VOL. 133 | NO. 57 | Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Dean: ‘It’s Kind of Our Turn’ in Governor’s Race
By Bill Dries
Democratic contender for governor Karl Dean is pushing hard the idea that Democrats can win one of the two statewide races on the Tennessee ballot this year.
Democratic contender for governor Karl Dean told a Memphis group last week that he believes Tennessee voters are more moderate politically than the Tennessee Legislature. (Daily News/Bill Dries)
“People get discouraged. They say the state is totally red,” the former Nashville mayor told a group of 100 members of the Memphis Baptist Ministerial Association Friday, March 16, at a luncheon in South Memphis.
Since the election of Memphian and Republican Winfield Dunn in 1970, the state has alternated between Democratic and Republican governors, electing each governor to the limit of two consecutive terms.
“So it’s kind of our turn this time,” he told the group at Mount Moriah Baptist Church, speaking of Democrats. “I would also suggest to you that we have a history as a state of we tend to elect people regardless of party to the governorship – we tend to elect people who are moderate. I think our state is more moderate than our Legislature. I think our state is more moderate than our congressional delegation.”
State and local Republican Party leaders have also noted the switch from Democratic to Republican governors over almost half a century and have set breaking the bipartisan rhythm as a goal, with the election of a new Republican governor to follow outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.
Dean is running in the August primary where the other major contender is Democratic state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley.
The Republican field, also on the ballot in August, has five major contenders: U.S Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin, former Tennessee Economic and Community Development commissioner Randy Boyd of Knoxville, Franklin businessman Bill Lee, state House Speaker Beth Harwell, and Kay White, a Realtor in Tri-Cities.
Dean specifically came to the city to talk about “901 Matters” – a platform specifically for Memphis and Shelby County that emphasizes improving economic development and in turn lowering poverty in the area. That includes recruiting businesses to occupy the state’s Memphis Regional Megasite – which is not in Memphis but in Haywood County.
“You can look around the state and you can see areas … all doing very, very well. … I think in areas that have not had the same economic energy, that should be the focus of our attention,” Dean said after the luncheon.
Dean heard several of those at the luncheon push for a payroll tax or some kind of tax on the income of those who work in Memphis but live in Mississippi or Arkansas.
Such a tax would be unconstitutional, Dean countered, since an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution that recently passed forbids any kind of state income tax.
“I’m not in favor of that happening in Tennessee. It’s not going to happen in Tennessee,” he said. “I think the way we should encourage economic development is by making Tennessee the most attractive place where people want to do that.”
Dean also said Tennessee “has done very well in terms of attracting businesses with its current tax structure.”
After the speech and question-and-answer session, Dean conceded that the city’s proximity on the border with two other states is a challenge.
“I think Memphis does have this unique challenge to its tax base, this unique challenge to being successful in economic development because it is located so close to other states,” he said. “And the other states have been very competitive in the way they’ve approached it.”
Local leaders are currently debating whether or not to restructure the local approach to economic development and make EDGE – the Economic Development Growth Engine, the city-county agency that grants tax abatements – more of a salesman for economic development.
Dean said he wouldn’t presume to suggest a path on that specific issue.
“I was mayor (of Nashville) during a recession and when times were hard. And I worked hard on any economic development deal or any way that we could increase economic activity in the city,” he said. “During the depths of the recession I was happy to go to any store that was opening and celebrate that. But as we got more and more successful, and more and more big companies moved in, it kind of built on itself.”