NASHVILLE — Something of an incumbent-challenger role reversal seems afoot this summer in the parts of Loudon and Roane counties where Republican voters will decide whether they want Julia Hurley or Kent Calfee to serve them in the state House of Representatives.
Typically in such primary contests, especially this year in Tennessee, the incumbent is being criticized by the challenger as not strong enough in pushing conservative values and perhaps as having already served too long in office. In the 32nd House District, the opposite seems the case.
Incumbent Rep. Hurley, 30, a Lenoir City resident seeking her second term, is on the attack. Challenger Calfee, 63, a former Roane County commissioner, says that he is not.
"I'm already a better legislator than my opponent. Out of 20 years on the county commission, he's missed three years of meetings," said Hurley. "I have a 100 percent voting record and a 100 percent attendance record."
Further, she declares that Calfee has voted in Democratic primaries, most recently in 2008, and "financially supported Al Gore." Calfee denied ever aiding Gore.
More is to come as the Aug. 2 primary approaches, Hurley said. Her campaign has researched his voting record on the commission and plans direct mail pieces pointing out what she perceives as shortcomings.
"Bless his heart, he's got to an age where he's completely forgotten what he voted for, and those things will be coming to light very soon," she said.
Calfee says "it's not my nature to be attacking people" and he has no plans to do so in campaigning against Hurley.
Still, he does say things such as, "I want to restore respect, dignity and professionalism to the seat."
He concedes that such comments infer that respect, dignity and professionalism are lacking now.
Hurley has received considerable media attention for activities that did not relate to legislative issues. For example, she has acknowledged carving her initials on her desk in the House chamber, angrily criticizing a Tennessee Highway Patrol officer who gave her a speeding ticket while a videocamera recorded her comments, and taking her dog into the Roane County courthouse in violation of a rule against pets.
"Those were personal things that I admitted to doing," said Hurley. "I looked my voters in the face, said 'I'm sorry, I fixed it, let's move on.'"
Hurley said she anticipates campaign criticism on such things, though she considers it inappropriate because the matters were personal in nature and have nothing to do with her stance on issues.
Calfee says such criticism won't come from him.
"None of that's been brought up by me, not one time," he said. "It's certainly been brought up to me, many times, by lots of people. … And it's been wore out in the media."
While saying he has no plans to go on the attack, Calfee said he intends to be vigorous "in clearing the record" when criticized by Hurley.
He acknowledges voting on occasion in Democratic primaries, including the 2008 presidential preference primary. In that case, Calfee said, he did so to "vote against Obama" and in favor of the candidate who would "be the easiest for the Republican nominee to beat in November." Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama's chief primary opponent in 2008, carried Tennessee that year but lost the nomination.
Calfee said Hurley is wrong about him financially supporting Gore. A check of the Center for Responsive Politics database for 1999 to present last week showed no donations by Calfee to Gore. It does show three donations totaling $1,000 to former Democratic U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, the most recent being a $250 contribution in 2004.
Calfee also concedes he missed a number of county commission meetings after a change in duties at his job with Oak Ridge National Laboratory required him to make extensive out-of-state travel, often spending two weeks at a time away from home. After serving since 1986, he did not seek re-election after serving out the term that ended in 2006.
But he says Hurley is exaggerating the number of missed meetings and there is "no way" he missed three years worth, which would be 36 meetings of 12 regular meetings per year.
A married father of four and grandfather of six, Calfee retired from ORNL last December and said he will devote full time to his legislative duties if elected. He also said his life experiences give him an edge over Hurley in understanding people and helping with their problems.
Hurley, a single mother who has founded an online store and worked for the Lenoir City Utilities Board, stressed her accomplishments as a legislator in her first term after defeating veteran incumbent Democratic Rep. Dennis Ferguson in 2010.
The highlight, she said, was passage of legislation that calls for drug testing of those applying for welfare benefits. She sponsored the bill in the House while it was sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, who Hurley regards as her political mentor.
A key reason for seeking a second term, Hurley said, is to make sure the bill is implemented properly and, eventually, to strengthen its provisions. The bill was substantially amended because of "pushback from the minority party and lesser conservatives in the majority party," she said.
The Department of Human Services is now developing rules for deciding who will take the test — the bill calls for only "suspicion-based" testing, not testing of all applicants — and how it will be administered. It will not be fully implemented until 2014. After that, Hurley said she plans to seek broader testing and perhaps other revisions depending on how the program has worked.
Further, Hurley said she hopes to push for a drug-testing program for legislators along the same "suspicion-based" lines as now applied to welfare applicants. She also declared an intention to push for stronger DUI laws and stronger punishment for those committing domestic violence.
Calfee said his priorities are on jobs, education and further steps against drug abuse — especially that involving prescription medications.
Redistricting this year slightly changed the outlines of the 32nd House District, reducing the number of voters in Roane County, where Calfee lives, and increasing the number in Loudon County, where Hurley lives.
The winner of the primary will face Democrat Jack W. McNew of Harriman in November. He is unopposed in the Democratic primary.