Primaries may not be until August 2nd but that’s not stopping State Representative Rick Tillis from kicking things off. He’s the first candidate to announce for the 92nd district state house seat.
I sat down with Rep. Tillis to look at his current work in the General Assembly along with his plans for re-election. Our full conversation, lightly edited for clarity, appears below.
Last month, you introduced HB1881, which would establish Daylight Saving Time as the standard time here in Tennessee. What prompted that bill for you?
An email from a constituent – a gentleman that has seasonal affective disorder. A lot of times when people set their clocks back in the wintertime, it puts them in a blue mood as it starts getting darker earlier. You take sunrise and move it back or earlier one hour. It affects people on a mental level.
I’ve also started doing research and found out that several psychological and physical health situations are aggravated by this shift in time. For example, autistic children, which are very regimented in the routine. I met with a group that works with autistic children yesterday and I brought this up. They said yes every time they changed the clock, it goes into a major upset of the children’s schedule. Then people with medical devices – they have to deal with recalibrating and doing things with their equipment.
It’s only four months now. Congress, back in 2007, changed it from October to April to November to March. Honestly, they should have done away with it.
Daylight Saving Time has typically been handled at the federal level. The Uniform Time Act standardized Daylight Saving Time back in 1966. Why take this up at a state level now?
Yeah, first implemented in 1918 in the United States, and it was done for the war effort. We had first World War going on. It was designed, or it was under the logic of, it was going to save energy for the war effort. It’s proven to not do that. And it’s really it’s one of those things now – “it’s just we’ve been doing it, why change?” It’s a practice this Antiquated, you know, and it just needs to be done away with.
Yes, it creates a problem. I’m well aware that and politically you know, it could cause me some trouble – I understand that. I was working with a legislator in Huntsville, and they love the idea. Huntsville has attempted it before too, but they just couldn’t get it the support in the chamber.
Popular support is huge for this. The poll I did on Facebook – targeted Tennessee statewide – we had votes from every county in the state to on this deal. Eighty percent support of the bill for the change.
Now the federal government, Tennessee – every state really – can request to not observe Daylight Saving Time. Arizona’s done it, Indiana’s done it in the lower 48. Hawaii and Alaska have done so as well. We can do that. Then we have to petition the federal government. You can also ask them to put you in a different time zone as well, but that has to be approved by the federal government as a different mechanism try to it.
Florida passed the same legislation, so they will be going to the federal government. I think you’re going to see probably a movement at the state level to get the Congress to do away with it. I would say if you did a nationwide poll these numbers for Tennessee would run consistent across the United States.
You’ve also co-sponsored HB2251, which would eliminate TennCare reimbursements to any healthcare provider that uses state funds to promote or support elective abortion. Current law already makes it illegal for state taxpayer dollars to be used to fund abortions. What’s the need for this new legislation?
According to this bill, and it’s been filed, but it has not got to committee yet, and I’m going to watch this bill. If there is state money going to support Planned Parenthood. You get into a weird path when you start looking at funding because if there’s money going to Planned Parenthood, and it’s not specifically for mammograms or birth control, it might be being used for abortions. On the state level, I’m totally against that. I’m 100 percent pro-life. There are circumstances where there might have to be an abortion. But for it to be used as a form of birth control, I’m totally against that.
Staying with TennCare for a moment, Speaker Harwell introduced a bill that aims to require “able-bodied working-age adults without dependent children under the age of six” to meet work requirements if they want TennCare health coverage. It’s not implementing those requirements yet but directing the commissioner of finance and administration to submit a waiver to the federal government. What’s your view on that bill?
I’m not totally familiar with this bill, but the premise of it. This has been done at the federal level too I think, to some degree or in other states. If you are on some sort of government assistance, and you are an able body person, you should be out working or volunteering to do some sort of work.
I’m all for helping people that have a real need. But I think we’ve gotten into a place in the United States now, where there’s a lot of people that are fully capable of working doing whatever kind of work they’re capable of doing or qualified to do, to help support themselves. We have too many people dependent on the federal government and state government when they could be providing for themselves on some level
If new work requirements were added, the administrative costs of implementing and tracking work activities would likely increase. The Sycamore Institute estimates that only a very small percentage of the 380,000 non-elderly adult TennCare enrollees would be affected by those work requirements. Considering that, is this the best use of our tax dollars?
I can’t say I know them [The Sycamore Institute]. When federal government gives us the permission to do this, you have to put a panel together and take a look at it. You know it’s a what’s the return on investment. I hate to equate this to a business operation. But if it’s determined that there is far more abuse of the system than the cost of implementing and managing.
