The Times-Gazette invited the candidates for the two state legislative seats representing Bedford County to answer an identical list of questions about state issues. Candidates were allowed 200 words for their answer to the first question, since it was more open-ended, and 100 words for their answer to each of the subsequent questions.
* Jean Anne Rogers of Murfreesboro, Democratic candidate for 16th District State Senate;
* Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, incumbent Republican candidate for 16th District State Senate;
* Barbara Blanton of Shelbyville, Republican candidate for 62nd District State House; and
* Curt Cobb of Shelbyville, incumbent Democratic candidate for 62nd District State House.
For each question, the two Senate candidates' responses are listed first, followed by the two House candidates' responses. However, the order of the candidates in each race alternates from question to question.
Early voting has already begun for the Nov. 4 general election.
1) What do you think are the three biggest issues for Tennesseans today, and how do you plan to address them?
TRACY: The economy, education, and illegal immigration.
On the economy, the last thing we need in tough economic times is to raise taxes. State government will need to tighten its belt by cutting bureaucratic waste and prioritize spending. I am proud to have voted for the largest tax cut in Tennessee history and against a $250 million tax increase in 2007.
On education, we need to make sure that teachers and students have the resources they need. That's why I voted for BEP 2.0, which brought in over $5 million to Bedford County Schools. I also support an initiative called "Education First" which says that the legislature will fund the education budget first, before any of the rest of the budget. This will ensure that education remains a top priority in Tennessee.
On illegal immigration, we cannot ignore the dangers that come from the influx of illegal immigrants. Illegal immigration is a burden on our court system, our education system, and our health care system. I was a sponsor of the law that eliminated driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. I have also sponsored legislation that would ban state services to illegal immigrants and punish employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
ROGERS: The three biggest issues in Tennessee right now are the economy, education and health care. Even before the national economic crisis, I knew the economy would be an issue because people were talking about jobs, wanting to take are of their families. We need to encourage economic development. The state does not need to become a burden to its citizens. We do not need any new taxes or fees added.
To get and keep jobs, we need our education system to be at its best. We do not need an unfunded mandate. The state needs to stand up to its commitment without putting the burden on property taxes.
With health care, we need to encourage people to have insurance. We need to make it attractive for businesses to provide insurance. We need to cut health care costs by getting primary care out of the emergency rooms.
BLANTON: The economy has become the number one issue and worry for Tennesseans. I will support lower taxes and oppose a state income tax to allow citizens to keep their hard-earned money. A favorable tax structure attracts new workers and retirees to Tennessee to boost our economy.
Illegal immigration continues to be a large problem and a drain on our economy. I support proof of U.S. citizenship before one can register to vote. Our veterans did not fight and die so that citizens of foreign countries can participate in our elections and cancel out the votes of U.S. citizens. Driver's license tests should be given in English only.
Better education is the foundation of economic and personal progress of our citizens. I would put education first by funding the education budget before other items, and support the return of excess lottery funds to local school districts for construction projects to get our children out of the unsafe and cramped temporary buildings that many are in today. Good education offers a well-trained workforce for new industries to draw on when they locate in Tennessee, bringing new jobs and a larger economic base to our district and state.
COBB: Jobs are key in turning this economy around. Highly-skilled workers are a magnet for industry and jobs, and that is why I have supported more HOPE scholarships and job training and will fight to protect these programs. Success for our children will mean competing for jobs of the future. I believe in laying the foundation for that success from Pre-K through college and beyond.
I have supported legislation that helped make us one the most competitive states in the nation. Gov. Bredesen, along with a delegation that includes Bedford and Lincoln County representatives, are in Germany this week meeting with potential Volkswagen suppliers.
Secondly, the rise in cost of gas has increased the burden on our families. I will continue to support investing in research for farm-based fuels made from switch grass and other natural resources to put Tennessee at the forefront of reducing our nation's dependency on foreign oil.
Health care is also a big issue for all Tennesseans. Health care costs have increased for some while others are unable to get any type of coverage. I have supported and will continue to expand In-Home Health Care, Cover Tennessee and Health Insurance changes where patients can have more options.
