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Guv Candidates Agree Housing Issues Need Attention

Five of the six major candidates for Tennessee governor appeared at a forum on housing Tuesday in Williamson County, each making the case for how their candidacy connects with housing issues in the state.

And the most common refrain was that creating jobs can solve problems in housing.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, an auctioneer, explained that his experience related to the real estate market and housing goes way back. He learned about construction and worked in the homebuilding industry, he said. His business background in surveying and auctions put him in position to understand housing issues.

“I’ve been around the housing industry all my life,” Ramsey said. “I believe we’re on the cusp of that shining city on a hill that Ronald Reagan talked about. I believe in Tennessee we can be an island of sanity in a nation gone amok.

“There will be states nobody wants to be living in. We need to be a state where people will want to bring jobs and bring their families. I understand completely you are the force that drives our economy, and I’ll be very supportive of your industry.”

Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons said he knew what it was like to lose a home from his childhood, when his father left the family. He also noted that his father became homeless, and he sees how many factors are involved in housing issues.

Homelessness, Gibbons pointed out, can be the result of mental illness.

“The largest mental health institution in my community today is the Shelby County jail,” he said.

Gibbons said there were good intentions in trying to deinstitutionalize people who had mental illness, but that there wasn’t enough follow-through to provide community support to make that policy work.

Gibbons said the key on housing is to have good-paying jobs and safe neighborhoods. He emphasized his job as a prosecutor in fighting crime, which is important to stable housing, he said.

Congressman Zach Wamp, who had to leave the forum halfway through to go back to Washington, explained he worked in the commercial real estate sector.

“I know your industry,” he said. “I loved it. I was the first to get there in the morning and the last to leave.”

Wamp said new investments are going to come south and that the state needs a dynamic governor to help make that happen. Wamp, too, pointed to the link between mental illness and homelessness from his experience in working on a subcommittee in Congress that deals with veterans.

Democrat Mike McWherter, a Jackson businessman, said that when he says he has traveled to all 95 counties, it doesn’t mean just going to lunch with four or five people.

“You have to understand what the infrastructure is and what the assets are,” McWherter said. “We need a governor who will focus on the retention of jobs. The bottom line is we need jobs.”

The candidates expressed their support for the Tennessee Housing Development Agency, established in 1973 to support the production of affordable housing.

They also expressed support for regional mass transit. But as in other areas, candidates quickly added that the next governor has to be careful about making promises that can’t be kept due to severe budget restraints.

Democrat Kim McMillan said the state needs to be smart on how it goes about mass transit.

“Sometimes we veer off course without the proper planning,” she said. “This is a reason why our roads system is recognized so well. Planning is what made our road system what it is today.”

The one major candidate who did not appear was Republican Bill Haslam, mayor of Knoxville. But Mike McGuffin, managing director of the retail division of Eakin Partners Commercial Real Estate, spoke on Haslam’s behalf.

Much of the forum’s discussion was about foreclosures, which were the first domino to fall leading to the credit crisis that drove the nation into recession.

“We need foreclosure counseling,” McMillan said. “When you actually educate people on how to buy a home, to service a mortgage, it makes a difference in their ability to stay away from foreclosure.”

“Let’s be honest. We knew this couldn’t last,” Ramsey said of practices that were going on that led to foreclosures.

He recalled how people used to have to verify they were making enough money to afford the homes they bought.

“It was lax regulation, and it was speculation that got us to this point,” he said, in a comment that drew some applause in agreement.

“That doesn’t deserve a clap,” he said. “It deserves a boo.”

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Press Releases

Haslam Calls For Memphis-Specific Strategy

Press Release from Bill Haslam for Governor, March 15, 2010:

Memphis offers unique challenges, opportunities for next governor

MEMPHIS – Speaking at a regional meeting with representatives from local chambers of commerce as a part of his statewide Jobs Tour, Republican gubernatorial candidate Mayor Bill Haslam announced today his plans to work with local government and community leaders to develop a specific strategy for state government to help Memphis build on its strengths and address the unique challenges it faces.

Through his many visits to Memphis and Shelby County over the past year and a half, Mayor Haslam has recognized the need for a Memphis-specific strategy. Later this spring, Mayor Haslam will spend three straight days in Memphis meeting with local government and community leaders as part of an ongoing effort to learn more about what state government can do to help in areas such as education, health care, economic development, and public safety.

