Clarksville Online was given an exclusive interview with State Senate District 22 Democratic Party candidate Tim Barnes. Presented here are the candidate’s thoughts and perspectives for your perusal. Barnes, a Clarksville attorney, specializes in adoption and family law, is married and has three children.
With the misleading mailings and advertisements leading up to the primary and controversy surrounding the August 7th primary and its subsequent invalidation, a groundswell of misinformed comments and sentiment permeates the political air of the general election vote. In an interest to allow voters a better understanding of the candidate, the following questions were posed for his response. Barnes’ responses are transcribed here in full.
COL: Since Tennessee is a state which has measures in place to protect to a woman’s right of choice, would you support any efforts to further restrict or loosen present controls on life choice?
Barnes: “I am always very protective of any constitutional rights. I would have to look very carefully at any proposal that would affect any of those constitutional rights. Although, personally, I have problems with abortions. I hate to see them. I’m an adoption attorney and I wish there were more adoptions. But, I also have to recognize that it’s not my body. It’s not me making that choice and it’s a moral decision. It is for the individual woman to make that decision, hopefully after much thought and prayer. I think we need to steer away from limiting any constitutional rights and work to reduce the numbers of abortions based on financial considerations by improving the economic opportunities for single parents. The minimum wage should be increased and all state and local officials need to work together on a comprehensive plan to attract better paying jobs.”
COL: In light of Sarah Palin’s popularity, could you support her stance of not allowing abortions in cases of incest or rape?
Barnes: “Well, I think that should be the woman’s choice. I understand her position. She feels that life begins at conception, which she believes, and I respect her position; that to end a life is murder, and it doesn’t it matter if you are ending a life that resulted from consensual sex or rape. I understand her belief, I just don’t see it that way. My view is, it’s a constitutional right, and not for me to distinguish whether its from consensual sex, or rape or whatever. That’s between that person and that person’s God. It’s for that person and that person’s family to struggle with. I can assure you that right now there’s a Clarksville family that has a fourteen-year old daughter who has come up pregnant, and they’re going to have to struggle with that. And, I would hope that as they, as a family make a decision about that, that they respect that young girl, and I hope that they pray about that with their pastor. But, that’s not for Tim Barnes or any other 49-year old male legislator to get into. That’s for that girl, and that family to make that decision. That’s a tough situation and I’m not going to make that decision for them.”
Women’s Health Care:
COL: Let’s look also at the issue of women’s health in Tennessee. Tennessee does not have a very good track record for health care for women. Recall that 300,000 people were kicked off of TennCare. A lot of those were the working poor, waitresses, cafeteria workers, hospitality workers and such. These women don’t have health insurance. What efforts or legislation would you support to help alleviate the situation they find themselves in?
Barnes: “The first area we have to address is the working poor, because those are people, often times, working mothers, and they’re working two minimum-wage jobs to make ends meet. They don’t have health care because those jobs don’t have benefits. Those, to me, are the first people we need to reach out to because they are trying to do everything they can. They are who we need to try to help first. They are trying and working and find themselves in a position where they can’t afford to get sick. They would not be able to pay for it. We need to address that in two ways. First, we need to, as soon as we can, expand that component of TennCare that encourages employers to contribute a certain amount for health insurance and then the State matches that. That’s a program that needs to be enlarged as soon as we can fiscally afford to do that. The other thing is we need to expand our public health system. We in Montgomery County, for example, have a nice ,relatively new building, but we need to make sure that is staffed and provides the kinds of services that meets the needs of the community. The great thing about providing through the public health system is that we can provide a lot of preventive maintenance, a lot of prenatal care, a lot of the kinds of things that, in the long run, that prevents people from getting sick. To me that is an investment that will, in the long-term, save the state, money.”
The Economy, on the State Level:
COL: What ideas do you bring forward as you go into the Senate, as far as jobs creation for the state, and District 22 in particular, if you have any?
Barnes: “I think that the most important things that a state senator can do, and hasn’t always been done, and certainly, in the last twelve years, hasn’t been done, is beat the drums for economic development. We are uniquely situated in the 22nd district, especially here in Montgomery Country; we have a very qualified workforce. We’ve got retired military people with skills that can transfer easily into the private sector,. We’ve got a great industrial park. We’ve good transportation systems, proximity to the interstate. We really need the state to become a full partner in helping us recruit industry and providing the kinds of jobs that will provide living wages for people. Too much of our economy is based on low-paying service jobs. We need to get more technological development to provide higher paying jobs and tie in with Austin Peay State University and the science departments that are training people in the technology fields. We need a state senator who apprises the Governor’s Office of Community and Economic Development to help us in developing. They need to be with us every step of the way to make sure the state is a full partner in getting this industry here.”
