Greeneville Sun Article

Three Vie For First District Congressional Seat

By Eugenia Estes – Staff Writer

Three individuals are seeking to be elected to the First Congressional District House of Representatives seat to represent Northeast Tennessee.

Current Congressman Phil Roe, a Republican, announced last year that he would not be seeking reelection.

Roe’s announcement brought out a number of candidates for the seat, particularly in the Republican primary in August, which featured 16 individuals at one point. Diana Harshbarger won that primary.

Two Democrats withdrew from the race prior to the primary, leaving Blair Walsingham as that party’s candidate for the seat.

The two women are joined on the ballot by independent candidate Steve Holder.

Following are short biographical sketches for the three candidates and answers to questions submitted by The Greeneville Sun to each candidate.

HARSHBARGER – A Sullivan County native, Harshbarger grew up in the Bloomingdale community and now lives in Kingsport, where she learned about the value of hard work from her parents, according to her webite.

Harsbharger was the first in her family to graduate from college, earning degrees from East Tennessee State University and Mercer University College of Pharmacy.

Returning to Kingsport, she has been a licensed pharmacist since the 1980s, and is a long-time business owner.

Harshbarger has been an active member of her Kingsport community, teaching Sunday school, helping with her church’s mission work and other local nonprofits. She is a la member of the local Chamber of Commerce and a former board member of the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists, her website stated.


Holder, an author and minister, is also veteran. After turning 18, Holder volunteered for the military and served as a member of the 101st Airborne Division, according to his website.

He became an ordained minister several years ago and holds a doctorate in ministry from The Spirit of Truth Institute. He has preached and taught at several churches over the years, facilitated a Bible study within a prison, and wrote an extensive Bible correspondence with students all over the nation, his website stated.

A website creator and blogger, Holder published a monthly newsletter called The Anointed Lamb for his ministry that went by the name of Think God Ministries in the past, the website stated. He is also a videographer. Earlier this year, he was officially confirmed into the Roman Catholic Church and is a member of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Parish in Erwin.

An author, Holder has written two pieces of fiction and six non-fiction titles, including his autobiography, “No One Walks Alone.”


Walsingham, a veteran and small business owner, lives with her husband and four children on a small farm in Hawkins County.

Her father served in the U.S. Air Force and taught her how how to be self-reliant, according to Walsingham’s web site. Her first job came as a veterinary technician at age 13, and she graduated from high school a year early.

After graduation, she decided to follow in her family’s tradition of military service and asked her father to sign a waiver so she could enlist in the Air Force at 17. Among the important lessons she learned, she says on the website, were the importance of teamwork and accountability.

After six years of service, Walsingham returned to civilian life, settling with her family in Hawkins County where she has encountered such challenges as limited access to medical services in rural Tennessee and repaying student loans to attend a now defunct for-profit institution that closed before she earned a degree, her website states.

Here are the candidates’ answers to questions:

1. The Northeast Tennessee region typically lags behind other regions of the state in terms of economic development and recovery in times of recession. If elected, how can you as a representative work to nurture job growth for the First Congressional District?

Harshbarger: First, I can support legislation at the federal level that would incentivize businesses to return production back to the United States like passing tax cuts and rolling back job killing Obama era regulations. Secondly, I can use my position as a member of Congress to work with state and local elected officials to recruit and attract business owners to the area.

Holder: We need to be in a position to influence large corporations to build factories here, and that may involve tax breaks. We also need to provide free college education so our workforce can be better positioned to seek these good-paying jobs.

Walsingham: In Congress, I will support reinvestment in our communities to grow local economies and support business. Investment into traditional infrastructure, expanding high-speed internet access, and utilizing programs such as the Smart Growth grants provided by the Environmental Protection agency will strengthen our communities.

Northeast Tennessee has missed out on economic opportunities enabled by high speed internet access. The ability to operate online drastically decreases the overhead for small businesses and would allow entrepreneurs the flexibility to invest and pursue start-up businesses. I will also support initiatives, such as low interest loans, that encourage independent businesses, including small farming operations. Additionally, I will focus on legislation that streamlines government processes to divert funds to local communities and programs.

2. What is the most pressing issue facing the First Congressional District? How can you as a member of Congress impact that issue?

Holder: Our most pressing issue is poverty, and the solution is bringing more jobs in, and as I mentioned above, providing free college education to our citizens so they can acquire and do the jobs.

Walsingham: Voters in East Tennessee have also suffered from low wages and limited economic growth. Economic development has benefited corporations, but communities are left behind. At the federal level, we can hold companies accountable for appropriate use of grants by tying them to human measures such as employment and support of community well-being.