“I understand that every city and region in the state has its own unique strengths and challenges,” Haslam said. “There’s nowhere that this is truer than Memphis, and the next governor must not let the state capitol become insular or try to address issues across the state uniformly.

“Historically, culturally, and economically Memphis is critically important to Tennessee, and that’s why I have been and will continue to hone in on Memphis issues as a candidate and later, hopefully, as governor,” Haslam continued.

Exact dates and the schedule for the three-straight-day focused visit will be released soon.

“From the Gates Foundation’s recent $90 million investment and ongoing partnership with Memphis City Schools to the resounding success of the local Teach For America chapter, I believe we have an incredible opportunity to capitalize on the momentum that exists right now in Memphis schools,” Haslam said. “Likewise, significant assets such as FedEx and the medical device industry present even more opportunities to help Memphis attract the jobs of the future and improve the quality of life across the city and region.

“However, we also must recognize that Memphis faces many challenges requiring unique strategies. The next governor can’t always address issues in Memphis the same way they’re handled in other parts of the state,” Haslam continued.

Mayor Haslam is spending Week Two of his three-week, statewide Jobs Tour in West Tennessee, and today is being spent in Memphis conducting small business roundtables, touring the local Williams Sonoma distribution facility, attending a meeting with representatives from local chambers of commerce, and knocking on doors to introduce himself to Memphians. The schedule for the West Tennessee swing of the Jobs Tour 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. Bill is the right person at the right time to lead Tennessee.

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Press Releases

Beavers: ‘My Work Here Is Not Done’

Press Release from Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, March 11, 2010:

NASHVILLE, TN – Senator Mae Beavers, surrounded by her Senate colleagues, announced today that she is running for another term for the State Senate seat representing Wilson, Cannon, Clay, DeKalb, Macon, Smith, Sumner, and Trousdale counties. The decision came after much deliberation and prayerful consideration. There had been discussion that Senator Beavers could possibly be running for the Wilson County Mayor position; however, at the insistence of many colleagues and a multitude of constituents, Beavers has declared her desire to continue her work in serving the people of the 17th District.

“This decision is based upon my desire to serve the state,” Beavers stated. “I’m proud of what we have been able to accomplish in the state legislature in the past eight years, and I’m looking forward to what we can accomplish in the next four years, especially if we have a Republican Governor and Republican majorities in both the House and Senate. My work here is not done.”

Senator Beavers has a Bachelor of Science degree from Trevecca Nazarene University. She has worked as a court reporter and paralegal before being elected to the county commission, and more recently worked as a financial advisor. In the Tennessee Legislature she was a leader in the fight to stop the passage of a state income tax. Since being elected to State Senate, she has taken a leadership role, serving the past two sessions as the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Beavers began her public service as a Wilson County Commissioner from 1990-1994 and represented West Wilson County in the Tennessee State House of Representatives from 1994-2002. She was elected to the Tennessee State Senate in 2002 and re-elected in 2006.

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Press Releases

Ramsey For Governor Campaign Announces First Congressional District Leadership Team

Press Release from Ron Ramsey for Governor, March 10, 2010:

(NASHVILLE): Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey is proud to announce today his team of community leaders from across Tennessee’s First Congressional District as his campaign gains momentum building grassroots support.

“Having strong leadership in East Tennessee has always been part of a winning formula when running for governor. I’m proud to have so many people who have been with me over the years standing with me today as I run to be the next governor of the great state of Tennessee,” Ramsey said.

Members of the Ramsey for Governor First Congressional District Leadership Team all have demonstrated exceptional leadership capabilities and extensive community involvement in their respective counties. Members include:

Northeast Tennessee Special Advisor – Representative Jason Mumpower

State Representative Jason Mumpower joins the Ramsey Campaign as a special advisor for political strategy within the First Congressional District. Mumpower, no stranger to hard work, serves as the leader of the first Republican majority in the state house in modern Tennessee history, created in large part due to Mumpower’s hard work and political prowess that delivered for the GOP in the last several elections. A lifelong Bristol resident, Mumpower got his start in state politics at the young age of 23 when he first ran for the State House to fill Ron Ramsey’s seat as he moved to the Senate. Mumpower is also no stranger to statewide campaigns, having served as an area field director for Congressman Van Hilleary’s 2002 and 2006 statewide campaigns.

Northeast Tennessee Special Advisor – Ron Scalf

Ron Scalf served as First District campaign field representative for the Bob Corker for U.S. Senate Campaign and continues to remain politically active. Scalf is a former vice president of Bristol Motor Speedway and editor at three local East Tennessee newspapers. After his tenure with the Corker for Senate campaign, Scalf worked in an executive position at the Johnson City Housing Authority for three years, and now specializes in public relations and marketing.

