The candidates participated in the Tennessee Business Roundtable’s 2018 Gubernatorial Round Robin at Vanderbilt University. Participating candidates included former state Sen. Mae Beavers, businessman Bill Lee, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh and former economic development commissioner Randy Boyd, while Congresswoman Diane Black shared a video with the group, as she was unable to attend.
Each candidate shared brief remarks that detailed their vision for leading Tennessee’s economy forward as governor and answered set questions, as well as questions from the audience.
The candidates appeared in front of the audience individually, rather than in a group format.
Journalist and political commentator Pat Nolan facilitated the event, which gave each candidate about 20 minutes in front of the audience. The candidates’ opening remarks ranged from personal information to goals for the state if elected governor.
“I’m convinced Tennessee is a state where the voters of Tennessee are looking for a governor who is a moderate – somebody is going to be pragmatic, somebody is going to have common sense and somebody is really going to go about trying to get things done. I do not think the state is looking for ideological division or extremes,” Dean said.
Harwell said she asked legislators to put pieces of legislation though a litmus test that consists of three questions before brining legislation to the floor. The questions diagnosed the legislation’s impact on government size, ability to own, operate or start a business and the impact on education reform.
“Those three questions have guided me as the speaker, and those three questions will guide me as governor,” she said.
“I truly believe that we all do better when we all do better. As your governor, I will work for every Tennessean to make sure they have the opportunity to work for their dreams. Every Tennessean matters to me. Jobs matter. Education matters. Health care matters, and in all those things, people matter,” Fitzhugh said.
“We want to hold the line on taxes in Tennessee and hold the line on more regulations on businesses in Tennessee,” said Beavers, who said she is the most fiscally conservative candidate in the group.
“I think it’s important that the next governor knows something about being an entrepreneur, being innovative, making a payroll and running an organization. With my business experience, I’ve showed that. I think it’s also important the next governor knows how government actually works,” Boyd said.
“I believe, in fact, our founding father’s principles were that people in private sector should be engaged,” Lee said. “That’s why the Tennessee Business Roundtable is engaged. It’s the responsibility that we have as business and civic leaders and the unique platform we have to impact the people in our lives by the things we’ve learned in the business community.”
Tennessee Business Roundtable leaders created the questions asked to candidates. The candidates did not have access to the questions prior to taking the stage.
Question 1: During the last two administrations, Tennessee’s K-12 public education system has changed dramatically from one that performed unevenly against dubious standards to one that’s not improving at rates that make it the envy of many other states. What will be your administrations top improvement priority for K-12 education and why?
“I think for me, the top priority for us in education, right now, as a state, is to look very seriously at teacher pay. I do not think Tennessee is competitive with other states and that we have fallen behind. I believe that teachers are the essential element to good schools and successful education programs. We need to make sure that we’re paying our teachers enough to attract the best and retain them.”
“I think the two things I’m most excited about – start young. Pre-k. I think pre-k is important and should be continued and enlarged. Secondly, we found that when children learn to read by the third grade, it makes a tremendous difference.”
“The business community now understands how important having a trained, prepared workforce is, and that all takes place in our schools. I thank all of you for being committed to education and that will continue under my administration.”
“We had, last year, the biggest increase in compensation for teachers without a tax increase. That momentum is something I want to continue. I also want to look at innovative, new solutions.”
“I’m for returning more control to the county level and to the school boards. The Tennessee School Board Association, last year, recommended that instead of the standardized test, that we be able to choose in our counties whether we want to the ACT tests or the standardized testing. I think they should be able to make that decision.”
“There’s a component of our public education system that’s falling behind other states and it’s critically important. That is the area of vocational, technical and agricultural education. For the last couple of decades, we have allowed that piece of our public education system to slip.”
Question 2: The treatment and lack of treatment for chronic health conditions are primary drivers of medical costs. There’s also a growing recognition that chronic health conditions have a significant effect on obtainability and productivity on our workforce. Given continuing challenges around how we pay for healthcare and how to expand coverage, what policy proscriptions do you have to facilitate primary care to address chronic health addictions?
