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Staff photo by Sarah Grace Taylor / Sen. Todd Gardenhire presents an enlarged copy of a onc-lost check while speaking about mail-in vote security in Ooltewah, Tennessee on Thursday Sept. 24, 2020. Gardenhire spoke to the Nightside Pachyderm Club about his voting record and voting security ahead of November's election.

State Sen. Todd Gardenhire is asking constituents to consider his constitutionally and fiscally conservative history in office and advocating against increased absentee voting with the November election on the horizon.

Gardenhire, who is running for a third term representing District 10 in the state Senate against Assistant Chattanooga Police Chief Glenn Scruggs, spoke to the Nightside Pachyderm Club in Ooltewah this week, to rally local allies.

After being introduced by state Sen. Bo Watson, who described him as a "true warrior," Gardenhire made his pitch for Senate based on his experience representing the Hamilton and Bradley County area for the past eight years.

Gardenhire cited the Sharon Statement, a 400-word document from 1960 that serves as the foundation for American Conservatism as a guide for his beliefs.

"You look at today and it's the same qualities of what a conservative should be doing," he said. "I keep a copy of it on my desk and when a bill comes up, I look and if it fits in there, that's how I'll vote."

The document describes a form of government that upholds a free market, the U.S. Constitution and individual freedoms, among other principles, which fit Gardenhire's political strategy.

In addition to citing fiscal prudence as vice chairman of the Joint Fiscal Review Committee and a member of the Finance, Ways and Means and Joint Pensions and Insurance Committees, Gardenhire emphasized the importance of upholding the Constitution in office.

"It means that what's in this book is what you go by," Gardenhire said, waving a small book containing a copy of the Constitution. "You don't decide you don't like part of it and you're not going to go by it. It's not a living, breathing thing that you can change when it's unpopular. By golly, that's it."

As an example of constitutional decision making, Gardenhire cited his vote against Gov. Bill Lee's controversial education savings account proposal, which goes against his pro-voucher history.

Gardenhire pushed back on the program when the Lee administration amended the bill to keep undocumented immigrant students out of the program. He said Thursday it went against the 14th amendment to the Constitution to exclude naturalized citizens.

"Whether you like it or not, that's in the Constitution of the United States. We may not agree with it, but it's there," he said. "You've got two choices: You can change the Constitution, or you can live by it."

Gardenhire also expressed concerns with mail-in voting, on which many residents advocated for loosened restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, citing a time he had a check go missing in the mail for more than two years.

"That check got mailed 4 miles from my house to [the recipient] and it took two damn years to get back to me and that was inner-city mail," he said, holding up an inflated printout of the check in question. "And yet we're going to rely on mail-in voting?"

While he said he has no ill will toward the post office, he says it is too unreliable when some elections — including his first election, which was won by just 40 votes — are close enough to be impacted by lost mail.

"You're putting all your faith in somebody that may or may not do a good job and may have a bias, may not like me," he said.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at staylor@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.

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