Gabriel believes right decisions can make state 'Wal-Mart of the South'

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   A budgeting plan resembling that of the private sector could prove to be a financial boon to Tennessee if legislators are interested in saving money, says Richard D. Gabriel.
   "We could become the Wal-Mart of the South," said Gabriel, 39, of Johnson City, who is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination in the state Senate's 3rd District representing Washington and Carter counties.
   "I believe in a high volume, lower expense approach to government," said Gabriel. "Businesses do it all the time."
   The Del Rio, Texas native said he believed in "fanning out" basic reforms of lower spending and more efficient spending beginning with local agencies.
   Gabriel said reforming government needed to start at the local level and move upwards through the state. Each government department at both the local and state level should operate as small businesses, using tax dollars without spending wildly.
   Gabriel said he would not have voted for the "Cooper revenue plan" that ultimately passed the General Assembly, increasing the state's sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent.
   He called the past legislative session a "fiasco of hapless decision-making and good 'ol boy politics." He also said incumbent senator Rusty Crowe "has not stood up, not rallied his people" regarding the state's budget debate.
   "The state needs to spend within its budget," said Gabriel. "We have more business taxes than I can even imagine and still the burden is put on the people."
   By operating within their state appropriations, agencies ranging from public schools, public safety and human services could fund their budgets rather than relying totally on new taxes from Nashville, said Gabriel.
   Gabriel also said he supported making K-12 schools and teachers accountable for their students' achievements. However, he also felt standardized tests such as the new Gateway exam for high school students risked pigeon-holing students' academic experience into only striving for higher test scores.
   "We are teaching the tests for federal money, but we are not teaching health, civics, and good character the way we were in the 1970s," said Gabriel. "The teacher is being asked to perform more with less."
   Gabriel said he favored the state adopting a co-payment plan for everyone under age 50 on the TennCare program.
   "It would allow more doctors to participate in the program at a higher rate of service," he said.
   "I do support a lottery as an additional revenue tool," Gabriel added, speaking of the lottery referendum that will be voted up or down by Tennesseans in the November state election.
   Gabriel is single and employed by a window taming company in Johnson City.
   He made his first campaign for state senate in 1998 when he won the Democratic nomination in August but lost the election to Crowe. Raised in a military family, he moved to Tennessee after graduating from high school in Charleston, S.C., in 1982.
   He served four years in the U.S. Air Force and three years in the U.S. Army and later joined the Tennessee National Guard after the Gulf War. Gabriel graduated from East Tennessee State University with a bachelor's degree in General Studies.
   "I have programs that are tried and true that will improve the state and I believe I am the one to get things done in Nashville," said Gabriel.