Carter County – Jay Nidiffer

Jay Nidiffer, Lincoln Memorial University’s former Athletic Director, is no stranger to building winning teams. Nidiffer is a longtime Republican activist and supporter, having worked on campaigns from a young age for his uncle, former Carter County Sheriff Tom Nave, and cousin, former State Senator Marshall Nave. Nidiffer served two terms as Carter County Republican Party Chairman, and he and his wife, Katie, attend First Baptist Church of Elizabethton.

Cocke County – Charles Louis Moore

Charles Louis Moore has dedicated nearly his entire life to serving his country, including 22 years in the U.S. Army, during which he was awarded the Purple Heart and the Silver Star. During his military career, Moore served twenty-five months in Vietnam, was an Air Cavalry Commander, and spent ten years in Washington as a Congressional Military Liaison. After retiring from the military as a Colonel, Moore was elected three times and served twelve years as Cocke County Mayor.

Greene County – Donna Blevins

Donna Blevins has had an extensive career in government and community service in Greeneville, including roles as County Commissioner for Greene County for six years, Chairman of the Greene County Board of Commissioners, Republican Caucus Leader, Greene County Republican Women’s President, and has served on all Greene County governmental boards. Donna’s involvement in her community is evidenced through her service as the Greene County Library Chairman, Greene County Christmas Seals Chairman, Co-Chairman of the Greene County Division of the YMCA Building Fund, and “Big Gifts Committee” for the Little Theater.

Hamblen County – David Rutherford

David Rutherford’s community involvement as a resident of Hamblen County includes being a Rotarian, sitting on the Board for the Homeless Shelter for over twenty years, and serving in official capacities within the Hamblen County Republican Party and as the Hamblen County Campaign Chairman for numerous Republican candidates in statewide elections. Rutherford serves as the National Vice President of the Sons of the Revolution, is on the Board of the East Tennessee Military Affairs Counsel, and serves as an Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Area Representative.

Hancock County – Carlin Greene

Carlin Greene is a small businessman and has been in the income tax preparation business for over 30 years. He has been active in state and local politics for many years and is currently running for Hancock County Commission. Greene served on the Board of Directors of Citizens Bank of East Tennessee for 20 years.

Hawkins County – Senator Mike Faulk

Senator Mike Faulk, who serves as State Senator for the Fourth Senatorial District, is an active community member and leader. Faulk formerly served as the First Vice Chairman for the Hawkins County Republican Party, Hawkins County Commissioner, Vice Chairman of the Tennessee Human Rights Commission, and currently holds an active membership with several area chambers of commerce. Professionally, Faulk is a Certified Civil Trial Specialist and maintains his law practice in Hawkins County.

Jefferson County – Doug Goddard

Doug Goddard, the first County Mayor of Jefferson County, brings a vast, statewide network to the campaign as former Executive Director of the Tennessee County Commissioners Association. Goddard is a Vietnam veteran who served six and a half years in the U.S. Army, was Vice President of the Dandridge Lions Club and Chairman of the First Methodist Church of Dandridge Church Counsel, and served as Co-Chairman of the John McCain for President Campaign for Jefferson County in 2008. Goddard and his wife, Caroline, have three grown children and reside in Dandridge where he operates the family dairy farm.

Johnson County – Mayor Kevin Parsons

Mountain City Mayor Kevin Parsons is perhaps best known as the former host of radio shows “The Good Morning Show” and “The Best in Bluegrass”. Parsons’ political experience includes three terms as Alderman and two years as Vice Mayor in Mountain City before being elected Mayor in 2007. He served a term as President of the Johnson County Chamber of Commerce, President of the Johnson County Community Assistance Team, board member of the Johnson County E-911 Board of Directors, Johnson County Community Hospital Board, and he volunteers with the Johnson County United Way and Relay For Life.

Sevier County – Vice Mayor Dale Carr

Sevierville Vice Mayor Dale Carr has a long track record of community involvement including service on the Board of Directors for the Robert F. Thomas Foundation, the Sevierville Housing Authority Board, and serving as the first Treasurer for the Boys and Girls Club of the Smoky Mountains. Carr is a founding partner with Thompson Carr Auctions in Sevierville and performs approximately fifty charity benefit auctions in the community at no charge. Carr and his wife, Jo Ann, are members of the Sevier Heights Baptist Church in Knoxville.

