Chattanooga Assistant Police Chief Glenn Scruggs is taking on eight-year incumbent legislator Todd Gardenhire, whose District 10 state Senate seat represents about 192,306 residents from south Chattanooga to Red Bank to East Brainerd and nearby Bradley County. And though this was a hard decision for us (Gardenhire is very personable and generally a straight shooter — traits we value), we're endorsing Scruggs.
We like Scruggs not just because he is a Democrat, but also because he is about fixing problems with common-sense solutions and troubleshooting the ramifications of a vote before he takes it.
Gardenhire, 72, first won his seat in 2012, and during his two terms, some of his most notable votes have proven bad for Tennesseans. Very bad.
Gardenhire not once but twice voted no to former Gov. Bill Haslam's proposed Insure Tennessee — a Volunteer State version of the Affordable Care Act's provision to expand Medicaid to give our state's working poor access to health insurance. In at least one of those instances, Gardenhire's committee vote was the deciding factor.
In nixing the proposal, he and other lawmakers turned down a federal offer to pay for a two-year pilot that would cover 285,000 Tennesseans at 100 percent. In all, Gardenhire et al. turned down $2.8 billion — yes billion with a "b" — claiming they did not trust the federal government's promise that federal money would pay for 90 percent of the program's cost thereafter.
And, no, don't let them tell you they listened to you and their constituents. A Vanderbilt University poll of Tennessee registered voters at the time found that a resounding 64 percent said we supported Insure Tennessee. What's more, a whopping 78 percent wanted the full Legislature to vote on the measure. Only 19 percent said they opposed Insure Tennessee.
Scruggs, born in the Avondale community of Chattanooga and a 25-year veteran of the Chattanooga Police Department, told the Times Free Press this week that he thinks that was a vote Gardenhire probably would like to take back. Gardenhire says, no, it's not. He voted no, he said, because there was no provision for the state to back out if it didn't work.
We thought that's why the governor planned it and pitched it as a "pilot" program, but what do we know.
Another bad vote by Gardenhire was his support of a 2015 law allowing Tennesseans with state-issued handgun permits to carry those guns and go armed into parks. The law, dubbed the "guns in parks" law was strongly supported by the National Rifle Association, and it overrode existing municipal and county bans on firearms in local parks, playgrounds and ballfields.
The issue of guns is certainly in Assistant Chief Scruggs' policing wheelhouse, and after an August rally in Chattanooga's Coolidge Park where people walked around with rifles out and pistols exposed, Scruggs made a campaign ad about it.
"Coolidge Park — the same park where I take my son Jalen to play. The same park where you take your families to play and enjoy themselves as well," Scruggs said. "The imagery of that, the thought of me playing football and playing around with Jalen and looking over my shoulder and seeing armed people walk down the sidewalks with rifles and pistols out, I know it upset my family because we talked about it. I know many of you were upset as well.
"One of those senators who helped that become a law was our current senator, Todd Gardenhire. Todd voted to allow folks the ability to walk through public parks with rifles out. Who thought that was a great idea? It was irresponsible then, it is irresponsible now," Scruggs said.
Gardenhire countered: "I can't believe that an assistant chief of police would do anything to prevent law-abiding citizens from exercising their Second Amendment rights. That's unconscionable. I mean, the law-abiding citizens aren't the problem. The criminals aren't going to show their guns."
Scruggs says the lawmakers, and Gardenhire himself, simply aren't thinking through these bills and laws.
Scruggs is right, and we need him in the Senate. Vote for him.