The four Republican candidates running for governor all took vows not to support a state income tax and answered how they’d deal the growing budget deficit Wednesday. The group appeared before the Republican Women of Williamson County.
The candidates agreed to protect k-through-12 education despite the budget hole which has ballooned beyond a billion dollars. Congressman Zach Wamp of Chattanooga said to keep from raising taxes, state government would have to be drastically cut in the first year of an administration.
The panel also was asked to support school vouchers. The candidates all supported charter schools and expanded choice. Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons said he thinks money should follow the student in the form of a scholarship. But he says the state can’t afford to hand vouchers to every student right now.
“To expand that to private schools and homeschoolers right now would cost almost a billion dollars, if you do that math, so realistically, we can’t start there. But we can start by increasing parental choice among public schools.”
The candidates also worked to stand out before the influential group of Republican women, the party’s largest in the state.
Congressman Wamp branded himself as the Christian conservative. Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam paraded his business credentials as part of Pilot Travel Centers, his family business. And Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey positioned himself as the state government insider.
Wamp said people shouldn’t get anywhere close to the state without feeling the “goodness of our people.”
“We are a Godly state, a state after God’s own heart. What Sonny Perdue has done down in Georgia, we can do in Tennessee. We’re not going to run from the Lord, we’re going to run to him as a people, as a state, and we’ll be blessed for it.”
In Georgia, Perdue has taken such steps as proclaim a weekend of prayer.
As DA of Shelby County, Gibbons says he has one of the hardest jobs in the state. He says he’s been tested. The chief of law enforcement in Memphis didn’t play up public safety as his personal niche, but Gibbons did say he’s unhappy with crime rates in the state.
“I hope that in January 2015 [after one term as governor] we’ll be known as one of the safest states in the nation.”
The trump card for Haslam is economic development. As for president of Pilot Travel Centers, Haslam says he knows what businesses need to be lured to the state.
“I think the next governor has to understand and personally to have recruited jobs themselves, to understand how companies make critical capital allocation decisions and why they decide to choose a place to do business.”
On several occasions during the panel session, Ramsey described the inner workings of negotiations in the General Assembly, sharing what he called his “inside baseball” knowledge.
“We need a governor who is ready to hit the ground running, that doesn’t need a briefing book on how state government works. I’ve been there. I’ve done that for 17 years.”