Republican gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told Tennessee voters in a “teleforum” Tuesday night that Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp would have a “huge learning curve” if elected.
Ramsey said he himself is best positioned to lead the state as governor on day one after taking office.
“We’ve been going at this for 15 months,” Ramsey said of the campaign. “I’ve gotten to know all the candidates very well. I hope you will examine the issues. For 18 years, we have been one of the best run states in the union, and I’ve had something to do with that.”
Dispelling any notion that he would consider leaving the race to prevent a victory for Haslam in the three-way contest for the Republican nomination, Ramsey said he is in the race for the “long haul.” Ramsey said he had momentum in the race for the Aug. 5 primary with early voting to begin July 16.
The lieutenant governor spoke at length about his religious convictions during the sweeping hour-long telephone town hall conference with callers from across the state.
Ramsey fielded more than 20 calls on issues as broad as how he would shrink state government to his opposition to a universal pre-K program. As for Wamp, Ramsey said, “People are realizing this is not the year to say ‘I’m from Washington and I’m here to help.'”
Ramsey reiterated many of the same items he routinely describes in his political stump speech, but if there was an expansive new front to reveal about himself it was his personal religious beliefs in response to a caller who wanted to know about Ramsey’s faith.
“I am a Christian,” he said. “I grew up in a Presbyterian church. My wife and I got married in a Christian church. I got saved at about 12 years old at a Presbyterian church. I remember that well, that revival. I’m very active in my church when I’m home at a United Methodist church now. Not a day goes by I don’t don’t pray and ask for guidance.
“When I’m presiding in the state Senate, I have a little pocket cross. I carry it with me all the time. Before I give a speech, before I do anything, I kind of reach down in my pocket and rub that a little bit to remind you that God is in charge. And I do believe now God has me exactly where I’m supposed to be.”
Ramsey said when he hits the shower in the morning he says a prayer to ask for guidance.
“I believe this is a Christian nation that was founded on Christian beliefs,” he said. “Jesus Christ is my lord and savior, and I’m not ashamed to talk about that. I’m not ashamed to talk about that at all. I do believe this country needs to go back to God and make sure we have that in our daily life to solve lots of problems in Tennessee.”
Ramsey said he thought Haslam is a “good Christian family man,” but he said Haslam’s core political convictions are something he worries about, referring especially to a property tax increase Haslam implemented when he took office in Knoxville.
“The next governor is going to have to think outside the box. We don’t have a choice, to be honest,” Ramsey said, pointing to the fact federal stimulus funds will dry up when the next governor takes office. “I’m in this every day. We’re going to have about a billion dollars disappear next year. I’m prepared on day one to tackle this. Neither one of my opponents can say this. They will have a huge learning curve. They will need to have on-the-job training. I’m the one who will not need that.”
Ramsey also conducted a poll of his audience on what participants in the teleforum cared about most when they decide to vote. In a multiple choice survey, with five different issues to consider, he announced the results, with the desire for smaller government receiving 30 percent of the vote, just ahead of jobs and the economy at 29 percent, followed by immigration 20 percent, right to life 13 percent and Second Amendment rights 8 percent.
When a caller asked how Ramsey would reduce the size of government, he said he would combine the Department of Human Services with the Department of Children’s Services and put the Department of Labor and Workforce Development with Economic and Community Development, pointing to the need to train workers for the jobs the state is recruiting. Along those lines, he emphasized the need to focus on the state’s community colleges. He reiterated his idea of using local health departments to handle more primary care and said his experience of being in the Legislature for 18 years positions him to refashion government.
“You have to work with the Legislature. I know them on a personal basis and you have to work with them to get 50 votes in the House and 17 in the Senate, but neither one of my opponents can say that,” Ramsey said. “They have not been in the government and been able to get to know these people and get bills passed like I do.”
In response to a question about pre-kindergarten, Ramsey said he is the only candidate willing to talk openly about not favoring universal pre-K. He said statistics show that certain at-risk children benefit from pre-K education, but he does not believe in pre-K for all children, which some people consider as government babysitting.
“It’s a colossal waste of money. I’m the only one to say that publicly,” Ramsey said. He said Gov. Phil Bredesen was “dead set” on universal pre-K but a 19-14 Republican majority in the Senate and the struggling economy stopped that plan.