The two major candidates for Tennessee governor will face off for the first time tonight at a debate tailored to rural and suburban voters.
But it’s unclear whether either will reveal specific details about their public policies, or stay with general themes like they’ve for the most part done thus far in the campaign.
With seven weeks to go before the Nov. 2 election day, neither Republican Bill Haslam nor Democrat Mike McWherter has shed much light on what programs they would cut next year to balance the state’s $13 billion budget — nor have they offered specific details on what programs they would create and how they would work.
Haslam and McWherter will face about an hour’s worth of questions on topics ranging from economic development, health, education and small businesses issues from a rural and suburban standpoint, according to a spokeswoman from the Highlands Debate 2010 at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville. Questions will come from a moderator, attendees in the audience and from viewers on YouTube.
The candidates will also get to direct inquiries at each other.
The debate is a production of the university, League of Women Voters of Tennessee and Nashville’s WTVF News Channel 5. It’ll be broadcast live statewide by CBS affiliates statewide at 7 p.m. Central Standard Time.
Voters will likely get to hear more from Haslam about his data-driven “dashboard” plan to track the state’s progress on five issues ranging from job and economic development, fiscal strength and education and workforce development to safety and public health. The plan includes using data to track the state performance on major issues such as the state’s unemployment rate or the number of diabetes cases and holding commissioners responsible for the outcomes.
But when asked by reporters Monday why he left out the details about how he’d measure improvement in those areas — or what benchmarks his administration would aim to reach — he said it was too early to get too specific.
“I’ve just said here’s the five things we’re going to focus on, here’s things we think it’s fair to measure us on and here’s some very specific items within each one of those five things that we’re welcoming accountability on,” said Haslam.
It’s premature to say exactly how much he expects those efforts will translate into improvements throughout the state because he and his staff don’t yet occupy the governor’s office, he continued
“What I’m not ready to tell you right now is X percent is going to be an acceptable target because the team that develops that has to be a part of buying into that goal,” he said.
Likewise, McWherter also has for the most part avoided delving into policy minutia, or the nuts and bolts of how he’d keep state government living within its means. His website says simply that he’ll promote fiscal responsibility if elected — along with cutting taxes for businesses that hire new employees.