Mike Carter, who has just been chosen as the “Best Overall” member of the Tennessee Legislature by a group known as the Tennessee Forum and “Legislator of the Year” by Citizens for Home Rule, is truly both. A lawyer and then a Sessions Court judge for 8 ½ years, he is overwhelmingly favored to win a third term during next Thursday’s election and rightly so.
While it is laudable that Collegedale Commissioner Ethan White would challenge the 62-year-old Carter at the “too-young” age of 27, it would be an immeasurable travesty if the citizens of District 29 (think East Hamilton County, Collegedale, some of Soddy Daisy and Sale Creek) disregarded Carter’s experience, his expertise, his drive, his power in Nashville and his plans to better the district in the next two years.
“I hate to say this but we are still using 1960 solutions to solve 2016 problems,” he said over some deliciously-messy Five Guys cheeseburgers. I wanted to talk to Mike because I am worried sick about the future of our Orange Grove and the now-ridiculous oversight by both state and federal agencies. “I can assure you the entire Hamilton County legislation has this as one of our No. 1 concerns. When government cannot help our weakest, it cannot help anyone.”
Last week Tennessee Senator Bo Watson tried to console my fears, telling me Orange Grove would remain functional “but not in a way you might recognize. We are tremendously upset but I believe I can give you my promise we are not going to let anything happen to (the center of intellectually and physically challenged.)”
Carter, a valiant fighter as the Tennessee Municipal League and the now-doomed Wastewater Treatment bureaucracy can attest, went it one further: “We are finding when our state officials blame the federal government that is not always the truth. Orange Grove is far too precious and serves so very many to be mistreated so, no, that will not happen.”
Carter, whose legal mind has the ability to shift a lot of sand in a hurry, said the other huge need was state broadband/Internet access. “In the past five years, Tennessee has allocated more dollars for education than any other state in the country but, with 800,000 who have no service, what good with iPads do? This is a huge piece of the state’s economic success and must be done quickly.”
Carter believes the $111 million allocated to EPB Fiber Optic proves what can be done in a partnership but says for the government to give $156 million to ATT, a private entity, is insane. “Look, we’ve got to fix the system, to repair and restructure it. But to have four/fifths of a million Tennesseans without broadband access is intolerable but also economically a nightmare.”
Mike is also keenly aware of de-annexation fraud. “What we’ve seen is when an area is de-annexed, 30 days later those who force it turn street repair back to the county. The loophole is the ‘wheel tax’ doesn’t accompany the responsibility – and that is just plain wrong,” he said, “Do you know Elvis Presley Boulevard in Memphis now belongs to Shelby County? Of course that is ridiculous!”
Talk about education … “Like I said, Tennessee has allocated $760 million to education in the last five years. We’ve finally got the teachers insurance where it ought to be but why is it not trickling down to Hamilton County? Our legislative delegation feels quite strongly there needs to be more oversight and accountability.
“But the teachers who I admire the most tell me the best solution is to toss the testing and let them really teach. That makes all the sense in the world. Our state Department of Education is a bureaucracy and fails us horribly when it tries to micro-manage. The key to government is to make life easier, not harder. There is a horrible misconception people must serve the government and that’s completely false; government must serve the people!”
Mike also has another goal. “I want to let parents decide where their children go to school. We had 44 votes to do that not long ago – seven shy – and I think that day is coming. It is inhumane to ‘sentence’ any child to attend a failing school.”
Carter’s district is the fastest-growing area of the county but be believes we’ve got to grow smarter at the same time. “In Fulton County, Ga., they are installing revolutionary sewage treatment plants in each subdivision. Our world is changing, adapting … state government has to do the same thing.”
Do we have the legislators in place to do that? “I think we do … especially in Hamilton County right now. I have never been around a group that really liked and respected one another as this one,” he said. “Each of us has our own bit of expertise; with me it is the law, with Todd (Gardenhire) he’s a bull on education, JoAnne (Favors) knows health care, and so forth.
“I guess it took me almost a full two years to understand the legislature, to appreciate you can’t just come up with an idea, but must explain why it will work, and then sell it to work. That’s a guaranteed success and the best ones come when we all do what is best for Hamilton County. Inevitably it will be best for Tennessee, too.”
Vote for Mike Carter by Aug. 4. Early voting ends this Saturday.