Editor’s Note: Dick Cook, the publisher/editor of East Ridge News Online was a co-moderator of the event along with Pastor Matt Busby, an Anglican priest.
Joda Thongnopnua, the Democratic nominee for the Tennessee House of Representatives District 30, held a “debate” Monday evening at the East Ridge Community Center.
This was the second debate that his campaign scheduled with his Republican opponent Esther Helton. Like the previous debates that the Thongnopnua campaign has held, Helton did not attend.
Ben Easterly, Helton’s campaign manager, said that Helton was at an event Monday night meeting with and listening to voters as she has done throughout the campaign.
“Esther has knocked on more than 5,000 doors across District 30, participated in numerous community and neighborhood meetings, sent seven mail pieces directly to voters that outline her positions on healthcare, education, illegal immigration, gun rights, protecting the unborn and seniors, and job creation,” Easterly said. “Esther is committed to voter contact and has proven she is committed to speaking directly to voters rather than seeking headlines.”
So, Thongnopnua spent almost two hours fielding questions from the moderators and the more than two dozen folks in attendance. Those questions were dominated by issues relating to education, job creation, health care, funding campaigns and the second amendment.
Thongnopnua, who works for Metro Ideas Project, a think-tank that addresses urban policy issues, said that public education is one of the central services the state provides. He noted that Hamilton County is lagging behind on education. He told those gathered that he supports giving parents more choices in their child’s education – charter schools, magnet schools – but is not in support of school vouchers.
He said bringing good jobs to Tennessee is directly related to the standard of education people receive here. Thongnopnua noted that the state recently lost out on a company locating here that was offering 200 welding jobs, paying about $60,000 a year. He said the area didn’t have enough qualified people to fill the positions.
Thongnopnua said that he would not be in favor of additional vocational schools being built, but would advocate for vocational training being offered in every school in the state.
He said investing in workforce training and development is essential. He does not believe in “forking over” millions to companies in incentives to locate in Tennessee.
“We need to get smart in what kind of incentives we offer,” Thongnopnua said. “We can take that money and invest in education.”
Thongnopnua characterized health care as “the most complicated policy field in government.”
Unlike Helton, Thongnopnua is in favor of Medicaid expansion. He said that Tennessee did not opt into a federal grant program that would have helped 280,000 families and 20,000 veterans meet medical expenses. He said that 95 percent of the cost to expand Medicaid would be paid for by the federal government.
When asked about his campaign being heavily funded by those inside Chattanooga City Hall and by outside union interests, Thongnopnua said that he was proud to have received individual contributions from about 500 people. He said he does not accept any money from corporate political action committees.
“I’ve actually sent checks back from corporate contributors,” he said.
When asked about guns, Thongnopnua said he does not own a firearm. He said that he does not favor expanding gun-control laws but wants to enforce the ones already in place. Thongnopnua would support implementing universal background checks for gun purchases, requiring all firearm transactions to be recorded and go through a law enforcement data base. This would close the private sale loophole.