Former Rep. and likely Senate candidate Stephen Fincher
LIke the Governor’s race, the race for U.S. Senator in Tennessee is shaping up to be a real donneybrook in 2018, at least on the Republican side.
Stephen Fincher, the former 8th District congressman from Crockett County, was in Memphis this week as part of his statewide “listening tour,” and, during a stop by the Flyer office, he left little doubt that he’d long since heard enough to get him into the GOP primary for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican incumbent Bob Corker.
First elected to Congress in 2010, with a convincing win over Democrat Roy Herron, Fisher surprised most people with an abrupt announcement in 2016 that he wouldn’t be running for reelection that year. His 8th District seat was eventually captured by Memphis Republican David Kustoff, and it may have appeared that Fincher, a farmer and gospel singer from ultra-rural Frog Jump, was done for good with elective politics.
In fact, as he explained during his sit-down on Tuesday, he had left office because the brother who was then operating the family’s substantial farming enterprise had suffered a broken back, and, Fincher says, “I had to make the decision to stay in Congress or help on the farm. I couldn’t do both.”
The brother has made a full “100 percent” recovery, according to Fincher, and that fact frees him to return to Washington. “I love farming and the outdoors, and we’ve got a duck season coming up,” says Fincher, “but we also understood how important it is that Tennesseans have a good, solid conservative to represent them.”
His major GOP primary opponent, already declared for the Senate, is his onetime Congressional colleague Marsha Blackburn, who represents the adjacent 7th District in middle and West Tennessee and flies political colors at least as conservative, if not more so, than his own. What then would be the difference?
Fincher’s answer is multi-fold. He cites the four bills he managed to pass during his six years in Congress, and says, “Marsha and I are both very conservative, but our governing is very different.” And there are issue differences, one very glaring these days, in the wake of last weekend’s 60 Minutes citing of Blackburn as a major factor in the passage of a drug measure that, as the CBS program pointed out, contained loopholes providing scope for unscrupulous drug merchandisers to inflate the nation’s growing opioid-addiction problem.
Fincher says the opioid issue has loomed large on his listening tour, which started last week in Mountain City, on the state’s border with North Carolina, and has progressed through numerous towns, cities, and rural areas on his way westward into Memphis.
“Every mayor every sheriff has mentioned it. It’s the number one problem by a factor of 99.9 percent everywhere we’ve been,” Fincher says. “What we saw in the 60 Minutes piece is really troubling. People’s lives are being broken. How can anybody in our state not see what’s going on around us?”
In case that isn’t clear enough, Fincher reformulates: “How can you be a representative and not be able to recognize it?”
In her defense, Rep. Blackburn has pointed out that the ill-fated drug bill passed Congress by a unanimous-consent vote, and she maintains that Fincher, too, would have gone on the record for it had he been in Washington last year when it was passed.
Not so, says Fincher, whose absence from Congress at the time had been dictated by the same medical emergency involving his brother that would cause him not to run for reelection in 2016. “I would have voted against the bill,” he insists, emphatically.
He goes on: “People want somebody to represent us and not fall into the trap of status quo politics, caring only about the next rung up on the ladder. Marsha’s a career politician, a career candidate, used to being on Fox News every night. I’m just a farmer from Frog Jump, but I’m confident we will have the tools to win.”
Fincher says that he intends to be a “jobs guy” if successful in the Senate race. “My M.O. is to fix people’s problems. I want to make sure that West Tennessee and Memphis are growing. I want to make sure that we have jobs in Johnson City and Chattanooga and Jackson”
And, vows Fincher, “I intend to support President Trump. I think his policies are 100 percent spot-on.”
He was asked about the likelihood that he could end up running against potential general election opponent Phil Bredesen, a former Governor and conservative-leaning Democrat. Fincher shrugged: “The Democrats in Congress are an obstructionist party, and Bredesen, as a Democrat wou ld be llined up with them. He’d be going up there to work with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.”
On foreign-policy issues, Fincher sees his views as consistent with those of both Trump and outgoing Senator Corker in favoring military strength and in a disinclination to kowtow to foreign adversaries.
“People in Tennessee just want good solid honest people to go up there, and we have a history of sending good people to the Senate.” Though he hasn’t formally committed to a race yet, Fincher allows as how he’s “close” and leaves little doubt that he; wants to be in that number as well.