Democrat Mike McWherter officially launched his campaign to be Tennessee’s governor Thursday, and while he currently has no competition left in the Democratic primary, McWherter made it sound like he’s already running against Republican Bill Haslam.
McWherter said he does not know who his Republican opponent will be after the Aug. 5 primary, and said he has no preference, but he referred to Haslam’s television ads in his speech and acknowledged openly afterward that he was addressing those ads.
He focused on the claim in a television advertisement Haslam has run that says Haslam has helped create over 11,000 jobs in his business, Pilot Corp., the chain of travel centers owned by the Haslam family. Other Republican candidates for governor have criticized the ad as being misleading, and McWherter joined the chorus Thursday.
“I believe in truth in advertising,” McWherter said. “Even the other Republicans have been critical of Mayor Haslam’s ads about creating jobs that really were not created. They were bought. They weren’t all in Tennessee.
“I think that’s misleading. For somebody who has created jobs, and I understand how to create jobs, I want to make sure my message to Tennesseans is always truthful. That’s part of being in this campaign, is to hold everybody accountable, make sure they’re telling the truth.”
Haslam’s campaign was asked to respond to McWherter’s comments, and Haslam spokesman David Smith said in an e-mail, “That’s not worth a response.”
In his speech, McWherter referred to a candidate “juggling numbers” in television advertising.
“These are serious times, and these times require more from a candidate than simply juggling numbers on his TV ads to inflate his accomplishments,” McWherter said. “Tennesseans will see through those tricks, they’ll take the measure of the man, and they will say, ‘If he’s going to stretch the truth about jobs, then how can we trust him on this economy?'”
The criticism of Haslam’s ads has been that it is misleading to assert that the company created its large number of employees when the history of the company is that Pilot acquired established business interests as it grew.
McWherter, son of former Gov. Ned McWherter, owns a beer distributorship in Jackson and is chairman of the board of a Union City-based bank. His speech on the steps of the Capitol, after officially filing papers to run for governor, focused heavily on job creation, and he announced his intention of giving a tax break to businesses that create jobs.
McWherter said he would give tax breaks “to small businesses, to mom and pop operations, to the entrepreneurs, to the rural farm operations.
“It’s crystal clear, and it’s simple. If you create jobs in Tennessee, we’ll give you a tax break. We have to look after our own.”
When pressed on how he could offer a tax break given the state’s long run of declining revenues, McWherter said it would work economically.
“When you start putting people back to work, you’re making consumers,” he said. “We are a consumption-based economy. The more people we can get back to work, the more revenue we will have, and that revenue will pay for that tax break. I’m confident that those numbers will work.”
He said he was not ready to commit to a specific type of tax break but said, “I will definitely work on a tax break for small business out there, business that puts people to work.”
He said they would have to be businesses who can document that they were hiring people.
“It’s crystal clear, and it’s simple,” he said in his speech. “If you create jobs in Tennessee, we’ll give you a tax break. We have to look after our own.”
McWherter referred to the large economic boosts the state has received in recent years, such as the new Volkswagen plant, bringing in investments of up to $1 billion.
“It’s good to get international companies to locate here in Tennessee and put Tennesseans to work and we need to do more of that,” he said. “But we must make sure Tennessee-based businesses are the ones growing and supplying these major industries.
“It’s not enough for a Tennessean to be unloading a truck full of supplies at a factory gate. Those suppliers need to be Tennessee-based businesses, and those need to be Tennessee jobs.”
Following the speech, McWherter pointed to the stark contrast between when times are good economically and when they’re not in the state, and he used that to make the case for a tax break.
“Three years ago, we had pretty much full employment here in the state,” he said. “At that time, our revenue was so large, the legislature appropriated monies for all the state representatives and state senators to take back to their districts. We were running that kind of surplus.
“I don’t mean to say giving away, but providing help for local fire stations and places like that. If we get people back to work, we will have revenue to sustain that kind of tax break.”
McWherter said he did not have a timetable for when his own television ads might appear.
“I have not got a plan for putting ads on TV yet,” he said. “I imagine I will probably go on air certainly the week after the primary, once we know who the Republican nominee is. But I might go on before then, just depending on what our strategy is.”
McWherter was speaking one day after his last remaining primary opponent, Kim McMillan, dropped out of the race. McMillan announced on Wednesday that instead of continuing her bid for governor she would run for mayor of Clarksville instead.
McWherter had been considered the Democratic front-runner by many observers almost since he said he was in the race. Gradually, candidates in what once was a crowded field began to drop out. Nashville businessman Ward Cammack, then state Sen. Roy Herron, then state Sen. Jim Kyle all left the race, and McMillan’s departure Wednesday put McWherter in position to focus solely on the Republican field. The general election, when nominees from the Republican and Democratic parties square off, is Nov. 2.
The Republican field includes Knoxville Mayor Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Blountville and Congressman Zach Wamp of Chattanooga.