Vanderbilt Brabson, who previously worked for the state Legislature, and Gary Loe, who previously watched lawmakers as part of working, are this summer competing against each other to become a member of the General Assembly.
Both of the Republican candidates for House District 13 say their past encounters with the lawmaking process were an inspiration and a learning experience, providing a key item on the resume they are submitting to voters in seeking to represent a diverse slice of the Knox County landscape.
“Rather than reporting on the Legislature on the sidelines, I thought I might instead be getting things done to help the community if I was there myself,” said Loe, responding to a question on why he wanted to become a legislator.
“I believe in better. We can do better,” said Loe, who watched lawmaking in past years as a reporter for WBIR-TV occasionally assigned to visit Nashville.
“Believe in better” was a theme line in Gov. Bill Haslam’s “State of the State” speech to the General Assembly in January. Loe said he did not realize that, though he had heard the phrase used by other politicians.
When Haslam delivered that speech, Brabson had just signed on as a University of Tennessee student intern at the General Assembly. Brabson said he “walked” — went through the graduation ceremony, receiving a degree in English — in December. But he did not officially graduate until completing his internship after the end of the legislative session last month.
“Ever since I was a kid I always had a passion for politics and how it works,” said Brabson when asked why he wants to be a legislator. “Everything I’ve done since I was a kid is community service and community involvement. This will be building on that.”
As an intern, he first worked with the House Consumer and Employee Affairs Committee, which he says inspired an interest in workers’ compensation laws. Then, after redistricting provided the outlines of the new District 13 and incumbent Democratic Rep. Harry Tindell announced his retirement, Brabson decided to run for office.
The committee assignment involved direct work with individual legislators serving on the panel. Brabson says he decided that would not be ethically appropriate for a candidate, so he was moved to the Fiscal Review Committee, a joint House-Senate panel that basically does research on financial matters — including “fiscal notes” on how much it would cost taxpayers to implement each of the approximately 3,500 bills introduced in the 107th General Assembly.
“During that time, I built the kind of relationships that are needed to pass critical legislation,” he said. “I want to use that for the benefit of people in this district.”
In the interview, Loe, 54, was somewhat dismissive of Brabson, 27, and his candidacy in the primary.
“I don’t know anything about him. He just graduated from college,” Loe said, while adding that he was aware of Democratic candidate Gloria Johnson and her “ultra liberal views.”
Johnson, who said she disagrees with Loe’s assessment of her views, is unopposed in the Democratic primary and thus will meet the winner of the Aug. 2 Republican primary. Independent candidate Nick Cazana will also be on the November ballot.
Tindell, who said he knows all the contenders for the seat he is leaving, said most politically oriented people familiar with the district expect Loe to prevail in the primary, though he believes that is “a little presumptuous.”
After leaving his position as a TV reporter, Loe started his own television production company. His specialty “niche,” he said, is producing videos for businesses to use in marketing themselves to other businesses that are prospective clients for a wide array of services. He said that has put him in touch with many businesses, large and small, and helped cement a desire to ease the problems of businessmen and make Tennessee a more “business friendly state.”
Brabson said he has devoted himself full time to his campaign since adjournment of the legislative session and the end of his internship. He bristled at the notion — raised by Loe in answering a question — that he is less experienced in life than his primary opponent and thus less prepared to serve.
Knoxville native Brabson said he is a part of a “new generation of Republicans” and at the same time aware of “the new stress that is on young people today and obstacles we have to endure.” In his own case, he said, that includes experience of “working check-to-check” to support his family, though he declined to go into details.
Loe says he would be a “common sense legislator.” He came to Knoxville by transferring from Wright State University in his native Ohio, where he was an All-America collegiate runner, to be on the UT track team. He stayed on after graduation with a bachelor’s degree in science and communication.
Both men are single. Both moved to residences inside the new boundaries of House District 13 after redistricting, though for both the change involved only a minor relocation.
Loe ran for the House District 18 seat in 2010, losing to Rep. Steve Hall in the GOP primary with 2,516 votes to Hall’s 5,013.
Both Loe and Brabson said they would be legislators who listen to their constituents and respond to what they hear, though they have few differences on issues. Both declared themselves undecided, for example, on pending proposals to implement a state school voucher program and the so-called “don’t say gay” bill.
There was one distinction. Brabson said he “wholeheartedly supports Gov. Haslam” in his veto of a bill that would have required Vanderbilt University to abandon an “all comers” policy. The policy requires campus religious groups to admit members of other religious faiths. Loe said the bill is a “tough call” and he has no position on the measure, which may be introduced again next year.
Asked what one piece of legislation they would like to propose and see enacted, Loe said he would like to see expansion of the state’s DNA database to require a sample be taken from all accused felons, with the sample destroyed if the charges are later dropped. Current law requires a sample be taken only from those accused of violent crimes and only after conviction.
Brabson said his ideal first legislative priority would be making sure that adding an extra lane to Alcoa Highway in Knox County, which is now “very dangerous,” would be part of the next state budget.
Loe also said that, at some point, he would like to push legislation requiring that candidate photos appear alongside the names in voting booths. Loe said one factor in Hall’s victory margin over him in 2010 may have been voter confusion between candidate Hall and other well-known men with the same or similar names.
Note: This post also appears as a story in the News Sentinel, HERE.