Hazlewood brings business experience, work ethic to legislature

By KATE COIL
TML Communications Specialist

Never one to be idle, State Rep. Patsy Hazlewood uses her experience in business, finance, and community involvement in a variety of ways on arguably one of the busiest committees in the Tennessee State House.
Hazlewood serves as vice chair of the House Finance, Ways, and Means Committee. In their work on the state budget, Committee Chairwoman Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, has gotten to know Hazlewood well.
“I absolutely love working with Patsy,” Lynn said. “She has terrific experience both professionally and personally. She is a real asset to the finance committee.”
Born in Fayetteville, Hazlewood grew up on a family farm just over the state line in Athens, Ala., today a suburb of Huntsville. After graduating high school, Hazlewood became the first in her family to earn a college degree when she graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in 1973. After college, she went to Nashville to work for BellSouth – now AT&T. She met her late husband there. The two then moved to Signal Mountain to work for BellSouth and to raise their son, Ben.
In addition to working for BellSouth and AT&T for more than 30 years, Hazlewood served as director of CapitalMark Bank and Trust. In 2011, she was selected by then-Tennessee Economic and Community Development (TNECD) Commissioner Bill Hagerty to serve as the TNECD Regional Director for Southeast Tennessee.
Hazlewood also served on numerous boards and commissions in the Greater Chattanooga area. She became the first female president of the Chattanooga Downtown Rotary, served as president of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, and served on the boards of the United Way, the Enterprise Center, the Stadium Corporation, the Speech and Hearing Center board, and the Community Foundation board.
In 2014, Hazlewood was elected to serve the state’s House District 27, which includes the municipalities of Lookout Mountain, Red Bank, Signal Mountain, Soddy-Daisy, Walden, and a portion of Chattanooga.

TT&C: How did your upbringing make you who you are today?
Patsy Hazlewood: I was born in Fayetteville, but I grew up in North Alabama about 45 minutes away, but was still very close to family. I grew up on a farm. The area is not rural now, but it was rural then. Athens, Ala., is a small town that has really become over the years more of a bedroom community for Huntsville, but for us it was a small rural town. We grew cotton and corn, and raised chickens, pigs, and cows. We always had a big garden in the summer. When you grow up on a farm you learn to work. There is always something to do all the time, and if nothing else you develop a work ethic. That is definitely something that has shaped me. I’m not very good with leisure time. I feel like God gave me this day, so I should use it.

TT&C: You were one of the first in your family to graduate from college. Why was that an important step for you?
PH: My mom went to college but didn’t graduate. My dad didn’t go. I have three brothers, and I am the only one who went to college and graduated. Two of my brothers were killed in separate accidents, and my youngest brother was a senior in high school who was headed to college, but didn’t have the opportunity to make it.
While my parents didn’t have a college education, they had a great respect for education. They really encouraged me to be a good student, and I was able to get some financial aid. At the high school I went to, not every one went to college. Not even the majority of kids went to college, so I think I had an appreciation for that education that perhaps those from other backgrounds took for granted.
I knew it was a huge opportunity for me. It opened a lot of doors for me that wouldn’t have been opened otherwise. I have been very blessed in that God has always guided my steps and blessed them. I certainly never planned to be a state representative or spend a lot of years in the business world. I wasn’t a math major, so it was a bit of a switch. Having a degree got me in the door. It provided a big step up.

TT&C: Who would you say were your biggest influences?
PH: My parents were always so supportive and wanted me to have more opportunities than they had. They did all that they could to make that happen. I had fantastic grandparents on both sides. I had and do have a very good, close family growing up with cousins, aunts, and uncles who provide a lot of support. I had some teachers who made a big difference in my life from elementary school on up. I think sometimes we can underestimate the kind of impact those folks have on us long years after we leave their classrooms.

