(Photo of Odessa Kelly by John Partipilo; Rep. Mark Green photo from MarkGreen.tn.com.
(Editor’s note: Rep. Mark Green asked that his comments on LGBTQ people be clarified, saying he never used the term “crush evil” in referring to them. In a statement, the congressman said,”Some national outlets cut and spliced my words about terrorism and ISIS blatantly falsifying what I’ve said. “)
Republican Congressman Mark Green, facing Democrat Odessa Kelly in the 7th Congressional District, calls the redistricting plan that pits them against each “inherently unfair.”
“I opposed the plan because, fundamentally for me, I believe in representative democracy, and when you split it the way we split it, it just seemed inherently unfair to me. But I’m honored to serve those people,” Green says.
The congressional district maps approved by the Legislature in January escaped legal challenges despite those types of complaints from Green and Democrats who argued that putting Davidson County into three districts diluted the Black vote.
“I just don’t believe the lines should be drawn for politicians, they should be drawn for people,” Green says. He declined to explain that statement.
Kelly, a former Metro Parks and Recreation employee and community organizer who founded Stand Up Nashville, has criticized the redistricting plan, especially for its impact on Black voters.
Kelly was surprised to hear about Green’s statement but agreed that it unfairly “carved up” Nashville “in an effort to suppress the Black vote.”
“I find it funny that Mark Green complained about this when he vocally opposed and he voted against the For the People Act, which would have blocked the gerrymandering of this district,” Kelly says.
The federal legislation was designed to increase voting rights, cut the influence of big money on politics, eliminate partisan gerrymandering and set up new ethics rules for federal lawmakers.
I just don’t believe the lines should be drawn for politicians, they should be drawn for people.
– U.S. Rep. Mark Green, of congressional redistricting in Tennessee
Nevertheless, Green, an Ashland City resident, maintains he is “excited” about the opportunity to serve the residents of North Nashville, many of whom are Black and vote Democrat, even as he blames inflation and situations such as a large number of immigrants and political refugees at the Southern border, as well as drug smuggling, on Democrats in the House, Senate and White House.
If elected, he promises to open a Nashville congressional office and provide constituents the best service they’ve ever had.
Early voting starts Wednesday, and Election Day is Nov. 8.
Kelly contends that 50% of the district is new to Green, and because of that, the public deserves to see them share a stage to debate issues. She says he has spurned her repeated attempts to debate him.
I find it funny that Mark Green complained about this when he vocally opposed and he voted against the For the People Act, which would have blocked the gerrymandering of this district.
– Odessa Kelly on Green's comments about redistricting
Green continued to reject her request this week, saying, “If the last few years in American politics have taught us anything, it’s that people want solutions, not more arguing and talking points.” He says he’s “crisscrossing” the new district, listening to voters and sharing his vision for the country.
Kelly says she’s working the district, too, and finding it’s easy to separate the two candidates.
“People actually like me. No one likes Mark Green that we’ve encountered, and that’s Republican, Democrat, people who usually don’t vote. … The stark difference is I wholeheartedly love the state of Tennessee. I was born and raised here, and I want to see this state move forward, and I want us to be able to do our part as Tennesseans to move this country forward,” Kelly says.
Green scoffs at the notion and says a poll of his popularity should be taken.
The Republican-controlled state Legislature reshaped the 5th, 6th and 7th congressional districts dramatically this year, splitting Davidson County three ways to shift the 5th Congressional District from a Democratic seat to one favoring a Republican candidate.
The new 5th Congressional District contains much of inner-city, West and North Nashville and stretches from Montgomery County at the Kentucky line to Wayne County at the Alabama line, taking in much of western Middle Tennessee.
Former Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles appears to be the biggest beneficiary of the redrawn map after capturing the Republican primary in the 5th District and is the favorite in the general election against Democratic Sen. Heidi Campbell, largely because Republicans outnumber Democrats by 8-9 percentage points, if not more, in the district.
The move placed a large sector of Davidson County populated by Black voters and Democrats in Green’s district, eventually drawing Kelly into the fray.
While Kelly hails from that part of Nashville and has no problem settling in for an interview at places such as Yay Yay’s eatery on Jefferson Street, some have questioned whether Green could make inroads with Nashvillians.
Yet the two-term congressman and former state senator, says he has campaigned heavily in North Nashville, going to Tennessee State University and Fisk University, and working with an organization called Corner to Corner, a community organization that helps African Americans start businesses.
Thirteen percent of Americans own a business, but only .5% of Black females own a business, he points out. Thus, he and his wife are sponsoring a scholarship for veterans to attend an entrepreneurship seminar with the program.
“I grew up on a dirt road in Mississippi. I had nothing. My father lost his arm (to bone cancer) when I was in first grade. The company cut my dad’s pay in half because the Americans with Disabilities Act hadn’t been passed. So they said you’re half a man, we’re paying you half a salary,” Green said.
He graduated from West Point, attended medical school and served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning the Bronze Star and Air Medal. He also participated in the capture of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
An emergency room physician, Green then started his own healthcare company that sold for $200 million.
“I lived the American dream, and I want every Tennessean to have that opportunity. I am about empowering people. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in Lobelville or downtown Nashville, so I’m excited about picking up this new part of the district,” Green says.
