Updated at 12:14 a.m. on Saturday, May 19, 2018.
NASHVILLE — The Tennessee State Employees Association's political action committee on Friday endorsed state House Speaker Beth Harwell in the state GOP's gubernatorial primary and state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh in Democrats' primary.
"This was a lengthy endorsement process, including written and in-person interviews," said Pat Bowman, chair of the Tennessee Employees Action Movement PAC, in a statement. "In the end, I am pleased with the candidates we've endorsed."
TSEA delegates, who gathered this week at Pickwick Landing State Park, requested interviews and provided questionnaires to all major candidates in both parties. They heard back from Harwell, Fitzhugh and Republicans Randy Boyd and Bill Lee, as well as Democrat Karl Dean.
The only candidate who didn't respond to the questionnaire or agree to an interview was U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., said TSEA spokesman Chris Dauphin.
Dean, a former Nashville mayor, filled out the questionnaire but being unable to attend the Pickwick meeting due to a scheduling conflict was interviewed in Nashville earlier in the week. Lee, a Franklin businessman, filled out the questionnaire but was not interviewed.
Among other things, Dauphin said, state employees wanted to learn candidates' views on issues including the outsourcing of government services to for-profit companies and whether hopefuls would commit to an "insourcing" approach using state employees.
During his two terms in office, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has embarked on a number of outsourcing ventures, among them an unsuccessful effort to contract out hospitality services at a number of state parks, including Pickwick Landing.
In one question, TSEA cited what it called the outsourcing "failures" of the state's TNReady testing for teachers and the CoreCivic- operating Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Hartsville.
In another question, the TSEA noted Haslam did include raises for state employees in all but one of his eight budgets.
The governor also conducted two market salary studies that resulted in "significant increases" to salary ranges for workers, and TSEA wanted to know if candidates would continue to prioritize employee raises.
Dauphin said he wasn't at liberty to provide details on candidates' answers. Tennessee government has some 40,000 state workers, but it's unclear how many members TSEA has. Dauphin said TSEA's policy calls for not releasing the figure.
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