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Wamp Scoffs at McWherter’s Tax-Break Vow

Republican gubernatorial candidate Zach Wamp said Tuesday Democrat Mike McWherter’s pledge to give tax breaks to businesses that create jobs is an example of an “empty campaign promise” that can’t be met.

He likens such an idea to the strategies coming out of Washington from President Obama.

Wamp, in Montgomery County as part of several campaign stops Tuesday in Middle Tennessee, also said he has enough money to compete with Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam for the Republican nomination. He said he will begin his own television campaign advertising soon and described the request for an ethics investigation into his living quarters in Washington as “bogus.”

Wamp, the 3rd District U.S. representative from Chattanooga, pointed out that the state is looking at a budget deficit of over $1 billion.

“I think we all have to be careful that we’re not just throwing out political promises you can’t meet once you’re governor, because tax breaks right now in Tennessee are going to be really hard to come by until we fill up this $1-billion-plus budget hole,” Wamp said. “And that’s responsible, honest talk.

“Anyone who’s talking about tax breaks as soon as they become governor right now is just trying to throw out some empty campaign promise, in my opinion. Right now, we’ve got to reform the way state government does business, we’ve got to right-size state government. Frankly, if the Democratic nominee’s incentives for economic development mirror President Obama’s, no thanks.”

McWherter last week, in his speech formally announcing his candidacy, said he would give tax breaks to businesses who hire Tennessee workers. McWherter also called into question Haslam’s honesty in his campaign ads that said Haslam helped create 11,000 jobs.

None of the three major Republican nominees — Wamp, Haslam or Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey — has advocated tax breaks in the campaign.

“The government largess and the government make-jobs by the Democrats in power today in this country haven’t worked, and there’s not a whole lot of state incentives you can offer in the state budget unlike the federal budget for small business investment,” Wamp said.

Kim Sasser Hayden, McWherter’s campaign manager, said in an e-mail response, “Zach Wamp’s spent way too long in Washington, and he’s busy finding excuses how not to get things done.”

“Zach is right about one thing: It will be difficult to get things done if his views prevail,” she added.

Wamp reported campaign fund-raising figures this week that put him over $3 million in total contributions, but that was far short of the figure Haslam’s campaign put out that said Haslam has now topped $7 million in funds.

“He could spend $50 million if he wants to,” Wamp said of the wealthy Haslam. “So you really can’t worry about what their top number is. What you do is raise the amount you need to communicate with 500,000 people.”

Wamp reflected on some of Haslam’s own words to make his point.

“There’s some science to this,” Wamp said. “He said himself a year ago you could run a successful campaign for governor with $5 million, and I agree with what he said a year ago, because that’s about what I’m going to do. If you’re a good candidate, $5 million is all it takes. If you’re not a good candidate, who knows? It may take $15 million.”

Wamp, who noted that on Thursday there will be only 100 days before early voting starts, said he would be airing television ads “very soon.”

“That’s all I’m going to say,” he replied about the timing. “With 100 days to early voting, you’re getting into a window where people are paying attention and therefore paid communication becomes essential, and we’re not very far at all away from paid communication.

“Frankly, I’m really excited about that, because I have won the ground game in this campaign for 15 months. Now that I get to go up on air very soon, this is going to be a very successful campaign down the stretch.”

Wamp also has issues to address in Washington, however. A watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has filed complaints with the Senate Ethics Committee and the House Office of Congressional Ethics against Wamp and other members of Congress who live or who have resided in a building known as C Street House. The group claims congressional members who stay in the house are paying below-market rates in violation of rules regarding gifts for members.

“It’s a totally bogus claim,” Wamp said Tuesday. “To allege we’re not paying market value is simply not analyzing the market.”

He said CREW’s request for an investigation is just that.

“This was just an outside group filing the complaint,” he said. “Unless and until that committee takes it up, it’s not in any way an investigation. It’s just been filed, so I don’t know if they will or what they will do to take it up, to be honest with you. It is the most ridiculous allegation and claim that I have seen. I have lived there for 14 years. Isn’t it interesting that this just now comes up?

“Over 50 members of Congress live in their offices for free, subsidized by the taxpayer,” Wamp said. “Over 50.”

CREW says House and Senate gift rules prohibit what’s being done.

“Unless they’re going to do an evaluation of all 535 members — and it will be a wide range, from the freebies in the House gym to multi-multi-millionaires — you can’t just pick a few and file an investigation,” Wamp said. “I don’t see how you just pick a few and say we’re going to look at them but not everybody. They need to look at everybody if they’re going to look at one.”

