Tuesday, I had the unfortunate and bizarre experience of reading Mr. Brandon Chrisman's smear piece about state Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, and her record.

Though the author left plenty of opportunities for people to be utterly misled and confused, most confusing of all was Mr. Chrisman's ridicule of Rep. Johnson's concern with reducing unemployment.

She was elected in part to promote job growth in a state that hasn't seen much of that in a very long time, a responsibility she takes seriously; indeed, she is currently sponsoring a bill to require the state to hire at least 80 percent of its contractors from here in Tennessee to help put our citizens back to work. Pretty straightforward policy, right?

This is contrasted with Mr. Chrisman's favorite senator, Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, who is spending his time trying to dictate to students how they should spend their own student activity fee.

Priorities, anyone? To criticize Johnson for pushing greater job growth in Knoxville and Tennessee is inexplicable; nearly as inexplicable as acting like there isn't a need for job growth in the first place.

Tennessee's unemployment rate is a whopping 7.8 percent, one point higher than the national rate. In fact, we are one of only nine states to have an unemployment rate higher than the national average, ranking 8th in statewide unemployment overall. For the people who can manage to find honest work, we are ranked as the 48th worst state for median income.

What little job growth we have seen has occurred mostly in our cities; meanwhile, our rural communities are facing appalling conditions.

The unemployment rate for some rural communities is a jaw-dropping 16 percent. We haven't seen rates like that nationally since 1938, in the middle of the Great Depression. On top of scarce jobs, Gov. Haslam has also consistently blocked Medicaid expansion. A chief result of this policy is the blocking of healthcare access for over 100,000 people, the closing of hospitals and clinics which results in further job loss, and an indiscriminate tax hike on Tennessee businesses.

I would not call our current unemployment rates, stagnant wages and tax hikes on small businesses "incredibly successful" economic policies.

The letter claims that Rep. Johnson is overly partisan, unwilling to meet with constituents, and stridently anti-student. I could not help but see the irony in Chrisman's attack on Rep. Johnson given his full support for Sen. Stacey Campfield who, among other things, is notorious for helping raise UT's tuition and take student choice away from student activity fees.

I had to see what Rep. Johnson thought about these claims; needless to say, she was surprised.

"I have never turned anyone away from my office," Rep. Johnson said Tuesday. "I had two drop-ins just today that I happily met with. My staff know to never turn a constituent away."

I then spoke with members of the Government Affairs Committee – the chief student organization tasked with legislator interaction – to see how their experiences with Rep. Johnson matched up.
"I met with Gloria Johnson yesterday in the Capitol," said Jordan Frye. "She was more than willing to support any legislation in support of UT Students.

"I don't feel that Chrisman's article accurately reflects Rep. Johnson or the work she does for UT students at all."

Fellow committee member Blake Tate added: "(Rep. Johnson) was the most open-minded and attentive representative I met with Monday," fellow committee member Blake Tate added. "From Sex Week to Student Fees, she took notes on everything we were discussing. But more importantly, she showed an interest on the issues happening between the State Legislature and our university."

"She was exceptionally well-informed on a range of issues important to students," said member George Shields. "I left our meeting convinced that Representative Johnson not only wants to make sure our students' voices – regardless of politics – are heard, but also that students' interests are respected in Nashville."

Daniel Lawhon is a junior in physics. He can be reached at dlawhon@utk.edu.