Joe Carr, a three-term member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, has announced that he’s taking on U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in the state’s 2014 Republican primary.
Carr is dropping his bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais for Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District slot.
Carr, flanked by his family during a press conference in Murfreesboro Tuesday, told reporters he’s taking on the incumbent former Tennessee governor because “Sen. Alexander’s record, especially his voting record, has departed from that of the majority of Tennesseans.”
“I do believe he’s out of step as reflected in his votes, and the things that he supports that are dichotomous with Tennessee and their values,” said Carr.
Rumors of Carr’s entry into the race have been floating around for some time. But as recently as last week Carr had indicated he was fully committed to his campaign for the congressional seat held by DesJarlais, a race that also includes Tennessee Sen. Jim Tracy. Asked during a phone interview with TNReport on Aug. 13 whether he was plotting a run against Alexander, Carr said, “Where did you hear such a stupid thing like that?” He said such a move was “extremely unlikely” and that it was “not something I am considering.”
On Tuesday Carr was asked what led to the apparent change of course.
“What has changed is a lot of time, quite honestly, in prayer, time with my family and time with my friends,” said Carr. “And really, the call on the part of conservative, principled voters across Tennessee who want to see a U.S. Senator not vote with the president, President Barack Obama, 62 percent of the time. What has changed is they want to see a U.S. Senator who will fight to defund Obamacare. What has changed is they want a U.S. Senator who will fight for the rule of law and its application before we start passing 1,200 page amnesty bills for 11 [million] illegal immigrants that are here.”
In a guest column for the state’s largest newspaper Tuesday, Alexander defended his record. While Alexander lamented that “(o)ur country’s on the wrong track,” he wrote: “Our state’s on the right track. So the logical way to get our country on the right track is to transport some of Tennessee’s common sense to Washington, D.C.”
“I’m doing my best to balance the federal budget and fix the debt that’s bankrupting our country. I know how to do that. I did it in Tennessee — and I’m using the same common-sense Tennessee values in Washington,” Alexander wrote.
At least one high-powered, one-time supporter of Carr’s is uninterested in going along for the ride against Alexander: Former state GOP chairman Chip Saltsman, who earlier this year went to work on the Carr for Congress campaign.
Saltsman, long an ally and adviser to Alexander, rebuked Carr for switching races in an open letter he released Tuesday. “I signed up to help you run for Congress, not the Senate,” he wrote.
“It is because of Lamar Alexander that people like you have the honor of serving in the majority of the state legislature,” Saltsman continued. “It is because of Lamar Alexander that our children and grand children go to better schools, and are able to compete for better jobs. It is because of Lamar Alexander that we live in a state people want to move to, start a family in, start a business in, and even retire to.”
Below is a transcript of Carr’s speech and the press conference. The announcement took place at the offices of Navigation Advertising in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Carr: I want to thank everybody for being here this morning. And, before I get started, because this is a really big day, and it’s going to be a really long day – this day started about 1:30 AM, this morning. So, we’ve already had a long day, but we’re really excited. But, before I go any further, I would like to introduce my family, because the foundation for the principles that I believe that guide this country and this state, begin with faith, family and friends. So, Ginny, will you come on in? This is my wife Ginny, and this is my son Joe, Jr. And, Erin, if you’ll come in, this is my daughter Erin, and my grandson, Colby, and this is my youngest daughter, Maddie. And, so, you can see we’re a diverse family, but we, I think, reflect not only what America, and Tennessee, is about, but we reflect the values here in Tennessee, and that’s what this campaign is about.
I’m getting a lot of questions about why now? Why didn’t we do this back in January, February or March? And I’d like to briefly just tell you about the journey, if I could. Back in November when I had a conversation with Lee Beaman, who is our state campaign director, for this campaign, after the 2012 presidential election, there was a great deal of consternation, if you will, over the results of the presidential campaign. Because, in my worldview, and in Lee Beaman’s worldview, and so many Tennesseans, their worldview is ‘How could we do this again? How could we elect a president who doesn’t hold the values of personal responsibility, individual liberty and the sovereignty for the states?’
