3 Other Governor
GOP Dinner Here
BY TOM YANCEY
Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a Republican state senator from Blountville and the Speaker of the Tennessee Senate, made it official here Friday night, announcing formally that he is seeking to be the GOP candidate for governor in 2010.
Ramsey made the announcement at the annual Lincoln Day dinner hosted by the Greene County Republican Women at the General Morgan Inn.
His job on the program was to have been to introduce the keynote speaker, state Republican Party Chairman Robin Smith -- which he did, after making his own announcement. (Please see accompanying article.)
Ramsey had been mentioned as a likely gubernatorial candidate for several weeks in various publications, including The Greeneville Sun.
He spoke after getting an enthusiastic introduction from state Rep. David Hawk, R-5th, of Greeneville, and after three other GOP candidates for governor -- Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, and U.S. Rep. Zack Wamp, R-Chattanooga -- had also made brief remarks.
Hawk had introduced Ramsey as the first Republican Lt. Governor in the history of Tennessee. Ramsey corrected that statement, explaining that he was the first in 140 years. But he also noted that last month he became the longest-serving Republican Lt. Governor.
He commended his fellow state senator, Steve Southerland, R-1st, of Morristown, who, thanks to Ramsey, is now chairman of the Senate Environment, Conservation and Tourism Committee.
Ramsey noted that Southerland was able to get a bill passed to clean up the Pigeon River despite "the strong objection of the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation."
The Blountville Republican was applauded when he said that state Rep. Jason Mumpower, R-Bristol, who was present, "should have been Speaker of the House."
Ramsey noted that the three officials who had already spoken were "three great candidates for governor," but he was enthusiastically applauded when he said, "I am here in Greene County to announce that I am going to be a candidate for governor" as well.
He said he and his wife of 29 years, Sindy, had "thought about this, prayed about this," and decided to go ahead, "for the right reasons."
Ramsey said Republicans engineered a 19-to-14 majority in the Senate in last year's election, and elected the first Republican majority in the state House of Representatives "in the history of time," because they "stuck to Republican principles."
At a time when "Republicans in Washington stopped acting like Republicans, Tennessee didn't," he said.
Ramsey commended Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Smith, whom he said is "not afraid to stand up and say what she thinks."
He brought her to the platform by saying that Republicans would not enjoy the majorities that they do "if it wasn't for Robin Smith."
Gibbons introduced himself by saying it was "good to be in the home county of (the late) Judge Tom Hull and now Judge Ronnie Greer," noting that he himself had served on the staff of former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander in the 1980s.
Gibbons stressed his humble beginnings after his father left his wife and six children on a small farm in Arkansas when Gibbons was only four years old.
His mother eventually lost the farm to foreclosure and struggled to keep food on the table in a home across the road with no telephone, no car and no TV until he was 10, Gibbons said.
But, he said, his mother had received some education and believed in the value of books, and he became such a good reader that he could make passing grades in school without attending often.
A fourth-grade teacher took him aside, he said, and changed his life. She gave him hope he needed, he said, by explaining to him that his best option for getting out of poverty was to study and and attend class.
"She connected the dots for me" in a 15-minute conversation, he stated.
Another mentor, he said, was the man who bought the family farm out of foreclosure, then hired young Gibbons to work for him and introduced him to Republican politics in heavily Democratic Arkansas.
He later got another boost after his mother moved with him to Memphis and he was able to attend Central High School, where teachers challenged him and a guidance counselor helped him get a college scholarship.
After he volunteered in former U.S. Sen. Howard Baker's 1966 campaign, "a young lawyer named Lamar Alexander" gave Gibbons the chance to head up "Young Tennesseans for Baker" in Memphis.
"I learned 90 percent of what I know about public service from Lamar Alexander," Gibbons said.
Gibbons has served on the Memphis City Council, and in 1992 was elected District Attorney General in Shelby County, the state's largest criminal jurisdiction. He was later re-elected.
He said he has now been through 12 state budget cycles, and has had to lay-off employees because of the current state budget crisis.
Gibbons said he has experience in dealing with tough issues and having to do the right thing for the right reasons for many years now.
"I look forward to the challenge of holding the line on taxes" as governor, he said.
Haslam noted that the last time he spoke at the General Morgan Inn was at a dinner for the Hope Center here, which provides alternatives to abortion. The Center is a ministry of Free Will Baptist Family Ministries.
Six years ago, Haslam said, he was elected mayor of Knoxville. He said he has loved the "hands-on" aspects of the job, and the need to "come up with results" or else face critical fellow citizens in the local grocery store and restaurants.
"These are very serious times" for families, the state and the economy, Haslam said. "The state unemployment rate just hit 8.6 percent, and I think it's going to get worse before it gets better."
The state budget is projected to be $1 billion short, and that too, Haslam said, is likely to get worse.
He said he believes the federal stimulus package passed recently by Congress and signed by President Obama may make the state's budget problems worse in time.
He likened the stimulus package to an aunt dying and leaving you money, which you use to pay the mortgage, "but she's not going to die again," and the next governor will inherit a budget that is inherently short.
Haslam said Knoxville is in good financial shape because that city has set itself up to manage hard times with a budget surplus, and has an ongoing recruiting program to bring jobs.
Forbes and other publications have rated Knoxville as one of the top 10 places to do business, he said.
Tennessee's big challenge, he said, is education, where the state ranks 40th out of 50 states.
The only Southeastern state that ranks worse is Mississippi, he said, adding that Tennessee children have to be ready to compete with the increasingly well educated children of Brazil, China and the rest of the world.
Haslam said Tennessee has no income tax on wages and salaries and is a right-to-work state. But, he continued, if the state is to compete well with the rest of the world, it cannot remain 40th in education.
Rep. Wamp gave what was easily the evening's most enthusiastic speech.
After commending the service of former U.S. Rep. David Davis, who was present, and noting that U.S. Rep. Phil Roe "is off to a great start," Wamp noted that Tennessee is 47th in health, in addition to ranking low in education.
"We need leadership" in the governor's office, he said, that is of a type the state has not seen since Sen. Alexander was governor in the late 1970s and the 1980s.
"How do you think we became third in auto manufacturing" under Alexander, if not for leadership and hard work? Wamp asked.
He said 14 years of work creating the Tennessee Technology Cooridor paid off recently when, "in the middle of a recession, two major, billion-dollar investments" for Tennessee were announced.
But Wamp also noted that "education affects everything else," and no excuses will do.
Wamp said those who consider his candidacy will find a solid record on "life, marriage, guns, immigration and taxes. You will get that foundation when I am governor," he said.