By GLENDA CAUDLE
Published in The Messenger 12.30.11
Special Features Editor
“Sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down and lose sight of what’s important,” Congressman Stephen Fincher says of his service in Washington.
The Eighth Congressional District representative from Frog Jump confessed that there are some days it’s not easy to work in the nation’s capitol. But he also offers this story on perspective:
“One day last September, I was in the Chamber to vote and I was feeling kind of down. I was missing my kids and home and I happened to look down in the well of the Chamber and saw a little boy. I wondered who he was and who had brought him on to the floor as a guest. That happens sometimes. Later, when I was leaving and I walked out toward the front of the Capitol, I saw him again. This time I realized he was in a wheelchair because he had no legs. He had no arms. I got pretty emotional about then and I had tears in my eyes. All I could think of was how sorry I had been feeling for myself just a few moments earlier. I learned that little boy was there because of an organization like Make a Wish. He had been offered the opportunity to go to Disney World or to Washington. He chose Washington. It just made me realize how thankful we need to be for everything we have and how we need to appreciate our nation’s heritage and value the opportunity to serve. Those things need to stick in your mind,” says the first-term congressman who is also a farmer and a gospel music singer with his family.
“I make sure I’m grounded in my faith,” he says when asked what gives him hope in the midst of some dark times in Washington. “I’m part of a group of about 20 who meet once a week for a devotional time. I’m also part of a group that gets together to play good old music there. And I just remind myself why I’m in Washington and how vital that work is. I’ve met a lot of good people in Washington — people looking to serve their districts just like I want to serve mine. And that gives me hope.
“I believe we’re all in this together. I remind myself every day that I don’t work for Rep. John Boehner or President Obama or Vice President Biden. I work for the people of the Eighth District in Tennessee. All the people. I represent each and every one and I’m trying to look out for their interests. I want to make sure I do what’s best for them.”
Fincher responded promptly to a call from The Messenger to offer his wrap-up of 2011 from a Washington perspective and he offered a hopeful message tempered with warnings about the necessity of creating an economic climate in which business can flourish for the benefit of all.
Fincher noted that the threatened closure of the local Goodyear plant was an immediate challenge he faced as a brand new congressman.
“We learned about that early on and did everything we could to convince Goodyear to stay in Union City, but the conversations we had with them showed they were determined to leave. Frog Jump isn’t far from Union City and what happens in one part of northwest Tennessee is usually important for all of us, so that closure affected lots of people in my part of the district, as well. I’m optimistic that Titan will be a shot in the arm for many of my constituents now and that it will be a good thing for the workforce in northwest Tennessee. We have a lot to offer on our end of the state and we’re looking for industry here. The next three to four years will be critical for job recruitment. Tax issues will be so important. On the positive side, we have a great work force available and there is a commitment to funding Cates Landing and getting it up and running and ready to be of use. That’s a high priority.”
Fincher noted that he had visited Union City recently for a tour of Discovery Park of America, the multi-million dollar education and tourism complex under construction near the former Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plant.
“Discovery Park of America will be such an asset for all of Tennessee. When it’s in operation, it will be an awesome exhibit opportunity and I can’t wait for that time. The educational advantage to our district is just huge. With I-69 right there beside it, it will be such an attraction. Robert Kirkland is to be commended for the vision and the determination to do something like that for the community and beyond. It will be so important to our children. I believe we’re losing so much of our heritage and history. Our children aren’t hearing the stories our grandparents told. We have to remember where we’ve been to get to where we’re going, so what Discovery Park will offer is vital.”
Transportation issues and opportunities are high on the list of priorities for Fincher, he says.
“I-69 is going to change lives in northwest Tennessee in ways we can’t begin to appreciate yet. We are really on the verge of things coming together in that area. For a long time several years ago, Gov. McWherter made sure our end of the state had a good road system and we were very fortunate. But a lot of people in government think that because so many of our elected officials come from Middle and East Tennessee, the western end of the state often gets overlooked. I think that’s going to change, though. I think things are just going to explode here. I see this area growing by leaps and bounds over the next few years and it will be awesome.”
Job creation is his first priority for the Eighth District, Fincher adds.
