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Haslam Wants A Statewide Jobs Clearinghouse Online

Press Release from Bill Haslam for Governor, April 8, 2010:

Will Provide Access to Critical and Timely Information for Stakeholders Across the State

FRIENDSVILLE – Republican gubernatorial candidate and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam announced today plans to develop an online jobs clearinghouse that will pull together existing market data in a user-friendly way so that every jobseeker, employer, community official, higher education institution, and economic development organization has access to timely and accurate information on the current and future economic landscape of Tennessee.

As governor, Mayor Haslam will lead the creation of a system that will allow users to easily access tailored information on each community and region’s industry strengths and educational attainment levels, projected workforce needs, and the training and education required for high demand career fields as well as information on how it can quickly be obtained.

“Tennessee is still suffering from nearly 11 percent unemployment,” Haslam said. “Lots of people are looking for work, but the question is, ‘How can we aid in that process? How can we help people make informed decisions about what careers to pursue, what businesses to start, what training to offer?’”

This one-stop shop will serve both a short-term and long-term purpose. It will help the thousands of Tennesseans who have recently lost their jobs quickly rejoin the workforce, but it will also help communities, entrepreneurs, and postsecondary institutions make informed decisions about future economic development.

“The focus of my campaign, and my top priority from the moment I enter office, will be to make Tennessee the #1 state in the Southeast for high quality jobs. The first objective will be to get Tennesseans back to work immediately,” Haslam continued. “Getting people timely information on economic trends, projected workforce needs, the jobs of the future and how to obtain them – I think that’s a great start.”

Mayor Haslam recently concluded a three-week, statewide Jobs Tour and transitioned this week into a focus on workforce development. Today he is spending time in Blount, Bradley, and Loudon counties, including visits related to workforce development at Cleveland State Community College and the new Blount County campus of Pellissippi State Community College. The Mayor’s schedule for the rest of the week can be found below.

Bill Haslam is the two-term Mayor of Knoxville, re-elected in 2007 with 87% of the vote. A hardworking, conservative public servant, he led Knoxville to become one of the top ten metropolitan areas for business and expansion, while reducing the city’s debt, tripling the rainy day fund, and bringing property taxes to the lowest rate in 50 years. An executive leader with a proven record of success, he helped grow his family’s small business from 800 employees into one of Tennessee’s largest companies with 14,000 employees. His combination of executive and public service experience makes him uniquely qualified to be Tennessee’s next Governor. Haslam is the right person at the right time to lead Tennessee.

Bill and Crissy Haslam have two daughters, Annie and Leigh, and a son, Will, who resides in Knoxville with his wife, Hannah.

For more information on Bill Haslam please visit www.BillHaslam.com.

Ramsey Impressed with Cover Tennessee

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, wants to expand Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen’s Cover Tennessee health care insurance program, he said this week.

Ramsey, a GOP primary candidate for governor, views the fledgling program as an example of the kind of health care reform needed — a policy that encourages personal responsibility, shares buy-in and, if managed properly, is sustainable over the long term.

“I think it’s a way we could actually solve the problem here in Tennessee,” Ramsey said of Cover Tennessee, which was launched in 2007 as a way to provide a reasonable amount of coverage for workers in small businesses, the self-employed and for people unable to find affordable coverage elsewhere.

“I know the governor had intentions of expanding it, but we have to face fiscal reality in Tennessee, too,” he added. “We can’t be like the federal government and print money. We have to actually pay for things.

“So I would like to see what’s working in that program and expand it, because small businesses are the ones that need health care insurance, and Cover Tennessee could at least be part of that solution,” he continued.

Cover Tennessee was created as a way to offer limited-benefits coverage to the working uninsured. It was never portrayed as a large-scale answer on health-care reform, thus its modest beginning.

The fundamental concept in the program is that the premiums are split three ways, with an employer covering one-third of the premium, the employee covering one-third and the state covering one-third. If an employer did not choose to participate, the employee could pay two thirds of the premium.

The program includes CoverTN for uninsured workers; CoverKids which is free comprehensive coverage for children; AccessTN for those who can’t find insurance due to pre-existing conditions; and CoverRx for providing affordable drug coverage.

CoverTN was forced to suspend new enrollment after Dec. 31, 2009 in order to keep the program manageable. CoverKids also suspended new enrollment late last year but has since reopened enrollment, beginning March 1. Budget factors were cited as the reason for the enrollment suspensions, which was seen as both regrettable for limiting the rolls but also a sign that the program is working and has had a good satisfaction record.

