District 28 state Rep. Yusuf Hakeem told members of the JFK Club that as a first-time representative, he expected to ease into his job, something that did not happen.
He said, “I thought I might get on one committee. Well, they put me on three committees. It was a whirlwind. You have people coming to your office 10 to 15 minutes apart. And at the same time, you’re trying to put together bills for the legislature and be responsive to the people back home.”
Despite the highly polarized nature of modern-day politics, he believed there was still a way for representatives on both sides of the spectrum to find common ground.
“What we found is that there are people on the other side of the aisle who want to do the right thing. There are 73 of them and 26 of us,” said Rep. Hakeem, “Now, what would have me say that, with numbers like that? If you remember the school voucher bill, it came out 49 to 49. That said to me there are some people with backbone, and people who want to do the right thing even though they may not have a ‘D’ by their name.”
One committee Rep. Hakeem is on is probation and paroles. The speaker said a focus of this committee is rehabilitation, and finding a way to help those coming out of the prison system to become reintegrated into society.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to bring along some legislation to improve the success of persons who are incarcerated as they come back into the community,” said Rep. Hakeem, “Ninety to 95 percent of people incarcerated are coming out.”
A major focus for Rep. Hakeem and Tennessee Democrats is the upcoming census and the concern around gerrymandering.
“One thing I want to share with you is the census and redistricts,” said Rep. Hakeem, “You know things were gerrymandered. You know how red Tennessee was, but well, it wasn’t just how it was people voted. There’s work at the state, regional, and national level to make sure it wouldn’t happen again.”
While he maintained that gerrymandering often benefits the Republican Party, Rep. Hakeem believes there is reason conservative citizens should oppose such a system. He appealed to their sense of fairness in politics.
“I think part of you have to come from a moral perspective, where you treat people the way you want to be treated, which is in a fair and balanced way,” said the speaker, “And from a moral perspective, we look at all the difficulties that gerrymandering has done to our country. The way it should be is that the power of the vote should be like a pendulum, where it should swing back and forth. And when you gerrymander, it pulls everything to one side and it’s not fair and balanced.”