COL: With the likelihood that TEPPCO will go head with the development of their refined petroleum products storage facility here, there has been some discussion in the community about the environmental impact that this poses to the community. Their location is just two nautical miles from the city’s water intake point. Do you or would you favor environmental impact compromises if it came as a part of economic advancement? And if so, what?
Barnes: “I would never favor any compromise on environmental impact, because in the long run, if you compromise that, you will hurt yourself in the long run. When you have a polluted place to live, when your water quality falls because you have dumped toxic waste in your own water supply, you will impact your ability to recruit business in the future. I think that those environmental impact regulations are there for a reason and we need to make sure that we have full accountability. We need to make sure we have transparency. We need to make sure that those environmental regulations are strictly complied with. I would never be for compromising that.”
COL: From 1992 to 2006, Clarksville has received at least three EPA grants to upgrade the waste treatment facility. These grants were supposed to end the problem of offensive odors and eliminate the discharge of raw sewage into the Red River. Sewage rates were increased each time to meet local government’s matching funds requirements for the grants. Those corrections haven’t happened yet. We are still bombarded with the odor and there is still the overflow. What would you do as a state senator, what could you do, to force true compliance and protect citizens from the air pollution from the waste treatment facility, by way of smell and the release of untreated sewage into the waterway?
Barnes: “First of all, I’d have to look and see what’s everything that can be done at the state level. The problem that we’ve got (is) that the federal government has abdicated their responsibility when it comes to things like that. The EPA has been gutted. Back during the Clinton administration, had those things occurred, the EPA would have been down on it. It would have been a situation where we’re fining you X-amount of dollars every day until you get this thing fixed. Now politically, that’s something when people read the paper, they know that it’s their tax dollars. So it gets done. If you don’t hold that over people’s heads, if there’s no recourse, they’re going to continue to do the same thing. So somehow we need to work in concert with the federal EPA people. And I think in the next administration that will certainly be a possibility.”
COL: Continuing on with the economy, Green Energy Development here in the state of Tennessee and in District 22, what are your ideas on it and do you have proposals you might want to enact?
Barnes: “I want to be clear that, I was ‘Green’ before it was cool to be ‘Green.’ I have been interested in our environment and the future of what our climate is going to be for many, many years. WE are going to have to, as a nation, as a state, as a city, we’re going to have to pass legislation, ordinances, to move us towards a greener community. There are ways that we can do it that would actually save us money. Those are the kinds of things that I want to take a look at. I want to take a look at it on a statewide level. I want to make sure that we have the most energy efficient systems that we can. We of course have to do it gradually, because it could be something that fiscally that we can’t absorb in a bad economy. But there are things we can do, such as switching over incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescents to save energy. We need to start saving energy now.
On a personal note, I’m probably the only candidate for the state legislature to have a patent pending on an apparatus for the cooling of ambient air spaces: a portable outdoor air conditioning system powered by solar panels. It’s something that I’ve been interested for a long time.
There is no question that we have global warming. There is no question in my mind that it’s human influenced global warming. We have to do something about it. I’m appalled by these people who say, “these global warming kooks want to hurt our economy.” What I always want to say to those people is, “What if I’m wrong? The worst scenario is that we have cleaned up our environment, we’ve cleaned a lot of the carbon emissions and we have a cleaner environment. Now, what if you’re wrong, and it is human induced global warming, and we do nothing about it. What if you’re wrong? Well, if you’re wrong, that’s global catastrophe. That is something we can not reverse. If we reach that tipping point, and there is nothing we can do; then we have destroyed our environment. Now, to me, you have to err on the side of safety. To me, that means we have to start cleaning up this environment.”
COL: In that vein, the city of Clarksville and Montgomery County, what incentives could you see that would foster the embracing of a ‘Green’ philosophy? For instance, the Clarksville Transit System doesn’t have any electric vehicles. All of their vehicles are either diesel or gasoline. The city police department, the county’s sheriff department, all their vehicles use non-renewable fuels. Whether or not they’ve converted to more energy efficient lighting, we don’t know. But the jail, the courthouse, city hall all have significant rooftop space, the applications of which solar paneling could lower their energy needs and thus reduce the operating costs of city and county governments. Do you have any ideas on how to encourage them to take a look at those options, because as you said, even in a down economy, if you have a system that’s paying for itself and, you’re having to pay less to operate, then with those recouped funds you can then use them to cover other needs.
