NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Pioneering a new method of political discourse, The Epoch Times hosted a debate among three candidates in Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District Republican primary at Landmark Auditorium in Nashville on July 12.
Hosted by the Nashville Republican Women, the Nashville Young Republicans, and the Williamson County Young Republicans, the forum featured questions asked by a panel of experts covering election integrity, economics, health care, education, foreign policy, and immigration.
Five candidates were invited to participate. Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles, West Point graduate and U.S. Army combat veteran Jeff Beierlein, and former state senate legislative aide Tres Wittum took the stage.
Attorney and former Tennessee National Guard joint staff director Brig. Gen. Kurt Winstead committed to appear before canceling. Former Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell declined and attended a Washington D.C. Chamber of Commerce fundraiser for her campaign.
The seat is currently occupied by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), who has represented the district since 2003 but announced in February that he would not seek reelection.
Democrats have held the 5th District congressional seat since 1875, but redistricting announced in February split Davidson County through downtown Nashville, shifting portions of the former 5th District to the mostly rural and historically Republican 6th District and 7th District.
When the new congressional maps were approved in February, Cooper announced he would not seek another term.
The district is rated as solid Republican by the Cook Political Report, safe Republican by Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and likely Republican by Inside Elections.
Because of the historic implications that could lead to a Republican winning the 5th Congressional District seat for the first time since Ulysses S. Grant was president, the GOP primary is an ideal race for The Epoch Times’ new method of political debate.
Moderator Roger Simon, who is editor-at-large and a columnist for The Epoch Times, suggested the idea for a new kind of debate when his wife, Nashville Republican Women First Vice President Sheryl Longin, said that “biased reporters” should be replaced by subject matter experts to ask the questions.
Simon called Jan Jekielek, senior editor of The Epoch Times, who liked the idea. The July 12 debate at the Landmark Auditorium in Nashville was coordinated by live-streamed by EpochTV.
Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies and a former member of the Federal Election Commission, served as the panel expert on election integrity.
Gordon Chang, an attorney and the author of “The Coming Collapse of China” and “The Great U.S.–China Tech War,” asked questions related to China and foreign policy.
Jeffrey Tucker, an economist and founder of The Brownstone Institute, which was launched to improve health care policy after the COVID-19 lockdowns, was the panel expert on economics.
Dr. David Bell—a board member of Pandemics, Data, and Analytics (PANDA), a group studying the world’s response to COVID-19—served as the panel expert on public health.
Ronald Vitiello, former Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), was the panel expert on the border and immigration.
Carol Swain, a retired professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University, served as the panel expert on education.
Economy and Education
Tucker started the question portion of the debate with a discussion about the economy.
Ogles, who is endorsed by the House Freedom Caucus and Veterans for America First, said that the U.S. Department of Education should be eliminated and budgets for agencies like the EPA, OSHA, and the CDC should be cut.
“They are not empowered to run our country, yet they are acting like Congress.,” Ogles said. “It’s time for Congress to reign in their authority.”
“Congress has the right to spend but what are they spending on?” said Wittum, who was an aide to state Sen. Bo Watson (R-Chattanooga), chairman of the state Finance, Ways, and Means Committee.
Wittum added that there are too many public-private partnerships.
Beierlein urged the Federal Reserve to raise rates and called for more controlled spending and a tax cut to stimulate the economy.
He drew laughter when he said, “Do you know what happens when you play a country song backward? You get your truck back, your wife back, your dog back. I just want our country back and our economy back.”
Swain asked the candidates if they think the federal government set a national curriculum for teaching civics to students in Kindergarten through the 12th grade.
Legislation was introduced by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), and John Cornyn (R-Texas), to expand access to civics education with a $1 billion investment. If signed into law, the Civics Secures Democracy Act will expand history and civics programming for state education agencies, nonprofits, and institutions of higher education and research.
Beierlein expressed concern that the bill would be “a Trojan horse for a woke agenda that does not reflect the values we want to be taught to our children.”
