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Dist. 32 candidates contrast views before election

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Today, March 7, is the last early voting date in the Tennessee Senate District 32 Special Election. Both Paul Rose and Eric Coleman want voters to get energized and vote today or on Election Day, March 12.
They are vying for the seat vacated by former Sen. Mark Norris when he stepped down to accept a vacant federal judgeship in west Tennessee in October 2018.
Shelby County voters in their district can look up early voting locations and Election Day polling locations at shelbyvote.com. District 32 encompasses Collierville, Arlington, Bartlett, Eads, Brunswick and Lakeland in Shelby County as well as part of Tipton County.
Eric R. Coleman of Bartlett is a Navy retire and the sole Democrat contender. Paul Rose of Covington, who owns a construction business, won the Republican primary. Both answered questions to help voters better understand the men on the ballot.
A native of Linden, N.J., Coleman enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 26 after working several years in the U.S. Postal Service and various retail establishments. Upon graduating from recruit training in Great Lakes, Ill., he completed Basic Enlisted Submarine School and Missile Technician “A” School in New London, Conn., and Trident C-4 Ballistic Missile Training in Silverdale, Wash.
During his nearly two decades in uniform, Coleman achieved the rank of Senior Chief Petty Officer (E-8) and led sailors at all levels and on a diverse group of ship types: USS Alabama (SSBN 731 Blue), Silverdale, Wash.; USS Peleliu (LHA 5), San Diego, Calif.; USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), Everett, Wash.; USS The Sullivans (DDG 68), Mayport, Fla.
During his noncombat assignments, Coleman served as Flag Master-at-Arms for Commander, Submarine Group NINE, Silverdale, Wash.; as Material Control Leading Petty Officer (LPO) at Fleet Readiness Center Northwest, Oak Harbor, Wash.; as Audit Readiness Director for Commander, Navy Recruiting Command, Millington, Tenn.; as a wounded warrior and administrative assistant at Naval Branch Health Clinic NSA Mid-South, Millington. He is a graduate of the U.S. Navy Senior Enlisted Academy (Class 185).
His personal awards include the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (two awards), the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (five awards), and various unit and campaign awards.
He was medically retired in May 2018 due to an injury sustained in the line of duty and resides in Bartlett. He spends his time being a dedicated father while cultivating private business ventures, and he holds associate and bachelor of science degrees with honors from Park University. He is the owner of the consultancy firm Executive Legacy LLC.
Paul Rose biography
Born and raised in west Tennessee, Rose is a lifelong resident of Tennessee’s 32nd Senate District. He currently resides in his hometown of Covington, Tenn., with his wife of 46 years, Nancy. Together they have three children and six grandchildren.
Lifelong members of First Baptist Church in Covington, Nancy and he are active members of their congregation. Rose currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home and is a past board chairman. He also currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Boys and Girls Club of the Hatchie River Region and the Dyersburg State Community College Foundation Board, and he is a past chairman of the Covington-Tipton County Chamber of Commerce.
Rose joined the family business in 1974 and has played an integral role in growing the small company from three employees into several companies employing about 150 employees. Serving as president of Rose Construction, he knows firsthand the hardships of being a business owner and said that he believes that we should continue working to make Tennessee the most business-friendly state in the country.
Rose describes himself as a strong believer in less government and a staunch defender of our 2nd Amendment and is a lifetime member of the NRA (National Rifle Association). He also said that he is 100 percent pro-life and believes that life begins at conception, and he wants to take his conservative Christian values to Nashville to represent Tennessee’s 32nd Senate District.
General questions
1. What are critical issues for you in this election and why?
Rose cited three categories of issues: (1) Lack of a willing, qualified and drug-free work force. A key component of the recruitment of industry is to have a labor-ready workforce. (2) As we reduce the access to opioids, a problem with addicts turning to street drugs such as fentanyl and heroin has intensified. Public safety, crime and healthy lifestyles are all impacted by the illegal drug epidemic. (3) Access to health care in rural west Tennessee.
“The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) decimated health care in rural west Tennessee,” Rose said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to address this issue head on and forge a solution.”
Coleman said he is running on three core issues: A healthier citizenry, an informed citizenry and a safer citizenry.
A healthy citizenry includes combating food insecurity, and he said there is significant food insecurity in both counties within District 32. It also includes embracing Medicaid expansion to allow low-income citizens to shop for and purchase private insurance with Medicaid funds, which he said theoretically could provide a 100 percent match if reimbursement rates are increased.
Coleman said there’s a need to push for more primary care providers and to allow nurses to act as primary care providers. He also wants to introduce mobile health initiatives and more easily accessible preventive care and health education in low-income areas that do not have clinics.
