By: Taryn Estes, Gen Z GOP Blog Contributor
East Tennessee politics have always had a certain flair about them. From Representative Phil Roe’s signature banjo performances to good, old-fashioned BBQ campaigns, I have grown up surrounded by a world of local politics with a homey feel. Being a member of a church community that was also home to many of Johnson City, Tennessee’s influential politicians gave me the pleasure of growing up to personally know these wonderful men and women who serve our local community, inspiring me to become politically involved. Being from a predominantly red county, our local GOP is an organization with which I am proud to affiliate. The presence of our local Republicans at community charities, fundraisers, campaigns, and local government meetings is a model admired by many neighboring county GOPs.
As an extension of my local GOP involvement, I attended many of the monthly meetings and events put on by our local Republican Women’s Organization — giving me the chance to listen and engage with influential speakers and candidates, as well as establish myself as an up-and-coming conservative woman. It was at one of these meetings that I first met congressional candidate Steve Darden, the former mayor of Johnson City. After speaking with him and his campaign managers, I knew that his team was the one I wanted to represent. Through my involvement with my local Republican women’s group, I was able to connect with the campaign and work my way into a role at the Darden campaign office.
During the campaign, I was blessed with the opportunity to meet and engage with many state officials, including Senator Bill Hagerty and Governor Bill Lee. While meeting these influential leaders meant the world to me, what I truly valued was the time I spent with my fellow interns and volunteers. With months of door-knocking, flyer designing, speech analyzing, and voter meetings, I grew to cherish my friendships with my fellow interns — many of whom were fellow members of Gen Z. On the campaign trail, many remarked on the strong presence of high school and college students. Prior to this campaign, youth engagement with local politics had been very limited, with few people my age caring about our local political world at all. To the community, seeing my generation working on a campaign meant the world — and to me, it meant gaining an important community network of fellow Gen Z Republicans
Sadly, despite our efforts, our candidate did not win the primary contest. In the wake of a political loss, it’s fairly common to see losing candidates become hateful and petty; however, I recall being struck by the exemplary grace with which Mr. Darden conceded his race. When the primary results were clear, Mr. Darden gave a speech and said something that has stuck with me ever since. He expressed that even though he had lost the race, he felt like the biggest winner because of the care and support he had earned from the community.
That simple statement is one my local GOP has reinforced to me over the years. Community is everything, especially in a town not considered to be “major” in Tennessee terms. Our town’s local government is filled with some of the most genuine, hard-working officials I know of. In a nation where many high-level politicians seem to lose that sense of core community, I am very grateful for that of my local officials. While the political focus tends to generally lean towards national government, my town and my district have both taught me the importance of a strong, well-connected local government with a focus on community.