As goes Rutherford County, so goes Tennessee.
Or least that’s what the Rutherford County Democratic Party has hopes for.
RCDP President Jonathon Fagan wants Rutherford County to be the Iowa of Tennessee, starting with Saturday night’s inaugural Grow Tennessee dinner and straw poll.
“We want to create excitement among the Democrats and show the press, the donors and the activists who the strongest candidate is,” Fagan said, just like Iowa does during the Presidential election as the first primary contest.
“This is the first time that the Rutherford County Democratic Party has done anything like this,” he said.
And for a first time out, the turn out was strong. The dinner sold out MTSU’s James Union Building’s Tennessee Room and drew all five 2010 Democratic gubernatorial candidates.
Nashville businessman Ward Cammack, Dresden’s State Sen. Roy Herron, Memphis’ State Sen. Jim Kyle, Clarksville’s former State House Majority Leader Kim McMillan and Jackson businessman Mike McWherter were all on hand to tell RuCo Democrats their visions for the future.
The straw poll results:
Unfortunately, the candidates said little to distinguish themselves from one another.
All five said the most important issues facing Tennessee today and in the next five years is job creation.
Earlier this week, Tennessee Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development James Neeley announced Tennessee’s unemployment rate for August was 10.8 percent, up from the July rate of 10.7 percent.
With double-digit unemployment, the candidates see improving Tennessee’s education system, especially higher education, as the key to the state’s future prosperity.
“The top three things are jobs, jobs, jobs. The top three means of achieving that is education, education, education,” Herron said in response to what are the major issues facing Tennessee today and in the near future.
“No question. It’s about jobs,” McWherter said. “With (nearly) 11 percent unemployment, we need to create and maintain jobs.”
McMillan echoed Herron’s call saying she wants to “produce the best educated generation of young people,” if she’s elected governor.
“We need to retain and create jobs,” she said. “Create the sort of job base that is good for the people of Tennessee.”
Cammack’s vision of job creation is based on Governor Phil Bredesen’s Volunteer State Solar Initiative, a stimulus-funded comprehensive solar-energy and economic-development program that created the Tennessee Solar Institute.
Kyle sees the job loss problem and lack of higher education as sister issues.
“Every time someone in Tennessee gets a higher education, we all benefit,” he said, adding he would like to see lottery proceeds used more to encourage nontraditional students to return to the classroom.
With these messages from the candidates, the assembled cast their ballots.
"The candidate that wins this straw poll will send a strong message to the party, press and donors for weeks to come that they are a serious candidate to move our state forward,” Fagan said.
Michelle Willard can be contacted at 615-869-0816 or firstname.lastname@example.org.