Originally scheduled to headline Monday’s Washington County Republican Women luncheon at the Carnegie Hotel, Blackburn was instead aboard Air Force One with President Donald Trump en route to Nashville for the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 99th annual convention.
Chelsea Ivens, Blackburn’s aide, did attend the meeting and said the congresswoman will try to attend another Washington County Republican Women’s meeting in the spring.
Filling in for Blackburn was state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-7th, who might face some unexpected competition in this year’s August primary.
Hill, who plans to run for state office again in 2018, said he was surprised to learn former 6th District Rep. Dale Ford had picked up nominating petitions for his seat.
Ford also picked up a petition to run for Washington County mayor, and plans to make a decision on which office to run for in the coming weeks.
“That is surprising. I’ve said it for years, this time of year is the time to govern, and the families of Washington County elected me to a two-year term so I’m going to stay focused on that,” Hill said.
“When session is over with, then it will be time to campaign.”
With the second half of the 110th General Assembly slated to start Tuesday, Hill predicts it will be a quick one.
“We’re going to hit the ground running. Committees are already scheduled to hear bills this week, which is a little out of the ordinary. But I predict, and I don’t think it’s too much of stretch to let you know, this year’s session is going to move quickly,” Hill said.
“The speaker of the House (Beth Harwell) is running for governor. There are many people in the legislature, in the House and in the Senate, that are running for various offices, not to mention re-election. So I think the session will be quick.”
Detailing Tennessee’s “report card” entering the new session, Hill said the state has netted 360,000 new private sector jobs since 2011.
“Today, more Tennesseans have a job than in any other point in state history. That is good news,” he said before encouraging his fellow Republicans to share this “good news” on social media and with friends.
“We have the lowest debt per capita than any state. We have the lowest overall taxes of any state (and) we have no transportation debt.”
Previewing what’s to come, Hill expects legislators to prioritize the opioid crisis this session.
“Very succinctly put, enough task forces, enough meetings, enough talking about it. We know what it is here,” Hill said.
“We cannot incarcerate ourselves out of this problem. This has to come down to an issue of effective treatment for these folks that have true addiction issues. That is something that we have to look at and have to seriously be invested in. And that’s a nice political way of saying, ‘It’s going to cost a lot of money.’ It just is.”
One of Hill’s personal crusades for the upcoming session is reforming high school standardized testing, by eliminating the TNReady test and using the ACT for student and teacher evaluations.
“Over-testing in our schools in Tennessee has gotten downright ridiculous. ... It’s got to stop,” Hill said.
First requested by Johnson City Schools’ officials in December, Hill plans to meet with school officials soon to start hashing out the details of the bill.
“We’re working together to come up with a bill that’s comprehensive but simple. What I mean by that is what does every student take before they graduate from high school? They take the ACT,” Hill said.
“And yet, everybody is telling me already, ‘Matthew, they’re just not going to vote for your bill.’ You know how many times I’ve heard that over the years? You know what we do? We put our elbow into them or shoulder or whatever else is required to get it done. Because we have to.”
Citing a local calculus teacher who calculated the total, Hill said local educators spend “hundreds” of man hours each year administering standardized testing.