District 7: Alexander decries decline of rural communities, family farms

David Floyd • Jul 6, 2020 at 8:11 PM

Rebecca Keefauver Alexander, who is challenging state Rep. Matthew Hill for the District 7 seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives, comes from six generations of Washington County farmers.

She graduated from Daniel Boone High School and Milligan College and taught public school before venturing into the private sector, working at Philips Consumer Electronics where she was involved in opening 120 stores across the country.

Alexander has raised two daughters and earned a master’s degree from East Tennessee State University in storytelling. She now helps run the family business, Dillow-Taylor Funeral Home, and teaches Sunday school and women’s Bible study at Boones Creek Christian Church.

Alexander and Hill are the only two candidates who appear on the ballot for the District 7 Republican primary on Aug. 6. No Democrats are running for the seat.

What are some of the primary economic issues impacting the region, and how would you as a state representative go about solving them?

Agriculture is one of our most important industries, but big government is putting small farms out of business with handouts to big corporate agriculture and taxes and regulations that crush smaller farmers.

With all of Gov. Lee’s focus on vocational education, we also need to include more exposure to the vocation of farming to pique the interest of our rising generations. Tennessee’s state seal says “Agriculture and Commerce.” We need both, but without agriculture, there could be no commerce.

Farming is fundamental. Everybody eats. And it will help if everybody can get connected to public water and broadband internet. All of that will require real leadership from someone with real roots in Washington County and a real career outside of politics.

We need a regional approach and representation we can be proud of. That starts with putting public service over politics and rebuilding our brand in Nashville.

At what point would you break with the party line?

If Republicans stick to the slogan “It Matters Who Governs” and select high-quality leaders who have high standards of integrity, I don’t foresee many occasions where that would happen.

As a former public school teacher, I will be a strong supporter of public schools, and I will not break my promise to always support our teachers and restore local control of local schools to the greatest extent possible.

I will not support handouts to big corporate agriculture or regulations that benefit the biggest farms at the expense of small ones. I will rely on my family, my faith, my real roots in this county, and everything I’ve learned in my career outside of politics to provide real leadership that puts public service over politics and focuses on real problems and real solutions.

When you talk to voters, what are their overarching concerns?

Everyone asks about the basics first. I’m pro-life, pro-Second Amendment and I support President Trump. But they also ask how to bring America back.

Many folks hardly recognize the nation they grew up in when they turn on the television, they feel alienated in their own country because of all the political correctness. And in general, there’s a feeling that everything has gotten too political. Politics has invaded almost every part of life. People are fed up with career politicians, and there’s a sense that what we send down to Nashville really reflects on who we are up here.

That’s why we need someone with real roots in Washington County and a real career outside of politics. We need real leadership that’s focused on real problems and real solutions. Folks want someone who will put public service over politics. They want representation we can be proud of.

How would you prioritize bringing programs and services to the region that would move the needle for struggling families?

Real leadership starts with a successful career outside of politics, rebuilding our brand in Nashville, and focusing on real problems and real solutions. Ultimately it’s about cultivating friendships with key decision-makers based on credibility and mutual respect. As the book title suggests, “dig your well before you’re thirsty.”

The best projects for attracting state funds will generally be ones that have an impact on the whole region. Infrastructure needs like roads, access to public water and rural broadband especially come to mind.

One thing I learned growing up on a dairy farm and working my way up to representing a Fortune 500 company in overseas negotiations is that there are no shortcuts. Providing representation Washington County can be proud of will require endless hours of listening, learning, researching and preparing to present our case for projects that are worthy of Tennessee’s investment.

What is the No. 1 problem facing Tennessee?

One of the biggest long-term challenges is the decline of rural communities and the extinction of the family farm. In 1964, there were 1,147 dairy farms in Washington County like the one I grew up on.

By 2017, there were only 19 left! We’ve got to stop crushing small farms with excessive taxes and regulations and end the government handouts to big corporate agriculture.

More pointedly, the coronavirus crisis exposed the fragility of our food supply chains and our dependence on foreign countries. One problem is that even the smallest farmers often have to ship their livestock hundreds of miles to a federal processing facility just to sell their meat a few miles away.

It’s time for Tennessee to oppose this unconstitutional federal overreach and let local farmers and grocers do business. And how about country-of-origin labeling? We all deserve to know where our food is coming from.