The race to replace Rep. John Duncan Jr., R-Tenn., in the U.S. House of Representatives for Tennessee’s second congressional district is loaded, with seven Republicans and three Democrats hoping to reach November’s general election.
Republicans are Tim Burchett, Jason Frederick Emert, Hank Hamblin, Jimmy Matlock, Sarah Ashley Nickloes, Vito Sagliano and C. David Stansberry, while Renee Hoyos, Joseph William Schenkenfelder and Joshua Williams are running as Democrats.
Matlock touts experience
State Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, said experience inside and outside the political realm gives him an edge over others in the race.
“There’s some value, I believe, in having a well-rounded past and I’ve got that,” Matlock said. “People love the fact that I’ve got agriculture roots, that I’ve got business experience, that I’ve been in public service, I’ve been on a bank board with millions of dollars in assets and yet I’ve been on a cemetery board that has five people.”
He announced his run for Congress in August.
“After serving in the general assembly I had already decided to make this my final year,” Matlock said. “When congressman Duncan announced his retirement a lot of people reached out to me and encouraged me to consider it. After much discussion with family, business associates and speaking with really my church, it seemed to be the right thing for me to make myself available for this position, and it’s gone really, really well in the time since.”
Matlock pointed to division in politics as something he believes will be a challenge for whoever wins, and it’s something he believes he is uniquely equipped to handle.
“We’re living in a deeply divided country and I think the real challenge is among the candidates who are seeking this office, whom has the right experience — not just experience, but the right experience — to work inside the Washington, D.C., culture,” Matlock said. “I think given my time in business, my time spent in the state legislature, my time in my church and nonprofits and civic groups, I think I have that temperament and balance and wisdom that I think people are really looking for.”
Matlock pointed to his experience in customer service — regularly dealing with people face to face — as another strength that will allow him to tackle the position.
“I have to deal with people every day in a way that I serve them and do so in a way that hopefully they’re happy to come back again,” he said. “That’s what being a good leader is at the core. It’s being accountable, it’s being responsive. That’s the kinds of things I’ve already been doing.”
Matlock said he will be accessible to the people of the second district and will work to make decisions to best impact the area.
Burchett hammers conservatism
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett is pushing conservative stances as he heads into the primary election.
“I prayed with my family and we thought this was a good opportunity to advance the causes of conservatism and support our president in his endeavors of building the wall and making our country more pro-life and preserving our second amendment rights,” Burchett said. “Also, I’m concerned about our national security because of the failure to build a wall and also the crippling debt that we’ve accrued over these few years.”
Burchett is touting his time as Knox County mayor.
“I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of that as the mayor of (Knox) County because of the issues that people are concerned about at the local level are what they’re concerned about if you just magnify them and you multiply them,” he said. “Things like debt. We paid down $45 million in debt since I’ve been mayor and there is not a county in the country our size doing anything similar to that.
“We’ve paid cash for schools, things like the federal government needs to be doing instead of shouldering the debt on our grandchildren and great-grandchildren just to get through an election cycle,” he added. “I’ve never done that, so I’ve continued to do things — I’ve kept my word. We didn’t raise taxes even through the big boys and all the powerful, influential people said we needed to. We did all these great things without raising taxes. I feel like, too, I’ve kept my word, which is something people in Washington don’t seem to do.”
Like Matlock, Burchett believes his experience makes him “uniquely qualified.” He also plans to be accessible to the people of the district.
“I’ll listen,” he said. “The reason I think I’ve been successful is I don’t have to take a poll to find out what people are thinking. We’ve been so accessible that people have told us what they’re thinking and we have very favorable results because of that.
“... Also, I show up,” he said. “Half the problem you have with a lot of politicians today is they get a tough issue and they refuse to show up and they make some lame excuse. I think people are tired of that kind of stuff. They want somebody — up or down, yes or no — to take a stand, and unfortunately we see a lot of that going on at the state level and the federal level. I won’t be that person. I’ll show up and I’ll make tough decisions.”
Emert hangs hat on roots
Blount County resident Jason Emert said a combination of experience and long-standing family tradition makes him the right choice.
“I’m a seventh generation Blount countian and an eighth generation East Tennesseean,” Emert said. “… I’m very much a part of this district and between my family and cousins and co-workers, I mean this is where I know the ins and outs of this community. I know how to connect with people. I know exactly what they want in D.C. out of their representative. They want somebody who is going to be tough on immigration, they want somebody who is going to fix our health care crisis that we have and someone who is strong on national security. There’s no one who has a better track record publicly speaking out on all three of those than I do.”
