NASHVILLE (WRCB) - At Monday's Gubernatorial Primary Debate, questions came from the moderators, the Belmont University audience, the Internet and from voters across the state via video. A thirty second time limit lead to some hurried responses and a few awkward moments, but ensured an hour full of information.
Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, polling third of the three Republican candidates, came out swinging on the first question concerning government spending and cuts. "It's obvious I'm the only one in this race that has a plan to actually cut state government," he said. "I don't know whether my opponents don't know how or don't have the guts to do it."
He also set himself apart on education saying, "I am not for universal Pre-K. I think it's a waste of money. It takes away from K-12 classes. We have to start thinking outside the box and what can we do best to use the taxpayer dollars the best way?"
The lone Democrat, Jackson businessman Mike McWherter, seized on a question about reducing taxes. "If there's revenue to reduce the tax on estates, great," he explained. "But, the focus has got to be on the working families of Tennessee and the grocery tax." The Republicans said now was not the time to reduce the grocery tax.
On illegal immigration, Republican candidates agreed the controversial Arizona law was a necessary move. "I would do the same thing," said Congressman Zach Wamp, "and make Tennessee an E-verify state."
McWherter said it was unfortunate that Arizona had to pass that law and added, "what I think is even more unfortunate is, the government is suing them over that legislation."
Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam added, "I propose approaching it at the level of the employer. If we cut off the job source, I think you'll see folks turn and go home."
When the candidates turned to each other, the tuned on front-runner Haslam. Congressman Wamp, second in the most recent poll, fired away. "You're not the guy all your money says you are, said Wamp. "And I'm sorry, I'm going to have to tell it like it is, folks. I love you."
Wamp questioned Haslam's credentials, asking about his contribution to Al Gore's presidential run. He questioned he transparency, stating he has not disclosed certain financial records. The mayor countered, saying he had disclosed more information than the other men on the stage. Then, in a bit of a double-team, McWherter used his time to question Wamp on his feelings about Haslam's record. "Mayor Haslam raised property taxes and he, then his oil company lobbied for a 2-and-a half cent gasoline tax increase; money they would keep in their company. I think that's outrageous and I want to know what you think about it," he asked.
Wamp responded, "Well, I appreciate that."
Haslam shot back at Wamp leading to one of the debate's more memorable responses. "Just two weeks ago, you promised you wouldn't run negative ads on TV," he said, but I think as recently as the last day or two, you've filmed a commercial attacking me. Why are you saying one thing and doing another?"
"Well, you must have made that up," Wamp replied. "I didn't say anything at all about what I would do. Basically, I have precious resources and it's a dilemma on how to spend those precious resources."
But, Wamp had to defend himself against the Ramsey's insinuation he was fast and loose with taxpayer dollars in Washington. "I voted against every bail-out," Wamp said, "every stimulus, all the bad legislation except the second TARP vote."