Barnes: “Let me say that you’re talking about city buildings and county buildings and the decisions as to what to do with those buildings are up the City Council and the County Commission, along with the City and County Mayors. The role that I see the State playing is to make sure there are incentives somehow that encourage those municipalities and counties to convert to green energy production. I subscribe to a publication called “Home Power Magazine.” It’s for people who are interested in hydro-generation power on a small scale, wind power, solar power; all the alternative productions of energy, all with the goal of being somewhat self-sufficient, if not completely, then at least being tied into the grid where you outset your energy cost by producing your energy. That’s very interesting to me and there is no reason why municipalities and counties can’t do it. Now in those magazines, there’s almost every month, a summary of what incentives each states will give an individual for having solar power, or installing a wind mill, or if you have a stream nearby, hydro-electric generation. Tennessee is never in there because we have no incentives for encouraging people to use these technologies. Last time I looked, Tennessee provided no incentives at all. Now, part of this has to do with our revenue structure. Of course, we don’t have a state income tax and I’m certainly not saying that we need a state income tax. My point is, those states that have a state income tax, they can give credits, which is a way to provide incentives for people to utilize these types of technologies. We have to search for ways under our revenue structure to at least make solar panels a little more competitive with other types of energy production. Solar panels have gotten to be less and less expensive but they are still fairly expensive. Now, every year there’s new technologies being developed that bring the cost of the production of those panels down. I think we are going to reach a point where you don’t have to provide that economic incentive to be at parity with the other types of energy production. When we get to that point, I think you’ll see a lot more. It really unfortunately comes down to economics a lot of times and we just have to do whatever we can on the state level to provide the incentives to make it economically feasible for people to switch over to these types of technologies, including the counties and municipalities.”
COL: When you are in Nashville, the legislature itself, at Legislative Plaza, as far I’m aware of, there is nothing green, as in technology, in evidence at Legislative Plaza. It’s a great exposure point. Would you try to ‘green’ Legislative Plaza and if so, how?
Barnes: “You know, I’ve never really thought about that, but now that you mention it, I know what you’re talking about. There is not anything there.”
COL: The Snodgrass Tower, the tallest structure in downtown Nashville, if anything is going to reach the sun, that building is it and yet, nothing.
COL: Legislative Plaza, not the open public area, but the rooftops, the State Capital building, all that potential space goes untapped.
Barnes: “Well, I do believe that the state should set an example. We need to explore the technologies that are available, for example, in Oak Ridge, all the technologies they’re doing there. We need to see if we can bring some of that technology out where people can come and observe it working. I think that would the perfect location where people could come and see that. I can tell you that in Bowling Green, Kentucky, there is a soccer complex, where I take my kids for their travel games, there are, say a dozen picnic tables, that have shelter canopies that are covered in solar panels. They all produce electricity and there is a sign at each table that tells how much electricity each shelter is producing and exactly how many average homes it can produce electricity for. That is a great opportunity for people to see, especially young people, to be influenced by the possibilities of solar energy. To see, this real, this is something that happens. This is something we can do. I think that doing that in Legislative Plaza would be a great opportunity. It can be something that you set up for field trips, where school children come and see here’s what’s the latest in technology right here. Here’s how we are producing energy. Here’s a hydrogen cell. Here is a wind mill and here’s how much energy it produces. We wouldn’t necessarily have to do it all at Legislative Plaza, but there does need to be a place where school kids can go and learn about alternative energy.”
COL: That’s a good segue point to jump into education. Schools have lowered their standards in order to raise test scores, so that everyone thinks everything is fine. However the student product that is being released is proven to be less and less capable of the task of life work. What will you do to improve actual student performance?
Barnes: “Well, I can’t do anything about No Child Left Behind, (NCBH). Because that’s federal system. But I think that the momentum is such now that NCLB has to go. I believe that a lot of people had good intentions when they passed NCLB. The problem is you can not set goals for schools to reach and not fund them in pursuit of those goals. Those tests that are required to be administered oftentimes result in teachers and school systems being entirely geared towards a test. It does not allow the teacher the academic freedom to do what that teacher ought to be doing in that classroom, and that is teaching in way that they are teaching to that student and that student’s unique ability to learn. Most good teachers, I have found when I look back over my life, they got you. They understand how, say, Turner McCullough works, they understand what Turner McCullough’s strong points are. They can teach to Turner McCullough. They can teach to Tim Barnes, they understand what Tim Barnes does well and what Tim Barnes doesn’t do well. They can teach to Tim Barnes. But when you make them teach to the test, you make the teacher have to pigeonhole everybody into a certain place and say you’re going to learn X-Y-Z and that’s it. And there a great learning opportunity that’s missed there. I think we need to get away from those tests and start focusing on learning. Start focusing on what children are interested in, start focusing on an attitude towards learning that makes them lifelong learners. Too often school is looked at by students as just a thing to be got through. Just let me get from this step to that step. And that’s a shame because they’re not seeing the beauty of education and the beauty of learning. I’m convinced that we have good teachers in the classroom. We have passionate teachers in the classroom. Let they share that passion. Let them share that passion in a way that that student can understand and feel it and be influenced by it. Then they will get passionate about it, is my belief.”
