Democrat Kiran Sreepada thinks he has what it takes to unseat entrenched Republican Congressman Mark Green to represent the people of Tennessee District 7 in the U.S. House of Representatives.
It’s a tough battle, Green is running to his second term with political momentum on his side. Green is a popular, and familiar, character in Tennessee politics. Staunchly religious, he is pro-Second Amendment, anti-abortion, suspicious of vaccines, and is a strong supporter of Donald Trump and his policies, including his tough immigration stance.
But Democrats see a chink in the armor, a crack in the defenses. They feel this could be the year to add a touch of blue to this solidly red state.
Mary Mancini, chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party, is excited about Sreepada’s campaign and his chances in a district that she believes is slowly changing its political hue.
“It’s an extraordinarily gerrymandered district, and a huge one,” she said. “But we have been hearing from people who are getting the message. The Democrats are excited, fed up and angry over current politics. But we are also hearing more and more from Independents who have been voting Republicans reflexively for a decade. They are saying they are ready to vote Democrat.
“And we are hearing from Republicans who say they have not left the party, but feel that the party has left them,” she continued. “They are ready to vote Democrat as well, so we are very excited about this election.”
Sreepada, like Green, was unopposed in the 2020 primary. He is ready to capitalize on political uncertainty. There are 765,730 residents in the district, which is almost evenly split between urban and rural communities.
“Two of our 19 counties are especially strong, we still need people on the ground to help us set up events and appearances,” he said. “I’ve been all over the district, I’ve driven four hours from one end of the district to the other to speak at a 15-minute event. The thing I hear most is people saying I’m the first candidate they ever met.”
He said his biggest obstacle is to get people out to vote, noting that the district and the state are near the bottom in the entire nation when it comes to voter turnout.
The 7th district is 85 percent white, 10 percent black and about five percent Asian, which includes Sreepada and his family, who have roots in India. He said most of the black residents of the district live in Clarksville.
Sreepada: Government watchdog
This is Sreepada’s first run at public office, but not his first time working in government.
He was an educator, ran a consulting company and worked in the Government Accountability Office in Washington, D.C. where he witnessed the inner workings of government from a non-political perspective.
He and his wife and two children moved to the district several years ago when he began looking into the actions of local politicians.
“I looked into our representatives, Marsha Blackburn first and then Mark Green, and I noticed that they both followed the Republican bullet points,” said Sreepada, 39. “I hear them complain a lot about the Democrats — Nancy Pelosi and AOC (New York U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) — but I don’t hear solutions to our real problems.
“The positions Green holds are not mine, nor are they those of people I know, Sreepada said. “His popularity is based on his relationship with Donald Trump.”
Sreepada’s father emigrated to the United States from India in 1968 on a research exchange program and worked as a nuclear engineer for the government. His mother came to the United States from India in 1979 and settled in upstate New York where Sreepada was born. His parents have become naturalized citizens.
Sreepada graduated from State University of New York at Albany and received his Master’s degree in global studies from the University of Texas at Austin. He is in the process of completing his doctorate through the University of Maryland.
He was employed at the Government Accountability Office from 2014 through 2017, covering White House National Security Council, and departments of immigration and the treasury.
In 2017, he joined Grant Thornton, an auditing consulting company and in 2019 formed his own consultant company.
Tennessee State Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro, a Democrat who was first elected in 2014 and served in the state senate with Green, said politics today are different from years past. Voters are more likely to vote their party than consider the individuals in the race.
“There is an old Tip O’Neill saying that all politics is local,” he said. “Well, that has been turned on its head. These days, it’s all politics is national. We need to see congressional races and all elections become more focused on which person would be the best representative, as opposed to the best partisan.”
U.S. Rep. Mark Green: Staunch conservative and military man
Green was elected to the Tennessee State Senate in 2012, where he established a politically conservative agenda.
After his term in the state senate, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives to represent the 7th. U.S. Congressional District in Tennessee in 2018, handily defeating Democrat Justin Kanew by 170,071 to 81,661.
A staunch conservative, Green graduated from the West Point Academy in the same class as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He graduated from the Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University and became a flight surgeon.
Green, 53, is a physician and former owner of a healthcare equipment company. He served in the U.S. Army and the Army Reserve, including two tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. He was part of the mission that captured Saddam Hussein.
Green’s offices in Washington and Tennessee have not returned repeated telephone calls or e-mails seeking information or comment. Much of the information in this article is pulled from Green’s website and videos featuring Green speaking on issues.
According to Green’s website ( https://markgreen.house.gov/), as a state senator he “distinguished himself as a conservative leader that fought for freedom and smaller government for all Tennesseans. His many legislative accomplishments include the repeal of the Hall Income Tax, (which taxed dividends from investment) only the second time in U.S. history a state repealed an income tax, and the passage of the Tennessee Teacher Bill of Rights. He won the National Federation of Independent Businesses’ Guardian of Small Business award, Latinos for Tennessee’s Legislator of the Year among many other numerous awards.”
