THOMASVILLE — If you ask Teresa Tomlinson, what the U.S. Senate really needs is a mayor.
“Mayors are required to make government run,” said Tomlinson, the former two-term mayor of Columbus who’s now running for the Senate as a Democrat.
Tomlinson swung through southwest Georgia on Tuesday, and her tour included separate stops in Cairo and Thomasville.
While in Thomasville, Tomlinson met with prospective supporters at the Farmer’s Daughter Vineyards and Tasting Room, where she said her experience in taking on controversial issues makes her a formidable candidate.
“I’ve been in those moments for decades,” Tomlinson told the audience. “My record on being able to deliver is there.”
Earlier in the day, Tomlinson stopped by Grady General Hospital, where physician Ashley Register provided a tour of the hospital facilities.
The stop came about because Tomlinson said she’s concerned about the closure of rural hospitals in the state, which she attributes to an “ego battle” in Washington.
“It’s devolved into this addiction of the fight,” she said. “That’s all they want to do, is fight about which party is going to win this war about healthcare.”
If things play out the way Tomlinson predicts they will in the 2020 election, that will all change. She thinks the Senate will see a dramatic evolution in the ethos that drives it.
Back in the day, Tomlinson said people admired the Senate as the most deliberative legislative body in the world.
“Now we see it as an utterly dysfunctional entity that hasn’t taken up a piece of legislation since I don’t know when,” she said.
Coming next fall, Tomlinson thinks a new wave of younger, solution-oriented legislators will return the chamber to its former glory. That’s because she thinks Generation X, which she’s a member of, brings a different perspective when it comes to solving problems.
“We’re less, or not at all, addicted to the ideological fights of the past,” Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson thinks this new Senate will have the courage to bring up what she sees as vital legislation that the majority of the country supports, like H.R. 8, which introduces background checks for gun purchases that she says are reasonable.
The obstacle standing in the way of legislation such as H.R. 8 is seen as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but Tomlinson figures he won’t be much of a problem if she’s elected. She’s done the math, and she anticipates that if she’s elected it means there’s a big enough wave that the Senate will flip to Democratic control.
That doesn’t mean she hasn’t thought about what life might be like in the Senate minority.
During her time as mayor of Columbus, Tomlinson said she was never afraid to tackle political third rails, and she relished the opportunity to take on the fights that her predecessors were too squeamish to face. If she’s in the minority, Tomlinson said she’ll seek out a new bipartisan coalition to change the Senate rules to disempower McConnell. She says even some Republicans are frustrated with byzantine rules that restrict what kind of legislation can be brought up for a vote, and she thinks she can reach across the aisle to find a common interest in reshaping the chamber’s structure.
“The way I would couch it to them and the discussion I would hope to have is that if you don’t join us in this new way, then you’re allowing someone of a day that has passed to be the author of your mismanagement and disgrace,” Tomlinson said. “You’ll be held accountable by the electorate for that and you’ll run the risk of losing your job.”
As a Democrat, Tomlinson rejects the idea that she faces an uphill battle to connect with rural voters. She said Democrats can be found everywhere across the state, though they may be demoralized.
“They may not understand that they’re in the majority in Thomas County and some of these other counties,” Tomlinson said. “Maybe that’s because no one has ever reached out and told them that, and told them how important they are to the statewide system.”
Tomlinson is an admirer of Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, both of Virginia. She said the two serve as proof that it’s possible for Democrats to make gains in the South.
For Georgia to make the same transformation as Virginia, Tomlinson said Democrats have to acknowledge the state’s rural communities. That means nominating someone who isn’t a stranger to a small-town lifestyle.
Tomlinson’s mother is actually from the area, having been partially raised on Cambell Road in Thomasville. Tomlinson herself grew up in metro Atlanta, but she spent much of her youth in rural Georgia and still has family across the rest of the state that she said feel underrepresented both in Atlanta and in Washington.
Visiting rural areas as part of her campaign’s first tour is part of Tomlinson’s effort to correct that feeling.
Previous Democratic statewide campaigns have placed too much emphasis on the state’s population centers, Tomlinson said. She doesn’t think that strategy is completely misguided — there’s only a finite amount of time that can be used before an election, and more people mean more potential votes — but she believes a successful campaign will mobilize supporters from every corner of the state.
Tomlinson gives kudos to Stacy Abrams’ 2018 gubernatorial campaign for visiting every Georgia county. By declaring her candidacy more than a year before the general election in 2020, Tomlinson said she not only has time to visit every county, but she can also cultivate meaningful relationships that can eventually translate into a coalition of voters.
That coalition is what Tomlinson believes will make the difference in transforming Georgia into a two-party state, but she says in order to win them over she has to talk about issues that are important to them.
Tomlinson says that may not be as hard as some people think.
There’s a common perception that the Democratic Party’s core issues are out of touch with rural lifestyle, but Tomlinson said nothing could be further from the truth.
“Go out and ask some farmers if they believe in climate change,” she said. “They do, and they’re sick of it.”
What’s really going on is that both Democrats and Republicans have been “cowards” in talking about the issues that matter to rural Americans, Tomlinson said, in part because they’re afraid to address the solutions.