By Briana Brady, Opinion Editor–
Through this partnership between myself, Briana Brady of The Echo, and UTC SGA Government and External Affairs Chairwoman Taylor Flores, a questionnaire was sent to Chattanooga candidates running for election in Tennessee Senate and House seats and is now being published in the Echo. All candidates were sent the same questions, and featured below are the answers of those who responded by the deadline. Please vote in these elections!
TN Senate 10: Glenn Scruggs (D), Todd Gardenhire (R, incumbent)
House District 26: Joan Farrell (D), Robbin Smith (R, incumbent)
House District 30: Joseph Udeaja (D), Esther Helton (R, incumbent)
1. What is your stance on the series of demonstrations this past summer that protested police brutality and systemic racism in this country and Tennessee?
Glenn Scruggs, TN Senate 10: As Assistant Chief of Police, I was at our local protests, day in and day out. I spoke with protesters, but more importantly, I listened. I listened to their concerns and I understand them. As a Black man, I know that Black lives do matter. I know that we can support the BLM movement and also support our law enforcement. I know that we can support law enforcement, but still see the need for reform. Support for either is not mutually exclusive. We can and should have change within our criminal justice system: end no-knock warrants, strengthen community oversight, end cash bail and private prisons. And we can and should ensure that the Black Lives Matter message does not continue to fall upon deaf ears. When elected, I will do my best to change that. We must fight systemic racism at all levels—in our education system, our criminal justice system, our healthcare system, and so much more.
Joan Farrell, House District 26: The failure of the police to police themselves, and the sheer number and severity of police brutality incidents, caused this matter to be brought before the public eye. Non violent protesters exercised their right, and many would say, duty, to correct the grievous wrong of excessive use of force, much of which has been aimed at people of color. I attended one of the peaceful protests in June as well as another on poverty in July. I believe that the City of Chattanooga has made strides in correcting abuses within the CPD. The failure of County Sheriff Hammond to voluntarily step down, or be fired by the District Attorney/County Mayor/County Commission when the horrible beating of Reginald Arrington occurred, is a matter of serious concern. The deputies involved were not fired, nor charged with felony Assault. This unconscionable beating was one of a series of other incidents of excessive force, indicating a pattern of systemic racism. Citizens must vote out of office those who will not honor “life, liberty and the pursuit of justice” and the “inalienable rights” of all.
Joseph Udeaja, House District 30: I support the protests. Systemic racism is endemic in our society such that Black people are often forced to resort to protests to get any attention to what they go through. It should not be so. There are data that clearly show that for a similar offense, a black man is treated very harshly, at times with murdering him whereas a white man would be treated more humanely. Today, most of these cases are being exposed due to presence of cameras, social media outlets and awareness that has been created by these protests. But these and more have been going on for centuries. It is also important to note that most police officers do not go out each day looking for black people to hurt or murder. Thus a major part of the solution will include educating black children on ways to prevent situations that often illicit harsh treatment by the police and the entire legal system. Also, it is worth noting that while these police killings are the main triggers for the recent protests, racism solely based on the color of skin is prevalent in hiring, school admissions, support for schools, loan approval for various reasons, resource allocation, housing, etc. We all have the responsibility to remove this stain of racism in us and in our system. Our nation was built by people from diverse backgrounds, by people with different skin colors, gender, sexual orientation, and other differences. That is what made us the most admired, revered, and respected nation in the world. Just as it is in the nation, there is also systemic racism in our state, Tennessee. All that one needs to do is look at data on just about every aspect of life, to see how racism and associated discrimination have put Black people in subjugated positions. We all have the responsibility to change this because doing so makes our state better. Just as our country, our state will become more diverse, with more interracial marriages, and more acceptance and respect for those with different lifestyles.
2. Considering the age gap between you and most traditional UTC students, how do you plan to engage with your younger constituents, so you can accurately represent their generation?
Glenn Scruggs, TN Senate 10: My job allows me to interact with people of all ages and backgrounds every day. I find this allows me to relate to constituents of all ages, from our youngest community members to our eldest. I am a father, and I see the challenges our youth have growing up in today’s society. We need to meet our youth where they are, be that digitally or in-person. Our younger constituents face problems that my generation didn’t face when we were growing up, and I know that we cannot ignore these concerns. One of the most important things I have learned through my career and my role as a parent is that we must show up and listen. I plan to do exactly that when elected.
Joan Farrell, House District 26: Most candidates seeking a General Assembly house seat do not even have an official platform. However, I do and it is published on my website and Facebook, both under Joan for House. My email, this one, is shown at the bottom of my web page and I have answered all emails from future constituents. Although incumbent Robin Smith refused to participate in a debate which was offered by the League of Women Voters, the Daughters of the American Revolution, WRCB TV Channel 3, and the Times Free Press, I did participate in several zoom town halls and forums, many of which are available on my Facebook or the Hamilton County Democratic Party Facebook. My platform includes raising the minimum wage significantly, opposing the Right to Work law which sounds good but is anti-union, advocating for Medicaid expansion, protecting patients with pre-existing conditions, opposing vouchers and supporting full funding of public schools, advocating for 4 years free tuition at state colleges or universities, protection of Roe v Wade, supporting age appropriate sex education and widespread use of low cost contraception, and full transparency on vaccines administered in Tennessee (list all additives and preservatives as well as the exact type of vaccine).