TT&C: What first brought you to Signal Mountain and the greater Chattanooga area?
PH: I went to work for South Central Bell/BellSouth in Nashville after I graduated from MTSU. I met my husband who also worked for the company. He was transferred by the company to Chattanooga, so frankly I had to go. We moved there in 1980, and it was a great move. Our son was born there and grew up on Signal Mountain. It’s a great place to live and was a great place to raise a family. The Chattanooga area is my home and it’s been good to me and my family.

TT&C: How would you describe your district to someone who had never been there?
PH: First of all, I would tell them what I tell everyone at the Capitol all the time when we are introducing ourselves, which is that I truly think I have the most beautiful district in the state of Tennessee. I have everything. I have the river as you come into Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain, and Lookout Valley. We have Elder Mountain and Signal Mountain. We have the lookout at St. Elmo that is an older community on the upswing. We have Red Bank at the foot of Signal Mountain and Soddy-Daisy on the lake. We have lakes, rivers, and mountains. It really is a slice of Tennessee that I have an opportunity to represent. It’s a little bit of everything geographically and demographically as well.

TT&C: How has your experience in the business world helped with your work as a public servant?
PH: The job that I had for a number of years with BellSouth and AT&T was working as the face of the company in that area. You have a lot of interaction with people, but rather than constituents they were customers. I had an opportunity because of the position I had with the company to serve in a lot of capacities within the community. I headed up a number of community organizations including the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, the Community Foundation, and was the first woman president of the Downtown Chattanooga Rotary Club. I chaired United Way campaigns and served on lots of boards. I think all of that gave me a pretty broad perspective in terms of both the business community and other parts of the community as well.
I was part of a group that started a bank, and I think the experience I had chairing boards and serving on executive committees with those organizations as well as the work I had done with the company made me an effective bank board member.
I think education and economic development are the two things in my mind that government needs to focus on. They are inextricably connected. You can’t bring in jobs if there aren’t people in the community who have the education to do those jobs. We did a lot of work with both new companies that were trying to recruit and companies that were already in the area trying to expand.
Working with the legislature from a business perspective throughout the years really prepared me for the legislative process. I think it showed me the real importance of what happens at the state level. I think in many ways the things that happen at the state legislature have more of an impact on our lives than any other place in government.

TT&C: What first interested you in politics? Was there a particular issue or cause that prompted you to run for office?
PH: Because of the position I had with BellSouth, I had been involved from that perspective. My involvement on various boards showed me how political dynamics impacted those organizations and people’s lives. I felt the experience I had gained put me in a position to hit the ground running and accomplish things that will make Tennessean’s lives better.
We all want our children and grandchildren to have better opportunities than we do. I am fortunate that my son lives a few miles from me on Signal Mountain, and my grandchildren are there. I want to do all that I can to make sure there are places in Tennessee for them to come back to when their education is completed. I want to keep them close, so I want to do all I can to make Tennessee an attractive place for my grandchildren and other people’s grandchildren as well.

TT&C: Last year, when you and House Finance, Ways and Means Committee Chair Susan Lynn presented the budget, it was the first time in Tennessee history that two women presented the budget. Why do you think it’s important to see women in leadership roles in the Legislature?
PH: First of all, I think we all have talents and we all have gifts. I think in order for our state and country to be successful, we need to access and maximize the potential of everyone. Women are at least half the population. Women have a lot to offer just as men have a lot to offer. I think it’s important that young girls and young boys are able to recognize that it’s not a gender issue, that it’s about talent and passion. It’s about who is really equipped or wants to become equipped to lead and serve in that way. At the end of the day, we talk about leadership roles, but these are servant positions. That’s what they are designed to be. We are meant to serve the people in our district. I try to remember that, and I think my colleagues do as well.

