Live from Music Row Wednesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed State Representative Diana Harshbarger (R-TN-01) in-studio to talk about what motivated her to run, funding her own campaign, and working in Washington, D.C.
Leahy: In-studio with us here on Music Row. Congressman Diana Harshbarger from the 1st Congressional District, East Tennessee, from Kingsport. So, Diana, let’s figure out why you decided to do this – sometime in late 2019, early 2020 you had a very successful small business, and your family made a lot of money.
Most people would say, oh, this is great. Let me just relax and enjoy myself. You decided, however, that you wanted to jump in the fire pit and run for Congress. When did you decide to do that and why?
Harshbarger: I had thought about it for a year prior. As a pharmacist with our profession, I would go to Capitol Hill in the last 25 years to lobby for my profession and really just explain to the congressmen and senators what we do and how over-regulated we are.
And then you see how those policies hit home and how your business is regulated, and what’s going on in the world, per se. I have a son and I have two grandsons. And I have taught Sunday school for 24 years at my church. And it was all middle schoolers.
And you see what has crept into our society. And I’m like, Lord. And you have to be called to do this. Why would I live a good life? My husband says we should be on a tractor with our overalls on and you decide you want to go tackle the hardest problem in the world, which is our federal government.
Leahy: That was his first reaction.
Leahy: But you won him over.
Harshbarger: Oh, yeah, I won him over. He said, look, if you’re going to do it, you got to do it right. And you take that business sense that you have. And listen, you do it because it’s the right thing.
And there was one point that I even said, I’m not going to do this. But that urge, and that knowing – it was a God thing. When the good Lord tells you to go, don’t question it, just go.
Leahy: What date did you decide in your mind you’re going to do? Was it 2019? Do you remember when it was?
Harshbarger: I started questioning things in 2018. And I talked to different people, people either in elected office locally, or people that I respected, even up in D.C., some of my compounding group.
I talked to an attorney there and he really encouraged me. But it’s one of those things where, in January, my pastor’s wife called and said, “I think you ought to run. We don’t think Doctor Roe is going to run again.”
And I’m like, oh, my goodness, that’s a daunting thing. And that prepared me to think, well, why can’t I? And then in March of ’19 is when I declared. And then COVID hit and everything got shut down.
Leahy: Now you’re sitting there with your husband and you have worked hard and you’ve saved a lot of money. Then you tell your husband, we’re going to put a big chunk of our savings into my congressional campaign. How did he respond to that?
Harshbarger: He started looking at statistics on what had been spent previously in the district. But along the lines, you see that these people hold the seat for 34 years or for 12 or what have you.
And I think Dr. Roe had held it for 12 years. And you think, good Lord, it’s not going to cost more than this. Some people had put more in, but you just don’t know. We didn’t know how many people were going to jump in and race.
Leahy: It was like 16, right?
Harshbarger: 16 people.
Leahy: You ended up winning the primary …
Leahy: … with 19.62 percent of the vote. Your second-place person there, Timothy Hill, former State Rep, 16.7 percent. So you won by a little more than 2,000 votes, 18,000 to 15,731.
Harshbarger: That’s why every vote matters.
Leahy: Every vote did matter.
Harshbarger: Every vote matters.
Leahy: You ended up spending about a million bucks of your own money on this?
Harshbarger: Well, you would never have had to spend that. But there were endorsements that came in for Timothy Hill from places like Club for Growth and Freedom Caucus. And when they throw a million dollars in, what do you think you’re going to do?
Leahy: When you’re in it, you’re gonna … When you’re stroking those checks, are you looking at your husband and saying, yes, we’re going to do this? How did he react when you have to stroke the checks?
Harshbarger: This better work! (Chuckles)
Leahy: Yeah, well, it did work. Now let’s talk about this. So you win the primary, you win the general election, and you go up to Washington, D.C. It’s run in a dictatorial fashion by Nancy Pelosi. What’s it like up there when you arrive?
Harshbarger: You go as a non-politician. And I ran on being an outsider and a business owner. And I will tell you this, that’s what America wants. They still want that. They want an outsider and a business owner.
And I saw what Trump did, and I’m like, I want to get on that train because I saw the policies. Whether you like his personality or not, that’s beside the point. But when you see what he accomplished, even with all that he had to go through, I’m like, let me push this forward.
I am there to serve the people. I’ve served them locally for 30 years. And now I want to go to a federal level. Listen, you talk about the money that was put into that campaign. I put my money where my mouth was.
Leahy: You absolutely did. And you won.
