Ed. Note: We were not able to interview Mr. Hancock in time for our Oct. 4 cover story on Knox County's Democratic candidates, but were able to follow up later for this addendum. Meanwhile, Republican opponent Steve Hall did not respond to interview requests for this story.
Anthony Hancock knows about hard work. He's had to work for everything he's achieved, starting when he had to compete for playing time as a running back for the Vols. He ended up switching to wide receiver, and a week later played in his first game against Alabama.
After playing for the University of Tennessee from 1978-1981 (where he majored in sociology and minored in business administration), Hancock played five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs (who picked him in the first round of the 1982 draft) before being released by the team.
And then he had to find a job.
He returned to Knoxville after leaving the Chiefs in 1986 and was hired by the Boy Scouts to help run its inner-city scouting program. During his 10 years with the program, Hancock saw more than 500 kids join the Scouts, 12 of whom become Eagle Scouts.
"To me a job was a job," Hancock, 52, says of finding work after leaving the NFL. But the Boy Scouts turned out to be a good start for Hancock. "That's where I really got my formative years in work experience."
Hancock also worked in Nashville for UT's Institution of Public Service through the Center for Industrial Service. Using a grant from the state Department of Transportation, he and a few co-workers traveled around Tennessee to help TDOT-certified small businesses improve profits in 12-18 month time periods by helping with marketing, financial planning, and bid estimates. But when that contract was up, Hancock was once again in the market for a new job.
That's how he wound up substitute teaching for the Knox County school system while he got his special-education teaching certificate from UT. He's now been with the school system for nine years and currently teaches at Bearden Middle School.
It was his work in education that led to his involvement with the Tennessee Educators Association and to opportunities to act as a leader in the organization. He's the chair of the resolutions committee, which is responsible for reviewing past resolutions approved by the TEA and those approved by the National Educators Association, reviewing currently proposed resolutions, and preparing presentations on the proposed resolutions for the annual Representative Assembly of the TEA. He's also served as a member of the organization's minority affairs and new teachers committees.
"That has given me a lot of opportunities to think about running for office," he says. "Over the last three years as the resolutions chair, I go to the national office, I can see how things on the national level were occurring with teachers. I thought, you know, we need to have a voice down in Nashville."
And so Hancock put his hat in the ring to run to represent the 18th District in the Tennessee House of Representatives. Maybe he could've dipped his toes into the political pool by running for school board, City Council, or County Commission. But that's not Hancock's style.
"I like to jump in with both feet," he says.
So now residents of the 18th District have a choice between incumbent representative Steve Hall and the newcomer Democrat.
Hall, 56, was the president and owner of a contracting business (Interior Finishes Corp.) when he was elected to the state House in 2010. At the time, he told the News Sentinel that he wanted to help the business community by not putting up obstacles for business owners who'd like to start or expand their businesses, pledged to keep government out of the lives of individuals as much as possible, and keep taxes low. Hall is a member of Tennessee Right to Life, the National Rifle Association, and the Tennessee Conservative Union.
Since his election, Hall has sponsored four bills, two of which became law in 2011. The first law requires notification of property owners affected by the extensions of boundaries of local governments, with notifications being printed in local newspapers. The second law imposes criminal and civil penalties on people who have hepatitis and don't inform people to whom it could be transmitted.
Hall has also co-sponsored 82 bills during the last two sessions. Some of the bills he co-sponsored during this past legislative session that became law included: Kimblerlee's Law (which requires those convicted of aggravated rape to serve 100 percent of their sentences); the expansion of state drug laws to make the manufacturing of synthetic drugs a felony; a requirement of the Tennessee Department of Human Services to develop and implement a suspicion-based drug testing program for welfare recipients; elimination of the gift tax, reduction of the food sales tax from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent; and the Life Defense Act (which requires abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges).
Hancock grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, where his father worked for Ford. He comes from traditional pro-union Democrat stock, and he says his upbringing instilled in him the importance of having a job, making good wages, and taking care of his family.
"That's the American dream," he says. So to him, "job development is very important, apprenticeship programs are very important, working in the community with social organizations and nonprofit organizations is very important to meet the needs of people."
But Hancock is hesitant to make any specific promises before he's elected to the House. "I gotta get there first!" he says.
Certainly, he'll act as a voice for teachers—"[The Legislature] is throwing them under the bus," he says—but his first obligation is to the people who elect him. And that's how he says he'll approach the job if elected.
"That's the first and foremost question: What does this [bill] mean and how does it affect the people I represent? If it's not going to be in their best interest, I can't go with it. If it's going to help them in some capacity, I'm good for it. You got to do what they want you to do, and you got to use some common sense," he says. "People want results. I'm working for the people who put me there."
But Hancock is running against an incumbent Republican in a heavily Republican area. Hancock doesn't have any specific critiques of Hall's record, but he does say the last legislative session needed more common sense when it came to the bills put forward by the legislators.
"We need to be serious about this profession. I'm not saying they're not serious about it, but we need to do things that are going to be good things for people," he says. "I don't look at politics as bad, and I don't look at politicians as bad. When they start doing things are not for the people...then they need to be questioned. They wouldn't be there without the people."
Hancock also says he's not trying to be a Democrat competing with a Republican. His strategy has been to let people know who he is and what he believes. And if elected, Hancock says he won't label people based on party affiliation.
"I do what I do. I try to let people know who I am as a person. Republican, Democrat, Independent—we're all people. I run on who I am in terms of things I have done. I know that I'm going to need Republican votes. I do know that. I'm in it to win," Hancock says.
But the race is more than a competition, and Hancock knows that.
"It's serious because you're dealing with people's livelihoods. I don't take this lightly. I don't take this with a grain of salt. It's impacting people's lives," he says.