With early voting in Tennessee kicking off this week on Oct. 14, Williamson County voters will not only get to cast their ballots for who they'd like to see represent them in the State House of Representatives.
Tennessee District 65's Republican incumbent Sam Whitson is running his third race to keep the seat, which represents Franklin and western Williamson County.
Whitson is an Army veteran, resident of Franklin and native Tennessean.
Prior to his political career, Whitson served in the United States Army from 1976 to 2002, serving in Iraq with the U.S. Army’s VII Corps during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Whitson is a decorated veteran, having received a plethora of honors including the Legion of Merit and Bronze Star Medal.
Whitson is running against Democrat Jenn Foley.
As the election draws closer, Whitson spoke with the Home Page this week about a variety of topics.
If reelected, what legislative principles would you stand by?
The same seven Core Army Values of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage that guided me as a soldier and leader during my military service.
They served me well in my professional career in peace and war, during my first two terms in the [Tennessee] General Assembly and in my personal life as a husband, father, grandfather, neighbor and friend. I will continue to expect these same core values of myself and my fellow elected officials in the general assembly.
As a state legislator, what do you feel is the best approach to keeping Tennesseans safe amid this pandemic while also preserving economic progress?
It all begins with individual behavior and making good personal decisions.
Providing individuals with accurate and timely information and encouraging safe and responsible behavior is the best first step to protect public health. Secondly, we need to make sure our testing capacities can keep up with demand to accurately track the spread of the virus, and we have to make sure that our frontline medical workers and first responders have access to the necessary PPE (personal protective equipment).
Finally, and really importantly, we have to do everything we can to support our small business, local employers and their workers.
My office has been working with local businesses to help them access emergency funding through the Small Business Relief Fund so they can help fill gaps in their payroll and purchase the necessary equipment like hand sanitizer and medical masks in order to keep their doors open and business safely flowing.
My office has also been working round-the-clock to help displaced workers apply for unemployment benefits and connect them with career-finding resources.
When we look to the future, our state economy is going to have to grow its way out of the hole that this virus has put it in. That means our state leaders are going to have to be prepared to cut back on government bureaucracy and red tape, lower everybody’s tax burden, defend against frivolous lawsuits, and budget taxpayer money responsibly.
About one in every 10 Tennesseans have no health care coverage or insurance. Your Democratic opponent, Foley, has championed Medicaid expansion as a method to help remedy this problem. If reelected, what would you do to help ensure more Tennesseans have access to health care?
Expanding Medicaid without a personal responsibility component and cost containment process will not pass in the Tennessee General Assembly. We have tried this experiment before in our state with the old TennCare program, and it nearly bankrupted us.
The last Democrat Governor, Phil Bredesen, actually had to make draconian cuts to the program and end state coverage for hundreds of thousands of people. Not only did this law discourage employers from sponsoring private insurance for their workers, but it was a magnet for out-of-state folks and non-residents to come here and get free healthcare.
That’s why I’ve focused on new solutions that are aimed at lowering the cost of medical care and that prioritize healthcare access for our most vulnerable populations first.
Just last year, I was proud to pass the Katie Beckett Waiver that helps families of children with severe disabilities get access to the specialized treatments they need. I have a granddaughter with special needs, and so this is a very personal issue for me.
I’ve seen first-hand how expensive and time-consuming the intensive medical therapies for these kids can be, and the stakes for not getting them are so high, their lives can truly hinge on receiving this care every day. These parents can quickly find themselves in impossible situations just trying to fight for their child’s life, and so, it was critically important that we extend them special access to medical resources.
I’m proud that we were able to pass the Katie Beckett Waiver, and I am continuing to work with federal CMS officials and our congressional delegation to ensure this program is approved and implemented as soon as possible.
Moreover, I have also fought to lower healthcare costs so that patients can affordably access the medicines and physicians they need. Just in the last couple of years, we’ve made great strides in opening up telemedicine, which allows patients to get remote-monitored treatments from a doctor that are timely and cost-efficient.
We’ve also set new medical billing transparency standards so that we empower patients with the information to be informed consumers of their healthcare, allowing them to shop for the best prices and avoid costly surprise bills.
