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Business and Economy News Tax and Budget Transparency and Elections

Candidates Give Guv Credit for Fiscal Stewardship, But Say Spending Curbs Still Needed

Republican gubernatorial candidates are giving Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen good marks for his management of the state budget in tough times.

But they are braced for extremely difficult decisions, and they expressed their approach to the next budget Tuesday at the Bluegrass Yacht and Country Club where the Hendersonville Chamber of Commerce held a forum.

Bredesen last week said the recently approved $28 billion budget plan will leave the next governor in a “good, solid position” and keeps the state “on strong financial footing.”

That’s in contrast to many of the statements that have come from the Republican side of the gubernatorial campaign, where candidates have expressed concerns about the end of stimulus money. Nevertheless, they’re ready to cut, they say.

The consensus is that Tennessee is in excellent shape when compared to other states.

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp addressed the budget and other issues in the forum, and in what may be becoming the norm some sharp exchanges surfaced as the candidates distinguish their positions from each other. The primary election is Aug. 5, and early voting begins July 16.

Haslam told the audience there will be no tax increases, which is something all the candidates agree on, and that the expected economic growth will only be 1 or 2 percent this year, adding that the only alternative is to cut back on the expense side.

“Everybody says we want you to run government like a business, until you do it,” Haslam said. “We’re talking about shrinking the budget in a lot of places. I can tell you the first cuts are the easiest.”

But Wamp, although asked about immigration, didn’t let Haslam’s budget-cutting comments go unchallenged. Wamp pointed out that Haslam raised taxes before he cut the budget in Knoxville.

“I don’t want to let this go by, after what the mayor just said,” Wamp said. “He is my friend, and he is a nice guy, and I know his daughter (Leigh) is in the room, and I don’t want to be mean, but when he became mayor, before he cut a dime of spending, he raised taxes 15 percent.

“That’s not the tough work. If you brag about debt reduction without saying I raised taxes 15 percent, it’s not complete. It’s not honest, and that’s the fact about that. These are differences that need to come out as we go down the stretch, because frankly we don’t need anymore establishment moderates running our state.”

Haslam came back, saying, “I’m the only one that’s been responsible for preparing, passing and implementing a budget. If revenues don’t meet expenses that’s been my job.”

Haslam said his predecesssor — he didn’t name him, but it was Victor Ashe — had said the person who succeeded him had no choice but to have a tax increase.

“Now, we have the lowest property tax rate in over 50 years,” Haslam said. “Our budget is less than three years ago, and I am glad to stand by that record.”

The budget issue is clearly the biggest obstacle facing the next governor. All three candidates at the forum credited Bredesen for his management.

“Compared to other states, Governor Bredesen is leaving the next governor in pretty sound condition,” Wamp said before the forum. “I’m grateful for the work he has done on economic development, bringing in new investments in our state, and I’m grateful he has responsibly managed the budget over his eight years.

“And I do believe the state, compared to other states, is in a strong position going forward, even though we’ve got budget deficits (ahead). We actually have the ability to manage those budget deficits in our state without new taxes, which is rare in America today.”

Ramsey was squarely in the middle of the recent budget process and was critical of Bredesen when the governor introduced a list of potential new taxes to get the budget process home. But in the end, the Legislature pushed back enough to claim it balanced the budget with no tax increases, and Ramsey said he was proud of that.

“We left a blueprint on how the next governor can get back to a recurring-to-nonrecurring basis. In other words we’re not using one-time money to finance expenses,” Ramsey said. “I think the Senate was very protective. I’ll hand it to our chairman of finance, Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge,) who was an ardent proponent of making sure that happened.

“Also the House wanted to dig deeper into reserves, to dig deeper in our rainy day fund, and the Senate held firm on that. So the next governor will at least have some cushion if the economy doesn’t turn around. We all hope the economy turns around and this takes care of itself, but we have left a blueprint.”

Ramsey added that the state is still not out of the woods.

“It’s still going to be hard. It’s still going to be tough,” Ramsey said. “But the next governor will at least have a way to get out of this.”

Haslam, no doubt thinking of those people who say they want cuts but then react when the cuts actually occur, is clearly concerned about the loss of stimulus funds from the federal government.

“I’ll give the Legislature and the administration credit for passing a good budget this year, but there is a lot of money in this year’s budget that is not available in next year’s,” Haslam said. “There are some rainy day funds I don’t think we will be able to draw from next year, some stimulus plan money. There will be a big challenge.

“Relative to some of our peer states, are we in good shape? Yeah, I think we are, and I think a lot of people deserve credit for that. I don’t think anybody should kid themselves. We saw how hard it was to figure out the last hundred-million-dollar gap of this year’s budget, and there’s a billion and a half in revenue in this year’s budget that’s not going to be in next year’s.”

Haslam pointed again to the reaction when the reality of budget-cutting comes.

“Some blueprints have been laid out for how we’re going to deal with that, but that pain hasn’t been felt yet,” he said. “Showing a plan for how we’re going to make cuts and then making the cuts and feeling those cuts is a whole different thing.”

