Knoxville attorney Gordon Ball is running for U.S. Senate in the August Democratic primary. The winner will face presumptive GOP nominee and incumbent Sen. Lamar Alexander in the November general election.

Mr. Ball was kind enough to responded to a (rather lengthy) KnoxViews questionnaire covering a wide range of issues. The questions and his responses after the break.

(Note: We also invited the Terry Adams campaign to respond. They at first expressed interest in participating, but later declined.)


U.S. Senate Democratic Primary Candidate Questionnaire
KnoxViews.com

KnoxViews: Briefly, why are you running for the United States Senate?

Mr. Ball: I'm running because I believe public service is an honorable thing and serving the citizens of Tennessee is an opportunity for me to give something back to my state and to my country.

My life is the epitome of the American Dream. I was born in one of the poorest communities in one of the poorest counties in Tennessee. My dad made and sold moonshine, and when I was born he was a . . . guest of the federal government. But I received a good public education, went to college (ETSU) and obtained my undergraduate degree, then went to law school in Memphis and received my law degree. Like most kids, I had my share of debt coming out of school, and like most kids, I struggled for a while. But I worked hard and it eventually paid off.

I've had a diverse career as a lawyer. I've prosecuted murder cases and defended murder cases. I've had many successes - and my own share of failures -- as a criminal, civil, and class action lawyer, both here in Tennessee and in courts across the country. I believe we need someone in Washington who has this type of life experience -- not someone who has worked for the government most of his adult life. And my experience working with and fighting for ordinary Americans against some of the biggest corporations and some of the best lawyers in the world in high profile and complex cases, in courts all over this country, puts me in a position to be ready to represent Tennesseans on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Day One. I'll not need training or a learning curve.

But I'm also running because our current Senator has been in Washington long enough. In fact, a while back, he said "two terms" - 12 years- would be it. Yet, here he is, running for a third term - 18 years. He's a professional politician. But as we've seen, what we get from most professional politicians is tired and worn-out ideas, ill-conceived and bad legislation, and governmental gridlock and shutdowns. We need fresh ideas that work, not recycled ones that have never worked. To me, that means we have to elect new people to Congress who can start turning us and leading us in the right direction . . . on Day One.

KnoxViews: Which current or former U.S. Senator do you most admire and why?

Mr. Ball: While I can't narrow this answer down to a single person, I can get it down to two: Tennessee's own Howard Baker and former New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy. As for Baker, he had an uncanny ability to cross party lines and broker compromises, which is why he was called the "Great Conciliator." Baker was a master of the Senate rules, a patient listener, had a sense of humor, never lost his temper, and most importantly, never broke his word. With those traits, he was able to maintain civility in the Senate, sharply in contrast to the sniping and guerrilla warfare now common there.

Bobby Kennedy often said, "Only those who dare to fail greatly can achieve greatly." His public career was characterized by remarkable political courage: a willingness to sacrifice public popularity for righteousness. Few politicians would ever dare to do that. He was tenacious, relentless, and he never surrendered. Throughout his public life, he remained steadfast in his principles and beliefs . . . despite the fact those beliefs were often unpopular. He felt and believed deeply, and he acted accordingly, often regardless of the costs. I admired his leadership style, characterized by empathy, a strong moral compass, along with an enormous strength of conviction. To me, his political instincts were unprecedented. Kennedy's conscience motivated him to seek an end to social injustice, to racial inequality, and to the Vietnam War.

Finally, Bobby Kennedy, though commonly associated with the "left" or "liberal wing" of the Democratic Party, could really not be understood as a liberal or a conservative. In fact, he disliked labels, just as I do, and was very skeptical that he could be captured by any political label.

KnoxViews: What are your views on the Senate filibuster rules?

Mr. Ball: The truth is that what's been going in Washington just isn't working. We need to consider changing the filibuster rules. We cannot afford to reach a politically-driven impasse on so many important issues, such as judicial appointments. It is yet another example of government gridlock championed by professional politicians. Senators cannot turn their backs on the Constitution and they may very well have a duty to change the filibuster rules to forestall future gridlock. One idea I like is that maybe the Senate should require anyone who seeks to stall the Senate's business to do so publicly, front and center on the Senate floor. Then, the American people will see who is creating gridlock.

KnoxViews: What would you look for in a Supreme Court nominee?

Mr. Ball: Strangely, the Constitution is dead silent on judicial qualifications. It meticulously outlines qualifications for Congress and the presidency, but gives no advice for judicial appointments other, than stating that justices should exhibit "good behavior." Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that a Supreme Court Justice should be a "combination of Justinian, Jesus Christ, and John Marshall." I think we must look first to the experience and respect of nominees among their peers in the legal community. We want a Supreme Court Justice to be knowledgeable in a diverse area of the law. It is not a place for on-the-job training. Ideological impartiality is also important (though many times it's difficult to achieve), as are political considerations and demographics (race, gender, etc.), and of course, a background free of impropriety. Ultimately, I'd need to be convinced that a nominee will be fair in considering every case and every litigant that comes before the Court and that the nominee will demonstrate adherence to the Constitution.

KnoxViews: What is the appropriate role of the federal government in education?

Mr. Ball: First and foremost, I believe the federal government should never surrender its responsibility to serve poor and minority students. In my view, the basic role of the federal government in funding education must be to achieve equity among states and populations based on identified needs. The federal government shares with states, counties, and school districts a solemn responsibility to provide a fair and quality public education for every child through grade 12. To me, such an education is a civil right, guaranteed to every American child.

Beyond high school, we all know that a college degree is important. After all, someone with a college degree will earn more than $570,000 more over a lifetime compared with those with just a high school diploma. And the cost of college has skyrocketed. In the past 30 years, average tuition for four-year, public colleges has increased by over 250%. Because students are bearing a much larger proportion of their college costs, they are borrowing more. That's why I support strong and decisive action by Congress to keep student loan interest rates low and to assist students facing substantial financial hardship deal with college debt.

KnoxViews: What are your views on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act? Are there any parts you would expand, amend or repeal?

