You missed the Tennessee Gubernatorial Debate? We’ve got your back...
Okay, I tried to stay away. But the ghost of Teddy Bart was wrestling with me before the debate. I knew what Teddy would do… and he wouldn't stop playing that damn piano.
Here is my transcription of the debate. These are the lines I took from it and I do admit to being human. All opinions are mine alone. I only covered the main candidates, because it just would have been too much to handle covering what the minor candidates said.
Not all candidates were asked certain questions. They drew the ones who would be asked before the forum began. Sometimes there is only one response listed because the minor candidates gave responses.
Carpe diem, and please ask Teddy to stop...
Opening introductions (remember, these are my impressions only…)
State House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh: Hi! I’m Craig...
State House Speaker Beth Harwell: same opening as last forum, resembles a cyborg, glad to be back at her alma mater...
Mayor Karl Dean: Mostly same opening as last forum, Schwarzenegger at Lipscomb...he’s back
How do you feel about education?
Harwell answers this first question pretty much the same as in the first forum. Wants to be known as the education and reading governor...
Dean ditto. Pretty much same answer as first forum, Pay Teachers more expand Pre-K throughout state...
Fitzhugh ditto above. Early childhood education is very important, I support teachers...
How do you feel about education testing and accountability?
Dean - need accountability and measurements, need to restore credibility in the State Testing programs. “Just get it done and get it right…”
Harwell - “I was a teacher.” Testing is a necessary evil, education consumes a huge part of the state budget. We need testing to be credible, fair, and useful...
Opinion on school vouchers and Charter Schools?
Fitzhugh - I support Public Schools. Vouchers and charter schools are not good for public schools and public education.
How can we help rural Tennesseans?
Fitzhugh - Rural Tennessee needs assistance all over the state. We can give tax breaks targeted specifically toward rural Tennessee development
Harwell - Middle Tennessee is booming. We need to offer tax breaks for development in rural Tennessee, not toward areas that are booming like Middle Tennessee.
Dean - I understand why rural Tennesseans feel forgotten. We need to do more to direct investment and development toward schools and healthcare in rural areas.
What can we do about rural hospitals closing?
Fitzhugh - Expanding Medicaid would have kept those rural hospitals open. I will do that and will reopen those hospitals.
Harwell - Expanding Medicaid would not have affected rural hospital closures. We should do something to expand coverage such as block grants. While I do not always agree with what President Trump does, he does understand the private sector. We should consider Trump's suggestions about block grants as a way to expand access.
How big a priority is improving Tennessee's health?
Harwell - We need to offer incentives to improve the health of all citizens. We do this with state employees through incentive programs and health coaching. We can do this with regular people.
Dean - I was concerned with public health as a mayor. We explored public health initiatives in Nashville. We need to encourage people to be more fit and increase access to healthcare, plus we should build more parks and greenways to help people to get healthy across Tennessee.
Fitzhugh - I want to be a role model for this issue once elected (speaking self-deprecatingly...audience laughing along) We all need to live better, eat better, and exercise more. I helped pass bills to get kids outside and I will make this a priority as your Governor.
What should we do about opioid addiction in Tennessee?
Dean - We have a crisis in Tennessee, but we're making progress. We need to monitor and improve what we are doing already. Access to treatment is a problem and Medicaid expansion would help in that regard. We need more treatment options available to combat this epidemic.
Harwell - Legislation has already been passed to help. We now limit certain prescriptions to acknowledged opioid addicts. We need more TBI agents, more rehab opportunities and more drug courts.
Are you willing to work with the other political party?
Fitzhugh - Yes! We have to cooperate. I know what it's like to be in the minority. I will be a good Governor because I know how the legislature works.
Should Tennessee expand Medicaid? If not, what plan would you suggest?
Fitzhugh - Governor Haslam has done that to an extent using another way, but I cannot understand why we should not expand Medicaid.
