“My family and I came to this decision because we believe we live in one of the greatest places this side of heaven,” Hicks, whose father was state Rep. Bobby Hicks, said during an announcement at the Barn at Boone Falls Reserve on Tuesday.
Hicks also owns Hicks Construction, which produces custom homes, and serves on the Washington County Regional Planning Commission.
“Our greatest blessing is our people, but as wonderful as it already is, we have a lot of people that are struggling and looking for a fresh start,” he said, the last two words being the theme of his campaign.
Noting that only 36% of third-graders in the state are reading on or above grade level and that average teacher salaries in the state are $6,500 less than the national average, Hicks said Tennessee needs to raise teacher pay to improve education in the state. He said Gov. Bill Lee has taken steps in the right direction on this front, but Hicks would like to see more done.
Hicks also advocates increasing the state’s focus on workforce development.
“Right now we have far too many students who graduate with no path to a good job,” he said. “Now, college isn’t for everybody, but graduating students without skill levels for a career often leads to joblessness, hopelessness and it’s a recipe for drug abuse and addictions.”
Hicks said the state’s public education system should prioritize ensuring students are job-ready from graduation day, and said that if he’s elected, he’ll work with local businesses, schools and the state to jump-start agricultural, vocational and technical training.
“As my dad always told people, ‘If you learn a trade, you’ll always have a job,’” he said. “And a job ready workforce begins in high school.”
Along with existing programs in nursing, carpentry, electrical work and plumbing, Hicks said, officials shouldn’t forget about the importance of farming, which encompassed a large chunk of the workforce in the early 1900s, but today makes up a tiny fraction of employees.
“We still have a strong agricultural element around here, and that’s a precious part of our culture,” he said. “We need to be intentional on preserving, and that starts with our local schools.”
Having personally struggled with and ultimately overcome a problem with drugs and alcohol, Hicks also advocates assembling more resources for people grappling with addiction.
He said 72,000 people died as a result of an overdose in the last year, with more than 1,800 of those deaths in Tennessee.
“Every one of those people has a story, and I strive every day to help people struggling with addiction to find a new story in their life,” Hicks said. “A story of recovery, forgiveness and redemption. That’s my mission in life and it’s deeply personal to me.”
Hicks, a self-described conservative, also stressed that he is pro-life, supports the Second Amendment with “no exceptions” and advocates making government as limited and local as possible. He also noted that he “enthusiastically supports” President Donald Trump.
Hicks said the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) will have an impact on how he campaigns for office, and as a precaution against the spread of the illness, the public was not invited to the formal announcement Tuesday.
He said his campaign will, for the immediate future, mostly operate online and by phone.
The Republican primary is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 6, and the general election will be Nov. 3.
As of early Tuesday afternoon, according to the Washington County Election Commission, Van Huss had picked up and filed his petition to run again for his seat, Hicks had picked up his petition but not yet filed, Brad Batt, a Democrat, has picked up a petition and filed and E.C. Huff, an independent, had picked up a petition but not yet filed.
“At the end of the day, I don’t think this race will be about the differences on the issues, but it will be about a different attitude and approach toward public service,” Hicks said. “Washington County needs a fresh start in the state house.”
Asked for comment Tuesday, Van Huss said “this is the people’s seat and nothing entitles me to it.”
He thanked his constituents for the opportunity to serve them and said he looks forward to earning their vote again.
“We've accomplished great things for the citizens of this state including: passing the Heartbeat Bill through the House; reaffirming Tennessean's right to keep and bear arms; bringing jobs to Northeast Tennessee; protecting our students and teachers from over-burdensome testing; and ensuring that our law enforcement has the resources to fight the opioid epidemic,” Van Huss said.
“In this time of crisis, I urge my constituents to pray for each other and to check on your neighbors. I have faith that Americans will overcome this adversity as we are a nation of folks who answer the call during hard situations.”