(T-G Photo by John I. Carney)
"I do think there's a lot of positives to the Democratic Party right now, and there's a lot we can be proud of," said local party member Mark Farrar, who emceed the party's annual banquet Tuesday night at the American Legion center on Kingree Road.
State Sen. Eric Stewart of Winchester, a Democratic candidate for the 4th District U.S. House of Representatives, had been announced as the keynote speaker for the event, but was detained in Nashville as the General Assembly works on the state budget. His finance director, Jake Dunavant, spoke on his behalf.
Stewart, the nephew of local educator Kay Prince, is running to unseat incumbent Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais of South Pittsburg. Bedford County, which had been in the 6th District, is moving into the 4th District effective with this year's election cycle.
"We can win this race by running it as a local election up," said Dunavant.
Dunavant said that the tax structure being put forth by Republicans in Congress is contributing to the debt.
"They're essentially increasing the debt by lowering taxes on the top income earners," said Dunavant. "They're not letting any of these Bush tax cuts expire ... but yet they don't want to pay for it. They call us 'tax-and-spend liberals' but they are 'spend-and-don't-tax-liberals.' They are part of the problem of why we're in the ditch we're in right now."
He noted sharp Republican criticisms of President Obama's health care plan, but said that insurance companies have been raising premiums, paying excessive salaries to executives, "and they're not providing any better care. Folks, that's wrong."
Farrar, too, defended the so-called "Obamacare." Farrar said that his accountant, whom he described as unlikely to ever vote for a Democrat, has a son with a serious heart defect.
The child's mother is a teacher, and the child is covered by her insurance. She wanted to quit her job to be a stay-at-home mother to the child, but the child would likely have been rejected by the father's insurance company due to a pre-existing condition.
Farrar said Obamacare's rules preventing insurance companies from rejecting customers due to pre-existing conditions helped the family.
"They weren't trying to get out of paying anything; they just wanted to put the child on his insurance and let the wife be a stay-at-home mom," said Farrar.
Dunavant, apologizing for Stewart's absence, said he's been trying to support keeping funding for the mentally handicapped and disabled and for a new science building at Middle Tennessee State University as the General Assembly works on a new state budget.
Farrar said the Republican party as it now exists is more defined by what it's against and whom it doesn't like than by what it supports.
"I'm struggling to think of something that they're for, other than big business or big money," said Farrar.
Farrar said there are opportunities for Democrats to make gains in this year's election. He said that last month, 200,000 donors gave money to Obama's re-election campaign who had never given money to him before.
He also noted that Mitt Romney failed to carry the Republican primary in Tennessee despite endorsements from most of the major party leaders.
"I think there's a lot of momentum to be gained," said Farrar. He said that Stewart represents "one of our best chances for a Democratic feel-good moment in this election."
Farrar recognized local Democrat Jane Tucker, who will be a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., in September.