Ramsey said, on his watch, the program would not drift away as some sort of experiment by the Bredesen administration.

“That’s a model I like actually, to allow some minimum coverage to where people can at least have coverage and pay part of it.” he said. “That’s exactly the kind of program I think works as opposed to what the federal government is trying to do, which is to completely take over health care, one-sixth of our economy.”

Ramsey’s support for the program seems to be exceeded only by his disdain for the kind of health-care changes being discussed in Washington. In fact, he sounds downright angry about the direction the national health-care debate has taken.

“I tell you, it has come down to this: I don’t think Washington really cares what passes. They just want something to pass,” Ramsey said. “That’s been obvious to me over the last month or two. I guarantee you there’s hardly a congressman or senator who could tell you what’s in that bill, even the ones who are for it. I don’t think the president could tell you what’s in that bill.

“They will mold it. They will squeeze it. They will make it whatever they can just so they can have a photo-op and stand in front of some flags with senators and congressmen saying, ‘We passed health reform,’ even though it does not solve the problem. That’s what bothers me. That’s no way to enact public policy.”

Ramsey said he ultimately would prefer it if Washington allow states to work out health care problems on their own.

“I’d tell them to leave us alone and don’t force us to expand our Medicaid rolls, when they can operate on borrowed money and we can’t,” Ramsey said. “In Tennessee, in general, we’ve had to make some very tough decisions in the last few years, to remove 140,000 from the rolls.

“We’ve gotten from where it was 38 percent of the state budget and now 26 percent of the state budget, and I’d just tell them to flat-out leave us alone, let us work on this problem as states should, as laboratories, and don’t tell us how to fix it.”

He sees a program like Cover Tennessee as something that could grow.

“We’re working on some solutions a little bit at a time in Tennessee, with Cover Tennessee, that will allow small businesses to buy into it,” Ramsey said. “That’s a program that should be advertised a little more than it is right now, because I think most people don’t know about it.”

Ramsey does endorse a reform concept that’s often been discussed in Washington as a significant policy shift generally more acceptable to opponents of a public-option plan.

“If the federal government could do anything to help us, it would be to allow insurance companies to compete across state lines,” he said. “Right now you can buy your car insurance across state lines. You see what the Geicos of the world and the Nationwides of the world are doing, advertising those lower rates. Competition works.

“You can buy fire insurance across state lines. Why shouldn’t you be able to buy health insurance across state lines? I think competition in the free-market system would help drive down health insurance costs.”

Haslam Sticking to His Guns on Pilot Financial Disclosures

Bill Haslam doesn’t sound like a man who’s going to change his mind and disclose his income from Pilot Corp., the Haslam family business.

“We’re going to spend as much time as we can on who we are and why we think folks should vote for Bill Haslam for governor,” Haslam said this week.

Haslam’s Republican opponents in the governor’s race have blistered the Knoxville mayor for not reporting income from Pilot, citing potential conflicts of interest for Haslam should he become governor.

Pilot Corp., which grew from one gas station to a large chain of Pilot Travel Centers on roadways, is established as a “Subchapter S” corporation under the federal tax code. That status means gains and losses are reported on shareholders’ individual tax returns. Haslam says disclosure of his financial interest in Pilot would mean disclosing personal income of family members, which he does not want to do.

“I don’t know what it adds to the discussion,” Haslam said. “I have other family members I care greatly about that you’re already subjecting to a lot when I run, and this opens them up to a lot of things that they didn’t ask for.”

Haslam, suggesting the ownership of Pilot is obvious to the public, said he doesn’t know what divulging the income would add.

“I don’t know what the voter gains,” he said, explaining that he doesn’t hear questions about his income from voters. “I’m out talking to people all the time. I never hear that. I hear lots of conversations about jobs and education. I hear people concerned about the budget, people concerned about the direction of the country. Nobody ever asks me about that (financial disclosure), except the other candidates.”

The issue arose in December when the state’s four major newspapers, in a collaborative arrangement known as the Tennessee Newspaper Network, asked all 2010 gubernatorial candidates to provide information on their finances.

Candidates were asked in November to provide their federal income tax returns and related schedules for 2006-2008. Haslam reported money earned on investments that averaged $4.75 million a year from 2003-2008, but the submission did not include data on Pilot. Haslam’s submission on investments outside Pilot was extensive.