2) How can you protect Tennesseans in today's economic environment?
ROGERS: Tennesseans can be protected in today's economic environment by having a good-paying job. We need to protect the jobs we have and attract new ones. In attracting new jobs and companies we need to be assured they plan to stay in Tennessee, offer incomes to provide for the standard of living, and provide a means for health care. I would also like to see on-site day care provided.
TRACY: As a small business owner, I understand that the way to improve our economy is to keep taxes low and eliminate government waste. We need to make sure that we give businesses, large and small, the opportunity to grow and prosper. That is why I have been endorsed by the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), an organization that represents over 10,000 small businesses in Tennessee. I voted to cut the sales tax on food, the largest tax cut in Tennessee history and against a $250 million tax increase in 2007.
COBB: For the past few years, we have worked to put $750 million in the Rainy Day fund. The foresight to do this will allow us to continue to have a balanced budget and allow us to manage through this recession without any new taxes and without making severe cuts to essential state programs. However, this is just the start. We must continue to attract more businesses to our state to ensure that all Tennesseans can work.
BLANTON: Tax restraints and tax breaks protect the money citizens earn. I would also support lowering or eliminating sales tax on food and to continue the "Pre-School Sales Tax Holiday Weekends" to help families struggling with the high cost of gasoline, food and clothing. I would oppose any increase in the gas tax. I would support tax incentives for businesses that hire local workers when relocating to Tennessee. I would support giving tax breaks to businesses that provide day care for the children of their employees.
3) What plans do you have to improve our K-12 education system and how much will they cost?
TRACY: As a former teacher and vice-chairman of the Bedford County School Board, I understand the education needs in Tennessee. I am proud to have the endorsement of the Tennessee Education Association (TEA). We need to ensure that education dollars are going directly to the classroom and that we are doing all that we can to increase parental involvement. Statistics show that if a student has an involved parent, an environment where they can learn, and a quality teacher, they will succeed. With the passage of Education First, we can make education a priority in a fiscally responsible way.
ROGERS: The best way to improve K-12 is to use our resources already available to support our teachers -- offer them the best education, professional development and mentoring. Our educational systems should be centers of learning, not centers of teaching, as we strive to have our teachers lead the way for all to become lifelong learners.
BLANTON: We must support and fund the best schools possible for our children.
If excess lottery funds were used for local school construction, it would currently save up to 7.5 million dollars which was available in this fund last year. If these excess lottery funds had been spent this way, as this legislation was originally written, we would not be facing extra taxes for school construction now. I would seek a plan to reward exceptional teachers for their service. Good teachers and good physical conditions in schools are the foundation of any education system.
COBB: Last year, I supported the revisions made to the way we fund education. This resulted in nearly $350 million in new funding. It also created new accountability standards to help the state assist failing schools. Additional funding should not come without new standards of accountability. Also, I have supported $90 million in excess lottery funds to go towards the energy efficient initiative so our schools can receive grants to help with costs and make schools more energy efficient. This will create long-term savings for our schools that will allow them to shift resources to better their programs and hire and retain the best teachers.
4) What type of industry do you believe Bedford County stands the best chance of recruiting, and how can the state help to make that happen?
ROGERS: This is something that Bedford County leaders need to decide and direct me on the best way to help them. When elected, I will meet regularly with elected and chamber leaders so they can advise me on the best way to properly represent their objectives.
TRACY: As former president of the Bedford County Chamber of Commerce, I understand that it takes a quality infrastructure system, a good education system, and high quality of life to recruit businesses to our area. Bedford County has long been at the center of the pencil and walking horse industries. While these industries will remain strong, Bedford County is in good position to recruit other quality industries, such as wholesale distribution facilities and automotive suppliers. With the construction of the Shelbyville bypass, the expansion of Nissan's corporate headquarters, and the impending location of Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Bedford County stands to benefit.
