A return of leadership a must says Kevin Cole

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   State Senate candidate Kevin Cole says he saw himself running for office perhaps 12 to 15 years down the road.
   However, he claimed the state's volatile budget debate and what he felt was a vacuum of leadership in the 3rd District impelled him to change those plans.
   "Everyone was talking and no one was leading," said Cole, of the General Assembly's most recent budget battle that led to a temporary shutdown of state government in early July. "I'm a businessman and I just got fed up enough to jump in.
   "Many hard-working people, like myself, have become aggravated and frustrated with the lack of leadership, vision and solutions coming out of Nashville."
   Cole is challenging incumbent Sen. Dewey "Rusty" Crowe for Republican nomination to the 3rd District Senate seat representing Washington and Carter counties.
   He has blasted Crowe's votes on a variety of taxation issues and the fact Crowe was elected to office as a Democrat but later switched parties and became a Republican.
   "I don't dislike Rusty," said Cole, 42, of Johnson City. "We just need to have someone with the experience and leadership in there that would be beneficial for this region."
   Cole is an independent insurance agent who organized and launched Insurors Bank of Tennessee with a group of businessmen.
   He currently serves on the board of Inscorp, the bank's holding company, headquartered in Nashville.
   "Someone who's been a Republican all his life, and who espouses and holds to Republican principle of fiscal conservatism," is how Cole classified his assertion of what a "true Republican" represented.
   He also said he would not have voted for the General Assembly's revenue plan that raised the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent. The plan was one of numerous sales and business tax increases levied by the General Assembly in the past three decades, he said.
   "It didn't allow for any leakage," said Cole of the "Cooper plan." He also said he did not support the "Naifeh plan," which called for a 4.5 percent flat tax on income and a repeal of the state sales tax on food, clothing and prescription drugs.
   "Spending the $560 million in tobacco money wasn't criminal, but it should've been," added Cole, referring to the Legislature's appropriation of the national tobacco settlement money last year. "When we came up short this year, you could attribute that to spending the tobacco money."
   The state could realize significant revenue by putting state-owned capital equipment to use via bidding it out into the private sector.
   "We've got a lot of capital equipment sitting around idle," said Cole. By contracting that equipment out on a bid basis, the state could earn revenue and put its capital investments to use, he said.
   Cole also said as a staunch supporter of education, he wanted greater interaction between educators and the private sector to allow teachers to understand what skills are needed for the work force.
   He decried the massive increases in tuition implemented by the state's Board of Regents on students at state universities and colleges as a result of the state's decision not to fund the higher education system to 100 percent funding levels.
   He also wanted to evaluate the needs of state employees to improve "cohesiveness" among employees and maintain operations stability for the state.
   However, Cole said he was wary of simply "throwing money" at education concerns until goals and clear objectives were established.
   "We have to have clearly defined goals, expressed procedures and corresponding evaluation measures for attaining those goals," said Cole. "Once those are established, we can adequately determine what funding level is necessary."
   He also said standardized testing was creating too narrow an educational experience for students and educators.
   "I've had teachers tell me that they spend 30 days out of 180 school days grading tests or taking standardized tests," said Cole. "That is preposterous."
   Cole, who also serves as a member of the Johnson City Planning Commission, said a top priority is promoting economic development to create new and better-paying jobs.
   A native of Carthage, he graduated with honors from the University of Tennessee with a degree in Liberal Arts. He serves as president of the University of Tennessee/Washington County Alumni & Friends organization.
   He has traveled to Washington, D.C., for the past several years to speak to legislators on behalf of the Insurors of Tennessee.
   Cole and his wife Sandy have two children: a daughter, Caitlin, 10, and a son, Austin, 6. They are active members of First Christian Church.