Fincher Getting Flack on the Right for Dodging Debates

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Stephen Fincher
  • Stephen Fincher
For understandable reasons, Roy Herron, the Democratic nominee for the 8th Congressional District, is chastising Republican nominee Stephen Fincher for his refusal to debate Herron. What is more unusual is that sources on the Right, including dyed-in-the-wool Republicans, are now joining in the attack.

The Mid-South Tea Party, which is backing independent candidate Donn Janes, took Fincher to task in a press release on Thursday, Said the release in part, referring to an aborted debate that WREG-TV of Memphis attempted to arrange:

“…Mr. Fincher knows that debates such as this one will expose a candidate’s actual positions. These positions are often otherwise blurred through misleading advertisements paid for by special interest groups bent on maintaining power in D.C. As Mr. Fincher is the Republican Club nominee, we ask that he stop cowering behind his Washington D.C. handlers and stand up and fight for conservative principles.”

The press release touted Janes, who had not been included in the station’s debate invitation, but it also had kind words for Democrat Herron, who had been invited to participate and had accepted and who, said the release, “seems eager to position himself as equally conservative as Mr. Fincher.”

This is not the first time the Mid-South Tea Party has had a bone to pick with Fincher on the subject. During the Republican primary, when 8th District GOP rivals Ron Kirkland and George Flinn took part in a debate organized by the Bartlett Civic Organization, but Fincher did not, a fact which angered Mid-South Tea Party members. The group subsequently picketed Fincher at one of his own campaign appearances.

Adding his own criticism of Fincher this week was Jeff Ward of Tipton County, former head of the influential TeamGOP organization, a grass-roots Republican group, and currently organizing a successor organization, Planet GOP.

"We've never before been cowards"

Ward, at the moment an active supporter of legislative candidate Jim Harden, a Republican running against Democrat Jimmy Naifeh, the former state House Speaker, said, “We Tennessee Republicans have made mistakes in the past, and we haven’t always been brilliant, but we’ve never before been cowards. Fincher needs to debate. The people will demand it. Hiding ain’t the way we do business in Tennessee.”

Besides declining the WREG invitation, Fincher had also failed to respond to an invitation from the Memphis Rotary Club for a debate with Herron. Inquiring about Fincher’s reasons for avoiding the latter debate, the Jackson Sun received a written statement from Fincher spokesman: Paul Ciaramitaro, who had previously worked for Flinn’s campaign.

Said Ciaramitaro, by way of explaining Fincher’s motives:

"He's not going to debate a man whose campaign commercials are filled with blatant lies that nonpartisan groups have already rejected. And he will not debate a man who can't even say the name of the woman he would vote for as Speaker of the House. Senator Herron is right when he says the voters deserve the chance to make an informed decision. But they aren't going to get useful information from a slick career politician who spreads vicious personal attacks in an effort to tack more time onto his 24 years of government employment."

Ciaramitaro’s reference to “vicious personal attacks” was apparently in response to a Herron TV ad last week in which the Democratic candidate accuses Fincher of breaking the law and questions his financial disclosures, as well as Fincher’s commitment to Social Security and his alleged defense of tax breaks for corporations.

Fincher has also said he was disinclined to debate someone who was committed to backing current U.S. House Speaker. Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, to continue as Speaker in the next Congress. Like the other Republican candidates, Fincher had made Pelosi something of a sounding board for attacks in the primary.

Ward, for one, will have none of the Pelosi argument, which has also been made by 7th District U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn in her refusal to debate Democratic opponent Greg Rabidoux. “It makes more sense for Marsha, whose opponent isn’t considered that serious, but Roy Herron is a substantial candidate. We all know that.”

Another problem with the Fincher campaign, said Ward, a former Kirkland supporter, was that it seemed to him to lack significant local direction. “The only person in that campaign I know anything about from anywhere around here is Jimmy Wallace.” Wallace is a Jackson businessman and longtime GOP activist.

Flincher, a farmer and gospel singer from Frog Jump, a small community in Crockett County, was heavily supported by state and national Republican sources last year when he first indicated his intent to challenge longtime Democratic congressman John Tanner, who subsequently withdrew from the race. At that point, Kirkland and Flinn had emerged as Republican opponents for Fincher.

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