Beavers Wants to Retain Senate Seat

Sen. Mae Beavers announced Thursday that she was dropping out of the Wilson County mayor’s race and would run for reelection to her senate seat — a spot her hometown rival, Rep. Susan Lynn, has already been campaigning for.

Beavers and Lynn have a lot in common. The two are both Republicans from Mt. Juliet, share similar views on state sovereignty and word around the Capitol is that the two aren’t particularly fond of one other.

Beavers said she decided to run for reelection because she was “pumped up” about the possibility that Republicans could control the legislature and the governor’s office. She added that she felt that her work in the Senate and on the Judiciary Committee wasn’t finished.

Lynn began campaigning for the Senate seat nine months ago, shortly after Beavers said she was pursuing the the job of Wilson County mayor. Lynn said she would have run for reelection to her own House seat if Beavers had said in the beginning she wanted to stay in the senate.

Lynn wouldn’t confirm whether she would stay in the race or drop out, only saying “I filed to run” for the seat.

Lynn, and any other candidate contemplating a run for office, have until the April 1 filing deadline.

Andrea Zelinski can be reached at andreazelinski@tnreport.com.

Ramsey’s Balancing Act Takes Up Two Stages

When you’re the Speaker of the Senate, it’s not like you can skip out on your job for a day and nobody’s going to notice.

It doesn’t take long to see that Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s legislative role is both an advantage and a disadvantage in running for governor when the General Assembly is in session.

Tasked with conducting the Tennessee Senate’s daily political business to the general satisfaction of his legislative colleagues, the press and the public, the Blountville Republican must also invest the energy necessary to get his name and message out where the likely GOP primary voters are.

Foremost in juggling the facets of his self-imposed predicament, Ramsey said he’s trying to “make sure I don’t miss any sessions.”

“I’m in Nashville Monday afternoons, Wednesday mornings and Thursday mornings. But I am traveling here in Middle Tennessee some on Tuesdays and obviously on the weekends,” he said recently.

Ramsey is in the thick of the Republican primary for governor, where the main opposition is Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga and Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons. Under no circumstances does Ramsey want to be away from the Capitol when key legislation he could be charged with implementing and executing as governor comes up on the Senate agenda.

“It’s tying me down some because I want to be doing the people’s business,” Ramsey said. “I want to make sure we’re balancing the budget without raising taxes. We’re going to do that. It’s still pretty well flexible where I can get out in the collar counties around Davidson County.”

Fortunately for Ramsey, though, he really doesn’t have to go far from the Capitol to locate some prime vote-hunting grounds. This year the “collar counties” surrounding Nashville — most notably Sumner County, Rutherford County and Williamson County — are the central battleground in the four-man Republican field for governor, primarily because none of the candidates are originally from Middle Tennessee.

The political landscape wasn’t always that way. In recent years, the growth of population in the collar counties surrounding Nashville has been significant, and it has especially been so for the Republican Party.

“When I became caucus chairman of the Republicans, Republicans had one of the six state Senate districts around Davidson County. We now have five of the six,” Ramsey said. “That just shows you the trend that’s going on, especially in the Republican primary.”

The situation might even be considered a geographic advantage for Ramsey, who among all the candidates is in some ways closest to “home” in Nashville. Gibbons and Haslam have to work Middle Tennessee from opposite ends of the state.

Wamp has to spend a lot of his time working in Washington, D.C. Not only is the nation’s capital one of the last places rank-and-file Tennessee Republicans are likely looking today for political leadership on issues of state concern, it’s many more miles away from Nashville even than Sullivan County.

None of this is unusual, though: It’s an election year, which means all public officials who are running for new jobs are in a constant state of juggling responsibilities. And it’s one reason state legislators are hopeful the session won’t last too long, since they want to be on the campaign trail.

Another factor for members of the General Assembly is that they may not raise money for their state campaigns while in session, which puts Ramsey at a disadvantage alongside state Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, who was the last of the current Democratic gubernatorial field to announce his candidacy.

Just as being lieutenant governor can boost the visibility of Ramsey working on state business, Kyle can make a similar claim. Kyle was quite visible as a workhorse on education reform in the special session called earlier this year by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen. Actively handling important legislation can be as important as making campaign stump speeches.

Other Democratic gubernatorial candidates are Mike McWherter, a Jackson businessman, and Kim McMillan, a former House majority leader.

