September 18, 2007
Berke Learnin': District 10 Candidate Series
After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, schedules aligned favorably for a meeting with Andy Berke, Democratic primary contender for the state senate in the special election for District 10. We met at his campaign headquarters, which is rented space at the family's law practice.
Andy put his campaign skills, which he began acquiring right after college by working to elect 6th District Congressman Bart Gordon, to use right away. A good candidate never takes his or her eyes off the prize, which is not only the voter being spoken to, but that voter's circle of influence. Berke spoke frankly of his inner drive to personally convince every person with whom he speaks during this campaign to vote for him, and to ask others to do the same. On one hand, it's typical candidate talk; on the other, it seems he really means it.
I couldn't help finding a few similarities between Berke's apparent enthusiasm and that of another Democrat who recently ran in Tennessee: Harold Ford, Jr. I said as much. Andy reminded me that he had spent "a lot of time" with Ford, and had even arranged the photo shoot that ended up on the cover of a Newsweek issue. Our conversation quickly turned to the issues facing Tennesseans today.
We spent a large portion of our time talking about public schools in Hamilton and Marion counties, and what needs to happen in order to correct their current dismal trajectory (overall, with some notable exceptions). A "culture of excellence," says Berke, is essential for area children to grow into innovators in the global marketplace. While we can debate exactly what roles are played by the state, and to what degree, in getting there, it's a shared goal.
I asked, rhetorically enough, if vouchers were an option he would consider offering desperate parents who want the best education for their children, but who cannot afford private tuition. The answer was clearly not in favor of vouchers; instead, Berke spoke of elevating the public schools to the level that will fulfill students' (and thus parents') needs. He says that parents play a critical role in that being able to happen, and that money alone is not the answer.
When asked what made him decide to pursue politics as a candidate himself, after having worked on others' campaigns, Berke paused, and then passionately described the profound effect of having people request his help, such as a Marion County factory worker who pleaded for relief on the costs of insuring a family for medical coverage. It dawned on me while he was saying this that he would have already been campaigning when the anecdotal event had taken place, and I should have called him on that. I know he at least occasionally reads this blog, though, so let this serve. You get the point, regardless of my minor quibble.
It's no secret that Andy Berke is considered the frontrunner in the primary (if not the general); I, however, look forward to conversations with Dr. Lee Whitaker, Ken Jordan, John Wolfe, and anyone else who wishes to present a challenge to the prevailing prognosis.
State Senate Elections | By joe lance | 11:40 PM