Green’s free clinic: Manna from heaven?
Green’s website lists his numerous accomplishments including that he founded “two free medical clinics that provide health care services to under-served people in Clarksville and Memphis.”
In 2018, he went on Twitter and released a video of him in his doctor’s uniform talking about the program. “I was proud to establish the Two Rivers Medical Foundation to provide free medical care to those who need it without big government or mandates. It’s time for Washington to get out of the way and let Tennessee lead by returning power to the patients, and away from the bureaucrats.”
However, attempts to track down that service have proven difficult.
After many calls, the Manna Village Clarksville said they do offer the clinic, but only at 1 p.m. on Thursday. They declined to give any further information about the kinds of services available. There is no mention of a free health clinic on the Manna Village website, which talks about its programs offering free food for the hungry.
When contacted, the Two Rivers Medical Foundation said they “supply medical supplies to the federal government” and said they did not operate clinics.
Kanew, who runs the liberal news website “Tennessee Holler,” said the Memphis clinic never opened and that the Clarksville clinic was “only open one hour each week and only provides referral information.”
Efforts to locate the clinic in Memphis were not successful.
Green critcized by Muslim, LGBTQ groups
Green took some lumps in 2017 causing him to withdraw his candidacy to become Trump’s pick for Secretary of the Army after Muslim and LGBTQ groups complained about Green’s controversial statements on the Muslin religion and LGBTQ rights.
The Council on Islamic American Relations (CAIR) strongly opposed Green’s nomination to secretary of the army, citing past “Islamophobic statements.” Many of the statements were made in 2016 when then State Senator Green spoke at a Tennessee Tea Party meeting in Chattanooga.
He said the Muslim religion should only be taught in an historical sense, including 1492, “when Constantinople fell to the Muslim horde.”
At that meeting he said he “would not allow” Tennessee textbooks to talk about the religion, including teaching that Muslims believe in old and new testament Bible prophets.
As a tax-exempt, 501c3 organization, CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) does not endorse any political candidate, but Robert McCaw, CAIR’s Director of Government Affairs Department said Green has come to the group’s attention in the past.
“Mark Green has made anti-Muslim and bigoted statements in the past and he is free to make such statements,” McCaw said. “It’s up to the people who vote to judge whether or not they agree with him. From our perspective, we believe he harbors anti-Muslim views that are misinformed by his lack of information about the Muslim community.”
At that same Tea Party meeting, Green made statements that angered LGBTQ people. He opposed President Barack Obama’s attempt to combat discrimination against transgender people using public bathrooms of their stated gender.
Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, said the statement demeaned all transgendered people.
“It portrays us as dangerous and a group worthy of discrimination,” he said.
Green also proposed what Sanders called “an anti-LGBTQ bill” while he was in the state senate that would have impacted companies doing business with the state.
The bill, which was ultimately defeated, said that cities and counties could not give special status – either negative or positive – to bidders based on their internal policies. Those policies may have endorsed the rights of LGBTQ people.
Sanders said during Green’s first congressional campaign, he did take the time to meet with LGBTQ representatives to air their concerns.
“It was a good meeting, though we did not reach an agreement,” Sanders said. “We said that the bill was discriminatory and that his remarks were hurtful. My advice was that given all the issues facing the state and the nation, he did not need to talk about us at all. I do respect Mark for reaching out.”
Under fire for Medicaid comment
Green also caused some controversy with statements about people choosing to ask the government for help instead of God.
“Green is a zealot, a radical,” Kanew said. “He would not debate me and he will not debate his opponent now. He is pro-life, but what could be more pro-life than expanding Medicaid? He railed against Medicaid because he said it keeps people away from God. He’s against a bloated government but is cool with a bloated military budget.”
Kanew refers to a 2015 speech that came out while Green was running for Congress in 2018. The Freedom from Religion Foundation criticized the speech Green gave at the Brentwood United Methodist Church. Like Kanew, the group interpreted the speech as saying people should look more to God than the government.
The Freedom from Religion group said the comments referred to entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
“… every person who came to Christ came to Christ with a physical need… “ Green said in the 2015 speech at the church. “People go to God because of a physical need and they walk away with a spiritual need met. That’s the story of the Gospels. And so, government has stepped in, at least in this country, and done all the work for the church.
“And so, the person who’s in need — they look to the government for the answer,” he continued. “Not God. And I think, in that way, government has done an injustice that’s even bigger than just the entitlement — creation of an entitlement welfare state…I think it interrupts the opportunity for people to come to a saving knowledge of who God is.”