A copy of a letter dated Nov. 25, 2009 from the Steiner & Ellis accounting firm, addressed to Knoxville News-Sentinel reporter Tom Humphrey, who wrote the income story for the Tennessee Newspaper Network, states, “If elected, all of Bill’s and Crissy’s assets, except Pilot, will be placed in a blind trust.”

Crissy is Bill Haslam’s wife. The Haslam family, headed by James Haslam Jr., the candidate’s father and founder of Pilot Corp., is one of the most influential in the state in terms of wealth, philanthropy and political involvement.

Bill Haslam is considered by many to be the frontrunner in the Republican primary to become governor, and he has collected more than $5.7 million in campaign contributions, which tops the field of four major Republican candidates and three Democrats.

Haslam has already launched a statewide television ad campaign, making him the first to do so.

“We want to do everything we can to answer every question we can,” Haslam said. “Like everything else, you try to say, ‘What do people care about, and what do people need to know if I’m going to be governor?’ Because of that, we’re releasing more than anybody who’s run in this race has released when they ran in prior races and more than is required by law and shows everything we own, I own, and every source of income I think tells people everything they need to know about where I have investments and where I might have potential conflict.”

Haslam says his interest in Pilot isn’t hidden.

“Everybody knows my relationship to Pilot,” he said. “That’s not a secret.”

One of Haslam’s Republican opponents, Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, insists Haslam has a conflict of interest, for example, when the potential for a new highway interchange is considered. U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, another Republican opponent, has said Haslam has numerous conflicts since Pilot sells regulated items such as tobacco, alcohol and lottery tickets.

“On road projects or anything else, if you own any asset and you’re the governor, that same question could be asked,” Haslam said. “The governor oversees and regulates things from all sorts of businesses, from farming to any other kind of commercial interest, and if you own any investments, you could say, ‘Gosh, you shouldn’t be governor.’ I don’t think we want to only have people in government who don’t own any assets.”

Haslam said it is not as though it is a hypothetical issue, given his current office.

“This isn’t a theoretical conversation. I’ve been an active mayor for six and a half years, so there is a track record on all these questions that are being asked,” he said. “I’m more than willing for people to come look at Knoxville and say, ‘All these things we’re concerned about, what’s happening in Knoxville? Would he do this or do that?’ Come check.”

He poses the question of whether the issue means you could only have a governor with no private sector involvement.

“If you say, ‘Only if you have been in government service all your life can you be governor,’ I don’t think people want to put anyone who owns assets on the sidelines like that,” he said. “On roads, the reality is, anytime you add a road, if you have an existing network of gas stations or truck stops, it could easily hurt as much as help. Road investments, like everything else we do as a state, if I’m governor, will be driven by: How can we make Tennessee the best location in the Southeast for jobs?”

Haslam said questions about such issues are being asked more of him than any other candidate in the campaign.

Economists Talk, Haslam Listens

Bill Haslam went to school Wednesday, listening to analysis from economics professors at Middle Tennessee State University.

What he learned wasn’t cheerful. The economy — and the state budget — are in for some challenging times. There will be improvement, he was told, but better days are not likely to come quickly.

Haslam, mayor of Knoxville and Republican candidate for governor, met on the Murfreesboro campus with university President Sidney McPhee, economists and other community leaders.

Haslam began the meeting by saying he was there to learn. He asked questions, and he took notes.

He told the group that when running for governor you do three things. You raise money, you try to sell yourself to the voters, and the part that gets crowded out is learning.

Haslam did offer his own opinion about the economic picture, however. “The economy will come back,” he said. “There are more learned minds than mine here, but in my own view it’s going to be awhile before it comes back.”

Haslam heard a lot. Albert DePrince, professor of financial economics, forecast a 1 percent revenue growth for the next year, but he said he tends to forecast lower than others might because it’s easier to adjust to circumstances when figures are higher than expectations rather than lower. DePrince said he believed the economy will turn a corner or at least flatten out this spring.

“But there is a big headwind out there,” DePrince said.

McPhee said times have changed for a college president.

“Ten years ago, when I came to this job, if anyone had told me I need to understand the economics of our society, I would have said you’re looking at the wrong person,” McPhee said. “But we have moved from the president being an academic to managing a major operation, and what happens in the economy impacts what goes on on our campus.”

McPhee noted that in eight of his 10 years as president, MTSU has had budget cuts.

“If someone thinks there are places to cut fat, I promise you we’re at the marrow,” McPhee said.

William Ford, professor and holder of the Weatherford Chair of Finance at the school, urged Haslam if he becomes governor to look at universities’ success ratio in terms of per-pupil cost and outcome. He promoted strides at MTSU on that count.