Joseph Udeaja, House District 30: Indeed, there is a big age gap between me and most students at UTC but here is the thing. My ideology, my desire to do good to the society I live in, my ability to listen and learn, my experience working with people from different age groups and with varying backgrounds, are qualities that I believe that students at UTC and throughout the state can relate to. Having been a student, a teacher, a student mentor, trainer, I understand many of the challenges students face. Even with my not being a student, I am still a “student” by virtue of my having two children who recently graduated from the college and two who are currently public elementary school. This is one of the reasons why a major item on my platform is support for education. As a student who graduated with huge amount of student loans, that took me over 10 years to pay off, I can understand what students in such situation go through. As a former teacher in both the college and at the professional school level, I can relate to the challenges the students go through. As a father whose two young ones are currently in the elementary school, I understand the challenges teachers in the public schools face. As a state representative, I will make time to visit and speak with students in our area to learn more about the challenges they and the schools face and look for ways to mitigate some of the challenges. There is always a way to do the right thing.
3. How would you bring more economic mobility and diversity to your district and Tennessee?
Glenn Scruggs, TN Senate 10: Economic mobility in our local communities is imperative, but there are many factors at play. Education, healthcare, criminal justice reform, housing— every single one of these issues is currently connected to economics. For instance, we’re currently not funding public schools as needed on the state level, leaving inequitable schools across our district. Investing in our public education system will not only prepare our students for the future, but it will encourage new businesses to come to our communities, thus bringing more job opportunities. We must also invest in affordable housing. We know that the cost of living is rising, but incomes are not, making it more and more difficult for people to afford to pay rent, let alone buy homes. We must increase wages and make sure that we abolish Right to Work, so that working Tennesseans are paid enough to support their families.
Joan Farrell, House District 26: The minimum wage of $7.25 is not a Living Wage. I will submit a bill (similar to the Federal legislation which has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives but it sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk) with wages starting at $11.00 and advancing $1 per year to $15; thereafter increases would be tied to the inflation index. There is a great need for affordable housing, with modest but practical and attractive new single story homes in the $100,000 to $150,000 price range. These homes would be similar in size and design to Habitat homes. Builders would need to be incentivized to produce these homes rather than the McMansions they are currently building, with home prices beginning in the $260,0000s. These homes are too expensive and too big for a small family, e.g. young couple, single mom and children, single person, older retired couples, etc.
Joseph Udeaja, House District 30:
I will use my influence as a state representative to help with bringing more jobs that pay livable wages to my district and state. While we wait for the federal government to act on increasing the minimum wage, I will push for our state to do so. People in our state do not have to work too many jobs in order to afford basic necessaries. Another way to increase economic mobility is to look for ways to provide opportunities for those without formal education to get jobs that will allow them tap into their skillsets. I will introduce or amend existing legislation to ensure that companies maintain diverse workforce. This needs to be monitored and verified on a regular basis. Such diversity should be observed not only in low-paying jobs but in higher management and decision-making positions as well. The goal is to ensure that in the district and at the state level, diversity is clearly reflected. Companies that have embrace diversity have done better than those who refuse to or who maintain lukewarm approach to diversity.
4. How would you help combat the health and safety effects that COVID-19 has had on the people in your district and Tennessee?
Glenn Scruggs, TN Senate 10: First and foremost, we need greater control over Covid-19 regulations across the state. We need a uniform response in order to guarantee that all Tennesseans are safe. These state-mandated regulations would not only ensure the safety of Tennesseans, but they would also help protect the small businesses who are currently forced to enact their own regulations. The legislature must also explore options to assist small businesses which are seeing the financial impact of the pandemic. Lastly, Tennessee must expand Medicaid. We currently have a nearly 10% unemployment rate. As people lose their jobs, they lose their healthcare coverage as well. More than ever, we need to guarantee that Tennesseans have access to high-quality health care.
Joan Farrell, House District 26: The response to Covid needs to be carefully balanced – measures taken that can both preserve safety and allow businesses to open. One size fits all measures are counter productive. Communities should be empowered to make decisions that work best for them.
Joseph Udeaja, House District 30: In addition to working with the executive, legislators and other stakeholders to provide guidance to the people, I will push for people in my district and the state in general, to follow CDC guidelines to protect themselves and other people. I will lead by example through wearing my masks and maintaining recommended distance when in close contact with people. Since there are people who will not follow these guidelines, I will work with local officials in my district to look for ways to enforce CDC and state guidelines without adversely impacting business and general life. There is also the need for continued education of the public to understand the virus more, in particular, how they can help with preventing its transmission. Then there is the need to work with local business groups to help with unemployment resulting from this virus, tapping into both federal and state benefits and resources to help people who are affected.
5. If (re)elected, what would be your number one priority in office, and why?
Glenn Scruggs, TN Senate 10: My first priority would be ensuring the safety of Tennesseans from covid, both physically and financially. We continue to see record numbers of cases locally, and we must address this pandemic at the state level. Our current legislators have failed us by not providing strong guidance and regulations to keep us safe. Day one, I would begin work to help our great state recover from this pandemic.
Joan Farrell, House District 26: Number one priority is a living wage and I will introduce legislation when elected. Voters must understand that Republicans comprise a super majority in both houses of the General Assembly and many progressive plans will require an uphill battle. I can promise that I will engage in a spirited fight for the good of all.
Joseph Udeaja, House District 30: My priority with respect to the horrible impacts COVID is having in my district and throughout the state, is Healthcare. COVID has further exposed the weaknesses in our health care system, mainly, that many people do not get adequate health care due to not having good healthcare insurance. Our state needs to adopt the Affordable Health Care (ACA) which has been proven to provide broader and more effective coverage for the people. The Medicaid part of ACA has many benefits that TeenCare does not currently provide. The state also will be better off financially by adopting and implementing the ACA, just as states that did so have shown. Thus, working with my colleagues to fully understand the huge benefits in ACA and why it should be in place, would be my priority. I will also educate people in my district on the benefits of ACA so that they will help to push for its implementation. Evidence has shown that the status quo has not done well educating people on such issues. As a result many people suffer unnecessarily.