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Business and Economy News Transparency and Elections

Economic Recovery Elusive; Fears of Double Dip Recession Loom

A read on gubernatorial candidates in recent days, seeking their interpretations of where the economy is headed, was very much like getting a read from economists.

There is no unanimity of opinion.

Candidates are certainly not experts at economic predictions, but they travel the state constantly and are in about as good a position to gauge the economic landscape across the state as anybody. They talk to a lot of people in a lot of sectors, and they listen as they go.

The next governor and General Assembly will have to grapple with economic woes regardless of which way the pendulum is swinging next January when the new administration takes office, but any person running for governor has to be wondering if the trouble ahead is known or about to get worse than advertised.

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, who routinely tells voters the state will have a $1.5 billion hole to deal with, still believes the longterm view is positive.

“The stock market is not always the most accurate reflection of the economy,” Haslam said. “There are so many other things involved than that. I think we’re in the early stages of the recovery, but I think we have a long way to go, and I think employment is going to lag in this recovery.”

Tennessee, like the nation as a whole, is seeing encouraging pockets of economic news. Earlier this month, the state said revenue collections for April were at a net positive growth of 2.23 percent over the same month a year ago. April revenues were $1.243 billion, $43.4 million more than budgeted. It was the state’s first positive sales tax growth month in nearly two years. The state’s unemployment rate for April was 10.5 percent, an improvement by one-tenth of a percentage point over March.

But one of Haslam’s rivals for the Republican nomination believes Tennessee is still in for a remarkably difficult time.

“I’ve been in all 95 counties, and I cannot see an economic recovery,” said U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga. “The stock market, I’m concerned, is responding to the global economies of Greece and Europe and weak economies frankly because of large government debt.”

With the lingering problems in the global economy, questions are rising as to whether the previously bleak projections have told the full story. The bad news could get worse. Wamp says the United States needs to change its approach.

“We’re headed in (the wrong) direction, unless we reverse some of our decisions as a nation in terms of spending, consumer confidence and confidence by small business people,” said Wamp. “Investor confidence and other governments’ confidence in our ability to repay our own debt is not going to come back, and that slows the economic recovery. I still think we are months, if not years, away from an economic recovery.”

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, who has taken pains to remind voters at every turn that federal stimulus funds run out next January, said he wasn’t sure if the nation is in a recovery or not.

“I was hoping for a turnaround. For the first time in months we saw an uptick in revenue,” Ramsey said. “But I think it’s going to be a long, slow recovery, not a quick upturn. I know some on Wall Street are calling it a double dip. Who knows? If I knew, I’d be the richest man in the world.”

But Ramsey who has an auction and real estate business, has noticed some improvements that hit close to home.

“I tell you, it’s feeling better in the real world, as far as the real estate market,” Ramsey said. “In the last few weeks, I’ve seen upticks in my business in particular. It could just be spring fever. The real estate market always picks up in the spring. So who knows?”

Democrat Mike McWherter, who has locked up his party’s nomination, points to what has become a common expression — jobless recovery.

“My sense of the situation is that we are at the bottom of this recession,” McWherter, who owns a beer distributorship in Jackson, said. “But the problem we’ve got now is that the recovery seems to be a jobless one. That’s why I’m focusing on creating jobs here in this state.

“That’s what my program is about, recruiting industry and how we give incentives to existing businesses to add employees. If we do that, if we get people back to work, there’s no question we’ll be in a full recovery.”

Another Republican candidate, Joe Kirkpatrick, who has participated in several gubernatorial forums although he’s vastly underfunded by comparison to his opponents, sees no sign the economy is in a recovery.

“It’s clear that we’re not,” Kirkpatrick said. “The very idea that we were ever in one was smoke and mirrors.

“We’re at 10 percent unemployment. With those who have quit looking for a job, those that are underemployed, you’re looking at between 20 percent and 30 percent out of work.”

Haslam said he sees employers being cautious.

“I’ve talked to a lot of employers who said, ‘My business is slowly getting better, but I don’t feel confident enough to go hire people back yet, or when I do I’m hiring temporaries,'” Haslam said.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said this month that Tennessee’s workforce, at 3,028,500, is the highest since May 2009 and that the number of unemployed, 318,000, is at its lowest since March 2009.

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Featured News Transparency and Elections

Candidates Riding New Waves of Advertising

They’ve been noted for red umbrellas, a black boot and a special book that displays special effects.

No more do political junkies have to sit around watching television all day just to catch a glimpse of a gubernatorial candidate’s latest commercial: All you have to do is surf on over to their website or Facebook page and click away to your heart’s content.

Still, the candidates know — for the time being, at least — the people they need to reach are those sitting at home watching television, who will react to whatever happens to show up on the screen, not what they might go looking for on a computer.

The availability of quality, professional advertising on television has become so important that campaigns are now making news when they launch an ad. They announce advertising the way movies and television companies announce their productions. You won’t see a candidate show up on a television talk show to discuss his new ad that’s opening — not yet, anyway — but it has become a measure of a campaign’s viability if the candidate can afford to hit the airwaves with ads. The ads themselves are being analyzed for their effectiveness and for fact-checking purposes. Sometimes candidates make hay off another candidate’s ads.

