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Featured News Transparency and Elections

Haslam Wallops Wamp, Routs Ramsey, Manhandles Marceaux

Everybody knew Bill Haslam was the favorite to win the GOP gubernatorial nomination, but even the Knoxville mayor himself was surprised by how quickly and convincingly he sewed up victory Thursday night.

Less than an hour after the polls had closed, The Associated Press declared Haslam the winner.

“It was a little better than I was expecting, to be quite frank,” he told reporters at the Hilton Nashville Downtown hotel where his family and supporters gathered to watch the returns. “So we’re very, very pleasantly surprised. The word humbled sounds trite, but it’s really true.”

Almost half the 725,000 voters who picked up a ballot in the Republican primary voted for Haslam, giving him 47 percent of the vote. According to election results from WKRN, 29 percent of voters chose Chattanooga Congressman Zach Wamp, leaving 22 percent voting for Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Blountville and 1 percent each for internet phenom Basil Marceaux, Sr., and Joe Kirkpatrick, who officially dropped out of the race and endorsed Ramsey last spring.

No one issue drove opposition to Haslam’s bid than his opponents’ — especially Wamp —  criticism of his family’s national line of truck stops, Pilot Oil, and the Knoxville mayor’s refusal to disclose his profits from the company.

Yet in the end the attacks did little to slow the his lavishly funded campaign juggernaut.

Haslam continually pointed to his leadership with the business to illustrate his ability to balance a budget and create jobs — even while his competitors painted his family’s business as a conflict of interest for a Tennessee governor.

“I’m proud of Pilot,” Haslam told reporters after he accepted the Republican nomination. “Wouldn’t any governor want a company like Pilot headquartered in Tennessee? I think the answer is yes. If somebody thinks differently, they should say so.”

Wamp fought some of his own battles, including attacks on his Congressional voting record. He also was quoted as saying he would consider a possible Tennessee succession from the United States if the federal government continues to manage the states. He later came off that message, saying that wasn’t exactly what he meant.

Ramsey attracted a significant faction of Tea Party voters with his message about shrinking state government and telling the federal government to stay out of Tennessee’s business. But his message wasn’t enough to sway enough voters to his side. He will retain his legislative post as lieutenant governor and leader of the state Senate.

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Press Releases

TN Dems Enjoying Uncontested Gubernatorial Primary

Statement from the Tennessee Democratic Party, July 28, 2010:

Tennessee’s Republican gubernatorial candidates are making a compelling case to elect Democrat Mike McWherter for governor. State Sen. Ron Ramsey, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam are viciously attacking one another over perceived shortcomings in their Republican credentials. See an example of their attacks on one another in this short YouTube video clip.

Mike McWherter is the only candidate for governor who understands the real issues and concerns affecting most of us: creating jobs and providing the state with economic security for future generations of Tennesseans.

To get involved with the Mike McWherter for Governor campaign, visit his website at Mike McWherter.com.

The Tennessee Democratic Party also needs your help to elect Democrats in the General Assembly and Congress, as well. We can use volunteers and financial support for all aspects of this fall’s campaigns. For more information call us at 615-327-9779 or visit our website at tndp.org.

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News Transparency and Elections

Ramsey Goes It Alone At Putnam County Forum

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey got up from his chair on the stage Tuesday night in Cookeville and ambled over to pick up two more.

He took them over and sat them down, one on each side of his.

One chair represented Bill Haslam. One represented Zach Wamp. And Ramsey addressed the empty chairs periodically throughout the evening.

Putnam County Republicans held a forum for all three of the three front-running gubernatorial candidates Tuesday, but it didn’t work out that way. With Wamp and Haslam no-shows, Ramsey had the stage — and the audience of about 100 people — all to himself.

He didn’t appear to mind.

There were no time limits, and seemingly no limits to the questions the partisan audience had for the candidate.

But Ramsey slogged it out for about 90 minutes onstage, occasionally pausing to offer the empty chairs a chance to join the discussion. “Right, Zach?” he would ask. Or, “We’ll let Haslam answer this one.”

But neither the congressman nor the mayor laid a glove on the lieutenant governor that night.

And Ramsey probably won a lot of votes in the hall just by showing up. Organizers seemed frustrated by the circumstance, but there was a refreshing twist to a candidate being able to answer a question in full without a bell ringing shortly after he began to speak.

After Ramsey gave his basic stump speech, Ramsey plunged right into the Q&A — the first question was about Sharia law and Islam, which has become a hot topic in the state most notably with the controversy over a proposed mosque in Rutherford County.

Ramsey declared that he welcomes any other faith in this country, but that an attempt to bring other “law” here simply can’t be allowed.

