Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a two-part series of “question and answer” highlights with the three local Senate candidates. This part addresses where each candidate stands regarding education, legislation and job growth.
By MARY JEAN HALL
Special to The Messenger
After nearly 20 years of service in the state Senate, Sen. Roy Herron of Dresden announced his retirement earlier this year, which left an empty seat for the 24th state Senate district.
Three candidates are currently fighting to win Herron’s seat for the opportunity to serve six counties that span from Obion County to Benton County.
Republican candidates Danny Jowers of Kenton and John Stevens of Huntingdon will face off in the primary Aug. 2. On Nov. 6, voters will make the final decision between the winner of the Republican primary and the Democratic candidate, Brad Thompson of the Midway community between Union City and Martin.
The Weakley County Press in Martin spoke with the three candidates to get their views on the following issues:
Q: Will you vote as an individual or vote by the party platform?
A: Jowers — By the district. That’s who voted me in and that’s whom I represent. There are times we may disagree, but I’ll try to represent my district.
A: Stevens — I don’t necessarily view those two things as opposed. The Republican Party stands for low taxes and regulations in the economy, which is in line with the district. I’m there to represent the 24th Senate district.
A: Thompson — Individual, for sure. My interests are rural issues and for the people of the 24th senate district. I represent the values of the people in rural West Tennessee.
Q: What is your stance on the guns in parking lots bill?
A: Jowers — I support it.
A: Stevens — I’ve talked with business owners in the 24th district, and with all of the ones I talked to, it’s not an issue. It’s common sense because they aren’t searching anyone’s cars. I see a common sense compromise reached between the business owner and individual. I’m a strong supporter of 2nd Amendment and 2nd Amendment rights. I am also a proponent of individual liberties and private property rights.
A: Thompson — I would need to read the specific bill. I understand the businesses concern and their reasons against it, but I understand individual rights. I am a strong 2nd Amendment supporter, a member of the NRA and I’m a gun owner.
Q: What about guns on campus?
A: Jowers — Absolutely not. There just has to be limitations. Schools need to be a safe zone. There’s a big difference. In areas that are not very safe, we need to protect ourselves. On a campus, too much can go wrong.
A: Stevens — Sure. When I went to the University of Memphis, the parking lots that I had to park in were unsafe. There were violent crimes in the parking lots, and violence against women in those parking lots. Violent crime decreases where there is an increase of protection. With criminals, if you are more likely to be armed, they are less likely to attack you.
A: Thompson — Maybe faculty and staff should have that right if they’d like security, if they felt threatened, but I would really need to read the legislation.
Q: What is your opinion on the new law that would require welfare recipients in the state to pass a drug test to receive benefits?
A: Jowers — I agree. We should find out what people are using it for. If it’s legitimate, then OK, but drugs on my tax dollars? That’s wrong. If you’re not doing it, then what are you worried about. You have to take a random drug test for some jobs.
A: Stevens — I absolutely support it. I have a number of clients in my office who receive benefits and probably would not pass a drug screen. In my opinion, if you can buy drugs, you don’t need welfare.
A: Thompson — Many people have to pass drug tests for employment. I would be worried that it might penalize the children for the sins of the parent, but we’ll just have to watch and see how it works out. It needs to be monitored since it is a new law. We should get information from the Human Services department, and see how they feel it’s working out and see the statistics after it’s been put into place. A study came out in Florida, and they actually lost money. It’s something I’d want to study and monitor to see if it’s actually helping.
Q: The state has been cutting funding from higher education over the past several years, and the universities are consistently increasing tuition to cover the difference. UT Martin just announced another tuition increase, this time by 6 percent. What are your plans regarding funding for higher education?
A: Jowers — First thing is that everyone needs to look at cuts made, downsizing and other cost effective means. They have to be frugal and cut some fat and waste out of higher education. If that doesn’t work, look at more funding.
A: Stevens — I don’t know. I need to look into why the costs of higher education are going up. I’m a small businessman. I understand you have to increase prices because you can’t cover costs. What is driving the increase in the cost of higher education? I go to campuses and see buildings being built. I’m not opposed to it, but it makes me wonder.
A: Thompson — Right now, there is about a $225 million surplus in unallocated revenue in the State of Tennessee, and I issued a statement to the press saying that we need to freeze tuition costs. We need to use that surplus to freeze the tuition hike. The tuition hike is an unnecessary tax on hardworking families who are trying to send their children to college so that they may compete better in today’s global market.
Q: Over 85 percent of higher education students in Tennessee rely on financial aid, whether it is through loans, the HOPE Lottery scholarship, etc. With the state’s current economic situation, do you think that the HOPE scholarships should be limited, or that the requirements be raised?
A: Jowers — I think probably the more folks you allow to go to college, the better off you are. I need to look at it more, because I’m not familiar with the criteria. Keep the standards there, of course — not so low that everyone gets it, but not so high that only a few get it.
A: Stevens — I don’t know. I’m not rehearsed on the issue and I want more information.
