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VOL. 133 | NO. 135 | Monday, July 9, 2018

Fitzhugh Challenges Dean’s 'Pragmatism'

By Bill Dries

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Democratic contender for Tennessee governor Craig Fitzhugh is challenging the idea of rival Democrat Karl Dean’s “pragmatic” view of coexisting as governor with Republican supermajorities in the state House and Senate.

“My opponent says he’s pragmatic. Well, everybody’s pragmatic for heaven’s sake,” Fitzhugh told a group of 20 Thursday, July 5, at a Midtown meeting of the Shelby County Democratic Women.

“If you get up there in that Republican-led legislature and you’re pragmatic, they are going to roll right over you. I don’t say we have to fight all the time,” he said. “But you need to understand how this state works. You’ve got to stand up for what you believe in from time to time. But you have to also remember that if you don’t have the votes you can’t win but you might as well get what you can.”

Democratic contender for Tennessee Gov. Craig Fitzhugh says a Medicaid expansion would be his top priority if elected Governor telling a Memphis group last week he would be willing to veto other bills in order to put pressure on Republican legislators to approve such an expansion. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

Fitzhugh referred to Dean, a former mayor of Nashville, as “my learned opponent who has done everything in one building – City Hall in Nashville.” Fitzhugh touted his experience as a 24-year state legislator representing Ripley as well as being an attorney and banker.

“That’s where he started his career and he worked his way up and that’s good,” Fitzhugh said. “But he’s never stepped outside that. … Well, I’ve been in a lot of buildings. I’ve been in a lot of fields and I’ve been in a lot of homes and I’ve been in a lot of places that are not skyscrapers. I’m not too worried about those in skyscrapers.”

The criticism comes with early voting in the statewide primaries for governor opening across the state Friday. Dean and Fitzhugh are the two major contenders in the primary. The winner faces the Republican nominee from a field of four major contenders – state House speaker Beth Harwell, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, former Tennessee commissioner of economic and community development Randy Boyd and Franklin businessman Bill Lee.

“I started late and I’m the only non-millionaire in the race,” Fitzhugh said. “But it’s an election, not an auction. I’m laying it all on the line.”

Meanwhile, Dean has touted his experience as Nashville mayor starting at the depths of the Great Recession to the start of today’s economic development boom in the capital city. He’s also espoused a centrist philosophy of working with Republicans and Democrats and steering clear of the partisan divide in a red state as well as being a potential crossover choice for Republicans at the end of a GOP primary.

The Republican primary contest has largely been about who is the closest in political philosophy to and in support of President Donald Trump.

“We’ve sort of been chasing the Republicans around on some of the issues,” Fitzhugh said. “We need our issues.”

Those issues include expanding Medicaid, which is something outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam proposed but saw soundly defeated by the Republican supermajorities in the Legislature. The issue never made it to the House or Senate floor for a vote.

“The man could not pass a Medicaid expansion when he had a super majority and called a special session,” he said. “It was sad.”

Fitzhugh called the defeat of the expansion plan “the biggest moral failure in the 24 years I was in the legislature.”

Dean also has talked of a Medicaid expansion as his top priority if elected governor and has said it is an issue Democrats should use against Republicans.

Fitzhugh said he would be willing to consider vetoing other bills to put pressure on the Republican majorities to enact a Medicaid expansion if elected governor.

“It’s probably too much to ask that we get the majority back. … I’ve been in the majority and it’s good,” he said of the prospects of Democratic majorities in the state House and/or state Senate in the 2018 legislative elections. “But we right now don’t even need the majority. We need to keep our 25 (seats) and we need to probably add about nine or 10 on top of that. … We would have a tremendous amount of leverage.”

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