It’s easy for me to say that I either know, or know about, almost every person running in November for the state legislature. Yet when I describe Lemon Williams as the most exciting of the bunch, that’s because he's the only guy I had never heard of when he picked up his qualifying papers. He just turned out the best political aspirant I have had a conversation with in the last decade.
Lemon, who pronounces his first name the very same way you would a lime’s first cousin, is something of an oxymoron – a black guy who is also a Republican. “There are a lot of people who think the (R) beside my name stands for ‘racist,” he laughed over morning coffee, “and I’ve been called much worse when people learn I’m a Republican but the truth I’ve been a loyal member all my life. As a matter of fact, when I spoke at the Pachyderm Club the other day, I showed off the Zach Wamp volunteer T-shirt I wore in 1992.”
So the first thing I do when I meet somebody new is share the idea we ought to have a choice in just about everything we do. Then I point out District 28 looks the same way it did when my dad was transferred here with TVA 30 years ago. ‘Don’t you think we might need a new voice in the room to represent us in Nashville?’”
Obviously there are many who want Lemon’s poised presence and polished enthusiasm as we replace the wonderful JoAnne Favors, who is retiring after serving her district – as well as all of the Chattanooga community -- since 2004.
“Without economic development neighborhoods grow stale,” the 43-year-old Williams said. “In our district alone there is enough open space for seven Volkswagen plants … we really need more industry here because they hire people who, in turn, need grocery stores and restaurants and spend the “new money” they make to supply an infrastructure like Volkswagen has proven will take place.”
Williams, who heads his own information technology company, is exactly who District 28 needs in the legislature. After he graduated from Central, he went to UT and is now chairman of the university’s Black Alumni Council. “I never thought much about politics until I began to notice empty buildings and a lack of job opportunities. I believe I have what it is going to take in today’s economy.”
“Chattanooga has changed. We are No. 1 on dozens of lists, a place where people can do anything. This is a fabulous city. I’ve lived in Texas and Seattle and nothing holds a candle to this area right now,” said the proud father of one daughter and a step-daughter. “This is exactly where I want to raise my family. My mom (now 81) and my immediate family all live here and we’re TVA people. I worked in the IT area at TVA before launching my own company five years go. My entire family loved the TVA experience.”
Lemon has a head full of ideas. “Chattanooga State is a key player – obviously with free tuition – but what if we switched some classes around to where the work skills are taught first? Let’s teach the hands-on classes first, so the student can then get a job immediately and take the rest of the classes in night school, or on the weekends,” he said.
“I have actually had some serious discussions with businesses and they are eager to try the idea. Bill Lee (gubernatorial candidate) has a huge plumbing company so he built his own technical school – that way a young person can work and go to school at the same time. Plumbers and electricians can learn the basic skills in the first year at Chattanooga State and get hired … using night school and UTC for a degree.”
Williams just spearheaded a Health Care Fair at his church, Orchard Knob M.B. Church. “If we can put an emphasis on being healthy, it will let people spend their money on other things. Here’s a lady with diabetes who spends $300 each month for insulin. Let’s teach her to eat smarter, to exercise, and to take other steps where she won’t need as many expensive drugs,” he reasoned.
“Lemon, why do other blacks call you a racist?” He claims he can sit down with some blacks and sell them on ideas but when they learn he’s a Republican, it’s as if he has leprosy. “Some blacks believe the Republican Party is just for white people and that is totally ridiculous. A lack of communication creates a lack of knowledge … I’m a conservative, I’m for less government, and I believe in free enterprise. I also love my race and am eager to represent all the people in my district.
“I also believe that when District 28 has had Tommie Brown and JoAnne Favors, there has been little change over the years. I’m more outgoing and the biggest thing thus far is the way the local delegation has embraced me. I am really excited about becoming part of our area’s team.”
And of acceptance in the largely black district? “I just need a chance to show blacks and whites the type of person I am and when they see how hard I am willing to work for my friends and neighbors, everything will be just fine.”
One last one question … who in the heck tagged you ‘Lemon’? “Actually, I am a ‘Jr.’ … it was also my dad’s name and there have been several others in my extended family history. Other than passing from one generation to the next, I have no idea … “
That works for me, as long as you ain’t a car, and that the name is unique is a good thing. Mark my words, we are going to hear big things about Lemon Williams.