“I’m not trying to talk you into going around beating up on the University of Tennessee, but we are saying in higher education look at the per-pupil cost for what’s coming out,” Ford said. “We turn out more well-qualified people than Tennessee State University and the University of Memphis and particularly some others. I honestly believe we are the most efficient.”

The group addressed the need to match what schools offer to the kind of training workers will need in a recovery. The conversation also touched on the housing market in the community.

After the meeting, Haslam was asked what he thought of the discussion.

“I think it’s a realistic appraisal of our economy and the challenges facing the state,” he said. “When I started running, I knew the state faced serious challenges, and the problems are deeper than any of us thought a year ago, in terms of both the state’s budget and the job challenge.”

There’s a need to be patient, he said.

“I do think the economy is going to come back, but I don’t think it’s going to come rushing back in terms that are going to save the state’s budget situation or make it easy to come back in the job market,” he said.

“When this job market comes back, unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to be where all boats rise at the same time,” he added. “I think it’s going to be a much more differentiating economy, where those people who have better training or education are going to feel the economy come back first, and for others it will be a lot harder.”

As for Ford’s plug for MTSU’s efficiency compared to other schools, Haslam said, “Everywhere you go as a candidate for governor, everyone is proud of their institution, and they want to make certain their institution gets their share. I don’t know that that’s a bad thing.”

He was asked if he gets to do as much listening as he would like.

“No. As a candidate, you’d love to spend the majority of your time learning,” he said. “That’s the important thing that gets crowded out.”

Haslam, whose wife, Crissy, was with him throughout the day, spent much of the afternoon knocking on doors in a Rutherford County neighborhood. Several people who answered immediately said they recognized him from television. Sometimes residents told Haslam he had their votes. When a woman said she would “put you on my list” to be considered, he said, “Just remember who came and knocked on your door.”

Haslam had lunch Wednesday at the City Cafe in Murfreesboro, a popular spot for political candidates. Among the people he met as he made the rounds shaking hands was a Democrat, Bob Kolarich, a Nashville attorney with the firm Price, Hill, Kolarich.

“I was speaking with a fellow Democrat, and we were talking about which of the gubernatorial candidates we should contribute to,” Kolarich said after meeting Haslam. “My friend said, ‘Let’s face it. It’s going to be a Republican year, and the best man in the field is Mr. Haslam out of Knoxville. So give your money to him.'”

So Kolarich was asked if he will follow through.

“I haven’t decided yet,” he said.

Bill Haslam went to school Wednesday, listening to analysis from economics professors at Middle Tennessee State University.


What Haslam learned wasn’t cheerful. The economy — and the state budget — are in for some challenging times. There will be improvement, he was told, but better days are not likely to come quickly.


Haslam, mayor of Knoxville and Republican candidate for governor, met on the Murfreesboro campus with university President Sidney McPhee, economists and other community leaders.


Haslam began the meeting by saying he was there to learn. He asked questions, and he took notes.

He told the group that when running for governor you do three things. You raise money, you try to sell yourself to the voters, and the part that gets crowded out is learning.


Haslam did offer his own opinion about the economic picture, however. “The economy will come back,” he said. “There are more learned minds than mine here, but in my own view it’s going to be awhile before it comes back.”


Haslam heard a lot. Albert DePrince, professor of financial economics, forecast a 1 percent revenue growth for the next year, but he said he tends to forecast lower than others might because it’s easier to adjust to circumstances when figures are higher than expectations rather than lower. DePrince said he believed the economy will turn a corner this spring or at least flatten out this spring.


“But there is a big headwind out there,” DePrince said.


McPhee said times have changed for a college president.


“Ten years ago, when I came to this job, if anyone had told me I need to understand the economics of our society, I would have said you’re looking at the wrong person,” McPhee said. “But we have moved from the president being an academic to managing a major operation, and what happens in the economy impacts what goes on on our campus.”


McPhee noted that in eight of his 10 years as president, MTSU has had budget cuts.


“If someone thinks there are places to cut fat, I promise you we’re at the marrow,” McPhee said.


William Ford, professor and holder of the Weatherford Chair of Finance at the school, urged Haslam if he becomes governor to look at universities’ success ratio in terms of per-pupil cost and outcome. He promoted strides at MTSU on that count.


“I’m not trying to talk you into going around beating up on the University of Tennessee, but we are saying in higher education look at the per-pupil cost for what’s coming out,” Ford said. “We turn out more well-qualified people than Tennessee State University and the University of Memphis and particularly some others. I honestly believe we are the most efficient.”


