Bredesen works to rally support for 2002

By Stephen S. Glass

Star Staff

   Attempting to stir up enthusiasm for his 2002 campaign, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Bredesen visited local party members at the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce on Friday.
   The former mayor of Nashville ran against Gov. Don Sundquist in 1994. Though he lost that election, Bredesen is considered the leading democrat for the 2002 race, and according to a recent Mason-Dixon poll, he is neck and neck with Republican front-runner Van Hilleary.
   Bredesen said he has "learned a thing or two" about campaigning since his losing race against Sundquist.
   "I think people really want to meet their candidate face to face," Bredesen told local Democrats. "If they don't know you personally, they want to know someone who does."
   Bredesen said he will be spending the first leg of his campaign "reintroducing" himself to voters across Tennessee.
   A former executive for a national health care company, Bredesen said he wants to "bring to the governor's office the experience of knowing how to grow a business and create jobs."
   He said that his time as mayor taught him how to "use business knowledge in the public sector." During his mayoral stint, Bredesen says he spent more time and money on education than on luring the NFL to Nashville, though the latter received the lion's share of media attention.
   "The public schools made some good advances during my time as mayor," he said, citing increased pay for teachers, new schools, expanded art and music programs, and a "tightened curriculum."
   "I think it should also be noted that property tax went down while I was in office," said Bredesen. "I think that shows you can do progressive things without running the tax rate up for everybody."
   Bredesen told local Democrats that he believes the state's present "budget fiasco" can be remedied without adopting an income tax.
   "I don't think there is any doubt that the present Legislature has driven the truck in the ditch," said Bredesen. "The problem is not so much with the tax system as it is with legislators' inability to come to grips with the budget. They have lost the ability to put issues on the table, solve them, and move on. An income tax is not the right answer."
   Bredesen described the budget entanglement as "a short-term" problem that could be solved if government would learn to react to market conditions as corporations in the private sector are obligated to do.
   "In business management, you have good years and tight years," he said, adding that government should not be averse to "tightening its belt" when the economy slows down.
   Bredesen said that the highest hurdles facing state government are reforming TennCare, making improvements in education, and attracting jobs for Tennesseans.
   "We need to put politics and the little stuff aside," he said. "We need to grow the state economy and deal with education. Tennessee is really in the catbird seat if we could stop getting bogged down on basic issues."
   Bredesen said that steps taken by Gov. Sundquist to reform TennCare were a "step in the right direction," but criticized the governor's recent decision to trim the budget by closing state parks at the beginning of each week, calling the measure "nonsense." He said that the governor had made the cuts because they were the "most visible, painful thing."
   "That sort of politics has everybody turned off right now. People are too smart for those games."
   Bredesen also said that the present administration had used road money as leverage for political favors, saying that road projects had been used "as a matter of reward and punishment -- not need."
   "I promise to clean that up for you," he said. "I don't want to be a Middle-Tennessee governor. The day you start cashing paychecks from the state, you have no business favoring one region or one city or one county over another. I believe in equal access...and equal obligation."