So, what Lee and I decided, along with several others in my family, is that we needed somebody from Tennessee, who is a principled conservative, who understood the need to fight for those first principles. And those first principles, like I said, are personal responsibility, individual liberty and the sovereignty of his state. So, we’re very, very excited that as a result of that conversation, and many, many others, we undertook a campaign in the Tennessee 4th Congressional District. And, as we traveled the state, and raised well over $300,000, we consistently received two questions. We received these same questions when we went to Washington, D.C., to introduce ourselves to the conservative groups who we thought might be of interest in this congressional campaign. And those two questions were this: ‘Rep. Carr, we are very pleased that you’re in the race, we want to help, how can we help?’ And the second question, the inevitable question was, ‘Will you run, or will you consider running against Lamar Alexander?’ And, up until about a month ago, the answer was always no, I’m running where I’m supposed to run, I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, because, you know, faith, family and friends. But as the intensity for those questions got more and more intense, we literally have received hundreds and hundreds of e-mails, calls and text messages, asking us to do this. And, as that intensity grew, I got with my family, I got with my God and I got with my friends, and I said ‘What do we need to do here? Are we hearing something in our message in the 4th District that has broader appeal in the state of Tennessee?’ And without question, without reservation and without equivocation, the answer was a resounding yes.
So, literally, for the last couple weeks my family and I, we have kind of isolated ourselves, wanting to make sure that we were doing what we were supposed to do. And so, as a result of that long journey, somewhat of a winding journey, understood, we understand that today I’m announcing for United States Senate against Lamar Alexander, and we’re proud to do so. Having said that, I want to make it very clear, and abundantly clear, I have a lot of respect for Sen. Alexander and the service that he has given to the great state of Tennessee. But Sen. Alexander’s record, especially his voting record, has departed from that of the majority of Tennesseans. And I do believe he’s out of step as reflected in his votes, and the things that he supports that are dichotomous with Tennessee and their values. We also understand that this is a David and Goliath match-up. We really do. Sen. Alexander has a lot of money. He has a well-oiled political machine in the state that reaches from Bristol to Memphis. So, we go into this with our eyes wide open. But we also understand that, just like David when he stepped into the creek and he reached down to pick up five stones, and had a sling, it was a foregone conclusion that he was going to be the victor. And so, we’re holding to that principle. That Biblical principle that says underdogs do win, and they do win because of the people, because of the desires of the people to hear a conservative, principles message. And so, with that I’ll be glad to take your questions.
Reporter: Will you be attending that Tea Party audition? You have other people talking about the primary, not in, will you expect them…
C: Tom, I will be attending the Tea Party audition, but I want to make it really clear – excuse me one second – I want to make it really clear that I am, while sympathetic to the Tea Party cause, our campaign is about a conservative, principled message that reaches beyond the Tea Party. It includes the Tea Party, but it includes small businessmen and women, farmers, the factory worker, the person that’s trying to educate their child in a public system that’s having difficulty, but is making improvement. And the things that we’re doing in Tennessee are working in Tennessee. Like education, like jobs, like the reduction in taxes, like the illegal immigration bills that we’ve passed. That’s what we need to take to Washington. So, there’s already a blueprint in Tennessee for success in Washington. And the blueprint in Tennessee is this: a smaller, more efficient government is a better government. And that mantra needs to go to Washington, not a mantra of almost $17 Trillion debt.
R: Will Lee Beaman continue to be your finance chairman in this new campaign?
C: He is the state campaign chairman for the senate campaign. So he’s the chairman of the campaign.
R: What are you going to do with the money you’ve already raised for the congressional campaign? Just move it over?
C: Yes, sir. We have contacted the FEC, the Federal Election Commission, and they have assured us all that money is fungible, and will be moved directly into our Senate campaign.
R: As recently as last week you said that it was extremely unlikely you would run for the U.S. Senate. What’s changed since then?
C: What has changed is a lot of time, quite honestly, in prayer, time with my family and time with my friends. And really, the call on the part of conservative, principled voters across Tennessee who want to see a U.S. Senator not vote with the president, President Barack Obama, 62 percent of the time. What has changed is they want to see a U.S. Senator who will fight to defund Obamacare. What has changed is they want a U.S. Senator who will fight for the rule of law and its application before we start passing 1,200 page amnesty bills for 11 [million] illegal immigrants that are here.
R: Saltsman sent out an e-mail saying that he’s resigning to support Lamar. Who will you have on your team now?
C: Well, we are putting our team together now. Currently, we have Thompson Smith that we’re going to retain, and we’re putting together another staff that can move us forward in that regard. And let me just say this, Chip and I are friends. We talked about this. This is not unexpected, and this is an amicable separation. I understand Chip’s long, long history and friendship with the senator, and I respect that and appreciate that, and he and I had a very amicable separation.