“We have to remember that jobs aren’t created in the halls of Congress but in the private sector. When the environment is friendly to job creators and when such people know what the tax and regulatory and health policies will be that they have to work with, they can plan long-term. I’ve been focused on making it easier for job creators to succeed. Our economy really does have a trickle-down effect and when manufacturers can grow, they hire people and those employees, in turn, have money to spend to purchase manufactured goods themselves.
“We’ve lost too many jobs overseas and in the coming months, we’ve got to deal with the tax code in Washington. It’s just plain broken with its thousands of pages. We’ve got to simplify it and make it flatter and fairer. We’ve got to make the environment friendlier to job creators. In the coming year, we’re going to see our corporate tax rate become the highest in the world. Jobs can’t flourish in such a situation. We’ve got to have a tax code and a regulatory code and a healthcare policy that are solid — something job creators can sink their teeth into.”
Fincher says the healthcare issue is a challenging one and he is anxious to see how the Supreme Court will deal with challenges to the plan that was put into effect by President Obama. That program is being contested by many states, and official claims that it is rooted in unconstitutional precepts have landed it on the desks of the nine highest justices in the land.
“I think when you force people to do something through government action, you are walking a tight rope. There’s no question that our healthcare system is broken,” Fincher agrees. “I hear about it every day from patients and from medical professionals. But a government takeover is not the answer. Look at Canada and Europe and you can see that experiment has not worked. We’ve got to address it in new ways here.”
The congressman, who serves on the Banking Committee and brings his experience in agriculture to the table, sees overweening government regulation in those arenas as potential problems, as well.
“I’ve been fighting the Environmental Protection Agency this year and trying to make sure the EPA doesn’t come to Tennessee and tell our state what and how to deal with the issue of dust. In rural Tennessee, we know you have to learn to live with some dust. Bureaucrats in Washington don’t know that.
“On the banking side, we need to make sure consumers are protected, but most people realize when they are doing business with a bank or a lending institution that it’s a two-way street. The recent Dodd-Frank financial reform bill was well-intended, but it’s turning out to be the worst thing in the world because it’s forcing higher costs on banks and causing lots of them to close. We need and want to protect our financial system, but nothing is free from fault. Banks are in business to make a profit and when those institutions get hit with high fees, those fees trickle down to their customers. That’s not cheating. That’s how business works. Now, if a bank is doing something wrong or cheating its customers, they need to be brought to justice and punished,” he says, but he points out that companies trying to play by the rules shouldn’t be subjected to onerous new rules and regulations simply because some people have learned to bend and break the old ones.
Reforming energy policy is also high on Fincher’s list of “must-do” items.
“We’ve passed multiple energy bills and are trying to open drilling back up in Alaska to lower costs. We can do that in ways that protect the environment. As a farmer from Tennessee, I love hunting and fishing and I want to protect the environment, but the bottom line is, we must have oil. Studies show that if we opened one reserve in Alaska now, in five years, gas prices could be at $2 a gallon. We can do that and still protect the environment.”
The youthful farmer who is in the middle of his first foray into elective office says it came as a surprise to him to discover just how “broken” the government of this country is.
“The amount of debt we’ve accumulated is so serious. Our children are going to suffer massive consequences if we don’t treat this issue with real leadership. We’re all adults, on both sides of the aisle, and we have to deal with it. There is such complexity there, though. Sometimes issues are not as cut and dried as we like to think. Then when you realize how far we’ve slipped away from the core principles of our Founding Fathers …”
Fincher claims the Bible and the Constitution as the guides and the embodiment of the principles he believes those in positions of elected authority must cling to.
“We can’t compromise our principles. It’s sometimes very frustrating to try to get something done when you’re just one of 435 elected representatives, so I don’t get everything I want, but I try to do what is best for my district. I want to see the Eighth District grow and thrive and flourish and that prospect excites me and drives me more than anything else. But what I love the most — well, that’s coming home on weekends to my family and my home and my farm. Those things remind me why I’m in Washington to begin with — to look out for those precious things for each of us in the Eighth District.”
Glenda Caudle may be contacted by email at email@example.com.