Five leading candidates for Tennessee’s highest elective office participated in a gubernatorial forum on Tuesday night. Democratic candidates Craig Fitzhugh and Karl Dean joined Republican candidates Randy Boyd, Bill Lee and Beth Harwell for the program. Local ABC-TV affiliate News 2’s Bob Mueller was moderator of the forum, which was held at Lipscomb University and presented by Leadership Tennessee.
Now in it’s fifth year, Leadership Tennessee is a statewide initiative of the College of Leadership & Public Service at Lipscomb University. It fosters collaborative, non-partisan dialogue on issues of state importance, connecting a network of diverse leaders and engaged citizens. The vision for Leadership Tennessee is that Tennessee will be known nationally as a state where leaders and engaged citizens are connected, well-informed, and committed to solving problems through strategic dialogue and balanced, pragmatic approach. It’s core values are impartiality, collaboration, equality, respect, unification, accessibility, and passion for Tennessee.
Questions were posed to the candidates by current and former members of Leadership Tennessee, Class I (2014) through Class V (2018). Participating members of Leadership Tennessee were from Memphis, and included Darrell Cobbins, Class II; Michael Anastasi, Class IV; and Laura Woods, Class V. In an interesting format, not all candidates were asked to answer each question posed, and were not given the opportunity to give opening statements or closing statements.
The Forum, which aired live on Mueller’s News 2, pre-empted three regular programs, including the season finale of the popular sitcom Black-ish which was aired overnight on a delay basis. The 90-minute program proceeded without commercial interruption or any breaks. Education, jobs, taxes and public safety were a few of the hot topics discussed during the Tennessee Gubernatorial Forum.
The first question posed to the candidates was by the moderator about their top three priorities if elected. Tennessee state legislative minority leader Craig Fitzhugh placed health care first, then education, and then jobs and economic opportunity. Former Nashville mayor Karl Dean placed education ahead of health care, with jobs also the third priority.
In that education is a definite priority, many different aspects were examined, from K-12 and testing through higher education graduation rates. For three years in a row there have been problems with TN Ready testing for student and teacher accountability. The candidates were asked about possible solutions.
Karl Dean said, “you have parents that aren’t sure the results reflect student achievement or lack of achievement. You also have results that come too late to improve teaching or address needs of students. So concentrating on getting that right…but getting it done in a timely way and credible way will be a high priority.”
Randy Boyd answered this way: “In sports if your score board breaks we don’t just stop keeping score. You fix the scoreboard and that’s the situation we have here. We’ve got to continue to keep score. It’s up to us to make sure politics don’t get in the way of our children and setting high expectations.”
Beth Harwell said, “We have to have our education system accountable because it consumes a huge part of our state’s budget and when I talk to teachers here’s what they want: They want it to be credible, fair and useful, and we haven’t lived up to that but we are trying.”
Laura Woods laid out how sick a state Tennessee is, being in the bottom ten in every measure of individual health.
Karl Dean referred to the initiatives he implemented as mayor, and stressed the importance of preventive care as an important issue. Lee and Boyd both echoed that many of our health failings are preventable, with Boyd emphasizing obesity as a target. Fitzhugh concurred, saying “We have to have it as a priority.”
Michael Anastasi asked about how the state should address the opioid crisis. “We need to have more treatment available in our state,” said mayor Dean after noting several treatment locations with long waiting lists.
One salient point was made by Fitzhugh as he recalled the old Fram oil filter commercial where the mechanic shows a dirty filter to a client and says, “you can pay me now (with a new filter) or you can pay me later (with a new motor).” Fitzhugh drew the parallel to education and preventive (mental) health, that education can prevent incarceration.
The Tennessee gubernatorial election of 2018 will take place on November 6, 2018, to elect the next Governor of Tennessee. Democratic and Republican Primary election day is August 2, 2018. (The candidate filing deadline was April 5, 2018). The sitting governor is Bill Haslam (R), who was first elected in 2010 and was re-elected in 2014; Haslam is prevented from seeking a third term in 2018 due to term limits. Tennessee’s previous four governors were Phil Bredesen (D) 2003 – 2011 ; Don Sundquist; (R) 1995 – 2003; Ned Ray McWherter (D) 1987 – 1995; and Lamar Alexander (R) 1979 – 1987.