Van Buren political debate provides a look at candidates’ platforms

By | July 5, 2018 1:45 pm

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By Hansel Moore – contributor

On June 28, the Van Buren County administration building was the site for a much-anticipated opportunity to hear what the political candidates for a variety of offices had to say.

Over 100 individuals were present to witness the responses to questions offered by Van Buren County Mayor Greg Wilson.

After a brief welcome to all candidates and attendees, the ground rules were presented.

“We ask that during the evening that all candidates remain respectful of their opponents at all times,” said Wilson. “We also ask that the audience refrain from any actions that would be disrespectful to the candidates.”

The evening started off with the candidates for the position of sheriff. Incumbent Eddie Carter and former deputy Mark Evans provided their candid responses to a variety of questions specific to the future of the Van Buren Sheriff Department. Carter shared some generalized insight as to when the new detention center will be used to house inmates.

“There is a plan to make that transition, soon,” said Carter. “When you go to bed one night, they will be in the old jail, and when you wake up, they will be in the new facility.”

One of the questions selected came from the questions provided by the audience.

“If you are elected as sheriff, will you hire your own family for the department?”

Carter responded, “I have two members of my family working in the department now. I have a small family and have no more to hire. I have no intention of hiring any more.”

Evans stated, “I have no plans to hire family at this time.”

Both candidates fielded questions about a variety of topics, including the new jail, and shared their professional experience and credentials.

The next competitors were Cameron Sexton (Republican incumbent) and Ann Ferrell Quillen (Democratic challenger from Crossville) who are candidates for Tennessee House of Representatives for the 25th District. The main topics covered by this round of inquiries included the economic status for Van Buren residents, healthcare, and the privatization of Fall Creek Falls State Park.

Both candidates painted a different picture of the financial state of Van Buren County.

Quillen stated, “According to the latest Appalachian study, Van Buren ranks 2,900 out of 3,000 counties as far as economic health… that’s only 100 away from last place.”

Sexton countered with his response, “In 2010, Van Buren had an unemployment rate of nearly 15 percent; today it is 5 percent with an average household salary of $14 per hour.”

Sexton also provided a number of other statistical data points reflecting a positive economic trend for the area.

“There are a number of things that have been improved in the last few years, including the modernization and use of technology,” he said.

As for the conversation about Fall Creek Falls State Park, Sexton stated, “I do not support the privatization of the park.”

Quillen responded in her rebuttal, “All of the actions that have been taken during the past few years look like a road map to privatization to me.”

She also emphasized her rejection of the idea of outsourcing the park to a contracted vendor.

Sexton said, “There has been more money invested in Fall Creek Falls in the past two years than in the history of the park all together. The new facility will be state of the art and one that we will all be proud of.”

Sexton also stated that solicitation for bids by private management firms have provided no results for consideration for outsourcing park management.

Between main candidate groups, a variety of local office holders and seekers were provided to speak for a brief moment during intermission. For those who are now in positions, they took the time to thank the community for their past support.

The final group of debaters was the trio of men who are seeking to be elected as city mayor of Spencer. The office is sought by incumbent Mickey Robinson, Jeff Walling, and Duane Hodges. The focus of inquiries for this group emphasized financial implications for the residents of Spencer and the direction of how each candidate envisions the city’s future.

For the most part, all of the candidates adhered to the rules of engagement set forth at the beginning of the evening. Each provided their opponents ample time to finish thoughts and refrained from verbally badgering their adversaries. However, at one point there was a bit of a rift in the otherwise calm evening.

Christopher Hale, who is a democratic contender for U.S. Representative for Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District, stood before the crowd and began to deliver a negative monologue focused on Scott Desjarlais, the Republican candidate and incumbent (as representative since 2011). His remarks were swiftly countered by a few members of the audience. Particularly verbal in his protest of the words being spoken was James Gossett. When Hale asked those in attendance, “Where is Scott Desjarlais tonight?” Gossett countered, “He is doing his job.”

The respectful mood of the evening began to unravel when Hale attempted to engage individuals. Wilson quickly attempted to quell the potential conflict.

“Sir, … did you get an invitation to this debate?” said Wilson.

When Hale stated that he did receive an invitation, the mayor reminded him of the rules of etiquette for other contestants and provided him 30 seconds to finish his point.

As the debate then continued, the Democratic candidate for Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District, Steve Reynolds, addressed the crowd.

He provided a brief personal and political history of himself as a native Tennessean with a rural upbringing. One idea that Reynolds shared that required further investigation was the idea of partnering with the United Nations ( to perpetually fund Fall Creek Falls State Park.

“That way it will continue to be funded no matter who is the governor,” said Reynolds.

For those unable to attend, BLTV Channel 6 was on-site to record the debate. Check listings for times.

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