“Here’s the deal. If someone wants to come to this country and be a freedom-loving person who wants to live within our laws that’s fine. There are Muslims who do that, who want to live in our society. They become one of us. They follow our Constitution. They follow our law. They’re freedom-loving. That’s great. That’s what this country is all about,” Ramsey said.

“But, and this is indisputable, there is a radical faction that has taken over a portion of this that the freedom-loving Muslims need to push back on just a tad. When you’re promoting violence I don’t think that can possibly be any kind of religion. As far as Sharia law, when you come over here, you agree you’re moving to the United States, therefore, you’re going to live under our Constitution,” to which someone in the audience yelled “amen.”

It goes back to the way the nation was founded, Ramsey asserted.

“You’re going to live under our laws that were founded under Judeo-Christian principles. That’s what you do when you come here,” he said. “Don’t come over here bringing your laws and want to change us into that. This is what made us the greatest country in the world.

“I appreciate the First Amendment that gives the freedom of religion. I also appreciate the Second Amendment, the Tenth Amendment. Anybody who comes here ought to also appreciate the Constitution and the laws and live under those laws here in the United States.”

Ramsey laid out his plans for K-12 education as well as higher education, emphasizing how good the state’s community colleges and technology centers are for educating a workforce. He said he favors keeping the sales tax on food because it is part of a tax structure he likes and prevents moving toward an income tax.

Ramsey discussed his ideas for utilizing local health departments to help manage health care needs in the state. He said he is ready to be a “super-salesman” for Tennessee attracting business as governor and said, although he wrestles with the issue, he is leaning toward favoring closed primary elections where people cannot cross over and vote in a party other than their own. The state currently has an open primary process.

“You don’t want people who really aren’t in your party to choose your nominee,” he said. “That’s just wrong.”

He said he frequently hears Tennesseans say they are registered as a Republicans or Democrats but that the reality is they’re not.

Ramsey expressed a fair amount of frustration that his campaign has siphoned up a healthy $3.5 million in contributions, and still he’s been financially overshadowed by Haslam, whose campaign has raised over $8 million. Ramsey said he is not in favor of term limits, saying people have the right to vote people out of office. And he said he is the only candidate in the race with experience in state government.

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Transparency and Elections

Early Voting Patterns Have Wamp Smelling Upset

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp credits U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn with defining a political trend in Tennessee that he believes will help him win the governor’s race.

“She calls it Middle to West. What happened 10 years ago in Middle Tennessee is now happening in West Tennessee,” Wamp said.

“It’s a grassroots, blue-collar, red-blooded, lower-to-middle to middle-class new Republican voter. It’s not the country club people Bill Haslam appeals to,” Wamp said. “He really has nowhere to go. That’s good.”

Whether there is truth in Wamp’s assessment of how to nominate a Republican to replace Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen only the results of the Aug. 5 primary will tell.

But whether the Republican votes in the governor’s race are going to Wamp, Haslam or Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the number of Republican voters in early voting compared to Democrats is overwhelming.

Figures from the state Division of Elections updated Monday showed that 249,709 ballots had been cast in early and absentee voting. The balloting includes Democratic and Republican primaries for governor and the state’s congressional races, as well as legislative races. Of the total number of voters, 156,338 cast Republican primary ballots, compared to 78,657 for Democrats.

A closer look shows that of Tennessee’s 95 counties, Republicans have the majority of ballots cast in 74 of them, compared to 21 counties with Democratic majorities. What has looked like a tidal wave of Republican support over the last few months at Republican events appears to be manifesting itself in early voting.

Much of the disparity might well be attributed to the fact Democrats have little motivation to vote in the primary, since in the governor’s race Mike McWherter is the only Democrat still running and is sure to win the nomination. A ruggedly combative race in the Republican primary pits Wamp of Chattanooga, Knoxville’s Haslam and Ramsey of Blountville in the hunt.

A recent Mason Dixon poll by the Tennessee Newspaper Network, a partnership among the state’s four major newspapers, showed Haslam leading the Republican pack with 36 percent of the vote, followed by Wamp with 25 percent and Ramsey with 20 percent, with 17 percent undecided.

“It’s almost impossible to poll people in a primary,” Ramsey said. “People are examining the issues, and they’re coming toward me.”

But the Democrat, McWherter, seems to believe the Republican choice will be Haslam. McWherter issued a press release Monday in which his campaign manager, Kim Sasser Hayden, said, “As Bill Haslam spends millions of dollars trying to defend his record of raising property taxes, price gouging Tennesseans at the gas pump and hiding his vast oil wealth, Tennessee voters realize he is not the character he has tried to create in his television ads.”

