Fountain City Town Hall hosted three candidates for the state House of Representatives Sept. 10. District 13’s state Rep. Eddie Smith couldn’t attend, but his opponent, Gloria Johnson, was there, plus District 16’s state Rep. Bill Dunn and opponent Kate Trudell.
Dunn came with a sheet of facts and figures, distributed by young ladies in orange T-shirts, and talked “Tennessee’s success story.” He cited an all-time low unemployment rate, a record-breaking high school graduation rate, and “the fastest-improving K-12 students in the nation.” He said Tennessee is seen as “a national model for good government” by the Republican party.
“What we’ve been able to do in the last eight years has been pretty amazing,” Dunn said. “Great things are happening in the state of Tennessee.”
But Johnson and Trudell told a different story.
Johnson, a 20-year special education teacher, said teachers are not being involved in decisions about education in Tennessee, an exclusion which she said has led to “millions spent on testing that really doesn’t affect our children’s enrichment or academics.”
“Perhaps we need to revisit what we’re doing and what our focus is. I’m worried about kids learning rather than being better test-takers,” she said.
Trudell, with a career in social services and a son with special needs, echoed Johnson’s feelings. Trudell was told that her son’s needs were not “extreme enough” to warrant support, that “there were not enough resources to go around.”
“We can do better for our kids in public education,” she said.
Johnson and Trudell said things ain’t great in Tennessee if you need healthcare, either. Johnson said Tennessee’s biggest mistake was not expanding Medicaid, a decision which she said led to 11 hospital closures, mostly in rural areas.
“We have got to talk about this,” Johnson said. “People who are sick, who have serious illnesses, need access to care so they can get themselves back to work.”
Trudell said her heart condition led to many nights sitting with her husband and trying to figure out how to pay her medical bills.
“No family in our state should have to decide between paying for healthcare and feeding their kids,” she said. “Too many families and too many veterans have to make those decisions.”
And that low unemployment figure? Johnson said it doesn’t give the full picture.
“The problem is that Tennessee is still the top state in people making minimum wage,” she said. “You cannot support a family on minimum wage. You have to work 65 hours at minimum wage to afford an apartment. We’ve got to do better for the workers in Tennessee.”
More from the meeting
Fountain City Town Hall opened with a medley of three tunes performed by Central High School’s acapella singing group.
At the end of the meeting, Fountain City Town Hall president Kelly Ellenburg presented academic and citizenship awards to several Gresham Middle School students. Receiving awards for academic perseverance were eighth grader Ronnivea Wilson, seventh grader Ayla Littell and sixth grader Carson Smiddy. Receiving awards for outstanding citizenship were eighth grader Parys Adamson, seventh grader Jadarius Fisher and sixth grader Addison Shoudy.