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PARIS, TN: Republican candidates for Congress try to stand out from crowd

July 16, 2016 GMT

It may have seemed like another in a long line of cattle calls for the Republican Congressional candidates who showed up for a political forum Friday night in Henry County.

But after about two hours of sharing the stage at the Krider Performing Arts Center, the 11 contenders in the crowded field — and that’s just the Republicans — had set about separating themselves from the other guys just a bit.

The men stuck mostly to the GOP’s well-loved conservative principles during the program in front of about 100 interested voters.

They’re all seeking to replace Stephen Fincher in the U.S. House of Representatives seat from Tennessee’s 8th District, which contains Henry County as well as the rest of rural West Tennessee. Fincher is not seeking re-election.

The district also contains a portion of Shelby County, which is one of the talking points in this campaign. Many of the top contenders come from the Memphis suburbs and there’s been some question whether they would adequately represent the far-flung rural portions of the district.

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Jackson businessman Brad Greer has made it a major part of his platform, often arguing that he’s the best choice among the non-Memphis residents in the race.

Only two of the 13 candidates who are on the Republican primary ballot didn’t come to the forum, and one, State Sen. Brian Kelsey is from — you guessed it — Shelby County. Kelsey, who lives in Collierville, informed the Henry County Republican Party that he had a prior commitment Friday and couldn’t attend.

Dave Bault of Jackson also was absent from the forum.

Some of the highlights of Friday night’s event, which was moderated by local attorney Vicki Hoover:

• The group seems to be strongly behind presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Though not all of the 12 men mentioned Trump, the ones who did made it clear they’re backing him.

• They all seem to agree President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act is something they would like to jettison as soon as possible.

“We had a poor health care delivery system in this country before, but Obamacare has accelerated that,” said Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, who said he favors states having control of guidelines for health care.

“Small (medical) practices are being swallowed up by larger ones or by large hospitals,” said George Flinn, who is a radiologist himself.

• On the subject of same-sex marriage, there were no surprises.

“Marriage is between a man and a woman,” said Hunter Baker, a Union University political science professor who lives in Jackson. “That’s simple and fundamental.”

“God defined marriage, so I don’t have to,” Greer said.

• Budget deficits, the national debt and government waste were also hot topics during the forum.

Speaking about waste, Greer said one of the first things he would do if elected would be to address Social Security’s disability programs.

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“We’re raiding our grandparents’ funds and giving them to people who are lazy and often not disabled at all, and allowing them to sit at home and do nothing but draw a check.”

Responding to a question about the $503 billion deficit in the latest federal budget, Baker said “it’s totally unfair what we’re doing to our young people with this (budget) bill.”

On the estimated $19.5 trillion debt faced by the United States, George Howell of Jackson said he would vote for cutting subsidies to big businesses and for cutting any kind of subsidies for illegal immigrants.

• A couple of candidates said they felt there are things to be optimistic about in the U.S.

“Government doesn’t have to be broken,” Flinn said. “Right now, it’s no longer advantageous for someone to try to do better in life. We’re not rewarding excellence anymore. And, in the education system, with things like Common Core, we’ve dumbed down the schools, too. But it doesn’t have to be that way.”

“Resilience is our country’s greatest asset,” Luttrell said. “We’re a great country and we always bounce back.”