McWherter also announced a campaign television ad, which focuses on his plan to create jobs and boost the economy.

Haslam’s lead in the primary would appear to be commanding by following recent polls, which makes it all the more intriguing that the Knoxville mayor put up a one-minute television ad recently defending himself against Wamp’s attacks and launching some of his own at the congressman. Wamp has tried to paint Haslam as a rich kid and an oil man. Haslam, whose family has built a fortune with its Pilot Travel Centers, makes voters aware in his ad that Wamp has participated in Washington’s spending ways and never had to balance a budget.

Ramsey, who has the support of tea party organizers, is painting himself as the one true conservative with the legislative experience to be governor. Ramsey is hitting both Haslam and Wamp in his advertising, capitalizing on issues similar to theirs.

Haslam’s latest ad leads to the question of why a candidate with a double-digit lead would bother to air a negative response ad, unless there is more to the reason for the ad than Haslam is letting on. He has said the title of the ad, “Enough Is Enough,” says it all about its intention. Haslam said he just got tired of what he was putting up with from Wamp.

Ramsey said the Haslam campaign thought it would coast to victory.

“They went to the four corners offense and tried to run the clock out and way too soon,” Ramsey said. “He’s literally trying to ride this out. You can’t dodge the voters and expect to win. They’re (the Haslam campaign) in free fall. They know they’re in free fall. They’re not in panic mode yet, but I think they’re getting close to it.”

Yet Ramsey and Wamp trail in the polls, which gets back to Wamp’s point.

“Polling doesn’t show where people are voting heavy or voting light,” Wamp said. “Just watch what happens. Where people are voting in bigger numbers is where I am going to do better. We’re watching that constantly in early voting.

“I do well in rural counties. I wanted to do a certain percentage of the total vote, and they’re 8 points higher. What does that mean? It means a lot of traditional Democrats in rural counties in places like the 8th District are voting Republican for the first time ever. I’m doing very well there.”

Of the 21 counties where there have been more people voting in the Democratic primary than in the Republican primary, five are in the 8th Congressional District in West Tennessee, where Democratic state Sen. Roy Herron is the likely nominee against a field of three Republicans — Stephen Fincher, Ron Kirkland and George Flinn — who are in a fierce battle.

Six of the Democrats’ majority counties are in the 6th Congressional District, where state Sens. Diane Black and Jim Tracy and former businesswoman Lou Ann Zelenik are waging a tough Republican primary battle. Two war veterans, Brett Carter and Ben Leming, head the Democratic field in the 6th.

Five of the Democrats’ 21 majority counties in early voting are in the 4th Congressional District, where incumbent Democratic Rep. Lincoln Davis awaits the survivor of a crowded field of Republicans.

As expected Democrats are casting the majority of ballots in the state’s two biggest urban counties, Davidson (which is Nashville) and Shelby (which includes Memphis). Republicans have cast the majority of early-voting ballots in Hamilton County (Chattanooga) and Knox County (Knoxville).

Knox County, home to Haslam, has cast 13,951 Republican ballots in early voting to 1,166 for Democrats.

Republicans Showing Force in Early Voting

By Mike Morrow

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp credits U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn with defining a political trend in Tennessee that he believes will help him win the governor’s race.

“She calls it Middle to West. What happened 10 years ago in Middle Tennessee is now happening in West Tennessee,” Wamp said.

“It’s a grassroots, blue-collar, red-blooded, lower-to-middle to middle-class new Republican voter. It’s not the country club people Bill Haslam appeals to,” Wamp said. “He really has nowhere to go. That’s good.”

Whether there is truth in Wamp’s assessment of how to nominate a Republican to replace Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen only the results of the Aug. 5 primary will tell.

But whether the Republican votes in the governor’s race are going to Wamp, Haslam or Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the number of Republican voters in early voting compared to Democrats is overwhelming.

Figures from the state Division of Elections updated Monday showed that 249,709 ballots had been cast in early and absentee voting. The balloting includes Democratic and Republican primaries for governor and the state’s congressional races, as well as legislative races. Of the total number of voters, 156,338 cast Republican primary ballots, compared to 78,657 for Democrats.

A closer look shows that of Tennessee’s 95 counties, Republicans have the majority of ballots cast in 74 of them, compared to 21 counties with Democratic majorities. What has looked like a tidal wave of Republican support over the last few months at Republican events appears to be manifesting itself in early voting.

Much of the disparity might well be attributed to the fact Democrats have little motivation to vote in the primary, since in the governor’s race Mike McWherter is the only Democrat still running and is sure to win the nomination. A ruggedly combative race in the Republican primary pits Wamp of Chattanooga, Knoxville’s Haslam and Ramsey of Blountville in the hunt.

