By Ashley Benkarski
NASHVILLE, TN — Election season is coming to a close in the next few months and in a time of uncertainty, unrest and hardship, New Hope Baptist Church’s Senior Pastor, James Turner II, announced his run for District 52’s state representative.
Building on the faith-based legacy of his family, he’s a former president of the Civil Rights Organization and the Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship. His campaign focuses on a faith-informed approach to lift the voices of the poor and disadvantaged and ensure justice for his district and the state.
“My faith, more than ever, has given me the heart to just care about the least of these,” Turner said. “My faith has pushed me to stand along with working families, stand with our unions, stand with our teachers and demand a moral budget. And I’m heartbroken in my faith to see families that are hurt by police brutality,” he added. He’s stood with grassroots organizations to demand body cameras and accountability for law enforcement, most recently joining fellow pastors in the recent call from the Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship for the resignation of Metro Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson.
His campaign seeks to take caring about human beings and their rights to the state level, not just during campaign season but when it counts, he said.
“I will stand for the working family, to empower our working families, because they deserve policies and the quality of life that they worked so hard to achieve.”
Constituents need strong moral leadership, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, to keep families first and build solidarity during this crisis, he said.
District 52’s Antioch was a hotspot for the virus recently, and Turner explained the area consists mostly of working class residents classified as essential workers–drivers, grocery store workers, and warehouse workers who didn’t have the opportunity to shelter in.
“I believe that every essential worker and hospital workers need protective gear,” he said. “They didn’t have the proper gear to go into work in the beginning, and some still don’t have what they need to stay safe.”
He calls on Gov. Bill Lee to ensure funding for small businesses to have the gear they need to operate safely as the state opened up even while seeing a spike in cases.
“I think the Governor needs to rely more upon the science and the great minds of the medical institutions in our state, especially in [Nashville],” he stated, adding stronger shelter-in-place orders were needed and Gov. Lee should’ve fought harder for funding to take care of the working families during this pandemic.
“[Gov. Lee] looked at seniors but not the others who were affected. He let the state down when he only addressed one item,” he said, noting small businesses carrying the load during this pandemic have been left out of the picture. Lee is putting profit over people, and that puts working class lives at stake, he remarked.
“Look at the facts and the numbers,” Turner said, pointing out Meharry Medical College’s Dr. James Hildreth, part of Mayor Cooper’s COVID-19 task force, is a trusted source nationally and globally. “The virus isn’t going anywhere. This is very serious. Just looking at those numbers alone should be enough for you to be worried.”
With cases increasing and black and brown communities disproportionately affected, the pandemic has made clear the rift of inequality in the health care system.
“Health care is a human right and we need to expand it, especially during times like this,” he said. “It makes it so evident and as the state climbs in unemployment, it has exposed the weakness of our administration and the infrastructure of our state to provide services to the residents of Tennessee. It shows blind spots of the lack of technology, lack of innovation and integration across the state for our young people to get online and go to school.”
Solutions such as making Wi-Fi available to everyone, especially students, seems simple–but it hasn’t been done. “We have to continue in the fight for these basic things that are necessary for this city and this state during this pandemic,” Turner said.
His plan includes engaging and recruiting citizens to run for office, holding regular town halls and issuing newsletters and community updates about laws and legislation that affect the daily lives of constituents. Transparency is important to Turner–He said he hasn’t been engaged by his representative since the decade he’s lived in Antioch. “I want to be that change,” he said. “Justice, to me, is standing up for the voiceless, standing up for those in poverty, standing up for the least of these” and many problems should have been addressed before the dual crises of the March storms and COVID-19, he added.
“As your next state representative my focus is going to be on the community, which has always been actually showing up, actually being present, actually engaging with the people,” Turner proclaimed. “Even though there are other issues that are outside my district I am willing to commit to standing with those other representatives, other organizations to make that change across the whole city and state. And I invite the community to get involved, get behind me and volunteer, and especially to vote.”
“You will have someone that will be there to listen to you and fight for you. Let’s move Tennessee forward together. Let’s make a difference,” he said.
Early voting begins July 17 and goes through Aug. 1, with Election Day taking place Aug. 6. For more information about Pastor Turner’s campaign, visit turnerfortennessee.com or follow him on social media sites Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.