By Laura-Margaret Jones
Last month, AIA Chattanooga and the AGC of East Tennessee partnered to host Chattanooga’s inaugural candidate forums focused on the building industry and design professions. Held at the AGC of East Tennessee’s headquarters, it was a two-night event, with each night dedicated to a different political party.
Workshop: Architecture’s own Sarah Page, who serves on both the local and state AIA boards, organized the event with Matt Lyle of Franklin Architects, also a member of the board of AIA TN, and Leslie Gower, Executive Director of the AGC of East Tennessee. At the forum, the trio acted as the moderators of the discussions, asking the candidates about their views on policies and state initiatives that impact the building industry. Discussed topics covered a variety of issues including - but not limited to - small business regulation and policies; infrastructure maintenance, repair, and replacement; state preemption; and workforce development.
As important as it is to engage our civic leaders on professional matters, it is also imperative that we continue to work together to accomplish common goals for the building and construction industry.
All candidates running in Hamilton County for a state-level elected office were invited, and those who were able to make it included five Republicans - Sen. Bo Watson, Robin Smith, Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, Lemon Williams, and Sen. Todd Gardenhire, who is not actually running but has served since 2013 - as well as three Democrats - Randy Price, Yusuf Hakeem, and Joda Thongnopnua; both nights boasted a more or less balanced mix of seasoned politicians and rising hopefuls, providing for well rounded and insightful dialogue.
Having served many years at the state level, Rep. Hazelwood, Sen. Watson, and Sen. Gardenhire were able to provide a comprehensive overview of how issues are introduced, decisions are made, and projects are prioritized and funded at the state level, while the candidates new to state level office were able to speak to more local concerns and how they would like to address them in the state legislature. First-time candidates were also able to bring their experience outside of government to initiatives that they are particularly passionate about, from small business regulation and education to workforce development and healthcare access. Candidate Joda Thongnopnua’s experience in local government and policy research in particular has given him a lot of nuanced insight into the unexpected consequences of different state initiatives.
All of the candidates emphasized the significance of constituents personally reaching out to their representatives to express concerns and urged everyone to get out and vote. Often, they reminded us, elections are determined by a small margin, and in this cycle, Hamilton County has a couple of districts that have close races.
Though architects and contractors do not always agree on every issue, we are proud of the collaborative efforts involved in manifesting this event and enthusiastic about the potential for future partnerships. As important as it is to engage our civic leaders on professional matters, it is also imperative that we continue to work together to accomplish common goals for the building and construction industry.