The group addressed the need to match what schools offer to the kind of training workers will need in a recovery. The conversation also covered the housing market in the community, and Steve Flatt, president of National Healthcare Corporation, which operates nursing homes, told Haslam 55 percent of the 4,000 patients his company cares for are covered by TennCare, the state’s troubled Medicaid program, so it’s increasingly difficult.


After the meeting, Haslam was asked what he thought of the discussion.


“I think it’s a realistic appraisal of our economy and the challenges facing the state,” he said. “When I started running, I knew the state faced serious challenges, and the problems are deeper than any of us thought a year ago, in terms of both the state’s budget and the job challenge.”


He voiced a need to be patient.


“I do think the economy is going to come back, but I don’t think it’s going to come rushing back in terms that are going to save the state’s budget situation or make it easy to come back in the job market,” he said. “When this job market comes back, unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to be where all boats rise at the same time. I think it’s going to be a much more differentiating economy, where those people who have better training or education are going to feel the economy come back first, and for others it will be a lot harder.”


As for Ford’s plug for MTSU’s efficiency compared to other schools, Haslam said, “Everywhere you go as a candidate for governor, everyone is proud of their institution, and they want to make certain their institution gets their share. I don’t know that that’s a bad thing.”


He was asked if he gets to do as much listening as he would like.


“No. As a candidate, you’d love to spend the majority of your time learning,” he said. “That’s the important thing that gets crowded out.”

Haslam, whose wife Crissy was with him throughout the day, spent much of the afternoon knocking on doors in a Rutherford County neighborhood. Several people who answered immediately said they recognized him from television. Sometimes residents told Haslam he had their votes. When a woman said she would “put you on my list” to be considered, he said, “Just remember who came and knocked on your door.”


Haslam had lunch Wednesday at the City Cafe in Murfreesboro, a popular spot for political candidates. Among the people he met as he made the rounds shaking hands was a Democrat, Bob Kolarich, a Nashville attorney with the firm Price, Hill, Kolarich.


“I was speaking with a fellow Democrat, and we were talking about which of the gubernatorial candidates we should contribute to,” Kolarich said after meeting Haslam. “My friend said, ‘Let’s face it. It’s going to be a Republican year, and the best man in the field is Mr. Haslam out of Knoxville. So give your money to him.'”


So Kolarich was asked if he will follow through.


“I haven’t decided yet,” he said.

Bill Haslam went to school Wednesday, listening to analysis from economics professors at Middle Tennessee State University.

What Haslam learned wasn’t cheerful. The economy — and the state budget — are in for some challenging times. There will be improvement, he was told, but better days are not likely to come quickly.

Haslam, mayor of Knoxville and Republican candidate for governor, met on the Murfreesboro campus with university President Sidney McPhee, economists and other community leaders.

Haslam began the meeting by saying he was there to learn. He asked questions, and he took notes.

He told the group that when running for governor you do three things. You raise money, you try to sell yourself to the voters, and the part that gets crowded out is learning.

Haslam did offer his own opinion about the economic picture, however. “The economy will come back,” he said. “There are more learned minds than mine here, but in my own view it’s going to be awhile before it comes back.”

Haslam heard a lot. Albert DePrince, professor of financial economics, forecast a 1 percent revenue growth for the next year, but he said he tends to forecast lower than others might because it’s easier to adjust to circumstances when figures are higher than expectations rather than lower. DePrince said he believed the economy will turn a corner this spring or at least flatten out this spring.

“But there is a big headwind out there,” DePrince said.

McPhee said times have changed for a college president.

“Ten years ago, when I came to this job, if anyone had told me I need to understand the economics of our society, I would have said you’re looking at the wrong person,” McPhee said. “But we have moved from the president being an academic to managing a major operation, and what happens in the economy impacts what goes on on our campus.”

McPhee noted that in eight of his 10 years as president, MTSU has had budget cuts.

“If someone thinks there are places to cut fat, I promise you we’re at the marrow,” McPhee said.

William Ford, professor and holder of the Weatherford Chair of Finance at the school, urged Haslam if he becomes governor to look at universities’ success ratio in terms of per-pupil cost and outcome. He promoted strides at MTSU on that count.

“I’m not trying to talk you into going around beating up on the University of Tennessee, but we are saying in higher education look at the per-pupil cost for what’s coming out,” Ford said. “We turn out more well-qualified people than Tennessee State University and the University of Memphis and particularly some others. I honestly believe we are the most efficient.”

