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VOL. 132 | NO. 141 | Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Dean Touts ‘Middle Of the Road’ Focus For Democrats

By Bill Dries

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Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor on the 2018 ballot, is calling for Democrats to occupy the “middle of the road” politically and keep health care coverage the dominant issue. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean is making exactly the same observation in his bid for the Democratic nomination for Tennessee governor that Republicans are making on their side of the 2018 race.

In every open race for governor since 1970, Tennessee voters have alternated which party is in office.

“This is something that sort of underscores, I think, my point that Tennesseans want somebody kind of in the middle of the road, somebody who is moderate,” Dean told a group of 60 people last week at a Memphis fundraiser for the Tennessee Voter Project political action committee.

“This state is much more moderate than the Legislature,” he said. “I think it’s important that we turn the vote out, particularly in the cities. … And I think it’s key that we stay on message, we talk about the things that really matter and we make our case.”

But at the Shelby County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day Gala in February, state GOP chairman Scott Golden set a goal of breaking that nearly 50-year precedent in 2018.

“It’s not going to be easy and we have a lot of folks in the room tonight who are considering this,” Golden said at the time. “We’ve got some history still to be made.”

Dean spoke to a group of 60 Memphis Democrats the same week that the Republican field for governor lost its only West Tennessee contender, state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, who President Donald Trump appointed to the Memphis Federal Court bench.

Meanwhile, state House Speaker Beth Harwell announced Sunday, July 16, that she is running for governor. The veteran legislator and former state Republican Party chairwoman from Nashville said in a written statement she is running to “lead on jobs, cutting taxes, guaranteeing every child has a great school, and ensuring our Tennessee values are protected.”

Harwell was in Memphis Monday to tour Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital and FedExFamilyHouse.

Republican U.S. Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin, who also is weighing a run for governor, was among those in Bartlett over the weekend for the annual Pleasantville picnic and fish fry hosted by former state Rep. Bubba Pleasant and current state Rep. Ron Lollar. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander was among those who attended.

The crowd at the picnic also included local political figures who are weighing a bid for Norris’ seat in the state Senate

Former Tennessee Economic and Community Development commissioner Randy Boyd, Franklin businessman Bill Lee and State Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet are among those either declared in the Republican primary for governor or considering a bid in the GOP primary.

Boyd reported Monday that his campaign raised $4.3 million over four months of campaigning – $2 million of it from his own pocket and $2.3 million from 1,500 supporters.

Among Democrats, state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley is considering the race as well.

The state Republican Party also announced over the weekend that Vice President Mike Pence will be the keynote speaker next month at the party’s annual Statesmen’s Dinner in Nashville.

Dean told the Democrats at the Memphis gathering that he sees not only a “pathway to win” the nomination for governor but to win the general election as well.

The pathway includes a “middle of the road” approach to issues like education and jobs and never letting voters forget about the Republican approach to health care coverage, including the Tennessee Legislature’s decision not to expand Medicaid coverage under the Insure Tennessee plan proposed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

“Health care is the issue that I hear more about than anything else,” Dean said. “People are nervous about health care. People really understand and appreciate the significance and the wrongness of the decision made by the Legislature. That was a really bad decision.”

The fundraiser Dean spoke at Downtown was organized by state Senate Democratic leader Lee Harris of Memphis to increase voter registration and participation among Democrats.

Harris and other established Democrats are in the midst of reorganizing the local party, formally starting with a countywide party convention Saturday, July 23, to elect an expanded executive committee and Democratic Grassroots Council, an advisory group totaling approximately 130 people.

They also are seeking to incorporate some of the energy from those new to political involvement or who have been organized around issues in a county carried by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton last November with 61 percent of the vote.

Danielle Inez, the recently installed president of Shelby County Young Democrats, is among the new blood in the party.

That new blood means a departure in some cases from the planning and plotting of events like the PAC fundraiser. She talked of drinking wine and taking Fireball shots at a birthday gathering with friends that turned into a discussion and debate about school choice and education in general.

“It was a natural conversation about something that was important to us,” she told the group at the fundraiser. “I want to see us normalize those kinds of conversations, normalize those types of experiences … making sure that we make politics a casual conversation, not a forced conversation.”

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