July 26, 2014

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Controversy sparks from Blackburn’s substitute at debate

After receiving the invitation to attend “Election Debate 2014” approximately four months ago, United States Representative Marsha Blackburn declined the invitation by stating she had to be on Capitol Hill for votes. Although her opponents and many citizens have criticized her for a lack of attendance, Blackburn said it is her responsibility to be in Washington D.C. when they are in session.

“They set the schedule for our votes at the first of the year and they determine what dates we are to be in D.C. and what dates we will return home,” said Blackburn. “Right now, we are scheduled for our last vote at 3 p.m. on Friday (July 25).”

When offered the opportunity to participate by phone after session was over, Blackburn declined to participate by saying she did not want to promise something to the voters that she may not be able to keep. Blackburn said sometimes the sessions of Congress go on until 11 p.m. or later, and she did not want the voters to expect her to attend and not be able to do so.

Blackburn said she is unable to attend “Election Debate 2014” because it is scheduled during a time when Congress is not only in session, but a crucial time when they are creating the budget.

“We’re working through the appropriation season and working out the budget,” said Blackburn. “There’s always going to be criticism that comes your way, but we’re not about the negativity. We’re about getting things done.”

Although the calendar for House of Representatives at www.house.gov does not reflect the House votes which were scheduled, a record of House of Representatives action on July 24 reflects votes were made on bills and amendments beginning at 1:48 p.m. and ending at 5:43 p.m. Blackburn was in a legislative hearing on H.R. 3670, the Anti-Spoofing Act of 2013 at 10:15 a.m. on Thursday (July 24) morning with the House Committee on Energy and Commerce: Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. Blackburn is a member of the subcommittee and vice chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee. 

Jacob Brimm, who is challenging Blackburn for the Republican nomination, claims her lack of attendance at the debate shows she does not care about the voters and is out of touch.

“I think it really shows she’s out of touch and she thinks she’s safe and she thinks it’s in the bag,” said Brimm. “I understand she has a job to do, but you’re in office and you’re an elected official. You’re the voice of the people and you don’t want to listen to the public. She’s never attended a public event in Tennessee that doesn’t include her getting money. If you have one thing at 10:15 in the morning and the debate is not until 6 o’clock that night, you should be able to arrange your schedule to give your constituents a few minutes of your time.”

Blackburn said Johnny Blakely, part-time staff member and West Tennessee Representative for Blackburn, will be the one attending the debate in her place.

“He is someone that has worked with us the entire time,” said Blackburn. “He lives in Ramer and has been part a member of the school board and retired from BellSouth.”

Opponents of Blackburn said they have agreed not to debate with a staff member or substitute.

“We have all just agreed that we are not even going to acknowledge the staffer is there,” said Brimm. “I refuse to debate a staffer. I already talked to her staffers and most of them don’t know what’s going on anyway. I don’t want to hear a pre-planned message. They (substitute) can say all they want, but they don’t know what goes on in the deep dark mind of the person (politician).”

Dan Cramer, candidate seeking the Democratic nomination, said Blackburn’s choice to send a representative is a "political ploy."

“Her staffer can say anything and then, when it is brought up later, she can just say, ‘oh well, my staffer was mistaken and I’m sorry about that,’” said Cramer. “In her defense, Congress is in session and I understand that. She does have a job to do. However, if she wants to participate and she’s been given the opportunity to participate by phone or Skype then I don’t really see what the problem is. If it’s important enough for her to send a staff member, then it should be important enough for her to attend.”

When asked about the criticisms from voters and her opponents regarding her not coming to Hardeman County, Blackburn said she is constantly working for the betterment of the people of the county. Blackburn said she has assisted with the 4-H camp coming to Hardeman County, worked to get grants for the police department and fire department in the county, has worked with power companies to keep rates low, worked with home health agencies for better medical care, and has restored the sales tax deductibility for income tax filing. 

“Election Debate 2014” will be held on Thursday, July 24 at 6 p.m. at the Bolivar Middle School gym. All candidates in the U.S. House of Representatives race have committed to attending with the exception of Blackburn, who will be represented by her field representative.  The debate will also consist of candidates for Governor, United States Senate and Hardeman County General Sessions Judge debating.  The debate is sponsored by The Bolivar Bulletin-Times and hosted by The City of Bolivar and Bolivar Middle School.