bill (more of an accomplishment considering it was the five-year plan was the first long-term highway bill passed in more than a decade) and the Veterans Choice Act (passed in the wake of the VA wait time scandal).
“I was on the conference committee that helped create that bill (Veterans Choice Act), and I’m also on the oversight and investigation committee that helps implement that, and it’s bumpy, but we’re working on it. It comes up for reauthorization this next spring, and I want to be there to be sure it’s done right.”
The third accomplishment Roe mentioned was the replacement of the No Child Left Behind Act. He called No Child Left Behind a good concept that needed reform and less in the way of regulation at the classroom level.
“When children get trapped in a bad school, they have no chance,” Roe said.
But, he said, “we said these decisions need to be made locally. They need to be made by the local boards and the state.”
Finally, Roe mentioned his role in a law called MACRA, which overhauled Medicare payments to doctors. “We worked out a new plan where we pay for outcomes and quality,” Roe said. “What we want is a higher-quality result with a lower cost… It’s estimated it will save Medicare $2.1 trillion in the next 10 years. It’s that transformative.”
While the man who first ran for Congress in 2008 under the slogan “People, Not Politics” is seeking a fifth Congressional term, Roe concluded his remarks by insisting he’s still the same old Phil Roe.
“As far as a career politician, people ask me what I am, I say, ‘I’m a doctor.’ That’s the way I think, that’s what I know. I have always been that and that’s the way I’ll go out on this earth is as a physician.”