But given recent strides in the role new media plays, the major contenders were asked about the wave of the future of campaign ads. Could the day come when campaigns can save a lot of money by advertising more directly to audiences rather than buy pricey time on local television stations?

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp says technology has changed campaigns and that ways to reach voters are constantly evolving. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says it’s possible that shifts may come. Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam says conventional television advertising is still the way to reach voters needed to win. Democratic candidate Mike McWherter, who has already wrapped up his primary race, has not gone up with ads on television yet, but he is certainly using the other tools of the Internet to connect with voters.

“I’ve been involved in politics 28 years, and it has evolved in every cycle like you wouldn’t believe,” Wamp said. “I was asked, ‘What about print?’ I said print has changed. Print is electronic. If you’re asking me if we’re communicating very effectively off of television, the answer is absolutely.”

Wamp said to go check out more than 14,000 Facebook friends for his campaign, or over 4,000 people who follow Wamp on Twitter.

“We’re communicating literally with hundreds of thousands of people not on television now,” Wamp said. “Yes, it’s changing rapidly. Everything is wireless.”

Wamp notes how new media communications played a key role in the last presidential campaign, which boosted Barack Obama’s bid for the White House. With each election cycle, technologies are playing a fascinating role. But it’s still questionable as to whether statewide campaigns will ever be able to work without conventional television advertising.

“It’s possible,” Ramsey said. “The Internet will be part of that, but cable television will be part of that, too.

“When you have Fox getting the highest rating show on television news right now and the three major networks at the bottom of the heap, suddenly you can start reversing that. So it will be a combination of the networks just falling off a cliff and scratching their heads wondering why — but I can figure it out — and you’ve got the networks like Fox News of the world coming on. So I would like to think that would be the case, probably the next election cycle.”

Haslam is not so sure. The Haslam campaign has used modern techniques like most campaigns. But any move away from conventional televison advertising sounds remote for now to Haslam. He doesn’t think the landscape will change anytime soon.

“I would like to think that, but the reality is the difference in advertising on broadcast and not is phenomenal, in terms of the scope of awareness,” Haslam said. “So could that day be coming? Maybe.

“Nobody 10 years ago would have thought we’d be where we are. I’ll put it this way. Those of us who play the inside game of politics and look at everything on the Internet, we’re still the distinct minority. Most voters aren’t seeing that.”

Haslam’s campaign recently announced two new television advertisements, one of which addresses civility and shows Haslam alone in a studio setting, saying the governor’s race should stick to the issues.

Haslam said that ad was not in response to anything that had been said recently in the campaign.

“We filmed that weeks ago, so it’s not a response,” Haslam said. “It’s only a response to what I hear from people when I’m out there campaigning. That’s what we want to talk about. This is important stuff. Let’s talk about the important stuff.”

Ramsey has chosen the image of a boot, saying Tennessee should give Washington “the boot” on how the nation’s capital is treating the states. When Haslam’s first ad showed the candidate and supporters walking in the rain with red umbrellas, the umbrellas got a lot of the attention. Wamp has said he doesn’t have an umbrella or a boot but a plan, and his first ad showed him standing in front of an industrial site emphasizing the need to attract jobs to the state. He opens a book that shows a video of Wamp talking to people at a work site. Subsequent Wamp ads are aimed at different regions of the state, and he holds up his 20/20 Vision book, although he doesn’t open the book in the latest ads.

Most people can distinguish between a quality production ad and simple video of a campaign event, but then again some people who don’t study such things might not see the difference, which leads again to the question of whether traditional campaign methods are going the way of the black-and-white TV.

“I am the most savvy candidate in this race from either party on using the new medium of communication through the Internet,” Wamp said. “That’s why I have the most Facebook friends, the most Twitter followers. We’ve been at it a long time.

“It’s nice. You can do a lot of things with a little money. That’s one of the ways this past presidential campaign took on a new dimension, and so now you can do it at the state level and at the local level. And we’re doing it. I’m not going to tell you how we’re doing it, because I don’t want them doing it as well as we do it, but we’re doing it.”

Wamp said the majority of a campaign’s spending is on television. Some of the new ways of campaigning don’t cost as much.

“Yes, you can do it a lot less expensively. This is not about ‘Who has the most money wins,'” he said. “It’s about ‘Who has the most votes wins.’ You can get votes without a lot of money, and actually that’s the governor you need — a person who knows how to do more with less.”

Wamp said most of the money is spent on network affiliated television in a statewide campaign, whether it’s for the U.S. Senate or for governor.

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News Transparency and Elections

Flood Issues Dominate Candidate Forum

Three gubernatorial candidates took on one of the toughest questions possible Monday night when asked at a forum at Lipscomb University how best to respond to a massive flood like the one Nashville and much of the state just endured.

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp said he brought a national perspective to such a special challenge. Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam emphasized the need to set the right priorities in organizing a response. Jackson businessman Mike McWherter talked about his personal hardship from the storm and described joining the sandbagging efforts at MetroCenter in Nashville. One other candidate, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, was scheduled to attend but couldn’t because he had to work — in session at the Legislature.