Our residents of East Tennessee need higher wages and better benefits. The profit of regional business should be an advantage for our people, not come at the expense of their well-being. Internet expansion can not only help with economic development but increase the ability of small businesses to grow so that more local growth comes from within rather than from outsiders who are not invested in our communities. People in East Tennessee need jobs. I plan to advocate for expanding technical schools and vocational programs, as well as improving our public education systems so students have as many avenues as possible open to them as they enter the world as adults. Trade schools and the creation of a skilled workforce in East Tennessee will draw businesses and investments into the community, improving the opportunities of people to find and obtain gainful employment.

Harshbarger: Right now, it’s beating COVID and getting our economy up and running and getting people back to work. When elected in November, I will work with President Trump and other members of the House to get a COVID relief bill passed that helps business owners and those in need. I would not support Nancy Pelosi’s $1.8 trillion bill that includes money for marijuana and direct payments to illegal immigrants.

3. Health care and access to health care are a concern for many in the district. What options on the federal level should be pursued to address health care?

Walsingham: America’s workers and business owners depend on good health for their financial security. I will make health care affordable by expanding Medicaid income thresholds to cover those who don’t currently qualify, are pursuing start-ups, or in the gig economy, while preserving the right to private health insurance.

I will also support paid family leave and the provision of affordable and accessible mental health and treatment services, as well as coverage for pre-existing conditions. Paid family leave ensures a workforce that is healthy and safe, providing long-term benefits for themselves, their employers, communities, and the American economy. Ensuring the availability and affordability of mental health services, from in-patient to out-patient care, will not only provide services to the people who need them, but cut down health care costs over all as it will decrease the number of emergency responders, admittances to emergency rooms, and missed time from work for mental health crises and issues.

Harshbarger: As a Republican I believe in personalized medicine not socialized medicine. I believe individuals should be able to purchase a plan that’s tailored to their family’s needs and has complete and total transparency about cost and coverage.

Also, I will work to change the model of the Pharmacy Benefit Manager to a more transparent function that will operate as a “pass through” facilitator. This will help lower the prescription pricing and will ensure full transparency.

Holder: We need to adopt a single-payer system of some sort, so everyone has free health care from cradle to grave. It is a shame that we do not take better care of our citizens. This is something I would go to work on from day one. This is a must.

4. The coronavirus has impacted almost every aspect of life for the past six months. What else can be done by Congress to address the affects of the pandemic on the nation?

Harshbarger: We can bring back the production of Pharmaceutical drugs and Active pharmaceutical ingredients, so we are no longer dependent on China.

Holder: Again I will say that we need good quality health care that is free to everyone. I know I sound like a broken record, but all this comes down to the same things. Health care, jobs, free college. All these things will help alleviate poverty. People spend a lot of money on health care, and with a low-paying job that is a serious issue, to say the least. People die often without the healthcare they need. And with low pay they can’t afford a good education.

Also, once we have a vaccine it should be given to everyone for free. No one should have to pay for any vaccine. Period.

Walsingham: Our elected leaders were voted into office by people from a place of trust, and they need to do much more to meet the needs of millions of Americans. When our people are financially secure, they support local businesses. A stable consumer base is essential for the economic health of our communities.The best way to protect our citizens, moving forward, is a plan that removes politics from the solution. Millions of dollars were distributed through Paycheck Protection Program loans, much of it wasted with nearly 50,000 businesses reporting zero jobs protected with the funds provided. Expanding Medicaid will mean those that become unemployed still have access to health care. Americans are scrambling to cope with the fall-out of COVID, and ensuring economic security will protect us all from the feeling of helplessness and anxiety that has resulted from our dependency on a politicized process to help us get through this crisis.

5. If elected, you will be a first-term legislator. What is your plan to become acclimated to Congress and what do you hope to accomplish in your first term?

Holder: Once I am elected I will contact our current congressman, Phil Roe, and ask him to bring me up to speed on what needs to be done by me to prepare myself to assume the job in January. I will also be willing to keep anyone, or everyone, on his staff that would like to stay. This will ensure a seamless transition so the 1st District will not be affected negatively.

As a freshman in congress I am aware that I will not be able to accomplish a lot, but I will do everything I can to serve whatever committee I am placed on.

Walsingham: Once in Congress, I will make every effort to meet and work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. In my first term, I hope to work on legislation to expand Medicaid, reform our current system of public benefits, and invest in infrastructure, both in extending broadband internet into rural communities and improving our roads and hard infrastructure. I am already building coalitions with other candidates. If elected, we will be able to develop solutions together, and those relationships will reduce dependency on career politicians who perpetuate the type of division that is standing between the American people and good policies.

Harshbarger: I plan to learn as much as I can from Dr. Roe, and other House Republicans so I can hit the ground running and get to work for the people of East Tennessee. I will also hire the most qualified staff with knowledge of East Tennessee.

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