The Bradley County Democratic Party’s annual Heritage Dinner, held Thursday at Bradley Central High School, was full of chances for the group to reflect on current politics and make plans for …
The Bradley County Democratic Party’s annual Heritage Dinner, held Thursday at Bradley Central High School, was full of chances for the group to reflect on current politics and make plans for the future.
Sara Keel, chair of the Bradley County Democratic Party, kicked off the event with updates on its activities over the past year.
“We all know we took some blows with the last election, but a lot of good came out of our local activities as a party, with our members,” Keel said.
She noted the party kept its political campaign office open and fully staffed for four months, participated in voter registration events and hosted parties to watch televised presidential debates and election results.
The group also participated in community service projects. These included donating $1,500 to local nonprofit organization The Refuge and collecting toys for its annual Christmas event for families with children. Members also partnered with the Bradley County NAACP to host a cleanup event at Mosby Park.
Keel later turned the attention to the dinner’s main speaker, Tennessee gubernatorial candidate and State Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley.
Fitzhugh spoke about the current political climate in Tennessee and why he feels he would be a good fit for the governor’s seat.
He began by telling the group about his family, including his wife of 43 years, his two children and his four grandchildren.
The candidate stressed the futures of his grandchildren and children like them are what inspired him to run. Fitzhugh said he does not like the nation’s current political climate, and wants a better future for them.
“It seems like Washington, the White House, Congress — they’re trying to undo everything that makes America strong and great,” Fitzhugh said.
“They are undercutting our leadership in the world, risking our economy, making health care more expensive for people and gutting the laws that keep our air and our water clean.”
Fitzhugh is an alumnus of the University of Tennessee and the UT College of Law. He also spent four years of active duty in the U.S. Air Force, serving as a captain in the Judge’s Advocate General Corps, aka JAG.
After returning to his hometown of Ripley to practice law, he eventually joined the banking industry. He joined the Bank of Ripley in 1992, and is now chairman and CEO.
He has represented the 82nd District in the Tennessee House of Representatives since 1994 and has served as the House minority leader.
Though he spoke critically of Washington, he said he will continue to do what he can to help the people of this state.
“Washington is just a hot mess, and Congress is not working for the people. That is not how we do things here in Tennessee,” Fitzhugh said. “In Tennessee, we look out for real people leading real lives. It’s how I look at every issue ... people matter.”
He spoke of his work with the state legislature and outlined some of the ways he and his fellow Democrats have helped shape state laws.
These include stopping a bill for school vouchers which he asserted would have “taken your tax dollars from our public schools.” He said the Democrats also “won the fight” against a proposal to have private companies manage public state parks.
Fitzhugh said legislators also worked to “protect people’s voting rights” by promoting legislation allowing online voter registration in Tennessee.
He also touched on health care and said he will, if elected, call for a Medicaid expansion in Tennessee. He said the state is effectively turning down billions of dollars it could receive to expand health care.
“How crazy is this? We all pay our taxes into Washington, but when Washington tries to give some of the money back to us for health care, the Republicans in the state legislature say, ‘No, we don’t want it.’”
Fitzhugh and other state legislators are asking Gov. Bill Haslam to support a Medicaid expansion while he is still in office. He stressed that the 25 Democrats in the state House are ready to vote for one.
Such an expansion would help families struggling to pay for health care, Fitzhugh said. He added a Medicaid expansion could also help address the state’s “opioid crisis,” as it could provide more access to drug rehab treatments.
“The first thing I’m going to do as governor is to expand Medicaid in Tennessee — if we haven’t already,” Fitzhugh said.
His other goals include improving the state’s economy to ensure people have access to good jobs and a good quality of life.
One way to improve job prospects is to improve education, Fitzhugh said. He committed to “strengthening schools” and looking for ways to make college “affordable” in Tennessee.
Fitzhugh said he will also look for ways to help keep people’s cost of living low, by minimizing taxes. He praised the efforts of state legislators who recently voted for “a cut in the grocery tax” and “property tax relief for veterans and seniors.”
He added that improving the state’s infrastructure, including roads and broadband internet access, will also be a priority.
The candidate quoted former Tennessee Gov. Ned McWherter, who said, “Roads plus education equals jobs.” Fitzhugh said the equation still works today, when paired with the 21st century priority of broadband access.
“Government can’t solve every problem, but when it can lend a hand, it ought to do so,” said Fitzhugh. “Everybody benefits when more people do better.”
The Democrats also heard from others who are campaigning for political office seats this coming year.
They included Dr. Danielle Mitchell, candidate for the 3rd District U.S. House of Representatives, and Mariah Phillips, candidate for 4th District U.S. House of Representatives. Campaign rep Gayle Jordan also spoke about her candidate, 4th District U.S. House of Representatives hopeful Steven Reynolds.
All spoke about why they are running for office, and asked for the local party’s support.
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