Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh agree that Memphis get’s the short end of the stick when it comes to state government power in Nashville.
Both men pledge to change that, if elected governor.
With the Aug. 2 Primary election as the backdrop, Dean and Fitzhugh pitched for support at a Gubernatorial Town Hall that was held last Friday at the Fairley High School auditorium at 4950 Fairley Rd.
Fitzhugh, who lives in Ripley, said, “I always consider Memphis as my city. I only live 50 miles north from here. …It is a fact that the legislature short changes this city in many ways,” he said. “I think the recent (Confederate) statue situation, where they punished a city for doing what it wanted to do with a statue, is an example of that.”
Dean said he plans to make frequent visits to West Tennessee and to Memphis in particular because he feels the area needs special attention to reach its full potential as a great city and as a revenue generator for the state.
“Some people feel like they’ve been forgotten and that they are not included,” he said. “I would advocate strong representation in major (state) jobs with people from West Tennessee… I would also believe the governor needs to make himself available all over the state and ….use appointments (from West Tennessee) to some of the boards and commissions.”
The forum event was moderated by Tajuan Scott Stout Mitchell. She asked the candidates what they would do to attract industry to Memphis that would offer skilled, higher-paying jobs.
Dean said in 1980 that then-Gov. Lamar Alexander organized a Memphis Jobs Conference, where a decision was made to focus on becoming America’s warehouse and distribution center. He said Memphis became a hub for part-time, temporary jobs for low pay. Also, there was a decision to focus on tourism and hospitality, another form of low-paying jobs.
Dean said education is the key to change that cycle. It will take high quality schools to create the quality work force training to graduate people equipped for high skilled, better paying jobs.
Better education opportunities would also make Memphis more attractive to companies because it would have an improve quality of life and lower crime, he said.
Fitzhugh said Memphis did the right thing in putting the emphasis on attracting transportation companies because now it’s the transportation hub for the country.
“We have the ability to move goods once they are manufactured; now we can move on to some high tech, high-paying jobs that require additional training,” he said. “We have a good basis. We just have to make sure we have the training to offer for those jobs.”
Mitchell said the HOPE scholarship, created by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, has been cut back by Gov. Bill Haslam and capped by the governor’s Promise Program.
She asked the candidates what they would you do to see that the Hope scholarship is funded to the pre-Promise levels?
“I have always voted against the lowering of the amount for the HOPE scholarships,” Fitzhugh said. “I want to make them accessible. The Tennessee Promise Program has a little different funding source and we don’t need to take HOPE money and move it over to the Promise at all,” Fitzhugh said.
Dean said the Hope Scholarship Program and the Promise Program are both great programs.
“I believe Tennessee Promise, which Gov. Haslam did, is a great program,” Dean said. “I would be very supportive of the Promise, not to say I would not be supportive of the HOPE Scholarship. The bottom line is I think we need to be a state that is producing more college graduates,” Dean said. “But we can’t lose track of the fact that not everyone is going to college. So we need to have good, strong vocational programs.”
Dean said education needs to be the top priority in the state. He said the state benefitted from two governors, Haslam and Phil Bredesen, who made education a priority.
“We need to be doing that and even more,” he said. “I think we need to increase teacher pay…I do not believe in vouchers. I do not believe in for-profit charter schools. …
“You got to get it right, and if things don’t work, you don’t keep doing it,” Dean said.
Fitzhugh said the goal needs to be that every child is able to read by the third grade. He also pointed out that secondary education needs attention as well, along with the four- or two-year degree programs and specialized training that can be obtained through trade unions or other organizations.
Dean said that as mayor of Nashville he had a special program that worked to increase the number of minority businesses the city did business with.
“I think the same thing should happen on the state level,” Dean said. “I see no reason why the state shouldn’t do business with everyone who is qualified.”
Dean said that as a state, “…we should say that the poverty levels in Memphis are unacceptable. ..It’s a goal of mine that we focus our economic goals on this part of the state. … I am committed to doing everything in (my power) to help people feel as though they are part of the state.”
Both candidates said they are for Medicaid expansion.
”I’ve been leading the fight for Medicaid expansion for four years,” Fitzhugh said. “As a matter of fact, I asked the governor about a special session…It will be the first priority I will have, if I am elected your governor.”
Dean called the failure to expand Medicaid “the biggest mistake they made in my adult life….
“It’s the smart thing to do, it’s the pragmatic thing to do and it’s the reasonable thing to do,” he said. “The bottom line is we get less Medicaid money than other states…. And we have to change that.”
Fitzhugh said a recent U.S. District Court ruling that it is unconstitutional for Tennessee to revoke a drivers license if someone can’t pay court costs, “allows folks to get back in the work place. It allows folks to have the ability to drive. It’s a positive decision by the court and we need to let that court decision stand,’’ he said.
“The courts recently said this was wrong,” Dean said about the recent ruling. “That this legislation was not reasonable and it affected poor people more than anybody else because otherwise you just pay off your fines.
“That kind of legislation we don’t need to be doing and that’s what I mean about being reasonable and pragmatic and research things and know what you are doing before you do it.”
Corey Strong, chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party urged voters who attended the town hall to “go through your list of friends, church members and family members to urge them to vote.
“We have a chance to have both a local and state government that reflects us if we do our part,” Strong said. “The heartbeat of the Democratic Party is in Shelby County.”