Chances of 4th District debate dwindling

Eric Stewart (left) and Scott DesJarlais (right)

Authored By James Harrison

Voters hoping to hear a debate between Rep. Scott DesJarlais and his Democratic challenger, Eric Stewart, are going to have to keep waiting. 

On Thursday, Stewart issued a statement detailing three invitations he had accepted to debates and forums taking place over the coming weeks. The three events are scheduled over an 11-day period in locations across the 4th District-an Oct. 1 event hosted by GCTV in Monteagle, an Oct. 8 event at Cleveland State Community College in Bradley County and an Oct. 11 event hosted by the Southern Standard in Warren County.

A campaign spokesman for DesJarlais said none of the events fit the congressman’s schedule.

“We have a rally planned in Sequatchie County on Oct. 8, Scott will be presiding over a pro forma session of Congress on Oct. 11 and we have events planned in and around Manchester on Oct. 1,” Lewis said in an emailed statement.

No information regarding the time or location of any campaign rally is listed on the congressman’s campaign website.

Lewis said the rally was scheduled for “sometime in the late afternoon.”

Pro forma sessions of Congress-in which no official legislative business takes place-are held in order to prevent recess appointments from being made while lawmakers are away from Washington, D.C., for extended periods of time.

The congressman’s scheduling comes more than one month after he declined a challenge from Stewart to debate three times over the course of one month. Stewart shied from attacking his opponent on having not accepted any invitations to debate thus far, instead saying he looked forward to the possibility of voters having the chance to see him and the congressman side by side, exchanging ideas. 

“We have a lot of issues facing our country right now,” Stewart said. “Debates give voters an opportunity to see each candidate on a stage next to each other and talk about the issues that are important to the public.”

In a later email, Lewis suggested that DesJarlais would not be ready to engage Stewart in debate until the candidate provided proof that he had finished paying federal tax liens and show receipts for cash that went missing from his state Senate campaign account in 2008. After not paying the entirety of his federal personal and income taxes in either 2002 or 2011, Stewart was hit with liens totaling more than $24,000. 

Stewart told in August he planned to have the liens paid within the next year and said he would be willing to answer any questions regarding his tax history in a public forum. 

Early voting begins Oct. 17. 

The election is Nov. 6.