Wamp, Haslam and Ramsey are Republicans. McWherter is the lone Democrat in the field.

The question itself about the flood came in unusual fashion, preceded by a three-minute video of images from the storm accompanied by music. The mood was reflective, not so much somber, at the Collins Auditorium event held by the Nashville Junior Chamber of Commerce. Joel Sullivan, CEO of the Nashville Area Red Cross, addressed the audience after the candidates spoke, and the evening was all the more poignant given that Lipscomb’s Allen Arena had served as a shelter for victims.

Wamp said the circumstance presents the challenge of making key decision-makers understand the magnitude of the problem many of the flood’s victims face, due to its historic nature, and he likened the situation to Hurricane Katrina.

“We’ve got to make a consolidated effort to convince people that those who were affected by Katrina and the Gulf storm surge are no different than Tennesseans who didn’t have flood insurance,” Wamp said.

“The challenge we have here is asking the United States government to do more for us than the normal FEMA rule, because a lot of young families had no idea when this week began that they would effectively end up with a second mortgage, because all they may qualify for is a long-term low-interest loan.

“This is important for us to stand together as a state and ask the federal government to help us even more.”

Wamp said there was no one else in the race with as much experience in this area as he has. He said he had toured the Katrina zone as a member of Congress multiple times and wrote reports for the Appropriations Committee on the challenges regarding Katrina.

McWherter explained that his company in Jackson was flooded.

“There was 21 inches of water in my office,” McWherter said. “I was watching tadpoles swim around my desk that evening.”

He said after Interstate 40 opened up, he drove to Nashville for the volunteer work.

“I wanted to prevent what had happened to me,” he said.

Haslam described talking to people as divergent as Colin Reed, chief of Gaylord Entertainment, home of the flooded Gaylord Opryland Resort hotel and the Grand Ole Opry House, to a man running a funeral home in Millington.

“The governor’s job is to figure out what is happening, what the state can do to help, then immediately talk to the federal government,” Haslam said. “One of the unique things in this was the widespread impact. It will be a lot more work and take a little longer than maybe it has in the past.”

McWherter complimented the work of Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and Gov. Phil Bredesen and said that was the kind of leader he would like to be.

The forum did not deal solely with the flood. One noteworthy item was that the forum presented a clear case of a conflict of interest, with a candidate openly admitting he would have to step aside on an issue.

That was McWherter on the issue of whether wine should be sold in grocery stores. The issue is whether large grocery businesses should be able to sell wine, which is now fundamental to small-business liquor stores. McWherter is a beer distributor and has an interest in how that issue would affect his business. He openly admitted it and said he would leave the decision to the legislature.

McWherter began his answer by saying, “I am a beer wholesaler, and I prefer that everybody drink beer.”

The issue of a conflict of interest has come up before with Haslam and his family’s business, Pilot Corp., which runs Pilot Travel Centers, but Haslam has been hit on that issue mainly as a roads issue. Haslam said on the wine matter it’s important to protect the investment of small businesses, saying, “My tendency now, until I hear something better, is to leave the law as it is.”

Ramsey’s absence didn’t prevent Wamp from pointing out that when Ramsey first went to the Legislature, there were 10,000 fewer people who worked in state government. Ramsey has painted himself as one who would cut government, but the Wamp campaign has linked Ramsey to the growth in state government during his time in state office.

Wamp, who has been criticized for being part of the problem in Washington in his role as a congressman, used the forum to emphasize his knowledge of how the federal government functions, given that over half the state budget is federal money passing through.

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News Transparency and Elections

Candidates Eager to Debate

Gubernatorial candidates have been eager recently to get on with debates, rather than forums. But as another major forum is scheduled Monday night at Lipscomb University, the tone may be somewhat subdued in the wake of the recent flooding in Middle and West Tennessee.

The scheduled forum, hosted by the Nashville Junior Chamber of Commerce, is expected to stick to the familiar format of candidates answering questions one at a time, although it’s likely candidates at some point will feel a need to express their feelings about the impact the recent floods have had.

The Junior Chamber has touted the expected participation of the three major Republican candidates — Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey — as well as Jackson businessman Mike McWherter, the lone Democrat remaining in the campaign. Questions are expected to focus on subjects such as economic expansion and education. Another forum is scheduled earlier in the day Monday in Nashville by the Associated Builders and Contractors.

The race has been going forward where it could in the state. Haslam, for example, held a big event in Memphis with former U.S. Sen. Howard Baker on Thursday. But candidates have also been expressing their concerns about victims of the disaster, including links on campaign Web sites for where to find help. Ramsey established a drop-off site in Bristol for flood relief for the other parts of the state. Much of the state was spared the flooding.

Forums for the candidates thus far have amounted to candidates being given time to make opening and closing statements and answer questions, one at a time, in a structured format. But the desire for more interaction could be sensed among the candidates after a recent forum at Middle Tennessee State University.

Candidates have been appreciative of the opportunity to give their pitches, but thus far in the race to succeed Gov. Phil Bredesen, who is term-limited, there has been little room for real debate.

