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Where I stand on the Issues 

The issues which affect me and my family as rural Tennesseans are the same issues that affect you and your family.  With the onset of  COVID19, many of the problems we face in rural Tennessee are even more pronounced than they were just a few months ago, while new ones are uncertain.  I ask you to read the issues below and think about who benefits from decisions the Governor and General Assembly make.  By and large, they make decisions based on who will profit from it; not on the well-being of our families and the average working person. GOP politicians like to come to town and make promises, but the problems below aren't any closer to being solved. 

Healthcare

Hospitals and Quality Health Care facilities must remain a reasonable distance from Rural Tennesseans. Expanding Medicaid ensures that small rural hospitals remain open for Tennesseans across the state.

Over and over again, the Tennessee General Assembly turns its back on working people in Tennessee and refuses to accept expanded Medicaid funding. Rural communities are especially hard-hit by GOP politicians' failure to put the interests of people first.  This funding--which comes from federal taxes WE pay--would allow the state to provide insurance for approximately 300,000 Tennesseans, affording them financial security and access to necessary health care.  Instead, that funding goes to other states.

The 300K uninsured include low-wage workers who are unable to get coverage through their jobs as well as small/micro business owners. (Micro businesses are the smallest of small businesses, having six or fewer workers.). 

As a result of the General Assembly's refusal to accept Expanded Medicaid funding, Tennessee communities have missed out on an influx of over SEVEN BILLION dollars since 2014. 

Further, Tennessee is ranked second in the nation in hospital closures; many of which which would likely have been able to remain open with expanded Medicaid. Almost all of the closed hospitals are in rural Tennessee, leaving a quarter of a million people without access to emergency rooms.  

You have to ask yourself why the General Assembly refuses to accept this funding and why Tennessee is one of only thirteen states that refuses it. In fact, in 2019, the General Assembly put forth an initiative which would have made things WORSE by cutting back on TennCare, the Medicaid funding Tennessee already receives.  It's just common sense to do the best we can for Tennesseans; that's why I support accepting expanded Medicaid. 

 

Public Schools 

Quality public education changes lives. We must invest in our public schools by raising educators’ salaries, rebuilding rural schools, and providing our children with the education they deserve.     

If I'm elected, I will make improving the quality of our public schools one of my biggest priorities.  

Tennessee's teaching professionals deserve a raise and our children deserve an education which prepares them for jobs in the future.   Our educators are called upon to do more and more and to pay for teaching resources themselves.  And, our have been marginally ranked nationally and, with COVID19, we will struggle to maintain the level we currently have. 

In a recent guidance document  (there are no mandates) from the Tennessee Department of Education about reopening Tennessee public schools, the Commissioner notes the pandemic has "elevated" known gaps in Tennessee's public schools.  She also provide the following:   

Tennessee's educational achievement gaps have not closed in 15 years;

School building closures in rural communities have "continued to highlight the disparity that exists related to connectivity and broadband, access to more community resources, and opportunities to raise and use local funds in support of public schools in rural communities;"

Just over 33% of Tennessee's third graders and 27% of eighth are reading proficiently; and

The pandemic has brought to the forefront significant challenges districts, schools, and educators face related to student mental health and behavioral needs.  The School building closures have brought this conversation to the forefront as children and families struggle with the anxieties associated with the pandemic, and in some cases additional familial struggles that would normally be identified and addressed earlier by schools.   

There's little doubt our schools could use additional funding; a good start would be to fund the state's portion of the Basic Education Program formula for each school positions it mandates.  The Governor and the General Assembly could stop trying to hoist on us programs that divert public funds from our schools to private schools instead.  Why not end tax incentives to large corporations to move here and use their tax money to improve our public schools?   

But, instead of placing a priority on public schools,  during June the General Assembly approved Governor Lee's plan to cut $70 million in funding from the schools' budget despite its initial approval in March. The recent budget allocates a $50.2 million increase in funding, which doesn't cover the cost of inflation, not does it address the coming expenses related to  keeping our children and teachers safe from the growing pandemic.   

 

 Economic Opportunity 

Rural Tennesseans deserve the opportunity to work in their communities at jobs which allow them to support themselves and their families. Small businesses, the backbone of rural Tennessee, should receive the same incentives for growth as those given to corporations and industries.

 

We all know people who are working two--or more--jobs just to make ends meet, as well parents who work split shifts so one can take care of the kids while the other works.  And, in Tennessee, the State spends or foregoes millions in attracting multi-million dollar industries and corporations, although small businesses by far employ the greatest number of employees. I'm in favor of giving our small and micro business owners a break--grants and incentives--in order to revive rural Tennessee's economy and communities. I also believe women, who are often heads of households, should make the same pay as their male counterparts.  That's why I believe employers should be prohibited from asking for pay histories and should pay employees what they are worth based on their skills and experience.   

 

Expanded Internet Service 

Expanding Broadband brings benefits to all Tennesseans, from Memphis to Mountain City. For rural Tennessee, those benefits mean economic opportunity and enhanced educational resources.

 

Clean Air and Water 

It makes a lot more sense to keep our air and water clean now rather than to pay to clean it up later...or never. 

 

Nobody likes "red tape."  

I believe, however, it's essential to evaluate the regulations the the Governor and General Assembly have eliminated which are meant to protect the water we drink and the air we breathe.  The General Assembly and the Governor like to talk about "streamlining government," but who's benefitting from those actions?  I want my kids and their kids to have the basic necessities of clean air and water in the future rather than creating shortcuts for industries now.   

 

 


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Judith Barnett, Treasurer
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