Expanding Medicaid And Closing the Gap
Over 300,000 of our friends and neighbors don't qualify for health insurance because the TN GOP and Sen. Rusty Crowe has not taken action to expand Medicaid. That's $1.3 BILLION of already paid taxes we don't take that would create jobs and help Tennesseans in need. Those are funds that could be used to help those suffering from substance use disorder and address the number of overdoses in our region.
Raising the Minimum Wage
Tennessee's minimum wage hasn't increased since 2009. Workers receiving minimum wage are paid $7.25 per hour-- $15,000 annually. Yet, the cost for rent has increased at 4 times the rate of inflation in just the last year and the average home price is $255,000. Workers working even 2 part time jobs cannot afford to live, let alone thrive, in Washington, Carter, or Johnson Counties.
Fully Funding Public Schools
For far too long, teachers have been forced to supplement school budgets out of their own pockets, despite being underpaid themselves. We must fully fund our schools and not line the pockets of out of state, private charter schools. Our kids have been used as political pawns in debates regarding CRT, book bans, and COVID-19. It's time to let teachers teach and fully fund our schools.
Holding Our Medical Monopoly Accountable
Ballad Health was formed in 2018 because Sen. Rusty Crowe changed state law (an anti-monopoly law) to allow two healthcare systems to merge. He did this while on payroll for Mountain States Health Alliance and is still on the payroll for Ballad Health. In 2018, Sen. Crowe passed another law making the oversight of the Certificate of Public Advantage (COPA) not accessible to the public. Ballad Health has downgraded area hospitals and price-gouged patients.
Tennessee is 1 of 13 states that has not legalized medical marijuana-- a move 81 percent of Tennesseans support. This means medical marijuana is denied to patients who are either forced to self-medicate or use more addictive/destructive narcotics. Also, Tennessee is 1 of 19 states that has not decriminalized simple possession of marijuana-- a sentence that could carry up to 1 year in jail. Tennessee's jails are overcrowded and yet we continue to fill them with nonviolent offenders.
The TN GOP uses LGBTQ and trans rights as wedge issues to divide our communities so that Medicaid isn't expanded, Tennessee remains ranked 41st in the nation for wages, and our public schools are severely underfunded. We know that everyone doesn't agree about LGBTQ+ rights, which means there's opportunity for continued conversations-- strategies that bring communities together. No one's rights should be weaponized for political gain.
Tennessee has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the nation. The TN GOP targeted activists in 2020 with felony charges to remove their voting rights. Voting absentee is difficult, voter purges happen regularly using unreliable software, voter ID laws where students cannot use state institution issued IDs to vote, as well as a reduction in the number of polling locations. Voting is a Constitutional right that elected officials should be doing everything to remove barriers to voting while also ensuring election integrity.
Right to Organize
This November, the TN GOP has a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution to prohibit unions-- an organizing place where workers are on an even playing field with business owners and CEOs. Unions are the reason workers have a 40 hour work week, a safe work environment, paid time off, sick leave, and child labor laws just to name a few. The proposed ballot initiative isn't "right to work" it's a "right to make less money." Workers should have rights, workers should have a voice, which is why everyone should vote NO "right to work" ballot initiative.
Gun Safety and the 2nd Amendment
The right to bear arms, as enumerated in the 2nd Amendment in the Bill of Rights, is sacred. But the right came with responsibilities. 80 percent of Americans support common sense gun laws-- this includes the 93 percent of Tennessee voters who support gun permits. The TN GOP is working to make us less safe, rather than encouraging gun owners to be more responsible. We have a responsibility to each other, to keep our schools, parks, movie theaters, and homes safe.
Freedom to Worship How You Believe
This nation was founded under the principles of religious freedom. Everyone has the right to practice their faith however they so choose. A student has just as much of a right to pray in school as a family does around the dinner table. Faith based organizations work in our communities to address hunger, substance use disorder, and housing. Religious freedom also means that while each person has the right to practice their faith, no one has the right to impose their beliefs on others.
Addressing Racism and Civil Rights
The TN GOP's CRT ban, which is a modern day classroom witch hunt that got a Sullivan County teacher fired, is driving teachers out of the classroom. Sen. Rusty Crowe has gone so far as to chastise the ETSU men's basketball team for expressing their freedom of speech by way of kneeling during the National Anthem. Sen. Crowe joined with other state legislators to threaten funding for higher institutions that condoned these practices. We have a responsibility to right the wrongs of our ancestors and teach our children to do better than the generations that came before them.
Book Banning and Censorship
Censorship and book banning are dangerous. If we cannot articulate our own beliefs in the face of differing opinions or ideas, then how do we truly know that our beliefs or our ideas have merit? Students should be challenged to read books outside of their comfort zone to grow empathy for another's plight. When we learn about the struggles of another, then we develop a deeper connection to those around us, the very definition of community. Books that offer stories about the lives of others are the opposite of obscene. Instead, we should be celebrating reading and investing in our libraries.
Removing Slavery from the TN Constitution
The Tennessee Constitution currently lists slavery as an appropriate form of punishment. This November, removing that language will be on the ballot and voters should vote YES on this ballot initiative. But this is only the first step. This antiquated language needs to be removed the same as the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest was finally removed from the Tennessee Capitol Building.
Investing in Tennessee's Infrastructure
Thanks to President Biden Tennessee received an investment of $8 billion from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to fix roads, bridges, expand broadband, as well as repair water and waste water infrastructure. This infusion of funds is life support for what must become a sustained and ongoing effort to protect the foundation quite literally under the community's feet.
