Local Dems host Politics in the Park
Posted: Friday, July 17, 2009 9:07 pm
By: John Brannon Messenger Staff Reporter
By JOHN BRANNON
Messenger Staff Reporter
A harbinger of Tennessee’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign occurred late Thursday afternoon at Kiwanis Park in downtown Union City.
Sponsored by the Obion County Democratic Party and presented as “Politics in the Park,” it featured two announced candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor — Jackson businessman Mike McWherter and state Sen. Roy Herron.
There were speeches, of course, as is the nature of any political rally, but there were also the trappings — food and soft drinks and entertainment.
The food, prepared and donated by volunteers, included hot dogs, white beans, chopped onions, cornbread of the traditional make and a cousin cornbread said to be hot water cornbread.
To entertain the crowd, the gospel choir from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Northwest Tennessee, under the direction of Danielle Alston, sang a medley of songs a cappella. In the few minutes they performed, it was the sweetest music on earth.
Yes, it was a time to lay aside the cares of the day and enjoy an old-fashioned political get-together and, as they say in church, fellowship with one another in the crowd of 102.
“I took a head count,” said Paige Carlton, chairman of the Obion County Democratic Party.
And there among a crowd was ultra-enthusiast and Democratic loyalist Billy Jack Cranford of Union City. Smiling a vintage Cranford smile and glad-handing anyone within reach, Cranford cut quite a figure in his garb of the day — shirt and vest and a straw hat of patriotic colors — red, white and blue.
“I am ecstatic that Democrats came out, even though the last 24 hours have been rainy and gloomy,” Mrs. Carlton said. “Today at Kiwanis Park we gather to listen to what the new gubernatorial candidates have to say about the future of Tennessee.”
Actually, the weather seemed perfect to the occasion. Gone were the high-90s temperatures of Wednesday. Overhead, gray clouds provided a canopy of protection from the July sun and, as if on cue, there was no rainfall until two or three minutes after the last speech was made. And then, only sprinkles.
“Politics in the Park is a good opportunity to show we aren’t stagnant but we are active, even in the early stages of the campaign,” Mrs. Carlton said. “Our Harry Truman dinner will be held this fall. We wanted to go ahead and have something early and get people excited about the upcoming campaign.
“We’ll be having more events of this kind.”
Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire and state Rep. Judy Barker spoke briefly, each welcoming the special guests and other attendees.
The Democratic primary election will be held in early August next year. Is it not a little early for a political rally? Not at all, says Jackson businessman and Democratic contender Mike McWherter.
“I’m already counting down the days to the primary,” he told The Messenger. “It will be a year from this August. About 55 weeks, about 378 days. I’m really excited about it. I’m very impressed that this many people would come out for this event.
“I’m all over the state now, and this is a kind of opening salvo.”
In his address to the crowd, McWherter, son of former Gov. Ned McWherter, said he just returned from a rally in upper East Tennessee. Public views of state government in that region are amazingly similar to those in West Tennessee.
And everywhere he goes, he added, people have been very receptive to him. “So it’s uplifting for me and this campaign,” he said. “It’s tough, getting out and traveling the state. But when you see so many people who want to help you, people interested in your race and want to contribute, it makes you feel great. And you realize what potential this state has.”
McWherter said he attended grades one through 12 in Union City public schools and that he grew up “like most kids,” mowing lawns and working at his grandmother’s cafe in Dresden.
“Because of the education I received here in Union City, I was able to go on to Vanderbilt (University) and then to Vanderbilt Law School,” he said.
“Summers, I came home, and I’m proud to tell you I worked out here at the Goodyear plant hand-stacking tires for shipment. I’ve hauled a little hay in my day and I can tell you, hand-stacking those tires is the closest job you’re going to find to hauling hay, and it’s every bit as hot.”
He said in 1985 he accompanied his father on his travels as he toured the state in the governor’s race that year. “I went into all 95 counties. It was a great experience for me,” he said. “I learned a lot about Tennessee.”
A few years later he fulfilled a personal dream — “I always wanted to be in management” — by having an opportunity to buy a business. He borrowed money to do so and he took the risk.
