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CORRECTED: House hopefuls square off at forum

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Candidates, from left, Joseph Byrd, Bobby Scott, Chris Brown, Casey Walters and Pat Marsh participated in a candidate forum Tuesday night.
(T-G Photo by John I. Carney) [Order this photo]

The Times-Gazette mis-reported Marsh's comments on federal stimulus money at a Tuesday night candidate forum. Although Marsh, like other candidates, was critical of the stimulus program, he said that if there were few conditions or restrictions placed on the use of the money, he would probably accept it.

The Times-Gazette apologizes for the error and is happy to set the record straight. The story below has been corrected.

Five of the six candidates for the vacant 62nd District State House of Representatives seat faced each other in a candidate forum Tuesday night at Central High School, sponsored by the Bedford County Republican Women.

Republican primary candidates Joseph Byrd, Pat Marsh, Bobby Scott and Casey Walters, and independent candidate Chris Brown, who identifies himself as a member of the Constitution Party, participated in the debate, while unopposed Democratic primary candidate Ty Cobb did not, citing a schedule conflict.

Early voting is now underway for the party primaries, which will be held Aug. 27. The general election will be Oct. 13.

The vacancy was created by the resignation of incumbent Curt Cobb, a Democrat from Shelbyville, who accepted the position of Bedford County Clerk and Master effective July 1.

Carl Bailey moderated Tuesday night's debate. Each question was directed towards a particular candidate, but the other candidates could then offer their responses.

Here are some of the topics discussed.

BEP funding

The first question had to do with the Basic Education Program as it is currently funded.

Brown said he would not support keeping BEP funding as is.

"Not at the current level," he said. "We need better education in the system. We need to figure out how to cut the cost spending on our buildings, and start putting more of that ... funding into the principals, and to the school teachers, and to the books that they need. We also need to go into Internet courses for our home study students."

Marsh, however, defended the program.

"Well," he said, "I've talked to several education people in both counties about this program, and they feel like that the Basic Education Program is ... a whole lot better than the program they had back in the late 80s and early 90s."

A question about how best to help small businesses prompted Walters to return to the education issue.

"The better educated people are, the better jobs they have," said Walters. "The better jobs they have, the more pay goes back into the economy. We need to help businesses."

Walters praised the "2+2" program which allows students to earn a degree from Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville through course work on the campus of Motlow State Community College.

"I am a small business owner," said Marsh, "and I can say that I think one thing that we should do is to keep government out of our way, to lower our taxes. I think taxes are a very big hindrance to small business today."

Byrd complained about a situation where he said a small business is owed money by the state which is not being paid.

Health care

Health care is an issue on the national stage right now, and the candidates were asked for their opinions.

"I think that the United States has, probably, one of the best health care systems in the world," said Marsh. "But I do think that it does need some changes. It needs tweaking. But I, for one, I don't want the government telling me which doctor I can go to, which doctor I cannot go to, or how long I have to wait before I can go to the doctor."

Walters also criticized any single-payer "public option" plan.

"I absolutely do not support our current president's health plan, at all, in any way, shape, form or fashion," said Walters. "That needs to be scrapped and thrown off the table .... We do not need any government involvement except for regulations."

"First of all," said Scott, "it's a fundamental principle that we do not have a right to health care. It is not a right; the government has no business being involved in it. The only regulation the government should be involved in are things such as pre-existing conditions ... allowing people to take health care from one job to another, their health insurance from one job to another. And you've got to get a handle on ... illegal immigration, which is fueling our health care system."

Byrd cited the case of someone with a pre-existing condition, can't get on employee health care, but with income too high to get on TennCare.

Stimulus money

The candidates were asked what the state should do about federal stimulus money.

"I am totally opposed to this program," Marsh said. "I don't think that the United States has the money to spend; I don't think getting deeper in debt is the solution."

Marsh said, however, that if there were few restrictions on the money he would probably have accepted it.

"We should not have taken it," said Scott. "We should give it back."

Walters said the money should be kept in a reserve fund but eventually returned.

"The stimulus is going to last two years," he said.

Brown said some stimulus-funded programs have provided benefits.

"The stimulus money did help the senior citizens in Lincoln, Moore, Bedford and the rest of the counties in the area of transportation," he said. "Do we need to tell our seniors we need to send that money back?"

Byrd said stimulus-funded road programs aren't needed.

"Nashville has done a lot with roads anyway," he said. "We've got good roads. I agree with Mr. Marsh and Mr. Scott; we should give it back."

Other issues

During a question about an automatic weapons ban, Brown quipped that he needed 90 rounds of ammunition to kill a duck, prompting Scott to respond that he wouldn't want to eat the duck in question.

In response to a question about frivolous lawsuits, Walters mentioned a case where illegal aliens were suing a county sheriff over violation of their constitutional rights, saying that as non-citizens, they should not have such protections.

Marsh said he would support a system where the loser of a lawsuit found to be frivolous would pay the court costs.

Brown said existing rules already prohibit truly frivolous lawsuits and said it's a lawsuit is only frivolous to someone who is not a party to it.

The debate was carried live by radio stations in Shelbyville and Fayetteville and was recorded for airing on cable television.

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