The group addressed the need to match what schools offer to the kind of training workers will need in a recovery. The conversation also covered the housing market in the community, and Steve Flatt, president of National Healthcare Corporation, which operates nursing homes, told Haslam 55 percent of the 4,000 patients his company cares for are covered by TennCare, the state’s troubled Medicaid program, so it’s increasingly difficult.

After the meeting, Haslam was asked what he thought of the discussion.

“I think it’s a realistic appraisal of our economy and the challenges facing the state,” he said. “When I started running, I knew the state faced serious challenges, and the problems are deeper than any of us thought a year ago, in terms of both the state’s budget and the job challenge.”

He voiced a need to be patient.

“I do think the economy is going to come back, but I don’t think it’s going to come rushing back in terms that are going to save the state’s budget situation or make it easy to come back in the job market,” he said. “When this job market comes back, unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to be where all boats rise at the same time. I think it’s going to be a much more differentiating economy, where those people who have better training or education are going to feel the economy come back first, and for others it will be a lot harder.”

As for Ford’s plug for MTSU’s efficiency compared to other schools, Haslam said, “Everywhere you go as a candidate for governor, everyone is proud of their institution, and they want to make certain their institution gets their share. I don’t know that that’s a bad thing.”

He was asked if he gets to do as much listening as he would like.

“No. As a candidate, you’d love to spend the majority of your time learning,” he said. “That’s the important thing that gets crowded out.”

Haslam, whose wife Crissy was with him throughout the day, spent much of the afternoon knocking on doors in a Rutherford County neighborhood. Several people who answered immediately said they recognized him from television. Sometimes residents told Haslam he had their votes. When a woman said she would “put you on my list” to be considered, he said, “Just remember who came and knocked on your door.”

Haslam had lunch Wednesday at the City Cafe in Murfreesboro, a popular spot for political candidates. Among the people he met as he made the rounds shaking hands was a Democrat, Bob Kolarich, a Nashville attorney with the firm Price, Hill, Kolarich.

“I was speaking with a fellow Democrat, and we were talking about which of the gubernatorial candidates we should contribute to,” Kolarich said after meeting Haslam. “My friend said, ‘Let’s face it. It’s going to be a Republican year, and the best man in the field is Mr. Haslam out of Knoxville. So give your money to him.'”

So Kolarich was asked if he will follow through.

“I haven’t decided yet,” he said.

Wamp’s Got a Big Fan in Rich

Contrary to all appearances, country music star John Rich is not running for governor.

The singer/songwriter can be found at many events involving gubernatorial candidates, but he is there purely as a supporter, squarely in the camp of Republican Congressman Zach Wamp.

Whether hosting a fundraiser, attending a candidate forum such as last month’s event at Belmont University, or appearing at the very formal Old Supreme Court Chambers of the state Capitol, Rich stands out in a crowd in his cowboy hat and matching attire.

Wamp made note of “John Rich and his rowdy friends” in remarks to a largely supportive crowd at the Capitol when Wamp formally announced his candidacy last week in the Middle Tennessee portion of a statewide swing. It wasn’t the horn-honking kind of rowdiness the Capitol has seen in its day, but it’s fair to say the crowd in the room was a bit louder than most of the stately proceedings the room has seen historically.

While it might look like Wamp is dragging Rich around, using a celebrity to bolster the campaign, the fact is Rich put Wamp through a vigorous test to see if the congressman from Chattanooga was up to Rich’s expectations, not the other way around. Rich tested Wamp with what might be called his own political boot camp.

Wamp survived it.

Rich did some serious evaluating when he quizzed Wamp about his political beliefs.

The whole thing started from the friendship Rich had with another prominent Tennessee Republican, former Sen. Fred Thompson, and Thompson’s wife Jeri. Rich had performed at events for Thompson in the brief Thompson presidential campaign of 2008.

“The first person who ever told me about Zach was Jeri Thompson,” Rich said. “Jeri and Fred asked me what I knew about him. I said I knew his name but honestly I didn’t know a lot about him. In a little meeting with Zach, I asked him a bunch of really hard questions. He answered them all the way I wanted to hear them answered.”

He met with Wamp in Washington.

“One of the bigget issues for me was the Tenth Amendment.” Rich said. “I asked, ‘What are you going to do if the people in this White House try to pass unfunded mandates across Tennessee and across the country? Are you going to have enough backbone to tell them no thank you and take whatever lick it is they’re going to give you?'”

Rich said Wamp looked him dead in the eye and said, “Absolutely.”