Expanding Rural Broadband
The internet has become an integral way in which we learn, work, live, and play. But as we saw during the peak of COVID-19, many of our friends and neighbors don't have access to this basic utility. The infrastructure for rural broadband must be a priority investment to ensure parents aren't sitting in a McDonalds parking lot so their child can download a homework assignment. Our communities will prosper by the investments we make in technology.
Protecting the Right to Choose
The right for someone to make private medical decisions without government interference has become a key wedge issue for the TN GOP. Legislation that has cost Tennessee's taxpayers in legal fees because the state lost arguments in court-- such as the heartbeat bill. Reproductive rights fall along a continuum with a spectrum of opinions and emotions. However, heartbreaking stories should not be politicized for political gain-- which is what the TN GOP has done when it comes to reproductive choice.
Protecting Our Natural Resources and Scenery
We were blessed with beautiful scenery, which means we have a responsibility to care for it. According to the EPA, Tennessee has 227,683 acres of impaired waterways when it comes to recreation. Our landfills are filling quickly. The climate is rapidly changing affecting agriculture and tourism. We must invest in renewable energy jobs as well as infrastructure that strives to eliminate our carbon footprint.
Attracting Quality Jobs
It's not just enough to have a job, especially if that one job isn't enough to afford housing and basic necessities. It's imperative that we attract high paying jobs from all industries as well as train the workforce of tomorrow for these jobs. Rural Tennessee, especially Washington, Carter, and Johnson Counties, are experiencing a brain drain where young people are leaving for higher paying and better job opportunities. We must work to change this.
Addressing the Opioid Epidemic & Addiction
Northeast Tennessee was one of the hardest hit areas in the nation due to the opioid epidemic. Overdose rates have continued to climb as community members face growing stigma and politicized treatment options. There are not enough beds in treatment facilities for those in need. And the justice involved have even fewer options. To curb this epidemic we must turn to the gold standards of treatment and offer treatment resources over incarceration.
Public Transit and High-Speed Rail Investment
Earlier this year, a map depicting future high-speed rail investments from the Department of Transportation was released, leaving Northeast Tennessee off the map. Elected officials from the region need to join together to push the federal government to include Northeast Tennessee in this investment. From tourism, to industry, to medicine, to innovation, Northeast Tennessee has a lot to offer and a lot to gain by being included in the high-speed rail investments.
Humanely Addressing Homelessness
Tennessee lawmakers passed a bill during the 2022 legislative session to criminalize homelessness. In other words, people who have no place to go will now face a fine of $50 and 20-40 hours of community service for sleeping under bridges and in parks. The solution, rests in addressing addiction, soaring housing prices, jobs, wages, healthcare costs, as well as access to healthcare. There aren't enough beds in shelters and treatment centers to address the problem, and it is cruel and unusual punishment for lawmakers to attack those without resources.
Crime and Private Prisons
The political rhetoric is "tough on crime" or "soft on crime," but what we need is someone who is effective on crime. Locking people up doesn't stop the revolving door and it hurts communities. We need a multi-pronged investment to address the causes of crime that include addiction and poverty. Without it, we are addressing the symptom without treating the problem. Also, the prison system should not be a for-profit industry. A 2020 audit of Core Civic found the company had mishandled allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment
Eliminating No-Bid Contracts
Gov. Bill Lee has issued no-bid contracts that have hurt Tennesseans (think of the sock masks distributed in 2020 during COVID-19) and cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. And he did it all with little to no accountability from Sen. Rusty Crowe and the TN GOP. Every dollar of taxpayer funds should be allocated under careful scrutiny for quality and cost effectiveness. After all, tax dollars are Tennesseans investment in their state and communities and their elected officials should be good stewards of that responsibility.
Following the Science & Trusting Experts
In 2021, Dr. Michelle Fiscus was the casualty of a political war centered around COVID-19. It is imperative that we trust respected experts, regardless of our individual political ideologies and we have lost that belief system as the TN GOP has canceled political enemies who do their jobs, yet might not align with their political agendas. Science isn't political; it isn't Democratic or Republican. To keep our communities safe, to move our state forward, we must trust the experts to address issues from disease, to climate, to education, and the economy.
The cost of childcare has skyrocketed, leaving parents with few options. In some cases, the cost is 35 - 40 percent of their monthly income. The inability to access affordable childcare limits employment and educational options, as well as housing options. The financial strain on a household's budget for childcare can constrict food as well as medical care budgets. Childcare costs should be capped at 10 percent of a house hold income to protect families and lift households out of poverty.
More Accessible Spaces
The Americans with Disabilities Act was a great start in protecting people with disabilities, but there are still steps we can take to make places and spaces more accessible. This includes greater funding for ASL interpreters, infrastructure funding to fix sidewalks and curb cuts, increased public transportation to better connect those with disabilities, and requirements for all state and city allocations to include increased accessibility requirements beyond the ADA to ensure all Tennesseans are able to attend and participate. This includes increased protections for children with disabilities.
Small Business Investments
Eighty percent of the businesses in Washington, Carter, and Johnson Counties are small businesses. As a former small business owner, I know first-hand how difficult it is to start and maintain a small business. I also know our downtowns are thriving because of local small business owners. We should be creating ways and making it easier for small business owners to keep and maintain their businesses. This includes investments from the rainy day fund to offset the added labor costs for raising the minimum wage, tax net profits versus overall profits, and eliminating the professional privilege tax.
Not Abusing State Authority
State elected officials shouldn't pass legislation as retribution or punishment, targeting local government bodies trying to do the right thing. This includes proposing as well as passing legislation that would fine prosecutors for not prosecuting cases or as well as the bill that removed authority from local health departments. There should absolutely be common standards, especially when it comes to human rights, safety, and education. But Rusty Crowe and the TN GOP and have overstepped their authority and have instead used wielded their power to punish those they do not like.