Metro Pulse sent the following questionnaire to the three Republican candidates for the state Senate 6th District. Candidates' responses have not been edited in any way.
BECKY DUNCAN MASSEY, candidate for state Senate 6th District
1.) All three Republican candidates for the 6th District seat describe themselves as conservatives. Please define what that word means to you. In what ways are you "a conservative"?
A conservative is one who believes that government should be limited, efficient and as small of a burden on the taxpayers as possible. The more decisions can be made at the local level, the better. Over the years, Tennessee has maintained fiscal restraint, low taxes and a balanced budget mandated by our State Constitution. Even so, we can do better. As a conservative businesswoman, I strongly support Governor Haslam’s initiatives to eliminate unnecessary regulatory burdens on businesses and individuals in our state and to make sure our state government is operating as efficiently and effectively as possible. In a nutshell, I believe is less regulation, less legislation and less taxation. I am a supporter of gun owner’s rights, as well as the rights of the unborn. Also, I would like us to become more a society of empowerment and not of entitlement.
2.) Name 3 political leaders past or present other than Ronald Reagan whom you consider conservative role models, in terms of their beliefs and how they apply them in government.
First, of course I would list my Dad, John J. Duncan, Sr as the single most important influence on my views as a conservative and in my life. He served the citizens of Knoxville and knox County first as Mayor of Knoxville and later as our Congressman. As Mayor, my Dad set the foundation for a modern city government and downtown revitalization with the Civic Coliseum/Auditorium, the Safety Building and the renovation of Market Square Mall. Through his ability to build consensus and his leadership, Knoxville didn’t experience the same turmoil of the civil rights era like many other cities in the country at that time. We were all so proud when Knoxville was named an All American City while he was Mayor. As Congressman, my Dad set the standard for constituent service that is still talked about today. He taught me what it meant to be a true public servant and to always give back to your community, to respect everyone and to work hard. I want to follow his example as State Senator.
Second, I would say Howard H. Baker. At a time when Tennessee was considered a largely Democratic state, Baker was the first popularly elected Republican Senator. This began our road to becoming more of a conservative, Republican state. As a Senator, he helped pass legislation that enabled the federal government to share revenue with the states. He was known as the Great Conciliator for his ability to bring lawmakers from both political parties together to resolve pressing issues. He went on to become the Senate Minority Leader, President Regan’s Chief of Staff, and Ambassador to Japan. He always worked in a diligent gentle way with a unique sense of humor to leave his mark on the political landscape in our country.
Finally, I would name Senator Ben Atchley who served in this Senate seat. Few former state senators can match the reputation of Senator Atchley for bipartisanship and leadership for the citizens of Tennessee. Senator Atchley, who was known as “Gentle Ben”, was pro-business, pro-growth, a champion of ethics legislation, opposed abortion and supported education. He was a consensus builder who was a good solid, honest legislator.
3.) Despite lots of campaign talk about job creation, Tennessee's unemployment rate has risen since the new Legislature took office this year. Name three specific things the state Legislature can or should do next year to help put Tennesseans back to work.
First, Tennessee should keep its status as a low tax state and continue to avoid a state income tax. Second, eliminate unnecessary and burdensome regulations that stifle new small businesses from starting and prevent existing businesses from expanding. (The Small Business Administration has estimated that regulatory compliance costs small businesses $10,000 per employee per year.) Third, I would look for ways to streamline the way businesses interact with state government. Often times businesses are bounced around different parts of state government for different licenses and reports. We need to look for ways to develop more of a “one stop” approach as much as possible.
4.) Tennessee House Bill 600 generated a lot of controversy earlier this year, with many major employers—including Knoxville-based Scripps Networks—saying it will hurt their recruitment and retention of top employees. Would you have voted for the bill? Why or why not? Would you vote for its repeal?
The issue as I understood it was whether or not local governments could limit employers’ hiring and retention practices in order to do business with the local entity. I support local preferences in choosing vendors, but not local mandates on businesses’ hiring practices. I certainly don’t support discrimination in any form, publicly or privately. I would look at modifying the effects of this legislation to find a better balance.
5.) If the Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade, will you vote to make abortion illegal in Tennessee? If yes, does that mean that women who have abortions, or doctors who perform them, should be charged as criminals? What would be an appropriate jail sentence for a 20-year-old University of Tennessee student who has an abortion?
I am pro-life and would vote to prohibit abortions in Tennessee with the exceptions of rape, incest or endangerment of the mother. The policy goal should not be to punish vulnerable women, but promote life and alternative options to abortions.
6.) Many observers (including those of us at Metro Pulse) believe the state Legislature this year spent a lot of time fighting over political wedge issues like collective bargaining and Stacey Campfield's "Don't Say Gay" bill, which are likely to have little actual effect on the economy or lives of Tennesseans. Do you agree, or do you agree with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey that this was a successful and productive legislative session? If so, can you name its major accomplishments? Would you hope that next year’s session is a lot like this one, or different? If different, how?
Given the components of a new Governor, the large number of new members of the General Assembly and the difficult choices that had to be made on the budget, I do believe this past year was a productive legislative session. The new Republican majority responsibly passed a leaner balanced budget with no tax increases. They also passed comprehensive tort reform with reasonable limits, curbed abuse of red light cameras, as well as enacted steps to help improve our education system. Next year I expect we will see further reforms to improve education and foster economic development and job growth. I believe the biggest “wedge” issue we face is our economy. Tennessee is in a better position than most states due to not having a state income tax which continues to pay dividends in business recruitment. I hope in the next session we will address how to make state government do more with less, stretch our state dollars with more going to our communities across our state and encourage small business start up and growth.
7.) Tennessee is contending with two drug epidemics right now: methamphetamine and abuse of prescription opiates like oxycontin and methadone. What can or should the state government do in terms of prevention, interdiction, or treatment in those two specific cases?
Sadly, Tennessee is the second highest per capita prescription drug use state in the country. No one disputes the benefits of therapeutic drug treatment, but prescription abuse increases health care costs for all and exacts a toll on our society that should not be tolerated. While the problem is easily identified, addressing it has proven to be complex and difficult. I would like to see stepped up efforts in education, law enforcement and earlier intervention and treatment. Methamphetamine is a plague on our rural communities and our low income areas. It ruins the lives of many and strains the resources of law enforcement. We need to continue aggressive law enforcement, while looking for ways to further control the chemical source for this deadly killer drug.
8.) Can you read, write, or speak any language other than English? (Even partial proficiency counts, but please indicate your level of ability.)
9.) People often talk about Tennessee as a "low tax" state, but it actually has the highest sales tax rate in America. Given that sales taxes are regressive—they hurt poor people more than the affluent—do you see that as a problem? Are there any items or categories you would add to the list of things exempt from the sales tax?
I am absolutely opposed to any state income tax. Income taxes are regressive on productivity and looking at the current economic situation nationally, have proven to be an unreliable basis for state revenue. I do realized that high sales taxes are difficult on the poor. As our revenues improve, we should look at reducing sales tax on basic food and necessities. The best thing we can do to improve the overall economic health of our state is to foster economic growth and opportunity so we have fewer citizens hovering at poverty levels and decreased unemployment.
10.) Coal-industry supporters have so far blocked legislative action against mountaintop removal mining in Tennessee. Would you vote to ban the practice here? Why or why not?
I want more information on this issue but I am strictly in favor of environmental and reclamation standards being met.