COL: That’s very good. I agree. Students are not learning to think. They do need to learn how to take a test, but just teach to the test. As was proven in Texas, where they emphasized the NCLB test, the students had great test scores but were failing college badly, often not even surviving their first semester. They had not learned to think. When you have high school seniors graduating with 4.0 GPA and ‘cum laude’, ‘magna cum laude,’ and yet, when they get to Austin Peay, they need remedial English and Math classes, there’s a serious disconnect between those two. A 4.0 C-MCSS graduate should not need remedial English or Math upon entering Austin Peay, much less the University of Tennessee or any other Tennessee higher education institution. And the two systems are not meshing here.
Barnes: “We can not treat schools like factories with production quotas. That’s what we’re doing with No Child Left Behind. We’re saying, ‘you get in here with these thirty students and here’s the test, and you make sure that they pass this test’, and its just like a product coming down the assembly line and that’s just wrong. We need to get back almost to the Socratic Method. We need to get in there with smaller classroom. We need to get in there with interaction relationships built with the student and the teacher. The most important thing about education, it’s not tests, it’s not computers, it’s not plasma-screen projectors. It’s not all the technology; it’s that relationship just like it was in the ancient days of Greece. It’s teacher and student. If that relationship is allowed to build and flourish, then we will have students learning in the ways that they best learn. And you will have teachers teaching that student in ways the student will best respond. So I think part of it is smaller classroom.”
COL: That objective seems to have been abandoned in our financial pinch. We were moving toward a downward sizing of classroom but now all you hear is, ‘Well, maybe next year.’ What would you do, or do you favor an increase in trade school opportunities here in District 22? We pose that question because not every child will be a college competitor. Some people are technically oriented. But here we don’t seem to have the facilities to aid them in excelling in that technical arena. They have to muddle through high school somehow. There are few trade considerations that are offered, and they are not offered at every school. They are scattered around; North West has a cosmetology program, North East has a specific set of trades, but the students live all over the district. You can’t say’,’ Only the kids going to North West can get this, and only the kids going to Kenwood or Rossview can get that.’ You’re denying a reality. So, what could you see happening and do you favor an increase in trade school opportunities?
Barnes: “Let me tell you, one of the greatest disservices to graduating seniors to lead them to believe that they have got to get a baccalaureate degree to be successful. We tell them with billboards and everything else and we tell them that a baccalaureate degree, that graduation cap equals money. That’s the message we send them. We don’t talk about education for the value of education. We don’t talk about becoming a person to help our community, or to provide a valuable service. We have equated a baccalaureate degree with money. And the truth is, we have to tell them, there are many ways that you can do. Many things do require a baccalaureate degree, but many things don’t. In the coming years, we’re going to have a shortage of electricians and plumbers. And the truth is, a lot those people that graduate with that baccalaureate degree, for example, in marketing, are gonna go get a job selling shoes at the mall. It isn’t going to be that fifty-thousand dollars they thought they were going to get when they read that diploma. There will be others who will go down to the Tennessee Technology Center. Now how they find out about it, I don’t know because it’s our best kept secret in town. The Tennessee Technology Center is a Board of Regents school just like Austin Peay or MTSU. And they can learn to become a certified licensed plumber, a certified licensed electrician, and they’ll get out of there and they will have a marketable skill, they can make good money and they can provide a much needed service in the kind of economy that we have. Now, that’s something I really believe in. I really do believe that we to let graduating seniors understand all opportunities that out there for them. If they want to be, for example, an English teacher, well then, yes, let’s get them over to Austin Peay. They have a very fine Languages and fine Literature Department there. But if they’re good with their hands, if they’re good at mathematics, and they like electronics and that kind of thing, then send them on to the Technology Center and let them be trained. Let’s not make them think that there is only a limited path to success. There are many paths to success and we need to make sure sure we encourage them. We don’t need to present the Tennessee Technology Center as being any better or worse than Austin Peay. It’s a different path and we to make sure they know that.”
COL: In that vein, the first time I visited Jackson, and visited Jackson State Community College, which is their technology college. I was absolutely blown away. I mean, the campus is larger than all of Austin Peay and the technology that they present there is awesome. I’ve seen nothing like here. I don’t understand how the fifth largest city in Tennessee has this single story little building and Jackson has an entire campus and they are full with students coming from as far away as Paris, Camden, Huntington, Alamo, Trenton, Milan, Parsons and Humbolt and they have a waiting list of students wanting to enroll. And as you stated, the Tennessee Technology Center here is an unknown sell. What happened?
