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VOL. 124 | NO. 205 | Monday, October 19, 2009

Gibbons Gears Up For Governor’s Race

By Bill Dries

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POSITIONING STATEMENT:
Shelby County Dist. Atty. Gen. Bill Gibbons opened an East Memphis campaign office last week as the candidates for governor prepare to move to the front of the line in the city’s busy political market. Gibbons is touting himself as the only major GOP candidate for governor west of Chattanooga. – PHOTO BY BILL DRIES

Now that the voting machines are on their way back to the warehouse following Thursday’s Memphis mayoral special election, here come the candidates in the 2010 Tennessee governor’s race.

Shelby County Dist. Atty. Gen. Bill Gibbons opened his campaign headquarters in East Memphis Wednesday. Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery even showed up just after the election eve television debate.

Gibbons and the other contenders for governor – Republican and Democrat – did some maintenance campaigning in the city during the mayoral main event to keep the coming primaries on the minds of voters.

Now the candidates will begin intensifying their messages and making them more specific.

Gibbons reminded the group of 50 last week that of the four major GOP contenders, he is the only one who is west of Chattanooga.

He isn’t the only Memphis contender in the 2010 race. Democratic state Sen. Jim Kyle and his campaign staff have been showing up at mayoral campaign events for months – wearing their campaign colors and stickers without aggressively campaigning.

Kyle, like Gibbons, has been traveling the state looking for support.

Gibbons’ GOP rivals have not ceded the large block of Republican votes in Shelby County to the district attorney general.

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam was in Memphis earlier this month going door to door in Bartlett.

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga has a Memphis presence and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Blountville also has local supporters.

Gibbons realizes the importance of locking up his home county.

“The linchpin of our strategy is to do very well in Shelby County. … We cannot afford eight more years of neglect in the governor’s office,” Gibbons said in a jab at outgoing Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen. “I’m battle tested.”

Gibbons is also mapping out positions on education that are certain to be in sharp contrast to those taken by the Democratic pack of gubernatorial candidates.

“Eliminate the remaining restrictions on the ability of communities to create charter schools,” Gibbons said last week. “Any community should be able to do that that wants to. Make it easier for retirees to become teachers. Make it easier to reward good teachers for good performance and, frankly, get rid of bad teachers.

“That means having a governor who is willing to take on the education establishment – take on the education bureaucracy. I’ll be that kind of governor.”

The GOP pack of four has made numerous joint appearances in different parts of the state starting earlier this year.

So far they are congenial and each is quick to say they believe one of them will be the next governor. But there are some elbows being thrown or distinctions being made depending on how blunt the comments are.

Gibbons said he is the only candidate in the pack who is emphasizing crime as an issue.

“Not a single time have any of my opponents mentioned crime as a problem – ever,” he said of the joint appearances.

He acknowledged most voters he encounters in other parts of the state tend to talk about Memphis’ crime problem when he makes his pitch. He refers to 201 Poplar, where his office in the Criminal Justice Center is, as one of the best-known addresses in the state. And he also tells of taking a group on a tour of the jail and hearing a prisoner yell, “Gibbons for governor.”

But Gibbons said crime is a statewide problem not unique to Memphis.

“It’s a problem here. It’s a problem in Jackson, in Nashville, in a lot of parts of this state,” he said.

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