“He said that was one of the biggest reasons he wanted to run for governor was to protect our states’ rights,” Rich said. “I was on board from that moment.”

Wamp is clearly the candidate who has embraced the music crowd in the current governor’s race.

There’s certainly nothing new about linking country music and politics. But while most of those relationships have involved support for presidential candidates — or in opposition of a president, the most famous case involving the Dixie Chicks — Wamp has managed to capitalize on impressive support from the Nashville music scene for the current governor’s race.

Wamp has events scheduled with Rich, the Oak Ridge Boys, Larry Gatlin, T.G. Sheppard and Christian music artist Michael W. Smith in the coming weeks. Rich and Smith are scheduled to hold events for Wamp in their homes. Rich has already hosted one.

Rich likes the intensity he sees in Wamp.

“If you’ve ever looked into that man’s eyes and spoken with him, he is not playing around,” Rich said. “It is not a game of politics to him. He is deadly serious, and that’s the kind of people we have to have if we’re going to survive the craziness we’re in right now.”

Rich even volunteered his own opinion about events in the campaign, including the early advertising blitz of Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, a foe in the Republican primary.

“Mayor Haslam running ads this early, more power to him,” Rich said. “I told Zach, ‘I wouldn’t let that bother you. You’re going to continue to go to the counties.’ That one-on-one contact when you see Zach Wamp, he speaks to you and looks in your eyes. You know he’s a great man and he’s a great leader for our state.”

It’s not always easy for entertainers to get involved in politics. There can be a price to pay, since you potentially lose half your audience anytime you pick a side.

The debacle over the Dixie Chicks and President George W. Bush, where lead singer Natalie Maines’ criticism of the president cost the music group immensely, might serve as a warning to an image-conscious  entertainer to think twice about getting too political in the public eye.

But the ties between politics and country music have been substantial. Former President George H.W. Bush is an avid country music fan and spoke on stage of the Country Music Association Awards in 1991. President Richard Nixon played the piano on the Grand Ole Opry in 1974.

Superstar Tim McGraw, a Democrat, has spoken of possibly running for governor someday. The late King of Country Music, Roy Acuff, ran unsuccessfully for governor of Tennessee as the Republican nominee in 1948. Tex Ritter, a Nixon supporter, ran unsuccessfully in Tennessee for the Senate as a Republican in 1970.

The Bush family has enjoyed the support, financially and otherwise, of the Oak Ridge Boys, Reba McEntire and Ricky Skaggs over the years. Republican financial contributors have included legendary music executive Mike Curb as well as Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts and Sammy Kershaw, who ran unsuccessfully for lietenant governor of Louisiana.

Universal Music executive Luke Lewis has contributed in the past to a political mix of Sen. Bob Corker and Rep. Marsha Blackburn, both Republicans, and Democratic Rep. Bart Gordon.

President Barack Obama’s contributors have included top-flight songwriters Matraca Berg, Don Schlitz and, notably, Rich’s old Big & Rich partner Kenneth Alphin.

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.”

Gibbons Campaign Outlines Priorities for Fighting Crime

Press release from Bill Gibbons, GOP candidate for Tennessee governor, Jan. 20, 2010:

With the Tennessee General Assembly now in session, Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons today released his plan to cut crime in Tennessee by outlining what he hopes to accomplish his first year in office as governor.

“Tennessee ranks third in the nation in violent crime. This is unacceptable. Tennesseans deserve to feel safe in their homes and on their streets, and they should not have to live in fear in their own neighborhoods. Creating safer communities is a top priority for me, which is why I’m ready to lay out specific plans for combating crime in our state my very first year in office,” Gibbons said.

Gibbons has eight steps he plans to take his first year in office as governor:

1. Toughen sentencing laws for violent gun crime

Under Tennessee law, someone can be convicted of robbery with a gun and only serve a small portion of his sentence before being paroled. This system is creating a revolving door of criminal activity, with repeat offenders viewing the punishment simply as “the price of doing business.” “Specifically, I will propose abolishing parole for robbery with a gun, enhancing sentences for gang-related violent crimes (defined as violent crimes committed by three or more), and expanding of the current crooks with guns law to provide enhanced sentences for additional types of crimes committed with guns not currently covered,” he said.

2. Toughen sentences for burglars

“In Tennessee, someone can be convicted of burglary and basically get a slap on the wrist – diversion if it’s his first offense, probation if it’s his second offense, and less than a year in jail if it’s the third offense. I will propose an end to diversion for conviction of burglary and an end to the current presumption that a defendant is entitled to probation and tie the availability of probation more to a willingness to undergo effective drug treatment for those with drug addiction problems.”

