Cochran eager to begin legislative term

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Third District Rep. Jerome Cochran believes Republican lawmakers are ready to take an aggressive step toward policy-making when the 103rd General Assembly convenes today.
   Cochran said evidence of assertiveness was shown by the state GOP decision to nominate a challenger against Speaker of House James H. Naifeh at the legislature's organizational session two weeks ago.
   "I thought that spoke well of the class that they are down there not to worry about an election but to make a difference," said Cochran, who will begin his first two-year term in office today. "I think this class is going to be given the regard that they are not there to just worry about pork-barrel projects."
   Cochran was sworn in as state representative representing Carter County two weeks ago during the 103rd General Assembly organizational session on Jan. 14. He is one of several anti-income tax Republicans who upset several incumbents in the upstate and across Tennessee in November's state election.
   Cochran strongly opposed a state income tax and criticized what he saw as eagerness by some in the legislature to raise taxes on the public.
   Cochran was also one of a dozen Republicans who voted against the selection of Naifeh as Speaker of the House. Republicans openly challenged the Covington Democrat after several years of leading the office unopposed.
   Democrats still control the state House of Representatives with 54 Democrats; however, 45 Republicans now comprise the 99-member house.
   As a freshman member of the 103rd General Assembly, Cochran said he and fellow conservative Republicans have made decisions regarding their voice in the legislature.
   "They are a little more combative than past freshman classes in that it is mostly anti-income tax Republicans," he said. "That was a brave decision in that they've got to worry about committee assignments and being elected."
   Cochran was named to the House Judiciary and Transportation committees. He said he had met briefly with Gov. Phil Bredesen, but had talked with several cabinet members, including former Washington County Sheriff Fred Phillips, who runs the Department of Safety, and ex-House Rep., Ken Givens, who now serves as state commissioner of the Department of Agriculture.
   He said he had been working with County Executive Dale Fair and Mayor Sam LaPorte to formulate a plan for economic development and get a new perspective on how the county goes about developing its economic base.
   "The county executive and I have the same goal in mind," he said. "The difficulty is a lot of our competition is giving away the farm to get business in here, and we need to decide whether we want to do that or not. If manufacturing is the route we need to go, or if we need to start working on the retail side is the way. Carter County may have to refocus and rethink the way we do things here."
   The county has been jolted with a series of plant closures during the past several months, including Alcoa Extrusions, Frank Schaffer Publications and Cendant Corporation.
   Cochran said he advocates industrial agents and local officials pursuing industries out of state more and promoting the county more to national business circles. The bait of enormous tax breaks and deferred taxation shouldn't be ruled out if it generates a company's interest in locating to Carter County, he added.
   "I wouldn't take anything off the table at this point," he said.
   Cochran said he would be co-sponsoring a bill with fellow upstate lawmaker Rep. Jason Mumpower, R-Bristol, to phase out the one-cent state sales tax passed by the legislature last year. The bill would pare down the sales tax increase over four years, he said.
   Cochran also said he was looking for a project to expand a highway at Okolona Road to take advantage of Interstate 26 when it comes through Carter County.
   The lottery referendum passed statewide with 58 percent of voters in its favor, and approximately 42 percent against it. In Carter County, voters rejected the creation of a state lottery by 13 votes.
   Cochran stated that he would vote against lottery legislation based on the rejection of the lottery referendum by Carter County voters in November.
   "I told them if Carter Countians voted for the lottery I would support that. They did not so I told them I would vote against a lottery," he said. "Having said that, it doesn't mean I'm not going to try and work for the best possible use of the lottery if legislation is enacted."
   However, Cochran said he did not like what he felt was a shift of ideas by pro-lottery lawmakers on the design and academic requirements that were not mentioned during the lottery campaign. He said citizens were "sold a bill of goods" by the pro-lottery campaigners last year that was now being compromised.
   Cochran believes the "Georgia plan" of using lottery revenues to provide merit-based scholarships for academically eligible students stipulated academic achievement and support for students from public and private schools.
   "Now they could be based on need," he said. "Now we hear the (qualifying) grade point average may be lowered from 3.0 to 2.75, which was not told to the voters of Tennessee."