Sullivan County – Mayor Steve Godsey

Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey has an extensive network throughout the county thanks to his long history of public service and participation in the United Way and March of Dimes, and his service on the Board of Directors of the Blountville Community Chest and area chambers of commerce. Godsey served the citizens of Sullivan County in the Tennessee General Assembly as State Representative for the First State House District for ten years. Mayor Godsey and his wife, Julie, have two children and attend Liberty Baptist Church.

Unicoi County – J.R. Bowman

J.R. Bowman, a World War II Navy Veteran, has served on the State Health Facilities Commission and the State Board of Examiners for Land Surveyors and was Unicoi County Campaign Chairman for the winning campaigns of Lamar Alexander, Bill Jenkins, Don Sundquist, Jimmy Quillen, Howard Baker, and others. A lifelong family businessman, Bowman is the President of Bowman & Sons Construction Company. Bowman and his wife, Susan, are members of Calvary Baptist Church.

Washington County – Senator Rusty Crowe

Entering his twentieth year of service as the State Senator for the Third Senatorial District, Senator Rusty Crowe is a long time active community member. Crowe served in the U.S. Army for four years, is a member of the American Legion Post 24, the Lions Club of Johnson City, and the First Tennessee Human Development Agency. Crowe and his wife, Sarah, reside in Johnson City where he is Vice President of Shared Health Services, Inc.

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Press Releases

Gibbons to Attend Youth Forum; Encourages Mentoring Programs

Press Release from Bill Gibbons for Governor, March 9, 2010:

Memphis, TN – Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons pledges to support the growth of mentoring programs aimed at improving life for at-risk children who are more likely to move in and out of the juvenile justice system.

“I know first-hand how important it is to have caring adults in young people’s lives to help lead them in the right direction. My father walked out on us when I was four years old, and I watched as my mother struggled to make ends meet. I was skipping school at an early age. I found hope from individuals who took an interest in my life — a teacher who schooled me in lessons beyond the textbooks, a minister who introduced me to the church I’ve attended for more than forty years, even the man who bought my childhood home and farm in foreclosure. Not only did he hire me to work on that farm, but he also introduced me to politics. Without the support of these people, my life may have gone in a different direction,” Gibbons said.

Gibbons is talking about the importance of mentoring programs in conjunction with his appearance at a gubernatorial forum in Nashville on Wednesday hosted by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. The commission is an independent state agency created by the Tennessee General Assembly whose mission is to improve life for our state’s children and families. The Shelby County D.A.’s office oversees a mentoring program for truant students at the middle school level. The effort is funded in part by a grant from the commission.

“I started the program in large part because of my own experiences growing up. While I’m not proposing to grow government, I am suggesting we tap into the volunteer spirit of the Volunteer State. I think with encouragement from the next governor, we can grow the number of people committed to supporting Tennessee children and keep them off a path that often leads to crime,” Gibbons added.

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.

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Press Releases

Gibbons Files Paperwork for Gubernatorial Race

Press Release from Bill Gibbons for Governor, March 5, 2010:

Nashville, TN — Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons today filed the official paperwork with the Tennessee State Election Commission in Nashville solidifying his run for governor of Tennessee.

“While I’ve been committed to the race for Tennessee governor for more than a year now, filing the election papers today makes my run official,” Gibbons said.

“I’m ready to lead our state into a new era focusing on my three top priorities — more good-paying jobs, better schools and safer communities,” Gibbons added.

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.

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Business and Economy Environment and Natural Resources Liberty and Justice News

GOP Candidates Taking on Environmental Regs, Red Tape

Tennessee’s rolling rural landscapes often seem to exemplify pastoral tranquility. But environmental protection could become a roiling political issue as the 2010 gubernatorial campaign heats up.

Global warming, mountaintop removal, water quality and stream-bank protections, they’ve all been thrown into a political firestorm in ways that will test how the next governor’s administration handles regulatory authority.

Congressman Zach Wamp, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, all Republican gubernatorial candidates, lashed out at environmental regulations in the state at a recent forum in Brentwood, and environmental activists have responded with their own criticisms of the candidates’ remarks and policy priorities.

Ramsey proclaimed the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation “out of control.” Wamp said both TDEC and the Tennessee Department of Transportation “need an overhaul.” Gibbons spoke of state-governmental red tape tying up Tennesseans trying to start new businesses.

