Nashville On the Record: John Ray Clemmons


The Tennessean, Nov. 14, 2016

By: Andrew Maraniss

A Democrat representing District 55, John Ray Clemmons grew up on a Tennessee farm. He shares his thoughts on the election of Donald Trump and where Democrats go from here. 

When it became clear Donald Trump was going to win, all I could think about were my kids and how Trump stands for absolutely nothing my wife and I value as parents. How about you? What conversations were you having with your wife?

Like all parents, our kids are our priority, and we spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about them and their future.  Most of our conversations have been focused on how this election will impact their future and what we can do, both as a family and as an elected official, to lessen the blow of poor leadership and bad policy at the state and federal levels.

How did you tell your kids about what happened?

Tamara broke the news to them before school on Wednesday.  Our 7-year-old responded without missing a beat, "Well, I hope it's only one term."  That was a real wake-up call to us, and gave me an entirely new perspective on how to move forward after the election

You grew up in rural Tennessee. Why do Democrats have such a hard time appealing to working class white voters? 

My background growing up on a farm in rural Tennessee and attending church three times a week certainly gives me a unique perspective, and I spend more time thinking about this question than is probably healthy.  The harsh reality is that there are multiple reasons why we, as Democrats, have such a difficult time appealing to rural and working class families despite the fact that supporting our policies and issues would be in their best interest. Moving forward, we have to completely rethink how we do and say things.

As a politician, do you feel like all the rules of what makes a successful candidate have been turned upside down? Do things like experience and the truth even matter anymore? 

The two most concerning things to me are the unlimited funds being poured into campaigns and the harmful, dishonest rhetoric being spewed by candidates. Building a campaign communications plan around "click bait" is a dangerous game, and I fear that more and more candidates will attempt to execute this campaign model now.  Because of the role money plays in politics, you can't be considered a legitimate candidate for statewide office these days unless you are independently wealthy or able to raise $10-$20 million. It is no coincidence that every statewide officeholder in Tennessee is a multi-millionaire or billionaire.

What does this result tell us about polling and modern data analysis?  Everyone got it way wrong. 

This election is a perfect example of why I advise college students to major in history rather than political science. While political science gets outdated every two years, history repeats itself.

You've operated as a Democrat in a Republican supermajority. What lessons have you learned about making progress in that kind of environment? 

There are no guarantees of progress in this environment.  All you can do is work as hard as you can on the issues you care about and your folks support, fight as hard as you can when a fight is appropriate, and always try to possess more information and be better prepared than anyone else.

Your Cubs finally won a World Series. What did that feel like?

As an adult, I hate to admit how much it meant to me and how much emotion I had invested in that team and the World Series.  Because of all the campaigning and elections, I am honestly not sure if it has fully sunk in or not.  All I know is that I have a 2-year-old son walking around my house wearing a Cubs hat yelling "Go Cubs Go!" at the top of his lungs, and it makes me the happiest dad in the world.

But do you think the Cubs' victory almost meant the end of days is near?

No. I think it means the end of the St. Louis Cardinals is here.

Interviewed by Andrew Maraniss, author of "Strong Inside," which comes out in a Young Readers’ adaptation Dec. 20. Follow him on Twitter at @trublu24.