NASHVILLE -- Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey on Tuesday accused GOP gubernatorial rival Zach Wamp, a Chattanooga congressman, of having "never seen an earmark he didn't like."
"My good friend Zach Wamp has never voted for a spending cut. He's never seen an earmark he didn't like," Lt. Gov. Ramsey, R-Blountville and the Senate speaker, told GOP activists at Nashville's First Tuesday luncheon. "We can't do that here in the state of Tennessee. We have to live within our means."
Efforts to contact Wamp campaign officials were unsuccessful. Rep. Wamp serves on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee and has secured a number of specially designated congressional appropriations, known as earmarks, for the 3rd District he represents and other areas.
Lt. Gov. Ramsey's remark came after a speech and in response to an audience member's question. The questioner, Jesse Hughes, a former legislative staffer, said U.S. Rep. Wamp is "fond of pointing out you voted for the largest tax hike in Tennessee history, but during his six self-limited terms and two overtime terms (in Congress), I notice the national debt went from $4.8 trillion to ... $12.3 billion."
Sen. Ramsey acknowledged voting for the 1-cent sales-tax increase in July 2002. But he pointed out it came as Republican Gov. Don Sundquist and other income tax advocates were pressing legislators to approve the controversial plan.
"The goal was to keep us there for however long it took until we finally gave in," Lt. Gov. Ramsey recalled. "But in the end we pulled a coalition together, Democrat and Republican, passed the sales tax increase, drove a stake as I said in the heart of an income tax forever and went home."
Lt. Gov. Ramsey also noted that he is backing Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen's plan to cut state spending in the 2010-11 budget because of continued revenue shortages.
Meanwhile, the lieutenant governor came under fire from state Democrats for other remarks he made to the GOP activists.
In response to a question from Maclin Davis, longtime legal counsel for the Tennessee Republican Party, about President Obama's status as a U.S. citizen, the lieutenant governor said, "I don't know whether President Obama is a citizen of the United States or not. I don't know what the whole deal is there."
"But," Mr. Ramsey said, "I'm going to tell you something. When you walk out on the street down here, people don't really care about this issue."
He told Mr. Davis that voters care more about things such as jobs and education.
Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester later said in a statement that Sen. Ramsey "would rather pander to a far-right wing group of conspiracy theorists than govern in a pragmatic approach that most Tennesseans expect from their political leaders."