Race to replace Roe: Two in, five confirmed “pondering,” more expected

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TRI-CITIES (WJHL) – The Republican primary had produced Tennessee’s First District Congressional Representative for 128 consecutive years when Bill Jenkins retired as Tennessee’s First District Congressman in 2006. It was no surprise, then, that 13 hopefuls entered that 2006 race. The Aug. 3 primary produced high drama, with four candidates polling between 17.2 percent and 22.2 percent, with David Davis besting Richard Venable by just 573 votes (0.8 percent) to emerge victorious.

Tennessee First District Congressman Dr. Phil Roe

The fourth-place finisher in that race? Dr. Phil Roe, who would go on to make Davis a one-termer, defeating him by just 500 votes and drawing complaints about Democrats crossing over to support Roe, who was perceived by some as the more moderate of the two.

Voters and political junkies can expect a similar crowded field this year.

Two former city mayors, Johnson City’s Steve Darden and Kingsport’s John Clark, have confirmed they’ll run in the Aug. 6 primary. And Nichole Williams of Kingsport has had a Facebook campaign underway since November. Williams also has a campaign website, nicholewilliamsforcongress.com.

State representatives David Hawk of Greeneville and Timothy Hill of Blountville have said they’re considering running, as has state Senator Jon Lundberg of Bristol. Former state representative Charles Allen of Johnson City, who owns a self-storage business, confirmed that he, too, is considering tossing his hat in the ring.

All those confirmations occurred within three hours of Roe’s 10:46 a.m. announcement that he would retire.

Former Kingsport Mayor John Clark.

Clark, a retired businessman who served as Kingsport’s mayor from 2015-2019, said he was “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.”

Darden, an attorney, served 10 years on the Johnson City Commission and was a fellow commissioner with Roe. He said that through the years he’d received a lot of encouragement “that when and if this position came available for me to consider it.”

Former Johnson City Mayor Steve Darden.

Darden said he was grateful to Roe for his service to Johnson City, where his public service career began with a stint on the planning commission, and his Congressional service.

He said he’d like the opportunity to use the office “to improve the lives of the people who live here and also the economic conditions of our area.”

Darden said he is able to grasp complicated things and simplify them, and would strive to learn from all his fellow representatives regardless of their stance on any particular issue. “Acting in good faith, I think that people who are committed to solving problems can come up with solutions. I view myself as a problem-solver and I would like to bring those skills to bear in this office,” Darden said.

Williams’ website lists issues and concerns including her support for deregulating the economy — including abolishing the federal minimum wage — and enforcing immigration by “building the wall.” It also stresses strong support for the Second Amendment, to the point of calling “all gun laws illegal” and stating “all citizens should be able to purchase any armaments that they can afford, including military grade weapons.”

Hawk told News Channel 11 late last month that he was considering a run should Roe opt to retire. After Friday’s announcement, Hawk said he hadn’t yet made up his mind about whether to run.

Fifth District State Rep. David Hawk.

“I am in a great position in the Tennessee House of Representatives right now,” Hawk said. “I’m going to consider all the good and bad of a run for Congress, see how it will affect my family and my current work and I’ll make a decision in the next couple weeks.”

Hawk said as someone who’s been “constituent-driven” in his work in the state house, he would be a good fit for the job.

“The First District Representative that has historically gone to Washington has focused primarily on constituent services,” Hawk said. “That is one of my strong suits, and if I were to decide to run for Congress I would make sure that constituents at all levels were heard and represented in a positive way.”

Third District State Rep. Timothy Hill.

Hill, who represents the state’s 3rd House District, has been rumored as a potential candidate since Roe delayed his decision to run again in 2018. Friday morning, Hill said he was considering throwing his hat in the ring but hadn’t made up his mind completely.

“I appreciate the Congressman’s service first,” said Hill, who actually served as press secretary for David Davis during Davis’s single term. “My family and I are prayerfully considering what our next steps are.”

Lundberg, who said Roe had done “a phenomenal job” representing the district in Washington, said he was open to a run “and thinking about it.” Lundberg served in the state house from 2006 to 2016, when he was elected to outgoing state senator Ron Ramsey’s seat.

State Senator Jon Lundberg.

“For anyone who serves, having an interest in furthering that service, there’s always an interest,” Lundberg said. “But I also feel very, very good about what I, and we as a collective caucus, have been able to do in Tennessee, and I think that’s why our state is a shining example across the country of how to operate and how to operate efficiently.”

Allen, who served two terms in the state house (1991-1994), said he’s received quite a bit of encouragement throughout the district, though like the other potential candidates he lauded Roe’s service.

Allen said he is a fiscal conservative whose business background would make him a good candidate and Congressman. He added that he’s not sure whether he’ll ultimately decide Congress is the best place for him to serve, because of what he described as an overabundance of “playing politics” in Washington.

SEE ALSO: Congressman Phil Roe won’t seek seventh term

“I think we all have an obligation to give back and try to have an impact on people in our community and our region, and I have to decide if Congress is where I can have the largest impact,” Allen said. “I have not decided that yet. That’s what I’ll be basing my decision on.”

For his part, Roe’s got this advice for his would-be successors.

“I would recommend that they get started yesterday,” Roe said. “I went ahead and shook every hand I could shake in Northeast Tennessee and it works. People want to know who they are voting for, they want to know if you’re the real deal. The second thing is to get you a comfortable pair of shoes because you’re going to do a lot of walking.” 

Roe said he’s confident the district contains capable successors. “There are good people here who can fill my shoes very, very well and I wish them nothing but the best because this is the greatest country on the face of the Earth.”

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