One day after suggesting his Republican opponent would resort to “attack politics” in his campaign for the Tennessee Senate District 10 seat, Democratic candidate Andraé McGary continued to criticize Todd Gardenhire-only this time, to his face.

Approximately 75 people were on hand for a voter empowerment forum Thursday night at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, where McGary saved his words directed at Gardenhire for the end of a 30-minute forum on policy issues.

“My opponent says he’s a fifth-generation Chattanoogan, but he doesn’t want to talk to anybody,” McGary said. “He doesn’t want to go out and give you an opportunity to go out and talk to him. I hate to say it, but one of the reasons he is here tonight is because the paper called him and asked him why he hadn’t responded to the invite to come. He said he lost it, he said his assistant lost it, then he finally said ‘I lost it, and I’ll be there.’ If you have to backdoor someone into coming to talk to you, how can they represent you?”

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Gardenhire was not given the opportunity to respond by the forum’s moderator, but later said that McGary was entitled to his own opinion and added that he couldn’t even understand what his opponent was saying.

“I couldn’t understand him; he was talking way too fast,” Gardenhire said. “He’s welcome to his opinion; he’s welcome to run his campaign the way like he wants to, and that’s fine. That’s America. I’ll run my campaign the way that I want to. I’ve been going door-to-door, I’ve been talking to people almost every afternoon, almost all day on Saturdays. I’ve been knocking on doors, talking to people and finding out what’s on their minds. To me, that’s where you find out who the voters really are.”

Issues focused on during the forum included the candidate’s positions on state income tax, a proposed health center for Alton Park, gun laws, school vouchers, Medicare and fairness to black people during redistricting.

When asked for their positions on gun laws, Gardenhire branded himself as a permit-holding, occasional gun-carrying, NRA Republican who thinks people-not guns or their manufacturers-bear the responsibility for any unfortunate outcomes.

“Guns are not the problem,” he said. “Responsible people who carry guns are not going to be the problem.”

When asked for their position on school vouchers, McGary refrained from offeringaclear-cut stance, instead opting to question the effects of tax breaks afforded to larger businesses in the state on educational institutions-particularly in higher education.

“If we properly funded our schools, we wouldn’t have a problem,” he said.

For a question on whether the recent redrawing of state lines had an unfair outcome for members of the state’s black communities, Gardenhire drew some objections from audience members upon answering that outcomes of redistricting could never be completely fair to all.

“That’s just the nature of the beast,” he said. “Redistricting comes every 10 years, and that’s how it works. Whether someone was treated fair or unfair, it depends on what side you are.”

McGary disagreed, saying that on the state level, “redistricting only benefits politicians.” The Chattanooga city councilman then suggested redistricting responsibilities be given to an independent panel every decade.

“That would make it as fair as possible,” he said. “It’s not a game, it’s not an entitlement.”

Gardenhire and McGary shook hands upon the forum’s close, but exchanged no other words.

Other candidates to have participated in Thursday night’s event were House District 28 candidates Johnny Horne and state Rep. JoAnne Favors, along with Democratic 3rd District candidate Mary Headrick and Senate write-in candidate Angelia Stinnett.

Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, Sen. Bob Corker and Corker’s Democratic opponent Mark Clayton were all invited to the forum but declined.

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