By EMILY R. WEST
Republican Sam Whitson revealed more of his thoughts Friday on issues facing Williamson County during a Facebook Live session.
The Tennessean editorial board will continue to ask several of those running for Congress and the Tennessee General Assembly questions over Facebook Live. Whitson is running for District 65, which spans Franklin, Spring Hill, Fairview and unincorporated Williamson County. He will face Democrat Holly McCall on the ballot.
Other than explaining his military background and community service efforts, Whitson provided more perspective on how he would govern if elected. He said his style overall was more that of a consensus builder, but noted he would like to see District 65 represented in the GOP caucus for the next two years. It hasn’t been the past nine months.
In the interview, he said that transportation was the area’s most immediate issue needing attention. He iterated that most people he’s encountered have wanted the legislature to find a solution to gridlock. Unlike other Republicans in Williamson, Whitson hasn’t weighed in one way or the other regarding the gas tax. In Tennessee, the state legislature hasn’t touched the tax since the late 1980s. The issue of raising it as become more contentious as the state continues to need more funding for infrastructure.
“We need to find a sustainable funding formula,” he said. “We could use the surplus funding formula, but they have to plan three or four or five years out. I think you will see this year that there will be a constructive discussion, and I look forward to that.”
The editorial board also asked him to describe his strategy for beating now expelled representative Jeremy Durham. The legislature expelled Durham 70-2 for his behavior in September. The expulsion came after the Attorney General released a report detailing inappropriate conduct from the Franklin Republican.
Whitson said he rarely mentioned Durham in his door knocking, wanting to keep his campaign “positive.”
“We never mentioned Mr. Durham or the issues involved with him as we reached out to voters,” he said. “We wanted to focus on my record, and what I’ve done for the community, and what I want to do the for the community. It was an interesting situation. What motivated me to run is there was the communities needing help with their local controls, in particular in getting funding for parks and such. That was one of the motivating factors.”
Like other Republicans this election cycle, he also touched on the state’s issue with Affordable Care Act. This week, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee made it more challenging for those in Williamson County who need health care from the state exchange. In taking itself out the market, it only leave Cigna and Humana as options for those who use the ACA.
Whitson said that the majority of people in his district have health care insurance, recognizing Williamson County was in a bubble in comparison to the rest of the state. He also noted that 82 percent of Tennesseans receive their health care through their employment. He briefly referenced Speaker Beth Harwell’s plan, which aims to gradually expand TennCare for veterans and substance abusers. It would also help those with mental disorders and behavioral issues.
“If we can increase employment that will help,” he said. “But also the three-star initiative going on now – for those who with behavior and mental health issues – it will not only help the opioid problem, but it will help in the short term keep down visits to emergency room and social issues that come with those problems. I look forward to working with the governor to see what we can do to help that. It’s amazing when you think of those folks who are truly needy that qualify for TennCare and the working poor is in that gap in there between TennCare and the ACA. It’s almost a disincentive to work. We have got to have a personal responsibility component into that gap we have right now.”
Whitson added that the state also need to remember that those who qualify for the exchange receive subsidies, but others who don’t have exorbitant out of pocket costs.
“We need to make sure we address that issue too,” he said. “But there’s not free lunch, there’s got to be a responsibility component, and I look forward to the discussion.”