Four months into his 2015 appointment as the new Commissioner of Economic and Community Development, and two years before he announced his run for governor, Randy Boyd told his hometown weekly that, “I’m probably the most hated, disrespected, untolerated political entity in existence… I’m a moderate.”
Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, the first declared gubernatorial Democrat candidate also describes himself as a moderate and recognizes that he will need “moderate Republican votes” in order to win.
Both candidates say education and economics are the top priorities, both say they are business-friendly and both shower admiration on Haslam’s leadership.
For voters, however, even those who identify as “moderate” or “independent,” it will be difficult to distinguish between Boyd and Dean, except perhaps for choosing whether to vote in the Republican or Democrat primary. Political analysts suggest that states with open primaries like Tennessee, work to the advantage of moderate candidates.
Both candidates have been married to the same partner for a long time and while Boyd made his fortune by copying a similar commercially available product, Dean married into his wealth. His wife Delta Anne Davis, is an heir to the millions her uncle Joe C. Davis made through the coal mining industry and which fund the Joe C. Davis Foundation. Delta Anne serves as a trustee of the foundation.
Both candidates have kids they could afford to educate in exclusive private schools. And while both candidates support giving the less fortunate a public charter school option, only Boyd supports deferring to local communities about using vouchers to expand school choice to private schools, an option considered to predominantly benefit the state’s urban areas.
Both candidates supported Common Core, a cornerstone of Haslam’s education reform platform, which Dean described as “more rigorous” standards. One month after Boyd said he was a “staunch supporter of Common Core,” his boss, Governor Haslam, signed a bill requiring a full review and replacement of these national education standards being promoted by the Obama administration.
Both candidates are named members of the Partnership for a New American Economy (PNAE) which was established to push for comprehensive immigration reform highlighting the work ethic and perceived business ambitions of legal and illegal immigrants over native-born Americans. PNAE supports legal status for illegal aliens and continued refugee resettlement. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and many state and local chambers of commerce including the Nashville and Knoxville Chambers of Commerce, are also named members of PNAE.
Boyd has emphasized Haslam’s “Drive to 55” education goal which Haslam supports achieving by giving illegal immigrant students in-state college tuition. Dean also supports the in-state tuition option for illegal immigrants.
Both candidates are interfaced with Conexion Americas, founded and led by Renata Soto, chairman of the National Council of La Raza and organizer for the anti-Trump Indivisible campaign. In 2016, Boyd and his wife donated $250,000, “the single largest individual gift” to Soto’s Nashville organization. Dean is a Soto admirer and The Joe C. Davis Foundation which Dean’s wife helps steer, is a financial supporter.
Neither candidate opposed Haslam’s proposed gas tax increase; Dean was candid and open about increasing the taxes while Boyd was careful at the start of his campaign saying only that the legislature and Haslam “must come up with a solution . . . It has to be solved. We are underfunding our roads.”
Both candidates have suggested that their support of improving and expanding infrastructure will appeal to voters in rural counties.
Neither candidate supported Trump; Dean has been openly critical describing him as “divisive.” Boyd, who says Romney “is somebody I would aspire to be like,” voiced complete disdain at the idea of helping Trump fundraise:
The idea of putting my name on anything [for Trump] is anathema to me.
During the 2016 presidential primary, Boyd was as an at-large delegate for Jeb Bush who supported an amnesty plan for illegal immigrants, saying that even though the law is being violated, “[i]t’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family.” Dean has adopted the “welcoming” lexicon of open borders and globalist activists like PNAE’s partner Welcoming America.
Both candidates likely understand that conservative Tennesseeans and the rural counties helped Trump win the state with a significantly wider margin than predicted and that in the counties where over seventy percent of the vote went to Trump, they will have to work hard to find moderates willing to trade promises of economic prosperity for more liberal approaches to issues like immigration.
For Dean, whose professional and political experiences are centered in urban Nashville, it remains to be seen whether he can convince non-urban voters that he understands their challenges, needs and aspirations and whether as a Democrat, he would be able to deliver on his promises. The General Assembly is likely to remain Republican controlled and even Haslam has had some of his biggest initiatives defeated.
Now that he is in the race, Boyd is trying to distance himself from his earlier self-labeling as a “moderate” claiming instead that he is a non-politician businessman who has also said that “no one will out-invest me” and that he is personally willing to spend “whatever it takes” to win. Boyd, however, may be underestimating voters’ ability to consider where he stands on the issues and whether there is much difference between him and at least one Democrat contender.