Most undecided voters look to how candidates are different when they cast their ballots.
State Sen. Eric Stewart meets with voters Oct. 10, 2012, at the Calvary International Barber and Hair Styling Shop on East State Street in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (TMP Photo/M. Kemph)
When looking at the differences between Democrat state Sen. Eric Stewart and Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, voters won’t see much of a difference in the issues facing the 4th Congressional District. Both cite jobs, health care and veterans as the things they want to address in Washington, D.C.
It’s how they’ll solve these problems that set to two candidates apart.
Jobs are priority No. 1
While national employment was up 1.8 percent, according to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages program, Rutherford County saw an impressive 5.3 percent increase, making it third in the nation for percentage increase in employment.
Even though Rutherford County sits among the top 5 counties in the nation for job growth, the unemployment rate still hovers around 7 percent, and both candidates see job growth as the biggest issue facing voters this election season
“There are a lot of things we can do to create jobs,” Stewart said.
He explained he would seek to spend federal money with companies who employ U.S. workers, which would give more disposable income to local workers and increase consumer demand.
“We have to provide jobs for working families,” he said, adding the real job creators are consumers not big business.
“We hire people when the demand goes up, and demand goes up when we put more money in families’ pockets. We have to work together to put money in working families’ pockets so business has to hire more workers to keep up.”
DesJarlais, on the other side of the aisle, supports reducing regulations on businesses to create an environment that promotes job growth.
“I believe that rather than adopting a ‘government knows best’ approach, we should listen to small-business owners – the ones who actually create the jobs,” said DesJarlais, who was unclear of which regulations need to go. “I can tell you that most are simply asking for the government to get out of their way so that they can run their business.”
DesJarlais then cited a Small Business Administration that suggested regulations cost more than $10,000 per employee.
“That is money that should be spent growing and creating jobs, but is instead going to wasteful government projects and programs,” DesJarlais said. “I find it absolutely nonsensical that we impose these policies that cost businesses valuable resources and then take those resources to fund government studies to see why businesses aren’t creating jobs.”
Health care debate lingers
DesJarlais, a doctor who rode into Congress on the 2010 Tea Party wave, and Stewart, an insurance agent who serves as the state senator from Belvidere, Tenn., both see controlling the cost of health care as a major issue facing the 4th District.
“As a doctor, I understand how important it is to decrease medical costs and expand access to care,” DesJarlais said. “There are certainly common sense ways we can do this, but ObamaCare is not the answer.”
The doctor explained the Affordable Care Act does nothing to control costs, yet controls “an individual’s ability to make their own health care choices. ...
“Further, it raids Medicare to pay for this government takeover of our health care system,” he continued, adding he has voted to repeal the legislation almost 30 times.
Medicare also topped the list of concerns for Stewart. He said controlling the cost of Medicare is important for both the federal budget and consumers.
The Republican plan for redirecting Medicare funds to private insurance, what Stewart called a voucher program, only shifts costs, he said.
“If we want to fix Medicare we need to get health care spending under control,” Stewart said.
To do that, Stewart endorsed the Path to Prosperity, a House budget plan that will protect and preserve Medicare.
“I supported this plan that will allow us to keep Medicare as it is for people, ages 55 and older, while making the necessary changes to reform and save the program for individuals who are under 55,” he said.
Veterans focus of campaigns
Taking care of veterans is a plank on both candidates’ platforms with Stewart vowing to protect benefits and increasing mental health services for those who served and DesJarlais vowing to protect the quality of care they receive from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Stewart explained the issue was brought home to him when he met veteran David Hughes, who served in Afghanistan, at the groundbreaking for the new Fisher House at the Alvin C. York VA Medical Center. Hughes was wounded and not expected to walk again after an enemy explosive device detonated while he led his special forces’ unit on a mission.
“While we are winning the war on terror we are losing at home,” Stewart said, adding he will put more resources into suicide prevention for returning veterans to combat post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I want to make sure that when veterans come home they have the training they need to get a job and assimilate back into society and they have the assistance that they need to continue to live productive lives,” Stewart said.
DesJarlais also said veterans are one of his top priorities.
“I worked in a VA hospital and so did my mother,” he said. “Now that the Alvin C. York VA Medical Center is in the 4th District, I look forward to ensuring that there needs are met so that they may continue to provide quality to care to all veterans in Middle Tennessee.”
Rutherford County is cornerstone of district
DesJarlais and Stewart believe taking care of MTSU is the best way to take care of Rutherford County, which makes up almost 40 percent of the population in the 4th District.
DesJarlais explained his appointment to the Education and the Workforce Committee makes him a “valuable ally for MTSU in furthering their goals when it comes to developing polices relating to public universities. This includes making sure that MTSU has the resources it needs to ensure that graduates have the skills to compete in the global economy.”
Having those skills is important to making and keeping Rutherford County attractive to businesses like Nissan North America.
“Therefore we must ensure that we continue to provide Middle Tennessee with the tools to an educated workforce,” DesJarlais said.
Stewart, whose wife is an alumna of MTSU, also wants to make sure students have the skills needed to find jobs.
“Businesses are having a hard time finding people to fill jobs,” he said. “I want to make sure students have the skills to fill those jobs.”
He also pointed to helping older students with continuing education and all students with loan rates so they are not burdened the debt after graduation.
“I want to help everyone who wants to go to college or technical school to do it,” Stewart said. “These are the building blocks of the economy.”
Overall, both candidates see Rutherford County as the cornerstone of the new 4th District.
Stewart said he will be actively involved in the community.
“People there deserve someone who is involved and will do whatever is possible,” Stewart said.
DesJarlais is looking forward to representing the fifth largest county in the state.
“I am really excited about possibly having the opportunity to represent the fastest growing county in Tennessee for a number of reasons,” he said.
Early voting is currently underway and will continue through Thursday, Nov. 1. Visit the Rutherford County Election Commission’s website at www.rutherfordcountytn.gov/election for more details about locations and hours.
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6. And remember a valid photo ID is now required to vote.