As a young man, Mike Allen did everything right.
The East Tennessean joined the military as a paratrooper. He later started a family and became a business manager.
But, according to Nick Wilkinson who announced his candidacy for State Senate on Thursday, the state legislation denied Mr. Allen the opportunity to live his life.
On the day Mr. Allen got in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down, he was “forced into poverty” because he did not have insurance.
Now he has to choose between paying the rent and paying electricity, Mr. Wilkinson – the city’s deputy administrator of economic development – said.
“Why does Mike have to sit in the dark?”
Mr. Allen attended Mr. Wilkinson’s midday candidacy announcement on the third floor of the Edney. Many others came out in support as well, greeted by Mr. Wilkinson’s extended hand as they walked in the room.
When the candidate took to the podium – the only décor in the white-walled space – he stood tall in his pressed navy suit, saying with emphasis that he is running for State Senate for District 10 “for our children who deserve better opportunities to succeed, for working families who deserve a chance to get ahead, and for our neighborhoods who deserve to have their voices heard, not deleted.”
Over the last several weeks, he said he had been thinking a lot of the people in the 10th District. Having grown up in East Ridge in a working household, he said he knows the meaning of working hard to “put food on the table.”
Furthermore, he remembered when the city air was dirty and jobs were leaving downtown, and how a group of collaborative leaders carried out a vision to transform Chattanooga into the clean, innovative city it is today.
This effective leadership inspired Mr. Wilkinson to return to Chattanooga from Ohio to dive into the entrepreneurial pool on the rise. He became part of the revitalization and resurgence of the local economy after the 2008 mortgage crisis devastated many families. He contributed as director of development at Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprises – the nonprofit dedicated to building homes and restoring neighborhoods in underserved parts of town.
As deputy administrator of economic development, he worked on the 2014 Volkswagen initiative to bring 2,000 new jobs to the city.
“It has been my gift to wake up every day and serve Chattanooga and our economy,” he said.
Now he wants to span his service to the state’s District 10, which encompasses seven cities from Cleveland to Red Bank. The seat is held by Republican Todd Gardenhire, who is running again. Mr. Wilkinson is running as a Democrat.
Education, he said, is one of his passions and focuses for his campaign. Having worked in the school system, he has “seen up close” what makes an educational experience exceptional: great teachers. If elected, he aims to provide teachers with the proper tools and salaries they need to help children succeed.
His second passion revolves around Insure Tennessee. The story of Mr. Allen is not the only one Mr. Wilkinson has heard of the state legislation failing East Tennesseans. Because of this, Mr. Wilkinson wants to help citizens who do not have insurance by working to pass Insure Tennessee – the program to provide health insurance to Tennesseans who do not have access to it or who have limited options.
Applause rang out after this announcement.
Mr. Wilkinson stressed the power of working together to make necessary changes. As candidate for State Senate, he plans to work with the surrounding counties to really hear what people have to say.
His drive for this is simple.
“Because I am from this district,” he said. “And I believe deeply in the people of Tennessee.”
City officials said Mr. Wilkinson is not required to step down from his city job and will remain in his current post during the campaign.