Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam said Monday that he knew tough economic times were heading this way, and his preparation for those times as mayor make him the most qualified candidate for governor.
"I knew that days like this were coming," Mr. Haslam told the Hamilton County Pachyderm Club. "One of government's jobs - and this sounds crazy to people - is to hold the reins in during good times."
Mr. Haslam, former vice president of Pilot Travel Centers, told the Republican group that state government spending in Tennessee has "grown way faster than the rate of inflation."
He touted the fact that he tripled Knoxville's rainy day fund as mayor as well as his "critical, experienced budget management" experience.
Former state Rep. Kim McMillan, D-Clarksville, a candidate for governor on the Democratic side, said it's Gov. Phil Bredesen and lawmakers who've been responsible.
"If cuts had to be made, they've been made," she said.
* U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp
* Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam
* Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons
* Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey
* Former state Rep. Kim McMillan
* Businessman Ward Cammack
Gov. Bredesen has said the state likely will have to use part of its $750 million rainy day fund this year for one-time expenses to stem a $900 million budget shortfall.
U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., who will face off against Mr. Haslam in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary, said Mr. Haslam was "looking backwards."
"We can't just play defense," Rep. Wamp said.
The Chattanooga congressman said he plans to encourage economic growth in the state, including growth of the Tennessee Technology Corridor, which is in his district.
"Some people's executive experience is overrated, and mine is grossly underrated," Rep. Wamp said.
Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons, another hopeful for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, boosted his economic credentials, as well. Mr. Gibbons said he worked with the administration of former Gov. Lamar Alexander to create the Memphis Jobs Conference, which helped revitalize the city.
Brad Todd, a campaign adviser for Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said the lieutenant governor, who has set up an exploratory committee for a 2010 gubernatorial campaign, has helped make Tennessee friendly to business.
"One thing that distinguishes Lt. Gov. Ramsey in this race is (Tennesseans) don't have to wonder what he would do as governor," Mr. Todd said. "He doesn't have to do a sales job to the people of this state."
Ward Cammack, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, could not be reached for comment.