Blountville businessman Timothy Hill, former Mountain City Mayor Kevin Parsons and Bluff City Republican Thomas White fielded questions drawn from a glass bowl during the event held at Bristol Motor Speedway.
All three are seeking to win the Aug. 2 GOP primary, defeat Democrat Leah Kirk in the November general election, and take the state House seat held by retiring state Rep. Scotty Campbell, R-Mountain City.
When asked how they would strengthen K-12 education, Parsons indicated he favored tying teacher pay to performance.
“I think more needs to be looked at in what the teachers are actually producing,” Parsons explained.
White said the state needs to attract higher quality teachers.
“They should shine like a new penny. ... Unfortunately we can’t afford to pay for that,” he said.
Then White changed the subject to talk against red light traffic cameras.
“In 2008, all the Democrats and all the Republicans decided we needed red light cameras. ... Then during election time in 2010, the same fellows that made the law decided someone had implemented a bad law and wanted to get to the bottom of it. ... I thought that since this is an election year, they would want to look at it again. ... To me, it’s still a major issue,” White said.
Hill stuck to the K-12 question and said lawmakers need to continue to look at teacher evaluations.
“We’ve got to look at bold ideas where the money is sent with where the children go (to school),” Hill said. “We don’t need to be afraid to look at those types of options. ... We need to look at vocational training. ... A university education is not for everybody.”
When asked about their plan for jobs, White advocated bringing more manufacturing jobs to Tennessee.
“Restaurants, convenience stores and telemarketers — they’re really important, but there is a limit as to how many of these a community can support,” White said. “The wages are typically low. Not many people want to relocate to Tennessee to get a good cheeseburger.”
Hill said there needs to be multiple approaches to job creation.
“I would love to go back to the days when there was tons of manufacturing in Northeast Tennessee,” Hill said. “But the reality in 2012 is we’re going to have to work for what we can get. If it’s technology based or manufacturing, that’s fine. ... We’ve got to get government out of the way of business.”
Parsons, a small business owner, said one of the biggest checks he writes is to the government.
“I’d much rather write it to an employee or to employees than that...” Parsons said. “I have been successful at recruiting two smaller industries, one that manufactures toner cartridges in Johnson County, and also a Christmas Tree operation — that’s three months out of a year we have jobs in Johnson County. ... Everybody wants to go after the big boys. If you have a big boy and it closes, your community is really hurting. If you have these smaller cottage-type industries, you have a much better opportunity to replace them ... and less families are affected.”
All three candidates said they opposed a state income tax, but White again changed the subject and spoke against foreign imports.
“We bought the cheap shoes and the cheap lawn mowers. ... We’ve built more hamburger stands, and the Chinese build more factories. ... The Chinese train engineers and electricians,” White said. “We have to turn that around and buy American-made products.”
When asked how to enhance tourism, Hill noted the state’s purchase of Doe Mountain in Johnson County will be “huge” for hikers, all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts and mountain bikers.
“We need to use what our natural strengths are,” Hill said.
Parsons said of Doe Mountain: “We’ve got to do some work on getting hotels and motels so people can stay.”
Bluff City Republican Karen Greene Morrell, who is also on the district’s GOP primary ballot, was unable to attend the forum. Kirk, a Bristolian, also did not attend the forum.
The 3rd House District includes part of Sullivan and Carter counties and all of Johnson County.