Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and Shelbyville Sen. Jim Tracy won straw polls for nomination to be Republican candidates for governor and congressman, respectively, at the Marshall County GOP dinner in Lewisburg's Recreation Center on Saturday.
Campaigning on his business experience with 325 Pilot Travel Centers nationally, Haslam got 113 of the 277 votes cast in the straw poll to win a plurality at nearly 41 percent. County Party Vice Chairman Jim Moon said there were 323 guests at the President's Day Dinner.
Also present for the event were: Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey who got 91 votes (33 percent); U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, 61 votes (22 percent); and Joe Kirkpatrick, 12 (four percent).
"This country is on the wrong track," Tracy said, complaining about "too much debt," President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Marshall County's 19.2 percent unemployment rate that's the highest in the state now, and economic conditions here that forced him to close his insurance office on West Commerce Street after a big factory closed several years ago.
"I hope my message is resounding with the voters," Tracy said listing them as his position on the economy, jobs, values and security for the country. "I understand what we need to do... Debt and deficit spending is what people are upset about....
"It's a good feeling to win" the straw poll, he said after dinner. Haslam left during dinner.
Tracy's 91 votes in the straw poll were nearly 34 percent of the 270 votes cast on that ballot. Lou Ann Zelenik, a former GOP Chair for Rutherford County where Tracy has an office in Murfreesboro, received 74 votes (27 percent). Retired Gen. Dave Evans placed third with 34 votes (12.5 percent). Also present were: Kerry Roberts, 31 votes (11.5 percent); state Sen. Diane Black, 24 votes (9 percent); and Gary Mann, 16 votes, (GOP pix 6 percent).
Favorite son Billy Spivey, chairman of the Marshall County Commission who's running for the state House seat held by Democrat Eddie Bass, hammered home the unemployment theme adopted that night by many of the speakers: "The big issue is jobs. My friends are unemployed...
"While I'm working for votes..." Spivey said, Bass and other state lawmakers were voting to "allow fish bowls in barbershops." Aquariums had been illegal in barbershops.
State Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) got applause when claiming some credit for getting a traffic light at the Rock Crusher Road intersection with Ellington Parkway. He also touted his influence on the state's decision to keep the Jersey dairy cow herd at the University of Tennessee farm and criticized UT Martin's program with students from China.
And Ketron offered a solution on how to keep the state-operated restaurant open at Henry Horton State Part where costs exceed revenue.
"If we can find the right person to keep the restaurant open - 10 months free rent," Ketron said. "We've got to think differently."
Noting the state has $150 billion-worth of contracts lasting 4-5 years; Ketron also suggested creating a procurement department.
"You would not believe the way we are doing business in Tennessee," he said.
Candidates for the GOP nomination for governor had five minutes to make their case.
Haslam pointed to a $1.4 billion state budget deficit arising next year, so there's "no choice but to attack spending."
Ramsey said Ketron is his deputy lieutenant governor, adding, "People are upset... realizing our federal government is out of control." Federal economic stimulus money runs out next year, so the next governor must deal with that. His business experience will help Tennessee meet the challenge, he said.
Wamp noted Ramsey claimed to be the only candidate who's signed a 90-day note to make payroll (for his business) and said he's done it, too, but he plans to build Tennessee's economy with a "Defense Corridor" linking military bases and related businesses through the state for more jobs and better pay for rural residents.
Kirkpatrick said "I had to take out a 90-day note to buy gas to be here tonight," and that he wrote his speech on his iPhone, a hand-held computer that he looked at while speaking. He railed against "psycho-babble" in Washington, D.C., and claimed distinction in the campaign as the only candidate with triplets who has "changed 10,000 diapers."
Then with a twist on a famous question from Ronald Reagan, Kirkpatrick said, "The Great Society (programs of the Lyndon Johnson administration) began 44 years ago. Are the poor better off?"
Candidates for Congress were to have three minutes, but Moon extended it to five.
Tracy said he wants to "Get the government out of our way" so business can prosper, and "Jobs are the No. 1 issue."
Zelenik relished conservatives' accomplishment last year: "We sent a 26-year politician packing." She wants to succeed U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Murfreesboro). She: opposes "government take-over of our health care;" supports energy independence; and said Washington, D.C. needs a good dose of Tennessee values and not planned parenthood.
Evans, the retired general, was applauded for standing up for veterans, "the true defenders of freedom."
"When we hung up our uniforms, we didn't know we'd face enemies from within," Evans said. "We need fighters to be in Washington. We need citizen warriors to put people before politics.
"We need tax true reform," Evans said pointing out that there are 16,000 new jobs at the Internal Revenue Service. It's an example of the "federal government trying to grow jobs."
Roberts said, "We're under attack by liberals." The CPA told of starting a bicycle shop, its debt and his refusal to declare bankruptcy. Overcoming adversity and the story of the prodigal son are themes Roberts used for his points that America can be healed.
Black said Democrats are running the nation off a cliff and "We can't wait until 2012 to defeat President Obama's re-election bid then. "The revolution will be led by a new Congress with rock-solid principles... Spending is the problem - not the revenue side."
Mann said, "We have to do a better job," and he predicted a Republican would succeed Gordon. Advocating moral leadership, he quoted scripture: "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"
Reflecting on comments he's received on why he'd not interviewed as a candidate - that he doesn't have enough financial support to win, Mann said his only goal was to honor his family and God.
Copyright 2010 Marshall County Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.