Ron Bhalla, the newest candidate to seek the GOP nomination in Tennessee’s Third Congressional District, wants to change how business is done in the U.S. House of Representatives. In an interview on Monday, he said that he would communicate every bill to his constituents, and based on a majority opinion of their responses, would cast his vote as a mere vessel to communicate the district’s will. “I’m going empty-handed,” he said quietly.
Bhalla shuffled quickly through photocopied sketches of how he perceives the current process vs. how he says he will operate, if elected. Stick figures and flowchart shapes depict what Bhalla says is a “disconnect” between an elected representative’s constituents and the votes cast by said representative, while there is a clear connection between the elected official and a combination of lobbyists, the national party, and other powerful interests. On the next page, there is a direct line connecting the constituents to their representative.
When asked how he would avoid becoming yet another well-meaning politician who packs up and heads to the Capitol with the best intentions, only to be sucked into the prevailing political machine, Bhalla smiles. He points to a printed pledge he says that, as signed, will protect against such influence. He also says that since special interests will have no response from him, they will quickly decide he is not worth their efforts.
Instead, the plan is to ask the district’s voters to weigh in on each bill that is up for deliberation. (Various communication solutions are being considered for executing this.) Whatever fifty percent plus one decide, says Bhalla, is how he will vote. His campaign assistant, Ken Orr, quickly added that the only override would be when a bill was clearly unconstitutional.
Votes on pending legislation aren’t the only thing on which Bhalla says he will seek direct input from constituents. He will ask citizens to set his salary, too, “from zero to the full extent” set by Congress, depending on the voters’ assessment of his performance.
Bhalla, who originally hails from India, faces two formidable opponents in Congressman Chuck Fleischmann and the incumbent’s immediate predecessor’s scion, Weston Wamp, both of whom have demonstrated an ability to raise lots of campaign cash. Dr. Jean “Lady J” Howard-Hill is also running for the nomination. Bhalla says he is not aiming to compete for the large donors, adding that he does not want to be a “puppet.”
Chattanooga attorney J.B. Bennett released a statement saying that he is not running. Two other potential candidates still apparently deciding are Savas Kyriakidis and Tres Wittum.