PHOTO: U.S. Senate Candidate James Mackler speaks at the Williamson County Public Library in Franklin Thursday, taking questions from residents ahead of the 2020 general election. / Photo by Alexander Willis
By ALEXANDER WILLIS
While still over a year out, the 2020 general election has already seen a bevy of potential candidates hit the campaign trail, the latest of whom being Nashville Attorney and U.S. Army Veteran James Mackler, who spoke to potential voters Thursday at the Williamson County Public Library in Franklin.
Mackler, who so far is the only Tennessee Democrat who’s publicly declared their intention to run for U.S. Senate, already has a long list of declared Republican opponents, among whom include physician Josh Gapp, former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty and musician Stokes Nielson.
Born in Tennessee, Mackler dropped his Nashville law practice following the September 11 attacks and enlisted in the U.S. Army. Serving in the 101st Airborne Division, Mackler was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and 2006, flying Black Hawk helicopters as a part of the ‘Screaming Eagles.’
Having never been interested in running for office before, Mackler said that the 2016 election had compelled him to enter the public sphere of politics, and has been a fierce critic of President Donald Trump since. After conceding to former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen during the 2018 U.S. Senate race, Mackler has again hit the campaign trail, and said he believes a Democratic victory is possible in the red state of Tennessee with the right amount of support.
“Our neighbors all across Tennessee are really hurting, and it’s turned out that Tennessee has become the epicenter of a lot of the administration’s worst policies,” Mackler said. “We’ve had more rural hospitals close, per person, than any other state in the nation. The opioid epidemic is ravaging our communities – there’s no national solution, folks aren’t even talking about it. And the trade war hurts our economy twice as much as any other state, and this continued economic uncertainty with the stock market only makes matters worse.”
Mackler in large part attributed many of Tennessee’s problems to the current administration, calling Trump “thin-skinned,” and said that the president had “abandoned the world community.”
Mackler was also highly critical of corporate political action committees (PACs) and their involvement in political campaigns, vowing that he would fight for more transparency when it comes to money in politics.
“I’m a different kind of candidate; I’m an outsider, I’m a veteran, I’m a man of faith,” Mackler said. “I know we’re not going to solve our nation’s problems with our leaders tweeting insults. We’ve been denying the existential threat of unchecked climate change. [They’ve] been busy looking for their next infusion of secret corporate cash, and ignoring the needs of people that are elected to serve.”
Following a brief introduction, Mackler opened the floor for questions from the audience. Among the first questions asked of Mackler was his stance on “medicare for all.”
“I don’t know if it would work – no one knows yet,” Mackler said. “So from my perspective, I think a good thing to do is allow people to buy in at a younger age, see how it goes, and then inspect from there, and that’s, I think, the right approach until we know how that’s going to work. I absolutely believe we have to get to the end result where we all have access to health care.”
Later that same evening, the Home Page asked Mackler to clarify where he stood on the issue of healthcare. The Home Page asked Mackler whether he stood with more progressive Democrats such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in their goal of abolishing the private healthcare industry and replacing it with universal healthcare, or rather, with more moderate Democrats who have advocated for a public option that would allow those who can’t afford health insurance to be covered, while still keeping the private sector intact.
“I’m a problem solver,” Mackler answered. “We need to get to a point where we have access to health care for all – that’s where I lie on that problem.”
The Hyde Amendment – a legislative provision barring the use of federal funds to go towards abortions – is another aspect of healthcare that has been intensley discussed in recent weeks. Presidential Candidate Joe Biden had been under fire recently for his apparent support of the Hyde Amendment, only to later denounce that support shortly after the first Democratic Primary debate.
When asked whether he thought the Hyde Amendment should be abolished, Mackler had this to say: “I simply believe that access to healthcare is a right, and access to women’s healthcare is a right.”
Another major component of health care in the United States is access to hospitals, something Tennessee has struggled with in the last decade. Since 2010, Tennessee has seen 10 hospital closures – the second highest amount in the country, second only to Texas. The high closure rate is something Mackler attributed largely to the state’s failure to expand medicaid, expensive drug prices, and the instability in the healthcare system he argues was created by Trump and other Republicans.
“There are a complex set of problems that are leading to rural hospital closures,” Mackler said. “One thing we can do is we can stabilize the insurance markets. We actually had a good bipartisan bill introduced by Senator Alexander that never even got a vote, and that would have helped us a little bit down this road. We can reduce drug prices by allowing the federal government to negotiate directly with drug companies. These are all solvable problems if we have people in Congress who are willing to try and work on them.”
When it came to border security, Mackler said he felt strongly that the country needed to have secure borders, but that comprehensive immigration reform was needed. Though explicitly asked where he stood on decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings as some more progressive Democrats have, Mackler only expressed the need for immigration reform.
“I absolutely believe we need secure borders, and we need to reform the rest of our immigration system as well,” Mackler said. “If we look at the 2013 bipartisan bill that passed through the Senate, [it’s a] great example of a place to start with bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform. Unfortunately, that never got a vote in the House – we need to be looking for comprehensive solutions.”
Another major talking point sure to be discussed extensively in the 2020 campaign is gun violence, particularly in the wake of the two major shootings that took place earlier in August.
Mackler opened the topic of gun violence solutions by saying that while he was a strong advocate for the Second Amendment, the continued mass shootings were still “such a solvable problem,” citing measures like more extensive background checks.
An audience member asked Mackler why normal citizens need to have assault weapons.
“I don’t feel the need to have an assault weapon,” Mackler said. “As I said, I’m a gun owner, [and] I don’t have an AR-15, I don’t have an [AK-47], I don’t feel that need, so I couldn’t tell you why someone else has [that].”
Another audience member followed up on Mackler’s response, asking him if he would support an assault weapons ban.
“I understand your question, but I don’t have an answer for it,” Mackler responded. “As I sit here today, what I support is thorough background checks for any gun owner, close the gun show loophole… I support the red flag laws. As I stand here today, I don’t support necessarily that plan, but I believe this is a solvable problem, and if we had some research to back up one plan or another, I might change my opinion on that.”
Another question posed to Mackler was how he would sway Republican voters in a state that’s experiencing record-low unemployment under conservative leadership.
“It’s true, Tennessee has low unemployment,” Mackler responded. “Tennessee also has maybe one of the worst rates of poverty, and perhaps the most minimum wage jobs per capita, or very close to it. So the economy’s leaving a lot of people behind right now. No one should be working a full-time job and unable to make ends meet – not in America.”
Expanding his last point, Mackler said he was a supporter of raising the federally-mandated minimum wage, but did not specify an amount.
“My wife and I want to raise our children in a country governed by courage, not by fear,” Mackler said. “In a place where a hard day’s work earns a living wage. Where a public education is a pathway to opportunity. Where access to healthcare is a right, where access to women’s healthcare is a right. And where we are all free to live, to love, to speak and pray as we choose.”
“Tennesseans are going to see that they have a choice between me; a combat veteran who stepped up to serve after 9/11, and a candidate that’s been handpicked by an administration that’s overseen our [state] leading the country in rural hospital closures per person, has failed to address an opioid epidemic ravaging our communities, and has engaged in a trade war of choice that hurts our state more than any other. Tennesseans need a senator who will stand up for what’s right, and stand up against a president when they’re wrong. We can win this if everyone wanting change joins the team to make it happen.”