NASHVILLE - Republican gubernatorial candidates declared their opposition to abortion, federal government interference and reasserted their devotion to traditional family values Saturday as they appeared before the Tennessee Eagle Forum, one of the state's oldest and most influential socially conservative organizations.
Speaking to the group at its biennial banquet dinner were U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn.; Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville; and Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons.
Rep. Wamp described himself as "a child of God and a creature of grace."
The Chattanooga congressman said he "totally" respects and believes, "We should hold up the pluralistic nature of our country."
"My worldview is God made us for two purposes - to serve him and to serve each other, and from there all polices respecting pluralistic nature of our country should stand on the holy truth and the word of God," he said.
He touted his 15 years in Congress saying he has a "100 percent record on life, guns, taxes and immigration." He said his 20/20 Vision for Tennessee would seek to improve education, promote economic development and use the "bully pulpit" to promote health care among its citizens.
Lt. Gov. Ramsey, the state Senate speaker, touted his work in the Legislature on issues dear to social conservatives such as opposing gambling, helping parents who home-school their children and pushing for a constitutional amendment that would make the Tennessee Constitution silent on abortion issues.
"I will do every thing I can to protect the rights of home-schools," he said. Later promising that "that when I become governor I will appoint a home-school advocate to the state Board of Education."
Lt. Gov. Ramsey said judges appointed to appellate courts in Tennessee should be more conservative in the future do to changes he championed on who gets appointed to a panel that recommends judicial appointments to governors.
He also pledged to ensure that Tennessee "is still that island of sanity, that Tennessee is still that shining city on the hill that Ronald Reagan talked about."
District Attorney Gibbons talked about the "tough decisions" he makes as a DA citing a decision to seek the death penalty in a murder case.
"I've got a job that requires me to make tough choices and decisions every day, and frankly it's prepared me to be the governor we need in tough times," he said.
He cited his marriage of 30 years and told the group, "You know we have a lot of public officials across our country who claim they believe in family values and then look at how they behave."
"I want to promise you one thing - that I've always behaved myself and will continue to behave myself," Mr. Gibbons said.
He said as governor, "I will not do anything in my private life that will ever embarrass you."
While absent from Saturday night's banquet, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, another GOP gubernatorial hopeful, addressed Eagle Forum members during a morning session.
Mr. Haslam's spokesman Jeremy Harrell said the Eagle Forum is "very important" to him.
"He came in this morning and talked about his faith, he talked about why he's running for governor, and he talked about how his faith leads him to make his decisions," Mr. Harrell said.
Headed by Bobbie Patray, Tennessee Eagle Forum is an affiliate of Eagle Forum, a national group founded in 1972 by conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly. The Tennessee group, has lobbied the state Legislature in areas ranging from restrictions on abortion to support for home schooling. Over the years, it has become a force to be reckoned with at the state Capitol.
On its Web site, Tennessee Eagle Forum says its purpose is to "enable conservative and pro-family men and women to participate in the process of self-government and public policy-making so that America will continue to be a land of individual liberty, respect for family integrity, public and private virtue, and private enterprise."
Earlier on Saturday, college Democrats got a taste of their own candidates running for governor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's campus.
While state Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, was the only one of the four Democratic hopefuls who could make the Tennessee College Democrats Fall Convention, Mike McWherter and Kim McMillan had representatives speak on their behalf.
The Democratic candidates highlighted stabilizing the state's economy and higher education as areas they want to focus on if elected.
"Higher education is a big part of what we have been talking about," said Sen. Kyle. "I want people to understand ... when a Tennessean graduates from college, all Tennesseans benefit."
State Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, also is running in the Democratic primary.