R: You touched on this a little bit before; do you welcome — there may likely be other candidates that are, you know, Tea Party favorites. Do you welcome them?
C: I think the democratic process it works best when there’s competition. I think competition is a hallmark of why this nation is so great, and the democratic process works best, Chris, when there’s competition. I think Sen. Alexander is going to be a better candidate, and a better senator, because I got in the race. And I think I will be a better candidate if other candidates get in the race. So, to the extent that the voters have a good choice, I welcome everybody who has a desire to get in. The water’s just fine.
R: Have you talked to any of the other folks who have considered? Tim Burchett, for example?
C: No I have not. I have not talked to – I know there are, I believe there are two others, Tom. I believe there’s a Mr. Kevin Kukogey, and Mayor Burchett. I have no spoken to either one of those gentleman.
R: But don’t you agree – I think you said this on, this morning on Ralph Bristol’s show, that ultimately though, there has to be, to reflect what you say about Tennessee values, there has to be a coalesce around one candidate?
C: I agree. I agree. If those of us who believe or have the worldview that embodies the conservative principles that I’ve already outlined today, then Chris, yes, I do agree that it’s necessary for those voters, and those groups to coalesce around one individual. I also believe, which is why I’m in the race, that I will be the ultimate choice of that process.
R: So, who are you supporting for a 4th District congressman, now?
C: That is not my…I do not have a dog in that fight.
R: Well, you’re a voter.
C: I am a voter. And when I go into that voting booth, I’m just like you gentlemen and ladies, I will — my vote will be private. But, I won’t have an endorsement at this time. Things could change, but it’s unlikely.
R: Have you talked to Senator Alexander through any intermediaries? Or plan to call him?
C: I have spoken through his intermediaries, and those conversations are private.
R: Switching gears, do you think your five years in the state house has prepared you for the U.S. Senate?
C: That’s a great question, and I really do. Maybe in different times, they might not have. But in the times that we exist, my record in fighting for difficult legislation, whether I was fighting the bureaucracy of the Tennessee Government, or whether I was fighting my political opponents on the other side of the aisle, or whether I was fighting the establishment within my own party, I have been vetted pretty thoroughly. And I think if you asked my colleagues on the hill, they will all tell you that if Joe Carr gets a bill, and he works the bill, the chances for passage are pretty good.
R: What do you think is your greatest accomplishment in the legislature so far?
C: Well, I’ve had several accomplishments. And I think that the fact that I have authored, or co-authored, and architected, most, if not all the illegal immigration in the state of Tennessee is a great accomplishment. Tennessee has some of the strongest, if not the strongest enforceable illegal immigration laws in the country. In addition, I took a leadership role, along with Speaker Harwell and Chairman Sargent on the repeal of the estate – the death tax. I’ve been involved in passing and architecting legislation creating jobs, whether it was the captive insurance bill, recently passed in 2011 and 2013, or, quite honestly, the distillery bill that created niche jobs for craft distilleries in the state of Tennessee. All of which required a lot of study, a lot of work, and, as some of you know, I lobby my own bills. And all of those were successful as a result.”
R: With the situation going on, obviously Lamar has already done kind of pre-homework for you as the challenging candidate. For instance the ‘Free to Fish’ bill, and things like that. Do you feel like he’s really trying to knock the legs out from underneath you before you start, by kind of pulling away the Tea Party base towards him on wedge issues, and things like that?
C: I don’t think there’s any question about that. I think when you have a political campaign like this, gentlemen, it’s a game of Chess. And, I enjoy the game of Chess. I’m sure the Senator enjoys a game of Chess. And, like I said in my opening remarks, Senator Alexander is the Goliath in this match-up. He’s large, he’s big, he’s intimidating, and he’s got the money and the stature to prove it. But, like I said, as the David in this match-up, I like the inevitable outcome.
R: Let’s go back to Chess, and use that analogy. You are what, and what is Lamar, if this were a game of Chess, since you brought it up?
C: I brought up the Chess analogy as it relates to the political campaign itself. I wouldn’t say that I was a particular piece on the board, Chris, but good question.
R: On this David analogy, you said a couple times that the outcome is inevitable, since you’re the David, and he’s the Goliath, now, why do you say that?
