Joe Carr, a three-term Republican state representative from Lascassas, hopes to be the next member of the U.S. Senate from Tennessee.
Carr, a 55-year-old electric energy consultant and small farmer with five years of experience in the Tennessee House of Representatives, is going up against political powerhouse Lamar Alexander, whose long political history within the state includes two terms as governor and stint as U.S. Secretary of Education, and who is well-respected by Republicans across Tennessee.
Although many have thrown their support behind Alexander, including Gov. Bill Haslam, other conservative and Tea Party-affiliated groups have criticized Alexander for not being conservative enough, and for not voting in the interest of Tennesseans or in support of the Constitution. Recently, 20 of these groups signed an open letter calling on Alexander to resign.
Although he had initially thrown his hat into the ring for the 4th Congressional District race against incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott Desjarlais and state Sen. Jim Tracy, Carr told reporters at his announcement for the U.S. Senate he had decided to challenge Alexander in a “David and Goliath match-up” after lots of prayer, discussion with family and friends, and the urging of constituents and donor groups that a more conservative voice challenge the moderate Republican.
“I have a lot of respect for Sen. Alexander and the service that he has given to the great state of Tennessee,” Carr said at his announcement. “But Sen. Alexander’s record, especially his voting record, has departed from that of the majority of Tennesseans. And I do believe he’s out of step as reflected in his votes, and the things that he supports that are dichotomous with Tennessee and their values.”
Alexander’s record of voting with President Barack Obama 62 percent of the time, as reported by Congressional Quarterly, is evidence that he is “not voting for Tennessee” anymore, Carr said.
“I think the senator has had a long and noble service for 40 years in Tennessee,” Carr said in a recent interview. “I think the problem is, like anybody who stays in public service for that many years … generally, when you stay in the public service sector that long, I believe you tend to get a pretty narrow view of your importance in the role of the Democratic process, which is why I’m an advocate for term limits.”
Carr first entered the political fray in 2006, when, at the urging of “several close friends,” he decided to run for the 48th House District seat in the Tennessee General Assembly against incumbent Democrat, John Hood.
“I took up the challenge,” Carr said. “Of course, we lost, I think by 11 percentage points, but we had done better than anyone else at that time. And, we worked extremely hard, and we were really, really proud of the campaign we had run. And so, in 2008, when John decided not to run again, we ran again, and then we won.”
Carr lists his notable accomplishments as state representative as having been involved in the creation of every major piece of illegal immigration legislation in the state, helping lead the repeal of the estate and gift taxes and helping to deregulate several industries in the state, such as the craft-distillery industry, which has lead to exceptional growth in the moonshine industry.
Although he’s proud of much of his legislative history, Carr said he has made votes in the past he is not proud of.
One of such vote came in 2009, when he voted in favor of Race to the Top and Common Core standards under the administration of Democrat Gov. Phil Bredesen, a vote Carr characterized as “a choice between a really bad vote and a really bad vote.”
Carr’s assertion that he has authored, sponsored or co-sponsored most of the state’s immigration bills is supported by his legislative record, which shows a push for stricter enforcement of immigrations laws since his first session in 2009, when he co-sponsored two bills that would require citizenship verification for prisoners and those registering to vote.
In 2011, Carr helped push a three-part immigration reform plan that gave law enforcement officials, state agencies and businesses more authority to verify immigration and citizenship statuses.
“I’ve got a significant background in passing legislation in Tennessee, dealing with the problems of illegal immigration to the extent that Tennessee now has some of the strongest, if not the strongest, illegal immigration state laws in the country,” Carr said.
The first action Carr said he would take as U.S. senator would be to reach out to fellow members of the Senate Republican Caucus and establish to them that he considers his first responsibility and role in Congress to fight for Tennesseans and the state of Tennessee.
If Alexander represented the voters and the state of Tennessee, then he would not have supported the federal immigration reform bill that would grant amnesty to more than 11 million illegal immigrants, Carr said.
Carr also alleged Alexander had stood against the Affordable Care Act only when he knew the votes would not pass. Carr added that he “wishes” Alexander would join with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas – two senators that Carr said he would most like to work with – and work to defund “Obamacare.”
The decision to jump from the congressional race to the senate race didn’t come with support from all fronts, however, and one casualty from the switch was Carr’s congressional campaign manager, Chip Saltsman.
Saltsman’s decision to leave the campaign was anticipated, Carr said, but he added the statement released by Saltsman after the announcement for Senate was not what he had hoped for.
“I was surprised and disappointed that Chip gave credit to Sen. Alexander for my election,” Carr said. “I would dispute that, as would many of my colleagues in the House and the Senate who knocked on thousands of doors, stuffed thousands of envelopes, put up hundreds and thousands of yard signs, and Lamar, obviously, in their minds, was not a part of their campaign any more than he was a part of mine.”
Although Alexander has a political machine that stretches statewide and a large campaign chest, his failure to stay true to conservative principles makes him vulnerable, he said.
“The undertaking looks like a fool’s errand to many people who are unfamiliar with what the voters are … saying,” Carr said. “And, the fact of the matter is, is that Sen. Alexander, according to Heritage Action’s scorecard, has a 41 percent voting record this year. So, he’s not only out of touch with conservatives in Tennessee, but additionally, Sen. Alexander unfortunately is out of touch with his Senate colleagues. The Senate Republican Caucus average for that same scorecard is 67 percent.
“And it’s that … that has so many people saying, ‘We want somebody that represents us. That hasn’t forgotten who elected him and why he’s there.’ And I think democracy works best when it’s in a competitive environment. And I have a different worldview than I think Lamar does when it comes to the issues and the principles that matter, and are important. And I think are worth fighting for. And I think that’s the biggest difference between the Senator and myself, is I am willing to fight for those core first principles, and Sen. Alexander has shown that his efforts seem to be confined to rhetoric.”
Carr, who was born in 1958, in Panama City, Fla., where his father was stationed in the U.S. Air Force, has been a resident of Rutherford County since 1971.
He graduated from Riverdale High School, and received his Bachelors of Science from Middle Tennessee State University, where he met Ginny, his wife of more than 30 years, while doing his graduate work.
When he’s not serving in the legislature, or on the campaign trail, Carr said that he most enjoys spending time on his 95-acre Lascassas farm with his family, which includes two grown daughters – Erin, 29, and Maddie, 27, – and Joe Jr., his adopted 13-year-old son.