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Democratic Party leader: Maybe rural voters wanted something else

Kate Craig, Washington County Democratic Party • Aug 15, 2019 at 7:00 AM

Tuesday morning, I sat with Mary Mancini, the chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party and with Democrats in Hamblen County who are now facing an eight-hour wait in the emergency room just to receive much needed health care. One of their hospitals closed due to the failure of the Republican-controlled House and Senate in Tennessee to pass Medicaid expansion. Since 2014, 13 rural hospitals have closed and yet Republicans in Tennessee continue to do nothing. People are dying and Republicans continue to do nothing.

Today’s stop in Hamblen County is No. 8 in a one-day tour across the state, talking to rural Tennesseans about the failures of the Republican Party to preserve or protect the rural way of life. Industry leaving, infrastructure crumbling, added barriers to accessing healthcare and the only party I see stepping up to address these issues is the Democratic Party.

Marty Olsen’s Community Voices piece in the Johnson City Press highlighted all of the places everyone in Northeast Tennessee holds dear and yet missed all the work that goes into preserving and protecting what makes it special.

First of all, I thank any candidate who steps up to run for office. Thank you Marty Olsen for running for Congress in 2018.

I met Marty in the summer of 2017 at a Washington County Democratic Party event. He was very open about his status as an independent, having voted for candidates on both sides of the aisle but found himself in 2016, in the era of Trump, voting a straight Democratic ticket. As he framed it then and throughout his campaign, the “middle of the road” had shifted so far right that he now identified as a Democrat.

That’s the great thing about the Democratic Party. We are a big tent party with a place for every left-leaning voice, activist, voter, and candidate. We don’t all think or talk in a uniform voice, but we understand how powerful collaboration is in creating progress and cultivating change.

Now, after a hard loss (21 percent of the vote) in 2018, Marty Olsen has decided to approach the 2020 election cycle touting a different political ideology. And rather than seeing the failings in his own campaign, he instead chose to lay the blame for his loss at the foot of the Democratic Party. A political strategy to appeal to voters when and if he files to run again.

Tennessee is a majority rural state. Northeast Tennessee is especially rural. And everyone who lives here knows that our scenery, our history, our music, our culture is worth fighting for. I’m not talking about monuments or flags.

In Greene County, the Second Amendment Sanctuary bill was defeated in the County Commission thanks to the work of local Democratic activists who didn’t want to see what happened in El Paso happen in Greeneville. Outside of Holston Valley Medical Center, Democratic activists continue to raise their voices to protest Ballad Health’s decision to downgrade the NICU to a level 3 trauma center. In Johnson County, concerned parents stood up to the school board when Shady Valley Elementary School transitioned to a K-5 school from a K-6 school with little to no notice given to parents or students.

Marty Olsen, where were you in these fights?

The Democratic Party continues to stand with these activists who fight for the marginalized, who work to ensure health care is a right, and campaign for candidates who understand that living wages and sustainable jobs will prevent people from having to lose their homes or declare bankruptcy.

It’s easy to look at politics as left, middle, and right; but the truth is we’re talking about people. People who have families; people who have friends; people who have communities. The Democratic Party is about progress, the Democratic Party platform is about people.

In 2018, I did everything I could to promote and campaign for Marty Olsen as the Democratic candidate for Congress. And on election day, I voted for him.

I am committed to the Democratic Party because I believe in the party’s values and I see the work that is happening to reach out to, work with, and protect rural Tennesseans. I’m a founding organizer for the Tennessee Democratic Party Rural Caucus. The Rural Healthcare Tour is connecting with voters from across the state to give a platform to their stories and ensure that rural Tennesseans have health care, too.

I love living in the mountains of Northeast Tennessee and I am a proud leader in the Democratic Party.

Kate Craig leads the 1st Congressional District and Washington County Democratic Party.

Editor’s Note: Craig later issued a statement that she had mischaracterized the demonstrations at Holston Valley Medical Center. While many of the demonstrators are Democrats, Craig said, the demonstration itself has been non-partisan.

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