Many big ticket items are on the ballot this year. Almost every seat from the US Senate on down to City Commission have candidates running, vying for your vote. And with the nation focused in on Tennessee to see if Democrats can flip the seat, which would flip the US Senate. Lots of money from inside and outside of Tennessee are filling up our commercial breaks and mailboxes with literature critiquing one candidate or uplifting another.
But this glitz and glamor doesn’t trickle down to most of the down ballot races. That isn’t to say they are any less important. In fact, in a lot of ways, they are equally if not even more important. A former Speaker of the US House, Tip O’Neill, once said, “All politics is local.” Tip O’Neill couldn’t have been more right.
Every level of government affects us, but it’s local government who more intimately affects our daily lives. For most of the candidates running for City Commission they’ll walk away simply hoping to have pushed the conversation on their top priority topics. After all, here in Johnson City, out of the five candidates vying for the position, only two will be elected. And yet all of their perspectives are important. Something motivated them to run, to initiate change, and to serve.
One of the hallmarks of the Johnson City Commission is the work that’s been done to grow and develop the downtown. But that work isn’t finished. Founders Park and King Commons Park are beautiful, there are some fabulous places to dine, and yet we need to do more to bring more businesses to the downtown. There needs to be even more employment opportunities for employees to make a living wage. More local investors need to invest in these businesses, own these buildings, to ensure that local business owners looking to start or expand their businesses are able to do so.
With housing prices increasing across the county at a rate of 3 percent and yet wages only rising at a rate of 2 percent annually, residents are being priced out of the housing market, able to afford less and less—including their mortgages/rent, groceries, or healthcare. Living paycheck-to-paycheck isn’t easy and yet so many of our friends, family members, and neighbors are struggling.
As many businesses have discovered, Johnson City also needs to invest in policies and practices that continues to attract as well as retain and celebrate the vibrant diversity living in the city. I couldn’t have been more surprised and yet more proud that the Johnson City Chamber and the Johnson City Commission embraced and supported the first annual TriPride Festival and Parade. However, the city shouldn’t stop there. It also needs to support legislation and policies that continue to foster and create safe environments that attract diverse communities.
As tax payers we’ve allowed our state legislators to give up over $4 Billion that we’ve already paid to the federal government by not expanding Medicaid in Tennessee. Because of this, hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans are unable to afford medical care. Tennessee is ranked number one for the number of declared bankruptcies due to unaffordable healthcare bills. People are literally dying.
My challenge to everyone is that while the top of the ticket candidates and their platforms will be flooding your inboxes, mailboxes, newsfeeds, and television screens, take the time to get to know the down ballot candidates, too. These are the future elected officials who will decide policies for the community we call home. These are the elected officials who will run for larger offices down the road, having gained experience at the local level. Who do you want at the top of the ticket in two years, four years, eight years, etc.?
It’s exciting to see the record number voter turnout for early voting in a midterm election. So let’s not wear blinders to only focus on the candidates at the top, but on the candidates at all levels, because that is exactly how we get the change we want to see.