JB Smiley, Jr.

By Ashley Benkarski

Memphis councilman JB Smiley, Jr. is well-known to voters in his community, but his goal is to extend that energy to the rest of Tennessee.

Tennesseans are concerned about the same issues most Americans are concerned with: affordable, quality education, housing and healthcare, the health and economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic and inflation.

But Smiley doesn’t want to let macro worries overshadow local ones; instead, he remarked, it’s important to show up in communities around the state and hear residents tell him their concerns.

He pointed out that while the political divide is more intense these days it’s possible to bridge some gaps in beliefs and gain support by highlighting the aforementioned issues in a locally-focused manner. His amendment to the Eviction Set Out Ordinance in the city banning landlords from throwing evicted tenants’ belongings on the curb received bipartisan support. 

“JB has been an excellent leader in Memphis; a leader who really listens to all of the people of his community and works tirelessly to find solutions to their problems,” Deborah Reed, Munford City Alderwoman, said of her endorsement of his campaign. Reed is one of over 20 current and former local elected officials to throw her support behind the native Memphian.

The personal touch is missing in many campaigns for office, and it’s absolutely critical not only to running a successful race but also in improving the quality of life of constituents.

It’s a lesson imbued to him by the way Harold Ford, Jr. navigated his campaign for U.S. Senate in 2006, Smiley said, recalling Ford’s willingness to travel the state and meet people where they were. The New York Times reported that Ford’s campaign for the seat, ultimately won by Bob Corker, generated bipartisan support in such a way that the GOP was forced to go on the defensive for the office considered safely Republican. 

One of Smiley’s priorities if elected will be to overturn the current administration’s permitless carry legislation, a move that seemed more for political favor than furthering anyone’s rights.

While polls show Governor Bill Lee has been enjoying substantial support from voters on most aspects of his leadership, a study conducted by Vanderbilt University last year showed that nearly 60 percent of Tennesseans did not support that legislation. 

That it was a priority in the midst of so many real problems Tennesseans face reveals out of touch motives and government irrelevance.

Census data shows nearly 14 percent of our state fellows live in poverty; Oxfam America puts Tennessee 45th in its ranking of best states to work. The minimum wage has stagnated at $7.25/hr, 29.9 percent of the cost of living. The report considers three categories: wage policies, worker protection and rights to organize. Each state is ranked individually in these categories and combines the data for an overall ranking. 

Tennessee lingers near the bottom in wage policies at 42nd, is 26th in worker protections and 39th in rights to organize. For a detailed breakdown of specific policies considered by this report as well as how data was analyzed visit https://www.oxfamamerica.org/explore/research-publications/.

“While Tennessee is experiencing major growth, many communities are not enjoying the same benefits of our metropolitan areas, with 39 counties in the bottom 25 percent of the nation in terms of poverty, average income, and unemployment,” Lee’s official government website states.

Yet the policies continued during his administration are in direct competition with a desire to improve the lives of Tennesseans.

Smiley noted the state’s ranking in other areas are also undercutting any progress on improvement—Tennessee ranks at the top of states with the highest number of opioid prescriptions, bankruptcy and violent crime rates, and is at the bottom in terms of education funding and student poverty. Tennessee also ranks among the top ten states with women in poverty and its working families are among the poorest in the nation.

In addition to serving on the Memphis City Council Smiley also is Chair of the Public Works, Transportation, and General Services Committee and council liaison for the Urban Art Commission. He has implemented the Memphis Academy of Civic Engagement and the Memphis Police Department Transparency Portal.

More information on the Smiley campaign can be found at votejbsmiley.com.