MURFREESBORO, Tennessee — Joe Carr held forth on a range of issues Thursday at Slick Pig BBQ on East Main, a favorite hangout where he feels right at home.
In an interview with The Tennessee Star, the conservative State Senate candidate energetically answered questions on immigration, health care and education. Carr announced Monday that he will run for the State Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), who late last week was appointed as state director of rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Tracy’s resignation means there will be a special election within the next few months. Murfreesboro businessman Shane Reeves also announced this week that he will run for the seat as a Republican.
Carr served in the Tennessee State House of Representatives from 2008 to 2014, lost the 2014 Republican U.S. Senate primary to Lamar Alexander, and also lost the 2016 Republican 6th Congressional District primary to Rep. Diane Black (R-TN-06). He lives on his family farm in Lascassas and is semi-retired after having founded and sold two engineering firms. In recent years, he has become known for his T-Bones and Politics fundraisers featuring big-name guest speakers.
Viewed as a solid conservative by his admirers, Carr is against the state gas tax hike and for tougher enforcement of immigration laws.
“Was there a justification for the gas tax? The answer to that is absolutely not,” said Carr, who supports repealing the tax hike enacted by the Tennessee General Assembly earlier this year to fund road improvements.
Carr said there was no need to raise the tax because of budget surpluses, which show that taxpayers are already being overtaxed. There also has been a problem with other departments that “raid” Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) funds when they have a shortfall, he said.
“We have a pattern of behavior here that needs to be corrected,” he said.
When he served in the State House, Carr was instrumental in writing laws banning sanctuary cities and in-state tuition and other benefits for illegal immigrants. The legislature has since tried to undo some of his work by attempting to approve in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. While the attempts have failed, many expect lawmakers to try again. Carr said he is “adamantly opposed” to such efforts and that it’s an issue that was a determining factor in his decision to run for the state Senate.
If in-state tuition would one day pass, it wouldn’t do anything to help young people find a job in the U.S. once they graduate from college, Carr noted. Employers would still be prohibited from hiring them because of their illegal status. “It makes no sense,” he said.
Carr said he hopes Congress will soon vote to let the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program expire. The program has granted temporary permission to live and work in the U.S. to illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and meet certain criteria. Trump rescinded the program but has given Congress a window to take action. While Democrats and some Republicans want to extend the program, and perhaps grant DACA recipients permanent legal status, Carr said that would be a mistake.
Extending DACA would create a precedent that would make it hard to say no to other groups of young illegal immigrants arriving here as children, he said, and would be a win for those who favor open borders and who would keep pushing for more concessions. While DACA supporters say sending recipients back to their home countries would be unfair punishment for their parents’ actions, Carr doesn’t see it that way. They’ve already gotten a free education and health care and aren’t being asked to reimburse the government, he noted. “They get to keep what they gained,” he said. And no one is breaking up families, because the families can choose to return with them, he said.
“The victim here is not the illegal immigrant,” Carr said. “The victim is the American taxpayer.”
Carr said he wants to see current DACA recipients self-deport, but would be OK with them getting a good spot in line under a merit-based immigration plan.
As for health care, Carr said he believes Obamacare is unconstitutional and that if it is not repealed, he would not go along with any plans to expand Medicaid in Tennessee. He said Obamacare is designed to benefit insurance companies at the expense of doctor-patient relationships and that many people are struggling with high premiums and deductibles. He wants to see reform that keeps the perspective of patients at the forefront.
On education, he said “we’re overtesting” in public schools. Teaching to the test has created a system of “the tail wagging the dog” in which schools are more concerned with being rewarded for test scores than whether their students have the depth of knowledge they need to succeed after high school, he said.
Carr also said that some schools, especially in urban areas, have become more concerned with social justice than academics.
For a growing number of activists, an important social justice issue involves promoting transgender awareness and allowing boys and girls to use whichever bathroom corresponds to their gender self-concept. Carr said he supports passing a state law mandating that bathroom use in schools correspond to biological sex. He said one’s sex is in no way determined by how that individual feels about themselves, but rather by their DNA. While some Republicans want to leave the issue to school districts at the local level, Carr said he sees a need to do something at the state level to set a standard.
“The culture of the left constantly wants to destroy the family values and cultural heritage of this country,” he said. “On something like this, there needs to be consistency.”
Carr said his personal motto comes from a passage in the Bible found in Ephesians 6:13-14. The passage talks about standing firm in your faith.
“Know what you believe, articulate what you believe and why you believe it, and then fight for it,” Carr said.