(Editor's Note: Future visits to Cleveland by incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais will also be covered by the Banner.)
Mariah Phillips, the Democratic candidate who wants to represent Tennessee’s 4th District, is tired of the vitriol.
She senses voters are, too.
And when the the former Rutherford County Schools teacher witnessed several students in her United States government class verbally attack each other during the 2016 presidential election, she knew she had to do something.
It was while having lunch with some friends in Rhea County last year that she decided to throw her hat in the ring.
“I saw the vitriol during the election was being replicated in the classroom,” Phillips said. "It inspired me to do something. We are better than that.”
Phillips was in Cleveland this week while making her way through the district, knocking on doors and talking with voters. She said residents of the district are tired of division in Washington, D.C.. She said much of it is purposely fomented by politicians.
“Congress wants to keep the vitriol going,” Phillips said. “They focus only on hot-button issues to get people excited and raise money, so they can stay in office.”
Phillips said her opponent her opponent, Rep. Scott DesJarlais, has been AWOL when representing his district, preferring to remain in Washington to raise money.
“What has he accomplished?” Phillips asked. “He’s been there long enough. It’s time to go.”
Phillips said DesJarlais has refused three times to debate the issues.
DesJarlais was first elected to Congress in 2010.
The 4th District covers much of southern Middle Tennessee, including Bedford, Bledsoe, Franklin, Grundy, Lincoln, Marion, Marshall, Meigs, Moore, Rhea, Rutherford, Sequatchie and Warren Counties, as well as portions of Bradley, Maury and Van Buren counties.
A teacher and a mother of five, Phillips said she understands the problems that face voters every day. She has worked two jobs to provide a steady income for her family, while her husband, Derrek, runs a small business. He's also the drummer for Hank Williams Jr.
Phillips thinks voters have more in common than a few differences on political and social issues.
Phillips believes voters all care about education, safety nets such as Social Security and Medicare.
“People feel social programs get abused,” Phillips said. “Some do take advantage of the system. There needs to be better monitoring. We have to sit down and solve the problem.”
When asked about the effect the recent tax cuts have had on the deficit, Phillips said Sen. Mitch McConnell’s comment that entitlement programs would have to be cut is disturbing.
“People have worked hard to contribute to those plans,” Phillips said. “Using a tax cut to hurt seniors is appalling.”
Phillips feels DesJarlais has been ineffective in solving problems.
“I can work with people who have different ideas than me,” Phillips said. “I want to work with people who have the same values and who want to solve problems.”
Phillips said DesJarlais, a former physician, has voted more than 60 times against against providing protection for those with pre-existing conditions – something she finds especially disturbing since the Congressman is a doctor.
“Why does he want to do that?” Phillips asked.
According to her campaign literature, Phillips wants to accomplish the following:
• Ensure that everyone has access to quality, affordable health care because no one should be denied health care when they are sick or have a pre-existing condition
• Work to pass commonsense legislation that brings good paying jobs into rural communities, encourages small-business growth and increases access to broadband internet so businesses can grow and thrive
• Make college more affordable and increase access to apprenticeships and job training programs – creating a well-educated workforce for Tennessee businesses
• Protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and increase access to long-term care
Phillips said she will focus on increasing science, technology, education and math funding in the district to better enable students to compete in the job market after they graduate, noting that those types of vocations, including vocational jobs will remain in demand.
"You can't outsource a plumber," Phillips said.
During her swing through the district, Phillips said voters are appreciative someone is there to listen to their concerns.
“They see that I’m listening to them,” Phillips said.
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