By Brad Hicks
Just before heading to Johnson City to announce his intention to seek re-election, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe visited the Erwin Record last Wednesday to discuss several national, international and local issues.
The focus of Roe’s reelection campaign will be local control of schools, opposition to the Affordable Care Act and his pro-life voting record.
“I’ve been around the world and realized that when America leaves a void, those voids get filled and sometimes with not very good people,” Roe, a former Johnson City mayor who was first elected to Congress in 2008, said. “That’s the reason I’m running again, and I really have almost more passion this time because I see the needs are so acute.”
The first topic Roe discussed was the general American sentiment regarding the direction of the country. He said, according to recent polls, 70 percent of Americans, regardless of political party preference, feel the U.S. is headed in the wrong direction. He said that number is even higher in this Congressional district, with around 85 percent, including a majority of Democrats, dissatisfied.
“I really took a deep dive and said, ‘Why is that?’” Roe said. “And I think I’ve figured out why. If you look at the United States, there are about 3,100 counties in the United States and, this is an amazing number, 20 of those counties, just 20 out of the 3,100, have created half of the new businesses created in the United States.”
He said a similar situation in Britain led to the recent Brexit, the passage of a referendum by British voters to have the United Kingdom leave the European Union. Roe said this referendum passed likely due to many areas outside of London resembling the majority of U.S. counties.
Roe said despite the current administration heralding job creation and a reduction in nationwide unemployment, 60 percent of the counties in the U.S. have experienced a net business loss. This, he said, parallels the 70 percent of Americans who are concerned about stagnant wages, rising health insurance costs, being able to afford day-to-day necessities and seeing jobs lost due to outsourcing, which has been experienced in this community with the recent announcement that Regal Beloit Shallowford would be relocating operations from its local Morrill Motors plant.
“That’s the uneasiness and uncertainty that’s created this 70 percent,” Roe said. “So I asked myself, ‘If that’s the case, what can we do to head it in the right direction?’”
The Congressman said Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan asked himself this same question. He said Ryan recently established six “task forces” to look at ways of addressing several issues should the Republican Party maintain control of the Congress and be given the privilege of the U.S. Presidency.
Roe is on the healthcare reform task force, which has been tasked with coming up with an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare. Roe said premiums on the ACA exchange are going up, as are costs for private health insurance providers.
Other task forces will address tax reform, welfare reform, national security, Article I powers of the U.S. Constitution and regulatory reform.
Roe said the country’s tax code also needs to be revised to prevent businesses from moving operations offshore.
Although Roe said it has been difficult “to get anything done” with Barack Obama as president, he said several major pieces of legislation have been passed recently. He said these include the $305 billion “Highway Bill,” the repeal of the sustainable growth rate formula for Medicare, the repeal of the No Child Left Behind Act, and the Veterans Choice Act, which has to be reauthorized.
“I certainly hope I have an opportunity to be part of that reauthorization that we’re doing,” Roe said.
Roe said two votes in his seven-and-a-half years in the U.S. Congress have stood out the most – the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the Iran Nuclear Deal. The latter, Roe said, extended nuclear weapons to the “most dangerous place in the world.”
“To allow the largest sponsor of state terrorism in the world to develop a nuclear weapon, to me, is irresponsible, and that’s exactly what they negotiated,” Roe said.
Roe said terrorism is the number one issue facing the world as a whole, pointing to incidents in Boston, Fort Hood, Texas, Chattanooga, San Bernardino, Calif., Orlando, Fla., Brussels, Paris, and the Tuesday attack in Istanbul, Turkey, as examples.
“What we need in this country is a strong leader who will acknowledge that radical Islamic terrorism exists,” Roe said. “It’s an ideology we’re fighting. It’s not a gun we’re fighting.”
Roe said the top issue facing the U.S. is the economy, adding that a strong leader is needed to guide the nation. He referred to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as “the known.”
“If you want to keep doing what we’ve been doing, we can keep doing that because, I think, that’s exactly what we’ll do if you like that direction,” Roe said. “And three-fourths of the people say they don’t.”
Trump, on the other hand, represents the unknown, Roe said, adding he will support the Republican nominee.
“I’ll take the unknown with the opportunity to get some things done, and I think with him elected I can get some things done,” Roe said. “In fact, I know I can.”
Roe said, for the first time, he will be attending the Republican National Convention which will be held later this month.
On the local level, Roe said he was impressed by how quickly officials rallied once CSX announced it would be pulling its operations from Erwin.
“When CSX pulled out, I was impressed at how many resources people brought to the area quickly,” he said. “We tried to get people retrained and get them into another line of work because those jobs were some of the best jobs in the county. I thought people stepped up and really tried to bring the training to the people.”
He said Unicoi County’s natural beauty is perhaps its greatest asset, and the further development of the state park at Rocky Fork will be key for the county.
“I think that will be huge for our area,” Roe said.