Nashville attorney and Iraq War veteran James Mackler sees his campaign for U.S. Senate as an extension of his service to his country.
“It’s our obligation to speak up with our country is letting us down,” Mackler said during a Jan. 8 meeting of Indivisible Crossville. “And our government is letting us down.”
Mackler has declared his candidacy for the August 2020 Democratic Primary against declared candidates Marquita Bradshaw, Gary G. Davis and Diana C. Onyejiaka. The successful candidate will face the winner of the Republican Primary that currently includes Josh Gapp, Bill Hagerty, Stokes Nielson, Aaron Pattigrew and Manny Sethi.
In the wake of heightened tensions in the Middle East the past several weeks, Mackler said the situation was escalating following the death of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani in a U.S. drone attack.
“No American should mourn the death of Soleimani,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s not something to be celebrated. And I believe it is patriotic to question the reason for the attack, particularly at this time.”
As the U.S. Senate works toward procedures for the trial of President Donald Trump following the December passage of articles of impeachment by the U.S. House of Representatives, Mackler said it is important for senators to remember they serve as jurors in the case.
“If there is one thing I learned from criminal trials, it is not to pre-judge a case,” he said. “We should hear witnesses, and I hope we do, and the senators should go into it with an open mind.”
He said the proceedings so far have included individuals coming forward to testify at “great professional risk.”
“That is what service is,” he said. “That is what patriotism is. That is what we need in all our political leadership.”
When it comes to gun legislation, Mackler said he is a gun owner but supports universal background checks — a reform with broad bipartisan support, he added.
“We can protect our Second Amendment rights and keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people,” he said. “A Vanderbilt poll found 86% of Tennesseans want universal background checks.
“My fear is that we fall into the NRA’s well-worn playbook of taking something with bipartisan support that can be effective and adding controversial measures — then then we don’t get anything done.”
He is an advocate for alternative energy and action on climate change. And he believes the two priorities can be part of a robust economic policy, as well.
“When people say you have to choose between the economy and the environment, I point to Oak Ridge as an example that we can grow our economy and protect our environment,” he said.
He pointed to work at the national research laboratory on renewable energy and battery storage.
“It should be an economic driver, and Tennessee should lead the way,” he added.
On health care, Mackler recognizes the struggle of Tennesseans to access care in the wake of rural hospital closures. He opposes efforts to reduce health care access, pointing to the 1.3 million Tennesseans with pre-existing medical conditions who could be impacted by a reversal of the Affordable Care Act.
As for expanding coverage, Mackler proposed starting by expanding Medicare eligibility to people in their 50s and “see how it goes and expand from there,” he said.
“The key, though, is to have people who will listen and work toward solutions,” he said.
Mackler left his law practice after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served three years as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot with the 101st Airborne Division, including a tour in Iraq.
After returning from Iraq, he transferred to the Judge Advocate General Corps where he was a military prosecutor. He continues to serve in the Tennessee Air National Guard.
His legal career includes work with Nashville firms Frost Brown Todd LLC and Bone McAllester Norton, PLLC.
Mackler announced his candidacy last year and has been building a grassroots network of donors and supporters. He’s raised about $1.3 million in the past year without looking to political action committee funding, he said.
He said voters should not believe the narrative that a Democrat can’t win the race in November.
“We will win this if everyone wanting change joins the team,” he said.
Mackler is traveling the state to address issues he said are important to residents and to motivate potential voters.
“Things aren’t getting better in Tennessee — opioids and rural hospitals are issues that aren’t being addressed,” he told the group last week. “Things are more expensive at Walmart because of the trade war and farmers are losing their markets. Folks feel that and see that every day.
“I do count on people to hear my values and trust I’m someone who will fight for them.”
The Republican candidates, Mackler said, are “in a white hot race to the bottom, each one trying to prove their unquestioning loyalty to the president,” he said.
“That is not the job,” Macker said. “We need people in the U.S. Senate who are going to stand up and do what is right.”
Mackler is married to Shana, rabbi for The Temple in Nashville. They met when he returned from serving in Iraq and began reconnecting with his Jewish faith.
“She is my example of what it means to lead a community,” he said, praising her work in social justice advocacy.
The couple have two daughters, ages 8 and 9.
“My wife and I want to raise our kids in a country governed by courage, not by fear, in a place where a hard day’s work brings a living wage, where public education is the pathway to opportunity, where access to health care is a right and where access to women’s health care is a right, and where we’re all free to live and love and speak and pray as we choose,” Mackler said.