Mr. Ball: In 1995, I had two heart attacks within a month. That was nineteen (19) years ago. I'm healthy now. The medical bills piled up, but unlike many Americans, I had good health insurance and was financially able to handle the enormous medical costs. American families often face financial ruin after catastrophic medical situations. These situations can push middle class families over the economic cliff. It's the 21st century and we live in the wealthiest and most advanced society in the history of the world, so American families - of any income - should never have to choose between feeding, clothing and sheltering their children or taking them to the doctor.

The Affordable Care Act has a number of good and necessary provisions: ending the practice of insurance companies denying people with preexisting conditions, allowing young people to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26, providing tax breaks for small businesses who provide health care, and preventing insurance discrimination against women.

These and many other provisions are too important for American families to roll back. My concern is that any legislation that is over 2,200 pages long and is administered by the IRS is, from its inception, confusing, complicated, and likely inefficient. Therefore, we must fix this and throw out the bad parts while retaining the good (like those mentioned above).
For starters, we must take more decisive action to reduce the enormous cost of healthcare. About half of all families in bankruptcy are there in the aftermath of a serious medical problem. Millions more are under tremendous financial pressure when a loved one is ill. No family in this country should ever be an emergency room visit away from financial disaster. I'll fight to improve the nation's healthcare system and I'll fight to require insurance companies to spend premium dollars on providing actual care, not overhead expenses and executive salaries. I will also fight to protect Medicare for seniors and improve the affordability and accessibility of health care for all Tennesseans.

Lastly, one critical omission from the ACA is its failure to end the health insurance company antitrust exemption. That exemption currently allows insurance companies the luxury of not having to compete for business, resulting in higher premiums for American consumers.

KnoxViews: What are your views on a single-payer national health insurance program, similar to Medicare for all?

Mr. Ball: As outlined above, I support the Affordable Care Act, with a few modifications. The issue is whether we keep the benefits of the ACA. Republican naysayers will say anything because they don't want to discuss the fact that they want to repeal all of the benefits of healthcare reform, including kids staying on their parents' insurance until age 26, the end of lifetime limits, closing the donut hole, and preventive care services. Let's give the ACA a fighting chance, and if it fails to pass muster and effectively solve the problems, I think every option would be on the table and should be studied. However, we must keep in mind that after repeated attempts in Congress to repeal the ACA, including a Supreme Court challenge, more than 7 million Americans have enrolled in insurance plans through healthcare exchanges. This means that more than 7 million American families have vested contractual rights with private health insurance companies, and calls for comprehensive ACA repeal need to take into consideration the effect of repeal on the contract rights of millions of subscribers.

KnoxViews: What are your views on Tennessee's refusal to expand Medicaid?

Mr. Ball: I think it is deplorable -- and a breach of public trust - for Tennessee politicians to block the door to healthcare to more than 160,000 Tennesseans who are too poor to buy health insurance on the exchange, but who would be eligible for coverage under Medicaid expansion. According to estimates, 161,000 Tennesseans currently lack the income to qualify for subsidized health insurance through the Healthcare.gov exchange.

In the final analysis, Tennessee taxpayers are paying for the expansion of Medicaid, but they are not receiving the benefits of those taxes. To date, the failure to expand Medicaid/TennCare has cost Tennessee over a half a billion dollars in federal funds.

KnoxViews: Regarding Social Security, what is your assessment of its fiscal health and sustainability?

Mr. Ball: I would strongly urge Congress and every American citizen to realize that Social Security isn't the answer to all of our retirement problems. It's imperative that we discover ways to address the economic clamp that is crushing American families. The last thing we should do is talk about "cutting back" Social Security.

As a result of rising health care costs and the higher numbers of Baby Boomers reaching retirement age, Social Security will be forced to cut benefits by 2033 if nothing is done. However, even after 2033, and even if Congress does nothing, there will still be sufficient assets (from payroll taxes) to pay about 75% of benefits. Of course, that's not acceptable, but there will still be substantial assets. While there is a long-range actuarial shortfall, it's a modest shortfall that fluctuates over time. For instance, the projected year of Trust Fund exhaustion was as far off as 2042 in 2003 in the wake of the dot-com bubble; it was as close as 2029 in 1994 due to changed expectations about real wage gains.

To me, all of this means we must pursue bipartisan entitlement reform to preserve Social Security (and Medicare) for those currently in or near retirement, and take action to strengthen these programs for the future.

I am not opposed to considering a modest, graduated payroll tax increase. Social Security benefits are modest, averaging about $1,230 per month. However, it is the main source of income for most people over age 65 (and more than half for nearly one in two married couples and two in three unmarried individuals). From my own reading, a gradual increase in payroll taxes over the next decade would eliminate a sizable portion of the imbalance. In addition, there are numerous other tax loopholes that can be eliminated to fill the funding gap for Social Security. The highly-publicized practice of the largest and most profitable American companies using offshore tax havens to avoid paying their full tax obligations into the U.S. Treasury is not patriotic and should be immediately studied and reversed. Similar loopholes and tax credits need to be addressed immediately.

KnoxViews: Would you support raising or eliminating the income ceiling on Social Security payroll tax withholding?

Mr. Ball: Taking options off the table is usually not a good strategy, in my mind. It is an alternative which should not be ruled out after gradually increasing payroll taxes. As discussed above, we should also immediately work to eliminate tax loopholes and discriminatory credits for entire industrial sectors (such as oil and gas).

KnoxViews: What can or should be done about the national debt?

Mr. Ball: The national debt is one of the most serious problems we face today. We need to craft a responsible path to move forward and restore fiscal saneness to Washington and to prevent us from repeating the costly mistakes of the past. Washington must recognize that the national debt threatens future generations. If we continue to ignore it, we risk rising interest rates, increased cost of living, lower wages and slower job growth. And down the road, absent change, we will eventually run out of money to pay for Medicare and Social Security.

