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VOL. 129 | NO. 75 | Thursday, April 17, 2014

Jones Grows Into Legislative Career

JOE MORRIS | Special to The Daily News

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Some people are born into politics; others grow into a political career. For Tennessee Rep. Sherry Jones, it was a little bit of both.

JONES

“My dad was a Nashville policeman and was head of the juvenile aid division, as well working on the vice squad, so he was well-known, and my mother worked in metro government,” said the Nashville Democrat. “The guy she worked for did not treat the women in his office very well, so when she came to my sisters and me and said she was going to help another guy who was running, that was where it all started for me.

“I was worried, because the guy she was helping wasn’t the incumbent, and we were afraid she would lose her job. I guess I got involved in campaigns because I wanted to make sure my mother kept her job.”

From that first effort, she went on to work on several council races, as well as in a congressional office and for former Vice President Al Gore. All along the way, her focus was on helping everyone else as a candidate.

That changed when she came up against her own metro council member and wasn’t impressed.

“I thought I could do a better job than he was, and that I cared more about the constituents than he did,” Jones recalled. “Everyone told me it was really hard to beat an incumbent, and I’d certainly heard that before.

“But I thought I could do it, and so I ran against five guys. There was a runoff, and all the guys who lost backed the one who was left. I won. The next time I ran, two guys ran against me, and they’d also agreed beforehand to help whoever wound up in a runoff, since people thought one would probably happen. I flat-out beat them.”

After two terms on the metro council, as well as a stint as a planning commissioner, she turned her eyes westward from Nashville’s metro courthouse to the Capitol building.

She won her House seat the first time out, but quickly learned that things were a little different up the road.

“There’s always a learning curve when you get into office,” Jones said. “First you have to figure out where everybody else is and why they are sponsoring the legislation that they are. You learn what their issues are, and then you look at your party and see what issues it is promoting.

“For me, I looked at all of that and tried to work with the issues and bills that were the best for the people I represent.”

She also learned that going up against entrenched powers could be dangerous.

“I was part of a group that didn’t think [former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh] was doing a great job and that we probably needed another speaker,” she said. “The candidate we had stood up at the last minute and told [Naifeh] that he’d never, ever run against him, so some of us got punished. But we all pretty much got along back then, and you could disagree with someone about legislation and still go across the street and get lunch together.”

That’s in short supply now, she said.

“It’s gotten pretty partisan, and you can pretty much respect that you’re going to be darn lucky to pass anything now,” Jones said. “We’ve been cut off on the floor, or given just three minutes for five people to speak, and that’s it.

“We never did that to the Republicans when the Democrats were in charge. And there are a lot of things that are determined in pre-meetings, before you ever even get to committee. So the mood has changed, and I find that a lot of things being passed are not necessarily things that are good for people.

“We’re trying to cut the help for low-income people that need it, and I don’t think that’s my job. We’re here to make their lives better, to give them rights, not take things away. It’s hard to watch what’s going on, and we have members who are leaving, and you can hardly blame them.”

In her case, that recently happened with a medical marijuana bill she sponsored. Despite several impassioned speakers on the pro side of the legislation, it was quickly dispatched in the House Health subcommittee in late March.

“I told those supporters to hang on, that we would be back,” Jones said. “I will keep at it until we pass it, or until a Republican takes it from me and then gets it passed, which is probably what will happen at some point. It’s all politics.”

And even though the state Legislature, now dominated by the GOP, is a far cry from the Democratic-run outfit she first was elected to, Jones said she’ll keep at it and plans to defend her seat this fall.

“I’ve done a lot with the Department of Children’s Services, from changing their mission to say that what they do must be in a child’s best interest first and foremost, and also a lot with domestic violence,” she said.

Her institutional knowledge of DCS, as well as ongoing efforts to advocate for children and other at-risk groups, fire her passion to serve, Jones said.

That said, she’s quick to add that first and foremost, she’s there to serve the people of her district, and that her successes on that front are why she hopes they will return her to office this fall.

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