Fitzhugh: ‘We Need to Press Our Message’

Democratic Rep. Craig Fitzhugh sat down this week with TNReport prior to being elected House minority leader. He discussed policy initiatives he’ll push for or fight against in the next session of the Tennessee General Assembly.

Also, like a number of Tennessee Democrats, he blamed much of the misfortune that befell his party during the November election on national anger directed at Democrats in Washington, D.C.

“A lot of those issues that were talked about were on the national level. I kept hearing in my races, ‘We have to cut the deficit, We have to cut spending,’ that type of thing. Well, we don’t have a deficit in Tennessee, we balance our budget every year,” said the Ripley Democrat. “We have cut our spending in the general budget by 25 percent. We are the 46th least-taxed state in the country. So those issues that came up and were used in the campaign were really not relevant to Tennessee, and that’s part of the problem that we had.”

Fitzhugh himself won reelection in November by just under 300 votes in his home district, which includes Lauderdale, Crockett and parts of Dyer Counties. The thinness of the margin “was sort of a wake-up call for me as well,” he said.

He indicated, though, that he believes his party here in Tennessee faces more of a messaging problem than a crisis of political identity or popular rejection of partisan ideology. Fitzhugh pledges to address that issue in his new leadership role.

“We as Democrats have a proud message,” he said. “In Tennessee we’ve had that, and we continue to have it. I think we are going to be able to strategically put that before the minds of the citizens of Tennessee, so that they’ll give us a little better shot next time.”

While Fitzhugh says it’ll be important for Democrats to appear to work constructively with Republicans – and that he’s fond of Republican House speaker-nominee, Beth Harwell — he assured that the minority party will “raise the flag of opposition” if the GOP considers cutting programs near and dear to Democratic Party constituencies.

In particular, Fitzhugh said he’ll visibly resist attempts to cut or eliminate pre-K, state-supported medical care for children and the mentally or physically disabled, funding for economic development and government assistance for senior citizens, military veterans and “folks that are in need.”