The Honor System

The Honor System

by | Jul 8, 2024 | From the Campaign Trail

A little story about trust and public service

A couple of months ago, a retired Hamilton County teacher told me a story that’s been rattling around in my head ever since.

I’d knocked on her door and introduced myself as a candidate for State House. I always clarify that I’m the challenger, not the incumbent, because I’ve found that many people don’t know who their state rep is. Also, given the Tennessee legislature’s 42 percent approval rating with voters, I don’t want anyone to think I’m on the wrong team.

I rarely mention my opponent unless I’m asked about him, in which case I say something like “He’s a nice guy but he supports harmful policies,” and then I talk about the policies. 

In my opinion some of our state reps are flamboyantly awful but most are not, and that distinction doesn’t matter nearly as much as whether they’re defunding our neighborhood schools, stripping us of our bodily autonomy, or putting us at higher risk of being shot.

In this case, though, the woman asked me who our state rep is. I told her, and her expression soured. She remembered him as the Hamilton County School Board member who’d been invited to read to students where she taught. As she recalled it, he showed up intending to read something overtly religious, so she suggested he choose a different book. He said he’d been told he could read whatever he wanted. And so he did.

Tennessee law prohibits public-school officials from proselytizing to students at a school event. A federal district court affirmed that prohibition in the 2020 ruling Butler v. Smith County

I’m not an attorney. All I know is that if this story is true—and I have no reason to think it isn’t—my opponent violated the spirit of the law, the foundational American principle of separation of church and state. And all the teacher could have done in that moment was make a scene or let him read.

It’s a small thing. It happened years ago. But the story stuck with me because I’ve spent the last eight years thinking about how much we depend on the honor system to keep our legal and electoral systems functioning, to keep our democracy on track.

Character matters, in the State House and in the White House.

We’ve all seen what happens when the default of powerful people shifts from “I shouldn’t, so I won’t” to “I will because I can.”

If you want to restore public trust in public service, please join my campaign. Click to donate, volunteer, or get a yard sign.