JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Congressman Phil Roe (R-1st) won’t run for a seventh term. Roe’s Friday announcement paves the way for what is expected to be a crowded field for the Aug. 6 Republican primary.
“Serving East Tennesseans these past 11 years has been the honor of my life, and I will be forever grateful for the trust my friends and neighbors put in me to represent them,” Roe said in statement. “As someone who practiced medicine for over 30 years, I said I would serve five or six terms because I never intended this job to be a second career. After prayerful consideration, I have decided to retire at the end of the 116th Congress.”
Roe, 74, who mulled retirement in 2018, is the ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and a member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce. The former Johnson City mayor first won election in 2008 after a narrow primary victory over one-term incumbent David Davis.
“It was unanimous from my family that I retire,” Roe told News Channel 11 in a Friday interview. “It has nothing to do with D.C. and everything to do with my family.”
Roe said he hopes to mentor high school and college students and perhaps take some mission trips following his last year in Congress.
Fellow former Johnson City Mayor Steve Darden, an attorney who served with Roe on the Johnson City Commission, confirmed after Roe’s announcement that he intends to run in the Republican primary. So did former Kingsport Mayor John Clark, who is retired.
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“I’ll have an official announcement soon, but my intent is to be in the race,” Darden said. He congratulated Roe on his “many years of public service.”
“It would be an amazing opportunity to represent the people of our region in the nation’s capital and to use the office to improve lives and economic conditions here at home,” Darden said.
Clark, who served on the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen starting in 2012 and was mayor from 2015 to 2019, said he’s “definitely running and very excited about the opportunity.”
“Public service is important to me, and I want to do what I can to improve the quality of life for residents of the First District and ensure a prosperous future for our region,” Clark said. “This office allows me to bring people together to achieve those two goals, which is what I plan to do.”
Republican state representatives David Hawk (5th) of Greeneville and Timothy Hill (3rd) of Blountville both have confirmed they’re considering entering the primary, as has State Senator Jon Lundberg (4th) of Bristol.
Roe, a former OB/GYN physician, an Army veteran who served in South Korea for two years following his 1972 graduation from medical school, has been an advocate for veterans issues and also co-chairs the House GOP Doctors Caucus.
Current Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock lauded Roe’s leadership and service. She said he could see the big picture after serving as a planning commissioner and then a city commissioner. “He really understood he impact of politics on the local environment, and we appreciate that so much,” Brock said.
She also praised his work serving fellow veterans. “I think he has been an incredibly effective and important voice for veterans, and when he served as chairman of the veterans committee that was a very positive thing,” Brock said.
Roe said he has unfinished business as he works to help see federal programs implemented that can stem the scourge of veteran suicides. He said he is proud, though, of some accomplishments for those who have served the nation.
“The VA Mission Act that I authored with a lot of help, it will fundamentally transform how the VA provides care in the future and I think we’ll provide a much higher quality of care for our veterans,” Roe said.
Roe helped lead efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act, sponsoring the American Health Care Reform Act – which would have replaced the ACA – in late 2013. That bill stalled in a subcommittee in early 2014, but Roe was also active in support of a 2017 House-passed replacement bill, the American Health Care Act of 2017. The bill was adjusted in the GOP-controlled Senate, but even the so-called “skinny repeal” failed, 51-49, when Republican Senator John McCain casting the decisive vote.
Roe was among those who lobbied successfully for a change in the “Medicare Wage Index” that took effect in October. The change has increased Medicare reimbursement rates for area hospitals, and is expected to add roughly $30 million annually to Ballad Health’s Medicare revenues.
“When I look back at my career, for where we live that may be one of the most important things we did,” Roe said in October. “It will be a huge help for our area and for the people who live in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.”
Potential Republican successors’ names have been tossed about for several years. Hawk told WJHL last month he would consider running for the seat if Roe retired. When Roe told “Roll Call” in February 2018 that he still hadn’t decided whether he would run again, the political website cited sources saying Hawk was among those whose “names are already being thrown around in the state.” Others included Hill, then-Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge, Kingsport Chamber of Commerce Director Miles Burdine and Patrick Jaynes, a state director for Senator Lamar Alexander.
Other names discussed in local circles in addition to Darden, Hawk, Lundberg and Hill include State Rep. Micah Van Huss (6th) of Gray and former State Senator Charles Allen of Johnson City. Eldridge said Friday he will not run for the vacant seat.