I believe in balancing the budget and using a pay-as-you-go budget rule that requires the U.S. government to pay for increased spending now. We should never burden our children and grandchildren with the bill for our current spending. I also believe in fiscal responsibility: holding the line on frivolous spending, paying down our national debt, and fighting the usual temporary fixes that pass today's bill on to future generations.

We have to simplify the tax code. I favor a flat tax of 15%, which would raise over $4 trillion.

The federal debt is about $17 trillion. We need to be smart about the budget and about where and how to cut. America's budget should reflect our commitment to creating a better future for our children and our grandchildren. This means making smart cuts and smart investments, cutting the tax breaks to the oil and gas industry, closing the loopholes, making sensible cuts to our defense budget, smart, targeted cuts that preserve our national security, getting rid of the giveaways in Medicare that prevent negotiating lower drug prices, and getting tough on fraudulent and abusive practices and by cutting wasteful spending.

One cut that I will not support is cutting veterans' benefits. From providing top-of-the-line body armor and readily-equipped vehicles, ensuring fair pay for service members, and easing the transition to civilian life for returning service members, I will fight for the benefits earned by Tennesseans who served in our Armed Forces.

KnoxViews: Do you support a "balanced budget" amendment?

Mr. Ball: Yes. We need to restore fiscal discipline in Washington. The amendment would direct Congress to balance the federal budget each year and would require that federal spending not exceed revenues except in exceptional cases, such as when the nation is at war. It would also protect the Social Security Trust Fund by exempting it from the scope of the amendment.

To me, it's not a partisan issue. It's common sense. If Tennessee's hard-working families and small businesses can balance their own budgets, Congress should be able to balance the federal budget. We're nearly $17 trillion in debt, and it's growing by the day. It's time our federal government started living within its means, like American families must do every day.

KnoxViews: What can Congress and the federal government do to promote job growth and employment opportunities?

Mr. Ball: First, we have to advance a "Made in Tennessee" agenda that puts Tennesseans to work in the good-paying manufacturing jobs in the auto, bio-tech, and clean energy industries.

Second, we must work hard to ensure that small businesses, which create nearly two-thirds of new jobs, have the resources they need to expand operations and hire new workers.
Third, we need a jobs agenda that:

• promotes expansion of businesses by strengthening small business lending programs and boosting U.S. exports;

• develops our workforce so that American workers are prepared to fill the jobs of the 21st century and revitalize America's infrastructure to attract global industries.

Fourth, more Americans working means more customers for our small businesses, which leads to more growth. That's why it is so important that we get people back to work right now, rebuilding our roads and bridges, upgrading our water systems, teaching our kids, and protecting our communities, earning paychecks and keeping Tennessee and America growing.

Fifth, we need to simplify the most complex tax code in the world.

Sixth, we must invest in 21st century energy to lower the costs of production for all of our businesses. With the right leadership, Tennessee can be a leader in green technology and increasing energy efficiency, making Tennessee products competitive on the global market.

Seventh, we must upgrade our aging transportation system. This is how we get manufactured goods to market. China spends 9% of its GDP on infrastructure, and Europe spends about 5% of its GDP on infrastructure. The U.S. spends 2.4% and … Congress is looking for cuts. We can't build a competitive future by trailing China and Europe in anything.

It's just common sense: Investing in our infrastructure creates jobs and ensures safer roads, railways, and bridges; and upgrades to water, sewer, and broadband systems. It means expanding commerce and creating new jobs in every community. This is not a future threat, but an already present danger. It's important to remember events like the fatal 2007 collapse of the I-35 Mississippi Bridge in Minnesota. More than 13 people died and 145 injured when the fifth-busiest bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River. Instead of looking at countries like China and taking note of their rapid and often-unsafe infrastructure development, we need to take a very hard look at our own domestic infrastructure and make immediate, lasting, improvements. It's well-known that many of the bridges and ports in Tennessee that serve to make our state a major national and international trade and distribution center need retrofitting and updating. The Minnesota bridge was only 40 years old. Many of the bridges and other major infrastructure projects in Tennessee are significantly older than that, with some as old as 100 years. I will work to ensure Tennessee receives targeted federal investments that improve our state's infrastructure and strengthen Tennessee's economy. This goes without saying, but infrastructure improvements also bring tremendous job growth.

Eighth, to grow our economy, we need to sell our products to the rest of the world. But we need a level playing field, strong trade laws and strong enforcement. As Senator, I will examine any trade agreement to determine how it would impact jobs here in Tennessee.

Fair trade is vital to our nation's economic future. Trade can create new jobs in exporting industries, expand markets for our businesses, and ensure our workers and businesses are competing on a level playing field in the global marketplace. I will fight wrong-headed trade policies that wind up shipping jobs overseas and shutter plants. We need a trade agenda that promotes American workers and helps expand the "Made in America" label to markets around the world.

KnoxViews: Do you support the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement?

I am inclined to oppose the TPP. The lack of transparency alone makes me skeptical of the TPP. It has been negotiated behind closed-doors for years by trade representatives from Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. Despite wide-ranging future consequences to American workers and consumers, the public knows few details of the TPP. Our largest existing trade agreement, NAFTA, resulted in the loss of millions of well-paying manufacturing jobs. As a result, these jobs were sent to factories in Mexico and Canada. American firms still control important stakes in these offshore production chains, but as we have seen, they find clever ways of avoiding bringing their profits back home, with many firms keeping their profits in Caribbean tax shelters. We need a healthy public debate and we need to understand the domestic stakes of further international trade agreements before we go any further.

For instance, at first glance, it appears the TPP goes far beyond a mere "trade deal," as only 5 of its 29 chapters contain provisions related to trade. Other chapters consist of provisions related to patent protections, investor state rights and finance deregulation, among others. My main concern is that the TPP might just be another backdoor corporate power grab that could, like the loss of 5 million American manufacturing jobs after NAFTA, potentially offshore millions of American jobs, ban "Buy America" policies needed to create green jobs and rebuild America's economy, flood the country with unsafe products, and empower corporations to more easily attack environmental and health safeguards.

