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Q&A with Tennessee gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean

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Karl Dean

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean toured Sumner County earlier this month and met with local business owners, community leaders and public officials ahead of the August 2018 primary.

The former two-term mayor of Nashville also contacted The Portland Sun prior to his June 12 visit, which included a stop by the newspaper's office to answer questions about his campaign.

First elected to public office as Nashville's Public Defender in 1990, Dean later served as Metro Law Director from 1999 until 2007 when he became the sixth mayor of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County. He was re-elected in August 2011.

Since leaving office in 2015, Dean has taught at Belmont University as a distinguished visiting professor of history and political science. He also joined Boston University last year as the school's first "Initiative on Cities Mayor in Residence" in addition to serving as a visiting professor in the political science department.

The following responses are excerpts from Dean's interview with The Portland Sun and have been lightly edited for length.

Q: How do you differentiate yourself from other candidates running for governor?

A: What I bring to the table is that I've run for office a few times, and was elected mayor of a major city. Certainly economic development has been a big part of what I would say we were able to accomplish in Nashville. At the same time, I was mayor during my first term in September 2007 and six or seven months later we went into the deepest recession since the Great Depression. I had to manage our way through that and that was a time when we had to make painful decisions about cutting government and we did. We had to eliminate some positions, we had to make cutbacks - about 15-20 percent in most departments, but I maintained my commitment to make education the priority during that and was very aggressive about trying to build our economy. We invested in the convention center during the depths of the recession. We also had to manage our way through the flood of 2010 on top of the recession. So, I've had the test of government of managing through difficult times and through a natural disaster and I also had the second term where the boom began and cranes were everywhere.

Q: In what areas do you think the state is moving in the right direction now and what areas would you like to make changes in if elected?

A: I wouldn't say that I would endorse every educational policy that is currently in existence, but I would say that I would give Gov. (Bill) Haslam and Gov. (Phil) Bredesen really high marks for what they did in education. They were two people who wanted to make a difference and wanted to move the ball forward and we have seen improvements.

When I got elected mayor of Nashville we were on the verge of a state takeover and we're not anywhere near that now. We're making great progress in Nashville. It's real important that the emphasis and the prioritization of education continue, because you don't get to where you need to be in one or two or three terms of governors. You've got to do it year after year.

What I'm most encouraged by is the broad consensus in the state that education is the issue. People just get it. I do think that we have to look at things of increasing teacher pay and we need to look at the challenges that rural schools are facing. We've got to look for ways to provide support.

What I would do different is probably in the healthcare area. That is the area where you sort of get the sense that people are really nervous. If you polled it right now it would be the number one issue and it's for a variety of reasons. It's kind of coming home to people that it was a big mistake not to do the Medicaid expansion. To me, it's leaving hundreds of millions or a billion dollars on the table that went to other places and not to us. I'm not saying the Affordable Care Act doesn't need changes or improvements, it does, but if we end up going to a block grant system based upon the Medicaid dollars we're getting now, then we're starting in a worse position than almost any place. Healthcare is going to be a big challenge for the next governor. I know Gov. Haslam took the right position. I just think it was a mistake by the legislature not to have passed it.

Q: If elected, how would you be different than Gov. Haslam?

A: I think the transit issue would probably be a higher priority for me. Just because of my role as mayor I just kind of get what it means for the region overall. That would be the major one difference, but I like Gov. Haslam. He's a reasonable guy. It's important for Tennessee to continue to focus on those important issues and there would be nuances. I don't know specifically what I would say would be a dramatic altered change in policy. I care a lot about the environment. I care about clean air and clean water. I would be definitely less interested in the privatization of state parks for instance and other privatization efforts.

Q: As a Democrat running for governor of a Republican-majority state, why do you think people will go to the polls and vote for you?

A: If there is anything that happened in the country in the last few months it is sort of the sense that experience actually matters, how you treat people actually matters, whether you treat people no matter what their nationality or who they are with respect and decency actually matters. Those are values that most Tennesseans share. As a whole, the state is probably a little bit right of center and I'm pretty much center, but the state is not an extreme state. The pendulum moved pretty far last November and I think it's going to start moving a little bit back. The position of governor is different too. It's not that you want your governor to be out there talking about every little thing that is going on. You want them to kind of focus on the job and getting things done.

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