Early voting in Knox County began on Oct. 19 and will end on Nov. 3. Election Day is Nov. 8.
For many local voters this year, there will be a familiar name on the ballot.
Mark Harmon, a professor at the School of Journalism and Electronic Media, is currently running to unseat Republican incumbent Tim Burchett as the 2nd District’s delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Harmon has taught at the University of Tennessee for over 20 years. In addition to his teaching career, he has also held a variety of political offices, including as a Knox County commissioner from 2006 to 2010. He also served two terms in the Tennessee Democratic Party Executive Committee. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Aurora Silavong: Why did you decide to run for Congress?
Mark Harmon: I decided to run because our congressman, Tim Burchett, just hours after insurrectionists invaded our Capitol and attacked police, gave those rioters the vote they wanted to delay or deny the peaceful transfer of power. Since then, I have kept track of his voting record, and he has cast shockingly bad votes against everything from sending aid to Ukraine, to COVID-19 relief, to the bipartisan infrastructure bill, to extra college money for survivors in our Gold Star veteran families.
Silavong: How do you feel about your opponent, Tim Burchett? I know your campaign website sheds some insight into your thoughts, but could you elaborate more?
Harmon: A lot of people had hope for Tim Burchett, but he went to the swamp and became just another swamp creature. He lost all credibility when he ducked every opportunity to debate me.
Silavong: What are some of the most damaging decisions, in your opinion, Rep. Burchett has made while in office?
Harmon: He joined a lawsuit in favor of the Mississippi law that the Supreme Court used to overturn Roe v. Wade. Additionally, he traded stocks while in office, which he shouldn’t have done. He dumped stock in a restaurant company just as Congress was learning about the economic consequences of the forthcoming COVID epidemic.
Silavong: If you win, what would be the first things you would do upon taking office? What are some of the more immediate changes your constituents would see?
Harmon: One of the more immediate changes people would see is a congressman willing to serve all his constituents, not just those who cater to Burchett's extremist agenda. I would get to work on raising the minimum wage, increasing the number of grants available for college and other post-secondary education, and would co-sponsor the bill to make abortion rights federal law.
Silavong: You have indicated your support for implementing protections for Roe and Casey into federal law. What are your thoughts now, since those cases have been overruled and abortion is essentially banned in Tennessee?
Harmon: Trust women. Put no level of government between them, their caregivers and their choices.
Silavong: How do you feel about the new student loan forgiveness program? Does it do enough as a “first step”?
Harmon: It is a good first step, but I would work on the other end of the problem — the accumulation of student debt. I want to replace loan programs with grant programs so our students do not graduate with crippling debt.
Silavong: On your campaign website, you acknowledge you may not win. How would you feel, if you were to lose, and would you run again?
Harmon: My name has been on a public ballot nine times, and I've won eight — including twice defeating incumbents. Yes, I'm a long shot, but every day voters of all political stripes are flocking to my campaign. I hope to win and have great volunteers helping me get there. I don't know about future campaigns. Perhaps, with luck, I'll be running for re-election in two years. However, I believe in firm term limits. I will serve in this office no more than six years.
Silavong: I noticed you said you won eight out of nine elections you've run in. Tell me about the one you lost, and what did you learn from that experience?
Harmon: I moved to Knoxville 23 years ago to take a job at UT. Before that, I lived in Texas. Twice, I was elected Lubbock County's Democratic Party Chair. I won a primary in 1998 to be the Democratic nominee for Congress in the 13th district of Texas, but I lost to the incumbent in that seat. From all those experiences, I learned the value of enthusiasm and good humor as one seeks public office.
Silavong: What are some eye opening or standout experiences you’ve had during this campaign?
Harmon: One funny moment came when I was campaigning at an event in downtown Knoxville. A man asked me, "You running against Tim Burchett?" I said I was. He replied, "Yeah, I went to school with him." I tensely waited through a long pause. He added, "Beat the crap out of him, will you?" The remainder of the wonderful experiences came during parades and events when people joyously thanked me for running and expressed their enthusiastic support. I am forever grateful.
More information about voting, including sample ballots and absentee ballot requests, can be found on the Tennessee Secretary of State website.