Barnes: “Well, I can tell you. Because you haven’t a Tim Barnes in the State Senate to beat the drums for a Tennessee Technology Center. We have a period of time where we have been without a Senator Riley Darnell or a Rep. Tommy Head who brought benefits to this area and that’s about to turn around. When I’m there, that’s one of the things I will look at, how can we bring state funds to this area and develop this area in the way it deserves to be developed. And I’ll work with Joe Pitts in this matter.”
COL: That’s very good to hear. Continuing on in this education bent, what would you do to support increasing student performance standards so that students are actually challenged to learn to think? They’ll be able to pass a test. First off, if you can’t think, it doesn’t matter if we teach them a test, They can learn to pass a test: we give you the answers and you recite it back, but then once you get outside in the real world, there is no Clip Study Guide for that. You gotta live.
Barnes: “The problem that we have, and this part of the NCLB, is we’ve been testing schools and not testing students. We have been testing in order to say by some objective criteria, which I don’t think is accurate, this school is doing well, or this school is not doing well. We need to test students in order to develop that student. Not in ways that put pressure on that student but to learn periodically how that student is developing. I agree with you. We don’t need to get to the point where a student graduates with a high GPA and then finds him/herself in a remedial class at Austin Peay. If there is a problem, we need to know what that problem is so we can address that problem. I believe this is a student that has a deficiency in one small area that has the ability to overcome that but we won’t do that if we’re testing schools instead of testing students. We need to ensure our tests are geared towards developing students, not determining how a school is doing.”
COL: In tying green technology with education, we do have to look at a new way of gearing our education system to the needs of students and preparing those students for the world in which they are going to live. What proposals would you suggest could help our education system more truthfully prepare and match students to the needs of current and future society with green technology in mind? We have the development of solar energy, wind power, improved hydro-power. These are new technologies. Not necessarily coming from the academia elite, but more so from the technological expertise of the world. Where and how do we get Tennessee positioned in that?
Barnes: “Well, there’s a lot in that question. I want to break that question down. One of the things you talked about was preparing students for real life. I think that when high school seniors graduate, they might be eighteen, but they are not adults, they’re not remotely adults. They’re not like when I was growing up and had responsibilities on the farm, and again of NCLB, now I don’t want to keep beating up on that, but it hamstrings our schools in what they have to do. They can’t focus on preparing children for life, they have to focus on preparing children for a test. I, in my practice as a lawyer in representing juveniles, learned about this great class. In order to get it, I guess you have to be a juvenile delinquent or fall into some problem that results your being involved with the Department of Children’s Services. The way this program comes about is, maybe you’re seventeen years old, you’re behind in your studies, you’re not going to be able to graduate and you’ve prepared to take the GED. They have this class called, ‘Independent Living.’ What they do in that class is they teach you family budgets, they you about how much money it takes to pay your rent, to pay your utility bills, how much money it takes to take care of a child that you’re having. They teach you all these things that, if you didn’t get taught by your parents or a other caring adult, you’re not going to get taught in school. We’re not knocking schools. I’m just saying that there is no room to do that with No Child Left Behind. Back when I first learned about this class, I thought, ‘My goodness! That is a great class for kids. Somehow we need to broaden that.” That’s something that, when you’re eighteen years old, you really need to have in your head: what it costs to live. You need to know that if you come up with an extra fifty dollars, you don’t go out and buy a new video game; that you’ve got to put that aside for something else. But they have no way of knowing that. They are not prepared. We are a credit card society and we have to teach kids that you’ve got to budget. You have to prepare yourselves so that you can live independently or you’re going to fail at trying to live. So that’s one of the things that I have learned in my practice about this great class that they teach over at the Department of Children’s Services. It is something that needs to be taught to all high school kids.”
COL: It sounds reminiscent of the old Home Ec (Economics) classes.
Barnes: “Exactly! That we don’t have anymore. That we can’t have because we have this other stuff that you have to teach. You ought to do a story on that. You could go out to the Dept. of Children’s Services and tell you heard about the Independent Living classes and how I was praising it and how I think it needs to be applied broader. You could incorporate other things into it. You could incorporate the advantages of a green lifestyle , why we need it. You could incorporate things like community and civic responsibility and the green living concepts there.”
COL: Earlier you spoke of how all our technology development centers are out in East Tennessee, in Oak Ridge, Knoxville and that area. Can you ever a see the day when technology development center migrate or expand over here to Middle and West Tennessee? Why does East Tennessee have a lock on all that technology development? Now, I must say that I’ve been to a business development conference in Oak Ridge and it’s fabulous. But I ask myself why isn’t Clarksville, Memphis or Jackson a technology development center. Why is all technology development vested in the home turf of Senator Alexander’s district, as it were?
