The Hamblen County Democratic Party welcomed First Congressional District candidate Dr. Larry Smith to its monthly meeting.
Smith, an associate professor of history at Walters State Community College, announced his candidacy in Greeneville on Oct. 25, challenging incumbent Republican congressman U.S. Representative Phil Roe. Smith and his campaign team began touring the Lakeway Area to garner support.
“We’ve been trying to get to Hamblen County for a while, and we’re going to Hamblen County on Thursday,” he said. “I could see what was going wrong (in the district), but you can only do so much as a teacher.
“I can do a lot to help the people of this area.”
Smith is a “staunch progressive” who supports policies such as Medicare For All, and the Green New Deal.
No Democrat has served the district since 1881, but he said Republicans have done little to benefit the people of East Tennessee, especially on social issues – and promises to bring positive change to the area.
According to Smith, the country sees an average of 5,000 medical bankruptcies per year, and many people die every year because they can’t afford to see a doctor.
“Tennessee has an abysmal record of not expanding Medicare to voter suppression,” Smith said. “We can take government back from the oligarchs and corporate entities.
“We want to run a positive campaign, but we still have to point out the failures of the Republican Party in this area.”
Smith said he chose to run to help the working people of East Tennessee. Smith has pledged to refuse corporate political action committee money, and is powering his campaign through a grassroots small-donor network.
“The only reason I got into this race is to help working people,” he said. “I don’t take money from corporate entities, and I don’t take money from PACs.”
According to the campaign, a Medicare-For-All single-payer health-care system would eliminate much of the greed and inflated costs behind the American healthcare system by streamlining the financing of health care services for everyone through a single-payer Medicare program instead of primarily through private insurance companies.
Smith supports the Green New Deal, because it would address the climate crisis while putting millions of Americans to work in good jobs building our nation’s infrastructure, as well as create opportunity for local and community enterprise in sustainable agriculture for the First District.
In addition to job creation, Smith believes in the revitalization of the inner cities – as well as the rural areas that make up the district. Also, he touts the revitalization of roads in the area he believes are crumbling in front of the eyes of residents.
“It’s a cause it’s worth belonging to,” Smith said. “If you go out and talk to people, and tell them what you think, people will listen.
“They’re not partisan issues, but human issues.”
Smith cites huge Democratic wins in Kentucky and Virginia last week as a model progressive Democrats could follow to “put a crack in the red wall.” Democrats defeated an incumbent Republican governor in Kentucky, and wrestled control of both houses of the General Assembly in Virginia. He said the party needs to knock on doors and work hard getting their message to the electorate, which resulted in success in states bordering Tennessee.
“I don’t like using the word ‘conservative’ to describe the voters here. I don’t think the people (of East Tennessee) are as right-wing as most people think they are.
“I think we’re going to do quite well, and I think we’re going to surprise people.”
Smith considers himself “anti-establishment,” which was the message Donald Trump used to win the presidency in 2016. However, Smith also said he won’t use the divisive and intolerant rhetoric Trump has been accused of using.
“(The people of East Tennessee) are never going to win with a ‘kinder, gentler Republican,” he said. “Do you want to stop suffering? Do you want real change to come to this area?”
As an educator, Smith has seen first-hand how important education is for the region, as well as the country. He said there needs to be more freedom in learning to break out of the long-held strategy of “rote memorization,” and that cannot happen with vouchers.
“We need to have a national conversation about education. We don’t want kids in the affluent areas getting the best education while kids from poorer areas get nothing,” he said. “We’re way behind the rest of the world in the metric of education, and we need to look at strategies that actually work.”
Smith has developed a social media following, with millennials and members of Generation Z making up the majority of his support. While those groups have embraced progressive policies, the rest of the electorate isn’t on board as much because the word “socialism” is a major pejorative coming from both sides of the aisle.
“I know socialism when I see it. I ask people when they hear ‘socialism,” what is it?” Smith said. “They think it’s a Stalin-esque, totalitarian top-down system when we already have a top-down system.
“We want to eliminate this top-down structure – and give power back to the people.”