Skip to content

Freshman lawmaker faces challenges of Tennessee

Freshman lawmaker faces challenges of Tennessee

Posted: Monday, June 1, 2009 9:34 pm
By: John Brannon Messenger Staff Reporter

Freshman lawmaker faces challenges of Tennessee | Freshman lawmaker faces challenges of Tennessee with constituents in mind

Freshman lawmaker, Judy Barker
 By JOHN BRANNON Messenger Staff Reporter A day in the life of a freshman lawmaker. What’s it like at Legislative Plaza in Nashville, Tennessee’s version of Capitol Hill? This question and others were posed to Democratic state Rep. Judy Barker of Union City last week by The Messenger. Last November she was elected to succeed outgoing state Rep. Phillip Pinion, also of Union City, who had represented House District 77 since 1988. Her answers were both surprising and informative. She shared her thoughts about a plethora of issues of interest to the general public, which is to say her constituents in House District 77 (Obion and Lake counties and part of Dyer County). The regular session of the 106th Tennessee General Assembly convened at noon Jan. 13 and is expected to adjourn in mid-June. She has been assigned membership on the House Education Committee and the House Transportation Committee. “The pace is very hectic and challenging,” she said. “One of the surprises is the number of bills and the diversity of issues. My job is full time. You cannot do it any other way. It’s my responsibility to be informed of each bill. The way I do it is, I listen to the individuals who sponsor the bills, I listen to the debate in different committees and then I call home to different groups to get their opinions on whether they support a bill or oppose it. That is how I make my vote.” What’s the makeup of a typical day for her? She said she arrives early. The office opens about 7:30 a.m. and closes about 7:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. Thursdays, after the daily legislative session is over, she returns home and spends the weekend with her family and attending events. “Every Wednesday, I go to devotion at 7:30,” she said. “I get here early so I can get my thoughts together and then go to devotion with other representatives and staff members. It’s very inspirational. It gives you a good outlook on the day to come,” she said. Mrs. Barker is a member of First United Methodist Church in Union City. “My faith keeps me grounded in the hectic pace just mentioned,” she said. “We’re all going to have to keep the faith as we start making decisions regarding the (state) budget. These are tough times.” Budget is ready Gov. Phil Bredesen just presented his budget proposal to the General Assembly. And the outcome is uncertain. Normally, during work days, committees are in session processing legislation. “Last week, we closed down the Transportation Committee and the Education Committee,” she said. “Now we’re focusing on finishing up the legislative session and looking at the budget.” It is the legislature’s job to pass the budget, she said. “That’s what we were elected for.” Pitfalls But this particular budget is fraught with pitfalls. There’s a severe shortfall in revenues due to the recession. And there’s the federal stimulus money — popular in some quarters, distasteful in others — which she characterizes as “a moving target” because the figures keep changing. What’s available today may be history tomorrow. Yet stimulus money, controversial though it may be, is going to be the salvation for the next year or two for programs in public education and health care, according to Mrs. Barker. A crisis “We are in a health care crisis,” she said. “Most of the phone calls I receive are from people who are uninsured or who can no longer afford health care premiums. So what we do, Audrey (Jenkins, her secretary) and I try to help these people find insurance through Cover Tennessee and Access Tennessee. You have to pay premiums (to participate). There are insurance programs in the state that can help those who are employed, and you would pay a small premium. “But if they have minor children, Cover Kids is for minor children. Every child received information on CoverKids in their backpacks when school started so parents would know there’s an insurance program out there for their children.” Major deficit She attended a meeting Wednesday about the budget and some possible major cuts that are pending. Even with federal stimulus money, she said, the state will be forced to cut $753 million from the budget, and more at the end of the budget year. “A lot of people have programs they want to keep in existence. They are pleading for them. There’s a lot of different directions this thing can go. And there is that $753 million cut. We will have to cut that much from the state budget because of a shortfall in sales tax revenue. We get further behind each month.” And there are other woes. Unemployment has reached a bleak 9.9 percent. “It’s a hard time to be in state government. But this is what I chose to do,” Mrs. Barker said. “I do it proudly and with a lot of reverence and trust that eventually we can work through it. “But I just want the people to know what’s going on. I want them to know we’re working hard. It’s just a bad situation all around. I want to be positive about it. We can work through it.” Looking back Is Judy Barker sad or glad she took a major step last year and tossed her proverbial hat into the political ring to run for state representative? She doesn’t hesitate to answer. “I am proud to be here,” she said. “I am proud to be the state representative for northwest Tennessee. I continue to vote with conservative rural values and keep focused on our projects.” Summer stuff What are her plans for summer 2009, assuming the General Assembly ultimately passes the budget and adjourns until January next? She says she doesn’t plan to take a break. “This summer I am sending out letters to business and industry and various community groups in the district saying that I would like to come and speak to them,” she said. “I’d like to visit their businesses and industries and just work with the community. This is a full-time thing. I’m going to come home to the district, have town hall meetings, see as many people as I can and continue to address issues and problems in the 77th District. “But I’m going to be out there with the people.” Economic development Mrs. Barker gave The Messenger updates on various projects such as I-69, Cates Landing and four-laning Highway 45. “My campaign (last year) focused on certain projects. And I have worked hard in promoting all our projects,” she said. “I-69 in the area of Discovery Park will be let for construction in August. I-69 is coming, even though a lot of people said they’d never see it in their lifetimes. “The Cates Landing riverport is progressing. Thursday night at Ellington Hall (at Reelfoot Lake), the Department of Transportation held a road design meeting open to the public. “Everett-Stewart (Regional) Airport and the Dyersburg airport have received a lot of improvement money. “All these projects are important for industry and economic development.” Career Center, too Mrs. Barker said the industrial center on Second Street in Union City “is booming.” It has a nursing program and a welding program. “I believe every program in our technical and vocational schools is filling to capacity,” she said. “The Tennessee Technology Center in Newbern has received some extra money for technical and vocational training. So they have set up a nursing school in Union City at the industrial center. I’m very proud of that.” And the right-of-way for four-laning Highway 45 has been acquired, she added. And last but not least, progress on replacing the old spillway at Reelfoot Lake is finally starting. The retaining wall installed on the channel side of the spillway in 2007 has stood the test and held up, preventing further damage to the old structure. “Actual construction on the new spillway and bridge complex is expected to begin this fall. We are all looking forward to it,” she said. An uphill thing And yet, in contrast to the good news, the unfinished budget looms large in the background as the General Assembly looks to adjournment in mid-June. “I don’t see the session as being in a downhill mode. I see it as an uphill mode, with this budget,” Mrs. Barker said. “This is going to be very challenging. But we intend to keep a positive outlook and work together in a nonpartisan fashion and work through this situation. “We Tennesseans have been through hard times before.” Published in The Messenger 6.1.09

Leave a Comment