Harwell - I helped set up a task force on this issue. We want to have triggers in place to assure that we do not spend more in our budget on this issue than we can realistically afford. We have to be careful about this issue because healthcare is a huge part of our budget.
Dean - We have lost four billion dollars to spend on people who need healthcare (by not expanding.) People are suffering serious medical consequences especially in rural Tennessee because we do not have that money.
Should there be work requirements for Medicaid?
Fitzhugh - TennCare is not designed for people who can work or support others in need. A work requirement would not make sense.
Dean - I have not seen a workable plan to do this. Most of these folks are not in a position to work. Any plan will likely create a huge bureaucracy that will be detrimental to all.
What is your position on sales taxes for online retailers?
Harwell - We want to be a low-tax state. We have a good economy in Tennessee because we made it that way. Local stores should not be in a disadvantage to strictly online retailers on this issue however.
Dean - We need to find ways to capture tax revenue from online retailers.
How do you propose to raise college graduation rates?
Dean - Look at mentors as a way. I did that as a program as mayor in Nashville. Mentors were assigned to individual students. We should do this as a state.
Fitzhugh - I helped with the Complete College Act. It measures how well students are doing in college and in the real world. We need to remember that we have many new students in this state who are the first in their families to go to college. We should do our best not to penalize these new students.
Harwell - I believe that the majority of high school educated kids are improperly prepared for college. My plan would be to strengthen K through 12 education and put an emphasis on real-world education and experience too.
Is the measured outcomes formula working?
Dean - Quality Pre-K through 12 education is important. We need to make sure it is working well. We need more state scholarships because many literally cannot afford to stay in college to graduate.
How would you reduce crime? What are your solutions?
Fitzhugh - Helping kids to learn how to read by the third grade will keep them out of jail. We need to catch up with other states in education initiatives and mental health initiatives.
Harwell - I support law enforcement, but we need truth in sentencing rules and we need to review criminal codes. Prison beds are a limited resource to be used only when necessary. Opportunity is usually the best solution here.
Who would you hire for your team if elected governor?
Harwell - I think about this issue. We have a lot of good people in government and in the private sector who would fit.
Dean - The important thing that the Governor does is to identify the best folks and have appropriate diversity. I would put together and incredibly talented cabinet that is diverse and represents all of Tennessee.
(That response was the first open call toward diversity tonight!)
Fitzhugh - I believe you should hire the best people you can. It doesn't matter where from. You have to have diversity and they need to be from across all of Tennessee.
(Second call for diversity tonight…)
What is your position about local control versus state government?
Dean - I have dealt with this as the mayor of Nashville. The state should exercise authority with wisdom. Guns in parks and overriding city ordinances by the state was not showing good wisdom. The way the state handled removing Confederate monuments in Memphis parks was poor wisdom too.
Harwell - Guns in parks was not a good idea. That should be up to local governments. I thought short-term rentals should be a local issue too.
Give a one word answer to how you feel about what the kids at Parkland High School in Florida did recently. Were their recent protests concerning firearms positive or negative in your view?
Dean - Positive
Harwell - (lots of introductory words...moderator reminds her to give one word answer…) Positive
Fitzhugh - Positive
(only one of the other candidates says negative - audible gasps from the audience)
Should we arm teachers in classrooms?
Fitzhugh - No. Teachers want to teach. We need more school resource officers. I supported a bill to employ off-duty and retired police officers to be school resource officers. I also believe we should ban the type of assault rifle that was used in recent shootings (applause from audience)
Harwell - Having retired police officers as school resource officers is a good idea. Our Homeland Security department will be going to all schools to make an assessment on their safety and help school officials to make them safer. We should have more school resource officers. It was a wise decision by the legislature to not arm teachers.
Dean - No. Having retired police officers as school resource officers is a good idea. The real question is how do we keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous people? I support the Second Amendment, but we need to do something here. We need to find a compromise.
How do you feel about the teacher pay issue? Should student performance and outcomes be linked to teacher pay?
