Transparency and Elections

McMillan Out of Governor’s Race, Runs for Mayor

Kim McMillan, who was struggling to keep pace financially in her bid for the Democratic nomination for governor, announced Wednesday she is running for mayor of Clarksville.

McMillan said the timing of current Clarksville Mayor Johnny Piper’s decision not to run for re-election prompted her decision to seek the office in her hometown.

McMillan’s exit from the governor’s race leaves only Jackson businessman Mike McWherter in the hunt for the Democratic nomination. McWherter, who has been running for several months, is scheduled to formally announce his candidacy on Thursday on the south steps of the state Capitol.

It leaves McWherter in a battle that includes three strong contenders on the Republican side, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, Congressman Zach Wamp of Chattanooga and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Blountville.

“I’ve often been told that ‘timing is everything.’ Well, I’m not sure timing is everything, but I do know it’s important,” McMillan said in a formal statement. “I also know that timing rarely consults our calendar — in fact, if often seems to disrupt our careful plans.

“I’m going to answer the call of my friends. I’m going to run for mayor of Clarksville. I believe I can make a difference as mayor of Tennessee’s 5th largest city.”

McMillan had raised a total of $454,938 in campaign contributions in the last reporting deadline, and Wednesday marked another reporting date. McWherter had raised $1.05 million in the last filing, and the Associated Press reported this week that McWherter had given his campaign another $1 million. Major Republican candidates for governor have far outpaced the Democrats in fund-raising, with Haslam raising $5.72 million, Ramsey $2.74 million and Wamp $2.63 million.

But McMillan’s gubernatorial finance director, Joe Livoti, insisted Wednesday that McMillan was still in good financial standing in the governor’s race.

“We were in postion,” Livoti said. “She had engineered a very lean gubernatoirial campaign. We had more than enough to continue running. It was well budgeted. The reason she decided to drop out was answering a call from home, if you will.”

McMillan had been a strong proponent of developments in Clarksville as she campaigned for governor, most notably the landing of Hemlock Semiconductor as a major business coup for the state, and she frequently brought up the educational ties between the Hemlock move and a program at Austin Peay State University to foster that relationship and build a workforce.

“I want to make Clarksville America’s best place to live,” McMillan said in her statement Wednesday. “Clarksville’s on the way, but there’s work to be done and I want to help do it.

“As mayor, I’ll work hard to link our academic resources, our military resources, our natural resources and our amazing workforce into a 21st century economic engine.”

The Clarksville mayor’s race had been a point of intrigue involving McMillan in recent days, as a poll surfaced asking voters about a consideration of McMillan as a mayoral candidate. The McMillan gubernatorial campaign said at the time McMillan remained committed to run for governor, not mayor. There was speculation about the intent of the poll and the reason for including McMillan in the survey. Piper announced his plans on Tuesday.

Livoti said Wednesday the McMillan campaign still had “no idea” about the nature of the poll.

In her official release on Wednesday, McMillan said that in the last days and weeks that friends had encouraged her to run for mayor in her hometown. She said some had encouraged her “gently” and some “not so gently.”

McMillan, a former majority leader in the state House of Representatives and a former aide to Gov. Phil Bredesen, is expected to face opposition in the mayor’s race in former councilman Gabe Segovia, Keith Fain and John Lockwood, as well as a fourth candidate, Michael Flood, the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle said Wednesday.

“I’ll concentrate on keeping the jobs we have and growing the jobs we need,” McMillan’s statement said. “I’m proud of our success in recruiting Hemlock Semiconductor and I’ll continue to use my relationships across the state and across America to tell the tremendous Clarksville story to companies large and small.

“And I also know this. Behind the headlines of recruitment success lays the heart of long term job growth — existing businesses. As we reach out, we’ll also reach in. As mayor, I’ll help existing businesses cut through the red tape that can stifle growth, and I’ll work hard to connect them to opportunities in every way I possibly can. I know that keeping the good jobs we have takes just as much effort as recruting the good jobs we need.”