Barnes: “Well, a part of that has to do with Oak Ridge [Nuclear Laboratories] being situated there to begin with. And the reason it probably was, I believe, is because they were doing very secret things and that was a remote area. They stuck up there in a remote area, and I don’t think anyone predicted the kinds of spin-off that would come from that development. That technology that they developed in developing the atomic bomb spun off to industry and of course, it was convenient for industry to develop there. It was a kind of symbiotic relationship and they kept feeding off of each other. And that’s one of the things we need. We need some kind of seed, some of a kind of a starter here. Now, it may be that new industry that we’ve got looking to come to Clarksville. We need something that is very much twenty-first century. And if we get that, then we have the possibility of spin-offs. It’s like at the Saturn plant or the Nissan plant, you get the spin-offs from that of other companies that manufacture products for them. So, if you have a technology company and it’s a big one to locate here, then it can develop other technologies. Once you get those type industries here, and have higher paying jobs, and you the possibility of even headquarters here, which you don’t generally have that. We don’t have the kind of management level people here who make the headquarters decisions, like you have in Brentwood, for example. And things like, the more high income people that you have here, it stimulates our economy, because they’re out there spending locally, putting more money into the economy. That’s is something I hope we look to develop. The other idea I have about technology is, I think that if you have technology, you a real efficient to transfer that technology to business. I believe in technology business incubators. I believe that we could set up places, if it’s new technology, and encourage those entrepreneurial people with new technology to do it, to develop that technology here. That was done some in the eighties, with federal grants. It’s something we should look at doing here in Montgomery County.”
COL: Okay, now we’re going to look at health care. Earlier I have mentioned TennCare kicking 300,000 people off the rolls. What options would you for to get health care for people in Tennessee and we want to specifically exclude the consideration of infants and children because there are definite provisions in place for that demographic. We want to focus on your working poor, the unemployed, the people who are not covered now. Those 300,000 plus who TennCare told, ‘sorry, we can’t carry you.” They’re still out there. They’re still having an impact because the typical medical service for the poor is to go to the emergency room. It’s the expensive method of medical attention but it’s the only option they’ve got, so that’s where they go. How do we turn that around?
Barnes: “Well there again, I would like to look to your public health systems. That’s another I believe a good public health department can, in the long term, saves money. As I’ve said, if you have preventive care options for people, that prevent serious health care issues down the road, and if you can get ahead sometimes of a situation, like diabetes development, look how much money you can save. Rather than later that person even becoming disabled as a result of diabetes. The other thing is you’ve got an option for people to go the health department, rather than the emergency room; you can administer that health care for a lot less than the emergency room. So, it’s not a cure-all, but the public health department and putting money into that, you can’t look at that as each dollar being a dollar of cost. You also have to look at what you can have from saving or reducing TennCare costs and from people not going to emergency rooms to offset that dollar of cost.”
COL: I’ve never been the health department here. I’ve only heard from a few associates who have gone there and I must say, it was not the greatest experience. It seems the health department here is very restrictive in what it provides the general public. One female colleague said that senior lady told to say that she was pregnant or feared she may have been exposed to the HIV virus and the floodgates will open for you.
Barnes: “Well now, that’s because they just have certain criteria. I don’t know specifically because I haven’t looked that closely at it. I just know that they have a lot of volunteers, they’ve got doctors that work at a very reduced rate to staff it. Now, I mean when I talk about there needs to be more done, not acknowledge the many great contributions that doctors have made there because I know that they do. We need to fund it properly to get it properly staffed in order to address a full range of health issues. Until we that, we’re not going to adequately address a lot of the health problems. The Public Health Department should be the stopgap for those unemployed people who end up going to the emergency room because that’s the only choice that they have. As I’ve said, of course, we take care of our children, that’s the ‘Cover Kids’ program, that’s a priority and we do a pretty good job of doing that. But, the working poor, we don’t do a good job . That would be my priority because those are the people that have done what we ask, WORK! Contribute to society. And they are doing it and doing a great job and yet they can’t afford to get sick. So, those are the first people that we need to take care of. The unemployed, for a certain period of time, 180 days, I don’t know what kind of time limit they have or when they run out, if they even ever had health benefits to begin with. But certainly the public health departments can be at least, not the ideal answer, but that they can go to, if they are unemployed and have no other health care resources.”
COL: Kentucky and Tennessee have been documented as having the worst dental health care in the nation. Speaking for Tennessee, how and what do you think you could do to alleviate that deficiency?
