Johnson City Mayor Phil Roe, a retired physician, believes his health care experience is a “huge advantage” in competing in Northeast Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District GOP primary against incumbent U.S. Rep. David Davis.
Roe, in a meeting with members of the Times-News Editorial Board, said health care is the number one issue confronting America, and he better understands its challenges.
“We need to take a look at tax credits where you go out and purchase your own (health care) plan like a 401(k) (investment plan),” said Roe, who noted he has his own health savings account to pay for his health care coverage. “If I’m fortunate enough to get there (to Congress) ... that’s one of the things I want to work hard on. ... I think I can streamline it and make it more affordable.”
But Davis, who owns a health care business, has also advocated tax credits to pay for medical coverage.
Roe’s biggest challenge appears to be beating an opponent he agrees with on a number of major issues.
Roe admitted he’s pro-life, for smaller government, for low taxes, for gun ownership, and for traditional marriage between a man and woman — just like Davis.
But Roe charged that Davis has been “inconsistent” involving votes as a state lawmaker and during his first term in Congress.
Roe pointed to Davis’ 2002 decision as state representative to vote for a sales tax increase — which Roe called the “largest tax increase in Tennessee history” — instead of a proposed state income tax.
In response, Davis said: “If he hadn’t taken the vote that I took, we would have an income tax. ... The people told me they did not want an income tax.”
When asked what state services he would have cut to make up for about $1 billion in revenue created by that sales tax increase, Roe said he would have cut the “fat” out of government.
Roe pointed to efficiencies in city government enacted during his service on the City Commission in Johnson City.
“You could cut 10 percent of the federal government and nobody would know the difference. ... It’s got to start somewhere,” he said.
Roe also attacked Davis’ congressional vote against federal dogfighting legislation.
“Ninety-nine senators voted for the dogfighting bill,” Roe said. “You couldn’t get (GOP U.S. Sen.) Trent Lott and (Democratic U.S. Sen.) Ted Kennedy to agree on the time of day ... and they all voted for it.”
Davis said he voted the same way as his predecessor, U.S. Rep. Bill Jenkins, did against a previous dogfighting bill.
While Davis’ campaign does take contributions from political action committees, Roe renewed his pledge that his campaign won’t take money from those special interest groups.
“I’m not going to jump that high. ... I’m going to get the money, as much as I can get, from the people in this district because that’s who I think I’m working for,” Roe said. “I’m not going to take it from sugar growers in Florida, Exxon, Wal-Mart or King Pharmaceuticals. ... If somebody gives you $5,000, $10,000, $15,000, $20,000 they want something — they want access. They should have access. But what about Grandma sitting over here in Roan Mountain? She should have access, too, and have her phone call returned.”
Roe contributed more than $180,000 out of his own pocket to his 2006 GOP congressional primary campaign when he came in fourth.
He said he was molded for public service through his numerous life experiences — from being an Eagle Scout to an organizer of the Austin Peay University alumni association.
When considering his career choices more than 30 years ago, Roe said he knew he was going to do something involving people.
“If you look at my entire career, it has been one of service,” he said. “Congress has a 10 to 20 percent approval rating. The president has a 30 percent approval rating. People have lost confidence in the leadership of this country. ... Whatever the reason is, it’s there, and it’s real ... (and) one of the strong suits I have is leadership. ... I think I proved that in Johnson City.”
Roe, who said he hasn’t taken a salary as Johnson City mayor, spoke favorably of having private investment accounts to reform Social Security and pledged to rein in earmarks inserted in federal budgets.
In more than 30 years as an obstetrician and gynecologist, Roe said he delivered more than 5,000 babies.
But he isn’t sure if he can deliver a win over Davis in the August GOP primary.
“Can I wake up voter apathy? I don’t know,” Roe said. “I think there is a significant difference in leadership style, but does that convert to votes? I don’t know, but we’ll find out in August. That’s a hard thing to do, I agree. ... We’re going to point out the differences between us. ... He has a record. ... I don’t see that as negative campaigning.”