WARRIORS PATH — Tennessee House Majority Leader Gary Odom served up encouragement Thursday night to Sullivan County Democrats during a barbecue fund-raiser that featured three underdog candidates, one state House incumbent and inevitable “pig with lipstick” one-liners.
“I got to be careful. I can’t talk about no pigs,” joked state Rep. Nathan Vaughn, D-Kingsport, who is expected to face a tough re-election challenge from Colonial Heights Republican Tony Shipley in the 2nd House District. “Before this election is over many of you are going to say ‘I didn’t believe Nathan was that bad of a person.’ There are going to be folks calling me names that you didn’t envision. ... They won’t be complimenting me by calling me a pig with lipstick.”
The $10-a-plate event at Warriors Path State Park also included talks from 1st Congressional District Democratic nominee Rob Russell, 2nd Senatorial District Democratic hopeful Bill Jones of Kingsport, and 1st House District Democratic challenger Michael Surgenor of Kingsport.
Odom, a Nashville Democrat and Carter County native, laughed when asked if he wants to unseat current Democratic House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh of Covington when the legislature reconvenes in January 2009.
“I’ll tell you the same thing I’ve been telling the Nashville media,” Odom answered. “I’m here. I’m going to West Tennessee next week. ... I will be in Knoxville and Chattanooga, and I am trying to help elect Democrats to the House.”
Odom said he believes Democrats will build on their 53-46 majority in the state House.
“I believe we’ll pick up some seats,” he said. “We’re competing for seats that used to be Democratic that are now held by Republican incumbents in Middle Tennessee. ... I don’t expect either (GOP presidential nominee John) McCain or (Democratic presidential nominee Barack) Obama to do a lot of campaigning in Tennessee.”
Odom and the other candidates maintained the economy is the biggest issue facing Tennesseans.
“The economy is hard on people,” said Jones, a retiree running against incumbent GOP Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Blountville. “It doesn’t take a CPA to realize things haven’t been going good the past eight years either nationally or on the state level. Gas prices and food are going up.”
Russell, an East Tennessee State University instructor and administrator running against 1st Congressional District Republican nominee Phil Roe, said he keeps hearing the question: “Rob, what are your chances?”
The reason he gets that question is because Robert Love Taylor, an attorney, was the last Democrat to occupy the seat — in 1881.
Russell, who noted his family will be moving from Kingsport to Johnson City, said he felt encouraged when he sat in a barber shop near Taylor’s old home place in Elizabethton.
“I saw David Davis signs there,” Russell said of the 1st Congressional GOP incumbent who lost to Roe in the primary.
Russell insisted Roe does not represent change.
“They’re the same label of ice cream. ... One is in a cup, and the other is in a cone,” Russell said of Roe and Davis.
Vaughn did not mention Shipley by name, but he suggested partisan politics is killing the state along with notions that government can do without taxes.
“Whatever the government you want, you’ve got to pay for it. ... There is no free ride. ... But Tennessee is the 44th least taxed state in the country,” Vaughn said.
Odom said that because of a downturn in state revenues, lawmakers are on the brink of not being able to do very much for education.
“We’re going to keep taxes low ... but we’ve got to make sure we establish priorities,” he stressed.
Surgenor, a Sullivan County commissioner and county school principal who is facing GOP incumbent Jon Lundberg of Bristol, asked Democrats to help with early voting that begins in mid-October.
“Half of the election is over before Election Day (in November),” Surgenor pointed out.