State Representative Beth Harwell paid a visit to Huntingdon on Friday, meeting with local leaders at The Dixie.
Harwell — who currently serves as Speaker of the House in the Tennessee House of Representatives and who has announced her bid for state governor in next year’s election — spoke regarding a variety of issues facing state and local leaders in Tennessee.
But she began by telling how she grew up in rural Pennsylvania before coming to attend college at David Lipscomb and then graduate school at Vanderbilt.
“Tennessee has been my home ever since,” said Harwell.
Harwell said she asks herself three questions regarding any piece of legislation that comes before the Legislature: “Does it increase the size of government or not?,” “Does it make it easier to operate a business in our state?” and “Does it continue to move us toward education reform?”
“These guide me as Speaker of the House,” she said.
Harwell commented that she believes Tennessee is moving in a positive direction, citing the fact that Tennessee has the lowest debt of any state in the nation, business and industry are growing, and student scores are improving.
A former teacher, Harwell said the federal government has gotten too involved in domestic issues, particularly when it comes to public education.
“The U.S. Department of Education has close to a $1 billion a year budget,” said Harwell. “But how many Washington bureaucrats have ever helped to teach a child to read? I think we need to return control of education back to the state level.”
After Harwell opened the floor for questions from the audience, Huntingdon Mayor Dale Kelley commented that many feel that West Tennessee has been left behind the rest of the state when it comes to economic development.
“What would you do to boost economic development in West Tennessee,” asked Kelley.
Harwell admitted economic development in Middle Tennessee is definitely ahead of the western part of the state. She said she hopes to increase the number and availability of technical schools in West Tennessee.
“An educated workforce will draw jobs here,” she said.
Harwell pointed out that Tennessee ranks third in the nation when it comes to low taxes. She added that they managed to stop a proposed inheritance tax, which she said would have made it hard for small business owners and independent farmers to pass anything along to their children.
“I think our top priority right now is to keep our financial house in order,” said Harwell.
After the gathering, Kelley gave Harwell a guided tour of The Dixie.
“This center is just beautiful,” said Harwell.