Hunter Baker, associate professor of political science and university fellow, recently announced he will be running for Congress, seeking the seat Stephen Fincher will be vacating for Tennessee’s 8th congressional district.
Baker is a strong advocate for religious liberty and said that was a major issue that factored into his decision to run.
“I think that religious liberty is going to be a continually unfolding crisis for Christians in the United States,” Baker said. “And, in my view, this is probably one of the most religiously devout districts in the country. If people in this district don’t care about this then nobody will care.”
Baker said he wants to advocate for a government that respects the religious conscience in the same way it respects freedom of speech.
“The government should not put people where you have to make this hard decision between obeying God or the government,” Baker said. “It seems to me like it would be a very simple thing for the government to be able to accommodate people’s conscience.”
The road ahead of Baker is long and challenging. Fighting for a highly contested seat, Baker is up against several candidates who have a significant lead in fundraising.
“There may be as many as 21 people who have either announced or gotten on the ballot for this seat,” Baker said. “That includes sizable candidates from the Shelby County area and people who have been planning to do this for some time now.”
Baker is relying on the religiously devout in the district to recognize his special convictions.
“My vision is to run a different kind of campaign,” Baker said. “I’m the person that cares about religious liberty. I’m the guy who will make that a priority. Other Republicans have shown a tendency to bend on the issue.”
Acknowledging the critique that he is not a serious candidate because he lacks heavy funding at this moment, Baker countered by asking how the critics would define a serious candidate. Possessing the education and the passion, Baker suggested, might make him more serious than most.
“I think that if we make raising lots of money the primary way we decide who can hold office then that’s not going to give us the kind of office holders that we want,” Baker said. “I’ll let the voters decide if I am a serious candidate.”
Baker just made the decision to run this month. As a political scientist, Baker had noticed the political atmosphere of District 8 for years, but never seriously considered running until recently.
“It’s just that the idea almost wouldn’t leave me alone,” Baker said. “It might just be about obedience. It might be about running and getting the tar beat out of me, but I feel called to do it and to spread the message that I have.”
Baker takes the calling seriously and, if elected, has vowed not to use the position as a career move.
“I would challenge the other candidates that they would go ahead and pledge right now to say that they are not going to become a lobbyist,” Baker said, expressing concern about how some candidates use their power. “I absolutely will not be a lobbyist after my time in office.”
Alongside concern about religious liberty, Baker fears that our national fiscal situation has gotten out of control and that the partisan nature of Congress has created a dire situation in the country.
“Right now I fear that we are just kind of on a path where we are not doing anything,” Baker said. “We are just locked in disagreement. And the problem is if you don’t do anything over a long enough period of time you’ll end up with no options.”
Baker said running for office has already changed the way he views his everyday life.
“Suddenly you feel like you have a lot more attention than you did previously,” Baker said. “It’s a much less relaxed way to live life. I feel on edge.”
Baker said that he will continue to make his work at Union a priority over campaigning. This specific campaign, in such a Republican-heavy district, will essentially come down to the primary, placing the bulk of his campaign activity over the summer.
“I won’t let it interfere with my work at Union,” Baker said. “You know, this comes first.”
If Baker wins the election he will have to leave the Union faculty, but he expects to stay if he ends up losing the race.
Baker should know if he is Washington-bound by the beginning of the fall semester.
The primary election will be August 4. The general election will be November 8.