The 2019 race to decide who will be Nashville’s next mayor is well under way, with elections already right around the corner. Well, not exactly, but August 1 will be here before you know it. State Representative John Ray Clemmons was the first candidate to challenge incumbent David Briley.
Both men are long-time and dependable allies to the LGBT community, and each is passionate about helping Nashville become the most welcoming city it can be. With two strong allies running, how do we choose for whom we will vote?
I sat down with John Ray Clemmons a week after meeting Mayor Briley, and chatted with him about his record, and his vision for the city. Perhaps this will help.
What do you consider some of your biggest legislative accomplishments as a member of the State House?
John Ray Clemmons: Well, as a state legislator, I serve in a pretty difficult environment for a progressive like myself, who really believes in our core values of equity, opportunity and justice. I’ve gained a bit of a reputation out there as a fighter, but I strongly believe that our values are worth fighting for. And a lot of discriminatory legislation that has come through the legislature was worth fighting against.
We have won some, we’ve lost some, and I still lose a lot of sleep over some of those we’ve lost, to be honest with you. First and foremost, the counseling bill. I fought that bill from the first day it was in sub-committee all the way to the House floor. And that’s one of those that I still lose sleep over and I still hold it against Governor Haslam that he signed that bill.
As far as accomplishments, I’ve passed two affordable housing bills, I passed an education bill, I really played a key role in passing the Improve Act to increase generation of revenue for transportation infrastructure projects across the state… 440 wouldn’t be getting redone right now, if it hadn’t been for me and several others working across the aisle with Governor Haslam to push that through the legislature.
And I think it’s fair to say that there’s a lot of legislation I passed up there that the other side doesn’t know was my legislation… They like to kill my bills for sport sometimes. So, you know, I have to use my wits and outwit them sometimes…
What led you to consider running for mayor?
John Ray Clemmons: Well, I’m really passionate about the issues facing our city. And, most of all, I’m passionate about the people in Nashville. You know, we like to think of ourselves as this progressive city, you know, this blue beacon on a hill in a sea of red. But we really need to step back and evaluate if we’re really, truly a progressive city.
I mean, you know, on the Municipal Equality Index HRC puts out, we only scored 63. That’s unacceptable. You know, we can’t compare ourselves to other cities in Tennessee: we need to be a national leader when it comes to progress.
I just feel really passionate about the issues facing not only the LGBTQ community, but everyone a whole. I mean, the issues are the same across the board, in most cases … so affordable housing, transportation, education, public safety, those types of things. The homelessness issue is a serious problem in the city. And I think the number of homeless in this in this city is underestimated.
Those are just issues about which I feel very passionately: I’ve had success in the toughest environments of the state legislature working on those issues. And I want to bring my leadership ability to the Mayor’s Office to have a more direct impact and provide some real leadership on those issues.
What are you hearing are the important issues from your LGBTQ supporters?
John Ray Clemmons: The issues that are the same to all Nashvillians. And then there’s several others that we need to do, to be better authentic allies of the community here in Nashville … but there’re specific issues…
We have a real problem with children being displaced, unfortunately… It’s something I’ve worked on in the legislature… And the counseling bill was a perfect example. Children who either come out to their parents or have trouble self-identifying even, they go to someone for help: if it’s a counselor, now we’ve created an environment where counselors can turn them away.
Unfortunately, parents also turn their own children away. And we have a huge homeless population of children in this city. We have a huge population in this city of people needing help and assistance, whether it’s through general hospital or whether it’s housing, and so we have to do a better job of addressing all those issues.
Mayor Briley’s a lot that has had a positive impact for the LGBT community… Where would you go beyond that?
John Ray Clemmons: There are two areas of particular passion for me, just from personal experience: our city can do a lot more to support the LGBTQ senior community, and we can do a lot more to help those suffering from HIV and AIDS. Nashville CARES does great things. But we as a city need to address this issue. And, again, I speak from personal experience on that, with a loved one. But those are two areas that I would really like to see us make headway.
I think there’s a role for every level of government to play in this. And I think it’s an opportunity for Metro government to be a leader, to put it on the radar for the state to really talk about this as an issue that we have to address, because it’s not going away… What we need is for an entire municipality to raise awareness of an issue that’s affecting to large of a population, not just in our city, but the entire state, to really put it front and center. We have that opportunity.
What we need is action. What we need is leadership to set that in motion. That is what I will bring to the Mayor’s Office…
What would you say in closing to our readers?
John Ray Clemmons: We should not be legislating out of fear in Metro. We have to do what we think is best and right, in the best interest of Nashvillians, all Nashvillians. If the state wants to step up and do something, then we’ll take them on and we’ll deal with it. If we have the lead from Metro, then let’s lead from Metro, and I think that leadership is missing.
Equity, opportunity, and justice. If we operate from those core values, and build policies around those core values, our city will be on the path to being a truly progressive city. I would rather Nashville lead the nation in these areas, than just try to survive being a blue dot in the state of Tennessee.