(Video of Mark Green speaking at the Brentwood United Methodist Church in 2015.)
In a published report, Green said the quote was taken out of context.
Issues vs. Party
This is a race that could be decided on issues, assuming a substantial number of voters are doing more than pulling the Big Party Lever. And these two candidates could not be further apartment on the issues, starting with Trump.
Green recently reposted a tweet by Donald Trump that said federal money should be withheld from cities that support looters and rioters during protests. Sreepada responded that both Green and Trump are making unfair generalizations.
There is an old Tip O'Neill saint that all politics is local. These days, it's all politics is national. We need to see congressional races and all elections become more focused on which person would be the best representative, as opposed to the best partisan. – Sen. Jeff Yarbro
“Protesters are not rioters,” he said. “Most of the people protesting are there for the right reasons, not to riot. More than 90 percent of the people involved in protest do not riot.”
Sreepada said Green stands with Trump on such “dog whistle” statements that create fear among voters.
“They say the suburbs will be taken over, that there will be riots if Trump is not elected,” Sreepada said. “These things are not true, it’s all red meat for Trump’s base. I believe we should reform the police and look at decriminalizing low-level drug offenses and examine the whole issue of private prisons.”
Sreepada said he did not want to make his campaign against Green personal, but said he found Green’s politicization of the Covid 19 crisis beyond his understanding.
He said the difference between the two men was crystallized by his wife, Dr. Vineesha Arelli, who is a pulmonary and critical care physician at a local hospital.
“She’s not big on politics,” he said. “In the beginning of the outbreak, she was unhappy when Green and the government said medical workers had plenty of personal protective equipment. She said she had been using the same mask for four straight weeks.”
He remains perplexed at Green’s acceptance of a controversial Covid cure supported by Trump.
“I don’t understand Green’s early acceptance of hydroxychloroquine as a full treatment, when everyone in medicine, including Dr. (Anthony) Fauci, said it required much more testing,” he said. “And Green has made wearing a mask a political statement. He made a big deal recently about not wanting to wear a mask during a committee meeting. He blustered and argued and finally put on one. I see a lot of bluster and rhetoric from him, but I fail to see him try to make things better.”
Mancini added “Green denies climate change, he denies science, he mocks people who wear masks during this pandemic and, like Trump, he downplays the seriousness of the pandemic. Trump has turned this deadly virus into a political issue and Green does the same.”
Sreepada’s lengthy position papers are extensive and laid out on his website: https://www.kiranforcongress.com/.
Health Care: The state and the country need to improve healthcare coverage, which in the long run, saves money.
“Any expansion in Medicare would be beneficial to our healthcare system and our economy,” he said on his website. “A public option, including expanding the current Medicare program, would save at least $40 billion a year. More aggressive Medicare expansion has even greater savings by some estimates.”
In an interview, he noted that “Too many hospitals have closed, you can’t be 80 miles from the nearest hospital.”
Education: Tennessee schools are not well-funded.
“Public education is not fairly funded, public education needs help,” he said. “Most of the counties in Tennessee don’t have schools funded at the same level. Schools in rich areas are funded by residents, but schools in poor areas, where education is the most needed, do not get enough funding.”
Broadband access: The government should provide broadband wireless to give access to people that need it most.
“Half of this district does not have access to broadband or even reliable cell service,” he said. “You have voids, places where you can’t be connected. This has become vital for banking, business and education. Chattanooga has said broadband needs to be treated as a public utility, with a public private partnership. It worked. We need that district wide.”
Sreepada knows winning the election against Green will be difficult, but he is ready to fight.
“Financially, I don’t have the kind of money Green has and we can’t beat the Republicans for raising money,” he said. “But we are actually not that far behind him. We are using our resources digitally, doing a lot of voter registration. We’re doing well with independents and moderate Republicans.”
Still, it’s not easy.
“It’s an uphill battle, but we are optimistic because our modeling has shown we can win,” he said. “I don’t think you should only fight battles you know you’ll win. You fight, even if it’s just to move the needle a bit. You fight for everything you want to get, everything that’s right.”
Looking toward the future, he said Tennessee has not seen the last of him no matter the outcome.
“Win or lose, my fight will continue,” he said. “I’ll be involved with anything for the Democrats.”
Mancini said Sreepada is highly qualified and will make a great public servant who will truly bring all the people of Tennessee together, blue and red.
“The difference between him and Mark Green is so obvious,” Mancini said. “Green is exactly like Trump, he would rather divide us than bring us together. During these times of horrible trouble, made so much worse by the Covid 19 crisis, we need someone to bring us together. Green just takes a play out of the Trump playbook and pits the people of Tennessee against one another using deliberately inflammatory and divisive language.
“It’s not going to work this time,” she said.