Cochran believes change imminent in Carter County, Nashville

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   An Elizabethton attorney says Tennessee residents have had enough budget bickering in the General Assembly, and expects new faces to enter the state's House and Senate after the November election.
   "I think we are going to see a shakeup and I think the income tax has led to this disenchantment," said Jerome Cochran, who is seeking to unseat incumbent Rep. Ralph Cole for the Republican nomination for the 4th District House seat.
   Cochran, 30, is aiming to be a part of said shakeup.
   He has challenged Cole's positions for what he called "representing the wishes of Don Sundquist and (House Speaker) Jimmy Naifeh" instead of the people of Carter County.
   He has also been particularly critical of Cole's decision to support legislation that enacted a state income tax. He maintained that the state had trouble keeping down spending, citing budgets by Gov. Don Sundquist.
   "People of Carter County want someone to watch over their tax dollars and spend wisely," said Cochran. "When you have people like Jimmy Naifeh, you are not going to get people to reform spending."
   Cochran said he endorsed Republican gubernatorial candidate Van Hilleary due to his commitment to spending reform in government. A policy that Cochran said had not been practiced in Nashville in some time.
   "It took us 200 years to get to a $10 billion budget and another 10 years to reach a $20 billion budget," he said.
   He also said he would have voted against the "Naifeh plan," which would've implemented a 4.5 percent flat rate income tax and repealed the state sales tax on food, clothing purchases, and non-prescription drugs.
   He said had he been a House member this session, he would've voted yes to the "Cooper plan" that increased the state sales tax one percent.
   "For one thing, I would've voted," Cochran said alluding to Cole's decision to vote "present" on the Cooper sales tax plan. "It was the lesser of three evils. A sales tax is the fairest of all of them because we have a say-so as to how we spend our money. If we let people get into our paychecks, it's going to be trouble."
   He also argued against the idea that wealthier communities of Nashville and Memphis had fought against an income tax and that the sales tax was unfair to low- and middle-income families.
   "Middle Tennesseans pay the same sales tax as we do," said Cochran. "Virginia has a state income tax, a sales tax and a lottery, but they had a $1 billion deficit this year."
   Cochran also maintained a state income tax was unconstitutional, and cited three past state Supreme Court rulings upholding that notion.
   However, he also said he would not make any "read my lips" promises about never voting for a tax on personal income.
   "I believe an income tax is unconstitutional, but if the people wanted a constitutional convention to decide the type of tax structure they wanted, and the people of Carter County were in favor of that ... I'd have to consider it," said Cochran.
   Cochran said he did support pumping more dollars in the state's K-12 and higher education systems. He cited Tennessee's near bottom-of-the-barrel record in funding higher education, but it's seemingly strong commitment to spilling asphalt on anything in sight.
   "We are in the lower 40s among states in education, but we're among the top three states in roads," said Cochran, who added that he had reservations about a state lottery's benefits to fund higher education.
   Cochran said he supported public K-12 education, but also felt charter schools were a viable alternative that should be available to parents.
   "I have a daughter in Happy Valley Elementary School and I am pleased with where she's going and the education she's getting," said Cochran. "We need to offer those parents an option to those schools.
   "We also need to find a way to keep Carter County teachers here," he added. "They are getting paid several thousand dollars less per year than other teachers in the state."
   A discrepancy he felt could be remedied by a standardized pay scale for all state K-12 teachers, he said.
   Cochran called for an independent audit of the TennCare system and establishing a new co-payment plan for the program's recipients, said Cochran. The strong benefits provided by TennCare were reason to ask recipients to assist the state with funding the program.
   "(TennCare) is a Cadillac program, and we could ask (recipients) to help defray some of the costs," he said.
   He also said he would be committed to working with local officials in Elizabethton and Carter County to recruit new industries into the county.
   Cochran is a practicing criminal defense attorney. Born in Saigon, Vietnam, Cochran graduated from Happy Valley High School in 1990. He graduated from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and Regent University School of Law in Virginia Beach, Va.
   He and his wife Sandy are the parents of a six-year-old daughter and 11-month-old son.