Jackson County farmer determined to win governor's seat

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Republican gubernatorial candidate David Kelley doesn't have a team of political advisors culled from the upper echelons of business and politics.
   He has no volunteers putting out direct mail campaign or bought television advertisements during the six o'clock news. However, the accountant turned farmer believes he can win the Republican nomination for governor in the August 1 primary.
   Armed with one campaign sign, a conservative platform, and his own dogged determination, Kelley has packed his Dodge van and campaigned from Beale Street to Broad Street in Elizabethton.
   "With courageous vision and a business education including accounting and auditing experience, I am your man to correct things," said Kelley, who articulated his views in an interview with the Star while campaigning in Northeast Tennessee on Wednesday afternoon.
   "Within the first two weeks I'm in office, I intend to have a progress report of where I am."
   Kelley, 77, is one of five candidates seeking the Republican nomination for governor. He raises crops and cattle on the farm he owns near Gainesboro in Jackson County, roughly 20 miles southwest of Cookeville.
   With his flowing white beard and energetic disposition, one can't help but compare Kelley to J.R.R. Tolkien's wise and benevolent wizard Gandalf.
   "I'll be a friendly governor who cares," he said. "Immediately, there'll be a hiring freeze but no layoffs or downsizing."
   Kelley said he had no intention of simply being an office holder or waiting.
   "I won't be spending time in the governor's mansion. I'll be living on the hill until I feel like I can get this under control," he said. "I won't be shopping for a stretch limo, either. I'll be auditing boring pages of statistics with those who wrote 'em."
   A staunch opponent of a state income tax, Kelley said he would reform state spending as Tennessee's next governor.
   "Don't double your trouble," said Kelley of the income tax proposal. "If I am fortunate enough to become governor and the Legislature passes an income tax, I will veto it."
   Kelley's platform includes the following positions:
   * Cutting government expenses.
   * A "pro-life" advocate on the issue of abortion.
   * Supports capital punishment.
   * Supports the Second Amendment with the motto "Own a gun, protect yourself."
   * Advocates a "sensible" state lottery.
   The state Legislature passed the largest tax increase in state history this year by raising the state sales tax one percent to fund a projected $480 million budget shortfall. The decision would not solve the state's financial troubles, Kelley declared.
   "Our main problem is fiscal," he said. "This sales tax increase will carry us through for another year, but the problem has not been solved.
   "Every time we raise taxes, we raise expenses and it sends our businesses down to Mexico or the Orient.
   "In the brutally competitive global economy, we can't afford new taxes or new expenses either," Kelley added, "so we'll have to trim costs to fit income like any frugal family business," he added.
   "We can -- I smell a lot of waste."
   He said the state financial flip-flop could not be blamed on the General Assembly. He felt Gov. Don Sundquist had not provided the leadership necessary to right the state's budget woes.
   Kelley also said he supports a "sensible lottery" that did not represent multimillion dollar jackpots. Instead, he believed a maximum prize of $250,000 could draw players while generating revenues for the state.
   "We need a lottery because we are losing too much money to neighboring states that have lotteries," he said. "I don't look at a lottery as a be all and end all in solutions."
   He also believed the TennCare system needed "a complete analysis" to end shortcomings of abuse and waste.
   He also vowed to change public schools to prevent students from being promoted to higher grades if they had not mastered the skills necessary to advance.
   Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio to a German mother and Irish-Catholic father, Kelley converted to reform Judaism at age 35.
   He graduated from Finn College -- later taken over by Cleveland State University -- with a degree in Business Administration. He worked as an accountant and auditor in Cleveland before he moved to Tennessee to take up farming.
   Gubernatorial candidates must file a nominating petition with the State Election Commission in Nashville. The nominating petition must be signed by at least twenty-five (25) voters who are registered anywhere in Tennessee. Each voter who signs the petition must also supply his or her residence address as it appears on the voter registration records.
   This David also understands he is up against political Goliaths when it comes to the Republican primary.
   Leading GOP candidates Van Hilleary and Jim Henry both have amassed substantial war chests to finance their campaigns.
   "Some of these guys have campaign contribution lists that are hundreds of pages," he said.
   Kelley serves as a member of the Jackson County Historical Society, Cattlemen's Association, Farm Bureau, Farmer's Co-op and Avery Trace Association.
   His political flyer reads that citizens could write him at: Dave Kelley, 150 Poor House Lane, Gainesboro, TN 35562-5757. Kelley's flyer also reads citizens can call him at 931/268-4769 with the following advisement for potential callers: "No answering machine. Usually home weekends. Let the phone ring. This is a farm, not an apartment."