A recent Mason Dixon poll by the Tennessee Newspaper Network, a partnership among the state’s four major newspapers, showed Haslam leading the Republican pack with 36 percent of the vote, followed by Wamp with 25 percent and Ramsey with 20 percent, with 17 percent undecided.

“It’s almost impossible to poll people in a primary,” Ramsey said. “People are examining the issues, and they’re coming toward me.”

But the Democrat, McWherter, seems to believe the Republican choice will be Haslam. McWherter issued a press release Monday in which his campaign manager, Kim Sasser Hayden, said, “As Bill Haslam spends millions of dollars trying to defend his record of raising property taxes, price gouging Tennesseans at the gas pump and hiding his vast oil wealth, Tennessee voters realize he is not the character he has tried to create in his television ads.”

McWherter also announced a campaign television ad, which focuses on his plan to create jobs and boost the economy.

Haslam’s lead in the primary would appear to be commanding by following recent polls, which makes it all the more intriguing that the Knoxville mayor put up a one-minute television ad recently defending himself against Wamp’s attacks and launching some of his own at the congressman. Wamp has tried to paint Haslam as a rich kid and an oil man. Haslam, whose family has built a fortune with its Pilot Travel Centers, makes voters aware in his ad that Wamp has participated in Washington’s spending ways and never had to balance a budget.

Ramsey, who has the support of tea party organizers, is painting himself as the one true conservative with the legislative experience to be governor. Ramsey is hitting both Haslam and Wamp in his advertising, capitalizing on issues similar to theirs.

Haslam’s latest ad leads to the question of why a candidate with a double-digit lead would bother to air a negative response ad, unless there is more to the reason for the ad than Haslam is letting on. He has said the title of the ad, “Enough Is Enough,” says it all about its intention. Haslam said he just got tired of what he was putting up with from Wamp.

Ramsey said the Haslam campaign thought it would coast to victory.

“They went to the four corners offense and tried to run the clock out and way too soon,” Ramsey said. “He’s literally trying to ride this out. You can’t dodge the voters and expect to win. They’re (the Haslam campaign) in free fall. They know they’re in free fall. They’re not in panic mode yet, but I think they’re getting close to it.”

Yet Ramsey and Wamp trail in the polls, which gets back to Wamp’s point.

“Polling doesn’t show where people are voting heavy or voting light,” Wamp said. “Just watch what happens. Where people are voting in bigger numbers is where I am going to do better. We’re watching that constantly in early voting.

“I do well in rural counties. I wanted to do a certain percentage of the total vote, and they’re 8 points higher. What does that mean? It means a lot of traditional Democrats in rural counties in places like the 8th District are voting Republican for the first time ever. I’m doing very well there.”

Of the 21 counties where there have been more people voting in the Democratic primary than in the Republican primary, five are in the 8th Congressional District in West Tennessee, where Democratic state Sen. Roy Herron is the likely nominee against a field of three Republicans — Stephen Fincher, Ron Kirkland and George Flinn — who are in a fierce battle.

Six of the Democrats’ majority counties are in the 6th Congressional District, where state Sens. Diane Black and Jim Tracy and former businesswoman Lou Ann Zelenik are waging a tough Republican primary battle. Two war veterans, Brett Carter and Ben Leming, head the Democratic field in the 6th.

Five of the Democrats’ 21 majority counties in early voting are in the 4th Congressional District, where incumbent Democratic Rep. Lincoln Davis awaits the survivor of a crowded field of Republicans.

As expected Democrats are casting the majority of ballots in the state’s two biggest urban counties, Davidson (which is Nashville) and Shelby (which includes Memphis). Republicans have cast the majority of early-voting ballots in Hamilton County (Chattanooga) and Knox County (Knoxville).

Knox County, home to Haslam, has cast 13,951 Republican ballots in early voting to 1,166 for Democrats.

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Press Releases

Wamp Signs ‘Contract from America’

Statement Issued by Contract From America Foundation, July 22, 2010:

The Contract from America Foundation announced today that Tennessee congressman Zach Wamp joined over 170 Senate and Congressional candidates nationwide by listening to the wishes of their constituents and signing the “Contract from America,” a Main Street grassroots legislative blueprint for 2010 and beyond.

Rep. Wamp represents Tennessee’s 3rd congressional district that includes a large constituent area in eastern Tennessee. Serving in the House since 1995, Rep. Wamp was a strong supporter of the 1994 initiative, Contract with America, spearheaded by former Speaker, Newt Gingrich. Rep. Wamp is an active member of the Liberty Caucus and sits on the powerful Appropriations Committee. Rep. Wamp is not seeking re-election to a ninth term, opting instead to run for governor of Tennessee.

