KNOXVILLE, Tennessee – Candidate for U.S. Senate, Dr. Manny Sethi, met with grassroots conservatives in Knoxville, sharing his campaign message, interacting one-on-one and taking questions from attendees.
The gathering was organized for Saturday, September 7, by Knoxville activist Kevin Desmond at a local State Farm insurance office.
Dr. Manny Sethi, an orthopedic trauma surgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and founder of Healthy Tennessee, a non-profit that promotes preventive health care across the state, announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate on June 3.
Dr. Manny, as he goes by, would like to replace Lamar Alexander who is retiring from the position after he will have served three terms as U.S. Senator.
The Saturday morning event started with casual conversations between attendees and Dr. Manny.
The Senate candidate was introduced by event organizer Kevin Desmond to the nearly 30 attendees, including State Representatives Justin Lafferty (R-Knoxville) and Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) as well as the Chairman of Knox County Republican Party, Randy Pace.
Dr. Manny said he would start off by telling a bit about himself and then open it up for questions.
His relaxed and engaging manner belies his status as a first-time candidate. As he says, he has never run for anything, “not even city council.”
Dr. Manny relayed that his parents grew up in a different situation in 1940’s India, in a section that became Pakistan. The area was occupied by Islamic radicals who burned down houses, and his parents were refugees. They “pulled themselves up by their boot straps” and became doctors, his mother having earned a scholarship.
His father knew India would not be the place for his unborn kids. So, they stood in line and came to the U.S., “yes, legally,” he adds with a bit of humor, arriving in Cleveland, Ohio. When Manny was four, the family moved to Coffee County, where his parents were the only two doctors. Coffee County is distressed, consisting mainly of farming, and with most of the population being below the poverty line.
“Those were hard times,” reminisced Dr. Manny. He went to Hillsboro Elementary School in “trailers,” or what is now commonly referred to as portables. He remembered children who couldn’t afford a 15-cent carton of milk.
His mother was an ob/gyn who delivered the babies in Coffee County. His father was a general practitioner who made house calls and would use their big blue Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight that they would use to transport patients to the hospital from Altamont.
Dr. Manny recalled a time when he was 10 years old that a patient was suffering from heart failure. After transporting the patient to the hospital, his family wanted to pay Dr. Manny’s father, but he wouldn’t take the money.
When he asked his father why he refused the money, Dr. Manny recalls that his father responded to his son, “It’s not what’s in your bank account that matters, it’s the difference that you make.”
“That’s how I was raised.”
Dr. Manny lost his Dad when he was 22 years old, which he said was really hard, “the hardest thing I ever went through.”
That’s when Dr. Manny says he found Christ and wanted to become a doctor. He also realized the love that was present in their small community, which today has a population of only about 450 people.
After going away to school, he came back to Tennessee 10 years ago and has been at Vanderbilt ever since. “Go Vols,” he added jokingly.
He and his wife started Healthy Tennessee, “using the power of the local community to lift people up.” As such, Dr. Manny says he has traveled to nearly all 95 Tennessee counties.
President Trump heard about the program and invited Dr. Manny to the White House. Later, President Trump asked Dr. Manny to announce him at a rally.
“I wish he endorsed me,” he added with a laugh.
Dr. Manny feels like this is the second time in his life to be able to make a difference, “Like I learned in that car when I was 10.”
Going into his campaign platform, as a medical professional it’s not surprising that Dr. Manny would take up the topic of healthcare first.
With regard to Obamacare, “They sold us a bag of goods,” he said, bringing up the high cost of rising premiums and deductibles.
Obviously passionate about the issue, Dr. Manny said he goes to bed and wakes up “thinking about this stuff.”
While career politicians want to say the solution is complicated, Dr. Manny contends that it’s not.
He is a proponent of the individual insurance market, without government in the middle. Dr. Manny’s concept is for employers providing health insurance to put the money into HSAs (Health Savings Accounts) for employees to buy the plan they want.
In addition to driving costs and premiums down, individuals and small businesses should be able to take advantage of tax breaks like large corporations do.
Dr. Manny says, “We have to get on the front side of health care,” with early treatment and prevention of diseases like diabetes and obesity.