He points out three medical schools are located in the 7th District as it’s now drawn, and he wants to make sure they are fully funded. Green says he’s a “huge” country music fan, as well.
While Green has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, which could give him a big bounce in the election, Kelly claims backing from music artists Brittany Howard and Allison Russell, as well as support from Margo Price, who point out she is “pro-people, pro-choice and pro-union.”
“She’s running because she loves her home and she loves the people who live here and she knows how to organize and how to communicate and how to put in the legwork to fight for us down here in the South,” Howard says.
Also backing Kelly are the Communications Workers of America, SEIU Local 205, Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council, Elect Black Women, Justice Democrats, Brand New Congress, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Indivisible, NOW PAC, The Collective, and Working Families Party.
On the campaign trail, Kelly says she talks about the “urgencies” that working-class people face each day. In contrast, she accuses Green of “spewing hatred,” saying he “sells himself to the biggest lobbyists who will give him money.” Kelly, who is openly gay, contends he does nothing in the way of constituency work.
Green withdrew as former President Trump’s nominee for Army secretary in May 2017 after LGBT groups complained about several comments he made, including one in which he said he was “crushing evil” by sponsoring legislation that would force transgender students to use the restroom matching their legal sex rather than gender identity. Muslim groups also criticized remarks he made that people in the Islamic religion didn’t believe Jesus was born of a virgin.
At the time, Green said he stepped away because “false and misleading attacks” against him were a distraction.
Green also sponsored legislation enabling mental health practitioners to avoid treating LGBT patients, in addition to a bill barring transgender high school and college students from using the restrooms of their choice.
Kelly points out Tennessee has bypassed billions of dollars in federal funds by refusing to expand Medicaid, which would help more than 300,000 uninsured and underinsured people across the state. More than 50% of the debt Tennesseans carry is related to medical expenses, thus, expanding Medicaid and cutting prescription drug prices would help people reduce their expenses, she says.
“There’s the political will out there. The majority of Americans want to see it happen, so I want to be efficient in trying to organize the votes to be sure we can get those things across the finish line,” she says.
During the pandemic, she and others urged Gov. Bill Lee to make an exception to give Tennesseans automatic paid sick leave. She accused the governor of “playing political football” by not listening to those concerns.
Kelly notes Green could have voted to cap the cost of insulin but declined to do so this year.
“That’s because you’re in the pocket of big Pharma,” Kelly says.
Kelly points out Tennessee has one of the highest rates of low-wage workers in the nation, which requires people at the highest level of leadership to bring in workforce training and industries that are going to trend upward for the next 20 years.
Kelly poked fun at Green for putting out a social media spot this summer showing himself near the Mexican border spotting a drug cartel scout in the mountains behind him.
Yet he contends the Biden Administration’s border policy has allowed drugs to be smuggled into the United States with ease, lowering the price of fentanyl and dramatically increasing the number of overdoses from the deadly drug.
“The drug cartels basically control the border. They use the mass waves of humans to hit one point on the border,” he says. That forces border patrol to shift forces, then the cartels send people across where patrols are thin, enabling them to make nearly $60 billion a year, he adds.
- Rep.Mark Green: Former President Donald Trump
- Odessa Kelly: Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council, Communications Workers of America, Elect Black Women, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Indivisible, SEIU Local 205, Justice Democrats, Working Families Party, Brand New Congress
Kelly argues that it’s important to talk about the Southern border “without demonizing people … being racist about it.”
She believes much talk about the border is “fear mongering,” a tactic Republican lawmakers have used for years to garner support. Kelly points out political refugees making their way across the border are doing so to save their children and survive.
“These are human rights issues a majority of the people coming across the border are dealing with, and for us to disregard the imminent danger these people’s lives are in … just to keep pushing all this fear mongering is not OK,” Kelly says.
Green has criticized the Biden Administration for using part of the nation’s petroleum reserve to ease the cost of fuel at the pump. During an interview, he argued that the administration’s policies are driving up the costs of all goods.
Kelly, in contrast, says the previous administration under former President Donald Trump played a role in rising costs and that corporations made record profits during the pandemic.
“I want to be a part of people who are solution-oriented to fix these issues we have. I think the supply chain is starting to pick back up,” Kelly says, now that people are resuming normal activity.
She points out Tennessee continues to have the lowest minimum wage in the nation at $7.25 an hour, rather than a living wage that would help people pay their bills and avoid living “check to check.”
Green’s main message is the “fundamental difference” between how the Democratic Party in Washington, D.C. is running the country and how he believes it should be done.
“I believe in smaller government. I believe in a government that is accountable to the people. I believe in an economy that actually is strong, not the economy we have right now where the average Tennessean, it’s costing them in inflation $8,000 a year out of their pocket,” Green says.
Higher costs have been caused by President Biden’s moves to increase regulations amid a sluggish supply chain while increasing taxes and pouring billions of dollars into the economy. The Biden Administration contends that under the recently-passed Inflation Reduction Act, no family making less than $400,000 a year will pay more in taxes.
Other groups, such as the Tax Foundation say the act could prove to be a drag on the economy, rather than a boost because even though it would net the federal government $324 billion in revenue, it could reduce the long-term gross domestic product by .2%.
“We’ve got to reverse all of that,” Green says.
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