The two candidates are Republican Todd Gardenhire and Democrat Andraé McGary.
McGary introduced himself as a Chattanooga City Councilman who deals with rough issues such as tax increases and payment in lieu of tax agreements with Amazon and Volkswagen.
“I am the underdog in this race, but being the underdog does not bother me in the slightest, because I understand many of you also understand what it feels like to be the underdog,” he said.
Gardenhire is a Chattanooga native who lives closer to Cleveland than downtown Chattanooga. He attended Cleveland State Community College and serves clients in Bradley County.
“I know people up here. I’ve worked in Bradley County 42 years with people involved in civic politics and business. Business is what makes this county so great, because it has grown by leaps and bounds better than any other county in the state,” he said.
McGary was born in Casa Grande, Ariz. He came from poverty and worked for everything he has achieved.
“I don’t expect people to give me a free pass. I want to earn their trust,” he said.
Both candidates said they would represent both Bradley and Hamilton counties on principal and not party politics.
“Why should people vote for me?” Gardenhire asked. “I’m 64 years old. I’m not looking to build my resume. I’m not looking to use this as a steppingstone to anywhere. I’m here to serve the people, to do a good job, to give back to the community what I’ve been fortunate to have in my lifetime.”
When asked about putting Tennessee into the private education voucher system, where state funds would be diverted to parents who choose to send their children to private schools, Gardenhire said, “Giving parents a choice is the most important thing there is. Parents need to be empowered to choose where their children go to school to get the best education. I’m for vouchers.”
Vouchers, he continued, do not necessarily take money from public education because there are two types of money that go into the Basic Education Program. Those two types are the basic part and the part that follows the student.
“They can go to any other school they want to and they can use that voucher to go to private school,” he said.
McGary said his daughter’s school was placed on the failing list after her first year in kindergarten.
“My wife and I had to make the very difficult decision whether to pull our daughter out of that failing school, put her in a private school or home-school,” he said. “We decided to put her in a private school, ultimately to pull her out and now we home-school our children.
“The reality is that as a state, we have continually chosen not to pour money into our Basic Education Program, but actually pull money out of it, particularly here at Cleveland State, UTC and other state institutions,” he said. “Ultimately, I am not for vouchers because it skirts the issue.”
The issue, he said, is funding education.
Gardenhire responded that more funding does not necessarily improve education.
“Just to throw money at education and to throw extra new money, I don’t believe that’s appropriate at all. I would love to see a redirection of money,” he said.
He said higher education receives too much money. It is not productive and offers courses designed around tenured professors rather than preparing students for a career in the marketplace.
When asked what could be done about the high cost of higher education, McGary said only 25 percent of adults in Tennessee have a postsecondary education. He said the reason is an underfunding of education.
“You can’t shortchange education and expect to get a valuable return and what we put in, we’ve got to get out,” McGary said. “Per capita, we as a state are in one of the last percentiles in the entire nation. We cannot continue to expect to produce quality, educated individuals if we are not going to be making an investment.”
Gardenhire said, “The marketplace has been telling higher education you are not teaching the children and students what we can use. Stop turning out sports management majors and turn out something we can use.”
McGary said it is not the job of the Tennessee Senate to say colleges and universities are turning out the wrong type of student. Students have the choice of pursuing a certain area of study.
“If a college recognizes enough demand for that subject, then they should offer it,” McGary said.
The General Election is Nov. 6 with early voting available Oct. 17 through Nov. 1. Monday was the deadline for registering.
McGary said there are “a lot of differences” between the two men. “He is a 40-year political operative who has been involved in appointed positions. I have worked and I have become elected, which means I have countless numbers of people who put me in office. As a result, I make the best decisions for those people who I represent, because they elected me and there is a trust there.”
McGary said he has a website where anyone can look up his position on issues. He said how candidates campaign indicates how they will govern.
Gardenhire said, “I have been involved in politics for a long time, and I’ve learned one thing: the best way to campaign for an office is to actually go out and meet the people, and I’ve been doing that. I’ve been going door-to-door, I’ve been going to civic clubs and holding forums myself.”
He said when candidates talk to voters, the office seekers learn quickly what is on the minds of the people. Both parties can see if the other is sincere.
“If Todd Gardenhire ever makes you a promise, I’ll keep it. If I can’t keep it, I’ll be man enough to come to you and tell you I can’t keep it, and face the consequences of that decision,” he said.