Unlike a variety of similar initiatives, the Contract from America is not a list handed down from on high by old-bull politicians or secretly negotiated by lobbyist and committee chairman, but rather a document handed up from the true grassroots in this country. After garnering nearly half a million votes in less than two months, the Contract from America is a blueprint that serves notice to public officials about what the people want for their future.

Ryan Hecker, one of the organizers of the Contract from America, elaborated: “By signing the Contract from America, Rep. Wamp has shown himself to be a true champions of Main Street values. He has illustrated that, if elected, he will listen to his constituents and be a grassroots conservative leader in the Tennessee State House.”

More information about the candidates who have signed this Main Street Agenda is available at the Contract from America’s website, www.contractfromamerica.org.

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Transparency and Elections

Haslam Uninterested in Debating Wamp Again

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp has challenged Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam to more debates in their Republican gubernatorial primary, but it appears Wamp shouldn’t hold his breath.

The Haslam campaign shows little interest in even considering Wamp’s desire; they point to what is believed to be a record number of joint appearances among the candidates, mostly at forums.

Wamp, from Chattanooga, was shown lagging behind Haslam in a recent independent poll, with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey following in third place as the field heads to the Aug. 5 primary. Early voting has already begun.

The poll, conducted by WSMV-TV in Nashville, showed Haslam with 32 percent of the vote, Wamp with 21 percent and Ramsey with 11 percent but still a high number of undecided votes at 36 percent.

WSMV aired a live debate on July 12, but that is likely to be the last debate before Republican voters choose a nominee.

The candidates have made more than 100 such appearances dating back to last year. In fact, the gubernatorial candidates have made appearances recently at county Republican Party picnics that the main contenders attended and spoke at a year ago. They’re now making repeat appearances at those annual events.

Most of those appearances in the last year, which included numerous indoor dinners in the winter months, have been forums, where candidates each answer the same question but have little interaction with each other and rarely get to engage in meaningful debate.

The debate July 12 allowed candidates the rare opportunity to ask each other questions, although the time for answers was extremely limited as debate organizers tried to get as many questions into the one-hour event as possible.

“Candidates got to ask each other questions, and everybody took a liberal opportunity to ask me questions,” Haslam said.

The attention did appear to focus on Haslam, a clear indication that Republican opponents view him as leading the race and that Democrat Mike McWherter expects to meet Haslam in the general election Nov. 2. McWherter joined Haslam’s Republican opponents in getting in jabs at the Knoxville mayor.

Wamp said in a formal release that more debates would give Haslam the opportunity to publicly address issues that Wamp is raising about Haslam, who has refused throughout the campaign to reveal his income from the privately held family business, Pilot Corp., which recently became Pilot Family J through a merger that makes Pilot Flying J one of the top 10 largest privately owned companies in the nation.

“We’ve had plenty of chances to answer questions of all different types from all types of people,” Haslam said. “We’ve been doing this for a year and a half, and I’m not sure how all of a sudden Zach decided there was a need.

“And why all of a sudden he didn’t think Ron should be a part of that too. That would be my question. Why shouldn’t Ron be a part of that?”

Wamp’s release says Haslam should join him at additional debates, claiming Haslam is “stonewalling” and trying to convince voters that “he’s something that he is not.” The request does not include Ramsey, who has been in the top tier of contenders since the race began.

“I challenge Bill Haslam to come out from behind his big oil money and advertising curtain and debate these issues publicly with me before the voters of this state,” Wamp’s release said.

An underdog asking for direct debates with the leader is common in campaigns. In fact, in 2004, Wamp declined to debate his Democratic opponent in one of his races for the 3rd District congressional seat. A report from the archive of WBIR-TV in Knoxville said Wamp preferred to be “out with the people” rather than debate his challenger, John Wolfe.

Tom Ingram, general consultant to the Haslam campaign and a veteran of major campaigns in the state, said reasons behind the attempt by Wamp for more debates are easy to see.

“The only reason a candidate wants more debates is they have probably run out of money and need the free media, and they’ve seen numbers that cause them to be desperate,” Ingram said. “They’re throwing Hail Marys.

“You were there Monday night. That was a splendid exchange of ideas. We’ve got a schedule from now to the primary to spend with the voters, and that’s where we’re are going to spend it.”

Haslam also pointed to his campaign’s busy schedule leading to Aug. 5.

“We’ve been working hard to make sure we take advantage of them. It’s not exactly like we’ve been avoiding our opponents in this,” Haslam said.

Wamp has not let up on Haslam, however.

