September 25, 2007
Layne Country: District 10 candidate series
Sometime after I landed in the Tennessee Valley some eighteen years back, I happened across someone from the area, who at some point got around to telling me where he lived. I kid you not: he said "Wooh-wull." (Pronounce the "oo" as in "foot," stop the breath between syllables, and keep the second syllable nice and short; accent the first.) Sometime later, while driving west on I-24 toward Monteagle, I passed an exit sign that showed me the spelling: Whitwell. "Wooh-wull." Got it.
This past Sunday afternoon, I took an altogether pleasant drive from that exit sign, up through the bucolic Sequatchie Valley, toward the home of Marion County GOP chairman Travis Layne and his family. With Nickajack behind me, the Plateau and mountains on either side; with hay bales (finally) and grazing cattle all around, and mockingbirds in the air, I was acutely reminded what a gorgeous state Tennessee is.
But this isn't about me. I arrived at the Layne home and was invited in for a rap session about the state Senate race, how Layne came to be in it, and the state of politics from a working family's perspective. Mrs. Travis Layne joined us for most of the time, which was a welcome difference from the rest of this series, even though I will admit that Travis and I rather hogged the conversation.
There could not be a sharper contrast in this race than between Layne's good country earthiness and the urbane sheen on a couple of other candidates. But the cultural span among those running for the seat serves to illustrate the intricacies of this district. The same senator will represent Jasper and Battle Creek as speaks for East Chattanooga and Piney Woods, Lookout Mountain and Riverview.
I asked Travis what had drawn him to the race, and he described being approached by co-workers and others in his circle of acquaintances upon Ward Crutchfield's resignation. He is humble yet confident about his capacity for leadership. I tried to get him to enumerate a rivalry between the two counties in the district, but he was too savvy, and wouldn't take the bait. No, there's not a sense of entitlement that it's Marion County's turn to elect someone, he said; but yes, it would be "nice" if it did turn out to be someone from Marion this time.
The biggest difference a Senator Travis Layne would present, he politely mused, would be that "regular working people" would have a voice in Nashville, advocating for keeping their taxes as low as possible and for making sure that the results of those taxes, such as infrastructure, education, and affordable healthcare, were delivered. We didn't delve into many concrete details, and I suspect that the lack of policy-making background on both our parts contributed to that.
On the subject of experience, Layne says that he will, if elected, understandably bring less of it; however, he quickly adds that fresh ideas that work are not exclusively owned by political veterans. Often it takes sheer willingness to act, and the details can get worked out as needed. He named his recent success at helping to rebuild a nearly dormant Republican presence in his county as an example. "We recently had our first Reagan Day dinner in almost ten years," he smiled.
The seasoned political analyst would take one look at this candidate, with his unpolished speech and small-town heritage, and summarily dismiss his effort to become elected in a district that also includes a mid-sized city. I too recognize the realities in the current political ballgame, but I hesitate to sideline someone simply because he has a homespun image and lacks a Stanford degree. The joys, hopes, and complexities of life are no less real for a factory worker in Whitwell than they are for anyone else; and, no matter the election outcome, I truly appreciate Travis Layne for his willingness to become a part of the process whereby we of all stripes engage in self-government.
Even the effort put forth to be in the race is unequal: time off work doesn't come as easily in some jobs as it does others, and I'm sure that the fuel costs incurred by driving to events in Chattanooga (every day this week, Travis mildly lamented) put a strain on a somewhat self-financed campaign budget. It was the least I could do to travel west to meet him for our conversation, and I am very glad that I was able to do so. It may not be his "time," yet, for the Tennessee Senate (but I won't rule out anything, given the super-low turnout in a special election primary), yet I have a feeling that we will hear from this earnest, decent young man in the future.
I completed my journey by coming home the shorter, curvier route, through Powells Crossroads and over Suck Creek Mountain, by Prentice-Cooper and down to the riverside. As a schoolmate put it those eighteen years ago, "Tennessee is the place to be."
State Senate Elections | By joe lance | 11:23 AM