With just a few days left of early voting for the Nov. 3 election, candidates for Tennessee House of Representatives District 63 are busy knocking on doors and talking to voters about their campaigns and why they should win the state House seat.
District 63, which covers a southeastern portion of Williamson County stretching from south Franklin to Nolensville and Arrington, and down to Thompson’s Station and Bethesda, is more contested this year than it has been during all of Glen Casada’s time in office, from 2002 until now. District voters will elect one of three candidates on Nov. 3 — Casada, the Republican incumbent; Democratic challenger Elizabeth Madeira; or independent contender Brad Fiscus.
Williamson County polling locations have certainly not been uneventful places over the last week and a half, as each day of early voting has brought a higher voter turnout than the November 2016 election.
Madeira and Fiscus said they are encouraged by the voting statistics, Fiscus expressing particular excitement about first-time voters. Casada called the high voter turnout a “good omen,” citing Williamson County as a “conservative county” and saying he believes voters are going to the polls to support him and other conservatives on the ballot.
Madeira, on the other hand, is not so sure.
“When my opponent resorts to lies and bad-faith attacks, I feel like that shows that he’s nervous and scared and knows that I’m running a good campaign and that we are gaining a lot of momentum,” she said concerning negative ads mentioning her and Fiscus.
Both Madeira and Fiscus recently took to social media to address mailers and other ads paid for by the Tennessee Republican Party, one of which calls Madeira a socialist and places her face next to Hillary Clinton’s. Another calls Madeira and Fiscus “liberal Democrats” and claim they would “defund our police and destroy our neighborhoods.” Both candidates labeled these claims as lies.
“What’s been amazing is the response back from people in all three camps,” Fiscus said, adding that he received donations to his campaign from those who disapprove of the mailers. “The Republican camp, the independents and the Democrats have all pushed back on that because they know the absurdity of the lies that were in those different mailers that came out.”
Casada has also claimed some foul play on social media, posting a campaign ad alongside a statement: “While my radical Democrat opponents continue to launch attacks against me based on complete lies, I am focusing on moving Williamson County forward!”
While Madeira is running as a Democrat, she said she has a background with the Republican Party, explaining that over the last several years, she realized Republican leadership no longer represented her values. One of the central ideas of her campaign is that she wishes to represent “everyone, not special interests.”
“I’ve also just heard so many folks who have said, ‘Boy, my story is similar to yours. I also feel disillusioned by parts of the Republican Party and especially by the leadership that Glen has had during his tenure,’” she said. “I think by telling my story voters are able to relate to me, because I don’t think it’s a unique story anymore. I think we’re hearing from more and more people who feel similar to me.”
Fiscus, on the other hand, said he truly identifies as independent, sharing that he has voted for both Republican and Democratic candidates in the past.
According to a 2019 report by the Pew Research Center, about 38% of the public describes itself as politically independent, a higher percentage than both those who identify as Republicans (26%) and those who identify as Democrats (31%).
“You’re always going to be labeled,” Fiscus said. “The Republicans will think that I’m running as an independent to hide that I’m a Democrat, and some Democrats will think that I’m running as an independent to hide that I’m a Republican, but I’m truly an (independent). That’s who I am. I lean left or right depending on the issue.”
Candidates speak about integrity
Casada questioned Fiscus’ integrity, calling his campaign slogan, which is “integrity matters,” hypocrisy.
“Here’s a man that is an extremely liberal Democrat trying to deceive the public that he’s an independent,” he said.
Following Casada’s resignation as Tennessee Speaker of the House in 2019 after the release of sexually explicit and racially derogatory text messages between him and a member of his staff from 2016, both Fiscus and Madeira have focused on personal integrity in their campaigns, claiming a lack of that quality in Casada’s conduct.
“I believe in redemption. I believe in forgiveness, but I also believe that we’ve trusted him for 18 years, and he’s let us down a good number of those years,” Fiscus said. “So, it’s time for a change, and I believe I’m the one that can be that person to change and bring back some respectability and integrity to this district.”
When asked about this idea of his own integrity, Casada said “it stands on its own,” saying his voters know him and how he votes on the issues.
“As a state representative, as far as Williamson County voters go, they want someone that fights for their values, which are … pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, low taxes and low government intervention in business,” he said. “So, that’s what I have done and will continue. And you know, the other stuff is things that are not important to the well-being of the county and the state.”
On the issues
Casada said if re-elected, his focus would be continuing to bring broadband to rural parts of the county, new road construction and supporting Gov. Bill Lee’s Education Savings Account Program, which is in the appeals process following an unconstitutional ruling by a Nashville judge. The ESA program would allow some students from Davidson and Shelby counties to use public school funding for private education, a program that has garnered the disapproval of both Madeira and Fiscus.
Fiscus, who currently serves on the Williamson County Board of Education, mentioned education as a top priority alongside infrastructure and broadband expansion. He also lists high tobacco use and lack of Medicaid expansion as issues on his campaign site, where he also states that Tennessee should “rethink our approach to criminal justice,” suggesting “amended sentencing standards, modernized criminal laws,” and increased educational and mental health resources for current and former inmates.
In addition to opposing the ESA program, Madeira, a Spanish teacher, lists Medicaid expansion and funding COVID-19 contact tracing and monitoring safety requirements as her priorities, also promising honesty and transparency to her prospective constituents on her site.
Both Madeira and Fiscus mentioned they are focused on listening to the people of District 63.
Experience versus dollars
Casada said his voters know he will support their values, and he believes they will vote for him again based on his laurels.
“I want to continue my tradition of keeping government out of the way of business, making sure families have more of their money via lower taxes. That’s what I’m for,” he said. “If people are for my ideas, I want their vote.”
While Fiscus and Madeira agree on some points, Fiscus said he believes his commitment to the community sets him apart, pointing out that he announced his campaign in July of 2019 while Madeira announced her campaign in early April of this year. He also said his experience in public education (as a teacher and school board member), in education advocacy before the Tennessee legislature and in ministry at local, state and national levels makes him fit for the job.
“I know who those people are that I, once I’m elected, will be working with. I know what makes some of them tick. I know how to have conversations with them. I’m not afraid of those that might differ from me,” he said. “I’m not saying that she is, but I would just say that overall, I have a much deeper pool of experience than she does.”
For Madeira, her biggest distinguishing factor is the scope of her campaign. Her campaign has received over $103,000 in contributions through the third quarter of this year, while Fiscus has received nearly $12,000 through quarter three. Casada has received nearly $23,000 from 2019 through this September.
“I have a strong, organized, grassroots-based campaign and strong fundraising numbers that has allowed us to reach out to every voter in District 63, which gives us the ability to win,” Madeira said. “We’re able to get the message out to everybody, so I think that’s the biggest difference.”
Early voting continues through Thursday, Oct. 29, and Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3.