Livoti said he learned of McMillan’s plans late Tuesday night.

“She had thought about it and wanted to let me know she was running for mayor, her hometown, which she feels strongly about,” he said. “She wanted to answer the call.”


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.”

Education Featured News Tax and Budget

Pre-K Effectiveness Limited; Candidates Still Support It

The educational benefits of Tennessee’s Pre-K program are small and short-lived, according to a report commissioned by the state comptroller and education department.

Those findings echo two previous installments of the “Assessing the Effectiveness of Tennessee’s Pre-Kindergarten Program” series produced by an Ohio-based firm, Strategic Research Group.

“As previous reports in this series have found, there are positive effects on these outcomes associated with participation in Pre-K, although they are for the most part limited to economically disadvantaged students… and are evident primarily in Kindergarten and first grade,” according to the study.

The report also stated that “the magnitude of these effects is small,” and that positive benefits “associated with Pre-K participation tend to diminish over time.” Once the children reach second grade and beyond, their academic performance tends to fall in line with that of their peers who didn’t attend the state’s Pre-K program, according to the study.

Candidates in both parties running for governor say they want to expand the program, which currently enrolls 18,000 children and is budgeted for about $93 million in the coming fiscal year.

Tennessee has spent about $335 million to fund Pre-K education since it was first launched as a pilot program in 1998, according to the Tennessee Department of Education.

The program, which is meant to give children from poor families a head start in learning, is estimated to cost almost $92,955,000 in the 2010-11 school year. More than $86 million of that would come out of the state coffers, with about $6.6 million from the federal government. The state’s total education budget is $5.3 billion.

Calling Pre-K a “home run” of an education program, Democratic candidate for governor Mike McWherter told advocates gathered at the Capitol for a panel discussion on issues affecting Tennessee kids that the strategy behind the program is to “capture those kids at an early age and foster a love for learning in them.” That in turn “will carry them forward throughout their entire careers,” he said.

McWherter promised to continue funding the program if elected, adding that it ought to be made larger.

Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, a Republican, and former Democratic House Majority Leader Kim McMillan both said they support government-funded Pre-K efforts, too. McMillan also said she’d would support enrolling more children if she’s elected.

Congressman Zach Wamp, a Republican from Chattanooga, said he is a big supporter of early childhood programs and said the state has to do more to support it, but didn’t elaborate on what.

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey expressed doubt that the early education program is worthy of additional funding and expansion in the current revenue climate.

“I’ll be right upfront with you. I don’t think that universal Pre-K is the highest and best use of our money here in Tennessee,” said Ramsey.

Andrea Zelinski can be reached at

Business and Economy Featured News

TN’s Big 3 Campaign Issues: ‘Jobs, Jobs & Jobs’

Gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam plans to launch a statewide “jobs tour” this week, and it’s safe to say he won’t be the only candidate addressing the issue for the next several months.

If there’s been one constant refrain by the candidates thus far, it’s been “jobs, jobs and jobs,” as Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey described Tennessee’s “top three issues” in a recent speech.

Candidates often have pet projects and special agendas in any election. Sometimes candidates completely misread what the public wants and needs, but candidates from both major political parties this year seem to understand the one thing most on the public’s mind is employment and its relationship to the economy.

Haslam, Republican mayor of Knoxville, has also announced that as governor he would create regional “jobs base camps,” where 10 to 13 “regional directors” in the state will apply strategies specific to each area. Haslam says his approach would “decentralize the home office.”

Given Haslam’s assertions that he has a conservative agenda, he was asked if the regional program would add to bureaucracy and expand state government. But he quickly rejected that notion.

“We’re not adding more people. We’re just pushing more authority to the regional level,” said Haslam, whose family owns Pilot Corp., known for its Pilot Travel Centers. “We want the right people to lead that regional effort. It comes from my conviction being in business that the more we pushed decisions down to the local level, the better decisions got made, because they understood the environment there better than we did back at the main office.”

