Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Steve Dickerson, Candidate for Tennessee's 21st District Senate seat

Steve DickersonThe following questionnaire has been submitted to each of the two candidate running in the Republican primary seeking the nomination for Republican candidate for Tennessee's 21st Senatorial District. This seat is now held by Senator Doug Henry. Doug Henry is being challenged in the Democratic primary by Jeff Yarbro. Whoever wins the Republican primary on August 5 will face the Democratic nominee in November.

Tell me a little about yourself. Who are you? Where are you from? What do you do for a living? What is your educational background?
Are you married? Tell me about any relevant church, community or political involvement. Do you have any political experience?

I am 46 years old. I have been married for eighteen years to my wife, Katrina. We have three sons: Reid, Evan and Bennett. I am an anesthesiologist in private practice. My practice includes facilities in both Davidson and Sumner counties.

I attended college at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee and medical school at the Bowman Gray School of Medicine of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Though I have been elected to several positions within the healthcare institutions I have been part of, I have never run for public office before. I serve on the board of the Tennessee Medical Association and currently am chairman of the board of the Middle Tennessee School of Anesthesia.

Let me get the easy question out of the way first. Do you support a state income tax? Do you foresee any circumstances under which you could possibly support a state income tax?


What do you see as the primary issues facing the State government? What policies do you advocate do deal with these issues?

The primary issue facing our General Assembly is the need to responsibly constrain the size and cost of our state government. Government, on the local, state and federal levels, is becoming an impediment to the American dream, not a catalyst for it. As government grows, individuals diminish. As government takes more of the resources available in our economy, individual opportunity diminishes.

Therefore, for Tennesseans to have the chance to live their lives to the fullest potential, the General Assembly must hold the line on state spending. I do not, at this time, advocate drastic cuts to our state budget but rather a freeze. If our General Assembly is able to muster the courage to say "no" to budgetary increases, we can maintain and even enhance the opportunities available to our citizens. As our state and nation move beyond our current economic doldrums, our state GDP will increase. If we hold our state budget at its present level, over time it will represent a decreasing percent of our state economy and will act as less of a drag on our future opportunities.

There are many pressing issues facing our General Assembly including education, economic development, healthcare and the environment but responsible restraint of the size of our state government is the most important.

This year the state legislature passed a bill allowing licensed gun permit holders to carry guns into bars. Despite an earlier attempt to draw a distinction between bars and restaurants, the final bill permits licensed gun permit holders to carry a gun into any establishment with a liquor license but would permit the owner of an establishment to prohibit guns on the premises of his or her establishment if the owner posts a prohibition. Would you have supported this bill?

I am a bit puzzled by the fervor expressed on both sides of this issue.

To those who support allowing individuals with permits to carry firearms in bars, failure to pass this bill represented an intolerable restraint on the right to carry weapons wherever they chose. In fact, guns are already prohibited in airports, schools and courthouses so the right to carry weapons already has some limitations.

To those who opposed allowing individuals with permits to carry firearms in bars, this bill only addresses individuals who, by their very nature, are law-abiding. Permit holders have had background checks, received education and passed a marksmanship test as part of the process. This bill does nothing to impede the ability of individuals who are illegally carrying weapons.
Therefore, as either an issue that represents a threat to the Second Amendment or as a blow to public safety, this bill was of limited consequence.

I would have supported the bill but think our legislators could have better spent their time coming up with ways to hold down governmental spending.

Do you support the right to sell wine in grocery stores?


The Senate this year passed a resolution placing on the November ballot a proposed constitutional amendment to protect the right of Tennesseans to hunt and fish. The vote was 90 in favor and none opposed. Our constitution does not contain a constitutional right to hike, bird watch, swim, ski or watch football. The motivation for amending the constitution to protect the right to hunt and fish is fear that at some future time animal rights activist will try to ban hunting and fishing. Do you think our constitution should be amended to provide a constitutional right to hunt and fish? Would you have supported this measure?

No. There is no significant threat to hunters’ and fishermen’s opportunity to pursue their sport in our state. I think this issue warrants neither a constitutional amendment nor the time the legislature spent considering it. We need to focus on issues such as taxes, education and job growth.

This year the State Legislature passed a bill that would requires jailers to give information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement if an inmate’s citizenship status cannot be determined. Would you have supported this bill? What actions, if any, do you think the state of Tennessee should take to curtail or punish illegal immigration?

Our current dilemma with illegal immigration is a result of a failure on the part of our federal government. The state of Tennessee is left to pick up the pieces.