Fitzhugh - We do not pay teachers enough! Longevity should count. A portion of their evaluation should be linked to outcomes, but we need to get it right first!
Harwell - We have put more money into budgets to help them over the last couple of years. Can we do more? Yes! I believe most teachers realize that we do care about them.
The economy under Governor Haslam has been a good one. Based upon economic cycles, an economic recession will be likely for the next governor. If a recession occurs, how would you handle potential budget cuts?
Harwell - It is not pleasant to cut budgets but sometimes you have to. I have done that as the speaker. That is leadership. People have to understand that government cannot do it all. The best way to handle a potential recession is to keep taxes low and, by doing so, we keep the economy strong.
Dean - I have been there on this issue as a mayor. I always protected education, public safety and development budgets. I always had a rainy day fund as mayor of Nashville and I will do all of this as your governor.
Fitzhugh - It is important that the public trust their governor. The flood of 2010 in Nashville led to relief funds for the city’s use...and they pulled millions of dollars out of that funding to build a new amphitheater. That was wrong.
(The moderator begins to introduce the next question, but Dean interrupts the moderator to respond to Fitzhugh's statement… audience murmurs, some gasps… the first real moment of high drama in the forum series so far)
Dean - Fitzhugh is wrong! And he didn't answer the question. Nashville came together in a way that he cannot understand...
(Many in audience applaud...moderator asks audience to stop)
Final question: Why should Tennesseans vote for you?
Fitzhugh - I have a body of work that people can see. I can pull the state together from day one. When we take care of each other...you get progress.
Harwell - I have practical experience and I will hit the ground running. I know state government and can work with the legislature. I am proud of our reform efforts as speaker.
Dean - I am running because Tennesseans want a pragmatic Governor, not an extremist. As mayor of Nashville, I ran in a nonpartisan election and worked as a mayor for all. I will fill potholes and not debate how potholes should be filled.
Takeaways: Reminder that these are the personal opinions of a columnist...
No mention of LGBTQ+ topics or community whatsoever. The two Democrats openly promised to emphasize diversity in their personal hires.
Beth Harwell is still as I described last time, think Carly Fiorina type...Tennessee Style. I always say in jest that she sounds like a programmed corporate cyborg, but that is not necessarily a bad thing when you're hiring the CEO of a large enterprise. No mention of diversity in any of her comments...then again she is female and can point to herself and go from there. Some answers were surprising for her perceived character: against guns in parks, and against arming teachers. Otherwise pretty much stuck to the classic Republican script: low taxes and less government means a better economy and more money in your wallet. Played the “I'm a leader” card twice. She is still not Mae Beavers. Would trust her with the nuclear briefcase unlike some other people...
Karl Dean still sounds like the former mayor of a big city who is doing his best to sell himself to rural Tennessee. Fairly liberal answers to most pitched questions...at least what most would consider “liberal” in this part of the country. Placed on the defensive once by his Democratic opponent regarding an expense made under his watch with flood relief funds back in 2010. Seemed like he didn't expect that, but came back with a line that garnered applause from the mostly Nashville-based audience. Sounds like Phil Bredesen and probably would govern like him too (liberal at heart but pragmatic in practice) Emphasized his background working as a nonpartisan mayor. Going to have his work cut out for him in rural Tennessee...
Craig Fitzhugh took his first real public step tonight to separate himself from Karl Dean. Emphasized his skills as a team player in the state legislature, and argued he is best for the job because the next Governor will need to help a polarized state come together...especially if the current good economy takes a projected dip in the future. Pushed for expansion of Medicaid, better pay for teachers, and called into question his Democrat rival’s approval to spend flood relief money on a new amphitheater. Emphasized his rural roots, a bit of his spiritual side and doubled-down on his progressive stands. Sounds like the classic guy from West Tennessee trying to do good…
The Others: The private sector is always right and we're outsiders! Our employees say they love us. You should too...
Julie Chase is the pen name for a local trans woman and Out&About Nashville columnist.