KnoxViews: What are your views on financial services regulation, bailouts and particularly the "too big to fail" doctrine?

Mr. Ball: Sometimes, industry regulation is a good thing. We've witnessed examples of it throughout history, such as the food and drug industry, manufacturing, and the oil and gas industry. However, we need to be careful about over-regulating any industry. The sheer extent of financial regulation has led to the need for a steadily-rising standing army of regulators and compliance officers. In the U.S. in the 1930s there was roughly one regulator for every three banks. Today, there are roughly three regulators for every U.S. bank. The cost of Dodd-Frank is estimated at tens of thousands of jobs. So, regulation is a high-cost burden.

In filling in the cracks, more complex rules tend to open up even more opportunities. In other words, with greater complexity comes more numerous loopholes, and along with that, the greater the incentive, and the means to exploit them. Complex rules will always benefit those best able to exploit the cracks, navigate the uncertainty and squeeze through the resulting loopholes. Most often, this tends to be those with the deepest pockets -- big corporations - who can afford the most sophisticated risk management and advice.

I'd suggest that if the government deems some banks as too big to fail, then the government should compel them to become smaller banks. America has a long history of breaking up big monopolies like Rockefeller's Standard Oil or Ma' Bell, because these big monopolies were anti-competitive. We need to remember that these major breakups happened under Republican administrations. Therefore, it's clear that this is not a partisan issue. Yet neither political party is ready to face the imperative of breaking up mega-banks. Until they do, the system will remain unstable and be subject to excesses.

I agree with those who suggest that Congress needs to write hard-nosed legislation with concrete prohibitions and specific enforcement triggers, rather than mere wishful requests. If the Fed again fails to act, as it has in previous bailouts, another crisis becomes more likely.

Unfortunately, Dodd-Frank hasn't solved "too big to fail" - the idea that certain financial institutions are so central to the operation of the economy that if, like AIG in 2008, their balance sheets collapse, the government must step in to keep them solvent and prevent a system-wide collapse. The problem appears to have actually gotten worse. The four biggest banks are much larger than they were five years ago.

I'm inclined to think the mega banks should be dismantled, so that big banks would still be big - but not too big to fail. It's unacceptable to allow the biggest banks to emerge from a crisis in record-setting shape on the backs of working Americans who continue to struggle. We should let smaller, more innovative, and more nimble banks compete head to head with much larger banks on equal footing, instead of putting the government's hand on the scales in favor of 'too-big-to-fail' institutions. This is common sense and the majority of Americans agree with this.

KnoxViews: What are your views about the union/works council vote at VW Chattanooga, and specifically Sen. Bob Corker's involvement?

Mr. Ball: Senator Corker clearly overstepped his boundaries as an elected official and interfered in the vote. The workers deserved the right to cast their votes without political intimidation and intervention by outside third parties. What made Corker's meddling even worse were his threats against VW, who had cooperated with the union on the vote, allowing organizers to use its facilities, for instance, while officially remaining neutral. I am hopeful the NLRB will order a new vote and do whatever is necessary to bar third-party and politician intervention.

KnoxViews: Do you support increasing the minimum wage?

Mr. Ball: Yes. No one should work full time and still live in poverty. The cold hard facts cannot be disputed. Forty-five years ago, the minimum wage was high enough to keep a family of three out of poverty. Thirty-five years ago, the minimum wage was at least high enough to keep a family of two out of poverty. Today, the minimum wage leaves a working parent with a single child in poverty. Any way you look at it, this is fundamentally wrong. Moreover, increasing the minimum wage just makes good economic sense, as affected American families will have more money to spend, the economy will get a boost, and small businesses will also benefit.

KnoxViews: What are your views on the Supreme Court Citizens United ruling?

Mr. Ball: It was a decidedly wrong opinion. The Citizens United ruling put powerful corporations and interest groups in the driver's seat in electoral politics. They can now secretly spend millions of dollars on elections and do it unchecked. Corporations are not people and they must be held accountable for their actions. As Citizens United has been interpreted by lower courts, it has opened the floodgates of money not just from corporations, but from billionaires and multimillionaires as well. The notion that corporations are people and that money is free speech means that political power and political influence are to be accorded based on the ability to purchase that power and influence. So, in the end, the hundreds of millions of Americans who lack the resources to mount million and billion dollar campaigns to make ourselves heard are simply being written out of electoral politics.

The problem with 'politics-for-sale' goes much further than Citizens United. This week, the Supreme Court went even further than Citizens United in its McCutcheon v. FEC case, striking down limits on overall campaign contributions. Everyone knows this is going to immediately make political races ever more expensive, divisive, and profoundly un-democratic. The same outcome is likely to develop in state elections. Unfortunately, everyone in power at the state and federal level has an entrenched interest in preserving that power, which means that effective legislative leadership on this issue is unlikely. Legislators will simply not bite the hand that feeds them, and they have long forgotten that it is the American public that writes their paychecks, not big business. As a result, it's ultimately the American people who will need to take back the reins of government. Americans can do this by voting out of office those politicians who support or exploit Citizens United. They can do this by electing politicians they can trust and who propose concrete campaign finance reform and term-limits. And lastly, Americans can and should urge for greater public debate, possibly leading to a Constitutional amendment, limiting the influence of money on politics.

I would support legislation that provides that only registered voters can contribute to campaigns. Corporations are not people and they should not be allowed to contribute to campaigns.

KnoxViews: Do you support term limits for members of the U.S. House and Senate?

Mr. Ball: Yes. I favor a term limits amendment which would place three (3) terms on the U.S. House of Representatives and two (2) terms on the Senate. Professional politicians are part of the problem in Washington, not the solution. There are real and important problems that must be addressed by Congress, but the ideas coming from Democrats and Republicans alike are simply recycled policies that have never worked in the past, are not working today, and will not work in the future. In the end, if Americans want fresh ideas in Congress, Americans are going to have to send fresh people to Washington.

KnoxViews: What is the appropriate foreign policy regarding U.S. intervention in foreign conflicts such as Syria and Ukraine?

