ELIZABETHTON — Synthetic drugs, fish hatcheries, performance evaluations for teachers and state employees and the recent reapportionment were some of the topics discussed in Friday’s legislative breakfast sponsored by the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce.
Guest speakers included Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, state Sen. Rusty Crowe, state Rep. Kent Williams, Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey, Elizabethton Mayor Curt Alexander and Watauga City Manager Hattie Skeans. Field Representative Lana Moore appeared for U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and Bill Darden spoke for U.S. Rep. Phil Roe.
In contrast to previous years, the legislators had some positive comments about the financial condition of state government. Ramsey was especially strong in his praise. He said Tennessee is one of the lowest-taxed states in the nation, but it is also one of the least indebted states in the nation.
He attributed part of the state’s strong financial condition to the governors he has served under, including current Gov. Bill Haslam and also the four previous governors, both Republican and Democrat, whom he said shared Upper East Tennessee fiscal conservatism. He joked that Gov. Ned McWherter “was so tight he squeaked when he walked.”
Ramsey said the Republican majority in state government is working to reform the way Tennessee is run. One of the most controversial matters has been last year’s introduction of teacher evaluations and this year’s introduction of state employee evaluations. He said the state evaluations will mean that employee advancement will come from performance instead of seniority.
Other innovations Ramsey discussed were a tracking system to follow paperwork flow through the state bureaucracy, allowing an applicant to trace his or her permit request and fix problems that are causing snags. He also said drug tests for people receiving government benefits will help assure taxpayers that they are not supporting a lifestyle they do not approve.
Crowe said the decision-making process seems to be getting more difficult each year. “When you are in the majority, the decisions get tougher,” he said.
He said he always seeks heavenly guidance in making the difficult decisions and asked for the people in the audience to pray for the legislators.
Crowe was not as certain as Ramsey about the current bill on state employee evaluations. While he said it was important to consider performance, he said the employees who have made the decision to remain with state government should be recognized. He said there needed to be a balance between performance and longevity.
Now that the state’s revenues appear to be improving, Williams is once again promoting the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency’s proposed fish hatchery in Elizabethton’s Cherokee Industrial Park.
To emphasize his point, Williams gave presents to Ramsey and Crowe. When the gifts were unwrapped, each senator displayed a shirt with a fish pattern on it.
Although Alexander was not present, his recent securing of a commitment to continue funding of the federal fish hatchery in Erwin added to Williams’ message. He predicted the fish hatcheries would help make East Tennessee the trout fishing capital of the world.
Williams said drug abuse is “the No. 1 issue” in Tennessee and called for help from the federal government for help in shutting down synthetic drug manufacturers. He said last year the legislation passed a law that banned several ingredients in such drugs, but the manufacturers were ready with other ingredients.
All three legislators commented on the latest reapportionment, which caused several changes in Carter County representation.
Both Ramsey and Crowe said having two senators representing Carter County will be an advantage for the county. In past years, Crowe was the only senator representing the county. Ramsey said he will pick up 16,000 Carter Countians, mostly north of the Watauga River.
Ramsey said he got what he wanted in the reapportionment. “Being the lieutenant governor, I have a little bit to do with it,” Ramsey said.
Crowe said he was also glad to be representing Unicoi County, which he said made more sense than having it in a district that was a long drive from the rest of the old district.
Carter County was represented entirely by Williams in the past. He said the county will now be divided with the 3rd District. He said he would work with whoever is elected from that district if he wins another term.