The Chamber of Commerce serving Johnson City, Washington County and Jonesborough, with input from its Governmental Relations Council, recently surveyed the candidates seeking election as the District 6 representative in Tennessee’s House of Representatives.
The Chamber is pleased to present the results of the survey and trusts you will rely on these responses as you determine who should represent us in Nashville. Early voting started on Oct. 14 and will end on Oct. 29 with Election Day set for Nov. 3. Please vote and exercise this freedom. The Chamber wishes to thank the candidates for their willingness to run and serve.
Candidates: Brad Batt (Democratic) and Tim Hicks (Republican)
Candidates were asked to limit their answers to 50 words or less.
1. Please state your three main objectives for your first term.
Batt: Expand Medicaid, providing the state $1 Billion / year in much needed revenue. Ensure that we fully fund public schools, including giving teachers an actual raise. Prioritize economic policy that helps families in Washington County, as almost half today cannot afford to pay their routine monthly bills.
Hicks: First, I would gain respect and build relationships. Second, get on good committees and get to know the Commissioners from Labor and Workforce Development and ECD. Third, work to pair faith-based addiction recovery with pacesetting programs in vocational, agricultural, and technical education so Tennessee can lead nationally in workforce quality.
2. How will you collaborate with the Governor’s Office and his cabinet to ensure Washington County/Johnson City/Jonesborough receive their fair share of resources; infrastructure and economic development investments; dollars, technical assistance, etc.?
Batt: I’d advocate for an economy that works for all Tennesseans—not just our major metropolitan areas. We need sound and strategic investments in education, health care, and our economy across the state. It’s time to put our “rainy day fund” to work.
Hicks: I would first prove that we need resources for the project. Then I would show the economic impact it will have for our area. Then I would go to work encouraging leadership that the hardworking people of Washington County/Johnson City deserve the project. It’s all about relationships and respect.
3. How do you address regionalism efforts while respecting district-specific needs?
Batt: Being a good neighbor is essential to regionalism efforts. We can prioritize district and county needs while still ensuring that our neighboring communities are thriving as well.
Hicks: All of our communities have their strengths and weaknesses, and I will build relationships around the region with other legislators, but also local government officials, and most importantly, the business community. Regionalism must be a bottom-up, inclusive effort. It simply cannot succeed if it is imposted from the top-down.
4. Do you support TennCare expansion use of telehealth services?
Batt: Absolutely. Telehealth will become more and more commonplace, allowing patients to receive critical medical assistance from their homes. This helps everyone, including our poorest households, to overcome travel logistics and costs.
Hicks: Of course, yes, without a doubt. Telemedicine lowers the risk of infection and rehospitalization and saves time and money, resulting in improved population health. According to NCBI, “At least 38 percent of inperson visits, including 27 percent of emergency department visits, could be remotely delivered by qualified professionals through telemedicine.”
5. As the State looks at budget shortfalls, should the state use rainy day funds, federal stimulus grants, major budget cuts and/or some other funding streams to account for these shortfalls?
Batt: We absolutely must put some of our approximately $1 Billion in “rainy day funds” to work for us. We need to make strategic investments today that will pay off down the road with increased household incomes, more tax revenue, and a higher qualify of life for all Tennesseans.
Hicks: Tennessee has a bipartisan tradition of the state government doing some belt-tightening when families and businesses are having to do the same thing. Governor Lee’s planned budget reductions and use of reserve funds is a responsible approach that will help Tennessee stay on the right track.
6. What strategies do you propose or support to improve rural access to broadband and other communication modalities?
Batt: We must treat the internet as the essential utility that it is. We need to ensure that our rural areas are prioritized and that everyone in our region has access to high-speed broadband internet. This helps our economy, public education, and health care.
Hicks: This will be a priority for me. I understand this needs to be a collaborative involving county, city, state, and federal dollars. I would not stop until we have broadband over the entire county. Getting everybody connected could be a major first step toward regionalism.
7. What vulnerabilities has the Covid-19 pandemic exposed and how should state government address them?
Batt: COVID19 exacerbated an already-fragile economy with 40% of those making under $40,000 losing their jobs and others facing reductions in hours and pay. We should have immediately invested some of our “rainy day fund” to keep people and our economy afloat. The state’s response has been lacking and insufficient.
Hicks: Our region’s health care system responded excellently and proactively addressed many vulnerabilities. The coronavirus crisis proves to me why government should be more local. When something like this hits, it’s not one-size-fits-all. Areas like ours could have kept the economy going better than bigger cities.
8. What opportunities do you envision for improvement of access to healthcare in rural communities?
Batt: Rural hospitals are shutting down across Tennessee. Locally, we have a single, monopolistic provider. Neither of these benefits Tennesseans. We need to make investments in basic health care for all Tennesseans, including the straight-forward step of expanding Medicaid, bringing in $1BN/year in much needed health care revenue.
Hicks: I would like to see cost-saving incentives from insurance companies for those that practice good health, and we need to overhaul the antiquated certificate of need system. The Mercatus Center estimates Tennessee would have 25 more rural hospitals without CON laws. Let’s get real on health care costs.
9. How would you address our severe substance abuse problem?
Batt: We must address substance abuse as the medical condition that it is, rather than as a criminal act. Instead of wasting money incarcerating addicts, we should make investments into programs that promote recovery and rehabilitation. We’ll not only save money, we’ll be saving lives.
Hicks: Let’s start by getting government out of the addiction recovery system. We the people can fix our greatest problems. Faith-based recovery programs with job and like skills training and a path to a good job give folks in recovery real hope and a reason to keep going.
10. Why are you seeking this office?
Batt: I think Tennessee deserves better. We deserve an economy that allows everyone to get ahead, access to health care, and educational opportunities for all. I’ve run a small business for 20+ years. I’ve made a payroll. I understand how to listen to people and then get the job done.
Hicks: After years running Hicks Construction, I’m running to give Washington County a Fresh Start in our representation. That starts with a different attitude and approach to public service that’s based on hard work and common sense, not political grandstanding.
11. How will you work with the Chamber on matters of importance to business and the community?
Batt: Locally, I’ve already been involved with organizations such as Startup Tri-Cities (now Founders Forge) hosting events such as pitch competitions and small business festivals. I’d enthusiastically work with the Chamber, as well as in Nashville, on any programs that helped businesses and workers in our region.
Hicks: First I will be a member, and my door will always be open, but more importantly, I will actively seek to listen to our business community in Washington County and regionally.