“There are still a lot of unanswered questions,” Wamp said. “When there are that many unanswered questions and a candidate is hiding behind $15 million or whatever it’s going to be, we need more debates.

“We need more interaction. There was a big undecided. When there are this many undecided voters this late, we ought to have more debates, not less.”

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Press Releases

Wamp Wants More Debates

Press Release from Zach Wamp for Governor, July 17, 2010:

Wamp calls for more televised debates to address lingering questions about Haslam’s record; Says Haslam should stop stonewalling and answer all questions

CHATTANOOGA – Zach Wamp, Republican candidate for Governor, today challenged Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam to join him at additional televised debates across the state so that Haslam may directly address lingering questions many Tennessee voters still have about his history of price-gouging consumers at the gas pumps, raising taxes during his first year as mayor and joining New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg in a direct assault on the rights of Tennessee gun owners.

Wamp said more interactive televised debates would give Haslam the opportunity to fully, honestly and publicly address these and other issues that Haslam has refused to answer.

“For months now, we have asked Mayor Haslam to do what all of the other candidates have done, and that is to be fully open and transparent about his personal income taxes, his company’s many conflicts of interest with the state and the Mayor’s record of public service that is anything but conservative,” Wamp said.

“But at each turn, Mayor Haslam has tried to deal with these questions by stonewalling and spending more money to try and convince voters he’s something that he is not. Today, I challenge Bill Haslam to come out from behind his big oil money and advertising curtain and debate these issues publicly with me before the voters of this state.”

Despite Mayor Haslam’s call for “civility” earlier in the year, the Haslam campaign was the first to use paid phone banks to launch negative attacks against his opponents several months ago when it was caught using highly unethical “push-polling” against both the Wamp and Ramsey campaigns.

Many of the issues Wamp raised are addressed in a new television ad called “Rusty” that the Wamp campaign is now airing that features a lifelong Tennessean named Rusty Criminger.

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Education News Transparency and Elections

Ramsey Would Reject RTTT Funds If ‘Strings Attached’

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said Saturday that as governor he’d reject federal Race to the Top funds for state education if the money comes with requirements from Washington, D.C.that it be spent in specific ways.

“I hope and pray this Race to the Top money doesn’t have strings attached to it. If it does, and I’m governor, we’re not going to take it,” Ramsey said.

He said the funds should be used in non-recurring ways, such as putting it toward teacher and principal training.

Ramsey, who is seeking the Republican nomination to replace Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, was speaking at a meeting in Franklin of the Professional Educators of Tennessee, an organization that offers teachers an alternative to joining a teachers union. The lieutenant governor said he is feeling much relieved now that the legislative session is over and he can concentrate on primary election campaigning

Other speakers at the meeting included Republican candidate Zach Wamp, Democrat hopeful Mike McWherter and independent candidates Bayron Binkley, Samuel Duck and Brandon Dodds.

Bredesen led the charge for the Race to the Top funds, and the federal government surprised Tennessee by granting the state $500 million, an amount the state wanted and applied for but did not expect to receive in full. The state had expected a much lower figure if it won. Only one other state, Delaware, won Race to the Top funds in the first of two rounds in the contest and was awarded roughly $100 million.

Ramsey told the group the Race to the Top funds were greatly due to the intense amount of work the Legislature put in during its special session on education in January.

Ramsey spoke highly of the effort in the special session and explained that he knew the subject of teacher evaluations was controversial but supported changes in the evaluation process. The reform effort was intended to help put together a strong application for the federal funds.

Ramsey said the special session was an example of “the way government ought to work.”

“This is not about some mass firing of teachers, but it is a tool we can use to help teachers,” Ramsey said. “In the end, this will work out. It will be fine.”

Ramsey was in full campaign mode and he became passionate when the issue of federal intervention rose.

“At first I thought this administration we have now was just incompetent. But now I think it’s conniving,” Ramsey said. “You don’t borrow $1.4 trillion one year, $1.6 trillion the next year and expect our country to stay the same. It’s not going to happen.

“I hope to have grandkids soon. There’s no way our kids can have the same world to grow up in that I did if we keep heading in this direction. It’s impossible.”

He said governors need to push back against the federal government.

“This is revolutionary,” Ramsey said. “I don’t mean like march on Washington, D.C., revolutionary. I mean revolutionary in the sense that I don’t think states have ever pushed back. We’ve never been in this position before.”

Wamp said a group like the Professional Educators of Tennessee deserves to have a voice in decision-making on education. He used the opportunity to state his case about the importance of early childhood reading and emphasized the importance of health issues among children.

“The truth is you are getting a product that requires you to be in law enforcement and psychology and everything across the spectrum instead of the ability to just educate the children based on you getting a decent product,” Wamp told the group.

