Dennis Prater for Washington County Commission District 9
My roots in East Tennessee go back generations. Many people in my family, including my parents, have worked as teachers, and after I earned my Bachelor’s degree from the University of the South at Sewanee and my Master’s degree from Boston University, I became an adjunct professor at ETSU and Northeast State Community College.
Despite the fact that our positions require advanced degrees, adjuncts are contingent, low-paid, non-tenure-track instructors who receive no benefits from the institutions they work for. Unlike just a few decades ago, when adjunct positions went to professionals in other fields who might bring their professional experience to teach a class or two, adjunct faculty now make up a very high proportion of higher education instructors across the country. We work hard for our students, often putting in long evening and weekend hours, to ensure that they get an education worth their tuition dollars. We love what we do, yet we struggle with the financial instability of never knowing from one semester to the next if we’ll be contracted for enough classes to cover our bills, including those for the student loans most of us are still paying off. It’s not uncommon for adjuncts to find themselves taking on additional jobs as servers or Uber drivers from time to time to make ends meet.
I understand and identify with the struggles of people who work hard only to still barely make ends meet. After decades of stagnating or falling real wages, there are too many of us in this situation. Through organizing and building a voice for low-income and working people, we can change this.
Why I’m Running
NN, Inc. and the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, for starters.
Clearly, there's not enough accountability in our local government when officials don't even look into whether businesses that have received tax incentives are upholding the job promises they made to get those breaks—and then, when forced to address it by the local paper, they let the company off the hook. NN, Inc., after benefiting from several years of tax breaks from us, has decided to move to Charlotte, North Carolina, where their executives can enjoy a whole new round of tax breaks.
It's also an unsettling move when the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, a group that makes decisions affecting our lives, decides to close its meetings to "protect" its "investors." With more than $500,000 from taxpayers and public utility ratepayers from Washington, Carter, and Unicoi counties going into this group each year, why aren't we considered investors too? And with three county mayors plus representatives from the county economic development boards involved in the partnership, how does closing the meetings not run counter to Tennessee's open government laws? Members of the public should not need to pony up $15,000 a piece to have a voice in decisions that will greatly affect their futures. Also: Who's protecting the people while our mayors and county economic development boards busy themselves with protecting the rich?
These are just two examples of government making decisions about us without us. That's not the kind of government I want, and I don’t think it’s the government you want either.
I’m running for County Commission in order to make sure the people of District 9—and all of Washington County—receive critical information and answers to their questions, as well as opportunities to speak on the issues ahead of any decision-making by the county. That’s when it matters, right? We need to be getting that information and those opportunities out in ways that working people can access them.
Another priority for me is making sure we seek input and involvement from both the workers on the ground—our folks at the schools, the health department, the water administration, the fire departments, etc.—and the people who make use of these services. Between workers and service users, there's a lot of knowledge on what's working, what's falling short, and where improvements can and should be made. We need to make sure these folks are part of the conversation.
I’ve had enough of seeing good people struggle to get by on low wages or fixed incomes, while the costs of housing, food, school, and health care climb ever upward. We keep being told that we live in a “low cost of living” area, but let me tell you: the cost of living isn't nearly as low as many people's paychecks. How much of your check can you afford to set aside for an emergency? A down payment? A replacement car? A vacation? 79% of people in the United States have between zero and a few hundred dollars in their savings accounts. I can't imagine that number is any better in our county.
Are you aware that enrollment is declining in our schools? That’s because our young people can’t afford to start or raise families in our area. Keeping a roof over your head is hard enough for many people: adding childcare costs is just a stretch too far.
Unless we stand up for our people—all our people—none of that’s going to change.
I’m a working class Washington County resident running for a seat at the table because it’s time we working class Washington County residents had a seat at the table.
We need a government that puts the needs of everyday people—the people who make up the majority of the population in most any county—out in front. We’re not going to get that by electing more businessmen, cronies, and good ol' boys.
We need a government that supports and enforces workers’ rights, invests in services and infrastructure that benefit the entire public, and prioritizes the needs of our people and families over the wishes and promises of developers and out-of-town corporations—and we’re not going to get that by electing more businessmen, cronies, and good ol' boys.
We need a government that works with the people, not behind their backs. A government that protects the people, not the profits. And we’re not going to get that by electing more businessmen, cronies, and good ol' boys.
There's a lot of knowledge, experience, intelligence, and ingenuity within our community—from all corners of our community—and I have faith that when we draw on that, and when we use it to put the needs of the many ahead of the needs of the few, we'll be able to build a Washington County that's as vibrant, prosperous, and sustainable as we dare to imagine.