published Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Tennessee House District 31 race bitter to the end

District 31 Republicans

Name: Jim Cobb, current representative

• Age: 61

• Education: Memphis State University graduate

• Occupation: Legislator, retired from TVA's Watts Bar Nuclear Plant

Name: Ron Travis

• Age: 57

• Education: High school graduate, attending Tennessee Tech

• Occupation: Insurance agency owner

Poll
Who do you support for House District 31?

NASHVILLE -- The latest development in the bitterly contested state House District 31 GOP primary is that incumbent Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, and Republican challenger Ron Travis, of Dayton, really do agree on some things.

Both men have reservations about school vouchers, and both say they back anti-abortion legislation.

Beyond that, though, all bets are off in a contest that has attracted statewide attention. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is probing challenges by election officials of Democrats and other voters who are trying to vote in the Republican primary, which can be done if certain criteria are met.

The Rhea County Herald-News recently reported that, since 1996, Cobb has voted in one Democratic primary while Travis has voted in two.

The winner of Thursday's GOP primary will be the next representative because no Democrat is running.

Cobb has accused Travis of being more of a Democrat than a Republican, saying he voted at least twice in Democratic primaries. He charged that Travis and his supporters hatched a plot "to get as many Democrats as possible to vote in the Republican primary."

Citing his six years of experience in the Legislature, Cobb said electing Travis would be a "waste of time for a guy I believe really is not a conservative."

Cobb has said repeatedly he has not been part of the GOP voting challenges.

Travis, 57, said he's been a Republican since he was 18, although acknowledging he never has voted for Cobb, 61, who's now seeking a fourth term.

"I've never put much faith in Jim Cobb," said Travis, who calls himself a conservative. "I don't like him representing me. I don't think he does anything for us other than naming some roads for people and a dog-restraint bill. He couldn't even get a second on it."

The dog-restraint legislation was a reference to a 2011 bill Cobb sponsored that would have banned motorists from having dogs or other pets in their laps while driving. Citing traffic accident reports indicating there were safety problems, Cobb saw the bill pass in the House. It failed to get a second on the Senate floor.

Cobb said he has helped accomplish much for the district which, after legislative redistricting removed northern Hamilton County, includes Sequatchie, Bledsoe and part of Roane counties with Rhea.

Cobb said he pays close attention to constituents, noting "my whole purpose in going to Nashville is to help people who can't help themselves, who want help, need help, deserve help but can't get it on their own."

But Travis contends Cobb "hasn't brought any jobs here. Rhea County is one of the worst [counties] in the state so far as unemployment."

Travis, who owns an insurance agency with five branches across East Tennessee, cited his business experience, saying, "I believe I can help create jobs and help with our education problems and help with the infrastructure. I can go in and talk to your CEOs and people who are not."

In that case, Cobb retorts, why did he get an endorsement from the National Federation of Independent Business and not Travis, who has been in business for some 30 years?

Travis said he doesn't "want any endorsements. If I win, I don't want to owe anybody anything. I don't want anyone to endorse me and say how about voting this way for me."

Cobb said he is proud of endorsements from groups such as Tennessee Right to Life and other groups, which often come with contributions from their political action committees. The endorsements are based, he said, on his experience and past voting record, adding no one is buying his future vote on anything.

Cobb, meanwhile, questions Travis' commitment to anti-abortion legislation.

"I've not heard [Travis] say much about pro-life issues," he said.

Travis said, "I have three children. I lost a child when he was 17. When you hold a child, you can't be anything other than pro-life."

One of Travis' criticisms is that Cobb should have done more to fight Gov. Bill Haslam's closing of Taft Youth Development Center in Bledsoe County. Cobb, he said, publicly stated "you shouldn't shut down Taft. Then he goes out and votes for the budget that shuts down Taft."

The lawmaker said he did everything he could to save the center, which housed some of the state's toughest teenage inmates. Meanwhile, he contends Travis is telling voters he will restore Taft's funding, something Travis denied but said that, if he is elected, "I will be talking to somebody about it."

On education vouchers, both men have less disagreement. Cobb said he opposes using public money to let parents send their children to private schools in the largely rural district. He said he could consider a limited bill dealing with urban districts.

Travis said he opposes vouchers outright.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at 615-255-0550 or asher@timesfreepress.com.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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