It was spring 2014, a mid-term election year. I was attending a political fundraiser for a friend of mine that was running for Knox County School Board. It was the first official political fundraising event that I had ever attended.
One of the attendees was Representative Gloria Johnson (D – Knoxville). Gloria had won the District 13 state house seat in 2012 by running a very grassroots campaign and was in the middle of a heated reelection campaign.
At some point during the evening, Gloria and I had a conversation about how she ended up in politics. She was a public-school teacher before being elected to the State House and is as down to earth at it gets. She is certainly not your stereotypical politician.
During our talk, Gloria mentioned that I should consider running for State House. I was somewhat flattered but also thought it was a crazy suggestion! First off, I just couldn’t fathom the idea of being a politician. As hard as I tried, I could not get the image of the stereotypical politician out of my head— a wealthy white guy dressed in an expensive tailored suit that will say anything to get reelected. Nope, not me. I mean, I didn’t even own a suit, and to this day, my favorite “outfit” is a pair of overhauls and a flannel shirt.
Besides, even if I could get past the political stereotypes in my head, I live in Blount County—which politically speaking is as red as it gets and has been since the Civil War! Running as a Democrat in Blount County would certainly be a huge waste of time. Regardless, I left the event flattered but not thinking that I would ever seriously consider the suggestion.
During the next couple of years, I really started paying attention to what was happening in the TN General Assembly. I started getting on the TN General Assembly website to search for and track the bills that interested me. I watched committee meetings and floor sessions of the House and Senate.
I corresponded with legislators more than ever before. I found it all fascinating! However, it was also a bit depressing. It was obvious that the good ol’ boy network was alive and well in the TN General Assembly. And, I just didn’t like the direction our state was headed. Still, I saw myself as an educated voter and advocate—not a future candidate or politician.
Fast forward to September 2016. America was involved in one of the most divisive and nasty Presidential campaigns in our history. The news was incredibly depressing to watch, friends and family members were disowning each other based on the content of their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, and both candidates were deeply flawed (albeit, one was certainly more flawed than the other).
I was frustrated that we didn’t have better choices or more respectable people running for President. That said, I was certainly hoping that Hillary Clinton would win because the thought of Donald Trump as President scared the hell out of me!
At the State Capitol in Nashville, the outlook wasn’t much better. We had a Republican governor who was semi-moderate but lacked the political will and fortitude to stand up to the State Legislature. In the TN House and Senate, the Republicans had a comfortable super majority which pretty much meant they controlled everything. And, I was not very hopeful that the balance of power would change much following the upcoming election.
When one political party has that much power, regardless whether it is the Democrats or Republicans, the middle ground is harder to find. In my mind, the pendulum for the Tennessee General Assembly had swung way too far to the right— and showed no signs of swinging back toward the middle anytime soon.
Furthermore, I was frustrated by the lack of options in the TN House District 8 race which happens to be my district and includes Maryville College. The incumbent had been there awhile and was running unopposed in the 2016 election. In fact, he didn’t have an opponent in the Republican Primary in 2014 or 2016 and hadn’t faced a Democratic challenger since 2010.
Before that, no Democrat had run for the District 8 seat since 1998. Thus, the winner of the Republican Primary for the District 8 State House seat, for the most part, had been handed a free pass to the State Capitol for the last two decades. I thought this was
unacceptable and somebody at minimum, whether Republican, Democrat, or Independent, needed to challenge the incumbent.
One night in early September 2016, I was cooking supper while my wife, Stacy, was watching TV and hanging out with our three hounds. Stacy is the breadwinner of the family and one of my husbandly duties is to cook most of our meals (I am truly a man of the 21st Century). I love to cook! And, when doing so, I usually sip some wine and listen to NPR or some political podcast.
I don’t recall what I was cooking that night, but I do remember feeling convicted to do more politically. It had been bugging me for a couple of weeks, but I wasn’t exactly sure what I needed to do to make it go away. After all, I have been politically active for most of my adult life.
Whether making phone calls or sending emails to my elected officials, being actively involved in local issues and organizations, voting in every election, or simply paying attention to the issues, I was probably more engaged than the average citizen. So, why was I feeling this way?
Up until this point, I always felt that I could have a greater impact on society by being a community organizer, board member, and advocate rather than a politician. Thus, you could say I was in the arena but not directly in the game. Perhaps somewhere between a rowdy spectator and the water boy but not an actual player on the field. I was helping my team and the cause, but I was not the one taking the direct hits or throwing bombs. That job is for the politicians… or is it?
About halfway through supper, I had worked up the nerve to say to Stacy, “You know, I have been thinking about running for State House!” I had no idea how she would respond. And, I would be lying if I didn’t say that a part of me wanted her to dismiss the idea. However, Stacy immediately looked me in the eye, put down her utensil, and enthusiastically said, “Hell yeah!” She did not hesitate at all! I was relieved but also a little scared at what I might be getting us into. Regardless, her reaction confirmed my convictions.
While finishing supper, we discussed what it would mean to run and, if we won, to serve. After a lengthy discussion, we agreed to “sleep on it awhile” and discuss it more during the coming days. And, we decided not to mention the idea to anyone until we knew for sure we were going to run. After all, it is a huge commitment and we were not going to take it lightly.
And then, after a few weeks of contemplating whether to run, a defining moment happened while I was watching TV at 2:50 a.m. on November 9, 2016. Stacy had to get up early and had long since gone to bed (remember, she is the breadwinner). I was well into a box of wine I had bought for us to enjoy and calm our nerves while we watched the election results on the eve of November 8. On the TV, the President-Elect of the United States of America was walking down a set of stairs to the stage where he would be giving his victory speech.
The President-Elect and soon to be the 45th President of my beloved country stepped up to the podium to speak. It was clear that my President, MY President, was going to be Donald Trump. At that moment, I knew I was going to run for Tennessee House of Representatives in 2018 and it was the right thing for me, and us, to do. No doubts or questions asked!
Long story short, I made a phone call to my state representative on Wednesday, November 7, 2018. I had made calls to state representatives over the years, but this call was different. I was calling MY state representative to concede the race for TN House District 8 and congratulate him on his victory.
On a political scorecard, it was a landslide and we got our butts handed to us! However, I, along with Stacy and a dedicated community of volunteers, supporters, and friends were no longer content to watch from the stands or sidelines.
We were in the game! And, for me personally, it was the most rewarding and humbling thing that I’ve ever done. We gave it our all! I have no regret. Here’s to running again in 2020!