Environmental debates have often been cast, for better or worse, as a battle between natural resource preservationists and advocates of economic growth. The Bredesen administration says that’s actually a false reflection of what Tennesseans truly “expect and deserve,” which is “clean air, land and water” and a vibrant economy made up of businesses that wish to protect those things as well.

“To suggest that environmental stewardship is at odds with recruiting business to Tennessee or the successful design and completion of transportation projects is simply out of touch with current reality,” said Tisha Calabrese-Benton, communications director for the Tennessee Deptarment of Environment and Conservation. “Our experience has been that the leading businesses in Tennessee embrace responsible environmental management within their organizations.”

But GOP candidates say they’re concerned about increasingly oppressive regulations at all levels of government, and they worry some state agencies seem more interested in taking policy cues from the feds than in developing programs and protections that seek to balance the legitimate interests of all Tennesseans.

“I frankly think Gov. Bredesen has done a very good job on a lot of things. But I think there are two agencies that are not pro-growth, and they’ve let outside influences, some of which are from Washington, go overboard,” Wamp said, referring to TDEC and TDOT.

Increasingly, the topic of environmental protection is merging with the growing national debate over to what extent states are entitled to pursue their own policy objectives, free of interference from the United States government. In political clashes over the environment, the arguments more and more are revolving around which level of government, federal or state, should be taking the lead in setting the priorities and enforcing the regulations landowners must abide by.

Wamp said he’s becoming alarmed that it seems the federal Environmental Protection Agency is “all over our state.”

“They’re fining our small growers and producers,” he said. “In dairy farming, these people can’t pay their bills, and here comes the federal government with a $15,000-$25,000 fine.”

Wamp said he has seen such issues handled in better ways in the past, and he complimented the performance of Justin Wilson, who served as TDEC commissioner in the administration of Gov. Don Sundquist. Wilson is currently the state comptroller.

“(Wilson) knew the influence the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation had, and he negotiated with the federal government,” said Wamp. “He knew how to use the arm of state government known as TDEC to keep the federal government from overregulating our state.”

Wamp suggested an ideological adjustment of the agencies’ bureaucratic attitudes is currently in order.

“We need a balance of regulation, and frankly I think TDEC has been taken over by the federal bureaucrats, based on policy, and TDOT as well,” he said. “They need new management, in both those agencies, that is sensitive to local government issues.”

County and city officials across Tennessee “will tell you TDEC and TDOT are not cooperative with local governments’ needs on approving things, (like) quickly allowing them to build roads and develop infrastructure.”

Wamp called for a fresh start at the agencies. “It is bureaucratic. It is onerous. They need a new culture at TDEC and TDOT. I don’t know the personalities. I just know we need to start over.”

Gibbons said he didn’t want to identify any individual “red tape” cases, but he perceives a widespread problem for Tennessee businesses seeking various agency approvals as “a lack of movement on things, and bureaucracy sitting on matters for months and months.”

“It’s just a slow-moving bureaucracy where you can’t get the necessary permits to move forward,” he said.

Ramsey brought up streams, including blue-line streams, which refers to streams that flow consistently and are usually designated on maps with blue lines.

“There was a time when the waters were regulated in the state of Tennessee based on what are called blue line streams. I’m a licensed surveyor. I’ve been dealing with this for 20 years,” Ramsey said.

“Now it seems like TDEC has overstepped their bounds in what they’re regulating, that if two raindrops fall together suddenly they have the right to regulate it,” he added. “We’ve got to step back and look at that. We want to protect our waters, but at the same time make sure we’re using good science when we’re doing this.”

After Ramsey’s remarks on mountaintop removal, environmentalists responded, including a Christian organization known as LEAF, for Lindquist-Environmental Appalachian Fellowship. Lindquist refers to Kathy Lindquist, an environmental activist from Knoxville who died in 2005.

LEAF calls mountaintop removal “the most radical and destructive mining method known.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center says the process involves tons of explosives where coal companies destroy mountaintops, resulting in the loss of forest habitat and destruction of streams.

Last year, coal miners in other states called for boycotting Tennessee as a tourist destination in protest of legislation aimed at banning mountaintop removal.

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Press Releases

Kyle Bows Out of Dem Primary

Statement from Sen. Jim Kyle, Feb. 26, 2010:

NASHVILLE – Memphis Senator Jim Kyle (D-Memphis) announced today that he will be withdrawing from the 2010 Tennessee Gubernatorial race, and issued the following statement:

“After careful consideration and consultation with my family, I have decided that I will no longer be a candidate for Governor of Tennessee.