Ramsey has said he wants a focus on small business as governor, to the point he wants every department in state government thinking about it.

He relies on personal experience, where after attending East Tennessee State University and wanting to be self-employed he knew he had to work for someone for two years to get a license as a surveyor. His plan was to put in his two years then immediately quit to go out on his own. That’s what he did.

“When it came time to leave, I said I would give them a two-weeks notice, but I was told, ‘Don’t bother. Go ahead,'” Ramsey said. So he left, and the next day his wife gave birth.

“I didn’t know where my paycheck was coming from. We started with only a pickup truck and a prayer,” Ramsey said.

So Ramsey says he understands the needs of small businesses.

Democrat Mike McWherter, a Jackson businessman, told an audience of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce last week he knows what the state’s priorities should be.

“Tennessee needs a governor who will put the creation and retention of jobs front and center on the agenda. That’s why I’m running for governor,” said McWherter, son of former Tennessee governor Ned McWherter. “Like you, I’m a business person, not a career politician. Like you, I understand what it is to make a payroll. Like you, I understand what it is to sit down and work out a health care plan for the year. Like you, I understand what it is to build a budget and live within that.

“If Tennessee is going to prosper, the next governor has got to be an individual with the skills and background who understands how to build this economy, how to create jobs and, I think most importantly, how to maintain jobs here in Tennessee.”

McWherter said it’s important to get greater accountability out of state government.

“I’ve spent my last 20 years in business creating jobs. In short, that’s what I’m all about. Job creation,” he said. “If we’re going to turn this economy around here at home, we’ve got to put Tennesseans to work, and we’ve got to put Tennessee businesses first.

“If you run an existing business in Tennessee, I have a message for you. I know you’re struggling. But help is on the way.”

McWherter’s Democratic opponent, former legislator Kim McMillan, speaks frequently of the need to capitalize on partnerships like the one at Austin Peay State University and the new Hemlock Semiconductor business in Clarksville, focusing on green technology jobs.

Republican candidate Zach Wamp, a member of Congress from Chattanooga, says that in 10 years the state should go from third to first in automotive manufacturing, and from third to first in energy technologies, including green energy.

He’s fond of saying, “If someone doesn’t make it, build it or grow it, you can’t service it or sell it.”

Wamp also sees an opportunity for job creation in a sector many Tennesseans don’t even think about. He wants to establish a defense corridor, capitalizing on the state’s military assets and using them as an opportunity to establish even more jobs. Wamp says a line of Tennessee military businesses and study centers would fall between Huntsville, Ala., and Fort Campbell, Ky.

Republican Bill Gibbons, district attorney general in Shelby County, focuses on the state’s standing in the region.

“I want to make sure we are above the Southeast average in per capita income,” Gibbons said. “Right now we’re about $1,000 below it and $5,000 below the national average. I think an achievable goal is to be above the Southeast average by the end of the first term. We also have an under-employment problem. The job of governor is to create a climate for economic growth, more good-paying jobs. The jobs have to come from the private sector, but the governor can lead the way in creating that climate for economic growth.”

Gibbons said the climate includes keeping taxes low, providing infrastructure for growth, reducing red tape in state government and to “go after the growth industries of the future.”

Education News

Candidates to Students: Get Politically Active

Zach Wamp was a Democrat. Kim McMillan’s parents used John F. Kennedy as an example for why she should get involved in politics.

Jim Tracy remembers meeting Tennessee Gov. Buford Ellington like it was yesterday. Roy Herron warned students they’re going to be the ones paying the bills for decisions made today. And a couple of candidates from Nashville are running against state legislators who have served as long, or nearly as long, as the young candidates have been alive.

Through telling stories, sharing experiences and turning up the volume on issues important to young people, a gathering of Nashville area college students Saturday at Vanderbilt University provided a mix of perspectives for students to absorb and use in political activism.

