Tennessee governor race candidates answered several questions from around the state during the Tennessee Press Association gubernatorial forum on Thursday at the Nashville Public Library.
Participating candidates included Republicans businessman Bill Lee, former commissioner of economic development Randy Boyd and Johnson City realtor Kay White, and Democrats Craig Fitzhugh, Tennessee House minority leader and former Nashville mayor Karl Dean.
Republican candidate Mae Beavers resigned her run earlier this week, while Beth Harwell and Diane Black did not attend the forum.
Candidates answered different questions submitted from Tennessee Press Association members, advocacy groups and citizens.
White, Fitzhugh and Lee answered questions on education relative to Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative, improvements to public education and early childhood development.
“I can’t really say I support the Drive to 55. There are some individuals in Tennessee who do not want to go back to college,” White said. “I feel like skills should be implemented more in our schools like they used to be.”
Fitzhugh said he supports evaluations, but said they shouldn’t take away from learning enjoyment.
“We do have to have rigor in our classrooms and education system from start to finish, but we also need to not take away the literal joy of learning,” Fitzhugh said. “I’m certainly for evaluations. I believe we got off to a really bad start on teacher evaluations.”
Fitzhugh said he believes the state should provide teachers with more resources and better pay.
Lee and Fitzhugh discussed early childhood education.
“If we don’t create the right foundation then everything we build on top of that is suspect,” said Lee, who said the state should emphasize attraction and retention of early childhood educators.
“We know that quality Pre-K has a dramatic effect. The whole thing about pre-k goes to reading – to get that child ready to learn to read so that he or she can read and learn after that. I am for pre-k in every school in the state,” Fitzhugh said.
Boyd and Dean discussed business and infrastructure in the state.
“I think anybody who served in government certainly understands the importance of infrastructure,” Dean said. “Infrastructure is expensive, but if you ignore it and don’t care of it, you end up paying more later. Infrastructure is also a key economic development tool. I would support expanding regional efforts to have roads available that are going to help bring in business and bring in jobs to areas.”
Boyd said he believed projects that would require taxpayer dollars to support, such as professional sports stadiums, should be handled on a case-by-case basis.
“You have to look at each case independently,” said Boyd, who said the state must look at the return on investment. “Not all deals are created equally.”
State versus local
Candidates also answered a question about the role and balance of power between the state and local governments.
“I believe in local control. I’ll get a little political, I guess. It seems to me that for many years, the Republican view was the best government is at the lowest level, but here recently in the legislature, the majority party has taken it on themselves to get into city business and county business on several things,” Fitzhugh said. “Some things just ought to be done by that local level.”
“We have a system where certain issues are generally resolved at the local level, some are resolved on the state level and some are resolved on the federal level. There’s not one answer to this question. I mean there are issues,” Dean said.
“The people in the local communities make the best decisions,” Boyd said. “I’m worried that Nashville, sometimes, does to our local communities what we complain about Washington, D.C., does to our state.”
By Xavier Smith