TT&C: What do you enjoy most about your work with the House Finance, Ways, & Means Committee? What is the most challenging aspect of working with the committee?
PH: One of the great things about being on that committee is that it gives you such a broad and in-depth understanding of state government. Anything that costs $1 in state government has to go through us. We hear from every department about their work. It’s great educational experience just to learn about state government, what it does, what works, and what doesn’t.
It’s also a place where you feel like you can make an impact. A lot of the dollars are predetermined because we have to fund TennCare, education, and corrections. We have been in such a positive fiscal position in this state for the past few years, it has given us some latitude to focus on some other things as well. I think being in finance gives me more of an opportunity to impact that.
There are so many good ideas, wonderful programs, and great things that could be done should we have the resources. One of the more frustrating things about the budget – and this sometimes seems like a contradiction of common sense – it can be harder in years when we have more resources because there are so many ideas and suggestions on how to spend those resources. If everyone knows you’re short of money, they don’t ask for anything.
My priorities are always to continue to beef up the rainy day fund. We have to make sure we stock some money away because we will have a rainy day at some point, and since we are a sales-tax driven state we are in some ways more susceptible to economic downturns.
At the end of the day, we have to live within our means, and we have to have a balanced budget. I think Tennesseans as a culture are very frugal. We like to make sure we get our money’s worth. There are always things that could be done that we don’t have the resources to do.
There are always disagreements over what the priorities are. We always try to prioritize and make sure we provide the services for citizens that they can’t provide for themselves. I believe that is what government is supposed to do. We also have to take care of the more vulnerable, those who can’t take care of themselves.
On the flipside, we want to make sure we are putting as much money in the pockets of taxpayers as we can because it’s their money. That’s something you have to remember.

TT&C: What do you think are the major priorities for this year’s budget? What can we expect from this year’s state budget? [Editor’s Note: This interview with Rep. Hazlewood was conducted prior to Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State Address on Feb. 3]
PH: We always have to deal with some housework issues like education. These are issues that are always there; they don’t go away. There is probably going to be a lot of legislation in the healthcare and insurance arena that could impact the budget perhaps. There is always a surprise or two, something you never thought about but will jump out of the woodwork. The governor’s package I think is going to include judicial reform work that will more than likely have budget implications.

TT&C: What is your stance on pre-emption and local control?
PH: I contend the best government is the best government that is closest to the people. I try to be accessible to my constituents, but I know there is no way I can be accessible as one of the town council members in Signal Mountain. There is just a different opportunity for interaction there. I think it is really critical that we leave as much to local government as possible.
I do think there are some times when standardization issues come up, that have statewide components and it doesn’t make sense to have a patchwork of regulation. If you are trying to do business in Tennessee, you shouldn’t have to have a whole different set of rules in Nashville, Chattanooga, and Shelbyville. I hope we try not to pre-empt, but there are instances in our legislative session when we feel there is a need to do that.

TT&C: How would you describe your relationship with the municipal officials in your district? What projects have you worked on with them?
PH: I would describe the relationship as good, and I hope they would as well. I try to work with them, and a lot of the things I have done with them have been TDOT related, repairs, and expansions. I try to work with my municipalities to get local grants and dollars from the state to do projects they wouldn’t be able to finance on their own. Most of the area I represent is comprised of small cities.
I also represent a small part of Chattanooga. The budget of those small cities is a whole different animal from that of Chattanooga or Hamilton County. You have to recognize that and work with them to get things done. Most of all, you have to work with them to make sure the legislation we propose is not detrimental.

TT&C: Is there any particular piece of legislation you have worked on that has stood out or been special to you?
PH: I have done a lot of business legislation that isn’t going to excite anyone but me and the business community or people that it helped and benefitted. I was a co-sponsor last year on the Hands Free bill, which I think will save lives. If you feel like you can positively impact a life or save a life, it’s a pretty big deal. A few years ago, I sponsored a bill with Sen. [Steve] Dickerson, [R-Nashville,] on needle exchange, which has saved lives. It has helped people get out of that addiction cycle and move forward with their lives. I am really proud of some of the other things we’ve done because ultimately my goal in carrying those bills was to make Tennessee a business-friendly climate so we could continue to have businesses move here, grow here, and provide living-wage jobs.