Chattanooga Assistant Police Chief Glenn Scruggs unhappily watched politics on television for years until he decided to do something about it.

Scruggs, 49, is the Democratic candidate for Tennessee Senate District 10, challenging incumbent Republican Todd Gardenhire.

Scruggs, a lifelong Chattanooga resident, said being a “double minority” in the police department has taught him the value of reaching across lines to get things done.

Assistant Chattanooga Police Chief Glenn Scruggs (Photo: Glenn for Senate)
Assistant Chattanooga Police Chief Glenn Scruggs (Photo: Glenn for Senate)

“I’m a Black Democrat working with conservative Republican police officers,” he said. “The people of my department, including the police chief, support my campaign so I must be doing something right.”

Scruggs is confident of victory next month, noting the people are tired of the “Republican supermajority” running the state.

“Even the conservative Republicans are being pushed aside by this supermajority,” he said. “They control everything and I believe people want a change.”

Gardenhire running for third term        

According to his website, https://votegardenhire.com/, Gardenhire was elected to the state senate in 2012, winning then by only 40 votes,  and serves as vice chair of the joint committee on fiscal review. He is a member of several committees including judiciary, state and local government and education.

He has been the senior vice president, wealth management, at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney from 1987 to the present.

His website says he believes public education is a priority. He believes in “small, efficient government” and “streamlining government and eliminating waste, fraud and abuse.” On the site, he also criticizes “runaway costs and lack of access” of health care that put it out of reach for many residents of the state.

Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

“Todd passed legislation to remove government regulations on the healthcare community, creating more flexibility and greater access to care.”

His website called Gardenhire “A champion of the unborn,” and said he has co-sponsored a bill that would place regulations on abortions and abortion providers. In 2015, he made headlines when he suggested the process for getting a vasectomy is stricter than for getting an abortion.

He could not be reached for comment.

Scruggs calls health care the major issue 

When Scruggs began his campaign in January, justice reform was a main issue, but since then things have changed to put the focus on healthcare.

He called Gardenhire an impediment to the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, needed now more than ever.  

 “COVID-19 changed everything,” Scruggs said. “Even before COVID, we had 300,000 Tennesseans without health insurance and now things are worse. This is not a political issue, it affects everyone and needs to be addressed.”

Scruggs said recent polling has him neck-to-neck with Gardenhire, within the margin of error.

“The key is getting people to come out and vote,” Scruggs said. “These races could be decided by people who get off the couch and vote.’

Mary Mancini, chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party, believes Scruggs has an “excellent shot” at victory.

 “Gardenhire has not been serving his constituents for years,” she said. “He was one of seven Republicans who voted against allowing the bill to expand Medicaid out of committee.”

“The fact that he, like other Republican candidates, refuse to debate shows that they do not take their jobs seriously,” she said.

 Scruggs targets gun issues

One of Scruggs’ major areas of concern is sensible gun laws, a subject brought to his attention recently at a protest in a public park.

  I've owned guns my whole life, I hunt and I carry guns as a police officer. I support the Second Amendment but allowing people to carry long guns in a park where children play is not right.   – Glenn Scruggs

He was at Coolidge Park in Chattanooga where there were several protests going on, including one over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He was surprised when a group of men arrived carrying handguns and rifles slung over their shoulders, as if preparing for battle.

“There’s no need for that,” he said. “Common sense says that you don’t go into a park with weapons where children are playing. But Gardenhire voted in 2015 to allow people to do it. I think it’s a mistake.”

Scruggs noted that if a group of heavily armed Black men tried to walk into a public park the reaction would be very different.

“I’ve owned guns my whole life, I hunt and I carry guns as a police officer,” he said. “I support the Second Amendment but allowing people to carry long guns in a park where children play is not right.”

According to his website, https://www.glennforsenate.com/ he opposes allowing people to carry guns without a permit. He believes the state must pass universal background checks before buying a gun, extend the waiting period between gun purchases and he supports a ban on bump stocks and silencers. He also supports a “Red Flag” law that allows police to temporarily confiscate weapons from people deemed a threat.

His website describes his positions on education, economic mobility and campaign finance reform.

Covid-19 plays a role in this election

Mancini said this election will be different because of the COVID-19 crisis and the way it is being handled by the administration of President Donald Trump.

“What we’re seeing in this election is that the Democrats are fired up for Glenn, but so are some Republicans and Independents,” Mancini said. “People don’t like the way COVID is being handled and they don’t like the way Gov. Bill Lee’s voucher system has funneled education tax dollars into private schools.”

Khristy Wilkinson ran against Gardenhire in 2016 and lost by 44% to 55%, a respectable margin in this Republican dominated state.

She supports Scruggs because she feels Gardenhire is not doing enough for the people of the state.

“When I ran, I felt we deserve a senator who cares about us and wants to make our lives better,” she said. “I feel that Gardenhire never had a heart for the people or had a good grip on the community.

“I’ve known Glenn for years,” she continued. “He was the police officer in charge of our ward and he knows the people. When I heard he was running for senate I could not be more relieved. I really believe this is a flippable district.”