McWherter tied education to the mission of creating more jobs in the state. He said he recognizes the importance of providing the resources necessary to teach children. He also lauded the Bredesen administration for landing the Race to the Top grant monies.

The primary is Aug. 5. The general election is Nov. 2.

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Business and Economy Health Care News Tax and Budget Transparency and Elections

Stable for Now, TennCare Demands Future Attention

Gov. Phil Bredesen has no illusions about the longterm manageability of TennCare, saying this week, “I think the stuff we did with TennCare bought the state a decade but not more than that.”

The governor’s take on the state’s version of the Medicaid program may come as a surprise to those who assumed TennCare’s major problems were over as a result of major reductions Bredesen made in the program that slowed what had become a runaway train.

But Bredesen, now nearing the end of his term, said the fundamental issues involving health coverage remain.

Apart from the cost pressures already involved in health care, another enormous storm is headed the state’s way with the expansion of Medicaid in the new federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the law that has become known, for better or worse, as ObamaCare.

Bredesen famously referred to the expansion of Medicaid as “the mother of all unfunded mandates” on states when the bill was being debated in Congress. Now that the bill has become law, Bredesen has taken a different tack, basically saying it’s the law and must be followed, somehow.

Yet through all the concern about what the future holds on the state health care program, for the moment a consensus appears to have formed that the current leadership at TennCare has adroitly managed the operation. Bredesen says so, and so do some people currently running for Bredesen’s job.

“I think one of the issues the new governor is going to have to deal with is basically how do you deal with Medicaid,” Bredesen said. “You know my feelings about using Medicaid as part of President Obama’s expansion. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. I think it will put a huge amount of pressure on states in the future.

“But that’s something the governor’s got to do. It’s done. It’s the law. It’s over. It’s something the future governor is going to have to deal with.”

The new law calls for establishing health insurance “exchanges,” which will serve as a government-regulated marketplace for buying health insurance. While some aspects of the law have a more immediate impact — such as helping fill the “doughnut hole” in coverage of the Medicare prescription drug plan or extending coverage of children under their parents’ plans until age 26 (due to go into effect in September) — the bulk of the law is scheduled to kick in in 2014.

The time delay has given some who dislike the law an expectation that the law can be changed, so its full impact won’t be known for awhile. But as it stands, the burden will be falling on states to figure out how to follow through on the new law.

“This is not something the federal government can execute. They’re going to need the states to set up the exchanges,” Bredesen said. “Obviously a lot of new people will be coming into Medicaid, and that produces a whole bunch of issues, from rates we’re paying to physicians to other things. So I think there is a whole set of things to be dealt with in terms of implementing the act.”

Bredesen feels good about TennCare’s current leadership, which includes director Darin Gordon.

“We have some good expertise in the state right now, particularly in the form of Darin and his staff over there,” Bredesen said. “I think we’ll get through it but that’s going to take a lot of work.”

One of the candidates for governor, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, a Republican from Chattanooga, said this week he, too, is impressed with TennCare’s current leadership, and Wamp gives Bredesen credit for managing the state budget in broad terms, as well as specifically on TennCare.

“Darin Gordon has done an excellent job,” Wamp said. “In fact, the last 24 months at TennCare the program is trending better than it has at any time in its existence. When I had my full briefing with him and asked a slew of questions, I was highly impressed. I think they’re focusing now on more preventive care and wellness, which is something I’m really strong on.

“Frankly, short of the Obama mandate kicking in, I believe TennCare is going in a good direction, but if the Obama mandate kicks in without some relief, if we can’t change that, TennCare is going to get buried with federal mandates. We don’t have the money to pay for those mandates.”

The days of total upheaval at TennCare seem to have subsided, for now.

“We’ve got a good team at TennCare now. It’s been stable,” Bredesen said. “They know what they’re doing. They’re doing a good job. They’re making their budgets. In fact they’re helping us solve some of our other budgets. But that’s going to be a real issue.”

Bredesen was elected in 2002 in great part on his perceived management skills, just as TennCare was spiraling out of control. A key report by consultant McKinsey & Company showed TennCare putting the state on a path to financial ruin. Bredesen responded by cutting more than 170,000 people from the TennCare rolls in 2005. He also put limits on the amount of prescription medications that would be covered, a politically controversial move.

Now, the concern has become that with strides made over a number of years, Medicaid expansion in the new federal law threatens to wipe out previous gains.

Bredesen’s point, as he moves through his final year in office, is that while the state bought time with its changes, the problem of health care costs has not been solved. The new governor will find that waiting for him.