C: Well, I wouldn’t have gotten into it if I didn’t think, from my perspective, that we didn’t have an excellent chance. Now, when I say inevitable, I certainly don’t mean that the outcome is fore-ordained, nor do I believe that I’m predicting victory. I’m doing neither. What I am saying is that I believe that the people of the state of Tennessee believe more in line with the worldview and the way we have addressed the issues, and the principles underline those issues, than Sen. Alexander. That’s all I’m saying.
R: It’s very likely that there’s – we’ve heard a lot about this money that’s on the sidelines, that’s out-of-state money. Presumably, that will be something that Sen. Alexander may go, ‘Look at Joe Carr. He’s raised all this money, coming out from out-of-state, does that really reflect Tennessee values?’ What say you?
C: Well, I say that this race is of national importance and it’s going to draw a lot of national attention, as it should. I don’t think there’s any mistaking that. I don’t think we have to apologize for that. The counter-argument to that Chris, could be that Sen. Alexander has received, to date, one-third of his contributions from Washington lobbyists and PACs. They have a vested interest. They pick their candidate. The Conservative groups across this country hopefully will pick theirs. And, that’s part of the political process. I’ve accepted it. We may not like it, but that’s the way it is.
R: We may be getting more than half, is kind of what I’ve always heard. If you raise about a million, that maybe there’s five million that will come in from out of state?
C: I would be delighted if the state of Tennessee and the rest of the United States would be so compelled.
R: That’s 80 percent, I think, if my math is right, out-of-state.
C: Your math is correct. Your math is good.
R: Is there a specific bill or vote where you have a difference of opinion with Sen. Alexander, besides immigration?
C: Yes. Like I said, the defunding of Obamacare. I would love to see the Senator take a more aggressive and proactive stance in defunding that, and cooperate more with Sen. Lee and Sen. Cruz on the defunding mechanism. I have always believed that there were several votes that he had — he refused to decrease the corporate tax rate, he voted against it. He refused to vote against a reduction in the gas tax, and funding for those things. So there are several votes, and we will get into the specifics of those votes, because it’s not enough – and this is very, very important – it’s not enough for me to stand here, and say what I’m against and why I oppose the Senator for particular votes that he’s taken. What’s also, equally, and probably more important, is I’ve got to say, ‘Ok, Joe, what would you propose instead? What is your solution for the problem that that proposed legislation that you’re opposed to addresses?’ And, we’re going to be doing that. As a lot of you know, I enjoy policy, I enjoy debate and I expect to be fully engaged in the process in that regard.
R: And just to get back to what you said earlier, in terms of the Tea Party candidate, you don’t want to be pigeonholed as the Tea Party candidate?
C: I’m a supporter of the Tea Party movement and ideals, but this candidacy is much bigger than just being a Tea Party candidate. I covet their support, and their help, but we expect to have a broad coalition. We’re strong on the Second Amendment. I’m a lifetime member of the NRA. We expect to have people associated with gun rights, and their ability to freely bear arms to be important. I’m a strong member of Right to Life. In the House I’ve had a 100 percent voting record. I don’t just have a voting record and speak strongly about the sacredness of a life in the womb, it’s illustrated in my family. And that was long before I even got into politics.
R: Has Sen. Alexander cast any votes on the gun rights or right to life issues that you would criticize?
C: I don’t know his exact voting record on those two issues, so I can’t honestly comment on that at this time.
R: You had talked to some folks up in Washington, who were encouraging you. Would those be some of those PAC people up there?
R: Potentially you have had those conversations? Did they indicate, and urge you to get in?
C: As I said in my opening remarks, when we traveled the state after deciding to get in the 4th Congressional race, we went to Washington, and, as we said, the remarks or the questions that we received were ‘How are things going? How can we help? And, have you considered running against Sen. Alexander?’
R: You mentioned the national attention, could you give me like a rest of the day? I mean, is there a call from Fox, have you got a call from other – New York Times? I mean, are reporters calling, are you making any appearances?
C: Yes, we’ve gotten some calls from CNN, and some other major news outlets, and got on their website. So, obviously — thank you, Chris – that’s indicative of the national importance that this campaign has.
R: You said you started the day at 1:30 (in the morning), I was really curious about that.
C: It wasn’t intentional. I normally get up about 5:30, 6:00 in the morning. But, this morning a little apprehension and anxiety and excitement. And we’re glad to be doing this. Thank you very much. Thank you for coming. God bless America and God bless Tennessee. We’re moving forward.