Roofing company co-owner Trent Nesmith is running for Congress, carrying a warning against the influence of campaign money in American government and, among other things, hoping to vote to extend Medicare coverage to people of all ages.
He is one of two Democrats, both from Statesboro – the other is Francys Johnson – who have filed Federal Election Commission campaign finance forms in the race for Georgia’s 12th District seat in the House. Candidates qualify at the state level March 5-9 for the May 22 primaries. The Republican incumbent, U.S. Rep. Rick Allen of Augusta, also has an announced challenger in his own party.
In fact, Nesmith has been campaigning in person since last summer, often with a message against the influence of big money in politics. Interviewed last week at his American Roofing office on South Main Street, he indicated that the recent Republican tax reform has only heightened his concern.
“If I don’t do anything else with this campaign, I want people to realize that our democracy is being stolen by the wealthiest,” Nesmith said. “I sat with my accountant yesterday, and we see it even clearer than we did two to three years ago, now that we have this tax structure that is going to destroy the middle class. It’s going to give the lower-income a little bit of um … some hush money, but all clearly built for the 1 percent.”
Since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, limiting corporate campaign spending would probably require a constitutional amendment. So it isn’t an issue where much can be accomplished in the Congress in the short run, he said.
Medicare for all
Instead, he identified some issues he would hope to vote on in a 2019-20 term in Congress. He said he doesn’t like to rank issues, but Medicare was the next thing he mentioned.
“Right now ‘Medicare for All’ just needs the votes,” Nesmith said. “It is sitting there waiting on me. I don’t have to rewrite laws. I’m not going to go to D.C. thinking I’m this guy that writes the bill and reinvents the wheel.”
As it is, Medicare is the mostly age-based healthcare funding program connected with Social Security, not to be confused with needs-based Medicaid. Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Sanders, who remains officially an independent in the Senate but ran for president in 2016 as a Democrat, introduced legislation to expand Medicare to everyone.
Nesmith has been visiting places related to his campaign concerns.
“We have hospitals that are right on the brink,” he said. “I’ve toured almost all the hospitals in our district. I’ve sat down with the CEOs of all of them and I’ve sat down with some of the physicians and nurses, and we have a major problem.”
He said he knows universal Medicare wouldn’t be a “silver bullet” or overnight fix for struggling hospitals.
“I’m not that naïve, but what I will say is if we don’t get the cost per patient down, if we don’t start focusing on health care being an actual right, I don’t feel complete,” Nesmith said. “It’s not the America I want to see. I think we need to take care of anybody.”
He expresses concerns about for-profit prisons, but thought the staff at the one he visited is doing a good job. At Alamo in Wheeler County, he visited Wheeler Correctional Facility, which is operated by CoreCivic, previously Corrections Corporation of America, on contract with the state.
“I think they need oversight,” Nesmith said. “We need to the keep for-profit prisons, the corporations, out of Washington, lobbying for stricter laws.”
He also visited some of Wheeler County’s schools with the superintendent. But there was no hospital to visit, since the hospital in Wheeler County closed several years ago, which “crushed” the local economy except for the prison, he said.
Another major concern, Nesmith said, is not just jobs but good-paying jobs. He supports an increase in the federal minimum wage, which has been $7.25 an hour since July 2009, as long overdue, but suggests allowing for different minimums in different parts of the county.
“We do know that it would be really hard to implement $15 in Statesboro compared to New York City,” Nesmith said. “So I think we need to get creative on getting this minimum wage to a livable wage.”
He has also visited Plant Hatch and Plant Vogtle, the two nuclear power plants in the 12th District. Advocating “a green America,” he supports incentives for solar and wind power but said nuclear energy also has a place because it produces “extremely low emissions” and that he is “not a fan of coal.”
“So if we can get rid of it and we replace that with nuclear until we can get to renewables, that’s my idea of energy in the 12th District, and in the country,” Nesmith said.
He advocates complete legalization of marijuana.
“Prohibition has to end, so complete legalization,” Nesmith confirmed. “For one, it’s an infringement on people’s freedom for something that realistically … alcohol is by far a worse drug.”
Similarly, when asked about abortion, “I’m pro-choice. I’m pro-freedom,” was the start of his answer.
He tells people he doesn’t have all the answers.
“I’m a roofer,” Nesmith said. “I’m going to be just honest. I’m going to always tell you, and when I don’t know it I just don’t know it. We don’t get that from politicians. They’ll sit there and run around and avoid and dodge until the point to where you either assume they know it or they just don’t admit that they don’t know it.”
He and his brother, Matt Nesmith, own and operate American Roofing. Their father, Mickey Nesmith, was involved when they launched the company 1999, but he stepped out of the business in 2008. For a time when construction was slowest in the Southeast, they did roofing jobs in other regions, as far away as Ohio and Arizona.
The company now does industrial, commercial and residential roofing throughout the Southeast, but remains a small business. It involves perhaps 50 or 60 people, including subcontractors, Trent Nesmith said.
His wife, Samantha, works in donor relations at Georgia Southern University. Their home is near Statesboro, but has a Brooklet address. Their children, Sloan and Caid, attend public schools. Trent Nesmith, now 37, graduated from Portal High School in 1999. He took classes at Georgia Southern for three years but then went into roofing full-time.
Nesmith has never sought public office before but has campaigned for others. He knocked on doors for Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar in 2017 and donated office space to Bulloch County Sheriff Noel Brown in 2016.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.