BLANTON: Furniture manufacturing would be an excellent addition to our industrial base. It is a clean, non-polluting industry and would hire a large number of our hard working citizens who tell me they want to work. Our Tennessee Tech School and Motlow State Community College offer excellent training and education for new high tech jobs and industries. I support tax incentives for new businesses that hire local workers. Roads connect people to their work and business to business allowing easy access to raw materials and shipping. We need to publicize our resources, eager well-trained workers and good roads.
COBB: A direct supplier of the new Volkswagen manufacturing plant in Chattanooga. Bedford County is in close proximity to Chattanooga, and is located within a day's drive for 70 percent of the U.S. population. This makes Bedford County an ideal location for any company importing or distributing products. The state Department of Economic and Community Development has worked tirelessly to develop an attractive incentive package to draw Volkswagen to our state. Any supplier that locates to Tennessee will receive the same package. I will continue to support these policies that promote a positive business climate for existing and new businesses.
5) Tennessee has a poor national ranking in some key health related statistics (smoking, obesity, low birth rate, teen pregnancies, etc.). What ideas do you have to make our state a healthier place to live?
TRACY: Health care and wellness in Tennessee are very important issues. I work each day to ensure that every Tennessean has access to quality, affordable healthcare. I was the prime sponsor of the law which banned smoking in restaurants and other public places. This was a good first step in reducing the number of smokers in Tennessee. I support preventative care programs for those who are high-risk for certain diseases, such as heart disease. I also support expanding wellness and healthy living programs in our schools. If we can create healthier kids today, they will be healthier adults tomorrow.
ROGERS: Education is the key to address these issues. We need to start early. Smoking should not be allowed by students on high school campuses. Intramural sports in addition to PE classes along with nutritional snacks offered in the schools are other ways to address obesity.
BLANTON: I support local governmental and private fitness programs such as "Get Fit Bedford." I will support incentives to businesses to encourage their own fitness programs for employees with emphasis on weight control, exercise, smoking cessation and proper diet.
I will encourage increasing physical education programs in schools and school and local sports activities for our children. Currently our towns in this district are doing an excellent job of supporting many sports such as soccer, baseball, swimming, etc. We also have excellent municipal recreation centers, which need to be publicized and supported.
COBB: I am a firm believer that education and awareness are key to handle any issue. People should be better educated on these health issues through our schools and community outreach programs.
Parents are responsible for their children's health. By living healthy lives themselves, they serve as a better example to their children.
One thing that we created was the Governor's plan to provide health care to all Tennessee's children under CoverKids. Healthy kids become healthy adults.
6) Do you support any changes to the state's tax structure? If so, what are they?
ROGERS: Yes. I support the reduction of sales tax on food. I am in favor of looking at the possibilities of tax incentives for companies that accommodate health care needs of their employees, and allowing them the flexibility to coordinate their efforts to provide that coverage outside existing insurance plans. I would also be in favor of tax incentives to companies that offer on-site day care.
TRACY: No. I do not believe we need to change our tax structure. I am strongly opposed to a state income tax. One of the main reasons why Tennessee was able to attract Nissan and Volkswagen was the fact that we do not have a state income tax. I also support further reductions in the sales tax on food. As I mentioned previously, I voted for the largest tax cut in Tennessee history, but we need to go further, especially when it comes to necessities such as food and groceries.
COBB: I remain adamantly opposed to a state income tax. I have supported the largest sales tax cut in Tennessee history lowering the sales tax on groceries. I will continue to do so in a safe and responsible manner as we can afford to. While state tax revenues are down, this just means we should tighten our belts and control spending. Tennesseans enjoy being the 48th lowest tax burden state in the nation and we should keep it that way.
BLANTON: I support lowering or eliminating sales tax on food. I support "Pre-School Sales Tax Holidays" and would expand this to one or two additional times each year. This would help struggling families, especially those with small children that they are trying to feed, clothe, and keep in school. I oppose a state income tax and oppose raising any taxes on our citizens.
The Times-Gazette will publish a Q&A of local candidates for Shelbyville City Council, Wartrace Board of Mayor and Alderman, and Bedford County Commission.