Leahy: What do you do every day up there? We hear reports from other members of Congress that Nancy Pelosi is violating regular order where you take bills and you hear them in committee, subcommittee, committee.
Harshbarger: They don’t go through committee.
Leahy: They don’t?
Harshbarger: Most of them do not. You don’t get to debate. It’s a yes or no. And she doesn’t even want her own people to caucus or talk to you.
Leahy: Who writes the bills? They’re like 1,000 pages. They give them to you the night before and they say yes or no. What’s that like exactly?
Harshbarger: You better be doing your due diligence all the way. And there are different professional staffers on the Republican side that will absolutely go through every bit of that. And Congressman John Rose spent 45 minutes talking to me before I was elected and said, “Diana, the hardest thing for me is when you get a 2,800-page bill, you’ve got 30 minutes to read it, and you don’t know.
You vote yes; you may be voting for something you would never vote for. You vote no; you may be missing exactly what your district is.”
Leahy: Aren’t you a speed reader? Can’t you read 2,800 pages in 30 minutes? (Chuckles)
Harshbarger: I depend on a good staff to help prepare me. And then I talked to other members and I talked to rankers on these committees. I’m like I do my due diligence and I go outside of those people, too. And I look at the good, bad, the ugly.
Leahy: Is this any way to run a railroad or run a country?
Harshbarger: Why can’t we just have a clean bill, is what I say. Vote on it. One thing at a time.
Leahy: What’s the answer to that question? Why can’t you have a clean bill that’s just two or three pages that says what you’re going to do? As opposed to 2,800 pages where on page 1,355, they sneak in a paragraph that totally changes what the bill is all about.
Harshbarger: Because they don’t want you to know the truth and they don’t want the American people to know the truth, because if you know the truth, guess what? You wouldn’t vote for it.
Leahy: Got one little question for you to clean up here. There’s a report from Business Insider that there’s a stock act. They said that you were one of 57 people that had members of the House or the Senate that had some sort of violation. Tell us a little bit about that.
Harshbarger: You put measures at every level to protect you, because that’s what the Ethics Department requires and it wouldn’t matter. I’ve self-reported everything.
Leahy: So you’re self-reported?
Harshbarger: Oh, yes. You are self-reported. And if you find something, you say, hello, here it is.
Leahy: What’s the penalty? Are you going to face any penalty for that?
Harshbarger: There’s probably a fine, maybe $200.
Leahy: Yeah, I saw that, 200 bucks. Let me ask you this other question. Policy questions. Do you favor the abolition of the Department of Education?
Harshbarger: Absolutely. If I had the power, I would stroke that and I’d get rid of that, the ATF. Listen, one thing I said, if I could do anything while I’m there, it would be get rid of 50 percent of the three- and four-letter agencies there and either cut or gut the other 50 percent.
Leahy: Next question. Do you believe that the Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, who is violating every immigration law in the country, should he be impeached? Yes or no?
Harshbarger: Yes, absolutely.
Leahy: You would favor that?
Harshbarger: I’m on Homeland Security for God’s sake. It’s a travesty when you have two million illegal aliens coming over, and 400,000 more we don’t even know who they are, where they come from, where they went. Yes. He should be. He’s not doing his job.
Leahy: Not at all. We’re in complete agreement on that. What’s going to happen in the midterms? Right now it’s what? Roughly 220 to 215, something like that.
Democrats have a slight majority, maybe 221 to 214. A very narrow margin of Democrats. What’s going to happen in the midterms?
Harshbarger: We’re going to take the house back and that’s what I’m working very hard to do is help any of these members or candidates who want to be congressmen or congresswomen.
We want a conservative voice. But absolutely there is no question we have to take the House back.
Leahy: Are you working with Elise Stefanik from upstate New York on all this stuff?
Harshbarger: For women, yes. And she is a very big advocate for women in Congress. Absolutely.
Leahy: She represents the district where I lived as a kid.
Harshbarger: Really? That’s good.
Leahy: Very cold in upstate New York. They have big, high taxes up there. I love Tennessee. I’ve lived here for 31 years. We have no state income tax. It’s wonderful.
Harshbarger: Why do you think everybody’s moving here?
Harshbarger: One other thing I want to put in is the Durham report.
Harshbarger: People need to go to jail. And if you don’t think that’s going to happen, that will happen.
Leahy: I think you’re right. And we’ll talk later in this program … with Senator Bill Hagerty about that very issue.
Harshbarger: Awesome. Very good.
Leahy: Congressman Diana Harshbarger, thanks so much for joining us today. Come back if you would.
Harshbarger: My pleasure.
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