Republican Boyd joins Tennessee governor's race

Friday, March 3, 2017, Vol. 41, No. 9

NASHVILLE (AP) — Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd is joining the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Bill Haslam next year.

The Republican tells The Associated Press he is running to "complete the mission" of education and economic development initiatives he worked on as a top Haslam adviser.

"Our message of opportunity and optimism is one that hopefully will inspire and encourage people, talking about all the great things we can be as a state," Boyd said in an interview before Monday's announcement. "I'm excited about sharing that message and hopefully getting the state excited about that message of opportunity."

Boyd served as Haslam's economic development commissioner for two years, a position that took him to all 95 Tennessee counties before he stepped down last month. Boyd says he plans to visit every county again during his campaign.

He was previously involved in the development of Haslam's free community college program called Tennessee Promise and his "Drive to 55" initiative to boost the percentage of Tennesseans with higher education degrees or certificates from the current 39 percent to 55 percent by 2025.

"We've made unbelievable progress in the last three years," Boyd said. "But we've got a long ways to go ... It's going to take continued relentless focus, and I want to be sure we get there."

Boyd said he also wants to accomplish Haslam's goal of making Tennessee No. 1 in the Southeast in job creation — the state is currently ranked fourth — and to get the state to have no economically distressed counties by 2025. Seventeen counties currently have that designation.

Boyd is the founder of Radio Systems Corp., a company that makes invisible fences and other pet products. The privately held company has annual revenues of about $400 million, offices in seven countries and employs more than 700 people.

Boyd joins state Sen. Mark Green of Ashland City in the GOP nomination race, though that field is expected to grow.

Others considering Republican bids include U.S. Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin, former state Rep. Joe Carr of Murfreesboro, House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville, Franklin businessman Bill Lee and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville.

Boyd brushed off suggestions that he was trying to corral the establishment Republican vote in Tennessee by virtue of his Knoxville ties to the governor and his family.

"For somebody who's never ran for office or ever held an elected office, it's kind of hard to be part of the establishment," Boyd said. "I've done all these jobs free of charge as a public service to our state.

"I'm probably the most opposite of establishment as one can be," he said.

Boyd's campaign CEO is Chip Saltsman, a longtime Tennessee Republican operative who last year ran David Kustoff's successful bid to emerge from a crowded GOP primary field to win an open West Tennessee congressional seat.

Boyd's campaign treasurer is Greeneville businessman and philanthropist Scott Niswonger and his senior adviser is Alice Rolli, who was U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander's campaign manager in 2014.

Boyd earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee and a master's degree from Oklahoma University. Boyd and his wife, Jenny, have two children.

He is the owner of two minor league baseball teams, the Johnson City Cardinals and the Tennessee Smokies. He bought the Smokies in 2013 from an ownership group that included Haslam and former state Supreme Court Justice Gary Wade.

Boyd in 2015 described his ideological approach in an interview with the Knoxville Mercury.

"I'm probably the most hated, disrespected, un-tolerated political entity in existence," he said at the time. "I'm a moderate."

Boyd's self-description had evolved when asked about that comment in his AP interview, saying "I don't generally like labels."

Boyd said wants to follow the examples of President Ronald Reagan, who often socialized with the Democratic speaker of the House, and the late Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker of Tennessee.

"Howard Baker said that it's always good to listen to people with opposing views just in case they might be right," he said.