Transparency & Accountability
Do you feel like you know what’s going on in your local government? Knowledge is critical to democracy. That means our officials need to make information easily available—as early and as often as possible. It means they need to make questions easy to ask and answers simple to get. It means they need to work with and for the public, not above the public.
I’m committed to keeping my district—and anyone else in the county who’s interested—informed on what’s going on, what’s coming up, and what they can do to make sure their voices and concerns are heard. And I’m not waiting for the election. Sign up for my newsletter and you’ll be more informed than ever before. And keep an eye out: I’m working on bringing the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government here to talk to anyone interested about our rights under Tennessee’s open records and open meetings law and how everyday people can use the state’s access laws to get more information about local issues and governance. My core team will be attending that presentation to ensure they’re trained in getting the information that will best help all of you stay better informed, and you’re welcome to come too.
Most politicians focus on working with a select group of wealthier and more influential people—the same voices that get heard all the time. I care more about working with everyday people to get what they want and need. My campaign is about lifting up the voices of people who need to be heard but often aren’t.
Open meetings are not enough. People must have access and opportunities to be a part of the process. Part of that means that meetings and input opportunities should be provided in ways that are compatible with folks’ other responsibilities: work, school, family, etc. Does this mean more work for our elected officials? Yes. But democracy and participation are important enough to warrant—and expect—that level of work from the people we elect.
Keeping Our Priorities Straight
Are the real needs of the community being taken into account when we embark on projects and investments? Or are our commissioners more interested benefiting their own egos and interests?
I’m running because low-income and working people deserve to have at least one county commissioner who is in their corner, working alongside the people to make sure their needs and welfare are part of every decision.
Public Goods for the Public Good
Public services and public property exist for the benefit of the public. I fought Governor Haslam’s outsourcing scheme, in which he sought to degrade public jobs and services for the benefit of an out-of-state company, and I will continue to fight to keep, improve, and expand public services and jobs right here in Washington County. We will not outsource our tax dollars into the linings of corporate pockets.
A Crisis-Level Response to the Opioid Crisis
Only one in four people with an opioid problem in the United States can access treatment for it—and by treatment, I don’t just mean a prescription to addiction maintenance drugs. I don’t mean just moving people off one addictive pill and onto another. I mean therapy that can help folks and their families cope and move forward.
One reason people aren’t getting the treatment they desperately need is cost. Another is availability. I believe that the Washington County Health Department, an already excellent resource for public health, can be key in both reducing cost and increasing availability. This can give our county a real chance at recovering from the opioid epidemic. We don’t need to further enrich pill pushers and private-sector profit-seekers. We need to invest in real care for real neighbors suffering from real problems, and we need to be on that today. We’re in the midst of a crisis that’s hurting folks, ruining lives, and destroying families.
But treating addiction after it sets in is not enough. We need to change the conditions that allow addiction to take root in the first place. We can do that by creating financial stability and security across our county. We can do that by moving people from surviving to thriving, by moving them from fear that things will continue to get worse to seeing the sun rising on the horizon. Doing that is going to take businesses, unions, healthcare providers, and government willing to invest in and stand up for the people in this county. Higher wages, fewer hours, more dignity, more affordable and accessible childcare, healthcare, and housing, more community, and less profiteering off opioid prescriptions and pill mills.
Raising Living Standards
17% of Washington County households fall below the official poverty line1, which, as a measurement, tends to underrepresent how many people are struggling on a day to day basis. For instance, 29% of our households—including more than 6000 families and nearly 9000 single-person households—make less than $25,000/year1, which, even here, is less than a living wage for a single person, never mind a family.
Our news outlets publicize our relatively low unemployment numbers but don’t mention the fact that one in three people between the ages of 20 and 64 in the Tri-Cities has stopped participating in the labor force entirely2. Our politicians celebrate job growth but don’t mention that three out of every four new jobs created here are low-wage3,4.
Home prices jumped 7% in Johnson City last year5—but home sales dropped 5%6 because it gets hard to buy homes when homes get expensive. Meanwhile, foreclosures in Washington County have spiked to numbers higher than we saw in the midst of the 2008 housing crisis—despite the fact that, nationwide, foreclosures have hit a 12-year low7. Renters—who make up a large portion of Washington County District 9—aren’t having it any better: between 2006 and 2016, rent increased an average of 3% per year8 while income rose an average of only 2%9. By 2015, 48% of Johnson City renters had become what’s called “cost burdened.”10 That means more than 30% of their income is being spent on housing. Nearly a third of the city is “severely cost burdened”10—over half these folks’ income is sucked up by housing costs.
Our population is trending older than the national average and enrollment in our schools—K through 12 as well as higher education—is declining11. Could it be that young people don’t feel they can afford to start or raise families here?
For older folks and others on fixed incomes, the situation is even harder: housing, food, and healthcare costs rise every year while, for five out of the last six years, social security benefits saw less than a 2% annual increase. In 2015, the cost of living adjustment was zero.
I will fight for a better life for all people of Washington County—workers, caregivers, retirees, children, students, the disabled, and the infirm. I won’t pat myself on the back for yoking folks to yet more low-pay, low-benefit jobs: I will push for living wages for all workers at all jobs. I won’t support cutting funding for important public services while money is being dumped into pet developer projects—I will fight to grow and improve our services while insisting that the needs of all the people in Washington County be included in any economic development the county lends its money to.
We don’t raise living standards for all by raising living standards for those at the top. We do it by getting underneath the bottom and lifting the whole thing up.
- 1. 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau
2. “Large number of Tri-Cities residents of prime working age absent from labor market” by Don Fenley, CoreData
3. “Where the Tri-Cities jobs are and what jobs are in demand” by Don Fenley, CoreData
4. “America’s job problem: Low-wage work is growing fastest” by Aimee Pichee, CBS News
5. “Johnson City, Washington Co. local markets with 2017 highest avg. home prices” by Don Fenley, CoreData
6. “Bristol TN and VA lead cities home sales growth rate; Erwin, Elizabethton, Johnson City net best price gains” by Don Fenley, CoreData
7. “Year-End 2017 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report” by Attom Data Solutions
- 8. Based on HUD’s Fair Market Rent (FMR) data for 2006 through 2016
9. American Community Survey data, U.S. Census Bureau
- 10. “Study: 26,600 Tri-Cities renters spend over 30 percent of income on housing” by Zach Vance, Johnson City Press
11. “Enrollment decrease compels Washington County committee to recommend school facility study” by Zach Vance, Johnson City Press
12. Social Security Cost of Living Adjustments, Social Security Administration
Developing Local Businesses
It’s not enough to train people to work for bosses. We need to train and support local workers to start their own businesses. I am especially interested in finding ways to help folks develop worker cooperatives: local small businesses that are 100% owned and run by their employees. These businesses have significant advantages over bringing in yet more chains and companies from outside the region. For one thing, because the employee-owners are rooted in the community, they’re not going to pick up and leave the community like NN Inc. has done. They’ll instead provide more stability to our economy while creating new jobs and new leaders. The cooperative model can also be a way to keep existing businesses open and operating: we can put in place supports to help transition businesses from traditional ownership to employee ownership as business owners near retirement and start to look at getting out of business.
Any type of business could become a cooperative, from food service to construction to industrial supply and manufacturing. And our people—our workers—have more knowledge, sense, and experience than we tend to give them credit for. Let’s invest some of our resources in breaking ground for cooperative models to take root and grow right here in Washington County.