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Gubernatorial Hopefuls Targeting Gun-Rights Cred

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp does not have a gun-carry permit.

Neither does Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam. Nor does businessman Mike McWherter.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has one. But therein lies only one way of measuring the intentions of candidates who will be judged by gun-rights advocates in the race to be the next governor of Tennessee.

The three Republican gubernatorial candidates will attend a banquet of Friends of NRA, a gun rights organization, Saturday in Nashville. And the candidates’ positions on the Second Amendment are certain to get plenty of attention.

Wamp, Haslam and Ramsey are the Republicans in the race. McWherter is the lone Democrat, but McWherter will be unable to attend the event Saturday. McWherter’s staff said Tuesday that he had a prior engagement but has attended Friends of NRA events in the past, including one in Henry County a few months ago.

McWherter does have a hunting license and is a lifetime member of the NRA, his campaign said, adding that the Democrat is a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights and will work to ensure those rights are protected.

Wamp quickly acknowledged this week that he does not have a carry permit, although he frequently speaks in support of Second Amendment rights. Ramsey, who voted to override Gov. Phil Bredesen’s veto of the guns-in-bars bill before the close of the legislative session, says he falls squarely in line with gun-rights advocates as a candidate for governor. Haslam says he doesn’t know of any differences between his positions on gun rights and the pro-gun stands of his Republican opponents, but Haslam has been criticized for some of his past positions.

Ramsey said Haslam was once a member of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns program. Haslam had joined the group of 700-plus mayors but left the organization saying it went astray from its original mission.

“I’m the only one to actually sponsor legislation to promote Second Amendment rights,” Ramsey said of the gubernatorial field. “Congressman Wamp and Washington, D.C. in their own way may have voted in favor of such things, but let me assure you I carried the bill that gives gun-carry permits in Tennessee. I carried the bill that kept cities and counties from suing manufacturers of firearms in the late ’90s.

“I’ve not just been one to talk the talk, I’ve walked the walk. I have a lifetime hunting license. I own lots of guns myself, because I’m a collector, and I’m a hunter.”

Ramsey won’t be outdone in voicing support for Second Amendment rights, however, if Wamp can help it.

“I have a long history of supporting gun rights,” Wamp said. “They know I’m their friend. To be honest with you, if Ron weren’t running, I would have incredible support from gun owners, gun organizations, gun activists. Frankly, they have two people in this race that have both been their faithful supporters. And as a result, they’re all out.”

Wamp was referring to Ramsey and himself as supporters and gun-rights advocates keeping their powder dry in the primary.

“That’s unfortunate, I guess, if either one of us would like to solidify that particular element of the vote, because it’s substantial in our state,” Wamp said.

Wamp said he is a longstanding gun owner.

“I’ve had many guns of all different flavors in my life. I’m an active shooter,” Wamp said. But when asked exactly what he owns, Wamp replied, “I’m like Fred Thompson. I don’t tell anybody what I have.”

Wamp has said publicly that he sleeps with a gun near his head.

“It’s in the bedside table,” he said. “I don’t mean like in bed with me. It’s within a lean and a reach.”

Haslam said he is convinced that gun-rights activists just want to know his policy convictions.

“I think the main things the NRA is concerned about is where I stand on the protection of Second Amendment rights,” Haslam said. “And I think they’re very comfortable with that. I’ve had lots of conversations, and I think they are very comfortable with my commitment to the Second Amendment.”

When asked if he could distinguish his views on guns from his opponents, Haslam said, “I don’t know that there are any big differences. I really don’t. I don’t think there’s a nickel’s worth of difference between us.”

One of the issues that has surfaced over guns is whether the state’s database on those who have gun-carry permits should be part of public record.

“We need to have the same protections on gun-carry permits we have on driver’s licenses,” Ramsey said. “They should never be allowed to be published in newspapers to search in databases. I think no public good comes out of that, yet at the same time the police departments and others should have access to those.

“But I think what that really does is proves the responsibility that handgun carry permit holders do have.”

Haslam said he doesn’t think the data should be publicly accessible.

“I don’t think so, for a lot of reasons,” he said. “I would be against that.”

Wamp said he does not want the data to be public, noting it’s an important element of the gun debate.

“Even getting a right to carry permit, pure Second Amendment protectors are concerned that once you have a right-to-carry permit the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms is going to have your information about what you have,” Wamp said.

Uncompromising Second Amendment protectors believe even a right-to-carry permit is an invasion of Second Amendment rights, Wamp said. He noted the position of the underfunded fourth Republican candidate in the race, Joe Kirkpatrick, a constitutional conservative who has said the Second Amendment is itself the only right-to-carry “permit” Americans should really ever need.