Mr. Ball: For more than a decade, our country has been engaged in wars abroad - wars that stretched our military, our families, and our finances. We should always exhaust all other options before going to war, and we must never again put the price of wars on a credit card for our grandchildren to pay.

The question will always come down to whether our national security interests are at stake. With respect to Syria, Ukraine, and similar conflicts, it is my belief that while the United States must continue to play a vital role in preserving global peace and order to promote national safety and prosperity when and where we can, we should not and cannot bear this heavy burden alone, nor should we rely exclusively on our unprecedented military might. Not only do we have a number of allies who share our interests, but we also have other tools at our disposal to achieve our objectives -- more than any other country in the history of the world, e.g., economic strength, global competitiveness, and diplomatic power, to name a few. These tools, as much as our military might, will allow us to effectively protect our national interests.

KnoxViews: What are your views on the Patriot Act, and particularly NSA spying on American citizens?

Mr. Ball: I realize that there is a balance which must be struck between our security and our freedom. However, I think we need a national debate about the Patriot Act and its use by the NSA to data-mine the phone records of ordinary Americans. The American public didn't know about the surveillance. To me, that's a fundamental breach of the public trust. In the end, I believe Congress has to take action to protect the right to privacy, to end the NSA's dragnet surveillance and data-mining of the phone records of ordinary Americans, and to make the United States intelligence community publicly transparent and accountable.

KnoxViews: In general, is U.S. energy policy on the right track? What changes would you support?

Mr. Ball: Generally, I think our energy policy is turning toward the right direction. Our path toward energy independence can create jobs and generate economic development in Tennessee and elsewhere.

The choices are simple. Will we continue to subsidize the dirty fossil fuels of the past, or will we transition to 21st century clean, renewable energy? If we invest now in a 21st century energy system, we can lower the costs of production for businesses. We know that we can generate power with alternative energy sources — wind, solar, and hydro-power — and we can make energy usage far more efficient. However, we must commit ourselves to clean energy and energy efficiency now.

The energy challenges facing America are so critical that a concentrated investment in energy research and development should be undertaken. We send well over a billion dollars a day out of our country to buy oil and energy from other countries. Therefore, I support a new "Manhattan Project" or Apollo-type initiative on energy to create breakthroughs in energy technology. Moving away from an oil economy and finding a real solution to our energy crisis will require a sustained commitment by America.

Like the historic Manhattan and Apollo projects, this isn't a Democrat-Republican, left-right issue. It's about making America energy independent for our children and our grandchildren and future generations. While the public and private investment will be substantial, the return will be enormous.

Finally, I favor opening the Keystone Pipeline immediately.

KnoxViews: Do you support a "carbon tax" or a "cap-and-trade" scheme to limit greenhouse gas emissions?

Mr. Ball: This is a difficult issue and one we need to study and consider. A tax would put a price on emissions, leading to less pollution. Cap and trade puts a quantitative limit on emissions, but from the point of view of any individual, emitting requires that you buy more permits (or forgo the sale of permits, if you have an excess), so the incentives are the same as if you faced a tax.

I have fought corporate polluters for years, and generally, I think it is immoral for corporations to be able to pay for the right to pollute. However, many respected experts believe cap and trade might be the only form of action we have to combat greenhouse gas emissions before catastrophe becomes inevitable. For this reason, I would be inclined to support a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, as opposed to more regulations. The fact is that no one knows whether the United States can apply such a system successfully to the problem of global warming emissions, or what cost such a system might have on the economy. If Congress approves such a system, it could set emission limits on every fossil-fuel power plant and every manufacturer in the nation. Consumers might also pay more to heat and cool their homes and drive their cars. In the end, however, the benefit of reducing global warming emissions would appear to outweigh those costs.

KnoxViews: Do you support expanded background checks for firearm purchases, including private sales between individuals and/or private sales at gun shows?

Mr. Ball: With obvious exceptions, I support the right of every American to own a gun to protect themselves and their families. However, we have to use common sense. We can't forget the tragedies of Columbine, Newtown, and Fort Hood (in 2009 and just five years later). Polls show that nearly 90% of Americans support a strong system of background checks for gun purchases. To me, gun rights are important rights, but we can't lose sight of the fact that expanded background checks may save lives. And if we can save one child from being killed by a firearm - put in the wrong hands -- then that's what we need to do.

At the same time, I'm very mindful that an overwhelming number of our nation's Veterans are proud gun owners. In crafting legislation that adds additional background checks, we need to be very cautious about not putting our Veterans or active military members into a Catch-22 of seeking mental health treatment and potentially forfeiting their 2nd Amendment rights, or foregoing mental treatment to preserve the right to own and purchase firearms. In my mind, Senator Alexander's recent vote to expand background checks does not adequately address this Catch-22, and as Senator, I would work steadfastly to defend the 2nd Amendment rights of Americans, especially our veterans, while acknowledging common-sense local solutions to the nation's gun violence problem.

KnoxViews: Do you support restrictions on high capacity magazines and military style firearms?

Mr. Ball: Yes. High-capacity magazines are used to kill more people more quickly and, from what I have read, have been used in more than half the mass shootings since 1982. To me, there is a tremendous difference between guns used by a sportsman or a homeowner on one hand and high-powered assault weapons with high-capacity magazines on the other. Like most Southerners, I grew up in Cocke County surrounded by guns. The fact is that in the wrong hands, guns are often used for violent crimes. Therefore, I support our law enforcement personnel and prosecutors who are often outgunned by criminals who use high-capacity magazines.

KnoxViews: What is your position on a woman's right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy?

Mr. Ball: I do not want the government peeking into our bedrooms. Roe v. Wade is the law of the land. So long as the termination of the pregnancy is safe and legal, women should be able to make this very difficult personal decision in concert with their doctors and their family.

KnoxViews: What is your position on marriage equality for same sex couples?

Mr. Ball: I do not believe the government has a legal right to tell anyone who he or she can or cannot marry. I do not want the government peeking into our bedrooms.