One drawback to being in the legislature is the law that prohibits legislators from raising funds during the session. As long as lawmakers are at work, they must refrain from accepting campaign donations, at least until after May 15. The prohibition does not apply to opponents who aren’t in the General Assembly.

Lawmakers who are running for federal office, however, may raise money during that time, which applies to state Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, and Sen. Diane Black, R-Gallatin. Herron is running for the retiring U.S. Rep. John Tanner’s seat in the 8th District, while Tracy and Black are both among candidates for the 6th District seat being vacated by Democratic U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon.

But just as important to remember is that in an election year, it’s not exactly everyone for themselves. A lot of networking goes on, which means candidates help other candidates. Such an example could be found last Wednesday night when Ramsey appeared at a gathering for Dustin Dunbar, who is running for Williamson County commissioner in Spring Hill.

“He and I are good friends. We’ve worked together on several projects in the past,” Dunbar said. “I told him I’d be running for county commission here in Williamson County, and I would definitely appreciate his support. By having the support of those state-level leaders it’s definitely beneficial for somebody on the county level to have some cooperation from people on the state level, because there is so much interaction we have.

“I would say he supports me in my efforts, and I support him in his efforts.”

As if to prove the point of all the interaction, Spring Hill Mayor Michael Dinwiddie addressed the crowd at the Spring Hill event and said he would introduce all the politicians in attendance but it might take an hour, so he called for applause for anybody running for office or currently serving. Dinwiddie introduced Ramsey, and the lieutenant governor introduced Dunbar to the crowd.

“Obviously, if I’m standing in front of a crowd I always want to remind people I’m running for governor,” Ramsey told the group. “I want to just bring that up.”

Courts Could Decide Disputed Primary Election Results

Lawmakers are working toward an agreement on legislation that would change the way contested primary elections are handled in the state.

Currently, the political party’s state executive committee decides disputed elections, although their decision can be appealed to the court system.

Under HB3019, sponsored by Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, a candidate who wants to challenge a primary election result would file an appeal with the Tennessee Secretary of State, who’d then appoint an administrative law judge to hear the grievance.

The bill was scheduled for a vote before the House Elections Subcommittee this week, but was delayed after two representatives raised objections about the current draft.

Rep. Gary Moore, D-Joelton, wants language inserted that requires the secretary of state to act in a timely manner when a challenge is filed. “What I can see potentially happening here is (after someone files an appeal)…the secretary of state not doing anything with it until six months later,” said Moore.

Another subcommittee member said the bill should also outline a balanced and consistent decision-making framework to aid judges hearing contested primaries. “The judge is going to need some standards with which to measure the challenge,” said Rep. Harry Tindell, D-Knoxville. “Do we want it to be the party’s bylaws, or do we want some other objective standards to be in there?”

DeBerry’s bill is an attempt to address concerns raised after the 2008 Democratic primary for the District 22 state Senate seat, which represents Cheatham, Houston, and Montgomery counties.

Then-Sen. Rosalind Kurita, of Clarksville, faced a primary challenge from Tim Barnes after Kurita, a Democrat, cast the deciding vote to make a Republican, Ron Ramsey, speaker of the Senate.

Just shy of 10,000 votes were cast in the primary; Kurita won by just 19.

Barnes contested the election, and the state Democratic Executive Committee declared Barnes the winner of the election.

Some Democrats said they had evidence a significant number of Republicans voted in their primary to sway the election for Kurita as payoff for supporting Ramsey. Others said angry partisans on the party executive committee were the ones engaging in political payback — that their decision was comeuppance for Kurita straying from the party line.

Kurita appealed to the courts, but she found no relief there.

“I didn’t really agree with that (executive committee) decision,” Tindall said at the subcommittee meeting Tuesday. “I was a little skeptical of the idea that the party could overturn the decision of the voters of that district.”

DeBerry said his bill is aimed at preventing a similar situation from happening in the future.

The bill, DeBerry said, would not go so far as to ask a judge to determine the true party affiliation of voters in a primary, but it would attempt to remove extreme partisanship from determining contested primary elections.

The bill doesn’t differentiate between “who is, and who is not, a Democrat, who is a Republican, an Independent, Green Party, or whatever.” Rather, it seeks to prevent the will of the public from being overturned unless a judge finds a legal reason for the candidate to be disqualified, DeBerry said.

“We can’t just say, ‘We don’t like you, we think you’re not a good enough Democrat or a good enough Republican, therefore we’re going to declare the loser the winner,” he continued. “That’s what we need to get at.”