The event took place at Tucker’s Gap Event Center and began with a meet and greet among the candidates, their supporters and voters from across Wilson County. Twelve candidates from various races participated in the forum and answered questions regarding the issues that face Wilson County voters.
In attendance were Wilson County register of deeds candidates Justin Davis and Jackie Murphy; District 46 state Rep. Clark Boyd and challengers Republican Menda McCall Holmes and Democrat Mark Cagle, District 57 state Rep. Susan Lynn and challenger Republican Aaron Shane, Wilson County Sheriff Robert Bryan and challenger Ray Justice, Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto and challenger Mae Beavers.
Issues ranged from health care and the struggles of rural hospitals, the opioid epidemic, job growth, recidivism rates in Wilson County jails and the visions of growth for Wilson County.
Jobs growth was a hot topic between the candidates. Boyd gave some insights from his brief time in office.
“I think the challenge that we have is not recruiting businesses to the area. They want to come here,” Boyd said. “The challenge we have is finding the workers.”
Boyd recalled speaking with leaders in Nashville who had mixed emotions about new job growth.
“They always cheer, and they get excited when a company relocates from another state to come here, but sometimes they cringe and they say, ‘Well, I hope they bring their workforce with them, because we just don’t have them here,’” Boyd said.
Holmes addressed the struggles of rural hospitals when she said, “Some things that we can do on the state level is making sure that we can buy health insurance across state lines, and that would make the prices more competitive, get the prices down and also get some caps on these lawsuits through tort reform.”
Cagle, a Democratic candidate for the District 47 House seat, saw the forum as an opportunity to bring his views to a wider audience.
“It gives me the opportunity to let people know my ideas and to see that my platform is probably not that much different than what they’re looking for in a candidate,” Cagle said.
Shane, an electrician who started his first campaign for the District 57 state House seat, addressed concerns about jobs and skilled help.
“We need to push vocational schools and trade schools,” Shane said. “Not everybody needs to go to college – it’s insane. You’d think I was trying to find a unicorn trying to find skilled help. I mean, in the last couple of years, I’ve only hired a couple of people – I could have kept 30 people busy.”
Lynn promoted the state legislature’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis, while maintaining that those addicted needed help with their struggles. She referred to two bills proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam and passed by the state Senate in April.
“One of the most important things that we really need in this bill is help for the drug addicted. There is help in the bill for the drug addicted,” Lynn said. “I personally don’t think there is enough help in the bill for the drug addicted, so next year I fully expect to come back and revisit this issue.”
Lisa Huber, a Mt. Juliet resident, came out to get more acquainted with the issues and candidates.
“I’m not very well versed in a lot of the stances for [candidates for] county mayor or sheriff or for my district for commissioner, so I thought I’d come out and lay an eye to some of the pamphlets that I’ve gotten on my door,” Huber said. “There are a couple of people running in my particular district who aren’t even here, so I was kind of surprised about that,” Huber said, “I think it’s good to be able to listen to the people talk. I think you can tell a lot by the way they speak, whether they’re well educated, whether they’re well versed on the topics, whether or not they hum and haw, whether they’re just reiterating what they’ve hear somebody else say prior to them.”
The sheriff’s sparred over budgets, recidivism rates in jails, and both talked about how to unify the law enforcement agencies across the county to continue to serve citizens and maintain safety.
Justice questioned the direction of the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office, specifically in regards to the budget.
“With a conservative message and a conservative county, we can’t increase the budget 31.7 percent and call that conservative,” Justice said. “We can’t do it.”
“It’s important that you have somebody in this office who knows about what it’s going to take to stay in front of all this growth that we’re having,” Bryan said in response. “I think I just got blamed for a so-many-cent property tax increase – 9 cents of that went to our employees, and I’ve said it before. That 9 cents went to better pay for these men and women who are putting their lives on the line and working for you, and I’m not going to apologize for that.”
On speaking on their visions for the future of Wilson County, the candidates took aim at the challenges of unprecedented growth that is expected to reshape Wilson County into a major population center in Middle Tennessee.
Beavers emphasized an opposition to rising taxes to fund county growth and pushed for a five- or 10-year plan for growth.
“We don’t want to tax our seniors out of the county; we don’t want to tax our young people out of the county,” Beavers said. “We’ve got to plan so we don’t have to get that desperate and start cutting everything in the county. We’ve got to plan for our growth and make sure that we know what we’re doing with it.”
Hutto defended his administration’s foresight. He said the county has a five-year plan in place.
“To have a good place to live, you have to have a little bit of everything,” Hutto said, “We continue to try and find a balance of making sure that we have growth, but it’s responsible, and we work with our cities because we have that traffic area between that mile boundary between – that urban growth boundary between city and county, and we work with them because we want to help control those grounds there so that when they do get annexed into the cities that they fit the city. But at the same time, our planners do work together.”
Beavers and Hutto both said the forum played an important role to allow the views of candidates and the concerns of citizens to be addressed.
“It’s good see the people that are here. There’s a lot more people I wish could have been here tonight to hear what the candidates stood for,” Beavers said. “I think that an informed electorate will give you good people elected to those positions.”
“It’s an opportunity to talk to voters and answer some questions they’ve got in their minds, a chance to see everyone all in one group, because right now you’re going door-to-door, seeing one person at a time. It’s a good interaction both ways,” Hutto said.