“With the help of the people of my company, we built a business, creating jobs along the way and, I believe, being a good corporate citizen for our community,” he said.
McWherter and his wife, Mary Jane, have been married 20 years and have two children, ages 16 and 18 this summer.
“Now that I’ve got one that’s looking at going off to college, my dream for both of them is (for them) to be able to move back into Tennessee, find good paying jobs and adequate, affordable health care and be able to raise families of their own.”
Gov. Phil Bredesen, he said, inherited “a fiscal mess” in 2002. “It was very nearly a crisis and he fought through it,” McWherter said. “His leadership made a real difference. I know something about leadership making a difference. I learned from my father that the most important job of being governor is to put people first. Now Tennessee faces great challenges. I hope you will join with me to face those challenges. I know where the growth is. The growth is in our working families, in our kids who are eager to learn and are open to new ideas, it’s in our rural communities and it’s in our values as Tennesseans and we honor faith, work and family.”
About those challenges, he told the crowd he’s a businessman, not a professional politician.
“I see huge new challenges we will face in the future. The next governor of this state from day-one has got to be an individual with the background and skills to understand how to build this economy, how to create new jobs, and most important, how to maintain jobs here in Tennessee. “I can meet those challenges because I spent my lifetime in business, running a business and creating jobs.”
Herron also dwelled on the issues of health care and jobs. He said that one day when he was 13, he came home to find “what passed for an ambulance in those days” parked in front of his house. Herron’s father was inside the house, lying on the floor. “That was back in the days when undertakers doubled as ambulance drivers,” he said. “They put my father in the ambulance and drove him to Union City. By the grace of God, there was a cardiologist in Union City who met him at the hospital. He later told my mother that if my dad has been 10 minutes later in getting to the hospital, he would not have survived.
“I lost him my first year in law school. I was fortunate to have him during high school. There’s a difference in losing your daddy when you’re a man in your early 20s than when you’re a boy of 13.
“So I know what a difference health care makes, when people have access to good health care. I know what a difference this hospital (Baptist Memorial Hospital-Union City) makes and how important it is to the community. I know, because this hospital and the care-givers saved my daddy’s life. When it comes to working for everybody to have access to health care, I don’t have to go any further back than within my own memory.”
Herron also used the experience he and his wife, Nancy, had when she was pregnant with their twin sons. Because of a complication known as “twin transfusion,” an abortion was advised. The Herrons got other opinions. They found Dr. Sal Lombardi, who said he didn’t disagree with the diagnosis but was more hopeful about the prognosis.
As a result, there was no abortion. And two baby boys were born, although each had to stay in neonatal intensive care 28 days.
“Those two boys standing over there (he pointed to the crowd), those are the twins that Dr. Lombardi saved,” Herron said. “When people talk about health care and how important it is, all I have to do is remember my daddy and my wife and those two boys. I know it makes a difference whether people live or die and I will do everything I can to make sure that you and your family have access to health care. Affordable, accessible health care will be a priority for me.”
Herron also spoke about jobs, saying he knows how important the local Goodyear plant is to the economy of this region. He said he also knows what it’s like to watch jobs leave. Perry County, for example. There were two plants in the county. They were the primary employers locally. Two years ago, the unemployment rate there was “six and a fraction.”
“This spring it hit 27 percent. They have four times the unemployment rate because those jobs have gone away to Mexico and overseas,” he said.
“The most important job of your next governor will be to make sure we hold onto the jobs we’ve got and bring in all the jobs we can. That’s going to be the No. 1 priority. ...
“As governor, the top priorities will be in terms of jobs, will be how to grow them and how to keep them. And a huge part of that priority is making sure we get the kind of education (needed for) all our citizens. Children, for sure. But adults, too.
“If you’ll give me a chance, I’ll work with you with all I’ve got. It’s been the greatest privilege of my life to represent you and the other counties. I’ve worked at it the hardest I know how. If you’ll continue giving me that privilege, I’ll work with you and for you with all I’ve got.”
Published in The Messenger 7.17.09
Local Dems host Politics in the Park