Addressing the state's budget deficit, high unemployment rates and education problems are the most important issues the new governor should undertake, gubernatorial candidate Mayor Bill Haslam said Friday.
"The state has lots of big issues and lots of big challenges facing it," Mr. Haslam said, speaking to the Southeast Tennessee Political Action Committee. "There's a lot of things I want to do, but I know three big issues we are going to have to take on from the very beginning."
As a business owner for more than 20 years, Mr. Haslam, also the mayor of Knoxville, said he is well qualified to address the state's budget problems, which included a $1.3 billion shortfall this year.
"Unlike the feds, we can't print money; we have to balance our budget every year," Mr. Haslam said. "You have no choice except to drastically restructure how we do business in the state of Tennessee."
Mr. Haslam, whose family created the chain of Pilot Travel Centers nationwide, said he knows how to make "hard choices with scarce resources."
The high unemployment rate in Tennessee also must be addressed, he said. Since becoming mayor of Knoxville, "we've been ranked as one of the top ten cities for job recruitment and retention," he said.
All five Democratic gubernatorial candidates understand the economy is one of the major concerns for the state, said Keith Talley, a Tennessee Democratic Party spokesman.
"Our candidates are focused on economic development efforts," Mr. Talley said. "(And) focused on providing better education opportunities for our kids."
While Mr. Haslam said his three major priorities should be every candidate's concerns, other Republican gubernatorial hopefuls think their plans would address the state's needs better.
The main plans for Bill Gibbons, the district attorney in Shelby County, are to focus on "good jobs, good schools and safe communities," said his campaign manager, Josh Thomas.
As a small-business owner himself, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, will be ready to address the financial crisis in the state "on the first day," said spokesman Brad Todd.
U.S. Rep Zach Wamp said he and Mr. Haslam "share many of the same priorities. The difference is how they would achieve them," said Mr. Wamp's campaign manager John Crisp in an e-mail. "Zach has worked to attract investments like Volkswagen and Wacker to create more higher-paying jobs."
* Bill Gibbons, Shelby County district attorney
* Bill Haslam, Knoxville mayor
* Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey
* U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp
* Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden
* Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis
* Kim McMillan, former state representative
* Mike McWherter, son of former governor Ned McWherter
* Ward Cammack, Nashville businessman