Tennessee Democrats say they’ll soon embark on a statewide policy-seeking tour to get to the bottom of how best to create jobs. Republicans say they’ve already figured out that the real problem with the economy is at the very top — and not of Tennessee, but the nation.
Calling it a “tough job to create jobs,” House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said he and fellow statehouse Democrats want to “look under every stone” in search of places where new jobs could be sprouting up — and find out what’s giving the businesses cultivating them the confidence to grow in these times of doubt.
“Across the country and here in Tennessee, we are stuck in a jobs crisis, and it’s going to take everyone working together to get us out of it,” said Fitzhugh.
High-ranking Republican lawmakers said Wednesday they agree that few are immune to the country’s economic pain. But they place blame for the prolonged suffering at the feet of one man in particular.
The Democrats’ planned six-day job search ought to be called the “Obama Apology Tour,” quipped Mark Norris, the Republican majority leader in the state Senate.
“They are going to find what we, who talk with our constituents every day, already know — that the failed policies from Washington are destroying our U.S. economy and killing jobs,” Norris said in a press release. “In order to get our economy back on track and grow jobs, we must have new leadership in the White House.”
Hendersonville’s Debra Maggart, the Republican caucus chair in the House, agreed.
“They’re probably going to hear things from citizens about what’s going on that they’re not going to like, that doesn’t go along with what Democrats have traditionally had on their party platform. They like red tape, they like layers of regulation, they like all this stuff. They’re going to have to own the president,” she said.
Both President Obama and Gov. Bill Haslam were elected on promises to create jobs and turn the economy around. But Democratic leaders at a press conference Wednesday resisted the urge to point a finger of blame at the governor for the state’s persistent unemployment problems.
They said they’re instead willing to go along with some traditional Republican desires like stripping away some business regulations, albeit cautiously.
“I think we’ve got to be very careful when we start just wholesale slashing out regulations left and right,” said Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Belvidere. “Those regulations were put there for a purpose, and they’re usually put there to protect the consumer from bad actors a lot of times.”
Heading into the jobs tour, Democrats contend they’ll seriously weigh the GOP’s ideas for improving the economy. But they’d also like majority Republicans to pay them the same courtesy by giving a dozen or so pieces of legislation that died in the 2011 legislative session an honest second look in 2012 — including plans for trying to entice hiring in the private sector with tax incentives.
“It’s a buyer’s market out there, and we’re one of 50 states, and they’re all different, and they’re all competing,” Fitzhugh said. “Especially in the Southeast the competition is fierce. We have to do what we can to get jobs, just like the Amazon deal, just like the Electrolux deal, just like deals that are made in rural areas and city areas. We have to be flexible.”
How to lower the state’s unemployment of just under 10 percent is a primary issue on Tennessee politicians’ minds as the 2012 legislative session starts coming into focus. Haslam has hopscotched around the state meeting with small business owners in roundtable discussions to hear about what they want to see out of state government. Meanwhile, House Republicans and Democrats have launched competing task forces charged with coming up with ideas to solve the state’s unemployment problem.
Democrats say they’ll begin their jobs tour on Monday, Sept. 19, in Memphis and work their way east to Knox County by the weekend.