He calls for greater individual responsibility and addressing the way doctors are paid, which Dr. Manny says “is messed up.”
“As a doctor,” Dr. Manny explains, “I get paid more to treat you in the hospital with diabetes.” In other words, medical practitioners get paid for treating disease and not prevention.
Relating to a recent stay at a Hampton Inn, with his wife liking to look at the reviews, Dr. Manny said, “But you can’t read about your doctor or what it costs for a procedure or a hospital stay.” Likening it to “Expedia for doctors,” Dr. Manny asked, “Why don’t we have that?” and concluding, “It’s really crazy!”
On his second topic – the opioid crisis – Dr. Manny said he has family members and friends who have been impacted. As he has travelled the state, what he has found is that while the federal government thinks they know how to handle the problem and is handing out grant dollars, it’s the local enforcement and mayors that really know what’s going on, specifically referring to the mayor of Dandridge.
Dr. Manny said that adverse childhood events account for about 60 percent of those who are addicted. He is also felt strongly, “Pill pushers should pay.”
His message on immigration was short but straightforward.
“My mom has the thickest Indian accent, and she says, ‘I waited in line. Why can’t these people?’”
Dr. Manny added, “It’s not racist to talk about immigration. We need the border wall. Without it, how do we protect for the next generation.”
And, finally, Dr. Manny said he would be remiss if he didn’t mention a last point, which he introduced by saying, “We are conservatives,” and repeating, more emphatically, “We are conservatives.”
Then he asked, incredulously, “What are we doing raising the debt ceiling by billions and billions of dollars?”
Wrapping up with a more personal message, Dr. Manny said, “You don’t know me from Adam.”
He said, “I love the gospel of Matthew,” quoting from Matthew 9:37, “The harvest is plenty, but the workers are few.”
“I want to make a difference and help people. The Lord wired me that way.”
“Forty years ago, my parents got a chance. The people of Tennessee gave my parents a chance. I’m a doctor and running for Senate – crazy! Like you did for my parents, give me a chance.”
When he opened it up for questions, conveying confidence in dealing with even tough queries, Dr. Manny said, “Ask me anything.”
Dr. Manny was asked about how he would counsel President Trump on dealing with China in light of the opioids coming to the U.S. from there. He said he is a free trader and doesn’t like tariffs, although using them as a threat is fine.
He is told by farmers and others, “We’ve got to do something about China.”
Dr. Manny also recognized that China is the source of a lot of illegal Fentanyl, which is 60 times more powerful than heroin. He would advise the president that dealing in it should carry severe penalties, such as the death penalty or life in prison.
He called it the HIV crisis of our time that is also generational.
Dr. Leonard Brown, one of the attendees, helped demonstrate how health care has changed by informing that before Obamacare, a poor, indigent patient would have paid $4 for erythromycin, after Obamacare it went to $350.
On the opioid crisis, Dr. Brown and his wife told of three friends they lost in one year, emphasizing that they came from good families, went to church and one was an Eagle Scout.
Dr. Brown said that the crisis was manufactured by the federal government through the implementation of the 5th vital sign – pain.
Dr. Manny agreed with Dr. Brown’s assessment and explained that patients were asked to rate pain intensity, which was then treated with opioids.
“The only fix is closing the border,” said Dr. Brown.
When Dr. Brown asked where Dr. Manny went to medical school and he responded, “Harvard,” Dr. Brown good-naturedly said, “I make it a practice not to hire anybody who went to Harvard.”
Dr. Manny quipped, “Well, you have to make an exception this time.”
“You have our support, I can tell you that,” said Dr. Brown, who attended the event with his wife.
Bob Morgan, who does a segment on the U.S. Constitution at the monthly meetings of local conservative activist group, Cross County Patriots, asked if the federal government’s entitlement programs – which makes up 60 percent of the budget – are constitutional.
“It’s a promise we made and we have to help,” Dr. Manny responded.
He offered some approaches to tackle the cost, starting with addressing Medicare waste, fraud and abuse – which was met with a round of applause.
Dr. Manny also thought that providing premium support through Medicare savings accounts, which would result in more control of the dollars and allowing access to the individual market to buy insurance for a person’s entire life.