For an informed citizenry, Coleman wants to shore up the educational structure, including both the personnel and the facilities, as well as facility security. He said some schools need wholesale renovations, and District 32 needs a sincere initiative to recruit and hire teachers, paying them competitive salaries “so they can focus on teaching, instead of other distractions like getting a second job or running into financial hardships.”
For a safer citizenry, he would like to see a stronger connection between police and the communities they serve. Coleman believes a return to more neighborhood foot patrols, instead of officers in cruisers, would help, along with junction boxes where they check in while walking their beats. He also supports the Second Amendment, has a concealed carry permit and patronizes a local gun range. But Coleman also believes there should be reasonable limits.
“While it’s a good idea and it’s great to be able to shop for a weapon of choice, it’s not a good idea to have a howitzer on your front lawn or a nuclear missile silo in your back yard for fear of all hell breaking loose,” he said. “So we have to have commonsense legislation that adds definition to things that folks cannot have, and for good reason.”
He takes to heart the calling to represent the voters of his district, saying, “I don’t believe in toting my own bag of ideas and go operating lone star. The constituency is my ultimate boss. Answering those phone calls and those letters and taking those concerns and ideas to the floor is what the state senator’s job is.”
2. Why do you believe you’re the better candidate?
Coleman said he doesn’t like to make contrasts, but he said his platform speaks to his strengths as a candidate. “It has to be the person who has the most relevant, the most comprehensive, the most understandable and the most civic-oriented platform. Because, again, the constituency is your boss.”
Speaking about his own candidacy, Rose said, “As a conservative that has lived and worked in District 32 for my entire life, I believe that I best represent the values of the majority of the citizens of this district. Through my business, church affiliation and involvement with numerous charitable organizations I have established relationships with citizens in every segment of the district and know those established relationships will enable me to best serve the constituents in the district.”
3. Journal West 10’s newspapers cover multiple municipalities that are fully or partially within this Senate district. As a candidate, what do you have to say that is relevant to the specific interests Arlington, Bartlett, Bolton, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington?
Rose said, “Whether you live in Atoka, Arlington, Brighton, Bartlett, Collierville, Covington, Lakeland, Munford or in an unincorporated community in the district, many if not most of the problems, concerns, and aspirations of the citizens of District 32 are similar.”
Coleman said he has 10 key principles that will help him address the concerns of all the communities in the district. “I think as a whole we’re fighting for District 32.”
4. Speak about your ability and willingness to work across bipartisan lines for the good of Tennessee citizens.
Coleman spoke of his 18 and one-half years of service in the Navy, cut short by an injury that left him paralyzed from the waist down. “I’ve sacrificed for my nation, life-altering sacrifice for my nation. So the only thing I know is the greater good.”

He mentioned his four years with the U.S. Postal Service before his military career and described three generations of his family members with similar careers. “Both civil service and public service are in my bloodline. … We don’t know anything else but how to serve the public.”
He added that the Democrat Party doesn’t enjoy a political advantage in Tennessee, so working across party lines is a necessity. “Our job is to work as professionals at answering the needs of Tennesseans, and that is our ultimate goal.”
Rose said, “As stated previously, I have established relationships with citizens in both parties and in every segment of the district and know those established relationships will enable me to best serve the constituents in the district. There are many members of the Democratic Party in District 32 that I have called friends for most of my adult life. I am honored that they supported me in the primary and have pledged their support in the general election. I know they supported me because of our friendship but also because they know me and know I will do my best to represent all the citizens of this district and do my best to do the right thing with every vote I cast.”
Specific questions
Organizers of the earlier Republican Primary debate created the following specific questions for the candidates.
1. District 32 is composed of several of Tennessee’s largest suburban municipalities. It also includes a fairly large rural community. As senator, how will you ensure that both urban and rural constituents are treated equitably?
Rose said the urban, suburban and rural areas of District 32 complement each other, and he has a broad base of support from leaders and citizens in all three. He cited his business relationships for the past 45 years throughout west Tennessee and beyond.
He said, “I understand you have to listen, and you have to understand what the issues are, but I have worked and lived in this district for many years, and I think the biggest thing you need to do is listen. Listen to the needs of all the folks in those areas and then make decisions that are appropriate for all.”
Coleman said he doesn’t see a difference between the constituents. “The locale and the terrain may change, but the constituents don’t. Their concerns may be different in scope, but we’re all humans, so all of the concerns are going to be related to humanity. So my response is largely based on ensuring that humanity is applied, no matter how level the ground is or how high or low … and we don’t forget anyone.”
2. It goes without saying that what is good for Memphis is good for its suburbs. However, Memphis has not always seemed to reciprocate that feeling. There is a legitimate concern that some Memphis politicians would like to deprive the suburbs of their entitlements for services and representation. What will you do to ensure that suburban Shelby County is treated fairly and equitably?