“I want Washington D.C. out of Tennessee,” he said. “Reading and math scores are low in Tennessee. We’ve been doing what the Department of Education has said, and it’s not working.
“I will do whatever I can to protect children from the decay occurring in curriculum pushed to schools with CRT and social-emotional learning,” he added. “Let’s teach reading, writing, and arithmetic.”
While answering a question from Vitiello about what the candidates would do to address the border crisis, and the resulting issues like opioid abuse and sex trafficking, Ogles pointed out that Harwell “voted in 2001 to give illegal aliens drivers licenses.
“That is why she is not here … because she knows she is complicit and guilty on this issue,” Ogles said.
Von Spakowsky mentioned that Democrats placed a high priority on passing HR 1, the so-called “For the People Act” they defined as an anti-corruption and voting rights reform bill.
If it was signed into law, the legislation would have rewritten rules on elections and banned state ID requirements, Von Spakowsky explained before asking the candidates what can congress do to improve election integrity, or should it be left up to the states.
All candidates agree that elections should be managed by states.
“It’s time for states to get back to paper ballots. It’s time we have audits of elections,” Ogles said. “As a state that borders eight other states, it puts pressure on other states to follow because now you have best practices that can be adopted across the country.”
Von Spakowsky asked a follow-up question centered around the reapportion process, which divides the 435 U.S. House seats among the 50 states and is conducted after every census.
In his first day in office, President Joe Biden issued an executive order ordering the Census Bureau to include illegal immigrants in its apportionment.
Through two executive orders, President Donald Trump mandated that executive agencies provide citizenship data to the Census Bureau and the bureau to utilize the information to determine who are legal citizens. People who are in the country illegally were excluded from the apportionment report, under Trump’s executive orders, which were upheld by the Supreme Court.
In March 2022, Von Spakowsky said, the Census Bureau released a statement saying that it overcounted eight states, seven of which were blue, and undercounted six states, five of which were red. He asked the candidates if they believe apportionment should be changed to solely reflect the population of legal residents.
Ogles said that states can deny felons the ability to vote, and “illegal aliens are criminal here.”
“The Census Bureau should be investigated for clearly favoring blue states over red states,” Ogles said.
Beierlein urged “robust audits” and for Congress to fund those audits.
Wittum suggested the clearing of voter rolls and a repeal of the 17th Amendment, which removed from state legislatures the power to choose U.S. Senators and gave that power directly to voters in each state.
To encourage disenfranchised voters, Wittum suggested using technology to track each vote the moment it is cast.
Chang pointed out that Biden said he wants a rollback of U.S. tariffs on Chinese consumer goods.
Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 authorizes the president to take tariff and non-tariff-based action to address unfair acts, policies, or practices by a foreign government that burdens U.S. commerce.
In 2018 and 2019, the Trump administration instituted 25 percent duties on around $250 billion in Chinese imports. These tariffs remain.
Biden, Chang explained, said he wants to remove the tariffs to bring down inflation.
“We don’t know if that will happen, but we do know that taking tariffs off will convince companies to keep their factories in China,” he said, before asking the candidates about the possibility of a rollback of tariffs on Chinese consumer goods.
All three candidates encouraged incentives and advocated for trade relationships with nations that are allies.
Beierlein cited a trade deficit with China and how China does not have the values ideal for a trade partner.
“We are not getting what we want from China,” Beierlein said. “They gave us COVID. I don’t think giving them more business is the right answer.
“We should be incentivizing onshoring and nearshoring to less aggressive trade partners instead of our adversaries,” Beierlein added. “Congress needs to see China for what they are, but unfortunately China owns Biden.
The 5th Congressional District’s GOP primary will be held on Aug. 4.
The winner will face state Sen. Heidi Campbell, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary; and independent candidates Derrick Brantley, Daniel Cooper, and Rick Shannon, in the Nov. 8 general election.