Barnes: “Gee, I’m trying think where I should go with that. As an example, here was a utility company that had the choice of fluoridating the water or not fluoridating the water. It was going to cost them ten thousand dollars to fluoridate. A (local dentist) was very outspoken of that. That is the kind of decision, that to me, should be mandated. It should be mandated by the state. It’s proven that it’s not harmful, it’s proven that it prevents tooth decay. We already have a problem with kids not getting proper dental care. At the very least, let’s fluoridate our water. You have got to walk before you can run. We need to do the basic stuff first, then we look to see that what else we can do and what we can afford to do. I would look at any programs that are available, but you know when you’re struggling with these kinds of economic times, we’ve got to do the basic stuff first and then see what else we can do. We have got to provide health care to as many people as we are who already facing potential life threatening diseases and may not even know about it. Let’s fluoridate our water and then let’s see how how we can take care of these dental health care issues.”
COL: Moving out the health care arena, what steps would you take to address the lack of affordable housing in Tennessee, and particularly District 22, for seniors and low-income individuals and families? Over the course of the three to four years, it’s become really evident that Clarksville is seriously trying to eliminate ‘quote, unquote,’ affordable housing and housing assistance. You can’t get Section 8 in the city anymore, according to some of my sources.
Barnes: “Why is this?”
COL: People have told me that all their requests have them referred out in the county or over to Kentucky.
Barnes: “There’s a Section 8 department here, somewhere.”
COL: I understand there is indeed a Section 8 department but they’re not making any referrals for within the city limits. They’re offering people placement out in the county, or over in Hopkinsville or out in Erin, or someplace like that.
Barnes: “One of the most basic things that government can and should do is look to the care, safety and welfare of the people, including housing. We’ve got to make sure that people have the basic necessities, one of those being that people can live there with adequate Section 8 or any other kind of housing that makes it affordable for all people. I’d like to see a summit meeting between the state representatives, the county, the city and make sure we have a handle on that because that’s the kind of problem that, if you don’t get a handle on that problem, then it gets to be a serious problem down the road. So, it’s one you don’t react to, you had better plan for. That would be one of the things I would propose. Number one, it doesn’t have to be an expensive study, but let’s get some idea of what our needs are now, what our needs are going to be ten, fifteen or twenty years from now and let’s address those right now.”
COL: That’s pretty interesting. We’ve had several housing projects within the city that have gone private. The Avondale property out past Gary Mathews was a public housing project, badly managed, that been renovated and turned into a gated community.
Barnes: “I don’t believe in housing projects.”
COL: Supposedly there is a newly developed housing project out Hwy 48 past The Catfish House. It’s off the main road, out of viewing. It’s completely away from the city and it’s outside of the public transportation system gird. If this is housing for people in financial straits, why would you put them where they can’t access public transportation, which would be the most economical means for them to get around town to handle their affairs? That would mean that if they’re out there, they must have a car. It seems like it was conceived of with the notion of, ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ It’s not Summit Heights. It’s not Lincoln Holmes, which everyone wants to do away with. So if you’re out there off Hwy 48 and you don’t have a car, and you can’t utilize the bus system, you’re basically stuck out there.
Barnes: “It all goes to planning. You can’t invest in alleviating a serious problem without serious planning. You just have to do that.”
COL: You made a comment about housing projects and I think it’s important to understand that. Lincoln Homes and Summit Heights and the city’s other public housing projects fit into that mode of places to warehouse people, rather than places that provide a means to step out and up. I just wanted to give you an opportunity to expound on that.
Barnes: “Well I think that rather than place people in a situation where they feel stigmatized it, if you put people ,in a subsidized way, into other communities and let them feel like they too are part of that community, you much more likely to have people to aspire to continue to live there and be a part of that community rather than suffer the indignities that are sometimes suffered in a housing project. When these kids go to school, they’re not always eager to say where they when they live in a housing project. I think that’s sad. I think that they should have the opportunity to live somewhere, that subsidized, in a place doesn’t say to other people, ‘I’m from the projects.’ “
COL: This is my editor’s question. I have to present this question. Given the current status of the economy, would you support a state income tax?
Barnes: “No. I don’t support one because I concur with Governor Bredesen, that if we do that, especially in the current economic climate, we will hurt Tennessee’s ability to recruit the kind of industry we need to come here. States across this country are scratching and clawing to get whatever industry they can into their state and we happen to have a great advantage over many other states, in that we don’t have a state income tax. That is one of the major things that companies look at when deciding where to locate. So, is a sales tax revenue the fairest thing for all people? No, it’s not. In better economic times, I hope can look at relieving the certain necessities, such as groceries, but as far as changing our tax structure and going to a state income tax, at this time I think it would be a huge mistake and it would be a disadvantage to us.”
COL: Last question. If you had to pick your top three issues, what would they be and what is your position on each?
