By Andy Sher
PINEY FLATS, Tenn. —; Starting with more than $4 million in campaign cash on hand, Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen kicked off his 2006 re-election bid Tuesday by embarking on a four-day, barnstorm tour of the state.
He began the day in traditionally Republican East Tennessee.
“I want to serve four more years. That’s why I’m here this morning to start this process out,” Gov. Bredesen told a cheering crowd of some 250 people crowded into Pardner’s Bar B Que & Steak. “There are some things I want to get done.”
Gov. Bredesen said he spent much of his first term grappling with difficult issues, particularly the state’s budget and TennCare, from which he disenrolled an estimated 170,000 people to hold down costs.
Lance Frizzell, a spokesman for state Sen. Jim Bryson, R-Franklin, a Republican candidate for governor, said Gov. Bredesen’s stop in East Tennessee would give him the chance to answer some questions.
“It’ll give him an opportunity to explain why (tens of thousands) Tennesseans lost their health care on his watch and explain why he looks the other way while state troopers were hired and fired and promoted based on campaign contributions,” Mr. Frizzell said.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol’s top three officials resigned last year after news reports described a culture of political favoritism and allegations of ticket-fixing.
Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Bob Davis on Monday called on the governor to return campaign contributions from THP troopers and “prove” he is dealing with ethics issues.
On Tuesday, someone dressed in a bear suit wearing a hat similar to those worn by THP officers showed up at several Bredesen stops. The person dressed as the bear declined to comment, but was holding a sign saying, “Return the money.”
But Brenda Sue Blankenship, 54, a Washington County Democratic precinct chairwoman, said Gov. Bredesen has “done a lot to turn our state around” since Republican Gov. Don Sundquist left office in early 2003.
“He has made the tough decisions,” she said. “The prior administration didn’t address issues with TennCare and the troopers.”
If re-elected, Gov. Bredesen said he intends to focus on education, job creation and making sure Cover Tennessee, his plan to make health insurance more accessible, works.
He said he would like to expand a pre-Kindergarten program to 60 percent of Tennessee’s preschoolers at a total cost of $175 million. The program would remain voluntary, he said.
“I want to work with school districts to do the best job we can in making our education system one that really does give our kids what they need to prosper,” he said.
The trip included rallies in Greeneville, Knoxville and Athens.
Gov. Bredesen stayed overnight in Chattanooga and was scheduled to start the second leg of his 16-stop tour today with an 8 a.m. rally at Miller Park in downtown.
Traveling by plane and later by bus, Gov. Bredesen found Democrats waving signs and cheering at stops.
But not everyone was glad to see the governor.
Bluff City, Tenn., businesswoman Carolyn Ballard, 59, told the governor she had been disenrolled from TennCare and said she received rude treatment from an administration official.
E-mail Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org