It’s the second time around in the race for the State House District 82 seat in West Tennessee, as Republican Rep. Chris Hurt runs for a second term against Andrea Bond Johnson, the candidate he defeated two years ago.
In the 2018 election, Hurt defeated Johnson by a vote of 4,308 to 2,740, a decent showing for a Democrat in this clearly red state, but a weak turnout for a region with about 60,000 residents. That election clearly demonstrates the voter apathy that recently put Tennessee at the bottom of the voter participation charts nationally.
Craig Fitzhugh, Democratic mayor of Ripley and a state representative for 24 years, said he likes and respects both candidates and says things could be different in a year where the president is on the ticket.
“You always get a bigger turnout when the president is up for election,” he said. “That could change things. And voting is actually up since the state was at the bottom, so that could have an effect.”
What’s different this time?
Both candidates are local businesspeople. Hurt is a realtor and farmer in Halls and Johnson is the CEO of the Golden Circle Insurance Agency in Brownsville and a funeral director with Rawls Funeral System.
Johnson said this time she is laser focused on three issues of vital importance to her district in the northwestern part of the state which are also vital statewide: the need to expand Medicaid, the defeat of a proposed school voucher system and the establishment of statewide broadband access.
She said the state’s Republican supermajority has kept a tight fist on state government, ignoring the needs of the people. And she blames Hurt personally for changing his mind to allow one of the vital issues to fail.
She said the state’s desire to send tax money to private schools through a voucher system would damage public education immensely, and noted it is something being pushed by the Republicans in the State Legislature.
“I have no problem with people wanting to send their children to private schools,” she said. “But that should not come at the expense of public education. The voucher program allows people to send their children to private schools and the money that would normally go to the public schools goes with the children.”
She said during the 2018 campaign, Hurt said he would not vote to allow vouchers, but once elected, he changed his mind. And it was a crucial decision.
“The issue passed by one, single vote,” she said. “If Hurt had done what he said he would do, and voted against it, the measure would have been a tie and failed. But he voted for it.”
The measure passed but was knocked down by the courts before it could be enacted. Johnson is sure it will come up for another vote and she wants to cast a vote to defeat it.
Fitzhugh, who said he likes and respects both candidates but supports his fellow Democrat, agreed with Johnson’s assessment. He said he suspects Hurt was convinced to change his vote by Governor Bill Lee.
Hurt did not return telephone calls for comment made to his legislative office and his business.
Johnson said the state’s stubborn resistance to expand Medicaid in the state is costing lives.
“In these times of a pandemic people desperately need medical insurance,” she said. “Yet the state refuses to allow the expansion that would allow 300,000 people to get insurance. I believe it’s all part of the Republican anger over Obama’s Affordable Care Act and their refusal to even accept the money available to the state through it. It needs to change.”
She said the lack of broadband internet access in many parts of the district is a huge problem.
“Especially now when children are expected to work remotely, but how can they do that when they can’t get access to the Internet,” Johnson asked. “I saw a woman and her daughter parked in a car working on a computer because that was the only place they could get wifi. That’s just not right.”
She said she is also keenly aware of attempts to thwart the process at the voting booth by insisting on state-issued identification and fear of interference by right-wing groups. She urged people to do whatever they have to do to cast their vote and not be discouraged.
“They want people to give up,” she said. “We can not let that happen. If we get enough people to the polls, we can win.”
Hurt is a member of the commerce, education and transportation committees in the House of Representatives as well as several subcommittees.
According to his website (https://www.chris-hurt.com/), he is a “conservative, small businessman who is heavily involved in agriculture.” He was a teacher and football coach at Halls High School from 2000 to 2014.
The website says he supports traditional marriage, the Second Amendment and will “fight to defend our right to keep and bear arms.” He supports “small town values,” and opposes illegal immigration and sanctuary cities and abortion.
According to her website (https://www.andreabondjohnsontn82.com/) Johnson said she would fight to bring more healthcare facilities to rural communities; fight to improve teachers’ wages and fully fund public schools and “fight to bring more employers and good paying jobs to our community.”
She is the past president of the Brownsville Rotary Club and a board member of the Tennessee State University Foundation, the Wo/Men’s Resource and Rape Assistance Program and the Boys & Girls Club of Brownsville.