Two men from Loudon County and another from Monroe County hope to replace Jimmy Matlock on the Republican ballot for state representative in the 21st district.
Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens, former Loudon County Mayor Doyle Arp and former Tennessee Highway Patrol officer Lowell Russell each hope voters give them the chance to serve.
The winner of the primary will face Democrat Laura Miller in November’s general election.
Aikens pushes record
Tony Aikens believes he is the right choice because of what he has accomplished as mayor of Lenoir City.
“I want to bring the success of Monroe County and Loudon County and Lenoir City,” Aikens said. “We’ve kept taxes the lowest possible. We haven’t had a property tax increase. We actually absorbed $54,000 for four years in a row starting in 2013. I think I’ve got the expertise and the qualifications to get the job done and keep taxes low, not just in Loudon and Monroe counties, but all across the state.”
Aikens pointed to projects like the Lenoir City Utilities Board headquarters, The Venue at Lenoir City, renovation of the War Memorial Building in downtown Lenoir City, the new city hall building and various organizations that have located here, such as the University of Tennessee medical building on Town Creek Parkway, as reasons he should be elected.
“We did all that and it comes back down to good management,” Aikens said. “We have a budget meeting every Thursday before the council meetings and we make our department heads live by their budget. We tell them all the time, treat that money like it’s your own. They’ve done that. ... We have a city government that’s running like a well-oiled machine, and that’s how state government ought to run. That’s the expertise I bring. We want the state government to run as well as Lenoir City and that’s what I’m going to bring to the state house.”
Aikens believes the state’s budget will be a top focus for the candidate that wins the office. He also hopes to focus on legislation that will benefit all cities in the state.
“I think I’m familiar somewhat with how state government is ran, being involved in city government,” Aikens said. “We don’t need a bunch of folks over in Nashville telling local government what to do, that’s for sure. We don’t need to be making laws that’s going to affect local government in a negative way. We need to make laws that’s going to be better for local government. Obviously, being a mayor from a small town, I know how hard it is when Nashville passes laws that affects the big cities (positively) but doesn’t affect the smaller cities or affects small cities in an negative way. I’m going to make sure we don’t have a negative impact on the small cities.”
Arp touts experience
Doyle Arp believes he has years of work that show he is the right candidate.
“I think I’m more qualified with the experience I’ve had with being a small business owner working in both Loudon and Monroe counties,” Arp said. “I had my own businesses and stuff for the first 20 years of my life before I got in the political atmosphere. Having served on county commission, having been president of the different statewide organizations, I think it makes me more qualified day one.”
Arp doesn’t believe there will be an adjustment to the position and is confident he can hit the ground running thanks in part to time spent lobbying at the state level.
He sees early childhood education as being a big need across the state.
“If a child can’t read by the third grade they’re probably going to get lost in the cracks forever,” Arp said. “That would probably be one of my main emphasis. … I don’t think you need more money, just to reemphasize some of the money to get it done.”
A “better trained workforce” and continued work against the opioid epidemic were other challenges Arp sees the state facing. His plan to tackle those is “fine-tuning” what is already in place.
“We’re a country of just making laws and not really looking to what the benefits are on them or the drastic changes that are being made and then they run back the next year and overcorrect or something like that,” he said. “I think probably if we would take a good, hard look on the front end then we wouldn’t have to run back and forth to change them back out.”
Russell ‘not a politician’
Lowell Russell believes he has the edge because he hasn’t held office before.
“I think that I can make a difference,” he said. “I feel that I’m the best one for the job. This would be my full-time job. Ever since my accident with the (Tennessee) Highway Patrol I have been trying to look for new ways to serve my community, and this seems like it would be a good way. I think I would be the voice of the people and I think I can relate to the ordinary voter more because like most voters I’ve never held office, and I’m not a career politician.”
Learning to work in politics is what Russell sees as his biggest challenge. He pointed to school safety, opioids and grandparents’ rights as being among the biggest concerns the state must address.
“I think that we’ve already started on some issues during this legislative season on the opioids, so I just want to continue that,” Russell said. “I want to vote for stuff that gives grandparents more rights. I want to look at getting ideas from the 21st district on what they think we need to do better and carry their voices into Nashville.”
Russell is pushing what he said is a platform built on “public safety, the economy and small government,” while adding that he is pro-life and pro-second amendment.
“I’m going to work very hard for the 21st district to make sure their voice is heard in Nashville,” he said. “I think that, because this would be my full-time job, that I can represent them best. I’m not a career politician and don’t have special interest other than the people.”