KnoxViews: What are your thoughts about the Tennessee General Assembly's proposal to eliminate primaries for U.S. Senate candidates and instead allow the political parties to nominate their candidates?

Mr. Ball: I realize the bill has been universally attacked, but the fact that Tennessee Democrats in 2012 nominated a candidate they subsequently disavowed gives me pause to think there is some merit to the proposal. That said, I don't think we're going to repeal the 17th Amendment and it's not an issue I'd ever have to vote on.

KnoxViews: In closing, what else would you like KnoxViews readers to know about you and your run for the U.S. Senate?

Mr. Ball: I've spent most of my life fighting for ordinary people against big corporations. I've taken on polluters, price-fixers, monopolists, and manufacturers of defective products for people who couldn't otherwise get relief for being wronged. So, I'm very much used to playing David against Goliath. It's a role I relish. Now, I want to carry on that fight and take that experience to Washington, where big corporations and their lobbyists make a living out of taking advantage of ordinary people.

While Lamar Alexander has been a public employee, catering to lobbyists, cozying up to big business for 40 years - and becoming a professional politician -- I've been fighting for ordinary people, building a record in the real world where it counts. And it's because of this experience that I can say that I will be ready on DAY ONE after being sworn-in to vote on tough, complex issues as a U.S. Senator. My life's work has prepared me for this.

I'll close by asking everyone who reads this to compare my resume and website with my opponents, side-by-side. You're the voters and you're qualified to say who has the experience and who doesn't. I'm confident that when you have done this, you'll agree that I'm the only candidate Democrats have who can take on Lamar Alexander head-to-head in November and have a real chance to take back that seat for Democrats. Beyond party lines, I can promise that I will zealously defend the rights of all Tennesseans, and all Americans. As a lawyer, I don't get a choice to represent "Democratic" clients or "Republican" clients. I represented those Americans who saw their rivers polluted, their rights abused, and their interests neglected. As a U.S. Senator, I will do the same to proudly serve our great state's and nation's interests.

Thank you for the opportunity to give my responses to these very serious and difficult questions.

Gordon Ball


For more info, visit Gordon Ball for U.S. Senate

bizgrrl's picture

Nice. Thanks to Randy and

Nice. Thanks to Randy and Gordon Ball for providing this information. Mr. Ball sounds like a good candidate.

B Harmon's picture

Terry Adams

I hope that Terry Adams chooses to answer the questions. I have been impressed with him since I met him and checked out his website.

R. Neal's picture

I was impressed with Adams

I was impressed with Adams when I met him, too. We seem to have two pretty good candidates for a change.

Unfortunately, the offer is off the table for the questionnaire. The deal was that we would publish both responses at the same time. It wouldn't seem fair, at least to me anyway, for one candidate to get a look at the other's responses before answering.

If they want to release a statement addressing any of these or other issues we'll be happy to post it.

Yellow Dog Dem.'s picture

Missed the boat

Thanks, Becky. Seems to me Mr. Adams passed up on a prime opportunity to have an in-depth examination - and comparison - of his positions on the issues. Regardless of whether or not you support Gordon Ball, at least he took the time to respond to Randy's invite, and so, we have a better idea of his positions on many issues. Anything from the Adams camp at this point is at least a day late and a dollar short.

I have spent some time over at Mr. Adams' site. There are some curious similarities with Ball's site and what Ball has been saying in his stump speech. Talking about "common sense" and "solving problems," etc. And I have to say, Ball's story about growing up in one of TN's poorest communities on the polluted Pigeon River, fighting Champion Paper company for polluting that river when he became a lawyer, and his dad being a moonshiner and a "guest of the federal government" when Ball was born - is pretty compelling.

Still, even though he missed the boat on this one, I'd be interested in hearing from Adams about some of these issues.

Sandy L. 's picture

Excellent.

I appreciate informative and substantive answers. Nothing galls me more, than when a candidate pivots away from question. Republicans are masters at pivoting and/or dismissing it altogether. Sen. Corker's usual response is "those are complex problems" and usually the interviewer (David Gregory type) just moves on to the next topic. The citizens deserve better than this.

Thanks Knoxviews for creating this questionnaire. Be great if the traditional media would try to put something out like this. Thanks to Mr. Ball for his candid and insightful responses.

benintn's picture

Tone deaf on guns

I'm not sure what Mr. Ball is about when he says that we have a right to own guns ((link...)) but he seems to be missing the broader point, which is that we need better background checks and better regulations to protect citizens from gun violence.

If the 2nd Amendment is about protecting us from tyranny, maybe we should do something to keep guns out of the hands of those who terrorize the innocent and threaten their neighbors.

R. Neal's picture

Just to to be clear

Just to be clear, Ball says in his response here that he supports restrictions on military style weapons and supports expanded background checks.

knoxrebel's picture

Pretty clear to me

Well, he made it about as clear as he could make it. Respecting legitimate gun rights on one hand, but on the other, appreciating the importance of expanded background checks and how it makes no sense at all for anyone (other than law enforcement and the military) to own high capacity magazines. It's a compelling line: "if we can save one child from being killed by a firearm - put in the wrong hands -- then that's what we need to do."

I scoured Adams' website for any reference to guns and couldn't find any. Couldn't find a position on health care either. Or for that matter, a tax policy; nor does he mention seniors. Love him, like, ignore him or dislike him, Ball was up-front on literally dozens of issues, thanks to Randy's well-crafted questions. I'm bewildered to find that Adams didn't take the time to respond himself or at least let a staffer take a stab at it.

I'd like to see some decent-size media outlet (WBIR/KNS/Tennessean/Commercial Appeal) put together a couple of debates (domestic and foreign) and let both of these guys go at it, head-to-head.

Somebody's picture

I liked a lot of his answers,

I liked a lot of his answers, but the thing about having a balanced budget amendment misses the boat.

