VOL. 132 | NO. 186 | Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Dean: Economic Development More Difficult in Memphis
By Bill Dries
It’s a story that former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean tells just about every place in the state he goes in his campaign to be the state’s next governor.
The story is how Dean took the reins of leadership in Nashville just in time for the recession and a historic flood before the city emerged from the recession in spectacular fashion.
Dean admits he has learned a few things in the few months he’s been telling that story to Memphis audiences.
“I certainly understand better now than ever because of my having visited here and talking to folks over the past few months, the challenges that Memphis feels in terms of economic development,” Dean told a campaign gathering last week in Collierville at the home of Shelby County Election Commissioner Anthony Tate.
“I never thought about Alabama. It’s not that they didn’t compete with us, but they weren’t close enough where we thought we were going against them. The situation here is different,” Dean said of Memphis’ economic development competition across the Mississippi River in Arkansas and just south of Whitehaven in Mississippi. “I think the difficulty is greater and I think we have to recognize that. … If we are going to be serious about the region, we’ve got to have the commitment of resources and energy to make things happen in Memphis. I think that is just the right thing to do.”
The case Dean is making for the August 2018 Democratic primary and the November general election in the race for governor is that mayors of big cities understand that problem and how to fix it – not only in Memphis but in rural Tennessee counties that continue to feel the effects of the recession.
“I think that that model of a big-city mayor is one that has had an attraction for people of Tennessee,” he said pointing to the state’s current governor, Bill Haslam, who was the mayor of Knoxville, and Haslam’s predecessor, Phil Bredesen, who was the mayor of Nashville.
“When you run a city you do it not in a political way,” he said. “You do it where you are trying to get things done and get people together to move the city forward.”
The room of people listening to Dean Wednesday, Sept. 13, was predominantly if not totally Democrats gathered in the solidly Republican suburbs. Although, Democrats are about to roll out a Collierville Democratic Club later this month as a second foray into the suburbs to go with the longer-standing Germantown Democratic Club.
“If we are going to be serious about the region, we’ve got to have the commitment of resources and energy to make things happen in Memphis. I think that is just the right thing to do.”
Democratic Candidate for Governor
Dean continues to describe himself as a moderate candidate who can get crossover votes statewide in a general election.
That is with a heavy reliance on maintaining political tradition.
“Every eight years we have alternated between the Democratic and Republican parties the governorship,” Dean said. “I’m convinced the people of Tennessee want a governor who is going to be pragmatic, is going to have common sense and is going to have a sort of a get-it-done attitude. I don’t think people want an ideologue. They want somebody who is a moderate, who can work with others, who is going to focus on issues that really matter to people.”
After the living room speech, Dean described himself as “a pro-business Democrat.”
“I do really believe that for our state to succeed, we’ve got to have a strong private sector economy,” he said. “The growing tax base, having access to that is important for a state’s success.”
So far, Dean faces a primary skirmish with Ripley Democratic state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, who in 23 years in the Capitol has seen rural counties like his own go Republican. Fitzhugh, at the outset, seems to be less in search of Republican crossover after years of hard fought battles with the Republican majorities and then super majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.
But Dean has made the super majorities a prominent target in his stump speeches, primarily for their refusal to vote on a Medicaid expansion backed and proposed by Haslam.
He calls it “probably the biggest mistake” the state Legislature has ever made.
Since that decision, the election of a Republican president who carried and took Tennessee’s 11 electoral votes has made going back to the issue more complicated.
“I think the issue now is what do we do to move forward and put Tennessee in a better position to offer affordable health insurance to its residents, and I’d rather emphasize that we need to look for ways either to do the expansion or talk to the federal government about how we can get a fair share of Medicaid dollars in Tennessee,” Dean told The Daily News. “Hopefully, both parties can agree that what we are doing right now with health care is not working.”
The Republican field for governor has more contenders and a more varied political spectrum, from ultra-conservative state Sen. Mae Beavers of Mount Juliet to the state’s former Economic and Community Development commissioner Randy Boyd of Knoxville. The field also includes Franklin businessman Bill Lee and U.S. Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin.
“I don’t want to speak for the Republican candidates,” Dean said when asked about their positions on a Medicaid expansion of some kind. “I don’t know that any of the other Republican candidates are in the same place.”