State Sen. Bill Powers, R-Clarksville, has been representing state senate District 22 for just over a year, but he’s got opposition from fellow conservative Doug Englen, who is mounting a case for change. Powers has the benefit of name recognition and a lifetime of service to the community, but Englen comes offering a long military career in a region teeming with service members.
Powers was elected and assumed office in April 2019 after a special election was held to fill the seat, which encompasses Stewart, Houston, and Montgomery counties. U.S. Rep. Mark Green, who stepped down in January 2019 to join the U.S. House of Representatives, vacated the seat. He succeeded Sen. Marsha Blackburn as she moved to the U.S. Senate.
Green endorsed Powers in that election, but it was actually Green who inspired Englen’s campaign, Englen says. They served in the same Army unit together — Green was a flight surgeon and Englen was a pilot in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as the Night Stalkers. Green retired from the Army in 2006 and was elected as a state senator in 2012. Seeing what Green had done confirmed for Englen that retiring and running for office was the right choice for him, too.
“If he walked that path, then that’s inspiring,” he says. “Then that means I have a chance.”
Just this March, Englen retired after 33 years in the Army. He ended his career with the rank of chief warrant officer 5, and had previously served as the senior warrant officer advisor to the Secretary of the Army in the Pentagon. He spent seven of those years deployed, including a mission in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where he led the air component of the raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.
Englen cites his military leadership experience — something Powers does not have — as crucial in the community. According to a 2019 report from the Center for Economic Research in Tennessee, there are approximately 26,800 military members at Fort Campbell, and the base supports more than 60,000 veterans.
But Englen also says he decided to challenge an incumbent of his own party because he believes Powers is not transparent enough with the community. Powers tries to keep things behind closed doors, Englen says, adding that if he’s elected, he would announce important information immediately and ensure constituents have the ability to contact him.
“Transparency is the biggest thing,” Englen says. “That’s all encompassing.”
The decorated veteran says he is not a career politician and will represent the “common person” in District 22. He thinks if a state senator is always in agreement with the governor, then that senator is not representing his constituents and it’s not a true bicameral system.
“I feel like I am better suited to get us back to the constitutional framework,” he says.
Despite being a newcomer, Englen could certainly have a chance against Powers. Juanita Charles, a community advocate and activist who ran against Powers in 2019, says that Powers doesn’t have the support he thought he did, as proven by how well she did against him in the general special election. Their race was a close one, with Powers taking about 52.5% of the vote, and Charles taking 45.8%.
“I think part of the reason Powers is being primaried is because he came so close to being beaten by me, who was just a nobody out of nowhere,” she says.
Charles adds that Englen seems to be a decent and genuine person, “but I think he doesn’t understand how the Republican machine works, and it’s not going to be what it thinks it is,” she says.
Like he did against Charles, Powers has Englen beat when it comes to name recognition. He runs a campaign that showcases his deep roots in District 22 — his website reads like a resume chock full of service to the community. A managing partner of the local Wyatt-Johnson Automotive Group, Powers was born and raised in Clarksville, was elected to two terms on the Clarksville City Council, and served on the boards of various local businesses and organizations as well as several committees and councils.
Since joining the state senate, Powers has become a member of four committees at the Tennessee Capitol: the government operations committee; the energy, agriculture and natural resources committee; the judiciary and government subcommittee; and the education, health and general welfare subcommittee.
His term has not been without controversy, though. On the day he was sworn in, Powers voted in favor of Gov. Bill Lee’s school vouchers plan, but he had said on the campaign trail that he was against the idea of vouchers because of how it could hurt funding for the public school system, The Tennessean reported.
That move may end up hurting him in this primary.
“What makes Bill Powers most vulnerable is that his first act out of the gate was a lie,” Charles says.
Powers did not respond to the Tennessee Lookout’s requests for comment, but earlier this month, he told The Leaf-Chronicle that he’s uniquely qualified for the seat because of his “public and private experience in Montgomery County” and that Clarksville “is where I learned right from wrong, my values and my beliefs, and raised my family.”
On their campaign websites, both Englen and Powers highlight education and veterans as important issues on their platform. Englen also mentions pro-life and the Second Amendment, and Powers mentions jobs and business.
Whoever wins the primary will face off against Democratic challenger Ronnie Glynn. Glynn, who has lived in Clarksville for 14 years, retired from the Army after 23 years of service and is running on the platform of jobs, education, health care, and veterans.
Early voting and by-mail voting has already begun and will last until Aug. 1. The primary is Aug. 6, and the general election is Nov. 3.