With just days to go until Election Day, two Democratic candidates running to represent Williamson County in the Tennessee House — Elizabeth Madeira and Jenn Foley — held a final virtual town hall Thursday.
The two state House hopefuls discussed policy, the challenges of campaigning during a pandemic and more.
Madeira, a Franklin resident, is a former teacher running against 18-year Republican incumbent Glen Casada, who currently represents Tennessee District 63 in the state House. Madeira is also running against Independent Brad Fiscus for the same seat.
A Spring Hill resident, Foley has a history in anthropology and worked for the Tennessee Language Center, a state agency that "provides foreign language classes, ESL classes, and interpretation and translation services." Foley is challenging Republican incumbent Sam Whitson for his seat in the state House representing Tennessee District 65.
"Our schools are so underfunded here in Tennessee; our teachers have been stripped of the respect that they should be earning, and also they have just not been paid what they deserve as professionals with advanced degrees," Foley said, opening the virtual town hall.
"Then I also just watched in the past year as they continued to push this special interest agenda that didn’t benefit most Tennesseans; permitless carry, the fetal heartbeat ban, things that have been proven to be unconstitutional as well."
Madeira said that her Republican incumbent opponent was one of her main motivators for seeking office.
"I’m running against Glen Casada, who has made himself a bit infamous over the past few years," Madeira said.
"For years I’ve disagreed with him on policy; I think one of the first times I was really tuned in was when he said that guns should be allowed in parks because bicycles are allowed in parks and guns are no more dangerous than bicycles. I thought [that] was really extreme, but then last year after all the scandals, I thought we really deserve a representative who we can trust, who’s honest and is not just connected to special interest groups."
Being broadcast live on Facebook, a viewer posed a question to the two candidates, asking them what had been both their biggest challenges and biggest joys in running for office.
"I have to admit, it was hard to make that leap into saying yes, I’m a Democrat and I’m running for office," Foley answered.
"There’s that perception here in Williamson County that there aren’t many Democrats, but we’ve definitely seen this year that there are a lot more Democrats in Williamson County than people realize. Connecting to different groups in the community and across the state has been really great."
On challenges, Foley said the ongoing pandemic was by far her greatest hurdle.
"I haven’t been able to get out and talk to people as much as I wanted to, so that was disappointing, but overall I think both of us have done pretty well for the challenges that we faces this year," Foley said.
While agreeing with Foley that the ongoing pandemic has posed a great challenge in campaigning for office, Madeira said that being a newcomer to politics posed another unique challenge.
"I will say the biggest challenge [was] when I first signed up; when it comes to the point that you want everybody to know you, you’re opening up yourself to a lot of criticism," Madeira said.
"I’ve had lies about me, [though] actually that doesn’t bother me that much because I know it’s a lie. Of course when you see people agree with them, that kind of thing is hard."
In terms of her biggest joy, Madeira said that it was the diversity of thought in Williamson County that she discovered through campaigning.
"There is more diversity of thought in politics out there than people realize," Madeira said.
"Talking to folks in the business and faith community that have said ‘we really want Williamson County to be a more welcoming and diverse space for everybody,’ and I think seeing people feel that it is that way is really encouraging."
Another viewer posed a question, asking Foley what her advice might be for those considering a run for office one day.
"[Madeira] and I both participated in Emerge Tennessee, which is designed for women, it trains Democratic women to run for office, and I felt like that boot camp was the [best] advantage I could get," Foley said.
"But you definitely need to have some support from your county party, your family and from friends, and really build up relationships in your community too. Even if you’re thinking about running maybe two years down the road, I would say start getting out in the community and talking to organizations; faith organizations, nonprofits… just start building those networks and bridges."
In closing, Maderia spoke on the topic of representation in government, specifically on the lack thereof.
"One thing that we haven’t talked about now is the fact that the Tennessee state legislature - house or senate - has never had a mom with young kids in it… what a lack of representation," Madeira said.
"Women make up 50% of Tennessee, and I think make up maybe 15% of the legislature, but still - what happens in the state house and senate affect 100% of Tennesseans. So how amazing and great [would it be] to see those legislative bodies look more like the people that they represent."
Election Day will land on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Voters in Williamson will be able to vote at any of the Election Day voting centers regardless of which precinct they live in, with voting centers being open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Click here to view a voting center map for Williamson County.