“I think, obviously, as a mentioned in my opening remarks, about Medicaid expansion or doing whatever we can to put ourselves in the position as other states, such as Indiana and Kentucky, that are now much more able to attract medical facilities into their state than we are because of our lack of ability to reimburse.”
“The biggest moral failure that I’ve seen in the 23 years that I’ve been in the legislature is our failure to expand Medicaid.” “We’ve got to expand Medicaid, even if it only lasts six month because I’m convinced when the federal government gets their act together – whenever that’s going to be – it’s not going to be good for Tennessee.”
“Without a doubt, domestic programs belong at the state and local level, where they can be more efficiently and effective run. We run our TennCare program and we balance it every year, and we can do that if the federal government will release that money to us. They have to give us the flexibility to design a program that’s unique and will work and will save Tennesseans money.”
“Eighty percent of our health care costs are derived from behavioral actions, such as smoking and obesity. In the state of Tennessee, we’re eight in the country in smoking, ninth in obesity, but we’re No. 42 in income. You add those things together and we can’t afford our health.”
“I’m not sure the legislature can address our real problem and that is more freedom in the market. And that’s to be able to cross state lines to buy insurance. At the national level, I’d like to encourage them to give us more freedom in insurance and more competition into the industry.”
“We have to figure out ways to unlock innovation that allows people to have access to plans that are crafted for them and lower their costs in the area of care.” “We’ve lost nine rural hospitals since Obamacare opened. Even those providers will tell you we have to change the model for delivery of health services.”
Question 3: The Copeland Cap in Tennessee’s Constitution prohibits state spending from exceeding economic growth, unless specifically authorized by the General Assembly. If economic growth slows during your term as governor, as some projections predict, how will your administration act to maintain fiscal stability in the state budget?
“I think [building up the ‘rainy day fund’] is something that each governor should do. During prosperous times, we shouldn’t be spending like drunken sailors, we should building up a rainy day fund to be sure that we’re able to take care of tough times.”
“We have to take the economy into consideration. We have to take the state’s needs into consideration and then we have to treat things like the Copeland Cap with a lot of experience and with a lot of knowledge as we move our state forward.”
“When we had excess money, we didn’t look for ways to spend it. We looked for ways to return it to its rightful owners – taxpayers of the state. We not only reduced some taxes, but eliminated some taxes.”
“Gov. Haslam’s administration has had a practice of every commissioner coming in each year with a three to five percent decrease in cost. Then, he and [Tennessee Finance Commissioner Larry Martin] will decide how much of that decrease they’re going to take. I think it’s an incredible example of good fiscal stewardship.”
“I think we just tighten our belt. We make sure we’re spending money efficiently and we make sure that we cut out TennCare fraud.”
“If you’re in state government and you don’t manage your growth of your budget in times of prosperity by adhering, at least, to the principles of the Copeland amendment, then in times of difficulty, you have no option but to raise taxes. Most of us in this room know that raises taxes will likely first, politically, fall on business.”
Question 4: The need for skilled workers in Tennessee’s economy is accelerating toward crisis. What should Tennessee state government do to better prepare high school students to succeed in jobs in manufacturing, health care, IT, logistics and other priority workforce sectors?
“I’ve mentioned my strong support for vocational programs, apprenticeship programs, technical programs, partnerships with community colleges, which should be further enhanced and developed – these things all need to occur.”
“We have to correlate our workforce and education force better. We’re doing a much better job with that.” “We know that a college degree is not for everyone, but a postsecondary training or degree is for everyone. We have to give that training.”
“What we need to have is more TCAT training in our local communities preparing the workforce for the future.”
“My plan is to make a massive investment in the technical schools. We have too many communities in our state, like Johnson County and Grundy County, that have no technical education programs whatsoever. We have other schools that have old equipment.”
“I think we’ve got to seriously look at what our needs are and how we need to need to be training these young people. I think it goes all the way back to high schools. I’d like to see more technical programs in our high schools.”
“The state education resources allocated to agricultural education are about the third they were 10 years ago.” “There needs to be an awareness that we have a need for a dedicated commitment to certain segments of our economy that have not have enough commitment.”