Emert believes his time with a national Republican organization sets him apart.
“We looked around kind of once it looked like the main people were in and I didn’t feel any other candidate had the unique experience that I had, being chair of the Young Republican National Federation, working with President Trump on almost a weekly basis on their domestic policy agenda, as a businessman and as someone who has international experience and kind of hits all the phases of what we would want our congressman to represent us on in D.C. As an outsider, I kind of feel like it’s the right moment after what happened in 2016 and I’m kind of inspired from what people told me,” he said. “They don’t want a career politician anymore. I kind of felt really uniquely qualified to run for Congress.”
If elected, he hopes to avoid what he called getting caught in the “swamp” of Washington, D.C.
“You see people go up there with good intentions and they kind of get drawn into it and the glitz and glamour,” he said. “That’s not who I am. ... I’m not a career politician. I don’t want to be a career politician. I want to get up there, do what’s right for the country, do what’s right for the district and come home. I want to raise my family here. I want to live with my family here on the farm that we’ve had for three generations.
Sagliano runs on infrastructure
For Vito Sagliano, one of the key issues moving forward is the nation’s infrastructure.
“I don’t think us, as a nation, has been served right, and like I keep telling everybody, I want to bring a voice back to the people, but also infrastructure as a main item,” Sagliano said. “I think with the infrastructure side, this is something that’s been going on for years and people are more worried about where the dollar is coming from and where the dollar is going than actually addressing the problem.
“It’s all about where the money is coming from and who is going to pad whose pocket, not looking at the fact that our nation’s infrastructure is a failure as a whole,” he added. “Infrastructure, besides the fact that it does help commerce, it does help the nation, it’s a logistical and tactical item that needs to be addressed through actually (the Department of Defense) and that’s something a lot of people don’t realize.”
Sagliano plans to actively seek input from the district, he said.
“I plan on staying most of my time, unless I have to, back in Tennessee,” he said. “I want to be out in the district. I want to be … back in the small communities. I want to be able to, one-on-one, walk into a place and say, ‘Hey, I’m here. What can I do for your business? What can I do for your community?’ … I want to be physically here in Tennessee. I want to have town halls. I want to have one in each county, each month. I want to have it so it’s virtual — that way if somebody can’t make it because of work schedules or some reason then we can still all get together one-on-one and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’”
Stansberry opposses gay marriage
David Stansberry believes his hardline stance on gay marriage sets him apart.
“There’s one thing that really pushed me to go and run, and that’s that I don’t think anyone is addressing an issue that need to be addressed, and that’s the overstepping of the government into a religious discussion when they forced same-sex marriage nationwide,” he said.
Stansberry said he has the pulse of the district to best represent it.
“The district leans highly toward the Republican side because of the values that we have,” he said. “We’re all interested in supporting President Trump and the economy, bettering the economy and making more jobs. Of course, the second amendment is a strong issue. The one thing that I’ve got that the other candidates won’t even touch … is the social issue of the values and religious freedom is one of those things that I think is a real threat to freedom in our nation. I will provide leadership in an area where no one else will touch, no one else will speak on. I have the background and experience to do that.”
Williams touts background
Joshua Williams hopes to tackle health care reform, saying his career makes him most qualified.
“I’m a health care provider. I’m a clinical psychologist. I’ve been working here for 30 years and I cannot tell you how many of my patients in the hospital or in my office have not only worried about their illness, but being able to pay for it and not going bankrupt,” Williams said. “After the difficulties we encountered with the Affordable Care Act and the political acrimony and anger in Washington, I thought maybe we need a psychologist in Washington.”
Affordable, accessible health care would be William’s No. 1 priority, with “high quality jobs” as a second.
“I’ve had a well-lived life. I’ve been a high school teacher. I’ve been a hospital administrator at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital — I run the psychiatric services there. I’ve been working as a psychologist and health care provider with most of the regional medical hospitals and my office for 30 years,” Williams said. “… I’m also a parent to three wonderful, adult kids. I’ve been married for 35 years. I think my life history should inform the voter that when legislation comes to my desk, I’m always going to ask how will this affect children, how will this affect working families, how will this affect single-parent families, how will this affect teachers, schools and universities? I will be able to do that because of my life experience.”
Hoyos, Schenkenfelder and Nickloes did not return a request for comment. Hamblin could not be reached.