The basic forum does still serve as a valuable format for voters, many of whom are just now becoming familiar with the candidates. But it’s not surprising that the candidates themselves, who have been doing such events since last year, are ready for more.

“I’m ready for the television cameras to come on statewide and us to have as many open, free-flowing debates, so we can talk issues,” said Wamp after the MTSU forum.

“There’s been so much canned, staged, scripted, coached language. We’ve been together over a hundred times, and we’ve yet to really get into ‘wait-a-second-that’s-not-true.'”

Wamp is not alone.

“As soon as we can get there, I’m ready for it,” Ramsey said. “I am, because I do think I have the knowledge and experience on the issues to be able to debate them.”

Ramsey said he has already found moments when he thought he had the upper hand because he believed he had a better command of the facts.

The recent forum in Murfreesboro was even more constraining than most since much of the program involved asking a specific question of a specific candidate and not of the others.

“In a situation like this where there are a lot of questions you want to answer more of them,” Haslam said. “There’s a lot of those where you think, ‘I want to answer that one, too.'”

When asked that night if he’s ready for a debate format, Haslam was quick to respond.

“You bet,” he said. “I would love that. The problem with this format is somebody can make a comment, and if you’ve gone before them, you don’t get a chance to talk for about six things later, and by then it’s a long way away. I would prefer a debate.”

While political crowds may be familiar with the candidates and their positions, it might be just now dawning on many potential voters that there’s a governor’s race going on. That’s why there’s cause to mention Republican candidate Joe Kirkpatrick, who is often excluded from major events because of fund-raising levels but is working as hard as any of the candidates. Meanwhile, several independent candidates will be on the ballot.

A big reason candidates have been doing forums for so long is the simple fact that they had to launch fund-raising efforts long before an official campaign begins. In fact, frustration over raising money has been a major factor why some candidates have already dropped out on both the Republican and Democratic sides of the campaign.

Then there’s the Democrats’ own special factor. At one time, the Democratic field included McWherter, Kim McMillan, Jim Kyle, Roy Herron and Ward Cammack. All but one, McWherter, have dropped out, for various reasons, which leaves forum organizers with an odd situation. Just at a time many voters are beginning to pay attention, all but one of the Democrats are out.

The real competition at the moment is the three-way battle for the Republican nomination. So it creates a somewhat awkward situation to have McWherter on stage with the three Republicans. Until McMillan quit the race to run instead for mayor of Clarksville, an audience could normally count on at least two candidates from each party to participate.

McWherter has expressed his own frustration with a forum-style program.

“I really would like to have the opportunity to talk about the tax incentive program I want to deliver for small business in this state,” McWherter said. “It’s hard to do that in a 90-second response.

“I want to talk about that and the need to go out and recruit these supplying industries for Volkswagen, Wacker and Hemlock. I’m a little frustrated truthfully with not being able to spend a little more time going a little more in-depth. We’re kind of at the surface level at this time. But I know I’ll get that chance, and I’m excited about being able to do that.”

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Business and Economy Tax and Budget

Shedding State Employees Key to Ramsey’s Plan for Shaving Government Spending

If it sounds like Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s plan to restructure Tennessee government would mean lopping off a lot of people from the state payroll, then you heard it right, he says.

“That’s exactly right,” Ramsey said of his plan that would involve merging departments. “When you see mergers going on in the private sector, you usually see people losing their jobs. It’s hard to get sympathy for state employees from people in the private sector when they’re getting laid off and state employees aren’t.”

Ramsey, R-Blountville, got a lot of people’s attention last week when his plan to drastically refashion state departments surfaced in a television ad for his gubernatorial campaign. He later said, for example, it would involve folding agencies like the Department of Revenue into the Department of Finance and Administration and the Department of Children’s Services into the Department of Human Services.

But while he offered those examples last week, it still left questions unanswered. It wasn’t clear what he meant when he said the state had 22 departments and government could be reduced by one-third. Combining departments theoretically could mean putting them together without reducing their workforce, and 22 is not a number easily divisible by “one-third.” He was asked if his goal was to reduce the number of departments or simply to reduce state government overall by a third.

“Both,” he said.

“I’ve been on the legislative side for 18 years and want to be able to take a bottom-up evaluation of state government, and that’s exactly what we’re going to need to do.

“We talk about having recurring and non-recurring money in state government. Really, everything should be non-recurring. You look at the next year and see if it’s actually needed. So we’re going to have departments combined. My goal, when I leave office after four years, after the first term at least, would be to have fewer state employees than when I went in. We need to be downsizing government.”

Ramsey is not the only Republican candidate in the governor’s race to talk about downsizing government. U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp has frequently pointed out that in 2000 there were 42,000 people working for the state and currently the number is 48,000. Wamp cites a need to “right-size” government. Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam has talked about redesigning government, although he has not characterized the process in such blunt terms as Ramsey. Mike McWherter, the last Democrat remaining in the race, has vowed a push for efficiency in government.