Coleman said he lives in the suburbs himself and communicates well with his neighbors, and he hasn’t encountered this perception around his home in Bartlett. “It’s about ensuring that we mind District 32’s business. What Memphis does, because Memphis is not in District 32, is none of our business. Our business is to ensure that we fortify District 32. And that includes … economic growth and things like that. As long as we are minding District 32’s business and we are bringing in the companies like Panera Bread and Krispy Kreme and some of the consistent employers of our community, and we start broadening out the base of companies that come to this area, we will ensure that no matter what hard feelings Memphis may have, provided we are able to operate on our own, we are pretty safe from any of Memphis’ concerns.”
Rose said it was his privilege and sometimes his challenge to work with Memphis Light Gas and Water (MLGW) and the city of Memphis. He’s been successful working collaboratively with them over the years. “I found that if you communicate and keep the communications open, and you share what you’re trying to do … that they are willing to work with you.”
3. TN-385 and I-269 remain unfinished with connecting Millington and Tipton County with downtown Memphis. To travel from downtown Memphis to Covington during rush hour can take well over an hour. Yet this trip should take probably just over 30 minutes by interstate. Without a doubt, all roads lead to Mississippi, and that state has outmaneuvered Tennessee concerning road infrastructure for metro Memphis. Mississippi’s roads contribute to its success regarding economic development and population growth, while Tennessee seems oblivious to the fact that metro Memphis’ counties to the north are still decades behind with adequate roads for the egress and ingress into Memphis and Shelby County. How do you feel about the Memphis area’s road infrastructure, and how would you address this important issue?
Rose said he travels regularly on Highways 14 and 51 to get to Memphis from Tipton County, and he understands the need to complete 269 from Shelby County through Tipton and to Dyer County. When he inquired, he learned that TDOT has 1,500 backlogged jobs in front of that project.
“In my opinion, that’s totally unacceptable,” he said. “Yes, they have 1,500 jobs that are backlogged, but this has been on the books for years and years.”
Coleman said there’s an overall infrastructure deficit in the area, not just in transportation. But he said it’s important to take into consideration the economic impact on businesses that will be bypassed once the highway infrastructure is more complete.
He said he moved to Bartlett in 2013, and the unfinished transportation infrastructure has remained mostly unchanged. “As a Day 1 senator, my question would be, ‘How in six years have we failed to address this as a priority when we’re funding the expansion of Austin Peay, Route 14, or we’re doing significant work elsewhere, but we’re failing to address something that is an item that seems to be chafing a significant part of our constituency in that area.’ It would be to sort of pull a string on why we’re stuck. And after you find the why, you can pretty much to plug in the missing pieces, get things accomplished without missing anything. But you’ve got to dig to the heart of why that project stalled.”
4. What are your top priorities for improving public education?
Education is second only to healthcare in Coleman’s priorities. He believes in introducing more technology, as Bartlett City Schools has done, and he favors asking for robust investments from private donors.
He also strongly supports vocational training at the high school level, followed by apprenticeships.
“I can’t see a future where this does not benefit the state of Tennessee as a whole,” Coleman said.
Rose said he looks forward to working with Rep. Mark White, who’s been appointed chair of the House Education Committee, and Debra Moody, who’s been appointed to the education subcommittee working on curriculum, testing and innovation. He expects to work with them as they join Gov. Lee to identify deficiencies in our education program.
He also looks forward to an initiative that directs students who aren’t necessarily college bound, to make sure they are being tracked into vocational-technical programs and community colleges “so when they leave high school on Saturday they can have a job on Monday.”
5. What is your plan to provide adequate funding for all public schools?
Rose said the state ranks 44th in per-student funding. He would like to identify areas where we could do a better job of identifying where to spend our money. He wants to work with school boards, administrators and parents to better identify deficiencies and what is needed in schools. The next step would be to petition the state, which he said has a $2 billion surplus now, to provide adequate funding for schools and reward performing teachers.
Coleman, a former Navy logistics specialist, talked about working responsibly with multi-million-dollar annual budgets for aircraft carriers and allocating the money properly. He said it’s not difficult to find places to cut costs for people willing to carefully inspect budgets. He once received an award for identifying $1.6 million of excess spending. He sees those budgeting skills as transferable to areas such as public education.
Coleman also wants to phase in technology improvements for schools over time to make the change more affordable, and he sees a future for donations from affluent citizens.
6. Many rural hospitals have closed, and currently about a half million Tennesseans are without insurance. No state has more to gain by accepting federal subsidies than Tennessee. The state could save almost 5 percent of its budget by accepting federal money and expanding Medicaid, but the state appears to have no interest. Instead, over $22 million is being left on the table. What is your position regarding the healthcare situation here in Tennessee?
Coleman said the answer is either Medicaid expansion or full acceptance of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, also known as the Affordable Care Act or nicknamed Obamacare).
