Democrat Karl Dean answers questions about his run for governor during a visit to Unicoi

Zach Vance • Updated Jan 21, 2018 at 12:07 AM

UNICOI — A Nashville Democrat campaigning for governor in Republican red Unicoi County might seem peculiar, or even unproductive to some political strategists, but not Karl Dean.

In a county where Gov. Bill Haslam outpaced his Democratic opponent by a 5-to-1 margin in the 2014 general election, Dean actually amassed a healthy crowd on Saturday while visiting the Town of Unicoi’s Tanasi Tourist Information Center and Mountain Harvest Kitchen.

After his brief tour, Dean took a seat beside Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch at the Maple Grove Restaurant, where he enjoyed some home-cooked Southern cuisine before describing why he should be elected Tennessee’s next governor.

“I decided to run for governor because I think the people of Tennessee want a governor who’s going to be moderate, pragmatic, (uses) common sense (and has) a kind of get-it-done approach. Not an ideologue. (They want) someone who’s more concerned about moving the state forward than advancing some political cause,” Dean said.

Before leaving for Johnson City, where he spoke at the Women’s March 2.0 Tri-Cities Rally at Founders Park, Dean sat down with the Johnson City Press to answer a few questions about his campaign:

Q: What’s your thoughts about Unicoi County and the progress it has made economically?

A: “What I noticed was a tremendous amount of pride that people have in the community and the desire to see things improve, whether it be through having an economic development tool—like the food kitchen—or whether it be through having access to art (at the Tanasi Gallery).”

Q: Do you think the state should do more to help communities currently struggling economically or have struggled in the past, such as Unicoi?

A: “I think you’ve got to listen to what the local people say they want or what they identify as their strengths. If there’s a sense that outdoor sports ... or tourism ... or the development of more arts, if that’s something they’re interested in then the state should be helpful working with them on that. I think the state’s economic development energies ought to be geared mostly toward areas that are in most need of help.”

Q: A topic surely to surface this legislative session, what are your thoughts on legalizing medicinal marijuana and do you support it?

A: “I haven’t studied the current piece of (Rep. Jeremy Faison’s) legislation, but I will say this: If the medical profession, if the experts say ... that (medicinal legalization) would be beneficial to people, that it will alleviate suffering, that will help people who are going through a difficult time, then I would sign it.

“Clearly, you don’t want to stand in the way of a recognized medical treatment that will allow people to have a better life or have reduced pain. That would be something I’d sign, but I think it boils down to what the medical folks do and say.”

Q: What are your thoughts about the Tennessee General Assembly opting not to expand Medicaid?

A: “I think we should be making decisions about what’s in the best interest of the people of Tennessee, what’s going to help them live better lives and have a better future.

“What happens, like on this Medicaid expansion decision when the legislature just didn’t (expand it), the way I looked at it, it was purely politics. And that’s not the way decisions should be made. And I think you’ve got to have an explanation or a reason why you would oppose people having more access to health care.

“The reality is that was money that would have been coming into the state. That is money that would have helped hospitals (stay open), helped people have a healthier shot at (at life). We just turned it down for what I think were largely political reasons.

Q: Having a “D” beside your name, particularly in this region, can be difficult to overcome in an election. How do you plan on changing that status quo and convince people you’re a candidate they could vote for?

A: “I think most people look at political candidates as individuals as opposed to party, more and more. I mean there still are folks who say, ‘I’m voting (all Republican).’ But I think more and more, that’s occurring.

“I think you also have to demonstrate that your position is one of moderation, that your position is one of common sense. I think having Gov. Bredsen in the (U.S. Senate) race, who most (Tennesseans know) ... He won 95 counties, people thought he was a great governor. He’s a Democrat and he was certainly a moderate, so I think that’s a good thing for me, too.”

Q: You and U.S. Senate candidate and former Gov. Phil Bredesen are admittedly good friends. Do you plan on reaching out to Bredesen for advice during your campaign since he was the last Democrat in Tennessee to win a statewide election?

A: “I’ve known him for a long time. I certainly would talk to him ... But he’s going to be busy doing his (campaign), and I’m doing mine. But, I certainly admire him. He’s a great guy, was a great mayor of Nashville and he was a great governor.”

Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.

















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