Speaker of the Tennessee House Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) announced her candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor of Tennessee in a statement released by her campaign at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning.
“Tennessee needs someone who possesses the experience from day one to lead our state to the next level and who has a steady hand when challenges come our way,” Harwell said in the statement.
“As Governor, I will lead on jobs, cutting taxes, guaranteeing every child has a great school, and ensuring our Tennessee values are protected. Every Tennessean should have every opportunity to succeed and prosper in our state. That’s why I am running to be Tennessee’s next Governor,” she added.
According to the statement:
Harwell, a longtime conservative and former Tennessee Republican Party Chairman, has presided over the Tennessee House of Representatives as the legislature has enacted some of the most conservative reforms in the country. Harwell and her colleagues are the only legislature in the United States to eliminate three taxes: the death tax, gift tax, and a phase out of the Hall Income Tax. She also oversaw cuts in business taxes and taxes for elderly and veterans. In addition, the General Assembly passed, and the voters of Tennessee ratified, a constitutional amendment to permanently ban a state income tax. Tennessee has one of the lowest tax burdens of any state and the lowest debt per capita.
The statement also identified the following accomplishments of “Harwell’s conservative record.”
• Education reforms that have led to Tennessee becoming one of the fastest improving states in the nation;
• Replacing Common Core;
• Reforming Tennessee’s worker’s compensation system, unemployment insurance system, and state pension systems;
• Fighting to protect Tennesseans from human trafficking and sexual predators;
• Leading opposition of sanctuary city policies;
• Supporting law enforcement;
• Creating of a Task Force on Opioid Abuse to address how Tennessee can best confront the opioid crisis.
“More Tennesseans are working now than ever before, and we are one of the fastest improving states in education. But these gains should just be the beginning. We need to maintain principled leadership with a clear vision of the path ahead and build on our successes,” Harwell concluded in her statement.
Harwell becomes the fourth announced candidate for the Republican nomination for governor, joining Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd, State Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), and Williamson County businessman Bill Lee. Rep. Diane Black (R-TN-06) is expected to join the race as well some time before the end of September.
A Tennessee Star Poll conducted in early June of likely Republican primary voters showed the race is wide open, with no candidate having more than 10 percent of the vote and 60 percent undecided. The primary will be held in August 2018.
Unlike the other three announced candidates for the Republican nomination for governor, Harwell made her announcement without holding an event, preferring instead to simply issue a statement early on a Sunday morning.
Harwell’s claim to be the conservative standard bearer in the race is sure to be challenged by both Bill Lee and State Senator Mae Beavers.
Beavers, in particular offers a stark contrast in voting track record, having voted against Governor Haslam’s gas tax increase and vowing to lead the charge to repeal it if elected.
During this session of the Tennessee General Assembly, Harwell ended up supporting the gas tax increase, despite a half-hearted effort for a time to see if an alternative might succeed.
Harwell did not attend Saturday’s Williamson County Republican Party Annual BBQ, where Williamson County resident Bill Lee won the gubernatorial straw poll with 63 percent of the vote. State Senator Mae Beavers placed a surprising second with 26 percent of the vote. Harwell placed in fourth place with 3 percent of the vote, barely ahead of last place finisher Randy Boyd, who received slightly more than 1 percent of the vote.