Joined by Gov. Bill Lee and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, Hamilton County mayoral candidate Weston Wamp reiterated many of his key priorities to supporters Tuesday as he prepares for the final month of campaigning leading up to the general election in August.
Wamp and Democrat Matt Adams are both running to replace outgoing Mayor Jim Coppinger, who is stepping down at the end of his term.
"I believe there is a path for conservative leadership to focus on what changes people's lives," Wamp, a Republican, told attendees during a campaign event Tuesday at the Gilman Event Hall in Chattanooga. "Not to get so caught up in the esoteric or the theoretical or those things that divide us.
"But particularly, if you think about the functions of state government at the local level, we ought to block and tackle, we ought to major in the majors, we ought to do public education really well."
Oftentimes, Wamp said, the neighborhood where a child grows up determines the quality of their education, a point he highlighted in a campaign video he shot last October.
"That's true in this county," he said. "The irony in Hamilton County is that you can live in one of the wealthiest ZIP codes in America in this county and still be zoned to a crappy public school. We've got a lot of work to do, but I sense that this is sort of the moment where we're willing not to say we care about public education, we care about vocational education coming back, but we're actually going to go and invest in it."
Wamp also continued to push back against plans city and county leaders have announced to build a new $80 million stadium at the abandoned U.S. Pipe site on the Southside.
"People are overwhelmingly opposed to it," he told the Chattanooga Times Free Press before the event. "We live in an era of unlimited government spending that we were told is going to have no impact, right? So I think some people see the recklessness in Washington and then they hear with virtually no public debate or discussion uniformity among our local leaders that we're going to go spend $80 million on a stadium, and we've got one rough sketch of it."
He contrasted the plans city and county leaders have outlined for the project with those for a new baseball stadium in Knoxville for the Tennessee Smokies. The plans for the new Lookouts stadium do not include any upfront funding from the team or a developer, Wamp said, but in Knoxville, Smokies owner Randy Boyd has committed several million dollars to the project.
"Over the next week, what I'm going to try to do is educate the public on the very responsible, methodical approach that Knoxville and Knox County have taken over the last two years," Wamp said.
In Chattanooga, a new sports authority created by the city and the county would borrow the money for the project, and most of the money needed to pay down the $79.5 million loan, 63%, would come from new property tax revenue generated on the private development.
Annual lease payments from the Lookouts 0f $1 million and parking revenues from the stadium will cover another 26% of the cost. An additional 7% will come from state and local sales taxes generated in the new stadium. The city and the county will each contribute $1.5 million, which represents 4% of the overall cost.
In an interview with the Times Free Press, Jacobs said he has been following the news of the stadium in Chattanooga a little bit but not enough to have a sense of how it contrasts with the project in Knoxville.
"We were able to really come up with a good public/private partnership that worked as far as ensuring that everybody has skin in the game," he said, "and all too often what happens is the (public) side ends up carrying a lot of the load."
Jacobs told attendees he was impressed by Wamp's focus on boosting financial literacy among young people and highlighting "the ludicrous spending of the federal government."
"I cannot speak highly enough about Weston, about his outlook, about the fact that he's bringing people together," Jacobs said, "and that's very difficult right now."
Lee also praised Wamp, stating that "he'll be exactly the kind of leader this community needs."
Chattanooga and Tennessee are already seeing a steady influx of new residents, the governor said.
"You have great leadership in Chattanooga and Hamilton County in this region," he said. "I'm the guy who gets to benefit from flourishing communities and flourishing counties."
On the street outside the venue, a handful of educators and activists protested recent derogatory comments made by the president of Hillsdale College, Larry Arnn, about teachers.
In video obtained by Nashville television station WTVF, Arnn is seen speaking at a private reception in Franklin, which Lee also attended, and at one point described teachers as having been "trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country."
Lee has urged Arnn to open dozens of new taxpayer-supported charter schools in the state.
"I personally think it's inappropriate for a candidate for county mayor who is so staunchly supposedly in support of public schools and teachers to be hosting an event with a governor who is obviously opposed to the support of public teachers and public education," Democrat Adams told the Times Free Press by phone Tuesday.
Adams said Arnn's comments were astonishing, and he was upset Lee didn't refute them.
"It just showed how disconnected the governor is from the reality of what our teachers and members of our community deal with every day," he said.
Adams said he attended public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade and encountered teachers with degrees from some of the best universities in the world. His mom also worked as a preschool teacher for several years.
"I watched her work her butt off to get things for her students," Adams said. "She would stay hours later after school was over so she could work on her lesson plans and make sure that her students got what they needed."
There's also been a dramatic shift in the rhetoric about education over the past few years, he said.
"The height of the pandemic people were like, 'Teachers should be paid a billion dollars a year ' and two years later we're like, 'They come from the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges,'" he said.
Contact David Floyd at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @flavid_doyd.