Federal debt and deficits are important, but not nearly as important as the Republicans have made them out to be. A balanced budget amendment, even with the "exceptional cases" concept somehow baked in, would prove disastrous. The 2008 economic collapse is a prime example. A collapse of that nature goes into freefall when a financial feedback loop causes everybody to freeze up and quit spending money. The only thing that kept us from sliding into a second Great Depression was the stimulus funding package, and it was too small, not too large. In a circumstance like that, the federal debt is far less important than the need to stimulate spending in the economy.

Had we already had a balanced budget amendment in 2008, and by Constitutional stricture there had been no stimulus at all, the federal debt would have skyrocketed anyway. The economy would have completely seized up, everyone's spending would have stopped, and unemployment would have been far worse than it was. As a result, tax revenues would have flatlined. In subsequent years, federal spending would have had to be curtailed in ways that would make Paul Ryan's current proposed budget seem extravagantly generous to the poor.

No, we do not need a balanced budget amendment. The federal budget does not function the same way a family budget or a small business budget does. Families and small businesses do not issue currency, create armies, or support national infrastructure. Small business and family debt is not an investment harbor of refuge in difficult economic times. Likening national debt to family debt or small business debt is to proclaim ignorance of how the federal budget works. Republicans have historically counted on this misunderstanding precisely in order to promote draconian cuts to programs and services that serve the poor and middle class, and that actually help protect those people from disaster in challenging economic times.

Stick's picture

+1

+1

Mark Harmon's picture

This comment needs greater clarity

Mr Ball wrote:

"We have to simplify the tax code. I favor a flat tax of 15%, which would raise over $4 trillion."

Does this reference a flat sales tax? On top of existing sales taxes? Sales taxes are regressive and inflexible.

Does this reference a flat income tax? That would abandon the progressive income tax, one that rises with ability to pay. That may help the wealthy, but certainly not the typical taxpayer. Wouldn't fewer loopholes for the wealthiest be a stronger and more Democratic position?

Further, how does the $4 trillion compare to what is given up when one abandons the existing system?

I'm glad we have two good candidates and can engage important issues such as the ones raised by this comment.

knoxrebel's picture

Ball's flat-tax proposal may have merit

It is possible to quibble with details of any such proposal, but the purpose of Gordon's proposal is to broach important differences in economic philosophy and matters of broad strategy. I'm certain Gordon was not referring to a national sales tax. So, he's talking about a flat income tax, similar to but not exactly like the one Jerry Brown pitched a few years ago.

I'd have to disagree with the assertion that a flat tax would only help the wealthy and that it could not serve to benefit ordinary taxpayers. It seems to me that it would depend on the actual plan advanced, and nothing Gordon said ruled out consideration of nixing loopholes.

And as for the notion that a flat tax of any nature would penalize lower-income taxpayers, a flat tax can be made fair to lower-income families. Eliminating virtually all special treatment for taxpayers in favor of a low, easily-collectible tax would generate enormous benefits for the U.S. economy as a whole. And the point is not to produce a flat tax for some ideological reason, but to reduce the thousands of pages of tax code to just a few. For example, we can implement a general maximum 15% tax on most income, but tax lower incomes at 2% to 12%. We could exempt families with incomes below the current poverty rate. The guideline should be that no one should suffer a tax increase as a result of the flat tax.

Some reform is needed. The primary cause for our painfully slow economic recovery is the fact that our middle class is broke – tons of debt, few decent jobs, paltry incomes, and dented home values. Meanwhile, non-sustainable growth by credit expansion, loss of high-wage manufacturing employment, and our convoluted tax code have converged to bring us to the point where the top 1% of U.S. households control 43% of our wealth and the bottom 80% of households control just 7% of the financial wealth. For me, it goes back to Warren Buffet’s statement that his effective individual income tax rate is lower than that of his secretary.

I would assume that most agree that the tax code needs to be drastically simplified and made more equitable: closing loopholes, doing away with subsidies, exclusions, exemptions, and deferrals; and taxing capital gains and other forms of passive income as active income. My own research informs me that there is substantial evidence that radical tax reform would unleash an enormous economic boom here.

Until meaningful tax reform is put into place, corporate tax evaders who make huge domestic profits will continue to reap similarly huge tax benefits. For instance, GE consistently pays virtually no federal income taxes, despite pulling in more than $5 billion in domestic profits. And recently, it was reported that more than $2 trillion worth of profit generated by some of the biggest U.S.-based corporations is being held overseas where it’s not subject to U.S. income tax law. GE held more than $110 billion outside of the U.S., while Microsoft and Pfizer rounded out the top three with $76.4 billion and $69 billion in untaxed foreign profit.

In the final analysis, nothing worth talking about should be taken off-the-table.

knoxrebel's picture

As I understand it, Ball's

As I understand it, Ball's amendment would direct Congress to balance the federal budget each year and would require that federal spending not exceed revenues except in exceptional cases, such as when the nation is at war. The requirement could be suspended only if three-fifths of the members of Congress agree.

Ball's plan would protect the vital programs folks rely on, like Social Security and Medicare, but would effectively prevent Congress's ability to run a deficit and drive up the national debt. It protects seniors, Social Security and middle-class families.

Congress was given a $236 billion surplus by President Clinton in 2001, only to irresponsibly squander it in a matter of months.

knoxrebel's picture

Common sense

Actually, Ball's plan would protect the vital programs folks rely on, like Social Security and Medicare, but would effectively prevent Congress's ability to run a deficit and drive up the national debt. It protects seniors, Social Security and middle-class families.

Congress was given a $236 billion surplus by President Clinton in 2001, only to irresponsibly squander it in a matter of months. Something ought to be done to make sure that doesn't happen again. Nothing should be "off the table."

As I understand it, Ball's amendment would direct Congress to balance the federal budget each year and would require that federal spending not exceed revenues except in exceptional cases, such as when the nation is at war. The requirement could be suspended only if three-fifths of the members of Congress agree.

One benefit is that it would reduce the ability of politicians to add their own projects to unconnected bills.

