U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn speaks to lunch attendees alongside State Representative David Hawk at The Bramble on Friday, Aug. 16. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn made a stop in Unicoi County on Friday, Aug.16, to speak at a luncheon held at The Bramble and sponsored by the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce.

Blackburn was in town touring Nuclear Fuel Services and was the grand marshall of the Bass Pro Shop NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday, Aug. 17.

At Friday’s luncheon, Blackburn laid out her plans for rural development, trade, the economy and healthcare.

Blackburn, who was given questions by State Representative David Hawk, laid out what she believes is vital to strengthening rural development.

“High-speed internet is the key to rural development,” Blackburn said. “You cannot have 21st-century education, healthcare or law enforcement without high-speed internet.”

Blackburn, who chairs a newly-formed technology task force, called 21st-century warfare one that will be fought through cyberspace.

According to Blackburn, there are two items holding up a trade agreement with China.

“Intellectual property protections and a Chinese telecommunications company named Huawei are two issues holding up a China trade agreement,” Blackburn said. “Our innovators deserve to be paid and recognized for their contribution.”

In regards to Huawei, Blackburn explained that the issue runs deeper than just intellectual property theft.

“Huawei is the state-run telephone company and they embed spyware in their products; this makes them vulnerable to hackers,” Blackburn said.

Blackburn then shifted the conversation to the economy.

“I am proud to say that Tennessee’s unemployment rate is at 3.4 percent and the wage growth is up 5 percent in the state, and this is all because of the President’s tax break,” Blackburn said. “Our goal is to make these tax cuts permanent; they currently run out in 2025.”

Blackburn told the crowd of close to 70, that she is adamant about making the tax breaks permanent.

“We are trying to speed the clock up a little bit on these tax cuts since the growth has been phenomenal,” Blackburn said. “When you have less taxation, less government and less regulation, it leads to more growth.”

Blackburn then turned to healthcare, specifically rural healthcare.

“It really bothers me rural health care is shrinking, so I came up with a rural health agenda,” Blackburn said. “I am working on three separate bills that will bring more healthcare professionals to rural areas, fund a healthcare renovations fund to provide grants to repair older rural healthcare facilities and to increase telehealth availability to rural areas.”

Blackburn also asked those in attendance to share their concerns. Unicoi County Register of Deeds Debbie Tittle pointed out that Unicoi County is struggling for taxable land due to the county being made up of more than 60 percent U.S. Forestry land.

“We have a wonderful county, but we need more money we need more federal grants,” Tittle said. Blackburn nodded in agreement.

Before she left, Blackburn had praise for NFS.

“The work at NFS is important to Oak Ridge, Y12, Arnold air, which is testing our autonomous vehicles; it’s important to our vehicles and our Navy,” Blackburn said. ”NFS is vital to economic growth and our future.”

Awaiting Blackburn outside the luncheon was a group of protesters holding signs and asking questions. Blackburn did not answer any questions protestors asked as she entered and exited The Bramble.