We asked each candidate the same set of questions about legislation and issues that have been a source of concern with many of our readers this year. Here's what the candidates said.
Legislation to allow wine sales in grocery stores has been introduced the past few sessions but has yet to even be voted on in committee. It's probably unlikely that similar legislation will go anywhere next year, an election year, but if it came up, would you support it?
Victoria DeFreese said, "I think [wine sales in grocery stores] would hurt small local businesses that currently have an advantage in the market."
Becky Duncan Massey said, "I feel like it's ultimately going to happen. I think there are some problems with it, like the fact that more alcohol would be more easily accessible to people underage. And I typically favor small local businesses over big conglomerates. But I do think it's ultimately going to happen."
Marilyn Roddy said that her experience on the Metropolitan Drug Task Force had convinced her that wine sales in grocery stores would too easily expose underage drinkers to alcohol and that she would not vote in favor of such legislation.
Gloria Johnson said that she has no problem personally with buying wine in grocery stores and she would support such legislation if she felt like that what her constituents wanted.
This spring, the House passed a controversial bill by Knoxville's Rep. Bill Dunn, but the Senate took no action on it. According to Dunn, the bill encourages "critical thinking" in science classrooms, but critics of the bill, like the ACLU and the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, have said the legislation is tantamount to introducing creationism in the classroom. The legislation was given to Dunn by David Fowler of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, and it was co-written by Fowler and the Discovery Institute, a conservative think-tank that promotes the theory of Intelligent Design. Is this legislation you would support?
None of the three Republican candidates were familiar with the legislation.
DeFreese: "I would say if you're going to be talking about [evolution] in the schools, then, yes, intelligent desisgn is a concept that you'd want to offer the students to consider."
Massey: "I think creationism is a good thing to teach. We teach a lot of variety of views, and that is something a lot of people believe in, and so it should be discussed in the classroom. … I believe in creationism. Strongly."
Roddy asked to look at the legislation before commenting on it. I e-mailed her a link to the bill and to the story I wrote about it in April. I sent a follow-up e-mail asking if she believed in creationism, since Massey had emphatically stated that she does, and DeFreese had implied a similar set of beliefs. In an e-mail, Roddy replied, "HB368 acknowledges that science is an evolving discipline. New information is discovered every year, some of it disproving or revising earlier theories. Educators should encourage respectful dialogue, exploration of ideas and critical thinking. I agree that, ‘An important purpose of science education is to inform students about scientific evidence and to help students develop critical thinking skills necessary to becoming intelligent, productive, and scientifically informed citizens.'" [That quote is from Dunn's legislation.] In response to the creationism question, Roddy wrote, "I believe that God's hand was and is present on planet earth." I sent a follow-up e-mail asking her more specifically, "But would you vote for Dunn's legislation, as currently written? And do you believe God's hand in things likely included evolution?" She did not reply.
Johnson knew exactly what bill I was talking about. "That's absolutely nothing I would support," she said.
Are you familiar with ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has been in the news a lot this summer? If asked, would you join? In general, do you think too much legislation is being introduced that has been written by outside special interest groups and that has not been carefully parsed by the legislator introducing it, like with a lot of pieces Sen. Bill Ketron introduced last session, for example?
None of the three Republican candidates were familiar with ALEC. I explained more about it and listed several legislators who were a part of it—Ryan Haynes, Julia Hurley, Joe Armstrong.
DeFreese: "I'm an independent thinker and I will not acquiesce to any special interest group."
Massey said that ALEC's model legislation didn't sound any different than the majority of legislation, which is written by outside groups, and she has no problem with this. She said she respects all the legislators I mentioned and is friends with many of them. "[ALEC] sounds like something I'd be interested in joining," she said.
Roddy said she couldn't answer for sure if she would join ALEC, but she commented that she's a "pretty independent thinker" and thought it would unlikely that she would join. She later emailed the following statement: "The American Legislative Exchange Council is one of many groups that write model legislation to advance their legislative agenda. Corporations, think tanks, lobbyists, and groups in support of a myriad of causes bring legislation to representatives at all levels of government."
Johnson: "I won't get anywhere close to ALEC. There's far too much legislation coming from lobbyists outside of the state."
The process of hydraulic fracturing used in gas drilling, or "fracking," has been in the news a lot lately, mostly because of a lot of environmental problems in upstate New York and Pennsylvania. Currently there are no regulations on fracking in Tennessee, even though natural gas drilling is thought likely to soon grow exponentially here. The oil and gas industry has said they don't need regulations because the type of fracking they do isn't the same as that in Pennsylvania—it's not as deep and doesn't require millions of gallons of water. But environmentalists are concerned that the lack of regulations could lead to major problems. Would you support legislation that regulated fracking, as long as you thought like it wasn't an impediment to business in the state?
DeFreese said, "I think fuel and energy are important in our state and the more production there is, the more it puts us in a better position." But DeFreese said it was also important to have some environmental controls in place and that companies should be held to certain expectations of how to treat the land they're drilling on. Since she's not in favor of more government regulation in general, she wasn't sure if it was something she'd vote for, but she left the possibility open if she felt like such a bill provided a good balance.
Massey: "I believe there's too many regulations in state government. … We should get the parties to sit down together and develop their own guidelines."
Roddy: "This is an issue I'd need to dig into. But I feel that a primary role of the government is to ensure the health and safety of its citizens, and this sounds like a health and safety issue."
Johnson: "I would support legislation that did anything protecting the environment. … Regulations don't prevent getting something done, it just ensures you do it in a smart way."