Daniels: Informed voters are key to democracy

Frank Daniels

Election 2018: Issues and Answers

"Election 2018: Issues and Answers" is a monthly feature on Tennessee gubernatorial and Senate candidates. The first installment will appear this Sunday.Sunday: InfrastructureComing next month: The opioid crisis and public safety

photo Frank Daniels

We engage with our government, our democracy, in many ways, but elections are the events that allow citizens to directly express themselves, to effect change or to support the status quo.

The 2018 elections are particularly important in Tennessee. What's at stake this year?

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who has been one of the state's most popular governors, according to the Vanderbilt Poll, cannot run for re-election, and Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who has risen to become the powerful chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has decided not to seek re-election.

Many Tennessee state legislators also have declared they will not seek re-election.

This election year may prove to be a pivotal one for our future, but are our citizens going to let their voices be heard?

Tennessee ranks 40th in the nation in voter registration and last in voter turnout, according to a December report. More than 838,000 adult Tennesseans are not registered to vote.

The Knight Foundation found 84 percent of Americans think the news media is very important, even critical, to our democracy, according to a survey of 19,000 adults in fall 2017. Eighty-eight percent said news media must "make sure Americans have the knowledge they need to be informed about public affairs."

To help citizens get "the knowledge they need" to participate confidently in the 2018 elections, the Tennessee Press Association and its 125 member newspapers will offer a look at how the candidates for governor and U.S. Senate view the most important issues and challenges facing our state.

In the months leading up to the primary elections in August, press association member newspapers and their websites also will point readers to resources they can use to further educate themselves about those issues and what candidates have to say about them.

The first installment of "Election 2018: Issues and Answers" will appear this Sunday. Candidates for governor and U.S. Senate address infrastructure and how we invest our tax revenues in roads, transit, water quality and access to high-speed internet.

President Donald Trump has proposed increased investment in infrastructure, but he also has proposed that state and local governments pick up more of the cost of those investments. What does that mean for Tennessee?

In the coming months, candidates also will examine the following issues:

» Opioid crisis and public safety. The spread of opioid abuse claimed nearly 1,200 lives in Tennessee in 2016, and it is getting worse. Methamphetamine abuse, while not getting the headlines, has increased. Gun violence is increasing. What proposals do our candidates have to help Tennesseans address these public safety issues?

» Rural development and distressed counties. Like most of America, Tennessee's metropolitan areas have prospered during the last eight years, while the rural areas have lagged in almost every measure. The state has 19 of its 95 counties classified as "distressed." What can and should we do to give every Tennessean a chance to succeed?

» Health care and well-being: What should Tennessee do to have a healthy and productive population?

» Education. Gov. Haslam and the General Assembly have invested in education during the last eight years. Has that been a good investment and should it continue? What do the candidates propose for the next four to eight years?

Tennessee is one of the bright states in our country, but we need to engage more citizens in our democratic process to grow. Increasing voter turnout and increasing the level of education of those voters are essential in that process.

Frank Daniels is a writer living in Clarksville, Tenn. A former editor and columnist, he is a member of the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame. He can be reached at [email protected]