2018 race for Tennessee governor gearing up

2018 race for Tennessee governor gearing up

November 14th, 2016 by Andy Sher in Politics State

Gov. Bill Haslam speaks to reporters in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, about the presidential election results. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

Photo by The Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Mark Green

Mark Green

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE — With 2016 campaigns now in the rear-view mirror, one Tennessee Republican long seen as harboring gubernatorial ambitions is looking ahead to 2018 with a state "listening tour" that includes a Chattanooga stop Tuesday.

"Join Senator Mark Green, MD for a listening tour to share your ideas for Tennessee's future," says an invitation to the Tuesday gathering, sponsored by a group of local businessmen.

Green is a state senator, physician, health company CEO and Iraqi war vet. A Republican source said he's expected to announce an exploratory committee this week.

But Green is hardly the only man — or woman — seriously eyeing Tennessee's 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary, as incumbent Gov. Bill Haslam is term-limited by the Tennessee Constitution.

Political observers anticipate a full display of ambition, maybe even a gold rush, among those hoping to replace him. A number of these potential Republican candidates have deep pockets.

And at least two Democrats are interested in running, although it remains to be seen whether Republican President-elect Donald Trump's 2-to-1 margin over Hillary Clinton in Tennessee last week dampens their enthusiasm.

Naming names

Names on the GOP side include state Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd, a wealthy Knoxville businessman who was in Chattanooga last month talking up his successes in economic recruitment.

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., also independently wealthy and a former state senator, is seen as keenly interested. Investment banker and former ECD commissioner Bill Hagerty, who has been involved in Trump's transition, is seen as a possibility.

State House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, has publicly indicated interest. Bill Lee, chairman of Franklin-based Lee Co., another wealthy Republican, is openly exploring a bid. State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, is giving it a hard look, according to Republicans.

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean is traveling the state. He was in Chattanooga in the spring to inform Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, a fellow Democrat, that he was actively exploring a bid.

So is Nashville businessman Bill Freeman, also independently wealthy, who wasn't exactly shy about shaking his wallet last year in the Nashville mayoral race where he came in a close third.

And how about a potential wild card in the form of U.S. Sen. Bob Corker?

Though Corker, a millionaire former Chattanooga mayor and current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is seen as a potential pick by Trump for secretary of state, he's shown interest in the past in the governorship.

A bemused Haslam told reporters last week he's already fielding messages and emails — 25 so far — from people interested in being appointed to the Senate vacancy should Corker be tapped for the Cabinet. That could set off a scramble and divert one or more people's gubernatorial ambitions.

Still, Republican observers think Corker may simply opt to run for re-election, given that the GOP retained Senate control and he can remain Foreign Relations chairman if he wishes.

Green already has a website, Tennessee Next, up and running. But it doesn't exactly spell out what's next for him, making no mention of any specific office.

"Mark is traveling across Tennessee listening to your ideas on how we keep The Volunteer State moving to the NEXT successes, the NEXT opportunities, and the NEXT steps to build a legacy for you and your children," the website says. It asks visitors to take a survey outlining their "top priority."

His Chattanooga event hosts are Bill Raines, president of the Raines Group, a real estate investment company; Emerson Russell, CEO of facility services company ERMC; Roger Tuder, president of the Associated General Contractors of East Tennessee; investment adviser Paul Jacobs; retired Navy Rear Adm. Noah Long and Southern Hearth & Patio owner Clay Dennis.

But there may be yet another wild card for Green to factor into the campaign equation.

Some Republicans see U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who last week was named to Trump's executive committee over appointments, as a possible appointee to a Trump administration.

That would open up her 7th Congressional District seat. The district includes Clarksville, where Green lives.

While Green has been traveling the state, Black is spending to extend her reach beyond her 6th District base in Middle Tennessee.

In her recent re-election campaign Black bought time on Knoxville television, which conceivably could reach the eastern part of her district.

That kind of exposure also isn't a bad idea for someone keen on introducing themselves to East Tennessee voters.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow via Twitter @AndySher1.