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This November, Chattanooga area residents have three Tennessee General Assembly seats on the ballot — all filled currently by Republicans.
In the Senate, District 10 incumbent Todd Gardenhire is challenged by Democrat Kristy Wilkinson.
In the House, District 27 incumbent Patsy Hazlewood is challenged by Democrat Steve Gordon. District 30 incumbent Marc Gravitt is challenged by Democrat Katie Cowley and Independent Patrick Hickey.
When the local election season began in the spring, we were gratified to see at long last some new names for the August and November ballots in Hamilton County with a big D behind them. D for Democrats. And I for independents.
For far too long, Hamilton County ballots were lopsided with Rs for Republicans. Excluding Board of Education seats and races in several of the county's municipalities, there were 11 Democratic candidates on the August primary ballot for seven state and federal district seats. Only one of the 11 candidates was and is an incumbent (JoAnne Favors, who retained her seat in the primary and now faces no opposition).
It was a hopeful sign in a chokingly Republican county, region and state.
Now with the primary behind us and the General Election less than a month away, we still have five Democrats seeking office — including the unopposed Rep. Favors.
The trouble is, two of these Democrats have largely been missing in action on the campaign trail.
Although it would be easy to make a partisan knee-jerk endorsement and say that Democrats should just vote D down the ballot come Nov. 8, we won't do that. This is not an easy election year. Too much is at stake, and the real divide is not between Democrats and Republicans, but between dedicated people with vision and people with none.
Tennessee Senate, District 10
Democrat Khristy Wilkinson should be your choice to replace Republican and freshman Todd Gardenhire in Senate District 10.
Wilkinson, 36, is an educator, community activist and stay-at-home mom who moved to Highland Park a few years ago as downtown began attracting new residents. She describes herself as a Bernie Democrat who supports Hillary Clinton, and she doesn't understand why Chattanooga and Highland Park don't feel as inclusive as the Detroit neighborhood where she grew up and where 17 languages were spoken.
She supports universal pre-K, investing in schools, Insure Tennessee or a viable alternative to it, affordable housing and closing Tennessee's income gap (Chattanooga's is seventh largest in the country).
Wilkinson is an able antidote to Republican Todd Gardenhire. Gardenhire, 68, is a retired wealth management adviser who voted in committee to keep Insure Tennessee from going to a floor vote after Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam worked out a waiver plan that would give all Tennesseans access to insurance and health care — paid for with the federal taxes all of us have already paid to the federal government. Our state lost $22.5 billion in that partisan abortion of governing.
Wilkinson is young, disciplined, focused and energetic. She is exactly the kind of state house leader needed for our city and region.
Tennessee House, District 27
Patsy Hazlewood, a Republican, of District 27 should be elected to a second term.
As a retired assistant vice-president for legislative and external affairs for BellSouth and AT&T, former banker and former regional director for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, this freshman lawmaker brings lots of business know-how to the House of Representatives.
But she told Times Free Press editors recently that something she is most proud of in that first term is her work to pass a bill that allows pharmacies to offer behind-the-counter sales of birth control. The measure requires pharmacy professionals to interact with customers in much the same way they do now in offering vaccines. The bill involves a training component to ensure proper screening of patients and appropriate handling of prescriptions.
Her opponent, Democrat Steve Gordon, did not appear to campaign and could not be reached either by Times Free Press editors or the local Democratic Party officials.
Tennessee House, District 30
Freshman Marc Gravitt of District 30 also should be re-elected. The professional auctioneer from East Ridge says he has learned a great deal in his first term as a state representative — including that he should focus entirely on state business, rather than divide his public service by remaining on the East Ridge City Council. He is not seeking a new council term, the Republican says.
He says the most shocking thing he learned is the depth of Tennessee's problem with opioid addiction. The Volunteer State is No. 1, with more opioid prescriptions written in a year's time than our state has residents. He says he has become determined to make sure our state improves funds for addiction recovery and studies an expanded role for non-addictive medical marijuana — something that could provide safe alternative relief for pain and illness sufferers.
Democratic challenger Katie Cowley, a mother and nursing student, told the Times Free Press she is not actively campaigning. She declined to seek endorsements from the newspaper. Independent challenger Patrick Hickey, 26, is a new father who has moved to North Georgia. He also is not actively campaigning.
A sample of what the ballot will look like in Hamilton County for the November 8 general election and a list of where you can vote. For a list of early voting locations click here. For more voting information click here.