Standing-room-only crowd attends GOP candidate forum
By Joel Davis | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
With early voting for the state primary election only days away, interest is apparently growing in Blount County’s three legislative races.
The Blount County Republican Party drew a standing-room-only crowd to a candidate forum for GOP candidates on Monday.
With all the seats filled in the auditorium at the Pellissippi State Community Blount County Campus, candidates and several others resorted to standing along the wall.
“This is democracy in action,” said Blount County Republican Party Chairwoman Susan Mills. “You have a lively primary. This shows the strength of the Blount County Republican Party.”
Early voting starts Friday for the state primary election, with election day on Aug. 2. The presidential and state general elections will be held Nov. 6.
Incumbent state Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, and his challenger, Seymour resident Scott Hughes, who are competing for the Republican nomination for the 2nd District state Senate seat, started the program.
The first question was, “Are you for an elected school superintendent?”
Overbey: “I believe the way we appoint a school superintendent at this time is the preferred way.” He added that the current method, where a board of education appoints a superintendent, reflects the way a corporate board of director appoints a CEO for a business.
“Our school systems in Blount County have benefited from that policy since the change was made several years ago. The members of the board of education are directly answerable to the people. ... They are the ones who set the policies for our schools. They make the rules, and they hire the director to carry out those rules.”
Hughes: “I always feel like accountability is a good thing,” he said. “We as voters should be able to decide issues, and one of them is who serves as chief executive of our schools.”
He added that because bigger school systems might have specific requirements for superintendents, he would support allowing each county to decide which process to use via referendum.
When asked about the debate over whether state judges should be subject to direct election, Overbey said the current plan that Tennessee operates under, which allows the governor to appoint judges but allows public votes on whether to remain them, is constitutional.
Overbey: “Two separate Tennessee Supreme Court decisions say the Tennessee Plan is constitutional. Folks may disagree with that. They may wish the Supreme Court came to a different conclusion, but ... that it is constitutional is beyond question at this point.”
Hughes: “The way we deal with this issue is not constitutional. The Tennessee Plan is not part of the constitution. It calls for the election of judges pure and simple.”
The 2nd District State Senate seat includes all of Blount and most of Sevier County. It formerly was the 8th Senate District.
Next up were incumbent state Rep. Art Swann, R-Maryville, and Blount County Education Association President Grady Caskey, who are seeking the Republican nomination for the 8th State House District seat.
Caskey was asked about previous comments he made encouraging Democrats to vote in the upcoming Republican primary because they had no primary candidate to vote for in theirs. Caskey said there was no state law against it.
“My understanding of Tennessee is that voters are allowed to vote in the primary — that it’s not a closed primary. I encourage everybody to vote. ... As far as I know, they are citizens, too. ...
“If there are Democrats out there who share my views, I encourage them to vote. If there are Democrats out there that share Mr. Swann’s views, I encourage them to vote.”
Swann said that primaries are for voters of their respective political parties. “I expect that when you go in to vote that you pledge allegiance to your party whether you are a Democrat or a Republican. That’s how it is.”
Both candidates were asked how they stood on the idea of school vouchers.
Caskey: “I am opposed to school vouchers. (They) take very scarce dollars out of public education and send it to private schools.”
Swann: “There is discussion about the failures of schools in Nashville and Memphis in particular. ... If those areas decide in Nashville and Memphis that it would make a difference, I will listen to those arguments. ... I won’t support it here in Blount County.”
Incumbent 20th District state Rep. Robert Ramsey and his opponent, Tona Monroe, of Greenback, were asked whether they would support a school voucher program.
Ramsey: “As I approach each issue that comes forward in the house, I would go and ask the local education authorities how is this going to affect them. It would be by predominant reason for giving support or not supporting the issue.”
Monroe: “I would support vouchers, but I have a strong caveat to that. I don’t want to see vouchers as a reason to take over private schools.”
Both were asked about when they would reject money from the federal government.
Monroe said she would have voted against the REAL ID Act of 2005, which authorized turning drivers licenses into “biometric identity card(s). ... There is no authority in the constitution for that.”
She also brought up education. “Education is a state and local issue. We need to get the fed government out of education. I can’t say that is something we can do in one day, but it’s something we need to look at.”
Ramsey: “We must face the facts that probably one-third of our local education budget is made of federal grants. What I have tried to do is resist new federal grants because in Nashville everyone seems to think it’s free money, but it’s not.”