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Q&A with 6th House District candidate Murphey Johnson

Zach Vance • Feb 10, 2018 at 10:36 PM

In the eyes of Murphey Johnson, the world is not a black and white environment.

It’s many shades of grey. 

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate and former U.S. Navy jet pilot said he is strongly opposed to the extreme positions taken by his Republican state representatives, and he is hoping to make a change. 

For the second time, Johnson will contend for the 6th state House District seat currently held by state Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough. 

Rather than run as a Democrat, as he did in 2016, Johnson is running as an independent, in part because of frustrations he has with both the Republican and Democratic parties. 

“Something needs to be done to bring the country back to the middle, and I don’t think either party is doing enough to make that happen,” said Johnson, who does consider himself a progressive. 

At 50 years old, Johnson is more technologically acute than most millennials, as he currently works on the algorithms team for ShotSpotter, a breakthrough company that develops sensors for detecting gunshots. 

With a keen fascination for space flight, Johnson earned his bachelor’s degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering. He then went on to earn a master’s degree in orbital mechanics at the University of Texas at Austin while he worked as a computer programmer for Dell. 

Here are a few questions Johnson answered about his vision for the Tri-Cities:

Q: How do you view government and its role in society? 

A: The whole point of government is to help people with lots of different backgrounds and point of views work together to accomplish something they are unable to accomplish individually. The point of taxes is to provide some funding for the programs that we do together, like building roads, building infrastructure and national defense. There is a long list of them.

In order for government to work, we have to recognize there are a lot of different point of views out there. People are going to disagree about things, and there is rarely, if ever, one right answer ... We need people who can sit down and talk with other people, not approach everything from a ‘my way or the highway’ attitude.

Q: What were your thoughts about Van Huss’ attempts to ban abortion in the state?

A: At this point, it's just what he does. It's not a surprise. I think it's kind of sad. He continues to push bills, that if they ever are passed, they are going to be judged unconstitutional. And to be honest, I would rather not talk about abortion. I think we waste far too much time on wedge issues — and abortion is one of them — that more than anything else are designed to divide us. 

Right now, what we've got is pretty settled law. I respect the opinions that different sides have regarding their own view of abortion, and I can understand why people are opposed to it. I personally would prefer to see as few abortions as possible.

If we could get down to zero abortions, that would be great. But I think outlawing the practice is not the way to get there. That's potentially a way to push it underground and create a very unsafe environment for a lot of women.

Q: What are some local projects you’d like to see happen?

A: I'd like to see improvements in infrastructure. I would like to see some thought placed toward how East Tennessee is going to deal with the coming effects of global warming or climate change. 

I think that's a serious issue. I think we happen to be pretty lucky to be in a part of the world and a part of the country that will be less affected than many others. But I expect that in the future, we'll see a substantial increase in migration to this area from more drastically affected parts of the country, like Florida and around the Southeast coast ... we need to be thinking about that sort of thing now so that’s it’s an easier transition for us.

Q: Given your aeronautics background, what are your thoughts on the aerospace park coming to the Tri-Cities Airport? 

A: It does sound like a good idea to me. Of course, as with anything, the devil is in the details. How it all is put together is important, but yes, I generally think I support that project.

I can't remember being so excited about something as I was with the launch of the Falcon Heavy (last) Tuesday. That was incredible to watch. I think when the history of this decade is written, the events of last Tuesday may very well go down as the most important thing that happened in this decade. ... This is the first time ever somebody has designed a launch vehicle that’s able to take off like a rocket and come back down and land in a way that can be reused. 

The reuse of those rockets drastically cuts the cost of getting a payload into orbit. ... So if we can be in on that industry in Northeast Tennessee, that’s fantastic. To that end, I think the aerospace park could be very important. We need to really push to get some good companies in there doing some really creative things. 

Something else I think we need to do is continue to expand the engineering program at East Tennessee State University. We need to expand that to the point where we’re producing graduate-level engineers and scientists at master and PhD levels. 

When you have a local university that produces PhDs, those are the people with a lot of specialized skills that tend to create new companies, they develop new technologies and do so in the areas around their universities, like in Austin, Silicon Valley and Boston. 

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