Democrat Chris Rowe, a Johnson City native, announced last year he would run in the Democratic primary.
Roe’s most recent Democratic opponent, Dr. Marty Olsen, congratulated Roe Friday “on a lifetime of service to East Tennessee, both as a physician colleague and Congressman.” Olsen, who won 21 percent of the 2018 vote, called his run “a meaningful experience” but said he would only run again “if I saw a plausible path to victory.”
Robert L. Taylor, the district’s last Democratic representative, was elected in 1878 and served one term.
Here is Roe’s full statement:
Today, Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.) released the following statement after announcing he will retire at the end of the 116th Congress:
“Serving East Tennesseans these past 11 years has been the honor of my life, and I will be forever grateful for the trust my friends and neighbors put in me to represent them. As someone who practiced medicine for over 30 years, I said I would serve five or six terms because I never intended this job to be a second career. After prayerful consideration, I have decided to retire at the end of the 116th Congress.
“First and foremost, I want to thank my family. No one could do this job without a loving a supportive family, and I look forward to spending more time at home with my wife Clarinda, my adult children and my grandchildren.
“As a veteran, I was honored to be selected to chair the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in 2017. I had one, three and six-year legislative goals for the committee: to increase access to care, improve the electronic health records system, review VA assets to ensure an effective use of resources, and bring true accountability to the department. I never could have imagined that we would accomplish all that in my first term leading the committee – in large part because of the leadership of President Trump. In particular, I was proud to author the MISSION Act – a transformative piece of legislation to ensure veterans have the ability to receive the best possible care now, and in the future – and the Forever GI Bill – to ensure veterans never lose access to the education benefits they have earned. I’ll leave Congress at the end of the year knowing that our nation’s heroes are better served today because of our work. I am still hopeful that, before the 116th Congress adjourns, we will pass important reforms that improve outreach to veterans in crisis to address the suicide epidemic.
“When I first ran for Congress, my hope was that someone with experience as a practicing physician could positively influence health care policy. The Affordable Care Act was signed into law during my first term, and much of my time was spent trying to undo some of the harm that was done to the patient-centered health care model as a result. We have made great progress in reversing some of the most damaging effects of this law such as passing my bill to repeal a government payment setting board that likely would have rationed care. We took the teeth out of the individual mandate and just last month repealed three harmful taxes that discouraged medical innovation and drove up costs for patients. I am also very proud of legislation I introduced while chairing the Republican Study Committee’s Health Care Task Force that would replace the ACA with reforms to actually lower costs for patients and improve the quality of health care. Perhaps most significantly, as co-chair of the GOP Doctors Caucus, I led my colleagues in the fight to repeal the Medicare formula which threatened patients’ access to their physicians and to improve Medicare for seniors. I am still hopeful that before this Congress ends, we will address surprise medical bills in a way that protects patients and is fair to doctors and payers.
“As a senior member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, I was proud to be on the forefront of some very consequential accomplishments. The work we did to help workers’ retirement security through multiemployer pension reforms in 2014 is significant. I was also pleased to be a part of passing the Every Student Succeeds Act to repeal and replace the burdensome federal mandates associated with No Child Left Behind Act. As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions, we were able to provide careful oversight of labor reforms being pursued by the Obama administration that were holding back job growth. There’s no question in my mind this oversight played a part in helping the Trump administration identify those burdensome rules and regulations.
“Finally, I’m proud of the bipartisan successes. They don’t always make the headlines, but they are critical to our nation’s future. Legislation I authored has dramatically increased the availability of lifesaving epinephrine in schools for those who suffer from deadly food allergies; and the Desert Storm and Desert Shield War Memorial will be built on the National Mall in the coming years as a result of four years of effort to get my bill across the finish line.
“The challenges we are facing now as complex as ever, and I still have a lot of fire in my belly. I look forward to finishing my term strongly for the East Tennesseans that I love representing and working with President Trump in favor of the free-market, conservative policies so many of us hold dear. I am equally confident East Tennessee is full of capable public servants who will step up to fill my void, and I am ready to give them the opportunity to do so.
“I will always cherish the friends I’ve made and people I’ve met. I could not be more grateful to my family, my staff, the volunteers, the veterans, and the numerous East Tennesseans who have made this job so rewarding.
“Thank you for giving me the great honor to represent you in Congress.”