VOL. 133 | NO. 27 | Tuesday, February 6, 2018
Governor’s Race Mixes Political Culture With Nuts-and-Bolts Policy
By Bill Dries
As most of the other major contenders for Tennessee governor were on the same stage in Nashville last week, Republican Diane Black was in East Memphis meeting with a group of 15 local homebuilders. It was one in a set of meetings with small groups of potential supporters Black held in and around Memphis.
The congresswoman from Gallatin touted her role as chair of the House Budget Committee in the passage of a Republican budget that set the stage for the tax reform bill passed at the end of 2017. She called the budget “my greatest accomplishment.”
“The mandatory spending was out of control,” she said at the West Tennessee Homebuilders Association gathering. “And we were able to pass a conservative budget last year that really did change the culture in Washington to look at programs and say, ‘Do we need to reform them to save money?’”
Black’s emphasis on political culture is in stark contrast to Democratic contender Karl Dean’s call last week in Nashville at the Tennessee Press Association forum and elsewhere for a governor divorced from “ideology” – in the words of the former Nashville mayor.
Republican contender for governor and U.S. Rep. Diane Black talked with smaller groups last week at several gatherings around Memphis, including a lunch session at the West Tennessee Homebuilders Association. (Daily News/Bill Dries)
Republican contender Randy Boyd, the former state commissioner of economic and community development, debuted an ad last week touting his “conservative values.”
“Randy Boyd believes the right to life comes from God not the government,” the voiceover says. “That all Tennesseans who can work should work, not permanently live on welfare – that illegal is illegal. That we must enforce our laws.”
As the ad debuted, Black questioned Boyd’s conservatism, suggesting he should “apologize for the fact that he abandoned President Trump in the last election.”
Black’s Sunday Super Bowl ads in Tennessee television markets targeted national anthem protests in the NFL regular season.
“It’s too bad the league doesn’t respect the patriotism of our national anthem,” Black says in the ad.
The ad reflects “Tennessee values,” Black told the homebuilders group and others.
“It’s not like that everywhere else. If you travel to other places you see it,” she said. “I’m going to protect it. So if you send me a bill that says there’s going to be transgender bathrooms in elementary schools, I’m going to veto it. And I’m not going to be afraid to say it’s wrong for us. It doesn’t match our Tennessee values.”
Black said later this is a place for ideology in how the state is governed.
“I’ll never walk away from who I am and who I believe the state is,” she said. “We’ll work with people from all walks of life. That’s obviously what you do as governor. You hear everybody’s voice.”
She told the homebuilders she would review each and every department of state government if elected governor. And she was specifically critical of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. TDEC oversight of wetlands is where homebuilders most often interact with the agency.
“These regulations that are coming out of TDEC at the state level are just unbelievable,” she said.
Black said later there is a need for TDEC and protection of environmental standards.
“Obviously we want that,” she said. “But we also don’t want to go beyond what is already set up by the federal government and put too much burden on our businesses that they won’t operate.”
Black joined Republican rival Bill Lee, the owner of a mechanical contractor business in Franklin, in calling for a return to high school vocational education as an alternative to college for high school graduates.
“I think we put too much emphasis on college. We’ve said everybody’s got to go to college and if you don’t go to college, by the way, you are somehow not as worthy as somebody else who did go to college,” she said. “I run into people who are not equipped to go to college. It’s just not one of their God-given talents and they feel badly about that. And they don’t know what to do and they wander around and don’t go to work.”
Boyd is the architect of Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration’s “Drive to 55” effort toward more completion of college and career training as well as the “Tennessee Promise” program – a last-dollar scholarship program guaranteeing two years of free education at a community college or TCAT, Tennessee College of Applied Technology. He has called for CTE – career technical education – centers at or near high schools.
Black also called for “some form of broadband” in every Tennessee county.
After her talk with the homebuilders, Black said that might include the city of Chattanooga’s controversial entry into the broadband business and expansion of it to Bradley County. The federal approval of the expansion of Chattanooga broadband was opposed by the Haslam administration.
“Whatever it takes to get us there,” Black said when asked specifically about Chattanooga’s venture. “We have to think outside the box. Maybe it is a public-private partnership. But it will be different depending on the community.”