If we could clone a citizen-legislator running for the Tennessee state Senate in this election year, it would be Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, who is vying for a third term.
The Lookout Valley lawmaker, who is retired from a career as a financial consultant, spends his time locally and in Nashville trying to solve conundrums for his constituents and his fellow Tennesseans.
"I like to fix problems," Gardenhire says.
Most visible of those is the nearly $1 billion he helped secure through the Tennessee Department of Transportation for the current local work on Interstates 75 and 27, and on Highway 27. But his work goes on behind the scenes in projects such as helping obtain the land to build a new stadium for Howard School and publicly in helping pass a bill for additional bus safety measures after the tragic bus crash that killed six Woodmore Elementary School students in 2016.
Gardenhire doesn't shy away from controversial issues, either, gaining in-state tuition rates for children of undocumented immigrants who were born in the country. And while a strong advocate for school choice, he voted against Gov. Bill Lee's 2019 educational savings account bill, believing it was not a good measure for the state.
He's also worked as a member of the Joint Committee on Pensions and Insurance to keep the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System strong and fought to maintain pensions for Erlanger employees when they were threatened several years ago.
If re-elected, Gardenhire wants to work on legislation he and state Rep. Mike Carter began on protocols around transporting patients with mental illnesses, and on definitively defining who is a teacher in order that classroom teachers receive raises legislators intend they should get.
His opponent is Chattanooga assistant police chief Glenn Scruggs, who says the senator is "not very responsive" and asserts the 2015 guns-in-public parks bill he voted for is "bad practice."
The lifelong Chattanoogan said he would work to have public schools funded more equitably and would push for campaign finance reform because political action committees (PACs) leave the impression a candidate is open to influence.
We believe Scruggs, though earnest in his desire to serve, was given some bad advice in suggesting in fundraising emails that Gardenhire was running a "dog whistle" campaign. To impugn an upright candidate with such a charge in such a volatile election year with no evidence is not the way to win friends and influence voters.
The senator, in fact, has spent his two terms working cross-culturally in trying to achieve results for all parts of his community.
We heartily recommend Gardenhire's re-election.