Hank Hayes • May 24, 2008 at 12:00 AM

First in a series

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey cited more immediate priorities when asked if running for governor in 2010 is still on his mind.

“My first and most important goal now is to win re-election (in the 2nd Senate District against Democrat Bill Jones of Kingsport) and keep our majority (in the state Senate). After November if we win that, I’ll keep my options open,” the Blountville Republican responded.

Ramsey is expected to spend his summer using his statewide name recognition and fund-raising ability to put three more Senate seats in Republican hands and erase the Senate’s makeup of 16 Republicans, 16 Democrats and one independent member.

He is backing Church Hill Republican Mike Faulk to unseat independent Mike Williams in the 4th Senate District; Harriman Republican Ken Yager to take the 12th Senate District seat being vacated by Democrat Tommy Kilby; and the GOP survivor of a three-way West Tennessee Republican primary to challenge for the 26th Senate District seat left open by the retirement of former Lt. Gov. John Wilder, D-Mason.

“I have absolutely loved being lieutenant governor. I think that any review with an objective viewpoint will say we did a good job this year,” Ramsey said of the legislature’s job performance this year.

Among lawmakers’ accomplishments, Ramsey pointed to passage of a bill to create statewide TV cable franchising in Tennessee. The measure pushed by AT&T was the result of two years of negotiations with the cable industry and local governments that saw millions of dollars spent on lobbying and advertising campaigns.

He also touted the legislature’s adoption of medical malpractice reform, which aims to reduce frivolous lawsuits in Tennessee. The bill requires any person who asserts a claim for medical negligence to give written notice to each physician or health care provider at least 60 days before filing suit. Though it does not provide monetary damage caps, the bill is considered a step in the right direction by pro-business groups like the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).

Ramsey also gave credit to Gov. Phil Bredesen for helping lawmakers deal with revenue shortfalls in passing a new state budget. The budget included funding of the state’s Basic Education Program with $59 million in new dollars for inflationary growth and continued funding of 934 existing pre-K classrooms. It also included a voluntary buyout for about 2,000 state employees.

“He came up with a plan that was very reasonable,” Ramsey said of the buyout. “It was very Republican, so to speak, that we balanced the budget with existing revenues and lived within our means like families do when times get tough. ... In the end I think it will work out well. The problem with a straight (employee) layoff was that you had people leaving who really didn’t want to leave.”

The budget appropriation going toward higher education was cut by more than $50 million, but Ramsey noted that may not result in major tuition increases for college students.

“I talked to (University of Tennessee President John) Petersen personally. He just didn’t want to hand this reduction in spending on to students, so they are holding their tuition (increase) at 6 percent this year. ... They understood they had to do their part,” Ramsey said. “This should put a little pressure on the Board of Regents (East Tennessee State University is a member institution).”

Ramsey said he was “disappointed” Senate lawmakers couldn’t agree on a plan to pick the state’s Supreme Court and appellate judges.

Lawmakers were unable to extend the life of the state’s Judicial Selection Commission, which is slated to expire in 2009. Ramsey sought more latitude on his appointments to the commission with a goal of having more conservative judges.

“We have another year to work on that reform,” Ramsey said of the commission. “If we can’t get it passed then, we will go back to electing judges here in the state of Tennessee — Supreme Court judges and appellate judges.”

For more about Ramsey, go to www.legislature.state.tn.us. Click on “Senate” and then “Members.”

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