I reached out to Dr. Manny Sethi’s campaign over Easter weekend to request an interview and was excited to hear back from them within hours. Many Tennesseans by this point in any normal campaign season would likely have had a chance to meet Dr. Manny, but the Coronavirus pandemic has turned everyone’s campaign on its head. However, Dr. Manny has been busy at his day job in Nashville where he’s an orthopedic trauma surgeon and Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
He’s also the founder of Healthy Tennessee, which is a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization that has provided free healthcare to thousands of Tennesseans in nearly all 95 counties. Healthy Tennessee’s stated primary goal is to “create all-encompassing health and wellness fairs within Tennessee communities.” Dr. Manny describes it as a “boots-on-the-ground initiative which educates people about healthier lifestyles using their own screening results.”
Dr. Manny was raised in Hillsboro, Tennessee, and received his undergraduate degree from Brown University. After graduating, he was a Fulbright Scholar and was able to work in Tunisia with children suffering from muscular dystrophy. Afterward, he went on to receive his medical degree from Harvard Medical School, where he also completed his orthopedic residency. After completing his residency, Dr. Manny returned home to Tennessee to begin making an impact on healthcare and healthcare education.
Dr. Manny credits his mother and late father who were both Physicians in rural Tennessee for inspiring him to help others and to work towards making a difference. His father and mother taught him that life isn’t about money, as they often provided medical services without receiving a penny or any sort of compensation. They both taught a young Manny amongst other things that life is about helping others if/when you can.
Note: This article isn’t an endorsement as iVoteTennessee and iVoteAmerica have a process they follow before endorsing a Candidate, this article was written based on my April 15th interview with Dr. Manny Sethi as well as other conversations I’ve had with him in addition to my observations of him and his campaign. Photos of Dr. Manny Sethi are from his campaign and aren’t being used for commercial use.
I must add, the interview I conducted with Dr. Manny was more of a conversation with several questions peppered in, versus a straight question and answer interview.
For more information regarding Dr. Sethi:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/DrMannySenate or @DrMannySenate
Other: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manny_Sethi & https://ballotpedia.org/Manny_Sethi
Heartfelt, Sincere and Appreciated
As I mentioned, I didn’t conduct your typical Q & A style interview, instead, we had more of a discussion on several topics. Albeit, I did make a point to note the answers to several key questions.
We began by exchanging pleasantries and he asked about my mother, as he remembered a conversation from back in January where I told him she had been diagnosed with cancer. I told him that she had passed away a couple of weeks earlier, he of course conveyed his sympathies and condolences, he then told me about how important it was that I take the time to grieve and process everything. Not to go too much into the great advice he gave me, but I will say, I felt that it was sincere and truly heartfelt as he told me of his experience of when his father passed when he was 21 years old.
Having heard his story of his father passing at a few Lincoln Day Dinners, I will report, this is what led him to Christianity and his walk with Christ. He asked if I was a Christian to which I replied that I am (and proudly I might add), he said, don’t be afraid to let yourself seek answers in his word, as he put it “you will find them.”
Why Run, What Drives You
On Dr. Manny’s website he states that he’s running because “If Republicans lose in 2020, we’re going to have an illegal immigrant invasion. Democrats will give this country away. We need conservatives who aren’t afraid to take on the Left, and stand up for America. I don’t care if Democrats call me racist. I’m going to speak the truth. That’s why I’m running.”
To me, this is a good answer, but I felt there was more, and in fact, he added, “we need strong conservatives” and that “this senate race is about keeping the American Dream alive and to do that, we must keep Democrats from the reigns of power.” To me, this is a great reason to run, what I’ve gathered in my conversations with Dr. Manny is that he’s a person driven by his faith in Christ, love of his family and a seemingly innate drive to serve others. Of course, something tells me that his parents had a big hand in this aspect of his character. Speaking of his mother, if you’ve not seen the campaign commercial that features her, you’ve got to check it out, it’s truly one of the best I’ve seen in years.
Selfless Service and the Campaign
We really began the interview portion by discussing the Coronavirus pandemic and how his campaign has adjusted. He told me that his focus has been less on campaigning and fundraising and more on helping with the Coronavirus pandemic and the number of patients he’s seen or assisted with during this time. He felt that his role as a Physician and helping the sick is first and foremost, he said he’ll go all day without thinking of the campaign as his focus is on those who are sick. To me, this speaks volumes about his character and is another key thing I look for in a Candidate.
He went on to say, before the pandemic, he enjoyed meeting people across the state, “it was a wonderful experience” he said, “after all, it’s important to meet and hear from as many people as possible and get to know their needs and issues firsthand.” Dr. Manny believes that when it comes to representing others, it’s important to know them and to know the issues faced at the individual and local level, not just a broad overview. I sensed that Dr. Manny wants to truly know the people of Tennessee and hear from all of us as best as humanly possible, versus simply reading a briefing book. It really impressed me as he listed off several issues being faced by people in Northeast Tennessee (which is my neck of the woods), issues that I knew about but ones that Washington in years past have ignored. The fact he’s placed them high on his list of things to solve (if he’s fortunate to win his election) is amazing.
Given that a Senator’s vote carries so much weight behind it, I asked Dr. Manny how he would decide which way to vote on issues that aren’t easily identifiable as a conservative issue. In other words, when a question or issue is raised that divides the Senate Republican caucus, be it in a committee or on the floor of the Senate, how would you decide. Without hesitation, he said “in addition to prayer and reflection”, that a “Senator or representative at any level must understand how their vote affects others.” To do this Dr. Manny said, he would “work to maintain constant communication with Tennesseans in order to keep his finger on the pulse,” this will help him to always know the direction he should go in those tough situations.