The Nashville Intercollegiate Activism Conference, hosted by the Vanderbilt Political Review, commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Nashville Civil Rights Sit-Ins, but it also offered a very modern look at the political process, whether through the eyes of current candidates, local activists or a panel of students themselves who proved politically astute.

The gathering explored issues that matter and showed reasons students should stay involved. Current candidates shared how and why they took the poltical paths they’re on.

Wamp, a Republican candidate for governor, told the students he was a Democrat until 1980 and had voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976.

“It’s pretty simple that Ronald Reagan made a Republican out of me,” said Wamp, a congressman from Chattanooga.

He recalled how he and fraternity brothers got in a car and went to Washington for Reagan’s inaugural.

“I shook the hand of Howard Baker, who was a prominent United States senator from Tennessee, and I’ve been a Republican activist ever since,” he said.

Wamp explained that in the last 28 years he has served at every level of party activity. He had recruited candidates, and he was told he should run for Congress.

“I said, naw, I can’t do that, because I was too wild when I was your age,” he told the students. What he didn’t explain was that he had been a cocaine user and spent time in rehabilitation before getting straightened out.

“They said you really should run, and I kind of mustered up the courage and ran in 1991-92,” he said.

Wamp lost to Democratic incumbent Rep. Marilyn Lloyd in 1992 by 2 percentage points.

“I woke up the next morning, kind of took a deep breath, said a prayer, asked my wife and decided to run again,” he said. “So I ran in 1994 and won.”

Wamp was part of a Republican revolution that year and has been re-elected ever since.

“I don’t care if you’re a Democrat, Republican or independent, our way of life is at risk from non-activism,” Wamp told the students.

McMillan, a Democratic candidate for governor, told students she was adopted by parents who were school teachers. They taught her that everybody has an obligation to give back.

“My parents were very politically active. They didn’t run for office, but they instilled in me that you can do whatever you want. It doesn’t matter if you’re adopted, if you’re a woman, or if you’re young,” she said.

“They taught me about how President John F. Kennedy gave back even though he didn’t have to, because he believed in people and wanted to make a difference.”

Then there were candidates like Jeff Yarbro, a Nashville attorney challenging Sen. Doug Henry, who has been in the legislature 40 years, in the Democratic primary. Steven Turner is challenging Rep. Mary Pruitt, another veteran lawmaker from Nashville, in a primary campaign.

Yarbro, 32, sounded like an old pro, however, describing how he got involved in Al Gore’s presidential campaign and slept on people’s floors and in spare rooms in the process.

“The reason Barack Obama is president is because of people in this age group,” he told the audience. “It changed the face of the electorate. It changed the face of the country.”

Turner described getting involved in the 2006 Senate race of Harold Ford Jr. and the 2007 mayoral race of Howard Gentry. He launched a voting registration drive in Nashville called Voting is Priceless, aimed at 18-35-year-olds.

“I would go home and talk to my peers, people my age, and they didn’t care as much as I cared about the process,” he said. “I wanted them to care, because what was happening in the country, the state and the city was going to affect us more than anybody else.”

Turner noted that at 26 he was probably the youngest candidate in the room.

Tracy, a Republican state senator from Shelbyville, is running to replace Democratic Rep. Bart Gordon, who is retiring from Congress in the 6th District. Tracy, too, had parents who encouraged him to get involved, and he told the students, “What’s going on in Washington is going to affect you.”

Herron, a Democratic state sentor running to replace retiring Democratic Rep. John Tanner in Tennessee’s 8th District, painted a grim picture of how spending is threatening the nation’s future.

“This country is piling up debt that is inconceivable,” Herron said. “We’re spending amounts that are unfathomable. We’re on a spending binge, and we’re sending you the bills.

“You will find yourselves in short order trying to figure out how in the world you can pay the debt for the generations that went before you. How do you pay the bills for our excesses now? In Washington, Democrats and Republicans are so busy trying to shoot at each other they’re busy wounding the country.”