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Dean makes his case for governor seat
Karl Dean 2.jpg
Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, the Democratic nominee for Tennessee governor, addresses the crowd Monday night in McMinnville during a political forum sponsored by Southern Standard and WCPI. Bill Lee, his Republican opponent, declined an invitation to participate.

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean says education is crucial to so many aspects of Tennessee life, from keeping people out of jail to helping the state recruit better employers.

Dean, now running for governor, made his comments Monday night in McMinnville during a political forum sponsored by Southern Standard and WCPI. His most formidable opponent, Bill Lee, was invited to the forum but did not attend.

Dean says there’s a correlation between education and public safety many people may not realize.

“Education helps us be a safer place,” said Dean. “I spent 15-16 years of my life as a public defender and I learned a lot about poverty, alcoholism, drug addiction and mental health. But the thing that really stuck with me the most was the value of education. My clients were leaving school, almost all my adult clients, probably 95 percent, were high school dropouts. My juvenile clients were leaving school when they were 12, 13, 14 years old and no one was doing anything about it.”

Dean also stressed the importance of Medicaid expansion, saying the state has lost over $4 billion in its failure to do so. Dean said Tennesseans are still paying the taxes for Medicaid expansion, but the money is instead going to other states.

“We’re paying federal tax dollars that are paying for the Medicaid expansion program and it’s happening everywhere but here,” said Dean. “We’re sending out money that’s subsidizing what’s going on in Massachusetts and New York and Minnesota and California. We need to be smart and if we can bring our federal tax dollars back to Tennessee to help Tennesseans, that’s what we need to do.”

The failure to expand Medicaid has led to the closure of 11 rural hospitals, Dean said. That includes McKenzie Regional Hospital which just recently closed in mid-September.

“What worries me more about the economic consequences of a hospital closure is that it’s going to make it really hard to attract people to live in McKenzie,” said Dean. “It’s going to make it really hard to keep the people living there. It’s going to be hard to attract business. Those are going to be real tough things to get over and the state has to be helpful with that.”

While the state, on balance, is thriving with historically low unemployment, Dean said the major cities are leading the way. However, smaller counties are not necessarily sharing in the economic feast.

“Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga and the surrounding counties are doing very well, but there are parts of rural Tennessee that are hurting,” said Dean. “Just for an example, there are 15 counties in West Tennessee that are losing population. If you’re a county that’s losing population, and you’re the mayor of that county you get it because it means your tax base is going away. It means your ability to do things for schools is going away and your means to do things like public safety and other things is going away and so you make cuts and those cuts make it even worse.”

Dean said rural broadband is one way to help and he suggested establishing a deadline for broadband to be made available to every county in the state.

Dean says his experience as Nashville mayor gives him unique qualifications to succeed as governor.

“What I think is good about my time as mayor is mayor is an executive position in government,” said Dean. “You’re doing public works, you’re doing libraries, parks and police and fire. You’re working on schools and hospitals and health. All those things come together in that office.”

As governor, Dean said he will be somebody who is in the middle, somebody who is going to strive to get things done for Tennessee. He said he can win the election if people get out and vote and noted Tennessee is among the worst states in the nation when it comes to voter participation.

“Whether you vote for me, or vote for my opponent, go vote,” said Dean. “But really vote for me.”