UNICOI, Tenn. (WJHL) – Dr. Jason Martin, the Democratic nominee facing Bill Lee in November for Tennessee governor, finished a four-day campaign in East Tennessee Tuesday.
Martin made 11 stops along several Tri-Cities communities ahead of the general election in just seven weeks.
Martin, a newcomer to politics, will face Republican incumbent Bill Lee, who was elected in 2018 and also had no prior political experience.
Prior to his run for the governor’s seat, Martin worked as a critical care doctor in a hospital outside Nashville.
During his Tuesday campaigning, News Channel 11 caught up with Martin at visits to the Plumbers & Steam Fitters Local 538 Union in Johnson City and the Mountain Harvest Kitchen in Unicoi.
Martin said East Tennessee and the rural areas of the state could play a big role in the final tally in November. “East Tennessee could make the decision in the election,” Martin said. “Every vote counts for us, but we believe the path to success, the path to the governor’s office goes through East Tennessee.”
Martin toured both facilities with local Democratic Party leaders and candidates.
Unicoi County Democratic Party Chair Rebecca Cummings said it’s rare to have a statewide Democratic candidate come to East Tennessee.
“It’s very exciting how much he’s reaching out all across the state, focusing on all the counties,” Cummings said.
Martin had harsh criticism of Gov. Lee on several issues. He said Lee failed rural communities during the pandemic and beyond.
“I saw how detrimental a lack of leadership can be during the COVID crisis,” Martin said. “I had to say goodbye to more than 400 of my patients in a little 18-bed ICU up in Sumner County.”
As part of his health care platform, Martin said he would look to expand TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program, to enroll more low-income citizens. That’s something Lee has not specifically endorsed.
“We’re out there talking about our prescription for prosperity, which includes access to great public schools, access to affordable health care,” Martin said. “It’s about compassion and common sense.”
On education, Martin criticized Lee’s endorsement of Hillsdale College bringing several charter schools to the state. Lee came under fire earlier in the summer after staying silent while Hillsdale President Larry Arnn disparaged public school teachers.
Lee later said that Tennessee had some of the best and brightest teachers in the country.
“We need to support our public school teachers. We need to fully fund our public schools and we need keep our schools public,” Martin said. “We shouldn’t be taking money from our public schools, giving it to charter schools that line the pockets of some company.”
During his visit to the Local 538 Union, Martin expressed his opposition to Amendment 1, which is also on the November ballot.
Voting yes would put right to work, a decades-old law that restricts employers from denying a job if an employee does not join a union, in the Tennessee Constitution.
Lee appeared in an ad for the Yes on 1 Campaign, of which he is the statewide chairman. In that ad, Lee said right to work has given workers choice and created more jobs in Tennessee.
But Martin says Lee has it wrong.
“Amendment 1 wants to make right to work or as we call it right to work for less, right to be fired at will, not just the law of the land, but they want to enshrine it into the constitution,” Martin said.
Martin’s stance has gained him the support of local union leaders.
“He was looking out for the working men and women all across the state, not only union but non-union as well,” said Local 538 Business Manager Randy Frye.
Martin is also calling for the legalization of recreational cannabis. As a doctor, Martin said legalization would be beneficial for Tennessee patients.
“From a medical standpoint, I know there are conditions that we could treat better. I’m thinking about cancer patients, PTSD, anxiety we could treat better if we had access to that medication,” Martin said. “From a recreational standpoint, we’re turning away hundreds of millions of dollars that we could be investing in our communities.”
Martin said legalizing cannabis would also provide a new crop for Tennessee farmers to grow.
The Democratic candidate made two final appearances in Mountain City Tuesday afternoon.
The race for governor will be decided on Nov. 8. The deadline to register to vote in Tennessee is Oct. 11.