Fifty-four years ago this year, Tennesseans elected to the United States Senate the first in a series of Republicans who would rise above petty politics in the battleground of Washington, D.C., and keep both the good of their state and the nation in mind as they served.
Howard Baker was the first Republican the state elected since the Reconstruction era, and he went on to serve as the party's minority and majority leader before becoming chief of staff in the Reagan White House. Bill Frist took a turn as majority leader, former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker served as chairman of the body's influential Foreign Relations Committee, and former Gov. and Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander has been a stable and trustworthy force as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Alexander is retiring in January, though, and Tennessee voters are likely selecting his replacement in the Republican primary in August. Anything can happen in politics, but voters have not sent a Democrat to the Senate in 30 years.
We believe Dr. Manny Sethi, a Nashville trauma surgeon, has the best chance of following in that stellar line of public servants and strongly urge his selection in the GOP primary, for which early voting began Friday.
Indeed, we feel as if this son of two legal immigrants was almost made for this time in our history. His personal story, his profession and his willingness to serve almost fit hand in glove with many of the major issues of our day.
In the time of a global pandemic, for instance, what better person to elect than someone who is intimately familiar with diseases, medicines, protocols, safety and the emotions involved when patients are separated from their loved ones. How refreshing it would be for a Tennessee senator who has medical expertise to separate the facts from the rhetoric in addressing his fellow state residents about COVID-19.
Beyond the virus, the opioid crisis continues to roil Americans, and Sethi has seen its results firsthand. Having been part of round-tables around the state to discuss the scourge, he maintains there is no "one-size-fits-all" solution but believes more authority to deal with it should rest in the hands of local officials.
Similarly, with abortion, he says "life begins with conception," and he supports the state law signed by Gov. Bill Lee — now halted by a lawsuit before it could be implemented — that forbids abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected.
Sethi, having read the Affordable Care Act in its entirely and dealt with it as a doctor, is adamant the country needs less federal government intrusion in health care, not more. He says single-payer, or universal health care, is not the answer and that "a free market solution that allows competition across state lines" must be primary.
Although Senate assignments are not necessarily made based on where a predecessor served, we can't imagine a better candidate to take Alexander's place on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee than the surgeon.
Sethi not only has testified before Alexander's committee but was invited to the White House in 2017 to discuss with President Donald Trump possible solutions to address difficulties in the health insurance market.
Back in Tennessee, he and his wife started Healthy Tennessee, a nonprofit that promotes preventive health care. For his work there, he was recognized in 2014 by the American Medical Association and was named in 2016 by HealthLeaders Magazine as one of the "Top 20 Leaders in Medicine."
Sethi, as mentioned, is the son of two legal immigrants who came from India and practiced rural medicine in Coffee County, Tennessee, where he was raised.
"Hillsboro, Tennessee," he says, "is why I am who I am."
The experience of Sethi's parents having to wait their turn to come to the U.S., though, is why he is opposed to so many crossing the country's Southern border illegally, receiving benefits and why he is in favor of President Donald Trump's effort to continue to build a border wall.
Personally, he is warm, friendly and a man of strong Christian faith, which he said will help shape his views and guide his decision-making in Washington. We see him being equally at ease talking with any Tennessean as he is at the bedside of a patient at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
President Trump endorsed Sethi's main GOP opponent, former Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, before Sethi was even known to many outside of medical circles. While that has caused Hagerty to cling to Trump like a vine, it has allowed Sethi to both declare his support for the president — who is popular in the state — but also not to be tied to him if a voter is displeased with the president on an issue.
We believe, finally, this race should be decided on which candidate is the right man for this job and not on minor spats like a more than decade-old donation of $50 to a Democratic candidate by Sethi or Hagerty's healthy support of 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who is now at constant odds with Trump.
With all due respect to Hagerty, 60, who has ably served served Trump and former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, we think Sethi, 42, is the ideal candidate to serve the state and our nation at this moment in history. We urge a vote for him in the primary and then his election in November. Early voting is underway.