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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

Gubernatorial Candidate Forum Scheduled for Children’s Advocacy Days: March 9-10

Press Release from the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, 1 March 2010:

Candidates to lead Tennessee will share their plans to care for its future – its children – Wednesday, March 10, in a forum at Children’s Advocacy Days.

The Children’s Advocacy forum is part of a two-day event focusing ?attention on issues affecting children and providing citizens information for policy advocacy for children. Sponsored by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth and its regional councils, the free ?event will be at War Memorial Auditorium March 9-10.

Nashville journalism legend and founder of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University John Seigenthaler will moderate the 10 a.m. forum. Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, former state House Democratic Leader Kim ?McMillan, Jackson businessman Mike McWherter, Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey and Congressman Zach Wamp have confirmed participation in the forum. News Channel 5, the Nashville CBS affiliate will broadcast the forum at times to be announced prior to the election and make it available to other CBS affiliates across the state.

Children’s Advocacy Days, in its 22nd year, will also feature presentations on critical services on Tuesday, March 9. The Making KIDS COUNT Media, Youth Excellence and the Jim Pryor Child Advocacy awards will be announced on the event’s first day.

Bill Bentley, president of Voices for America’s Children’s, will kick off Wednesday’s events, which also include a presentation by Education Commissioner Tim Webb on Tennessee’s Race to the Top.

In keeping with the election year activities, the theme of 2010 Children’s Advocacy Days will be a political picnic, with everything but the ants – opportunities for participants to meet their legislative ?representatives, plan to work together and celebrate their hard work and vision for Tennessee’s children.

The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth is an independent agency created by the Tennessee General Assembly. Its ?primary mission is to advocate for improvements in the quality of life for Tennessee children and families. For more information contact TCCY at (615) 741-2633 or visit the agency website at www.tn.gov/tccy/cad.shtm. Online registration (at http://cad2010.eventbrite.com/) ends midnight Thursday, March 4. Onsite registration begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Additional information on the event is available at www.tn.gov/tccy/cad-ag.pdf.

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News

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.

Categories
News

McMillan: Money Isn’t Everything In Dem Guv’s Race

She may not have a lot of money in her campaign war chest, but Kim McMillan says she makes up for it in political drive.

McMillan, a former Democratic majority leader in the Tennessee House of Representatives, says she’s not letting modest campaign contributions stand in the way of her winning the party’s gubernatorial primary this August.

“I may not have the most money of all the candidates, but I clearly believe that I have enough to be a viable candidate,” McMillan told TNReport during a visit to the Capitol on Tuesday.

In her latest campaign finance breakdown, McMillan reported thus far gathering $106,931 to fund her bid for governor.

Both her opponents ended the same reporting period with much more money in their political piggy banks. Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle had $588,042 on hand and Jackson businessman Mike McWherter had $619,999.

But McMillan — elected six times to the state House, and now a political science instructor at Austin Peay State University — says that when it comes to stimulating campaign energy and the passion for her cause, message is more important than money.

In 2002, McMillan became the first female ever to be elected Tennessee House majority leader. She was reelected to that post in 2004.

In 2006, Gov. Phil Bredesen appointed her to his cabinet as a senior adviser.

She worked in his administration for two years and said she’d like to continue with several of the policies and priorities he forged throughout his two terms in office.

McMillan says she’s been particularly impressed with, in her view, Bredesen’s record of responsible adherence to fiscal discipline while adequately funding important government programs and initiatives.

McMillan’s said her leadership style as governor would involve lots of give-and-take with constituencies not often heard from on Capitol Hill.

“A Kim McMillan governorship would be all about listening to the people of Tennessee, responding to their needs, and trying to address those things that are important to them,” she said.

One item on her to-do list as governor is exploring ways to duplicate Austin Peay’s partnership with Hemlock Semiconductor for other universities across the state. Together, Hemlock and Austin Peay are launching a two-year degree program in chemical engineering technology that’s aimed at preparing students for jobs like those offered by the global solar-system component supplier.

“That’s the way we create jobs. Working outside the box, working and partnering with our educational institutions, and we can do it all across the state of Tennessee,” she said.

McMillan lives in Clarksville with her husband and two teenage children.

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

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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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Transparency and Elections

Wamp Launches Campaign — And More Barbs at Haslam

Republican gubernatorial candidate Zach Wamp critiqued the much-discussed early television ad by primary opponent Bill Haslam today as a “Pilot Oil ad,” adding that his own ads will show a candidate running for governor.

“I’m grateful, frankly, that there’s a lot of money being wasted right now, because we’re going to wait and spend our money in a very efficient, effective way,” Wamp said.