A: Thompson — What’s important is that we create an opportunity for as many students to get a higher education as possible. As far as the criteria for what you’d have to do to qualify and retain the HOPE scholarship, that is something that I’d want to read the bill and talk with the folks in higher education. I’d want to get a really good understanding of it.
Q: What is your opinion on SB113, the teacher’s union bill?
A: Jowers — I support that bill. Teachers are not paid what they are worth. With any job, good work should be rewarded and bad work should not be rewarded. It’s the same with private business.
A: Stevens — I haven’t read it, so it would be a disservice to decide.
A: Thompson — I believe that’s the PECCA, or Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act, law. I would work with the TEA to legislatively address problems relative to the new PECCA law. The employees should be involved in all decisions. Teachers have been disrespected, and as a state senator, I will work to make sure that teachers gain the respect they deserve. We need to take politics out of the classroom, and listen to our teachers who are on the ground.
Q: Do you agree with some conservatives that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme?
A: Jowers — No, I do not.
A: Stevens — It’s a myth that the Social Security trust fund is a pot of money waiting in an account somewhere. Lots of people think that. I think we’ve been racing toward where the number of payers and payees are hand-to-mouth on that program. It’s scary for lots of seniors who are depending on that check. Promises need to be kept.
A: Thompson — Absolutely not.
Q: What is your opinion on Obama’s health care plan, and do you think the State of Tennessee should take any action on it?
A: Jowers — I think Obama’s health care plan will cause lots of people to pay lots of money in the future. Some of the folks do need insurance, but I don’t think Obamacare is the way to go. With Blue Cross Blue Shield, Medicare in 2014, premiums will double for elderly, which is very hurtful for those folks.
A: Stevens — In my opinion, Tennessee needs to take action and not wait around for Congress to act. We’ve seen Obamacare before as TennCare. There are higher costs, higher taxes and less care. Return health care to where it belongs: between patients and their doctors. Obamacare is unaffordable, irresponsible and gives too much control in the hands of Nashville bureaucrats.
A: Thompson — I worked with Congressman Tanner when the health care legislation passed. I studied that legislation as a staffer and as an advisor to the Congressman, and he did not vote for the Affordability Act. There were some great things in that bill like allowing children to stay on their parent’s insurance until they are 26 years old, those who are uninsurable have affordable access to health care and children have access to health care. I don’t think that there’s anybody who disagrees that those folks shouldn’t not be inclined to have health insurance. That being said, the legislation was rushed. There are some things in there that I don’t think are good, and it needs to be fixed. It’s a federal issue and it’s something that Congress needs to fix. We live in a rural area, and we have to make sure that our clinics, hospitals and our rural health care are not harmed through any of this. Our hospitals here are big employers to the community, and we need them here. We have an aging population in this senate district, and we’ve got to have access to affordable, good health care.
Q: Is there anything else that you’d like to mention?
A: Jowers — My big issues are to find jobs, support small businesses and get government off the businesses’ backs. Give it back to them, they’ll make more money and they’ll grow.
A: Stevens — I don’t have to tell you that the district is in trouble with some of the highest unemployment in the state. From April 2011-12, unemployment was higher than the national average. I don’t view this as a challenge, but as an opportunity. We should be an engine of economic growth. We don’t do that by looking to Washington or Nashville. We do it by creating our own growth. I believe in the people of this district, and better days are in front of them.
A: Thompson — Jobs and education are my main issues. There are some really tough issues facing the state legislature. One thing is that we’ve got to find common ground. When you’re talking about issues of unemployment and issues that small businesses are facing, those are the types of things where we have to put politics aside and work together, and that’s exactly what our campaign is all about. We’re not going into this with a “we’re always right and you’re always wrong philosophy.” You can’t cast aside a good idea just because someone has a “D” or “R” beside their name, but that’s how policy gets formed — when you can reach across the aisle and work alongside somebody else to get things done at the end of the day. I’m not a politician. I’m an advocate.
I’m really excited about this. When I first got into this, it wasn’t about me looking for an opportunity. It was about me having an opportunity to do something. With my past work in this area, and my community involvement, I’ve always been one who is service-oriented. Having the opportunity to serve the 24th senate district in the state legislature would be a great honor.
With the redistricting in the election, the 24th State Senate District saw a few changes. While the district lost Decatur, Henderson, Lake, Perry and Stewart counties, it gained Carroll and Gibson counties.
Early voting has already started and will last through Saturday. During the early voting period, Obion County residents can vote at the Obion County Election Commission office in Union City from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.
Voters must have a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot. College IDs will not be accepted.
For more information on the three candidates, voters can “like” them on Facebook at Danny Jowers for State Senate, John Stevens for Tennessee Senate 2012 or Brad Thompson for State Senate. Jowers has a website at www.JowersforSenate.com and Thompson has a website at www.VoteThompson2012.com.
For questions about the general election process, call the Obion County election office at 885-1901.
Editor’s note: Mary Jean Hall is a writer for The Weakley County Press in Martin.
Published in The Messenger 7.23.12