By: Madeline Coffey
In reflecting on my week helping out with the Knoxville Democratic Party, one particular experience really impacted me. While volunteering, I was asked to phone bank for a candidate I was unfamiliar with. Her name is Gloria Johnson, and she is running for the 13th Tennessee House District seat. Johnson has an incredible background as a legislator. A teacher for 20 years, an impeccable voting record that shows her commitment to equity, and her commitment to providing great healthcare and education to the people of Knoxville impressed me immediately.
The KDP asked me to phone bank for Gloria doing persuasion calls on Tuesday. Since I’m not super knowledgeable about local politics in Knoxville, I clearly had some questions. As I was talking with a staff member about the issue guide I was given, I was surprised by someone who had been sitting in the office located in the corner of the building. She began talking about TN Insure, a bipartisan bill that was never passed for Medicaid expansion. She said, “I worked very hard on that bill with Governor Haslam because now 300,000 people and 30,000 veterans in Tennessee don’t have the healthcare they need and deserve.” That’s right, it was Gloria Johnson.
I talked in one of my previous posts about the incredibly small scale of the campaign effort in Knoxville, but I was never expecting to see Representative Johnson there that day. Even as an official intern for Kay Hagan for Senate 2014, I thought I was lucky to catch a quick glimpse of Senator Hagan and be able to say hello. But here, I was educated by my candidate on her platform and taught how to communicate with her potential voters. She talked to me about how to frame her issues within a context that is important to Tennesseans.
Katie, the staffer who had been explaining the persuasion guide to me initially, brought up that many people would probably ask about Gloria’s stance on marriage equality. Gloria explained that she found it was best to emphasize her belief in freedom for all and limited government intervention in the personal lives of citizens. In this, she made her platform accessible to more Tennessee voters who believe in a non-interventionist system. For the first time, I learned campaign strategy from the candidate herself.
I thought this was a special experience because it showed Gloria’s personal commitment to her campaign. Rather than delegating the campaign to others, she decided on a DIY campaign effort that would reflect exactly what she wants and believes rather than what a campaign manager thinks is best for her image. I respected Gloria’s approach of taking matters into her own hands. To her, the platform she was promoting was so important that she wanted to be actively involved in getting the word out about it.
Although there were drawbacks of working with such a small organization of people, the personal experience of learning from Gloria was meaningful to me. For the first time, I didn’t need to be in an important role to hear from the candidate. It made me wish more politicians were this up close and personal with the people who help them. Unfortunately, most people who volunteer for campaigns never meet the candidate in person. Gloria’s commitment to interacting with the people who are helping her campaign inspired me. I can only hope that more politicians will begin to engage with their constituents. Gloria understands how important it is to interact with the people of Knoxville and not just the people in the legislature. For that, I am thankful to have met such a wonderful woman this summer.