Wamp’s reaction to the Haslam ad came in Murfreesboro Tuesday following a morning event at the State Capitol Building, where Wamp formally announced his campaign for governor.

“I believe deep in my bones that we have a great state, the greatest of all states, but I know in my heart we can do better,” the congressman told a crowd while standing with his family in the Old Supreme Court Chambers of the State Capitol Building.

The room was filled with supporters and state legislators. House Speaker Kent Williams, R-Elizabethton — though not on board as a supporter — also poked his head in at the announcement.

Wamp said this is no time for a status quo governor and called for smaller government.

“Government cannot solve all of our problems,” he said. “Ladies, and gentlemen, we’re going to have to shrink the footprint of state government and get through this recession and grow our economy.”

While his Capitol appearance served as his formal campaign announcement, Wamp has been running for governor actively for months.

Wamp offered his take on the Haslam advertising campaign while stopping for lunch today at the City Cafe in Murfreesboro, which just happened to coincide with an appearance by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kim McMillan.

Wamp arrived first, met with many of the diners and had just sat down with his family when McMillan entered for her own interaction with the lunchtime crowd.

McMillan had spoken at Middle Tennessee State University. Wamp’s entourage had made its way into town after being at Capitol Hill in Nashville.

Two storylines have dominated the Republican primary race in recent days.

One is the effort by Wamp and Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons to hold Haslam accountable for refusing to disclose his personal income from Pilot Corp., the Haslam family business known for the Pilot Travel Centers along highway roadsides. Over the last week, the two have peppered the Knoxville mayor with public comments calling for him to release his private records.

“Mayor Haslam’s running in a Republican primary,” said David Smith, Haslam’s campaign spokesman. “But it sounds like he’s running against a bunch of California liberals attacking capitalism.”

The other hot topic is Haslam’s early statewide campaign television ad buy. The move is drawing attention not only for its early timing but for the $5.7 million in campaign contributions Haslam has collected– giving him a decided financial advantage over his opposition.

“This is a big week in that we’re kicking it into the home stretch,” Wamp said. “But this is also a momentum week because while one candidate is spending a lot of money branding himself on television, I am out clearly laying out where our state needs to go to become an even better state. And I think that’s a contrast.”

Since he brought up what was clearly a reference to Haslam, Wamp was asked to critique the debut ad that hit televisions across the state Friday.

“I don’t want to talk much about what the other campaigns are doing with their money,” he said, then added, “To me it looks like a Pilot Oil ad. My ads are going to show me running for governor with a plan and an agenda to make Tennessee a better place, not the family business. So they can brand him however they want to, and they can spend as much money as they want to, but the people of Tennessee want a leader with vision and a plan to make Tennessee an ever better state.

“Frankly, I have the experience of having done that,” he continued. “I’ve been able to do that in one part of the state. Now I want to do it in the whole state, and the people are with us.”

The Haslam ad depicts the Knoxville mayor as having worked hard to build up the Pilot business, showing images of trucks at truck stops while a voiceover reflects on Haslam’s work as mayor. The ad also gives a glimpse of Haslam knocking on doors working his campaign and walking with others toting big red umbrellas.

In the restaurant in Murfreesboro, Wamp made his way over to greet McMillan, one of three Democratic candidates for governor. The smiling McMillan said to him what sounded like, “Great minds think alike” about their chance meeting.

McMillan’s campaign staff said the location was a coincidence, but they acknowledged they learned about a day or so ago Wamp was scheduled to be there, too.

Wamp, the 3rd District U.S. congressman from Chattanooga, is on what his campaign bills as a “statewide announcement tour.” He will be in the TriCities on Wednesday.

Wamp said he was encouraged by the crowd of people who had attended his event at the Capitol.

“Frankly, the desire for new leadership is what’s causing this,” he said. “In the Capitol itself, to have that kind of show of support, to have many of our legislators there, leaders from the community there, I was greatly encouraged.”

It was cramped quarters from the start in the Murfreesboro cafe where the soup, chili and sandwiches were moving quickly. The entrance of McMillan to go with the Wamp crowd made for even closer brushes between patrons and servers.

There, McMillan talked about the kinds of reactions she gets from such meetings with the public.

“A lot of them say, ‘Good luck,’ ‘Go for it,’ ‘We’re for you,’ which I like,” McMillan said. “But a lot of it is, ‘Here’s what I think.”

“I just heard two good ideas when I got here. One was someone talking about regionalism, and someone else promoted the idea of lifelong educational opportunities, thinking about making sure people always have that re-training and education. Good ideas.”

Andrea Zelinski contributed to this report.