East TN Congressman Phil Roe won’t seek sixth term

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Congressman Phil Roe (R-1st) won’t run for a seventh term. Roe’s Friday announcement paves the way for what is expected to be a crowded field for the Aug. 6 Republican primary.

“Serving East Tennesseans these past 11 years has been the honor of my life, and I will be forever grateful for the trust my friends and neighbors put in me to represent them,” Roe said in a statement. “As someone who practiced medicine for over 30 years, I said I would serve five or six terms because I never intended this job to be a second career. After prayerful consideration, I have decided to retire at the end of the 116th Congress.”

Roe, 74, who mulled retirement in 2018, is the ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and a member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce. The former Johnson City mayor first won election in 2008 after a narrow primary victory over one-term incumbent David Davis.

The former OB/GYN physician, an Army veteran who served in South Korea for two years following his 1972 graduation from medical school, has been an advocate for veterans issues and also co-chairs the House GOP Doctors Caucus.

Roe helped lead efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act, sponsoring the American Health Care Reform Act – which would have replaced the ACA – in late 2013. That bill stalled in a subcommittee in early 2014, but Roe was also active in support of a 2017 House-passed replacement bill, the American Health Care Act of 2017. The bill was adjusted in the GOP-controlled Senate, but even the so-called “skinny repeal” failed, 51-49, when Republican Senator John McCain casting the decisive vote.

Roe was among those who lobbied successfully for a change in the “Medicare Wage Index” that took effect in October. The change has increased Medicare reimbursement rates for area hospitals, and is expected to add roughly $30 million annually to Ballad Health’s Medicare revenues.

“When I look back at my career, for where we live that may be one of the most important things we did,” Roe said in October. “It will be a huge help for our area and for the people who live in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.”

Potential Republican successors’ names have been tossed about for several years. State Rep. David Hawk (5th) of Greeneville told WJHL last month he would consider running for the seat if Roe retired. When Roe told “Roll Call” in February 2018 that he still hadn’t decided whether he would run again, the political website cited sources saying Hawk was among those whose “names are already being thrown around in the state.” Others included State Rep. Timothy Hill (3rd), then-Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge, Kingsport Chamber of Commerce Director Miles Burdine and Patrick Jaynes, a state director for Senator Lamar Alexander.

Other names discussed in local circles include former Johnson City Mayor Steve Darden, State Senator Jon Lundberg (4th) of Bristol, State Rep. Micah Van Huss (6th) of Gray and former State Senator Charles Allen of Johnson City.

Roe’s most recent Democratic opponent, Dr. Marty Olsen, congratulated Roe Friday “on a lifetime of service to East Tennessee, both as a physician colleague and Congressman.” Olsen, who won 21 percent of the 2018 vote, called his run “a meaningful experience” but said he would only run again “if I saw a plausible path to victory.”

Robert L. Taylor, the district’s last Democratic representative, was elected in 1878 and served one term.

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