Your Local Election HQ: A look at the upcoming primary race for TN’s 15th district

Your Local Election HQ

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Early voting begins Friday across Tennessee.

Many of the candidates running in state house races in our region face little or no primary competition. The one with the most Tennessee’s 15th house district, which includes part of Knox County.

Rep. Rick Staples faces two primary challengers, Matthew Park, and Sam McKenzie. There is no Republican in the race.

He credits the competition to his middle-of-the-road style of governing.

“You have to have an East Tennessee, Knox County, way of trying to represent this area, to make sure we get our slice of the pie in Nashville. Let’s face it, Knox County is a moderate town,” Staples said.

Park believes he’s running to better represent the values of the district district, which he sees as one of the most progressive in the state.

“We need programs to build up green infrastructure. We need a theory of change, where we’re not just changing the justice system, we’re transforming it. We’re transforming it into what we want it to look like in 10 years,” Park said.

Sam McKenzie didn’t say whether the district’s state representation was too left or too right, just that it was wrong for the people in the area.

“I wouldn’t put forth an online sports gambling bill. It was not representative of what’s needed in the 15th district…to be quite honest, there’s a lot going on within the 15th district, a whole lot of things were happening that I just didn’t agree with,” McKenzie added.

All three pledged to make education funding a priority.

If re-elected, Staples plans to work on ways to “protect and strengthen” businesses and help schools continue to navigate the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We have to look at how brown and black people suffer the most, one from the coronavirus, and the strong economic downturn, so we don’t lose a group of people. We could lose the lower-middle class if we continue this economic downturn,” Staples said.

Park also pointed to racial disparities in the region, but cited a different remedy, what he referred to as a Tennessee Green New Deal.

“Black and brown communities breathe about 50% more pollution than white and affluent communities. So, we have to pass a green new deal. We have to create a Tennessee conservation core, in order to provide living wage jobs coming out of this pandemic,” he said.

McKenzie also pledged to prioritize healthcare access in Tennessee “a health body, a healthy mind, creates a healthy environment, and a healthy district and state. So, I’d also push for a full expansion of medicaid,” he said.

Election Day is August 6.

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