“It is clear to me that while our campaign had the assets to be competitive in the Primary, the legislative fundraising restriction, the economy, and my duties as Senate Leader have severely hampered my ability to generate resources which would have been vital to our success in the general election. Our state faces unprecedented budget and funding issues that cannot wait for the next Governor, and I plan to devote all my energies to working with Governor Bredesen and my colleagues in the legislature to ensure that the best interests of all Tennesseans are placed first.

“I started this campaign for governor to help our state create the recession-proof jobs that will move us forward. My vision for accomplishing this task was to take “Higher Education to a Higher Place,” and make our colleges economic engines for Tennessee. While no longer a candidate for Governor, I will continue to be an outspoken advocate to promote and define the solutions that answer our state’s most pressing challenges, in both higher education and job creation. Perhaps, my exit from this race will enable some of my legislative initiatives, which will address these challenges, to be seen and heard more clearly.

“For a guy whose Mom worked in a tire factory and whose Dad drove a truck, perhaps the most humbling support has been from Tennessee’s working families. My parents’ jobs were hard jobs, and because of the Unions they belonged to, they were able to provide a better life for our family.

“I would like to thank each and every Tennessean who has assisted me in this campaign. I am proud to call Tennessee home. I have built a career in this great state, raised my family here, and will continue to pursue the same goal I set for this campaign: that we have a government that measures its success one citizen at a time.”

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News

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.

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Press Releases

Bredesen Signs Special Session Education Legislation

State of Tennessee press release, Jan. 26, 2010:

NASHVILLE – Calling it a “landmark opportunity” for public education in Tennessee, Governor Phil Bredesen today signed into law two bills passed during this month’s special session of the 106th General Assembly that was focused on improving K-12 and higher education.

Joined by a bipartisan group of lawmakers – including Lieutenant Governor and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Kent Williams – Bredesen put his signature on the “Tennessee First to the Top Act of 2010” and the “Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010.” The new laws enact a range of measures designed to spur improvement in Tennessee’s education pipeline – specifically, improving student performance and graduation rates at both the high school and college levels.

“With these new laws in place, we’ve now got a landmark opportunity to move Tennessee public education forward in a dramatic and positive direction,” Bredesen said. “I’m grateful to the General Assembly for its swift, bold action. And I’m thankful to the scores of teachers, parents, students, community leaders, business people, and public education advocates who worked tirelessly to lend their views and support.”

The Tennessee First to the Top Act makes several changes that have been discussed for years, but which became more pressing in order to make the Volunteer State more competitive in the federal Race to the Top initiative. Race to the Top provides $4.35 billion in competitive grants designed to encourage and reward states that are pursuing education innovation. Among other changes, the Tennessee First to the Top Act:

  • Establishes an “Achievement School District” that allows the commissioner of the state Department of Education to intervene in consistently failing schools.
  • Requires annual evaluations of teachers and principals.
  • Creates a 15-member teacher evaluation advisory committee to recommend guidelines and criteria to the State Board of Education.
  • Allows local school systems to create local salary schedules for teachers and principals, with state approval.
  • Removes limitations on use of certain student-achievement data so the data can be used in making decisions on teacher tenure.

Meanwhile, the Complete College Tennessee Act – the product of nearly year-long talks with a bipartisan group of state lawmakers on how to improve college completion in Tennessee – makes several changes designed to enhance cooperation between colleges and universities in the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) and University of Tennessee (UT) systems.

Among other changes, the Complete College Tennessee Act:

  • Funds higher education based in part on success and outcomes, including higher rates of degree completion.
  • Makes community colleges the centerpiece in Tennessee’s strategy by expanding common programs and common courses to promote consistency and quality across the two-year system.
  • Creates a statewide transfer policy so that any student who earns a two-year degree at a community college can move on to a four-year university as a junior.
  • Requires TBR and UT to establish dual-admission and dual-enrollment policies at all two- and four-year colleges and universities.

Tennessee’s college-completion strategies are a natural extension of K-12 education reform measures. Race to the Top places a premium on states that aren’t simply focused on getting kids through high school but also are looking at college enrollment.

“Combined, the new laws give Tennessee the ability to focus on our entire education pipeline in one panoramic view,” Bredesen said. “Together, they represent an important step forward in our ongoing effort to make public education Tennessee’s highest priority.”