Send me to Nashville and I will fight for public education.

A good public education system is the foundation of our society.

A good public education system is the foundation of our society. Everyone has a memory of a teacher that challenged and inspired them, who listened and made them feel important. Teachers spend more time with our children than anyone else through their formative years. These people are trained professionals that work tirelessly to teach and inspire our children. My wife, Sue, was a teacher and I personally witnessed how hard she worked to give her students the very best and how much she cared about their success.

In Tennessee, our teachers often do not feel like the respected professionals they are. The Tennessee Legislature in 2011 and 2012 took away teachers’ right to bargain with their local school boards. The yearly step raises that rewarded faithful and effective service were stripped away along with the protection of tenure.

The Tennessee Legislature in 2011 and 2012 took away teachers’ right to bargain with their local school boards.

These losses to the profession are coupled with some other troubling trends in public education across the state. Rural districts struggle to find and retain well-qualified teachers especially in fields such as foreign language, science, art, and math, along with technical fields like computer science or carpentry.

New teachers are leaving the profession at concerning rates, with some Tennessee school districts losing as many as half their new teachers within their first three years. These leaving teachers say the pay does not compensate them for the type of stress they experience in the current education environment. We see these teacher shortages across the state, but especially in rural communities like ours.

This hurts our students, and ultimately our communities. We miss out on the opportunities and prosperity generated by a well educated workforce. Increased teacher pay in rural communities will attract and keep the best educators we can for our children.

In addition to our concerns about pay, I hear from teachers and students about the burden and stress of high-stakes testing. Our teachers are not afraid of accountability, but standardized testing has proven to be a poor measure of both teacher effectiveness and student growth. The implementation of these aggressive assessment programs has been one disaster after the other, all at taxpayer expense.

Our leaders are failing us. They hired expensive out-of-state testing vendors who couldn’t fulfill their contracts again and again.

Our leaders are failing us. They hired expensive out-of-state testing vendors who couldn’t fulfill their contracts again and again. They support confusing and burdensome classroom evaluation methods that leave teachers feeling defensive rather than supported. The message from the people I meet is clear: our teachers, parents, and most importantly students want less testing, and more teaching.

In spite of these issues in Tennessee schools, we have wonderful educators who want to be successful in preparing our young people for healthy, happy, and productive lives. There are things we can do to stand up for these good people and for quality public education for all our children.

State lawmakers need to make rural education a top priority in the next legislative session. Our students are underserved and rural families are tired of being ignored.

We can do better. We must do better.

 
 

Send me to Nashville and I will fight to expand Medicaid and improve the lives and health of Tennesseans.

Medical bills are the number one cause of bankruptcy in Tennessee.

All throughout the district, I meet Tennesseans who live with the stark reality that they are one accident or illness away from financial ruin. These are people who have done everything right. They work, they save, they are careful, and yet medical bills are the number one cause of bankruptcy in Tennessee. Too many hard-working Tennesseans risk losing everything because of the rising cost of healthcare and medication.

One of the best ways we could help the people of Tennessee is by expanding Medicaid. Studies show that Medicaid expansion would provide an additional 250,000 Tennesseans with healthcare including 50,000 veterans and their families. A quarter of a million Tennesseans would be covered by Medicaid expansion, but our state legislature refused to pass it earlier this year.

I feel a moral obligation to fight for Tennessean’s access to medical care, but I also know that it makes economic sense.

I feel a moral obligation to fight for Tennessean’s access to medical care, but I also know that it makes economic sense. Tennesseans are forced to make employment decisions based on their need to receive healthcare from their employers. In the patchwork of private insurers, Medicare, and Medicaid, we leave small business owners, farmers, and veterans in coverage gaps that end up being more costly for the taxpayers.

Rural communities lack enough family care providers, pediatricians, and mental health professionals. There are ideas out there to address these problems, and it’s time we have leaders committed to that conversation. Instead, our Representative takes thousands of dollars from Tennessee’s largest for-profit health insurance companies.

We can do better. We must do better.

 
 

Send me to Nashville, and I will fight for Tennessee Veterans and their families.

My daughter served 4 tours abroad including to Albania and Kosovo, as well as 2 tours of duty in Iraq

As a parent, there is no way to fully prepare yourself for what it will be to send your child overseas on military service. My daughter served 4 tours abroad including to Albania and Kosovo, as well as 2 tours of duty in Iraq where it was her job to coordinate supply needs to the frontlines.

She returned to us and now serves in the Army Corp of Engineers. She receives care through her local VA Hospital.

As a parent, I am so proud of her service.

I am, however, troubled by stories I hear from our veterans and their families across the district and the state. With a failure to expand Medicaid in Tennessee through TN Insure, our Legislature left our tax dollars on the Federal table to be given away to other states.

