Gubernatorial candidate Smith visits Tennessee Technology Center

By Megan R. Harrell

   Tennessee's main problems are education and its loss of a competitive edge, according to gubernatorial candidate Charles Smith. Smith spoke to students at Elizabethton's Tennessee Technology Center yesterday afternoon. He is kicking off the second leg of his campaign that began in August.
   Smith voiced concern about the number of young people that are leaving Tennessee because they cannot afford to attend college in the state. He believes Tennessee needs to lower school rates in order to compete with other states. "The real problem in Tennessee is we have lost our competitive edge. Other states are robbing us blind. They are taking our people, they are taking our money, and people are crossing the state line to buy everything from lottery tickets to groceries to gasoline," Smith said.
   Smith stated that travelers drive through Tennessee, use the roads, but wait until they get to Kentucky or Alabama before they stop to spend money because it is more affordable. "What I think we need to do is make this campaign about how we restore Tennessee's competitive edge," Smith said.
   Students at the technology center voiced their concerns about the lack of job availability in the area. Most of the students are receiving training because they lost their jobs. Smith responded to students' concerns with his plan for the economy.
   State technology centers and community colleges are not receiving the emphasis that Smith believes they need. He believes that education is the catalyst for creating more jobs, and that the state government has done a poor job of utilizing the education resources available to it.
   It comes as little surprise that education is a top priority for Smith. He served as the Chancellor of the Tennessee's Board of Regents for 32 years, which was the seventh largest higher education system in the nation at the time. He was named the Commissioner of Education in 1987. While Commissioner, Smith implemented a comprehensive attempt at education reform.
   "As the former Chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, Dr. Smith is in a unique position to understand the needs of higher education," said Jerry Patton, Director of Elizabethton's Tennessee Technology Center.
   Patton voiced concern of Tennessee decline in the number of highly educated and trained citizens. He stated that the lack of education puts Tennessee at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to recruiting new businesses and expanding new industries.
   As governor, Smith would seek an economic development strategy for individual counties instead of one that encompasses the entire state. "I would appoint a commissioner that would go into every community and have the commissioner work with local government to develop 95 economic development plans for the state of Tennessee, not just one, and it would be tailor made to meet the needs of the local community," Smith said.
   The Economic and Community Development Department in Nashville came under some heavy criticism from Smith. He stated that it has lost its direction and has taken an attitude of Nashville knowing the needs of the entire state. As governor, Smith intends to change the department's direction.
   "Now we are closing state parks, we are taking tobacco money that should have gone to farmers to balance the budget and we are lacking a real since of direction, and the reason I want to be governor is because I think that I bring to the table the right kind of experience, the right kind of background, and most important of all, the right style of leadership," Smith said.
   Smith also touched on the need for Tennessee to change its national image. He stated that in order change its image state lawmakers have to make good on their visions. By doing so Smith believes Tennessee can show the rest of the nation that it is serious about change.