The line between Ramsey’s role as a lead negotiator in the budget process as speaker of the Senate and his role as a gubernatorial candidate has become blurred. After Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen proposed lifting the sales-tax cap on items over $3,200, Ramsey not only criticized the proposal as a legislator but began to use it in stump speeches. He targeted the tax proposal directly in a radio ad for his campaign, as though he were running against the Bredesen administration and not his opponents in the campaign.

Bredesen has wondered aloud why Ramsey hasn’t proposed such dramatic cuts in the current budget process. Bredesen had publicly requested that Ramsey be more of a legislator than a political candidate until the budget process is over. But Ramsey has been undeterred in using the issue in his campaign.

“My thinking is the governor proposed a tax increase, and I’m not in favor of it,” he said. “Maybe it is something I’m taking advantage of, because my philosophy is playing right into this.

“Here we are. If the governor had proposed about $85 million or more in cuts a week or so ago, I think we would have gone along with that and gone on home. I think he shocked us all by proposing $85 million in taxes at the worst possible time, and it is on small businesses.”

The sales-tax cap proposal has become a point of contention as to its major target. The administration has noted its application to luxury items like jewelry and furs and then business expenses. Ramsey has seized upon the business impact.

“It is directly aimed at the very people we hope will help us grow out of this economic cycle we’re in,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey said drastic action is the only option the state will have.

“I think Governor Bredesen would really agree with this. We’ve nipped around the edges about all we can do,” Ramsey said. “We’re trying to find $85 million to cover the tax increase he proposed, and it gets hard without totally restructuring and rethinking state government, and as the next governor that’s what I’ll do.”

Ramsey has repeatedly referred to the fact the state government will “fall off a cliff” in January 2011 when federal stimulus funds run out and that the next governor takes office in January 2011.

“The next governor needs to be ready to face that,” Ramsey said. “And I’m chomping at the bit to do that.”

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Press Releases

Wamp Releases 2009 Federal Tax Return

Press Release from Zach Wamp for Governor; April 29, 2010:

Challenges Haslam, Ramsey to Join Him in Being Fully Open, Transparent

NASHVILLE – Zach Wamp, Republican candidate for Governor, today released to the Tennessee Newspaper Network and the Associated Press his family’s 2009 federal tax return. In doing so, Wamp renewed his challenged to Bill Haslam and Ron Ramsey to be as fully open and transparent about their own income from any personal or business holdings, as well as all conflicts of interest that could arise from those holdings were they to be elected Tennessee governor.

Wamp also pledged to continue to voluntarily release his personal income tax return and finances each year he serves as the state’s chief executive.

“I want to be as open and transparent as possible with the people of Tennessee about my personal finances and business holdings while serving as governor,” Wamp said. “Public service for me has never been about acquiring more money or power. It’s been about making a positive impact on the lives of the people I’ve been elected to serve. That’s why I’m fully disclosing my taxes and finances to avoid even the hint of a conflict while I am governor, and why I’ve once again challenged my opponents to change their minds and do the same.”

In December, Wamp voluntarily released his personal tax returns from the last five years and a detailed financial statement itemizing all of his family’s financial information to the Tennessee Newspaper Network (TNN), exceeding the network’s request for income tax data from just the three previous years.

Both Ron Ramsey and Bill Haslam have refused to comply with the TNN request, with Ramsey releasing only his federal 1040 forms, but with no details or support schedules, while Haslam has yet to release any copies of his tax returns or disclose any details about his annual income from Pilot Oil, his family’s business, or the amount of taxes he owed or paid from that income.

Ramsey earlier this month told the media that Haslam’s annual income is in excess of $60 million, but Haslam has chosen not to disclose even an approximation of his annual income from Pilot Oil, which conducts business in several heavily state-regulated areas that Haslam would oversee if elected governor.

In addition to Pilot Oil being an active state player and corporate beneficiary from the sale of gasoline, tobacco, beer and lottery tickets in Tennessee, Bill Haslam and the co-owners of Pilot Oil retain a registered state lobbyist who works in Nashville to watch over their many other state- regulated concerns in trucking, environmental regulation, etc.

“Both the general public and our Republican Party should be wary of any candidate who refuses to be open and transparent about his income and related conflicts of interest on issues he will be called on to oversee in government,” Wamp said. “And if you have a paid lobbyist working for you in Nashville, while also making millions of dollars each year from state-regulated interests, then you run the risk of forfeiting the right to serve if you flat out refuse to put it all on the table for Tennessee taxpayers to clearly see.”

For more information about Zach Wamp and his campaign for governor, please visit the campaign online at www.ZachWamp.com.

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Press Releases

Wamp Outlines 20/20 Vision For Tennessee

Press Release from Zach Wamp for Governor, April 28, 2010:

New Document Highlights Specific Areas of Emphasis for Wamp Governorship

NASHVILLE – Zach Wamp, Republican candidate for Governor, announced today that he has posted on his campaign Web site his 20/20 Vision For an Even Better Tennessee, a new 12-page document that outlines Wamp’s priorities and plans as governor in six specific issue areas of critical importance to Tennessee’s future between now and the year 2020.

