2 Dems give final debate pitch before Tennessee gov primary

Friday, July 20, 2018, Vol. 42, No. 29

KNOXVILLE (AP) — Two leading Democratic candidates for Tennessee governor were largely in agreement on the issues during their final debate Sunday night before the Aug. 2 primary.

At Pellissippi State Community College, ex-Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh were on the same page in support of raising the minimum wage and expanding Medicaid, and against Confederate flag vanity license plates in Tennessee and a new anti-sanctuary cities law.

The meeting between the two sets up a primary that has been lopsided in Dean's favor in fundraising and spending. Dean has outspent Fitzhugh so far, $3.1 million to $624,700.

Dean is portraying himself as a moderate who says he will work with both parties in the Republican-led General Assembly. Fitzhugh points to his long record of legislative work, including bipartisan efforts, and support from progressives.

At Sunday's debate, some disagreement came over Dean's wording when he discussed a "forgotten Tennessee" in his TV advertising. Dean said the title applies from rural communities to impoverished African-Americans in Memphis. Fitzhugh responded that he hasn't forgotten people statewide.

"I don't like that," said Fitzhugh, a Ripley lawmaker. "I'd rather say that there are those that are in the shadow of those skyscrapers that we need to help. They just need opportunity. It's not that they're forgotten."

Dean said he believes the people in Memphis, who he says have told him they feel disengaged from the rest of the state.

"You can't go an hour or an hour and a half without somebody saying everybody thinks that the state ends at the Tennessee River," Dean said.

Dean and Fitzhugh both expressed some openness to legalized sports betting based on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in May. Dean said it may be worthwhile because so many other states will legalize it; Fitzhugh said Tennessee may have to look into it, and possibly direct the revenue toward teacher pay increases.

"It's happening in Tennessee now," Fitzhugh said of sports betting. "We're just not getting any revenue from it."

They said they would have vetoed this year's anti-sanctuary cities legislation that outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam let become law without his signature. Haslam called it "a solution in search of a problem" because sanctuary cities are already outlawed in Tennessee.

Most notably, the law says local governments must comply with federal immigration detainers, without requiring warrants or probable cause, for possible deportation of people who are arrested on other charges and then identified as being in the country illegally.

Even though Republicans have numbers well beyond the simple majority needed for a veto override, Dean said the governor sometimes has to use the "bully pulpit." Fitzhugh agreed that vetoes are sometimes necessary even if an override is inevitable.

The winner will face the GOP nominee from the field of leaders that include former state economic development chief Randy Boyd, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, businessman Bill Lee and state House Speaker Beth Harwell.

Early voting runs through July 28.