With early voting set to start on February 21st, the Senate District 14 special election is just around the corner. I talked with Gayle Jordan, the Democratic candidate in the race, about her views on healthcare and education.
Our full conversation, lightly edited for clarity, appears below.
For folks that haven’t met you or heard of you yet, can you kind of give us a quick overview of your background?
I’ve lived in Rutherford County most of my adult life. I raised my four children on the hard work and fresh air of farm life. I proudly sent them to public school. They’re all public school graduates. They’re all college graduates, and they’re off doing their own thing. After my children all graduated from high school and left for college, I pursued a dream that I had had my whole life, which was attending law school. I came away at age 55 with the law degree and a bar license.
When you attend law school at age fifty you have a different motivation for what you want to do with that. I have a passion for folks being able to access legal help who can’t. It’s so inaccessible. It’s so expensive. My focus in having the law license was to help people access justice.
Most of the work that I do in my law practice I do with a non-profit in Nashville. I’m a mediator. Sometimes it’s a marital dissolution. Sometimes it’s a parenting claim. We also have a victim-offender and a juvenile victim-offender program. I either do this pro bono or at a greatly reduced rate. These are folks who need legal help and there’s no other place for them to get it.
Running for office is essentially an extension of that. It’s an extension of my desire to see Tennessee be a place that works for everybody and not just the fortunate few who have the means to enjoy it. That covers so many of my positions on health care and education and infrastructure, that desire to see Tennessee be a place that works for everyone.
Healthcare and education tend to be top of mind for people in our district. Governor Haslam has proposed Insure Tennessee, which uses that money available under the Affordable Care Act to provide health insurance coverage to low-income Tennesseans. On the opposite side, you’ve got people like Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and many other state Republican officials that are opposed to it, citing budget concerns.
What’s your view on Insure Tennessee? And how are you going to work to make healthcare more affordable for us here?
As you said, Insure Tennessee is Governor Haslam’s plan to provide healthcare to the working community who don’t have employer-provided health care. whether they are wait staff or whether they are service employees. They simply don’t have employer-provided health care. Most of them are working full-time, and they don’t have access to any other healthcare. Because they don’t have the healthcare, the only place where they can receive any kind of healthcare is in the emergency room. As you know, it’s the most expensive delivery of health care that you can possibly have. But they have no alternative because they have no other health care.
When that happens in our rural hospitals, hospitals will accommodate. They’ll cut staff, make budget cuts, but without reimbursement. Ultimately they close.
We’ve lost 10 hospitals in the eight years that we’ve had the Republican supermajority. And in those eight years, the Republicans have refused to even bring Insure Tennessee to the floor for a vote.
When I hear them cite budget concerns, it’s outrageous me because you and I have both paid our federal taxes into the system. That’s $3.2 billion – billion with a B – that we have left on the table year after year cumulatively.
If the economic message doesn’t drive you, the humanitarian message should. These are our friends and neighbors and brothers and sisters who are suffering from treatable diseases. And the biggest problem of all is that there is no end in sight. This will continue to repeat itself. In our own district 14, the Bedford County Hospital is on the at-risk list. We’ve already lost 10 and Bedford’s on the at-risk list.
There is no financial impact to Tennessee’s budget by bringing the Affordable Care Act to Tennessee. And that should outrage every citizen in the district.
Along with healthcare, education is a big topic in this special election. Charter schools and vouchers are one of the solutions on the table. But from what I’ve read, you’d rather move away from vouchers as the answer.
I’m opposed to vouchers and charter schools in all circumstances. Public tax dollars should absolutely stay in public education. Part of the problem is when we extract a child out of a public school, in order to provide voucher or a charter school, the money comes out in a much larger increment than the money is budgeted in. We also lose the resource of that child and that set of parents. That’s not the way that we improve public education in Tennessee.
You don’t cause an economic drain on the schools and expect them to improve – that doesn’t help anything. I keep hearing we heard repeatedly the Republican supermajority boast over and over about this budget surplus. We don’t have a budget surplus if our schools aren’t fully funded. We don’t have a budget surplus if our children are meeting in portables. We don’t have a budget surplus if our teachers haven’t received substantial wage increases or tangible benefits, which is what has repeatedly happened.
Our teachers in the district haven’t received a substantial raise in a long time. And we can’t we can’t use language like “we have a budget surplus” when our public school system is not funded with vision.
If the schools get more funding, how do you think they should be using it?
Well, I certainly think that each school should be empowered to make those choices for themselves. But if it were if it were up to me, I would mandate that the chief teachers get a raise. We start by respecting our teachers with those with those wage increases and those tangible benefit increases.
We have we have a looming teacher shortage coming up. Our young people are not going into teaching or they’re going into teaching and going to other states – we have evidence of that. We have to resolve that now and not wait until it’s a crisis.
While I would certainly give the school the local schools autonomy to make those decisions, I absolutely believe there should be a mandate about increasing teacher wages.
Our teachers have lost the ability to participate in collective in collective bargaining. They’ve been offered something that’s called collaborative conferencing, but it has no strength. They haven’t been able to negotiate for themselves and for their professional organization better wages and better benefits.
When voters head to the polls, what’s the thing you want them to think about before casting their vote?
I would like for them to remember and understand our long history in Tennessee of respect for public service.
I would like for them to remember that they are empowered to choose who will represent them, and who will vote for and sponsor legislation that will impact the lives of the people in their district.
I would like for them to reflect upon who most represents their values and interests – a farmer who sent her children to public school, who works to provide access to legal justice, and who shares a love for the land, or a wealthy member of the pharmaceutical industry who sends his children to private school, and who has never had to worry about health care, Internet access, or the cost of a gallon of milk.
That’s what I’d like for voters to remember.