Stumping for governor across Tennessee

Robert Houk • Aug 20, 2017 at 12:00 AM

So you say you want to be governor of Tennessee? Well, my friend, my advice to you is to buy a good pair of hiking boots, slip on a red flannel shirt and get to walking.

That certainly worked for Lamar Alexander in 1978 when he “walked” from Mountain City to Memphis. (I suspect there was also a lot of riding in cars, buses and planes involved in that campaign for governor.)

Over the years, a number of other candidates have tried to duplicate Alexander’s success with similar stunts. The late Fred Thompson found such gimmickry to be a winning formula in 1994 when he put on a flannel shirt and drove a leased red pickup across Tennessee on his way to the U.S. Senate.

We’ve seen a little of the same theatrics this year as candidates kick off their campaigns for governor.

Yes, the Nov. 6, 2018 gubernatorial contest is well underway. Two Democrats have already declared themselves to be candidates in their party’s primary next August. I don’t expect state Sen. Craig Fitzhugh and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean will be the only names on that ballot.

Recent Democratic Party primaries for statewide offices have yielded the odd and the eccentric as nominees. For example, Democrats chose a real Charlie Brown (Charles V. “Charlie” Brown, to be specific) to challenge Gov. Bill Haslam in 2014. Brown, whose name appeared first on a very undistinguished primary ballot, was an untested political newbie from Morgan County.

Haslam (who is limited by the state Constitution from seeking a third term next year) had no trouble trouncing the the 72-year-old retired real estate agent in that November’s general election.

With Haslam unable to seek re-election, the GOP primary next August will likely see a crowded field. Heck, it already is with a number of high-profile candidates tossing their hats into the ring. Among them are state Sen. Mae Beavers, U.S. Rep. Diane Black and state House Speaker Beth Harwell. At this point, Kay White of Johnson City, is the only candidate from Northeast Tennessee to declare for governor. White is a former Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for Congress twice in the 1990s.

Rounding out the current Republican field are two standard bearers of the wealthy businessperson wing of their party: Randy Boyd, the owner of a Knoxville-based sports management firm and a former member of the Haslam Cabinet, and Bill Lee, a builder and cattle farmer in Williamson County. Both have kicked off their campaigns in somewhat imaginative ways aimed at telling the voters, “Hey, I’m just like you.”

Boyd, whose company oversees the operations of the Johnson City Cardinals, was in the region a few weeks ago to kick off his campaign for governor. His strategy is to run across Tennessee. A long distance runner himself, Boyd said his 530-mile trek is his way of calling attention to health and fitness issues in Tennessee.

Meanwhile, Lee kicked off his Rural Road Trip tractor tour in Mountain City last week. He plans to travel across the state in a tractor to promote his ideas for reinvigorating rural communities in Tennessee.

Letting voters know you can identify with their problems on a personal level is always a smart strategy. That’s why I wasn’t surprised to hear Speaker Harwell say recently she is reconsidering her opposition to medical marijuana after learning of her sister’s experience with it.

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at [email protected]







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