At first glance, the two candidates running for the state House seat in District 53 look strikingly similar, according to The Tennessean. Republican nominee Ben Claybaker and his Democratic opponent Jason Powell are in their mid-30s with young families. Both are former college athletes.
Claybaker owns a small commercial real estate firm while Powell dabbles in residential real estate on the side. They’ve both held teaching jobs and worked in positions involving drug-control policy.
But the candidates represent vastly different views for how the state legislature should handle issues ranging from economic development to education reform.
The men are running to represent a district that stretches from South Nashville southeast through Davidson County following parts of Interstate 24.
Powell, 34, said that if elected he wants to focus on bills that help create jobs or improve education.
“I think the key to success is to work on legislation that moderate Republicans agree on and Tennesseans agree on,” Powell said.
…Claybaker, 36, favors a more macro-economic approach. Rather than focus on individual programs to spur jobs, the candidate wants to create a more favorable business environment by cutting or lowering taxes to lure new companies to the area.
Some tax issues the candidates agree on. Neither wants a state income tax created, and both candidates said they support lowering the food tax rate.
But Claybaker wants to go further, eliminating the tax on income from stock dividends and reforming the franchise and excise tax.
In the Nashville area, WPLN reports that legislative candidates of both parties refrain from stressing their party affiliation. House District 53, being vacated by Rep. Janis Sontaney, D-Nashville, provides an example. After lines were redrawn by Republicans, this district doesn’t lean quite as heavily toward Democrats. But (Ben) Claybaker still keeps his brand in the background.
“I don’t want to walk up to somebody and have this big ‘R’ stamped on my forehead and have people make assumptions, good or bad,” he says.
You wouldn’t know Claybaker is a Republican by looking at his website either. The “R”-word is nowhere to be found, although his resume does list a position he held in the Bush Administration. Then there are his yard signs. Instead of red, they’re dark blue.
“It’s my favorite color,” he says. “You walk up to my closet, and it’s all blue.”
Others running in Nashville’s historically Democratic districts haven’t gone to printing up blue signs. But they have stayed away from the more partisan social issues.
However, Democrats aren’t exactly loud and proud about their party. Claybaker’s opponent – Jason Powell – gives only a tepid endorsement of the President.
“I’ve been so focused on this local election and my own race, I’ve had barely any time to keep up with what’s going on a national level,” Powell says when asked if he supports President Obama.
Going door-to-door off Nolensville Rd, Powell finds a gentleman just off an overnight shift sorting mail. His pickup truck’s bumper stickers reveal he’s a conservative.
“We need somebody working for hardworking people like yourself, and I sure would appreciate your vote in November,” he says.
When the homeowner asks if he’s a Republican or Democrat, Powell says he is a Democrat.
“But I’m a ‘Jason Powell’ Democrat, kind of my own man,” he says.
Two Democrats and two Republicans are running to succeed retiring state Rep. Janis Sontany, a Nashville Democrat, and all four are in their 30s. Michael Cass has a rundown on the contests. Each candidate brings government and political experience to the table, from seeking or holding an elected office to working for President George W. Bush during his second term.
“It’s a critical period in our state,” said Democrat Jason Powell, who ran unsuccessfully for another House seat in 2006. “We need strong leaders.”
Powell is running against first-year Metro Councilman Jason Potts, who has said he would continue to serve on the council if elected to the House of Representatives.
In the Republican primary, Ben Claybaker faces Tonya Miller, who lost to Sontany, a fifth-term Democrat, two years ago.
…Both Democrats are named Jason, and both have last names starting with P. There’s enough potential for uninformed voters to be confused that Potts, 33, appreciates his slight alphabetical advantage, which will give him the first listing on the ballot.
“I’m on top, so hopefully it goes my way,” he said.
Otherwise, Potts and Powell give Democratic voters more substantive differences to mull over. Powell, 34, is generally seen as a progressive who has advised Councilman Jerry Maynard and judicial candidate Rachel Bell. Potts, who married into an extended family that has produced five Metro Council members since 1983, is more in the moderate-to-conservative tradition
…Sontany is co-hosting a $150-a-head fundraiser for Powell on Wednesday.
…The Republican race pits Claybaker, the CEO of real estate firm NAI Nashville, against Miller, a Spanish-language interpreter.
Miller, 37, said she has worked with many government agencies, including the Tennessee Department of Transportation and various courts, through her interpreting work as a self-employed, independent contractor.
“It gives me a little more compassion,” she said. “I’m there with the people.”
She said she wants to create a digital platform to give constituents more of a voice, producing “something I can carry with me when I go to the floor” to vote. She worries about the nation’s direction, and she wants to help unite various constituencies under the Republican banner.
“The Republican Party is not all about being pro-life or anti-gay,” Miller said. “The Republican Party is about freedom and liberty.”
Claybaker, 36, has been around politics for much of his life. His father is a small-town mayor in Camden, Ark. Claybaker worked for an Arkansas congressman soon after graduating from college and helped run a Texas candidate’s successful campaign for the lieutenant governor’s office.
In 2004 he worked for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign as political coordinator for Southwestern states, then went to work at the White House as a policy analyst for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.