Haslam, McWherter Each Say Job Creation Is Top Priority
KEVIN HALPERN, Courier Co-Editor
Both Mike McWherter, the Democratic Party candidate, and Bill Haslam, representing the Republicans, have strong business backgrounds, which should help either one in their quest to improve the state employment picture.
Haslam, who is currently the mayor of Knoxville, was previously president of Pilot Corporation for 13 years, during which time it grew from 80 to over 300 locations in 39 states. In the process he created over 11,000 new jobs.
McWherter, who has never held elected office but is the son of former Governor Ned Ray McWherter, for the past 20 years, owned and operated a successful beverage distributorship in Jackson, Tennessee.
It's hard to get Democrats and Republicans to agree on anything these days.
However, members of both parties agree that Phil Bredesen has done a good job as governor of Tennessee the last eight years.
By law Bredesen can only serve two terms, so his tenure comes to a close at the end of this year.
While there are a slew of independent candidates seeking the office on the ballot for the Nov. 2 State General Election, conventional wisdom is that the race will come down to two men: Democrat WcWherter and Republican Haslam.
To give voters some understanding and insight into the two candidates and where they stand on some of the major issues facing the state, the Cannon Courier contacted both with a series of key questions. The questions and their answers follow.
What do you see as the major issues facing Tennessee now and during the next for years?
MC WHERTER: Governor Bredesen has done an excellent job positioning Tennessee to make significant advancements, but our next governor will have to build on his foundation in order to ensure our state moves forward. I believe the two largest issues facing Tennessee are the inseparable areas of unemployment and education.
HASLAM: The concern on everyone's mind is jobs, and that's why job creation is my No. 1 priority. A national recession affects families all across Tennessee, and many people struggle to find jobs that pay enough to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. The state budget faces more than $1 billion in reduced revenue because of the economic downturn. I'm also concerned about our schools and the future for Tennessee students, who rank near the bottom on achievement tests, and in 2008 alone, 28,000 students dropped out of high school. Barely more than one-fifth of adult Tennesseans have a Bachelor's degree.
But while we face many challenges, I see incredible opportunities for the state, and I've laid out a plan to address them.
How do you plan to address them?
MC WHERTER: Unemployment in this state is the highest it has been in my working lifetime, and I believe we must support our state’s small businesses in the same way we have rolled out the welcome mat for large corporations, because small businesses employ 95% of Tennessee’s workforce. This is why I have a program to provide incentives in the form of tax breaks to small businesses that hire new workers. If we can get people back to work, then consumer activity will increase and therefore generate additional state revenue. In the area of education, I plan to fully fund the Basic Education Program, expand Pre-Kindergarten as revenue allows, and streamline course curriculum to reduce the cost of education for students so core credits earned at Motlow State Community College count the same as those earned at MTSU.
HASLAM: If elected, I would immediately conduct a top-to-bottom review of state government to determine the areas where we can best rethink and restructure state government to be leaner and more efficient. In Knoxville, we recently approved the third consecutive budget that is smaller than the previous year's budget.
With job creation, my goal is to make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for jobs, and I've laid out a jobs plan that's on my website. I would take a regional approach because job creation and recruitment strategies for an area such as Cannon County are different than for a place such as Shelby County. By leveraging regional assets, we can take advantage of existing industries and opportunities to expand Tennessee's job base. We must also make sure Tennessee remains a great place to do business by keeping taxes low, ensuring Tennessee stays WITHOUT an income tax and constantly listening to small business owners to create the best possible environment for job growth.
For education we have great principals and teachers across the state, but we must develop more. I want to coordinate the efforts of existing principal preparation programs to produce well-trained and highly effective leaders for every district across the state. We must expand our teacher pipeline to attract the best and brightest to lead our classrooms. Lastly, Tennessee has new standards that raise expectations for our students, and we must have a strong leader to resist pushback when we receive a realistic assessment of how our schools are doing. I would also fully utilize the vast amount of data on our student's academic progression to intervene before students fall behind."
Why should voters elect you over the person or persons(s) you are running against?
MC WHERTER: As a small businessman who has grown a business, met payroll, and sat down with employees to work out health benefits, I am the only candidate who truly understands what average Tennesseans are going through. Rural Tennessee is not just a campaign stop for me, it is my home. As governor, I will work to make sure our rural communities receive equal attention as their urban counterparts. During my travels to every county in this state, I’ve clocked in at small businesses from Memphis to Mountain City to get a better understanding of the challenges facing Tennessee’s working families. If elected I will work to make sure every Tennessean has the opportunity to pursue their goals and the resources needed to achieve them.
HASLAM: Before I became Mayor of Knoxville, I spent my career in business, which gave me great preparation to be mayor. I believe that my nearly seven years as mayor have given me great preparation to be governor because I'm the only candidate that's prepared, passed and implemented a budget like a governor does.
In Knoxville, we have the lowest property tax rates in more than 50 years, and we've reduced the city's debt by nearly 30 percent, tripled the Rainy Day Fund and reduced the number of city employees to its lowest amount in 15 years. Knoxville also has been named one of the top ten metropolitan areas for business and expansion.
It matters who we elect as our next governor, and I believe I have the right experience to lead Tennessee during these times.