Air Force veteran launches Democratic bid for 1st District congressional seat

Zach Vance • Mar 13, 2019 at 7:00 PM

ELIZABETHTON — During his career as an Ob-Gyn doctor, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, delivered nearly 5,000 babies.

Now, 30 years later, one of those babies wants to replace him in Congress. 

Air Force veteran Chris Rowe announced Wednesday his candidacy as a Democrat for Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District seat during a kick-off event at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park.

In doing so, Rowe became the first candidate to publicly launch a 2020 congressional campaign for the seat. The Republican incumbent, Roe has yet to indicate whether he will seek a seventh term in office or not.

The last Democrat to represent Tennessee’s 1st District in Congress was Robert L. Taylor from 1879 to 1881. 

“I understand it is really early in the campaign cycle, and I also understand Tennessee is a deeply red state. Historically, it has not been a great battleground for Democrats to choose to fight in,” Rowe told reporters following his speech. “But, I believe by starting now, I can get a jumpstart on really starting to change some hearts and minds.”

Rowe showed some emotion midway through his announcement speech while explaining how his father’s struggle to afford health care ultimately compelled him to move back home and launch his congressional campaign.

Following his graduation last year from Lewis University in Illinois, Rowe said he was working in the private sector when he decided to take a week of vacation and make a surprise visit to his family in Johnson City, and specifically see his father who was working at Big John’s Closeouts in Elizabethton. 

“I walked into Big John’s and came up behind my dad. I tapped him on his shoulder and when he turned around, I felt like I was looking at a different man. He could barely walk. He could barely talk. He was just in a real bad way. I decided right then and there if there was anything I could do to prevent anybody else from having to go through that type of suffering, I was going to do it,” Rowe said. 

“The answer to (my father’s ailment) was that he just couldn’t afford medical care. So I decided it was time to step up, packed my bags and moved down here to be near my family, support my father and make sure he was taken care of first. Beyond that, I began campaigning and started to work to really make a change in my community.” 

In a press release announcing his campaign, Rowe elaborated further, saying his father almost lost his house because of medical bills and an injury that prevented him from logging as many hours at work.

To that end, Rowe said he would support universal health care coverage while criticizing the incumbent’s numerous attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. 

“(Roe) has voted or proposed legislation no fewer than 100 times to start repealing the Affordable Care Act. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the perfect answer. It was a bandage on a gaping wound, but it was still a step in the right direction,” Rowe said. 

Unlike many Democratic platforms during the 2018 cycle, Rowe said health care will not be his main priority. Instead, he wants to shift attention to the environment. 

“Honestly, the most important thing in my campaign is making sure we get some more protections put in place for the environment. We start funding green energy more. We start taking steps to protect this planet and make sure that it’s still here and livable for future generations,” Rowe said. 

“Following that is education. We have to get that taken care of. Make sure we fund our public education system.”

A gradual raise in the minimum wage is also a proposal Rowe said he would get behind. 

“I’m not a man who comes from privilege. I have worked for minimum wage more than once in my life, and I know what it means to do what you got to do to get by,” Rowe said. 

“If a job requires a living, breathing person to be present and perform it full time, then we need to pay like there’s an actual person doing it. It doesn’t matter what the job is, if it takes a person to do it, that person is going to need enough money to live on.” 

Rowe is working to obtain a graduate degree from East Tennessee State University. To learn more about his campaign, visit www.chrisroweforcongress.com.