He mentioned that for Tennessee’s Medicaid program, known as TennCare, a block grant for federal dollars is being pursued. In traveling the 95 counties, Dr. Manny recognizes that the needs are different across the state.
With social security, there are innovative ways to modernize such as giving young people the option to invest and reducing the cost of administering the program, which Dr. Manny called “crazy.”
On the topic of discretionary spending, Dr. Manny volunteered that the Department of Education price tag is almost $1 billion and that what’s coming out is cultural competency. “Like Manny’s Indian, so we need to be nice to Manny.”
“For every $1 spent, 33 cents goes to China, why are we spending money on this garbage?” questioned Dr. Manny.
Gary Loe, Chairman of the Tennessee Conservative Union, said he heard Dr. Manny speak against ObamaCare before it was enacted.
Loe qualified he didn’t want to put Dr. Manny on the spot, but wanted to ask about Senator Lamar Alexander’s bill.
As The Tennessee Star reported, Alexander’s Lower Health Care Costs Act was called out as a “dangerous proposal” by State Representatives John DeBerry (D-Memphis) and Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet).
Loe asked if Dr. Manny agreed that the proposed legislation, requiring a median in-network rate, which critics say would be taking away choice and increasing cost and could be likened to a Medicare-for-all “light.”
Dr. Manny responded, “Any question you give to me will start with me saying the federal government has no business being in healthcare,” calling them out as “bureaucrats hundreds of miles away making decisions” who “know better than you.”
Dr. Manny said the legislation would be giving insurance companies more control and result in the loss of healthcare in rural places.
That’s something that Dr. Manny says he very strongly and vehemently disagrees with.
Upon questioning, Dr. Manny said he has voted his whole life for Republicans and, on the second amendment he says he has a carry permit and is a NRA (National Rifle Association) member.
Dr. Manny talked with Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President and CEO of the NRA, about enhanced background checks and said it’s a phony narrative that wouldn’t have impacted any of the mass shootings.
Pulling out his cell phone and holding it up, Dr. Manny said the depth of a really bad mental health crisis needs to be addressed. There is a need to get to the core, “the heart of the matter,” on why this is happening, which Dr. Manny said shaking his phone, is that people are so isolated because of their phones.
He added that the Walmart ban won’t change anything, but gets them media, “which is why they did it,” concluded Dr. Manny.
About lobbyists, Dr. Manny said that he met his wife at 16 and loves his children and doesn’t care about them or “Mitch McConnell and his goons,” and that more people like him need to be elected.
The final question, asked by the meet and greet organizer Kevin Desmond, was related to the state legislature.
Desmond pointed out that with the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, U.S. Senators no longer come back to the state legislature and asked if Dr. Manny would interact with the Tennessee General Assembly.
“Absolutely,” Dr. Manny said, adding that going through the campaign process he has questioned what happens when people get up there (Washington D.C.), saying “people get stupid.”
More than an hour in, Dr. Manny lingered for a while longer, conversing on an individual basis and posing for pictures, before heading to Bristol then Jonesborough for additional meet and greet events before returning to Knoxville for the University of Tennessee football game.
There are four other Republican candidates listed on the Federal Election Commission website, although Dr. Manny Sethi is the only one to have any financial reporting as of June 30, 2019.
As The Star reported, former Ambassador to Japan, Bill Hagerty, announced his bid to replace Lamar Alexander on Monday.
The lone Democrat candidate, James Mackler, dropped out of the 2016 race to replace Senator Bob Corker, in order to clear the field for then Democratic front-runner Phil Bredesen in what resulted in a failed bid against Republican Marsha Blackburn.
First-year U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn, according to Tennessee Journal, will remain neutral in the Republican primary for the open U.S. Senate seat.
TNJ reported that speaking before before Bill Hagerty officially got in the race and Dr. Manny Sethi was the only GOP candidate, “She expected the former ambassador to Japan to be ‘a fabulous candidate’ if he got in.”
“As the president said when he kind of outed him, he will have the president’s full support,” Blackburn said. “We will stay out of the primary and let the voters have their say and looking forward to supporting the Republican who’s going to be the next U.S. Senator from Tennessee.”
Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.