First-time candidate Zachary Houk is unlikely to win a seat in the state House of Representatives, but his candidacy is sure to shake up the 13th district, where incumbent Republican Eddie Smith and Democrat Gloria Johnson are lining up for another slugfest.
Last week, Houk pulled a petition to run from the 13th district, which has become one of the state’s most hotly contested – and most expensive – districts since the GOP gained its House super majority and redesigned the former Democratic stronghold in 2012. If the state recognized the Libertarian Party, Houk would have an L behind his name.
But it doesn’t, so the Knox County vice chair of the Libertarian Party of Tennessee is running as an Independent. This means he will advance to the November general election to face the winners of the Republican and Democratic primaries.
Johnson won the seat in 2012 with 10,018 (48.9 percent) votes over Republican Gary Loe, who got 9,730 votes (46.7 percent). Independent Nick Cazana finished with 504 votes (5.68 percent). In 2014, Smith beat Johnson 6,730 (50.69 percent) to 6,548 (49.31 percent). In 2016, Smith won 11,162 (50.34 percent) to 11,011 (49.77) for Johnson.
Houk, 26, is a Morristown native who has a bachelor’s degree in forensic science from King University in Bristol, where he also took several political science classes, which piqued his interest in politics. That’s where he met his wife, Chelsea. The Houks live in the Oakwood Lincoln Park neighborhood in North Knoxville.
He is taking direct aim at Smith for voting to increase the tax on gasoline. The IMPROVE Act was Gov. Bill Haslam’s pet initiative and imposed a three-cent hike that took effect last summer, to be followed by increases this year and in 2019, topping out at 10 cents per gallon. The IMPROVE Act also shaved a percentage point from the sales tax on groceries while increasing the cost of car registration by $5 a year.
“Incumbent Eddie Smith ran on a conservative, fiscally responsible platform. We were sitting on a nearly $2 billion surplus,” Houk said. “I don’t see how lowering some taxes and increasing some taxes in another area really fixes anything, and a $2 billion surplus means the state of Tennessee is taking too much of our money.”
He said Libertarians are fighting to become officially recognized by the state, and are often described as socially “liberal” – although he says he uses the term in the “classic” sense of the word.
“We like to see more freedoms. We would support constitutional carry (the right to carry a gun without a license) and a reduction in mandatory occupational licensing.
“In the state of Tennessee, you get fined for braiding somebody’s hair for money – majorly fined. The state wants you to have a license to be able to do that. That way they get their kickback on that – revenue from people trying to work.
“And we absolutely support the legalization of medical marijuana. For that to pass, it has to be supported by Republicans. People should be able to make decisions for their lives themselves rather than have state of Tennessee say, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that.’”
And what about social issues like bathroom bills?
“Bathroom bills? I think that is … a non-issue, a distraction from real issues that affect Tennesseans. I think that is just ridiculous fear mongering. Absolutely ridiculous.”