Ethan Steinquest/Macon County Times Mary Alice Carfi, a Democratic candidate for Tennessee Senate District 17, discusses her perspective on the state's health care and education systems during a potluck dinner on Monday. The Macon County Democratic Party hosted the event at the Macon County Welcome Center.

Ethan Steinquest/Macon County Times

Mary Alice Carfi, a Democratic candidate for Tennessee Senate District 17, discusses her perspective on the state's health care and education systems during a potluck dinner on Monday. The Macon County Democratic Party hosted the event at the Macon County Welcome Center.

Tennessee Senate and House hopefuls traveled to Lafayette on Monday to discuss health care, education and more over a potluck dinner hosted by the Macon County Democratic Party.

Mary Alice Carfi (a Democrat running for Tennessee Senate District 17) and Carol Abney (a Democrat running for Tennessee House District 38) spoke at the event, along with representatives from the Phil Bredesen and Karl Dean campaigns.

"I got involved (in politics) because things were so partisan, and so polarized, that it was time for us to elect leaders … that are willing to work across party lines and actually get things done," Carfi said, referring to her previous campaign for state Senate in the 2017 special election. "(Voting along party lines) every single time doesn't make sense. We have got to look at the issues and work together."

Carfi said the health care and education systems are the most common issues voters have discussed with her, and she shared her thoughts on those topics with attendees.

"It is imperative that we expand Medicaid, because it should not matter how much money somebody makes," she said. "If they need to see a doctor, they need to see a doctor. If their kids need to see a doctor, they need to see a doctor."

Abney also said that health care has been a common issue on the campaign trail, particularly the opioid crisis.

"Our health care is in trouble," Abney said. "(With) the opioid crisis, there's a lot of people that need help, and we've got to find a way to get the people in this district help that need help."

According to Abney, the opioid crisis is magnified by the poverty rate in the district, which for Macon County is 18.6 percent (more than 4,300 people) based on the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau. She also said that potential hospital closures could further impact the situation and advocated for expanding Medicaid as a solution.

"People are saying, they promised us this (and) … that," Abney said. "We don't have anything. We can't find jobs. We don't have child care. My teachers don't have money. Parents are hooked on drugs, and they have no facilities to go to."

Teachers' salaries were a common theme during the evening, and Carfi expressed support for increasing them as well. She also said she would prioritize working to keep employees in the school districts, citing the pay gap between counties as an issue.

According to the Tennessee Education Association, first-year District 17 teachers with a bachelor's degree could see as much as $6,588 difference in their yearly salary from one county to another (based on 2017-18 salary schedules).

"When we educate our kids, they are healthier as adults," Carfi said. "And when we educate our kids, we're going to bring businesses here that will pay higher wages and offer better benefits. That just goes along with educating your populace."

Along with health care and education, the candidates focused on the potential impact of voting and finding common ground.

"I know we all have differences, but we've got to do something to get our government back in order," Abney said. "We've got to get our house in order, we've got to help get everybody else's house in order too … to come together and do this, because we don't have a choice."