He added, several ways he could stay connected, one of which was to conduct virtual townhalls, which is something he’s currently doing. In fact, he mentioned the Coronavirus townhalls he’s held, and he said currently “most of my townhalls turn into Coronavirus townhalls” which he said, “if anything, this has allowed me to help others.” Instead of being down or complaining about not being able to campaign, Dr. Manny is most decidedly looking on the bright side.
Issues Important to Tennesseans
On the issues, Dr. Manny is about faith and family, he’s pro-life, pro-heartbeat bill, pro 2nd amendment, supports building the wall, he wants to work to solve the opioid crisis, and he wants to finally repeal and replace Obamacare. We discussed each of these issues, for the sake of brevity, I’ll simply give you a direct link to his website: https://www.drmannyforsenate.com/issues
A Tennessee Doctor and the American Dream
In one of his commercials and on his website, he states that he’s “the product of the American Dream in Tennessee.” His story, in part, is one that many Tennesseans can relate to, especially his story of growing up near a cornfield in Coffee County in the town of Hillsboro, where most people made their living farming. He credits his parents, who were both Doctors who immigrated to the United States legally and those around him in Hillsboro, Tennessee for helping him become the man he is today.
We spoke of his upbringing and I could hear the love in his voice as he spoke of his childhood, his upbringing and the passing of his father. His father’s passing as he put it “focused him” and led him to find Christ and understand Christ’s plan for him was to follow his dad’s example which is how he decided to become a Doctor. As an orthopedic trauma surgeon, Dr. Manny is credited with saving the lives of many Tennesseans. In recent decades, he’s started a nonprofit called Healthy Tennessee in order to give back in a way that is meaningful and, in a way, that thousands of Tennesseans can benefit. He feels that for others to realize their own American dream, they must be healthy.
As I’ve heard him say before and something he reiterated to me that he’s lived his American dream, but today “the American dream is in great peril” and that he’ll do everything he can “to fight and keep it alive.” One of the reasons he’s given for the vanishing American dream is the “career politicians in Washington” which I agree. Like so many Tennesseans, Dr. Manny is tired of “politicians saying one thing and doing another” all while “everyday Tennesseans pay the price.”
The Doctor vs the Establishment
In addition to tirelessly working to help those who are in dire need of his medical expertise, he’s also working to win over voters and potential supporters. As he’s laying out ideas on how to fix healthcare, ending the opioid epidemic, stopping illegal immigration, slashing government spending, fighting corrupt Democrats and more, he must simultaneously contend with the Republican establishment and other connected insiders who are pulling out all the stops to derail his candidacy. This is being done as many of his supporters have posited, because Dr. Manny will not bow to the establishment’s whim and instead will listen to the everyday people.
However, there are many establishment types across the state who are closeted Manny fans. Also, there’s a growing number of President Trump supporters who are out front with their support of Dr. Manny’s campaign. While it’s true, President Trump endorsed his chief rival Ambassador Hagerty this fact hasn’t deterred Dr. Manny from still supporting the President. In fact, he believes that “President Trump needs a trauma surgeon in the Senate” one who’ll be there in times like we’re facing with the Coronavirus and one “who can act decisively for his patient, the people of Tennessee.”
Albeit, Dr. Manny is respectful and cordial towards Ambassador Hagerty, but he’s not afraid to point out distinct differences between him and Hagerty. Unlike Hagerty, Dr. Manny hasn’t worked in politics, he’s never ran for office or been an appointed official, which means, he doesn’t owe favors to countless establishment types, favors that could hurt Tennesseans. Those his opponent may owe favors to according to multiple sources are former Governor Bill Haslam, Lamar Alexander, Mitt Romney and selected major donors outside of Tennessee. Dr. Manny’s thoughts when he hears this is to simply say that “this is a good reason for us to pick someone from outside of government, someone who deeply cares about the people of our state, especially rural Tennessee.”
When he’s been asked about President Trump’s endorsement, he says he understands the President would endorse his chosen Ambassador to Japan, but he’s always pointed out that Bill Hagerty is a Washington insider, who was Mitt Romney’s national finance chairman and Jeb Bush’s presidential delegate. He says that the Trump movement is about “Draining the Swamp of insiders” and that he’s certainly nowhere close to that, he’s the perfect choice for Trump supporters and will help in draining the swamp.
This was about the point we ended our call as I asked him to sum up his campaign in a sentence and he said, that “everything comes back to the American Dream and making a difference for Tennesseans.”
Tennessee’s 2020 Senate Primary
Albeit, there are several individuals on the ballot for this coming August 6th, 2020 Republican primary, it’s clear by many metrics that this is a two-person race. Having said that, I don’t discount the others who are sincerely running the best campaign they can, but this will boil down to Dr. Manny Sethi and former Ambassador Bill Hagerty. (On a side note, if you’re not registered to vote, you can do so by visiting the following link: https://ovr.govote.tn.gov/)
Before this interview, I’ve met and spoken to Dr. Manny in person on several occasions, I also know several people who work for his campaign in various capacities. I have to say, every time I’ve spoken with him, I’ve never felt that he was being disingenuous or fake and trust me, in my dealings in the political world, I’ve been around many who are. In these instances, I asked him several questions, just for my own personal knowledge about him and his platform and how he would operate in the Senate and I can say, I never once felt that he gave me a talking point or slogan. His answers were in his own words and certainly unrehearsed, in my book, this type of genuine candor is yet another thing I look for in a Candidate.
Note: I’ve briefly spoken to former U.S. Ambassador to Japan and Tennessee native Bill Hagerty whose Dr. Sethi’s main competition, in fact, I have several friends and colleagues who know him very well. I’ve reached out to Ambassador Hagerty’s campaign to try and score an interview as well.
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