The document is now available for viewing at www.ZachWamp.com. The plan is also featured in Wamp’s current television advertisement running statewide.

Wamp’s 20/20 Vision outlines his plans as governor in the following areas: job creation; better schools; a healthier Tennessee; safer streets and communities; a limited, low-tax state government; and maintaining the state’s sovereignty.

“My 20/20 Vision will be my blueprint and action plan as governor in six areas absolutely critical to the future of Tennessee,” Wamp said. “Job one is getting Tennessee’s economy moving again and more Tennesseans back to work through a new “production agenda” and improving our schools and boosting student achievement with a renewed focus on early childhood reading.”

Wamp’s vision for job creation includes a bold new “production agenda” centered around manufacturing, agriculture and construction – an agenda that focuses on making, building and growing more products in Tennessee and leverages the state’s many advantages, including our right-to-work status, low cost-of-living, high quality of life and no state income tax to help attract more manufacturers.

Included in Wamp’s job creation plans for West Tennessee are proposals for a new Agriculture Corridor to boost investment and production and promotion of the new Memphis Research Consortium that links the area’s top universities and research institutions as well as employers in an effort to recruit more high-tech jobs to Shelby County.

In addition, Wamp has proposed a new Defense Corridor in middle Tennessee that will capitalize on Ft. Campbell near Clarksville, Arnold Center in Tullahoma and the state’s other defense industry assets to create a powerful new economic engine for job creation across the state; along with the continued development of the Tennessee Valley Technology Corridor in East Tennessee, which Zach helped create, now home to Volkswagen, Wacker Chemie, new and expanding missions in Oak Ridge and expanded opportunities in the Tri-Cities for growing high-tech industries and small businesses.

Wamp’s vision for better schools includes a “cradle to grave” approach with a strong new focus on boosting the early reading skills of more Tennessee children in an effort to increase both student achievement and school success.

Under Wamp’s plan, Tennessee children will be benchmarked when they enter Kindergarten, and those not reading to grade level by 3rd grade will receive direct instruction and phonics during the school day to help catch them up to their peers. Wamp’s objective is to have all Tennessee children ready to read for content by the end of 3rd grade to help them learn and succeed.

Wamp will also focus on helping more K-12 students prepare for and connect with post K-12 educational opportunities and new, high-tech jobs in the state’s expanding high-tech sector. For example, Wamp’s plan will replicate the state’s existing “Hemlock model,” a new workforce training partnership being used in Clarksville to better meet the needs of both students and regional employers through more dual enrollment options in high school, vocational schools and local community colleges and universities.

For more information about Zach’s 20/20 Vision for job creation and better schools, along with his plans for a healthier Tennessee, safer streets and communities, a limited, low-tax state government as well as his views on pushing back on Washington to protect our state sovereignty and Tennessee’s way of life, please visit the campaign online at www.ZachWamp.com.

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Press Releases

Wamp to Haslam: Stop ‘Push-Polling’

Press Release from Zach Wamp for Governor; April 23, 2010:

NASHVILLE — The Zach Wamp for Governor campaign today demanded that Bill Haslam immediately cease and desist the highly-unethical campaign practice of “push-polling.” The Wamp campaign also demanded that Haslam personally explain why his campaign has resorted to such calls, to identify the name of the vendor who was hired to make the calls, and to fully disclose how much the vendor was paid to conduct the calls for the Haslam campaign in recent weeks.

The American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC) defines the practice of “push-polling” as not polling at all, but rather the use of phone calls aimed at voter persuasion, dishonestly presented as a survey of public opinion. The AAPC board joined with thirty-one professional pollsters in condemning this practice as a clear violation of the AAPC’s Code of Ethics and a degradation of the political process. The full AAPC policy on “push-polling” is included in full below.

Over the past week, the Wamp campaign has been getting numerous complaints from loyal Wamp supporters all across the state about highly-unethical “push-poll” calls they’ve received. Callers have asked the Wamp supporters who they are supporting for governor, and after they have responded “Zach Wamp,” they were then asked “whether they would change their mind if they knew….” followed by as series of false or misleading statements about Wamp. The calls have been very widespread reaching Wamp supporters in all three grand divisions of the state.

This morning at the Paris Fish Fry in Henry County, gubernatorial candidate Ron Ramsey confirmed his campaign has also been receiving similar complaints from his supporters about receiving “push-poll” calls this week.

“It‘s shameful that Bill Haslam, who’s already spent millions of dollars on television commercials but has yet to utter a single word himself on camera about his plans for Tennessee, resorts to such lavishly expensive and unethical campaign tactics to attack his opponents,” said Sam Edelen, Wamp campaign spokesperson.

“A statewide calling program of this type does not come cheap, so what comes through loud and clear here is that Bill Haslam is a candidate with lots of dollars, but no ideas. Bill Haslam should stop the ‘push-polling’ at once and fully explain to Tennesseans why he resorted to these tactics.”