I’m not about bureaucracy – the smaller the government , the better for everyone I believe. If this does create bigger government, it doesn’t solve the problem. If it exceeds what the savings would be then you have to go – listen, fiscally this doesn’t make sense.
Shifting over to your re-election, what’s your top issues that your campaign will focus on?
We’re still ways out – the primaries are not until August the second I think it is this year. It’s early, but you know people were asking, “Hey, are you going to run again?”. I guess I need to just make it public that yes, I do plan on running again.
The governor gave the State of the State address and I was at a speech that he gave the other day. He emphasized something that he brought up in the State of the State and it’s this – how do we keep Tennessee going forward?
With a new governor coming in and then people getting reelected. We’re going to have a huge turnover in the General Assembly. We’re going to have probably about 25 new state reps and seven maybe new state senators. You’re going to have a huge change in institutional knowledge and experience. My focus is going to be how do we continue on the path that Tennessee has been on for the past seven or eight years?.
We’ve been on a great trajectory fiscally with the job growth. We’re at historically low unemployment for the state and with economic growth. Sooner or later, we are going to slow down. And that’s when you have to have people that say, “Okay, we know how we got here. We remember what it took to get here. But now how do we manage it when we’re not in high cotton so to speak.” That’s one that is really going to be one of the main focuses.
In recent elections across the South, I get a feeling of energy from new and younger voters, people in that 18-30 year old range. For people that haven’t voted for you before, what’s a few things you want them to know about you?
I think what we’re seeing now is the influence of social media and the availability of information from across the country. But I think what we’re seeing too is that you can’t take it for granted. Just because you’re in a red state or blue state really. Back in the last cycle, we had Democrats lose seats to two Republican candidates. I don’t really look at the presidential race. You know we thought they were Clinton was the Heir Apparent and that obviously did not happen.
I think the youth are invigorated, they’re paying attention to what’s going on, and they’re getting involved. When you get into a situation like you did up in the senate race [State District 17], some people get complacent. They think that this is going to be just you know an easy win for me. But sometimes candidates on the extremes, on the left and on the right, are sometimes so far out of the mainstream, they become vulnerable. That’s something the other people have to consider assume.
With those younger voters, if this is their first time voting in this district, what would you tell them? What would you want them to know about you?
Really, just how I got to where I am. I come from a lower middle-class family – six kids in my family. My father was a blue-collar guy who worked two jobs a lot of the time to pay a bill and to make enough money to where my mother could stay at home and raise the kids. Our upbringing – we moved a lot with my father’s work, because of the type of work. We’ve moved all over the South.
Really the story is is that anyone can make it in this country. I’ve got didn’t graduate from high school. I got a GED. With the circumstances, it wasn’t like I was a bad student who dropped out. It was we moved in my senior year and it was just a mess. I said let me just drop out of here, get a GED, and it in the gym today of my senior class graduated.
I worked to where I am today. My conservative ideology comes from my upbringing. I was raised going to church and in a conservative family. But one of my sisters is one of the biggest liberals I know.
Is she voting for you?
Well, she lives in Georgia. But she’d probably vote for me just on the family connection.
Be objective in what you’re looking at in your candidate. Don’t look at the letter beside their name. Look at their record, what they have done, how they served. Not only what someone has done in office, but also how had they served in their community. How they’ve contributed to the growth and support of the community they live in. Then base your decision on that.
As the midterm campaign cycle gets underway, what should voters here in Lincoln County keep in mind for this election?
Going back to what I said earlier – what the central focus in Tennessee is going to be. The constituents out there are going to be inundated with campaign material and candidates, what their messages are.
What should be looking at is this – what are these candidates saying what they’re going to do for Tennessee? Don’t let the national debate be the narrative of what our state candidates are going to do.
It’s funny – people think I’m a Congressman. They ask me, “How’s things going to Washington?”
I said, no. I’m staying representative. I’m right here in Tennessee. I really enjoy being a representative because you are the voice for these people in Nashville. People would ask me when I was running the first time, “Where do you stand on the Second Amendment. Where are you on pro-choice pro-life?”
I said I had my personal feelings about that. But I don’t really get the vote on those things. There are times when a bill will come up, like the one you mentioned earlier that is effective right in Tennessee. But when I have a concern like that or constituent, I call Scott DesJarlais or Bob Corker or Lamar Alexander.
I want to know what my state candidate is going to do for Lincoln County and the 92nd District. They are active in the district. That when you’ve been in office, you have gone through the district and you’re connected with the people. That you’re approachable and accessible to where if they need something from their state representative, they can get to you.