Now this troubles me in many ways, but it’s specifically disgusting that for the sake of party allegiance, our State lawmakers left 50,000 veterans and their families uninsured.

State lawmakers left 50,000 veterans and their families uninsured.

No one who serves our country should have to worry about having adequate medical access and care. We need lawmakers who care more about the people of the district than their corporate donors.

There are many other veterans issues I would tackle as a lawmaker in Nashville including spouse and family support programs, career and continuing education initiatives for service members and spouses, as well as robust local mental health services especially in rural communities like ours.  

I know what military service has meant in my family, but I don’t assume that everyone’s experience is like ours. I pledge to listen, be open to new ideas and proposals, and to fight for the care and support of our veterans and their families always.

We can do better. We must do better.

 

 
 

Send me to Nashville and I will fight for physical and digital infrastructure investment for the district.

As I drive all around the district there is nothing clearer to me than the condition of our roads. We recently experienced yet another dangerous and costly road collapse of Route 68 in Rhea County. This adds to already long commutes off the mountain for student drivers and school buses trying to get to Rhea County Schools, as well as folks trying to get to their jobs at Watts Bar.

In Sequatchie County, residents share concerns about maintenance of the Signal Mountain overlook on Highway 127, as well as general concerns about drainage across the county that seems to be going unaddressed.

Bledsoe County remains one of only five counties in Tennessee that does not have a four lane road into and out of the county.

Bledsoe County remains one of only five counties in Tennessee that does not have a four lane road into and out of the county. Local leaders in the county have pushed for a four-lane road for years and been looked over, with state officials in Nashville claiming there isn’t enough need to justify the project. If there is to be economic growth in the county, farmers and factories need roads to transport supplies in and goods out of the area.

Today infrastructure is more than roads and bridges.

We live in a time when cellular and digital access are vital to seeing our rural communities thrive. Our students deserve fast and reliable internet service to keep them competitive with areas like Knoxville or Chattanooga, which has some of the fastest internet in the country. Many students, including adult learners, depend on internet to be able to take online classes - an opportunity that is far too often limited by lack of quality internet.

Roane County applied for a piece of the $45 million of grant money the state offered for rural internet expansion. They were turned down and still have areas in the county that lack any internet service. This is unacceptable.

Our current Representative takes thousands of dollars from AT&T and other Telecom PACS who leave our rural communities without the digital infrastructure we need

In today’s world, small businesses like our local farmers are relying more and more on social media and internet to keep up with the demands of a digital market. Small business owners want to advertise, keep digital records, and make payroll. Reliable internet also allows people to be able to work from home, something especially important to parents and caretakers who stand to benefit from the flexibility their employers are already offering them.

We need a leader who understands that these services are not optional for success, but are as necessary to progress as good roads.

Our current Representative takes thousands of dollars from AT&T and other Telecom PACS who leave our rural communities without the digital infrastructure we need.

We can do better. We must do better.

 
 

Send me to Nashville and I will fight for workers.

We want to know that at the end of a hard day’s work we can take care of our family, pay for the inevitable car repairs or broken appliances, and set a little aside for retirement. I know that Tennesseans value hard work and the dignity that comes from an honest day’s labor.

I was raised to believe that if you work hard in this country, you will be successful.

In Tennessee, that is often not the case.

Many Tennesseans are forced to juggle 2 or even 3 jobs to make up for the low wages and lack of benefits from these part-time employment situations

Tennessee leads the nation in the percentage of minimum wage jobs. Many Tennesseans are forced to juggle 2 or even 3 jobs to make up for the low wages and lack of benefits from these part-time employment situations.

Every year politicians promise us that good paying jobs will be the solution to all our problems.  In the last two or three years a few new companies have settled in our district and promised these good jobs.

I want those jobs for folks in this district like everyone else, but I am concerned about the lack of transparency in the way these companies were recruited. I am concerned that these companies were given large tax breaks or subsidies without any commitment to invest in the community’s education or infrastructure.

I am concerned that wages will not be high enough for people to actually live on, leaving them back where they started and with no good options. People want to work, and it hurts them when they can’t. A person willing to work should not find themselves worse off than if they didn’t work.

A person willing to work should not find themselves worse off than if they didn’t work.

I will push for legislation that tracks jobs created by these subsidy deals. People want accountability and transparency in our state government. I will also seek out employment opportunities for people in the district that won’t leave them destitute.

There are lots of creative ideas out there for how states can help our lowest-income individuals and families with healthcare, education, and housing problems. I will push conversations in Nashville towards progress for those most in need in our communities, always looking for the most effective, helpful, and cost-efficient solutions.

We can do better. We must do better.

 

On Tuesday November 6, 2018 #VoteForSparks