KNOXVILLE, Tennessee – At the Knox County Republican Party Gubernatorial Candidate Forum held Monday evening at the Knoxville Expo Center, five of the six candidates were represented. Sen. Mae Beavers, Speaker Beth Harwell and Kay White appeared in person, while Congressman Diane Black and Bill Lee had surrogates. Randy Boyd was the only candidate not represented and no public explanation was offered for the absence.
Knox County GOP Chair Buddy Burkhardt told The Tennessee Star that Boyd had a “prior commitment” and Lee had a fund raiser. Burkhardt also told The Star that he would only be involved in such an event if it was organized to provide all candidates an equal opportunity.
Scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m., the event started with about 30 minutes of the candidates mingling with attendees followed by comments one at a time at the on-stage podium. The remainder of the event was to be another period of one-on-one time with the candidates, but the event quickly broke up after the formal comments segment.
Brief stump speeches were made to an audience of approximately 100, the majority of whom were elected officials, candidates or campaign staff and volunteers, including State Representatives Martin Daniel, Roger Kane, Eddie Smith and Jason Zachary, Knox County Mayor and 2nd Congressional District candidate Tim Burchett, Brad Fullington candidate for the 2nd Congressional District, Shawn Hatmaker and Greg Butcher representing candidate for the 2nd Congressional District State Rep. Jimmy Matlock, and not-to-be-missed former pro-wrestler Glenn “Kane” Jacobs candidate for Knox County Mayor.
A large portion of the non-elected attendees are frequenters at such events and are active in the Cross County Patriots.
Lance Frizzell, himself having an impressive resume as an Army veteran who served in Iraq, Chief of Staff to former Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and currently Diane Black’s campaign adviser, was the first up to speak on behalf of the candidate. He spoke of how being a nurse has influenced much of Black’s positions and she kept in touch with him while his regiment, the 278th, was deployed to Iraq. Calling her a “key ally of President Trump,” Frizzell said Black, having three objectives, voted to repeal and replace Obamacare, passed a budget out of her committee and is working to defund Planned Parenthood. Black voted for the House American Health Care Act, which was not actually a full repeal of Obamacare and defunded Planned Parenthood for just one year, which passed out of the House but later failed in the Senate.
Bobby Wagner, a personal friend whom he has known “for a little while,” speaking very briefly for Bill Lee said the candidate is “a man of faith,” a businessman and grandfather, running for political office for the first time wanting Tennessee to have “good schools, school jobs and safe communities.” Wagner said as CEO of his own company, Lee has experience with leadership and has served on several boards in the state. Wagner concluded that Lee and his wife are “great people,” and “Bill will do the right things.”
Speaker Beth Harwell acknowledged “my State Representatives,” saying of Jason Zachary, “you couldn’t have better,” and calling Roger Kane “my dear friend.” After providing some of her history up to becoming the first woman Speaker of the House, Harwell spoke of her three-question “litmus test” she has given to the legislators: Does it increase the size of government, does it make it easier to have a business in the state and does it continue to move education forward. Citing the state’s impressive one-of-eleven AAA bond rating, fully-funded pension program, third lowest taxes and lowest debt status, Harwell contradicted education advocates’ common knowledge by saying that legislators re-wrote Common Core standards and not-so-subtly leaves out conservatives’ most recent hot-button issue of the gas tax increase. Harwell concluded that she has a “grasp of state government” and is “willing to serve.”
Opening with her unlikely entre into politics, Sen. Mae Beavers first spoke of the fight against the defeated income tax others called a “done deal,” to which her response was “over my dead body.” Beavers gave her take on several issues that she addressed through legislation and resolutions such as the pro-life resolution that became Amendment 1, arming the National Guard in the wake of the Chattanooga recruitment center shooting, and asking President Trump and Congress to end the requirement for half of the Federal road funding dollars to be used on sidewalks and bike paths as one alternative to the gas tax increase. The Trump delegate and delegation chair closed by saying she will “hold the line” on regulations and taxes so “our great state becomes even greater.”
The last to enter the race so far, Kay White demonstrated her “I’m different and I want to make a difference,” slogan throughout her speech that went much longer than the other candidates. Hard hitting from the outset, White said she wouldn’t have voted for the gas tax or the budget increases year after year. Without naming anyone specifically, White said some “boast and brag” while they have voted to increase the budget $8 billion in less than 8 years. Later, White asked rhetorically, “Where did the $8 billion go?” to which she replied, grants and “things you’ll never indulge in.”
One issue on which all three candidates were seemingly in agreement, in that each spoke of it at varying lengths, is the state’s “opioid crisis.”
Party Chair Burkhardt told The Star he is considering another such event after the Christmas holiday.