It’s not surprising that polls show Tennessee’s Republican candidate for governor, Pilot Oil scion Bill Haslam, well ahead of Mike McWherter, his Democratic opponent, in support from likely voters. That’s what you get for opening your wallet. The wealthy Haslam paid a ton of money for television advertising to win the name recognition he needed for victory in the tightly contested Republican primary, and he’s continued to wallpaper the state with ads in the run-up to the November election.
McWherter, by contrast, was virtually unopposed in his party’s primary, so he didn’t have to advertise much to win. Whether that’s a good thing for McWherter’s campaign, of course, remains to be seen.
Haslam has not only run up his name-recognition; he’s also reaping the benefit of an energized and highly motivated GOP base that’s fueled by tea party energy and mid-term fatigue with the party in power. All the over-time campaigning McWherter can layer on in the next few weeks will test his election strategy.
Still, if voters are interested in the personal core of the candidates, McWherter has the stuff to make a better governor.
He’s a traditional centrist, anti-income tax Democrat, in the mold of his prominent father, former Gov. Ned McWherter, and our current Democratic governor, Phil Bredesen.
He personally financed and built up his own business, a beverage distributorship in Jackson, Tenn.; it wasn’t handed to him. Thus he’s got bona fide hands-on understanding of what makes small businesses tick, the necessary fuel for ginning up the state’s most reliable job generator.
And he has the art of handling gubernatorial duties in his DNA, the result of daily family tutelage from his father’s successful two terms as governor. That gave him a deep understanding of how state government works, the levers of power and a strong interest in helping move the state forward.
McWherter’s platform has strong positive themes, and a legitimate issue with his opponent. He has laid out a program to provide the same sort of tax cuts or credits for new hires to small companies, those with less than 125 employees, that the state currently provides to big companies. Such incentives would not cut into state operating funds, he argues, because they would directly boost employment and collateral consumer spending, which underwrites the state’s economy and the state’s main source of revenue.
He would focus his job recruitment program on small businesses as well as large ones, though he would specifically target the supplier plants that ultimately will serve larger companies like Volkswagen, Wacker Chemical, Hemlock and Alstom.
His strategy differs notably from Haslam’s. The Republican proposes to create new regional centers for industry and job recruitment. Because Tennessee already has regional development offices across the state, McWherter logically sees Haslam’s proposal as just another layer of bureaucracy.
McWherter also pledges to fully fund the state’s Basic Education Program, the chief source of state education funding. That would be welcome and fair. Hamilton County continues to be hamstrung by the state’s refusal to fully fund the BEP formula and ante up the $12 million annual loss to county schools in its BEP account.
He also supports full funding for the pre-Kindergarten program, as the state’s economy recovers. In a globally connected economy where education is key, he is right to support the pre-K initiative, and Haslam is wrong to diminish it.
Lastly, he rightly calls for Haslam to make a full disclosure of his income and to quit blatantly misrepresenting Pilot Oil as a purely family business. McWherter charges that the company’s equity partner, a Luxembourg corporation, does business with Iran and has influence on the business.
McWherter has made a full disclosure of his income. He also pledges to put his assets in a blind trust if elected. Haslam has refused to disclose his assets, and will not commit to a blind trust. That, McWherter correctly points out, leaves him with potential conflicts of interests in his dealings as governor with the corporate world.
That should not be tolerated. McWherter is on the right side of this vital issue. Haslam is not. Does Haslam have something to hide?