(Martin, TN) Luther Mercer II stood in the small house in Martin, Tennessee in the doorway separating two rooms doing what many politicians for hundreds of years have done before him — meeting a select local group of people. The constituents in attendance, politically astute and wanting answers about the state of government, were mainly from the University of Tennessee at Martin but also included a couple of local leaders, including the city’s mayor Randy Brundige. It was a good old-fashioned meet and greet where he spoke of his vision and met quietly and intimately with concerned democrats in northwest Tennessee who asked countless questions about education, job creation and the — as one woman eloquently stated — fear of increasing federal and state debt which will be left with future generations.
The event was low-key. As Mercer had worked briefly at UT Martin several years ago as director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, he knew some of the people sitting and standing in the close quarters, all listening intently. The limited amount of elbow room didn’t matter; they wanted to hear what Mercer had to say, which was plenty.
When Mercer announced that he would seek the 8th Congressional District seat, it made a bump in headlines that were dominated by announcements from Roy Herron, who left his gubernatorial race abruptly to throw his name in the arena to seek the democratic congressional nomination. The race will turn out to be a battlefield as Republicans and Democrats alike look to take John Tanner’s crown in a district that stretches from North Memphis into Clarksville. The race is going to cost money, with basically four television markets that must be contended with.
Mercer, like Herron, comes from a political family that spans generations. His mother, Shirlene Mercer, has served as Director of District Services for Tanner since 1989 and has been a beloved educator throughout the years in her own right. Her resume is impressive and she has been featured nationally for her volunteer work in not only civil rights but in crime prevention in impoverished areas. His father, Luther Mercer I, is a Madison County Commissioner in District 1 in Jackson.
Mercer defined his stump speech speaking eloquently of going to law school, but not wanting to practice law, instead focusing on education. His message of rural America seeing a decline in the manufacturing boom that once was an economic standard to the area was key, as well as looking into what the community will do next. He talked about how talented and capable people are leaving the area for better jobs and how, in many ways, that has created a problem for many towns in agricultural/industrial areas in the state of Tennessee.
Speaking of the cost of higher education right now and the lack of jobs, Mercer believes that there are ways to rectify the situation. The concern is realistic. Younger generations are not staying in West Tennessee due to lack of jobs, but Mercer is adamant that communities need to create opportunities for the next leaders, to make them want to assist in the rebuilding process of areas such as northwest Tennessee.
Much of his message was about reinvention and thinking outside the lines when it came to education and taking the knowledge and putting it into practical application to help disadvantaged areas. Mercer, who has traveled extensively working and studying in Eqypt and China, also spoke of the loss of good will that the nation has but sees the situation that the United States is in know in the Middle East as an opportunity.
He admitted, however, that getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan isn’t going to happen anytime soon, basically citing that there will be a lot to do in countries the U.S. has been at war with.
When asked why he decided to seek political office, Mercer said that he felt like it was time for him to be part of the solution instead of criticizing the problems in the United States right now.
“I’m an activist by nature. I’m in the business of criticizing. I realized that I needed to quit criticizing and step up,” he said adamantly.
“Right now, I’m meeting with people, letting them know who I am and what I’m about,” he concluded. In many ways, Mercer is running his campaign old school.