WKNO Forum Further Delineates Governor Hopefuls

By Bill Dries

All four Republican contenders for Tennessee governor offered differing definitions of conservatism this week in a Memphis television forum.

The joint appearance is nothing new for Chattanooga Congressman Zach Wamp, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. They’ve done dozens of joint appearances in the past year and a half.

The Memphis forum, however, was the first to include candidate Joe Kirkpatrick, of Mt. Juliet.

Tuesday night’s forum was broadcast from WKNO Memphis’ studios and televised across the state on public stations. WKNO Memphis and The League of Women Voters sponsored the event, which was moderated by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News Publishing Co. Inc.

“We’re beginning to separate from one another,” Ramsey told The Daily News after the 90-minute forum. “I’m pointing out I’m the only small-businessman in the race. … I do think I’m separating myself on the whole issue of pushing back on Washington, D.C. It’s hard to be from Washington, D.C., as Zach is, and start pushing back.

“And I do believe that Bill Haslam is a great guy. But if it wasn’t for his money, he wouldn’t be a legitimate candidate in this race.”

Wamp proclaimed himself a “red blooded middle-class conservative.”

Haslam emphasized his experience managing the budget problems of Knoxville.

Nowhere was the contrast more evident than with Kirkpatrick.

“Tennessee can transcend the era of political correctness for one of constitutional correctness,” Kirkpatrick said in his opening statement.

When asked about an expansion of the state’s pre-kindergarten program, a priority of the outgoing Bredesen administration, Kirkpatrick emphasized his disdain for federal funding and federal guidelines.

“If federal intervention or funding is involved in any way, I oppose it. What I’m suggesting is nullification of all federal education funds,” he said. “I don’t want my children being taught revisionist history, psycho babble or global warming as fact. So if that’s going to start in pre-K, I don’t want it.”

Ramsey said the effectiveness of pre-K is being judged by how many children are enrolled and how much funding the program gets. He favors keeping the program but not expanding it.

“We do not need universal pre-K in the state of Tennessee,” he said. “Every dime that we spend on pre-K is a dime taken away from K-12 education, where it’s really, really needed. It’s about return on investment.”

Haslam said pre-K growth is a matter of budget priorities in an economy in which state revenues aren’t growing and federal stimulus funding will have receded by the time the next governor takes office in 2011.

“We as a state government are going to have to focus and make some hard choices,” Haslam said. “Because of that, it would be my recommendation that we leave pre-K in place where it is now and expand it until we have more results in and until the budget situation in Tennessee changes.”

Wamp agreed with no expansion because of limited money. But he said pre-K programs are important as part of an overall emphasis on early childhood development.

Wamp, Haslam and Ramsey each said the next governor will have to and should cut the number of state government workers.

Wamp said “across the board” cuts are the only fair way to make the cuts. Ramsey said that is the wrong way to do it. He called for more specific, department-to-department evaluations, combining several state departments and looking at outsourcing.

Haslam suggested targeting employee cuts in areas of “administration and regulation” – not areas where workers deliver services.

Ramsey and Wamp said the state as well as the Tennessee Valley Authority should move more toward nuclear power as an alternative energy source.

Wamp called for a “nuclear renaissance.”

“Nuclear power is green power,” he said.

Ramsey said a move to alternative energy sources is necessary.

“But it needs to be market driven,” he said. “Let’s make sure we don’t kill jobs by doing that.”

Kirkpatrick called for a continued emphasis on using coal by the Tennessee Valley Authority, the abolition of TennCare, banning traffic cameras and doing away with the issuance of permits to carry


“Liberalism is a mental disorder,” he said. “The era of bipartisanship is over.”