KINGSPORT — Tennessee state Rep. Tony Shipley kicked off his re-election bid for a third term in office Thursday night with testimonials from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, other state lawmakers and local officials.
Shipley, R-Kingsport, is again seeking the 2nd House District seat in the GOP primary and faces a challenge from former Kingsport Alderman Ben Mallicote.
Neither Shipley, nor the elected officials endorsing him, publicly mentioned Mallicote at the downtown event held inside Korner-Copia.
“My opponent is certainly entitled to hold a rally, but the voters of the 2nd District are also entitled to hear the candidates engage in a substantive debate about the issues,” Mallicote said in response to Shipley’s event. “Representative Shipley has ignored invitations to debate from the Chamber, Kiwanis, Rotary and WKPT, retreating instead into a small group of his supporters. It’s a shame he no longer feels he needs to earn our citizens’ votes.”
Ramsey, R-Blountville, told the small crowd that he has known Shipley since both went to Sullivan Central High School.
“He has not changed one bit,” Ramsey said of Shipley. “People ask me all the time: ‘Are you behaving in Nashville?’ I say ‘No. You don’t want me to behave. You want somebody who keeps it stirring, keeps it going, changing the direction of the country and the state, and Tony is one doing that.’”
State Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, pointed out Shipley understands he answers to the electorate.
“You can find someone who wants to keep a seat warm in Nashville, or you can find someone who will get in the mud and fight ... (and) maybe he’s a little rough around the edges,” Faison said of Shipley.
State Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, told Shipley he was a “brash and blunt” lawmaker starting out four years ago.
“You want someone like that starting out in Nashville. ... You don’t want someone to say ‘I will try to do this or that.’ ... Tony, you’ve been consistent for four years,” Lundberg told Shipley.
Shipley cited his work to pass legislation outlawing synthetic drugs and enacting stricter laws for DUI interlock devices.
“To take an idea and make it law in one session — we were proud that could get done,” Sullivan County General Sessions Judge Ray Conkin said of Shipley’s synthetic drug bill.
Shipley also touted being a “team member” in a GOP-controlled legislature that is cutting taxes.
Kingsport Vice Mayor Tom Parham said he is supposed to be independent but noted Shipley takes care of the city’s and county’s needs.
“He does a great job representing all of us,” Parham said of Shipley.
In contrast, Mayor Dennis Phillips is backing Mallicote.
Former Kingsport Alderman Pat Shull, an Army veteran, cited Shipley’s Air Force career and Gulf War duty where he earned a Bronze Star.
“Every year the Gallup organization surveys Americans and asks them ‘What institution do you hold in highest regard?’ Every year the military comes out number one — ahead of big business, ahead of Congress, ahead of higher education, ahead of organized religion. Americans respect the patriotism and courage and diligence and dedication of military people. Tony Shipley lives those values,” Shull said.
The winner of the Shipley-Mallicote race will face Democrat Bruce Dotson in the November general election.
Early voting in the Aug. 2 GOP primary begins July 13.