If individuals are arrested while committing crimes, I support the effort by law enforcement agencies to determine an individual's citizenship and would gladly subject myself or my family to the same standards.

I am, however, mindful of the potential abuse of legal statutes to racially profile individuals. I am opposed to any sort of profiling and support the full breadth of the due process provisions of the 14th amendment that have been successfully used to prevent the imposition of vagrancy laws and the like.
We are a nation of laws. To fail to enforce our immigration laws is a mistake but our desire to identify law breakers must be tempered with the appropriate protections afforded by our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

In response to the passage of Obamacare, which mandates that people purchase health insurance, the State Legislature almost passed the Tennessee Heath Care Act which says it is the public policy of this state that every person within this state is free to choose or decline to choose any health care services without penalty or threat of a penalty. Would you have supported this bill and if it comes back up next session will you support it?

There can be no argument that healthcare in the United States is in disarray and almost everyone agrees that reform needs to take place. However, most problems arise not from too little government involvement in healthcare but rather too much.

Since Obamacare increases the involvement of government in healthcare, it will speed our healthcare system along the path to insolvency. If not derailed, this legislation will leave our system so utterly unworkable that government-run healthcare will seem to be the only answer.
Moreover, many components of Obamacare are legally suspect. There are ample Constitutional reasons to oppose it.

Therefore, on both practical and legal grounds, I think it appropriate for our General Assembly to propose bills like the Tennessee Health Care Act. I would have supported this legislation and would support similar legislation in the future.

As an alternative, the free market could provide amply for almost all Tennesseans with high quality care at an affordable price. In those circumstances where individuals were unable to access healthcare though the free market due to economic, social or other significant impediments, the state and local government could assist in any number of ways to make sure no Tennesseans went without.

Many argue healthcare is too important to be left to the free market. I argue the opposite. Healthcare is too important to be removed from the free market.

In 1991 an addition to Tennessee’s Real Estate Transfer Tax was designated to conserve land for parks, wildlife areas, greenways, cleaner water, and to preserve the natural beauty of Tennessee. In 2003 and again in 2008, this “designated” fund was taken to help balance the State’s general budget. This year the funds were restored. Would you have supported restoration of this fund? More generally, do you think that when a tax is designated for a specific purpose that it is proper to take those funds and apply them to the general fund?

I oppose the re-allocation of monies designated for a specific purpose to the general fund and support the restoration of those funds.

The moving of funds from one "lockbox" to the general fund is a time-honored tradition of state and federal legislators. As long as legislators have funds and are concerned with re-election, they will be tempted.

The long-term solution is twofold. First, simplify our tax code. If different funding sources were not earmarked for different parts of our government, there would be less opportunity to move money around.

Second, we need to responsibly restrain the size of our state government. If we limit the money available to our state legislature, there will be less money available for misappropriation and special interests' influence will be limited.

What is your view of the coal mining technique referred to as "mountain top removal?" Would you support efforts to ban this mining technique or do you think our mining regulations are adequate?

Mountain top removal coal mining represents the nexus of several complex issues: property rights, energy policy, economic development, states’ rights and the environment. As such, finding a simple solution is challenging.

As a form of surface mining, mountain top removal offers a substantial economic advantage to mining companies when compared to traditional underground methods. However, the deforestation necessary for the process, the act of blowing the tops off mountains and the run-off created after the fact are substantial costs that are being borne by the individuals and governments in the areas in question. Rarely are the mining corporations responsible for all the economic costs of their endeavors.

In April, the Obama administration (through the EPA) altered the acceptable levels of certain salts and toxins that could be carried in runoff water from mountain top sites. Effectively for now, these standards are so stringent that it is unlikely any more permits will be given for this practice. Permits already in place will be unaffected.

In this year’s gubernatorial campaign, several of the Republican Gubernatorial candidates have been critical of state environmental regulation in Tennessee and Lt. Governor Ramsey has proclaimed the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation “out of control.” Do you agree? In general what is your view of conservation and environmental protection?

Conservation and environmental protection are laudable. However, they can only be pursued in settings where economic conditions allow. If people are worried about where their next meal is going to come from, they generally will be less concerned with environmental issues.

Therefore, in Tennessee, we must place environmentalism in a context that recognizes a strong economy as a precursor and natural ally for a sustainable environment. Moreover, environmental legislation must always be enacted with respect for individual property rights.

You may learn more about Steve Dickerson at

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