“We have to realize that the more we bicker about it, the more lives that are impacted,” he said.
He also said there’s no need for more fatalities caused by long travel times to medical care as rural hospitals are closing. He also recognized that hospitals can’t stay where they are not solvent.
Tennessee cannot afford to ignore this issue, he said. “The longer we delay accepting the Medicaid dollars, the more lives that are at risk or hospitals that are closed. And we won’t really feel it until one of the major hospitals is impacted. It’s almost like a cancer — by the time it gets to that, it’s terminal.”
Closed hospitals that are not maintained also will take longer and cost more to get jump-started again, he said. “It’s kind of one of those ‘You have to act now’ things, and it’s not one of those ‘Let’s take time and debate about it’ kind of things.”
Rose said he approves of Tennessee’s decision to decline the federal funds because taking those funds would leave the state in the lurch when funding is withdrawn. Instead, he said the state should focus on attracting companies with good-paying jobs that provide private healthcare and allow many to get off the public healthcare system.
7. The opioid epidemic is a national crisis. Its impact is felt especially hard here in Tennessee. As healthcare providers and employers, we see the devastation of the problem every day. While much is being done to address opioid abuse, there is still a need for more funding and resources to treat and prevent further addiction. What are some approaches you would support to help address this critical issue of opioid addiction?
Rose said as we’ve restricted the opioids, we’ve seen increased use of fentanyl and heroin as street drugs. He believes the U.S. needs to do all it can to prevent those drugs from entering the country, and he sees building a border wall as essential to controlling what is coming across the U.S. border.
He also wants to see better provision of drug courts and funding to law enforcement to address those who are distributing drugs, as well as providing Narcan (a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose) as a tool to help addicts.
Coleman said Tennessee isn’t alone in facing the opioid epidemic. He said it’s an obvious solution to study what other states have done to combat this problem and follow their best practices in a way customized for Tennessee.
He would first fix the district’s hospital issue to treat overdoses, and he would like to ensure there are more treatment beds for addicts undergoing withdrawals, because he doesn’t believe that putting addicts in jail solves the foundational issues.
8. Many financial analysts state that west Tennessee, including Memphis, receives proportionately less return on its tax dollars than other sectors of the state for roads, sewage, education and other needs. Will you work to address the apparent inequity in the state’s resources for west Tennessee?
Coleman said he would definitely work to address any such inequities that exist. But he would also question the accuracy of the analysts’ assumptions and evaluate whether their views are or are not based on true financial analysis to draw such conclusions.
He also said it’s a needs-based system, so it’s important to apply funding where the need is greater. “We have to remember that we’re all in this fight together. This isn’t a struggle between differing factions of the state.”
Rose said he would work to bring more funding to west Tennessee. He agreed with Chism that the Megasite has to be completed, and “we’ve got to scream for the funding to do that, along with the roads that we discussed earlier and the sewer issue that we have here in Shelby County with the moratorium even on sewer additions. Those are just unacceptable. They will not work for business and economic development.”
9. It is well known within the economic development profession that there is a critical shortage of industrial land and buildings. It is a national concern, and it is definitely being felt here in Tennessee. There are three key factors: A lack of infrastructure at potential sites, risk-averse investors and unmotivated private landowners. This is not an easy problem to fix, but our policy makers must be engaged in order for a solution to be found. What would you do to address the shortage of industrial real estate in Tennessee?
Rose said he first confirmed there really is a shortage, with a need for 500-acre sites throughout the entire state. Identifying those sites will be challenging but necessary. First, complete the Megasite, he said, because it’s difficult to ask for additional funding for property to build industry sites when you have one that’s been sitting there for 12 years with $125 million tied up in a 41-acre site that is not ready for industry.
Coleman said steps would include identifying what property properly should be zoned industrial, taking into consideration the impact to adjacent properties that may be zoned differently and need protection from industrial pollution and hazards.
Current Senate legislation
Both candidates were asked to comment on some of the specific bills currently before the state Senate, either giving an opinion on each bill or on the issues driving that bill.
Rose opted to reserve comment on specific bills but provided a general response: “As a state senator, I will carefully consider all bills brought before the Senate and work to craft conservative legislation for the benefit of my district and the state of Tennessee. Along with maintaining a healthy work and campaign schedule, I am currently in the process of evaluating the legislation presently before the General Assembly. … I can tell you that I will consult my principles, listen to my constituents and thoroughly study all legislation before I cast a vote. I am committed to putting conservative ideas into action and keeping Tennessee on the right track.”
Coleman said he typically does not comment on any legislation that has not been approved as a policy, merely because it’s prone to change. But when asked to comment on some specific current Senate bills, he did comment briefly on some of the issues behind the bills. (See the longer online version of this story for those responses.)