NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Attack ads in the Republican U.S. Senate primary in Tennessee are clogging TV airwaves with claims about candidates' positions on guns, education and health care ahead of Thursday's election for retiring GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander's seat.
Bill Hagerty and a super PAC supporting him are attacking Manny Sethi on Obamacare and a youth violence prevention program. Sethi and a super PAC on his side are needling Hagerty on Common Core.
Here are some of the claims:
Claim: "(Sethi) even said Obamacare didn't go far enough, saying, 'We have to go much farther.'" — TV ad by pro-Hagerty super PAC, Standing with Conservatives
The claim builds on Hagerty's ongoing argument that Sethi hasn't been as opposed to Obamacare as he says.
The super PAC clips from a 2013 conference by Vanderbilt University, in which Sethi, a Vanderbilt University Medical Center trauma surgeon, was a panelist.
Sethi criticized the pharmaceutical lobby's influence in crafting the Affordable Care Act. He said he's a "big believer" in decoupling employment and health care insurance, calling it a "World War II" relic and blaming the lack of change on Washington lobbyists.
He noted that in some places, health insurance was getting more expensive and in others, it was getting cheaper on the law's insurance exchanges. He said, in time, "we have to do something much more dramatic."
"This bill is not a cure-all. It didn't reform or impact health care that greatly. It chewed up a very small part of it," Sethi said. "And I think if we're going to address a lot of the very intelligent things you all noted, we have to go much farther."
Speaking about prevention, Sethi said, "Frankly, I'm not a big government guy. I believe in the power of the individual."
Hagerty's campaign has also pointed to a study Sethi co-authored in 2010 on the health insurance exchanges and orthopedics. The study determined an exchange "is not a cure-all for the problems of the American healthcare system, but if it is carefully designed, it can facilitate and monitor the movement of the system toward achievement of many national healthcare reform goals."
It cites previous failures for exchanges of some states, and says the Massachusetts exchange was able to reinforce "market rules and risk stratification by penalizing or excluding companies that violate insurance market regulations" and "establish rules of market conduct to prevent companies from evading insurance regulations through sales tactics and other informal means."
Hagerty's campaign has criticized the review of Massachusetts, where Mitt Romney instituted health care reform as governor. A main Sethi attack on Hagerty has been over Hagerty's previous business and political relationship with Romney, once the 2012 GOP presidential nominee and now a political pariah in the primary whom Hagerty has called "weak-kneed." Romney was the only Republican senator to vote to convict President Donald Trump at his impeachment trial.
In his own ad, Sethi says, "I hate Obamacare," and points to his September 2017 testimony to a U.S. Senate committee. At the hearing, Sethi said he believes "repeal and replace was our best option to achieve a more patient-centered system." He suggested letting states create their own insurance products and recommended creating a high-deductible plan for "catastrophic" coverage that would be open to all ages and incomes.
Claim: Hagerty "made millions off Common Core." — Sethi TV ad
When asked the basis for the claim, Sethi's campaign pointed to Hagerty's role on the board of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, one of the biggest global producers of educational materials for pre-K–12 schools, which he joined in May 2010 and left in 2012. The company announced its first Common Core-aligned literature textbook in March 2011 and released other products designed for the educational standards, saying it was taking "a leadership role in publishing Common Core-aligned content."
As a board member, Hagerty made $79,500 during the 2012 budget year, according to a Securities Exchange Commission filing by the company, likely putting his total two-year compensation well short of "millions" for the businessman who has built up wealth through multiple roles.
On the campaign trail, Hagerty has said he has "no regard for Common Core whatsoever."
Claim: "Sethi did take 60-grand from a liberal foundation to push gun-control in Tennessee middle schools." — Hagerty TV ad
The money funded research by Sethi and others saw 122 students in a Nashville middle school with high violence rates complete a conflict resolution program and take a pre-test/post-test self-rate questionnaire. Results showed a significant decrease in violent behavior and an increase in students' competencies to deal with violence, according to an April 2014 Vanderbilt news release.
The study was based on previous research co-authored by Sethi finding 18- to 25-year-old Black patients at Vanderbilt's emergency room were three times more likely to have a gunshot injury than other patients in that age range.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a wide-spanning health philanthropy that provided the youth project's funding, calls gun violence a public health epidemic.
The Hagerty campaign notes the National Rifle Association's opposition to gun violence research. The NRA gave both candidates the same high grade.
Sethi in a 2012 blog post about his research said, "I like to say that guns don't hurt people, instead people hurt people."