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VOL. 132 | NO. 42 | Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Local Democratic and Republican Partisans Already Looking To 2018

By Bill Dries

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U.S. Rep. David Kustoff says former Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey was right in describing his 8th Congressional District as the most Republican of the state’s nine congressional districts.

Kustoff told Shelby County Republicans over the weekend that the 2018 race for the Republican nomination for governor should see a lot of the contenders coming through the West Tennessee district that covers 15 counties including parts of Shelby County into East Memphis.

DAVID KUSTOFF

“The people rose up and they spoke,” Kustoff said of the 2016 presidential election results at the annual Lincoln Day Gala on Saturday, Feb. 25. “You elected me to vote the right way.”

But that doesn’t mean Kustoff isn’t hearing other voices and other opinions since taking office in January.

He met with critics of President Donald Trump’s health insurance and immigration positions the day before when he met with members of the Greater Memphis Chamber. They agreed and disagreed on different parts of both issues. And Kustoff said they found more agreement on the question of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“I don’t think they were involved with tampering with our ballots boxes here in Shelby County or West Tennessee,” he said of the Russian government. “But did they promote fake news – sure. Did Michael Flynn have inappropriate conversations with the Russians? I don’t know if he did, but we should investigate. We found some common ground there.”

At another meeting in Haywood County in January, Kustoff said every question was about health care coverage changes Trump vowed to make.

“And they were good questions,” Kustoff added. “Nothing like you see on TV where people were shouting and complaining.”

Within the local Republican Party there are concerns that Democrats – who carried the county for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by a wide margin even though Trump took the state by about a 2-1 margin – are a force to be reckoned with in the 2018 midterm elections.

And the first indication of that is likely to be later this year in a special election for the state House seat Eads Republican Mark Lovell resigned from this month.

“All of the complaining, all of the anti-Trump, all of the protests and anger – guess what?” Tennessee Republican Party chairman Scott Golden told the 400 people at the Lincoln Day Gala. “They’ve finally got something to shoot at.”

Shelby County commissioners will appoint an interim state representative to the seat who will likely serve through most if not all of the current legislative session. Gov. Bill Haslam will issue a writ that sets in motion a move to a special primary election and a special general election this year to fill what is expected to be about a year left in Lovell’s two-year term of office.

“This is where the Democrats can make their mark and say, ‘I can prove to you that people don’t like what the Republican Party is doing,’” Golden said. “Get ready for it because things happen. … They will be out in Collierville.”

MEGAN BARRY

Democrats gained a seat in the Shelby County legislative delegation to Nashville in the 2016 elections when Democratic challenger Dwayne Thompson unseated Republican incumbent Steve McManus in District 96, which takes in Cordova and parts of Germantown.

There were at least five prospective contenders for the Republican nomination for governor in 2018 at the Lincoln Day Gala – so many that Kustoff jokingly asked everybody who wasn’t running for something to stand.

The likely contenders present included state Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, former state Economic and Community Development commissioner Randy Boyd, state Sen. Mark Green of Clarksville, U.S. Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin and businessman Bill Lee of Franklin.

Across town that same evening in Midtown, Shelby County Young Democrats held an Obama Day dinner that drew 150 including prospective Democratic contenders for governor and state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley.

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean was expected to name Memphian Calvin Anderson as his campaign treasurer on Monday, Feb. 27, marking a more definitive step in his consideration of running for the Democratic nomination.

Keynote speaker and Nashville Mayor Megan Barry reminded the Young Democrats gathered at The Gallery at Madison Square that Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen was re-elected in 2006 even though the state went for Republican John McCain over Democrat Barack Obama in the presidential race two years later.

“Gov. Bredesen took 95 counties,” Barry said of the re-election effort. “We can win it, but not unless we work really hard. … Please don’t think that was some foregone conclusion that we can’t get a Democrat in the governor’s office.”

Kustoff, who will likely be running for his second term in 2018, isn’t necessarily counting the day until his re-election bid. But he is counting the time that Republican majorities in the House and Senate have to act on tax reform, financial reform and health care reform.

Republicans want something to show voters before the two-year mark.

By Kustoff’s estimation the window on tax and financial reform is six to eight months before the coming midterm campaigns begin.

He acknowledged that a border tax on goods made outside the U.S. is facing “push back” from some Republicans in Congress and is an essential part of making a potential drop to three federal tax brackets revenue neutral.

“Nobody should be denied health care either because they have a pre-existing condition or they develop a problem,” he told chamber members Friday on replacing the Affordable Care Act. “But the fact of the matter is that the exchanges are failing.”

With health care, he suggests a longer time line of 12 to 24 months with many more details, including block granting Medicaid funding to states – a position advocated by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and four other Republican governors over the weekend.

“The issue is, if funds are block-granted, how does that effect those states that did accept the expansion money based on the projections that were promised to them by the Obama administration?” Kustoff said. “There could be a shortfall.”

Tennessee did not expand Medicaid. Haslam worked out a tentative alternative with the Obama administration but it was crushed by the Republican supermajorities in the Tennessee Legislature.

“In the end, they may have done the right thing, not in the short term but in the long term by not accepting that,” Kustoff said.

He also suggested allowing those buying health insurance to be able to cross state lines.

“It could be any state. It promotes competition,” Kustoff said. “It puts pressure on premiums to move downward.”

Details to be worked out include who administers or oversees what is an industry heavily regulated from state to state.

“If I’m a Tennessean and I buy insurance in Missouri and I have issues with that ultimately, is it dealt with by the commissioner of insurance in Tennessee or the commissioner of insurance in Missouri?” he asked, saying the idea is a very general one for now.

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