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Bredesen makes campaign stop in Kingsport

Hank Hayes • May 4, 2018 at 8:59 AM

KINGSPORT — Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen visited what might be the reddest part of the state Thursday to sell his U.S. Senate candidacy to what looked like a who’s who of regional business leaders.

“I’ve competed (in Northeast Tennessee) before,” Bredesen, a Democrat, former Nashville mayor, two-term governor and health care executive, said in an interview before addressing those business leaders at the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce. “I’m going to do the same things. I’m not overtly partisan about everything. I think people appreciate the fact that the stuff I got done as governor was done particularly with lots of supporters on both sides of the aisle. The solutions to problems usually involve picking and choosing a little bit from the different parts of the political spectrum. I think that’s what people are looking for rather than this hard partisanship. There are people in the mode of ‘my way or the highway’ and take no prisoners on these issues. I think the vast majority of Tennesseans across the political spectrum want … people to stop yelling at each other.”

Bredesen is expected to face U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn in the November election to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Bob Corker.

The discussion between Bredesen and those business leaders ranged from what to do about the opioid crisis to the Tri-Cities going back to being one Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Ballad Health Chairman and CEO Alan Levine said Bredesen shared his TennCare reform strategies when Levine as Florida health secretary was looking to fix Florida’s Medicaid program.

“The governor sat with me for most of two hours,” Levine recalled. “I was just some lowly health secretary, and he spent that time with me trying to educate me on what he learned in Tennessee.”

Bredesen responded to these questions:

What’s going to be your response when Republicans say Tennessee’s U.S. Senate seat shouldn’t get closer to (Senate Democrat Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer?

“The response is going to be I belong to a political party in running for office. It is an organization I belong to. It’s not a religion. I have never had any difficulty as governor in separating myself from the national party. If you remember in the Affordable Care Act, I made the White House extremely irritated over my lack of support for it. What people expect from me is somebody who’s not going to be an ideological soldier for anybody, but try to figure out what’s best for Tennessee.”

What should the solution be for fixing or replacing the Affordable Care Act?

“I didn’t think Obamacare was the right solution, but I also thought once it passed, it’s the law of the land, and now let’s figure out how to make it work. There are things you have to do to stabilize it. Whatever the long-term solution is, there are a lot of people now looking to the Affordable Care Act for their source of health care. The biggest thing, I think, is simply getting some stability and clarity as to what kinds of subsidies will be available so insurance companies can price their product. … That would be a huge step forward. As for the long-term answers, I know it’s got to have both Democrat and Republican support. … It can’t be like what was done with the Affordable Care Act, with no votes from the other side.”

You’re a gun owner. What should be the solution to prevent another Parkland-like or Waffle House-like mass shooting?

“I am a supporter of the Second Amendment. I’ve been a gun owner all my life. … I certainly believe the background checking stuff we do is a program … that we ought to properly fund … to get data into the system. … It also needs to be expanded where there’s a way in which people who have clear psychological difficulties could be prevented from getting access to weapons. … The last three of these, including the Waffle House thing, everybody knew (the shooters) had enormous issues.”

Give us an example of how you could work with President Trump.

“I think his focus on trying to cut back on the amount of regulation in some areas is perfectly appropriate. … Some of the trade negotiations he is doing with China, I certainly would work with him on that. He is starting to get what looks like some motion on North Korea. I would be more than happy to work with him on that.”

You’re 74 years old. The Senate term is six years. Are you physically able to serve that time?

“I thought about that. I’m in very good health. I work out three days a week. I have no health problems. I feel like I have a lot of energy. I’ve stayed very busy. … It’s not an issue at all. I intend to run for this for a couple of terms. If I ever felt I was not up to the job, I have no problem with letting it go.”

Size up your opponent. What are her strengths and weaknesses?

“This is not a Tweedledum Tweedledee election. We are two very different people. We have different backgrounds. Mine is out of the business world in Tennessee. Hers is much a part of the political world. … She is obviously an ideological warrior on the conservative side of the spectrum. … I’m more like a businessman. I want to get things done. … I think people will have a very clear choice between two different people.”

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