We still have more work to do in this area to foster more competition and create affordable medical pathways for our working poor and uninsured patients, but I am optimistic about the progress we’ve made thus far and will do so in the future.
Given that police reform has been a highly discussed topic as of late, are there any types of police reform you support?
First, defunding the police is a non-starter for me. Our state and local law enforcement agencies must have the required funds to recruit, train and retain a professional force of men and women dedicated to serving and protecting the public.
The best officers, in the right numbers with the best leadership, training and equipment, will ensure public safety departments can protect our communities while maintaining the public’s trust and support.
Next, police reform is just one part of our challenge to have a fair and effective criminal justice system.
As a former grand jury foreman for our county, I know first-hand every component of our criminal justice system, such as our courts, prosecutors, public defenders, corrections, county jails, juvenile services, probation officers, 911 operations, court clerks, social services and other agencies all operate on a shoe-string budget.
As our society becomes more complex from growth and the demands of services become greater, we must ensure we support those on the front lines with the right resources to be successful in dealing with our society’s troubles and misfortunes.
Regarding education, what would you do if re-elected to ensure Tennesseans have access to the best education available? Any areas you feel that could use improving in our current education system?
Williamson County is fortunate to have some of the best schools in the state. Our teachers and principals consistently deliver some of the highest levels of student performance and academic growth of any other county in Tennessee, and they do so while managing a system that is rapidly climbing in population and receiving only a portion of the tax dollars it sends to the state back into its own coffers for school funding.
We really are a model school system, and that is why I have consistently stood up for our local teachers and parents and fought to ensure that our excellent schools are rewarded with the autonomy to set their own policies locally without micromanagement from the state.
We must improve and update our state’s school funding formula, known as the BEP (Basic Education Program).
Currently, the BEP formula penalizes Williamson County because our more affluent local tax base is viewed as an adequate source of local tax dollars. However, it does not fully take into account the rapid rate of growth in student population in our school systems, nor our significantly higher local cost of living.
I think these factors should be more fully recognized in the funding formula, and at the very least, high-performing districts like ours should be incentivized and rewarded with grant dollars to expand our most successful programs.
From a statewide perspective, our students will greatly benefit from more opportunities to pursue studies in career and technical education. Some of the most rapidly-growing job fields in the state are in desperate need of production technicians, warehouse specialists, mechanics, and tradesmen, and the careers they offer tend to pay quite well and require far less tuition dollars than an expensive liberal arts school.
We’ve done a lot in Tennessee to generate more apprenticeships and work-based learning opportunities for high school students, and I was proud to help implement a very successful mechatronics program at Fairview High School that is currently serving as a model for other districts. I applaud Governor Lee for making vocational education opportunities a priority of his administration, and I hope we can keep expanding them in schools across the state.
What is something you can offer the residents of Williamson County that your opponent cannot?
A record of extensive local community involvement, proven leadership experience and significant legislative achievements while in the general assembly.
As an experienced legislator and career military officer, I know how to successfully work with others and to ethically and responsibly lead by example. My long-time community involvement includes service as our county’s grand jury foreman, chairman of Franklin’s battlefield preservation commission, membership in the local American Legion, VFW, chamber of commerce, Rotary and many other civic organizations.
I’m also serving on a state panel that holds unethical lawyers financially liable for proven misconduct.
At the general assembly, I serve on several influential committees, including chairman of the critical Transportation Infrastructure Subcommittee and as a member of the Health Committee and the Finance, Ways and Means Committees.
I have a proven record of working with my Republican leadership and across party lines to do what’s best for Tennessee.
Numerous achievements include the Katie Beckett Waiver, funding public education, Tennessee’s first Alzheimer's Advisory Council and prioritized funding for much-needed infrastructure projects like the Mack Hatcher extension project.
I’ve stood by my promises and kept my word to the citizens who have trusted me to represent them. It’s a responsibility that I will never take for granted or abuse. As we work to get our local economy back on track and recover from the effects of the coronavirus, it is vitally important that our citizens and local businesses can trust their leaders to have their backs and get results that will matter to them.