Somebody's picture

A "balanced budget amendment"

A "balanced budget amendment" is simply an arbitrary abdication of responsibility. It is essentially surrendering to the idea of Congress being unable to manage a budget responsibly, ever. Were it to be instituted, it would not automatically protect anything. The current deficit is $492 billion. If such an amendment were to go into effect this year, the government would have to cut programs by that amount this year, raise taxed by that amount, or do a combination of those things to reach an arbitrary, short-term goal, without regard to other priorities, or even the long-term effect of such volatility. The current economic recovery is still fragile, and a $492B whack would surely throw it into a tailspin.

The government should be able to issue Treasury bonds without declaring war. In times of recession, when the government is the only entity able to spend money to stimulate the economy, it should not be hamstrung and constitutionally prevented from being able to do so. This would create less economic stability, not more.

Again, in 2008 and afterward, had things like the stimulus and the auto bailout been constitutionally prohibited, we would be in far worse shape now than we are right now. For that matter, if you back us up to the Clinton era, remember that a surplus doesn't represent a balanced budget, either. Clinton's surpluses would've mandated additional spending or tax cuts to zero them out each year.

Federal deficits and debt are important, but they are not so important that all else must be sacrificed to achieve a zero deficit at all times.

The federal budget is not like a family's or business' budget, but imagine the lack of wisdom in telling a family that it's illegal to take out a reasonable mortgage to buy a house. The same logic would say a business cannot borrow to expand operations or upgrade equipment, even though their business plan demonstrates that such actions would yield significant long-term rewards. That would be ludicrous. So is the arbitrariness of a federal balanced budget amendment.

knoxrebel's picture

Ball's proposed plan has

Ball's proposed plan has actually been advanced by a few moderate Democrats, like Mark Udall. It's not a radical idea, by any means.

knoxrebel's picture

That was an intelligent

That was an intelligent response. Stupid to you, stupid to all, I guess, oh wise one.

Yellow Dog Dem.'s picture

Ball has the experience other candidates seem to lack

I have once again pilfered through each candidates website and resume to find more disparities, and it is abundantly clear to me, and many others I've discussed this with, that Ball gives the Democrats the best chance at knocking off Alexander in November. This is the big leagues - not a County Commission or State Representative or even State Senate race. Democrats need and deserve someone who can take-on Alexander toe-to-toe and take the fight straight to him. Democrats need to win a big seat such as this, which in turn will shift the momentum in TN for years to come. Democrats need and deserve someone who can point to a record. Hence, after a thorough investigation it appears that Ball is the only candidate that can do that to the extent we Democrats need to challenge a powerful, but disastrous incumbent.

Furthermore, Ball has taken a stance on each major issue, something Adams has failed to do in any video I've watched thus far. All Adams' newly revamped website seems to provide is what he thinks of Washington, politics and money. There is no solutions or plans on how to fix any issue he characterizes as flawed. Ball at least offers a position on issues and plans on how to improve them. In the end, to me, Ball is simply the better choice for Tennesseans because he is on another playing field than the rest of the Democratic candidates we have to choose from. Just something for people to think about.

DemLeaderFinder's picture

Ball: Take Away Right to Vote for Senate "Idea with Merits?"

*Gordon Ball Take Away People's Vote for Senate: Worthy Idea?*

So, Gordon Ball "believes" taking away a citizens right to vote for the United States Senate seat he is running for is an "idea which has some merit"? That is startling. Knox Views let that pass? What a joke of news [non-follow up].

The most fundamental right Americans have - the right to vote - - all other rights in our representative form of government derive from the people's right to vote.

Under our U.S. Constitution which a Senator and by the way, a lawyer, is sworn to uphold, the United States House Members and by 17th Amendment (over 100 years ago) the U.S. Senate Members are directly elected by the people.

Surprised at least of this cavalier attitude toward fundamental rights. It gets worse.

Ball says The "idea" of doing away with that i.e. direct election by the people - is an idea which has some merit. (But luckily - for us - 'the decision won't be before him?) Not so fast, the measure is still before the Tennessee Legislature and where it relates to the very office Ball is running for, he has a direct interest in it. Would he not challenge such a move legally? For the people? So, it is more than a little incredible Ball would equivocate to say the least. Does Ball think, like the old days, buying votes from legislators in his own party could be an idea worthy of merit?

Even more startling are the reasons Ball gives that the idea of removing what is The Constitutional right of U.S. Senate election by the people is an idea 'worthy to consider'. In the minds of the people, themselves, this is an elite attitude which smells of entitlement.

Why does Ball say it is worthy to consider? Because the people in Tennessee "nominated a person in 2012 whom the "the party" disavowed?" That's it? Throw out the 17th Amendment and the rights of the people to vote because of anything the TN Dems DID or DID'nt do, that don't cut it Gordon Ball.

We can't be "considering" throwing out the Constitutional rights of Tennesseans to make the decision of whom their U.S. Senator will be because of temporary, even successive, two TNDP Chairs not having a clue about their proper role.

Don't bother the rest of the people of Tennessee and the Founders of our Constitution with your transient partisan debates for the last two election cycles. Charlie Brown for Governor - with Herron. Clayton for Senate - with Forrester. That does'nt equal a reason to throw out The Constitution. It could be a reason to throw out Forrester and Herron.

Because of the issues of Clayton 2012 which Ball discusses, Forrester is gone. Herron was out to lunch in 2014 and Charlie Brown for Gov rose to the top. So, when party leaders do not do their job to let the people know who all is running and give the people a chance to see, hear from and know them all, good, bad or indifferent, the party leaders are not doing their job. Don't blame the people of Tennessee and take away their right to vote. On the other hand, the people must educate themselves. But the TNDP Chairs are paid to do these jobs.

As Tennessee Democrats try to figure out their internal party struggles, Ball has indicated an underlying question mark??? on the people's right to vote for U.S. Senate.

Can you say "Elitist"?

DemLeaderFinder
#GordonBall #GordonBallVotingRightsQuestion #GordonBallUSSenate

fischbobber's picture

Expounding out of context?

Nothing like an unregistered troll taking half a quote out of context to spice up the political chat, I always say.

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