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Gary Johnston, co-chairman of the Roane County Tea Party, put Ron Bhalla, Chuck Fleischmann and Weston Wamp on the spot Thursday night.
“In front of you, you have a two-page document up there,” Johnston said.
The document was a pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
“Not only will I sign it, that was my very first vote in Congress was to vote to repeal Obamacare,” said Fleischmann, the incumbent in the 3rd Congressional District race, “and ladies and gentlemen, your congressman on this July 11, I pledge to you I will vote to repeal Obamacare again.”
His comments drew a resounding round of applause from the crowd at the Kingston Community Center.
“Mr. Bhalla, will you sign the pledge to repeal Obamacare?” Johnston asked.
“Yes, sir, I’m going to sign the pledge,” Bhalla responded.
Wamp said he’s not a fan of pledges, but he agreed to sign.
“Just to make you happy I won’t sign the pledge, but I’ll sign the pledge because I want to represent you in Congress, and I agree with what the pledge’s intent is,” said Wamp, whose comments also sparked applause from the crowd.
Bhalla, Fleischmann and Wamp are seeking the Republican nomination in the 3rd District. Scottie Mayfield is also seeking the nomination, but declined to attend the forum.
When he appeared before the Tea Party last month, Mayfield said he didn’t believe in debating because its divisive.
“Mr. Mayfield is entitled to run his campaign the way he sees fit,” Fleischmann said. “He has decided throughout this race that he prefers not to debate, not to engage in forums. I respectfully think that’s a mistake, but that’s got to be his mistake and his choice.”
The forum did feature a little of the divisiveness that Mayfield said comes with such events.
Wamp accused Fleischmann of making a token vote against raising the debt ceiling to protect his hard-core conservative image.
“He voted yes to raise the debt ceiling in a very close, contested vote,” Wamp said. “Then a few days later was let off the hook, and the vote was not going to be close. To protect his re-election and his perception among people like y’all, he then voted no in what was really more of a symbolic vote than the first one was.”
Wamp also said Fleischmann made a “weak-kneed” yes vote to extend the payroll tax holiday. Wamp also accused Fleischmann of being too partisan.
“Congressman Fleischmann has voted with the Republican establishment in Washington somewhere along the lines of 97 percent of the time,” Wamp said. “I think he’s proud he’s done that and that’s his prerogative. I don’t know how you could possibly believe the establishment in Washington is right 97 percent of the time.”
After the forum, Fleischmann was asked if he had any response to Wamp’s comments.
“No,” Fleischmann said. “Let’s face it. I’m the proven conservative in the race. I’ve been voted among the top 25 most conservative members of Congress by independent groups. I have worked tirelessly for the past 18 months actually being a congressman.”
“The other folks in this race are nice people,” Fleischmann added. “They’ve got a lot of theories. I practice what I preach every day as a proven conservative.”
The primary is Aug. 2.
“I’m not running against Mr. Fleischmann,” Bhalla said. “I am running for my own platform. I’m just one of those people who have no faith or belief in the Congress.”
Bhalla came to America in 1979 from India. He said he wants to give power to the voters.
“Winning the debates, that’s not the answer,” he said. “The answer is we got to bring some reform in the system.”