KINGSPORT — From his yardside perch near the Virginia border in the scenic Arcadia community, Sullivan County Commissioner Michael Surgenor can see Chestnut Ridge, Orebank, Preston Woods and even Bays Mountain off in the distance.
He can see the area where he grew up, and where he got involved in education and public service.
Surgenor, a Democrat, said his community roots are his biggest asset as he kicked off his campaign Friday for Tennessee’s 1st House District seat currently held by Republican Jon Lundberg of Bristol.
“I think what I have is people in this area know me. I am someone they can contact because I am visible and I am here,” said Surgenor, the principal of Ketron Intermediate School. “I think what I do on the County Commission is represent the people who elect me. That is what I am running (for the state House) to do.”
But while people in the Kingsport area may know Surgenor, generating name recognition in the hook-shaped district stretching across Sullivan County appears to be his main challenge.
Lundberg, a former television news anchor and public relations executive, had sufficient name recognition to capture a narrow victory over GOP challenger John Crawford in the August 2006 Republican primary, plus a convincing win over Democratic opponent Kevin Smith in the following November general election.
Lundberg also has a campaign finance advantage over Surgenor, with about $11,000 cash on hand in his account, according to Lundberg’s last filing with the Registry of Election Finance.
Surgenor, 60, says he is talking to people in both ends of the district and plans to focus on education as his main campaign issue.
“I am pro-education,” he said. “Tennessee’s ranking in per-student expenditure ... well, out of 50 states, we are usually in the bottom 10 and fighting for number 42 (in the nation). This is something Tennessee is going to have to take into consideration in the future, that if you want a first-class school system you’re going to have to fund it.”
Surgenor noted that during his 36-year career in education, teachers have only seen major pay increases twice.
“One time was when Ray Blanton was governor back in the 1970s, at about a 4Â½ percent raise,” he recalled. “This raise given this past year was about 5 percent. There was the (merit pay) program that (former Gov.) Lamar Alexander had, but that was more or less a game teachers played to get a pay raise.”
The biggest thing county commissioners deal with “year in and year out,” said Surgenor, is the county school system’s budget.
“It’s quite obvious what the problem is this year. It’s the money coming in,” Surgenor said. “In the state of Tennessee the major part of our funding comes from sales tax. What happens with that sales tax is divvied out to counties. Right now this is what is hurting Tennessee. It’s hurting our school systems here.”
Surgenor insisted he can juggle his school principal duties and be a lawmaker traveling back and forth to Nashville.
“I’m not the only administrator there, and fortunately today we have better communication than they did several years ago ... and I have a fantastic faculty. They are good. The school won’t suffer at all,” he said.
For more information go to www.surgenorforstatehouse.com.