Earlier this evening, Representative Marsha Blackburn and former governor Phil Bredesen engaged in their first public debate in the campaign race for senator of Tennessee.
The debate was hosted by Cumberland University and was moderated by Rhori Johnston of WTVF’s NewsChannel 5 and David Plazas of The Tennessean.
The debate began without opening statements: each candidate had a sum of 90 seconds to respond to each question. Bredesen and Blackburn responded to questions on a number of issues including tax cuts and the national deficit, health care, the opioid crisis, foreign policy, infrastructure and gun control.
In general, Bredesen identified increasing bipartisanship as the source of many of the nation’s problems. The former governor focused his responses on how to solve problems by using government rather than working against it.
Blackburn focused on fixing the mistakes of past administrations — she said she is an advocate of “draining the swamp”, focusing on legislation that will benefit the people of Tennessee and preserving their rights and freedoms as opposed to working to please interests in Washington.
When asked about Brett Kavanaugh and the sexual assault levied against him by a former high school classmate, Blackburn replied that every woman who makes an accusation should have her voice heard, but that Kavanaugh was eminently qualified for a Supreme Court position, and that allegations leveled against him were untrue.
Bredesen criticized both democrats and republicans for turning a serious constitutional duty into a political circus. He emphasized the need for careful review of all the facts, rather than making decisions based on party affiliations.
On the issue of the opioid crisis and legalization of medical marijuana, Bredesen criticized Blackburn for affiliating with pharmaceutical lobbyists in Washington and passing a stealth bill which took away law enforcement’s ability to deal with the opioid crisis. Bredesen pledged to reverse this act.
Blackburn affirmed law enforcement’s need for tools necessary to approach potentially dangerous opioid situations and clarified that all bills passed in House and Senate with respect to the opioid crisis were done so with bipartisan input.
Neither candidate commented on the issue of marijuana legalization.
Concerning gun control, Blackburn and Bredesen agreed that second amendment rights should be protected, but also that regulation should be put in place to prevent tragedy, including more comprehensive background checks.
Bredesen said that a judicial process preventing those with clear mental illness from obtaining firearms should be in place; Blackburn emphasized the need for greater safety in schools, as well as mental illness criteria in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
The candidates also commented on the DACA bill and the future of Dreamers (U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants) across the nation, Bredesen voiced his support, claiming that the nation has a moral obligation to young people who speak English fluently and have known the U.S. their entire lives, those who have arrived here by no choice of their own. He again lamented partisan politics and argued that there was a way to solve the problem that would be bipartisan. At the same time, Bredesen conceded that the United States is entitled to protect its own borders for purposes of national security.
Blackburn also affirmed that there should be a path to citizenship for Dreamers, but more heavily emphasized the nation’s need to protect its borders, limiting the stream of illegal immigrants into the country, as well as respecting Mexico’s own sovereignty.
Blackburn pointed out Tennessee’s prominent community of immigrants from Kurdistan, and that the nation does have a responsibility to help those refugees who have helped the United States achieve its goals overseas.
Both Bredesen and Blackburn opposed President Trump’s statement, referenced by the moderators, that the press was the “enemy of the state”. Both candidates affirmed that a free press is extremely important to a healthy democracy and that in an evolving age of social media and digital information the protection of first amendment rights was as important as ever.
The debate ended with two-minute closing statements from both candidates.
Bredesen expressed his “high school civics class” view that the government of the United States is a brilliantly designed one capable of doing a lot of good in the world. He reaffirmed his goals to get things done, push bipartisan politics down and solve problems within our state.
Blackburn expressed her gratitude for the people of Tennessee’s involvement in the discourse and pledged that she would work to make Washington listen to voters. She stated her specific goals to cut taxes, spend less and center healthcare on the patient.