Barnes: “To your editor, that’s a good question. Well , let me first say that when I talk about my main three that I may not necessarily talk about them in order of priority. I will have to say that education is a top issue for me, because it has meant so much for me and it has made such a difference in my life. I want to show you a picture of a little boy that was taken in 1929 in a place called Finger, Tennessee. There are corn cobs on the ground, the yard is worn bare from all the kids playing and there’s a hound dog tied to something and you can see the well off in the distance. That’s picture of my father, who as you can see, grew up literally dirt poor. My mother was only slightly better off. Neither one of them had a high school diploma but they worked very, very hard and they made sure that I understood the value of education. They preached that to me. My father always said the greatest regret of his life was that he did not have education. He was a very smart man. I’ve always said he was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, but he was not an educated man and it always bothered him. He and my mother both made sure that I got an education. My mother later eventually got a GED as an adult and took secretarial classes at a voc-tech college and got a job as a secretary. I have said that education can make such a difference. I was able to graduate high school. I was able to go to college and even go to law school. It’s made such a difference in my life that I know that education is the great equalizer and opportunity. The brilliant thing about what this country has done and has made this country the greatest country in the world is that we had people like Thomas Jefferson, who understood very early that we have talented people equally sprinkled among our populace, equally between the rich and the poor. That’s what he said. And they have to be cultivated. If we fail to cultivate them, we will fail as a society. And that is why education is my top issue. Education is what I view as an investment in our future. We have to do everything that we can to make sure that we provide the best ‘PUBLIC’ education. The kind of education for everyone, regardless of who they are, where they come from, whether they grow up barefoot, with dirt and corn cobs in the yard, or whether they have a silver spoon in their mouth, it doesn’t matter. We need to make sure we provide the best education for our kids we possibly can. And that is something I am passionate about. That is one of my top issues. That’s why when it comes to the HOPE Lottery scholarships, I look at that as a way of expanding educational opportunities. When you expand educational opportunities, you help people help themselves. That’s why, when I go to the senate, that’s one of the first things I’m going to be looking at. To see how we can expand that and give working families some additional boost, some additional help to send their kids to college. That’s one of my top issues.
Once we get people educated, it’s jobs, jobs, jobs! We are a growing city. We are a city with a small town mentality. We’ve got to get out of that. We’ve got to recognize that we’ve got to look to the future of this city and this district. The only way we do that is start attracting the kind of jobs that build us and move us in the direction that we want to go. We’ve got to have better jobs and more of them, to build our economic base and provide these Austin Peay graduates with a way to leave the doors of Austin Peay, and stay here in the 22nd District, in Montgomery County, Cheatham County and Houston County and get jobs. You know, I’m a little bit selfish when it comes to the economic development issue because I have always said, ‘I want my kids to stay here.’ If my kids leave this area because, that’s their decision to make. Daddy might not like it but that’s their decision. That’s OK. If they leave this area because they have to, that’s unacceptable to me. That’s why I’m going to the State Senate to do, to build the kind of economic base we can have here and should have here to provide the kind of jobs that will encourage our people to stay and not move away. We want our talent to stay here.
Health Care. We have to continue to make sure that as a society, we provide people with basic health care. I think health care is a basic necessity. We have to make sure we provide it in a fiscally responsible way, but we’ve got to make sure that people get the care that they need and deserve. I’ve talked about the public health department and how I think that can be a key to providing a comprehensive health care system for all of our citizens. Not just those who happen to have a good benefits package from their employers, but those who are working minimum wage jobs and expanding health care for the working poor and making sure that if they get sick they can afford to get sick. That they won’t have bills that will just economically devastate them. We got to make sure we provide the kind of health maintenance and preventive health care that will prevent devastating illnesses down the road in people who don’t take care of themselves, or don’t have the opportunity to see doctors because they can’t afford doctors, we need to get people on regular maintenance schedules for in-home health care for seniors, and keep that a strong program, which was just passed. It was recently sponsored by Sen. Lowe Finney. I’m proud that everyone member of the general assembly signed on to that bill and passed unanimously. I was talking about two years when I ran for the state house. No one else was talking about it. It, to me, is a common sense measure that can actually save the state money. I believe we owe it to the seniors to let them stay in their homes as long as they can. In-home health care will let them do that.”
COL: Thank you for giving us this time to question you.
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TopicsAdoptions, Affordable Housing, Alternate energy development, Attorney Tim Barnes, Family law, in-home health care, Independent Living, jobs creation and development, liberal arts education, prenatal health care, preventive health care measures, public health departments, Reproductive Rights Protections, solar energy, state income tax, technological industry recruitment, technologocal education, technology development center, technology development enterprise hub, technology development incubator, Tenn. Technology Ctr at Clarksville, Tenncare, Tennessee State Senate District 22, wind power, Women's Health Issues