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By Chris Gregory, Managing Editor

Trousdale County Democrats came out to hear two candidates for governor at a self-styled “Campaign Kickoff” dinner on Nov. 17.

About 70 people were in attendance at Hartsville’s Community Center to hear both former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and State. Rep. Craig Fitzhugh speak on what they each saw as the issues that will define the 2018 campaign to succeed Bill Haslam.

Dean said he wanted to focus on education, public safety and economic development in his campaign. He spoke of his record while serving as Nashville’s mayor from 2007-15, including during the Great Recession and the 2010 flood.

Photos by Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
Former Nashville mayor Karl Dean addresses a Trousdale County audience at a November dinner. Dean is one of two Democrats seeking his party’s nomination for governor in 2018.

“We had to make decisions about how to move the city forward while still balancing the budget,” Dean said. “We were not going to go to the citizens and say, ‘Balance our books while you’re fighting to balance your own books.’

“We added to education and public safety, and continued to invest in the city.”

During his time as mayor, Dean said Nashville went from 33rd in the state to third in teacher pay, and said Nashville became a more livable city.

Dean said he would, as governor, work to “build a coalition” with members of both parties and independents to move Tennessee forward.

“I believe the people of Tennessee want a governor who will be pragmatic, use common sense, and get things done rather than an ideologue,” he said. “Mayor LaGuardia from New York in the 1930s said, ‘There’s no Democratic or Republican way to fill a pothole. People just want the pothole filled.’ That’s want people want to see in the governor’s office.”

Fitzhugh, a native of Ripley who represents Crockett, Haywood and Lauderdale counties in the Tennessee House, currently serves as the Minority Leader and touted his experience in state government and in private business, where he serves as Chief Executive Officer of the Bank of Ripley.

“I’m getting around and letting folks know me,” Fitzhugh said. “I’ve learned a lot about state government and what happens to taxpayers’ money. That experience will serve me should I be elected.”

Both candidates cited strong support for public education. Dean called education “the overriding issue” in Tennessee, while Fitzhugh described himself as “a strong proponent of public schools” and noted his opposition to a state voucher program.

“There is no place for vouchers in Tennessee,” Fitzhugh said. “I believe very strongly in public schools and have fought for them in the legislature.”

Dean also called for more vocational and technical training for those who choose not to attend college. Fitzhugh called for more education funding, saying that Tennessee was 42nd nationally in the amount of money spent on schools.

Craig Fitzhugh, who currently serves as House Minority Leader, offers up his vision of the role of Tennessee’s next governor to a Trousdale County audience.

“We need to have better teacher pay, better abilities for rural communities to have quality schools,” Fitzhugh said.

Both candidates also spoke in favor of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, a position the General Assembly has not been willing to endorse thus far. Gov. Haslam’s plan for such expansion died in committee during a 2015 special session.

“The biggest moral failure we’ve had in this state during my time in the legislature was not to take that $3.7 billion. It’s a sin,” Fitzhugh said. “If I’m elected, the first thing I will press for is to get it done.”

“It was a huge mistake when the legislature didn’t do Medicaid expansion,” Dean agreed. “We turned down access to $3.7 billion to offer affordable health care to our citizens.”

Dean said Tennessee was No. 2 in the nation behind Texas in rural hospital closures, because of the lack of Medicaid expansion.

“How hard is it to keep people in a community when the hospital closes? How hard it is to get citizens to move into a community and attract new jobs when the hospital closes?” Dean said.

Economic development was also an area of focus for both candidates.

“We have to make sure we do all we can to keep rural and small-town Tennessee life,” Dean said. “Rural broadband is essential, town centers and squares need to remain vital and active places that continue to attract people.”

Fitzhugh called for better opportunities for all Tennesseans, saying, “We all do better when we all do better.”

Fitzhugh said he envisioned more high-paying jobs, including more focus on infrastructure and education.

“Roads plus education plus broadband equals jobs,” he said. “It’s that simple.”

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.