By LISA WHALEY
State Representative Matthew Hill has been working to serve Washington County’s interests in Nashville for more than a decade and a half now.
But he is not yet ready to hang up his gavel.
“I genuinely enjoy helping people,” Hill said in a recent interview with the Herald & Tribune. “Hands down, that’s the best part of the job.”
In a sense, he said, helping others runs in the Hill family.
“I grew up in a family of service,” Hill explained. “My dad is a pastor as well as a broadcaster and my mom is a retired social worker. I just grew up in a house that all the kids were taught to serve others and we were also taught you can do that in lots of different ways.”
For the Republican candidate, that way arose through Tennessee state government when in 1984 he was first elected to represent the 7th district in the State House of Representatives.
Hill has returned every two years since, yet he is quick to stress that running for office each election was never a given.
“I think a lot of people assume, ‘Oh you just run for re-election every two years,’ and that’s not how I operate,” he stressed. “My wife and I, every two years before we decide to put my name back on the ballot, we pray about it. We talk about it and we make that decision together because I’m the one whose name was on the ballot, but my family is the one that has to put up with my being gone.”
“My wife has been spectacular all these years,” he added, “and she loves this community very, very much.”
Hill hopes to return this year, he said, because he believes there is still so much to do.
“With everything that is going on right now, experience is essential,” he said. “I do not believe the 7th House District wants to start all over and from the voters that I have talked to during the campaign, they are appreciative of my experience and most people understand that that experience, that conservative experience, is essential right now.”
Hill is proud of the past 16 years of service thus far.
“When I think of accomplishments, I think of a lot of really practical things,” he said. “I think of the tens of thousands of folks we’ve been able to help with TennCare, with disability, with their unemployment. With various issues, everything from corrections to the Department of Transportation.”
He cites new roads and needed turn lanes as basic changes he has been a part of that he believes have had a big impact on county residents.
“I look at the Boones Creek exit that is currently under construction and I always get a chuckle out of everybody saying ‘We need to get this fixed!’ and now that we’re getting it fixed it’s like ‘What is all this construction traffic?” Hill added.
“The turning lane over to Bugaboo Springs Road. The wider turn there at Persimmon Ridge. The extension of I-26 to the Elizabethton exit. Those are all things that I’ve worked and advocated for.”
He is also excited about legislation passed to create a retail district at Boones Creek.
“Once we get through this COVID thing, that piece of legislation has the potential to be the single largest economic driver for new job and tax revenue for city and county schools in the history of Washington County,” Hill said.
Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic is front and center, and Hill continues to negotiate that fine line between safety and economic necessity.
That includes a workable plan for schools and to focus on “responsibly and safely keeping things open because I do not think we can, financially as a state, afford a complete shutdown again, but we have to keep safety at the forefront of it all.”
As for the future, Hill said he hopes to focus on fiscal responsibility and opportunities and greater accessibility to health care, two areas that affect every voter, as well as educational necessities like an extension of broadband services for students.
“From a planning standpoint, if I’m fortunate enough to be re-elected next week, one of the things is to use my experience in the legistlature and my seniority to help with that,” said Hill, who currently serves on the finance committee and acts as chair for the appropriations committee. “More and more and more we’re asking the kids to be online learning and there are places in this county that still don’t have high speed internet.”
In the end, Hill said, he hopes Thursday’s election will result in him returning to the position he longs to complete.
“We have to continue as we recover from COVID, we have to continue to bring jobs to the area, we have to continue to support the existing business,” Hill said, “but also the experience that I’ve gained on the finance committee helps our area.”
He acknowledges there is hard work ahead. He just wants to make sure he is a part of it.