In his youth, Ron Ramsey never figured he would even be involved in politics, let alone turn in official papers to run for governor.
But that’s what the lieutenant governor of Tennessee did Monday, going through the formalities at the state Division of Elections on the 9th floor of the William R. Snodgrass Tower on Capitol Hill, a formality that will put Ramsey on the ballot for the Aug. 5 Republican gubernatorial primary.
After filing his paperwork, he walked back across the street with his wife, his mother and one of his three daughters to Legislative Plaza. Minutes later he addressed a boisterous crowd of supporters in the Old Supreme Court Chambers of the Capitol. He was officially running.
Many aspiring politicians can remember being fascinated with politics from a young age, dreaming of getting involved, maybe working in local government, thinking of becoming a governor, a senator, maybe president of the United States.
Not Ramsey. Never gave it a thought.
“If you had told me, in my wildest dreams, I’d be doing something like this, I would have never thought about it,” Ramsey said as he made his way back across the street, a short walk to the Plaza but a long, long way from upper East Tennessee, his home turf.
He certainly had opinions in his youth. But it was only through paying a normal amount of attention to what was going on in the world, taking a trip as a businessman to Nashville and getting moments of inspiration from listening to prominent voices on the radio that Ramsey got on the path that finds him today a contender for governor.
“I remember watching the Reagan elections in 1980 and 1984, but I was never involved in local politics at all,” he said. “I never ran for any office before I ran for state representative.”
In a story that sounds a lot like one of those that country music performers tell about listening to the Grand Ole Opry, Ramsey had memories of his own with radio, but in very different terms.
“I remember sitting in a barn grading tobacco and listening to Paul Harvey, who was about as conservative as you could find on the radio back then, pre-Rush Limbaugh,” Ramsey said. “And I said, ‘This guy sounds just like I do,’ so I knew I was conservative, both fiscally and socially.”
Sometime later, “I was driving through an Arby’s restaurant in Johnson City and heard Rush Limbaugh for the first time, and I said, ‘This guy thinks just like I do,” and so I realized there were other conservatives out there,” Ramsey said.
“Most of the media back then leaned toward the liberal side, pre-Fox, pre-talk radio and all that. So I realized there were people in the media who thought like I did.”
He had been on a different track.
“I would have never even thought about getting involved in politics,” he said. “I got involved accidentally.
“I became president of the Bristol Association of Realtors, and I came down here for a Realtors day on the Hill and liked it. The next thing I knew I was running for office.”
He was 36 years old.
He had graduated from Sullivan Central High School in 1973 and East Tennessee State University in 1978. He got a surveyor’s license in 1981 and began his own business. He started a real estate and auction business in 1986. By 1990, he put his business interests together to form Ron Ramsey and Associates.
He was elected to the 1st District from Sullivan County and served two terms in the House. In 1996, he won a state Senate seat from the 2nd District, representing Johnson and Sullivan counties. He later became majority leader and Republican caucus chair.
In 2007, in one of the most dramatic moments ever for the Senate, Democratic Sen. Rosalind Kurita cast a decisive vote for the Republican, Ramsey, to be speaker of the Senate. It put him on a leadership path that today has him one of three serious contenders for the Republican nomination.
Actually, being considered a contender is saying something. Ramsey said he learned Monday that several dozen people will be running for governor this year. In Tennessee, 25 signatures statewide will get you on the ballot. The formalities on Monday, however, followed many months of campaigning in what has become a marathon undertaking in the modern world of politics.
After filing his papers, Ramsey and his entourage made it back to the Plaza and on to a receptive audience in the Old Supreme Court Chambers. He was greeted with thunderous applause. It was a long trek from that barn and Paul Harvey.
And he told the crowd, “I just want to let you know that about 15 minutes ago, across the street at the Tennessee Tower, I filed my petition.
“I am officially a candidate for governor.”