3. Increase funding for drug treatment courts

“Crime is closely tied to drugs. I support reaching out to non-violent drug offenders and getting them the help they need to combat their drug addictions. More of our state dollars spent on drug treatment should be earmarked for effective drug treatment court programs.”

4. Attack juvenile crime by combating truancy

Far too often, skipping school leads to juvenile crime. As Shelby County District Attorney General, Gibbons has held parents accountable for their kids’ truancy and has worked to implement what is becoming a model program to match truants with volunteer mentors. “As governor, I want to expand this effort and tap into the volunteer spirit of the Volunteer State by recruiting thousands of citizens to serve as mentors for kids who are skipping school,”

5. Enact Stronger laws on methamphetamine

“Our meth home-cookers and their pill shoppers have learned to avoid purchasing certain amounts of a primary meth ingredient at any one time. I want to strengthen state law so that having more than nine grams of such a product becomes a presumption of intent to manufacture meth for purposes of prosecution. I also want to enact legislation to make it a felony to endanger a child through the manufacture of meth. Tennessee has no law addressing this problem, yet we know through recent reports that home-cookers often do so in the presence of a child.”

6. Restore professionalism to the Tennessee Highway Patrol

“Our Highway Patrol should not be a political football. The citizens and our state troopers deserve better. As governor, I will recruit a true professional to lead our Highway Patrol, someone who will give it the status it deserves as our state’s top law enforcement agency. The Highway Patrol already has a role in the interdiction of drugs, but we need to make better use of this agency and give it a more prominent role on the front line of the fight against drugs. Interstate 40 must be a top priority, as it is one of the leading drug trafficking corridors in the United States.”

7. Toughen sentencing for repeat domestic violence offenders

“Under our current state law, unless a deadly weapon is used, no matter how many times an offender commits a domestically-related assault, it’s a misdemeanor. We must change that to make repeat offenses a felony. This change is badly needed in order to break the cycle of domestic violence we see far too often.”

8. Provide Additional prosecutors

“Many D.A.’s offices across the state are handling huge caseloads with limited personnel. It is not unusual for state prosecutors to face a thousand new cases each year. We must give D.A.’s offices across the state the help they need so that cases can in turn, be given the attention they deserve.”

Bill Gibbons, a Republican, is the Shelby County District Attorney General, serving as the top state law enforcement official in Tennessee’s largest jurisdiction. He entered the governor’s race on January 4, 2009. For more information on Bill Gibbons, visit his campaign website at www.Gibbons2010.com.

Gibbons Pushing Open Gov’t Agenda

Forcing public officials to release their personal financial records may be an intrusion of privacy, but it’s necessary if voters are to get an accurate picture of their backgrounds and business interests, said GOP candidate for governor Bill Gibbons.

Currently the district attorney for Shelby County, Gibbons wants to mandate that people in public office make more of their financial dealings open to citizen review. He said he plans to publish his own federal income tax returns for 2009 soon.

“When you think about it, there’s no more reliable, trustworthy way for the public to know whether or not we have any conflicts of interest, and the scope of those conflicts, as a result of our income and investments,” Gibbons said.

During a press conference in downtown Nashville Thursday afternoon, Gibbons continued to hammer on cross-state political rival Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, also a GOP gubernatorial candidate, for not being more forthright in releasing financial information, particularly the financial stake he has in the Haslam family-owned Pilot Corp. fuel company and chain of Pilot Travel Centers. (See video below.)

Gibbons released five years worth of federal income tax returns last fall after a request for financial data from Tennessee’s largest newspapers.

Gibbons and his wife, a federal judge, reportedly earned just above $300,000 for the past three years, mostly from their government jobs, and have paid about $62,000 a year in federal income taxes.

The Memphis Republican said he’ll push several other open government initiatives if elected governor, such as requiring public officials to disclose how much money they’ve received from financial interests along with how much they have in various investments. The law currently only requires lawmakers to disclose the sources of those dollars.

Gibbons promised also to:

  • hold public budget meetings with state agencies when discussing budget requests
  • change the formula used when governments charge for public documents
  • reestablish as many as six regional governor’s field offices throughout the state
  • pin down lawmakers on each significant vote they take in the General Assembly including procedural action and committee votes.

The general primary election is Aug. 5. Gibbons is one of several GOP hopefuls, including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp and Haslam.