Bredesen 'officially' enters governor's race

By Julie Fann
Star staff

Phil Bredesen, a Democrat and former mayor of Nashville, announced on Thursday his candidacy for governor in Carter County. He strongly agreed with reporters that Nashville politicos often forget East Tennesseans.
   "Yesterday was the day in which I filed my papers and officially became a candidate for governor of the state of Tennessee. Today, I'm in Carter County. East Tennessee is vitally important to me. I think the sense which is felt here, that they get forgotten, is true," he said.
   Bredesen, 58, answered reporters' questions on issues such as the state income tax, TennCare, and education reform, stating that his tenure as mayor has prepared him for a job as governor because it taught him how to transfer business management skills into the public sector. He said that his "top priority" topics would be the state budget crisis and TennCare.
   "They aren't the things that I would like to be remembered for in the long run, but they need to be sorted out, and I think that it's perfectly possible to do so," he said. Bredesen said that he'd like to be remembered for his work concerning jobs and education. "But I think all of us recognize that the truck has got to be wrenched out of the ditch and back up onto the road, before we can drive it down the road to our destination," he said.
   When asked about his stance on a state income tax, Bredesen said that he does not support it. He said that state government took for granted the years of expansion that took place in the 1990s and thought they were going to last forever. As a result, debt grew. He said Tennesseans understand this, which is why they don't support a state income tax.
   "They (Tennesseans) don't know of any business that doesn't have to live within its revenue stream. And they don't know of any family that doesn't have to live within the income that they have, and I think they expect the state government to do the same thing. I think the answer has got to be, first of all, establishing the discipline to run our government during good years and bad years."
   Bredesen does not believe that TennCare is the fundamental issue behind the state's budget woes; however, he does believe that it has severe management problems. He said that it was not the intent of TennCare to incorporate those who have other insurance alternatives and that the benefits are too comprehensive.
   "TennCare for the non-Medicaid part of the population should be insurance of last resort. It is a better insurance package than most have, and it makes no sense to have insurance of last resort be that comprehensive," he said. Bredesen said he would "move back" the package and make it more competitive with insurance policies that are purchased.
   Bredesen, a businessman and Harvard graduate who started his own company, HealthAmerica, which employed 6,000, said that HMOs need to be better regulated and that his company was nothing more than a big HMO. He said that hiring a seasoned regulator would help because they would know what problems to tackle and how to tackle them.
   Concerning education reform, Bredesen said he would focus on raising teachers' salaries and developing better standards and accountability. Citing the creation of a core curriculum in Nashville, one of the strong points of his tenure as mayor, Bredesen said that he would like to see that program be implemented statewide.
   "It is a very down-to-earth, detailed, tough curriculum that we expect the teachers to teach, as opposed to generalized education. I would like to see that kind of toughness put into the standards in the state," he said.
   Bredesen also said he wasn't opposed to bringing the state's electric companies under more strict regulation so that East Tennesseans could have access to affordable electricity. "I don't have any ideological objections to going back to a more regulated environment," he said.
   Other issues Bredesen said he would support were guarding the environment and requiring that Limited Liability Companies pay corporate taxes. Bredesen planned to continue his campaign across Tennessee.
   (Editor's Note: Star reporters Kathy Helms-Hughes and Megan Harrell contributed to this story.)