AAPC Board of Directors Declaration Regarding “Push Polling”

On May 23, 1996 the American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC) received a letter signed by thirty-one of the nation’s top public opinion pollsters condemning the increasingly common practice of “push-polling,” where phone calls aimed at voter persuasion are dishonestly presented as surveys of public opinion. The AAPC board joined the pollsters in condemning this practice as a clear violation of the AAPC’s Code of Ethics and a degradation of the political process.

The AAPC’s Ethics Committee addressed this issue in December of 1995, agreeing unanimously that so-called “push-polls” violate the AAPC’s stricture against “any activity which would corrupt or degrade the practice of political campaigning.” To the extent that practitioners of the “push-poll” ruse convey inaccurate information about an election opponent, they also violate the AAPC’s stricture against false and misleading attacks.

The AAPC board notes that so-called “push-polls” are not really polls at all. In their letter, the bipartisan group of survey researchers drew the distinction correctly, as follows:

1. Legitimate polling firms open each interview by providing the true name of the firm or the telephone research center conducting the interview. Practitioners of so-called “push-polling” generally provide no name, or in some cases make up a name.

2. In a true opinion survey, research firms interview on a small random sample of the population to be studied, typically ranging from up to a thousand interviews for a major statewide study to as few as 300 in a congressional district. With so-called “push-polls,” the objective is to reach a very high percentage of the voters.

3. The interviews conducted by real polling firms generally range in length from at least five minutes for even the shortest of tracking questionnaires to more than 30 minutes for a major benchmark study. So-called “push-poll” interviews are typically designed to last 30 to 60 seconds.

4. While real pollsters do sometimes give interviewees new information about a candidate, the intent of this process is not to shift public opinion but to simulate potential campaign debate and to accesses how the voter might respond. So-called “push-polls” are designed specifically to persuade.

5. To our knowledge, there is no overlap whatsoever between legitimate polling firms and firms that conduct so-called “push polls.”

The AAPC Board urges the news media and the public to take note of these distinctions and to refrain from characterizing persuasion or advocacy phone calling as “polling.” These two campaign services are totally different and should not be confused with each other.

The AAPC acknowledges, of course, that voter persuasion by telephone is a perfectly legitimate campaign practice. What we condemn is advocacy phone calling that:

1. Masquerades as survey research;

2. Fails to clearly and accurately identify the sponsor of the call; or

3. Presents false or misleading information to the voter.

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Press Releases

Wamp Launches Statewide TV Ad

Press Release from Zach Wamp for Governor; April 22, 2010:

Thirty-Second Spot Focuses On Job Creation, Wamp’s 20/20 Vision For Tennessee

NASHVILLE – Zach Wamp, Republican candidate for Governor, today announced his campaign began airing a 30-second television ad this morning on broadcast television outlets in every media market in the state to communicate his 20/20 Vision For An Even Better Tennessee and his detailed plan to help jump-start the state’s economy, put more Tennesseans back to work and build the most dynamic economy in America based on our strengths, regional assets and distinct advantages.

The new ad can be previewed today beginning at 8:00 a.m. CT/9:00 a.m. ET via Wamp’s campaign Web site at www.ZachWamp.com.

“This first television ad is designed to convey my passion and my plan for how I will go right to work to get our state’s economy moving again,” Wamp said. “What Tennesseans want and need is a governor who will create jobs for their families and their communities. That’s what I’ve done in East Tennessee, and that’s what I will do for the rest of Tennessee.”

“One of my opponents has a red umbrella, one has a boot, but I am the candidate with a detailed plan to make Tennessee an even better state and create the most dynamic economy in America.”

Wamp’s ad opens by referencing the new Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga and his work creating the award-winning Tennessee Valley Technology Corridor 15 years ago to help attract more high-tech and manufacturing jobs and industry to East Tennessee. Wamp’s vision and work to link the region’s high-tech assets to create a high-tech jobs corridor now spans five states and 10 congressional districts – all working together to grow and attract the jobs of the future.

Often called the “Region’s Mayor” by U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, Wamp’s work to promote a regional approach to economic development has led to many of the state’s biggest economic wins in recent years right in his congressional district. These include Volkswagen and Wacker Chemie in the Chattanooga area, new missions and investments in Oak Ridge, new bio-fuel, nuclear and solar energy investments throughout the region, and thousands of growing small business jobs generated from these and other related manufacturing investments.

To help trigger the Volkswagen success, Wamp refers in the ad to his leadership and work with Hamilton County leaders and other state and federal officials to help transfer and convert the abandoned Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant into a new technology-focused industrial park called Enterprise South.

That site is now home to Volkswagen’s new $1 billion auto assembly plant that will directly employ 2,000 workers and thousands more in related supplier and spin-off jobs.

Wamp closes the spot by introducing his 20/20 Vision For An Even Better Tennessee – a specific plan designed to move the state forward and create new “production jobs” all across Tennessee. Specifics from Wamp’s 20/20 Vision are now available online for viewing or download at www.ZachWamp.com.

“My 20/20 Vision for Tennessee is clear. Our game plan is ready. And by working together, I know we can make this state even better and create America’s most dynamic economy right here in Tennessee,” Wamp said.

For more information about Zach Wamp and his campaign for governor, please visit the campaign online at www.ZachWamp.com.