Making a stop in Cleveland on her way to a veterans’ luncheon Tuesday hosted by Westwood Baptist Church, Tennessee Speaker of the House and current gubernatorial candidate Beth Harwell spoke to the …
Making a stop in Cleveland on her way to a veterans’ luncheon Tuesday hosted by Westwood Baptist Church, Tennessee Speaker of the House and current gubernatorial candidate Beth Harwell spoke to the Cleveland Daily Banner on the various issues she intends to address if elected governor.
Describing Tennessee as a lovely, long state, Harwell has visited all 95 counties numerous times in her eight years as Speaker of the House and four years as State Republican Party chairman.
When asked what she would do differently than her predecessor, current Gov. Bill Haslam, Harwell said that she simply has more working relationships with the Tennessee Legislature upon starting in the position than Haslam had, and would use this to better the state quicker.
“I would hit the ground running. I know a great deal about state government,” Harwell said. “When I was in the General Assembly, I served on almost all the committees by rotating one every legislative session; I served on transportation, finance, commerce, you name it, because I wanted to learn as much as I could about all these different areas.”
The campaign trail has brought various issues to the forefront of conversation, including everything from welfare reform and monument preservation to opioids. Harwell believes that a balanced state budget is also vastly important, because as the third lowest tax state and lowest debt state in the nation, Tennessee residents often take this issue for granted.
“The three things I hear residents say they want most is they want good jobs, good schools and they want to feel safe,” Harwell said. “I’ve worked so hard with the Tennessee Legislature over the last eight years to ensure that those things become realities.”
Welfare reform was a major issue as well, because during the Clinton presidency, able-bodied welfare recipients were required to work a minimum of 20 hours. Clinton later left this decision up to each state legislature, and Tennessee continued this practice. Recently, State Rep. Dan Howell carried one of Harwell’s bills that added this work requirement to TennCare recipients as well. Harwell also tightened the grip on “double-dippers,” who are people on welfare in more than one state, and are thus committing fraud, which alone purportedly costs the state around $25 million per year.
Harwell said she became interested in politics after being home during a particular summer tending to her ill grandmother, where the only thing on daytime TV was the Watergate hearings. Finding herself enthralled by the presence and speaking prowess of U.S. Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee, she told her grandmother that she would meet him one day, to which her grandmother said, “Honey, you just do that.”
Originally from Pennsylvania, Harwell moved to Tennessee at the age of 16 to attend Dave Lipscomb University Church of Christ College and said she fell in love with the state during her time here.
Starting in politics in 1986, she first ran for office and lost, but then came back to win in 1988. Prior to that, she taught political science at Belmont University and felt that it was time to put her “book smarts” to work. One thing that she stressed was how much more productive a state legislature seems than a federal one, as working in the Tennessee General Assembly makes Harwell feel like she’s always accomplishing something, due to the state’s constant progression.
“I hope and pray that President Trump is successful, because if he is, I think we’re gonna see domestic issues return to the state level where they can be much more efficiently run, whether it’s healthcare or education, and when that happens I think we’re going to want a governor who has extensive knowledge of state government from day one,” she said.
According to Harwell, another difference between Congress and the Tennessee General Assembly is that Tennessee representatives live where they represent. If someone has an issue with someone in Tennessee, they have the opportunity to speak to that representative in the near future at a restaurant, community event or even church, unlike those in Washington.
She added that despite the polarization among parties in America, she believes that the U.S. is hopeful President Trump can accomplish things that desperately need addressing here. The opioid crisis is just one of numerous issues plaguing Tennessee. The state has now limited the prescriptions of opioids given to so-called "opioid naives," which are people who have never been prescribed opioids before. Unfortunately, as opioids are limited, illegal drugs become more abundantly sold. To address this, additional TBI agents have been hired to keep illicit drugs out of the state, and the penalty for possession of fentanyl has been hardened.
“Education is also vastly important, because while our math and science scores are great, the next governor is going to have to work on literacy and reading scores. He or she is also going to have to put more priority on apprenticeships and technical skills too, as we are finding that more and more employers are looking for workers with technical abilities,” Harwell said.
Monument preservation was also lightly touched upon, as Harwell believes that all historical monuments in Tennessee should remain in their original location, free of removal, as she adds, “where does it stop? Who is the perfect person to recognize? There’s not one!”
Despite being a candidate from the Republican Party, Harwell states that she has worked hard as speaker of the ENTIRE House, and listens to everyone’s opinion. She notes, “If it’s a good idea, it’s a good idea!” Although she has her concerns about the president’s idea of selling off portions of TVA, she stressed that she’s not a fan of second-guessing someone who’s putting forth a good effort.
“I hope the people of Tennessee will vote for me because I bring a track record of hard work and progress for this state, along with my conservative values,” Harwell said.
The Tennessee gubernatorial election takes place on Nov. 6, with the primary on Aug. 2. Early voting begins on July 13.
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