Reagan Day Dinner brings out candidates

On November 7, 2009, in News 2009, by Mark Norris November 7, 2009 Around 300 Republicans, from 10 West Tennessee counties, were in Dyersburg on Thursday, Oct. 29, for the annual Reagan Day Dinner. Although the guests were there to honor the late president, the spotlight was on the gubernatorial and congressional primary candidates that were in attendance. The top Republican primary candidates vying […]
November 7, 2009

Around 300 Republicans, from 10 West Tennessee counties, were in Dyersburg on Thursday, Oct. 29, for the annual Reagan Day Dinner. Although the guests were there to honor the late president, the spotlight was on the gubernatorial and congressional primary candidates that were in attendance.

The top Republican primary candidates vying for the office of governor and the 8th Congressional District seat were speakers at the event, which was sponsored by both the Dyer County and Lauderdale County Republican parties.

The gubernatorial candidates were Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Memphis/Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, Joe Kirkpatrick, and representing Congressman Zach Wamp was Maj. Gen. Dan Wood.

The congressional candidates were Stephen Fincher, David Rice and Donn Janes.

In the audience were local elected officials and area residents. Also in attendance was Col. James Harding, the 19th-most decorated person in American military history.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris spoke briefly, saying for the first time in the history of Tennessee there were three constitutional officers that are Republicans. Those positions are secretary of state, treasurer, and comptroller.

“It’s because of your efforts, you helped put me there, you helped put all of us there,” said Norris. “The tide continues to rise.”

Norris told the crowd the best was yet to come from the Republicans.

“With your help, you’ve haven’t seen anything yet,” said Norris.

The gubernatorial candidates were the first to address the audience.


First to the podium, was Wood speaking on behalf of Wamp who was unable to attend the event because he was in Washington, D.C. Wood is a Vietnam veteran and former Tennessee Adjutant General.

He said Wamp has three points which make up the foundation of his campaign: education, Wamp’s experience in the recruiting of industry to the state and keeping taxes low.

* On Education

“Bottom line is if we have better schools, we have better education,” said Wood. “Our young men and women have a chance to financially improve their situation. If they improve their situation, they make more money, they spend more money and in essence that helps the entire state.”

* On recruiting industry

“We can’t sit back and wait on industry to come to us,” said Wood. “We must take initiative. We must put committees together on whatever we need to do. The governor must get involved and go out and push for industry to come to our state.”

* On taxes

“It’s an asset to a state not to have an income tax, more so than it is to have an income tax,” said Wood.

He also said Wamp has made a pledge to never vote for a state income tax.

He closed by saying Wamp was fighting for them in Washington and was planning a tour of West Tennessee over the Thanksgiving holiday.


Next at the podium was the lively Kirkpatrick of Mount Juliet, Tenn., who is a father of triplets and describes himself as a constitutional Republican.
He started off his speech by saying he is running for governor because “they” lie.

“They lie, they lie. You lie Barack Obama. You lie,” said Kirkpatrick, imitating U.S. Congressman Joe Wilson. “I may not be Joe Wilson, but I am Joe from Wilson County and I’m going to set the record straight.”

* On the Constitution

“The Constitution matters, every single line of it. And our constitutional republic is in jeopardy and if you think that you can give up any one part of the bill of rights or any other part, you’re wrong,” said Kirkpatrick.

He made mention of Reagan’s 1964 speech in which he spoke on behalf of presidential candidate Barry Goldwater saying it is a time for choosing.

He quoted Reagan saying, “What a shame it would be for history to show that the people who had the most to lose did the least to save their country”.

Kirkpatrick said as governor he would like to see Tennessee transcend the age of political correctness for constitutional correctness.

* The power of veto

Kirkpatrick noted Winfield Dunn’s election to the position of Tennessee governor. He said after Dunn’s election the Democrats held a constitutional convention and rewrote the constitution and stripped the governorship of its power of veto.

“If I was governor I can stand up here and say I’m going to veto everything that comes across my desk,” said Kirkpatrick. “But you know what? All it takes is a simple majority to override the governor’s veto.”

* The Constitution

“In the ’50s we had the longest-standing constitution in the world,” said Kirkpatrick. “It went from 1796 until the 1950s. Now, you know, it didn’t need to be amended to get rid of Jim Crowe laws. I mean and who did that? Everett Dirksen. Barry Goldwater. Martin Luther King.”

* Civil rights

“Martin Luther King didn’t catch a bullet because he was black,” said Kirkpatrick. “He caught a bullet because he was a black Republican. Because he was pro-life and pro-family. Civil rights matter, everyone’s do. Everyone’s do.”

* Principles and values

“I know that if we get back to the founding principals of this country, God will win.

“The only way that this country is going to be saved … is by the Republican Party becoming the governing coalition, (which) is going to have to be the Christian right meeting with the Libertarian on common values,” said Kirkpatrick. “Because we as Christians now realize what it’s like to have our civil liberties threatened each and every day.”

In closing, Kirkpatrick said he would follow the law of the Constitution.

“No amendment to the Constitution is any more important than the other and I will stand by those words,” said Kirkpatrick, “I will ask what does the Constitution say and what would Reagan do?”

Kirkpatrick jokingly said Gibbons would make a great first elected statewide attorney general and Ramsey would make a suitable replacement for him when he becomes Sarah Palin’s vice president.


Radio personality Mike Slater was the emcee of the event and got a kick out of District Attorney Phil Bivens’ name being similar to Bill Gibbons. Bivens introduced Gibbons as a friend he has known since 1994. He said he knows of Gibbons’ abilities and shares the same values as he does and is sure those are the same ones of the audience.

Gibbons said he and the other candidates have been to 30 or 40 similar events, but this was one of the largest crowds they had seen.

“It’s because of folks like you in this room that we will elect a Republican governor next year,” said Gibbons.

He started off by talking about the hardships he faced as a child. His family lost his farm when he was 4 years old when his father walked out on them. And his mother had to sell items to keep food on the table.

“It was a very tough time and frankly I felt the poverty that we were in,” said Gibbons.

He said he started skipping school at an early age because he didn’t see much hope for the future.

He gave his fourth-grade teacher credit for getting him back on the right track.

“She kept me after school one day and convinced me within about 20 minutes, that my ticket to a better future was to come to school and work hard,” said Gibbons. “And if I did that I could do anything I wanted to do with my life.”

After that talk, Gibbons did not skip school anymore. He said the man that bought the family’s farm, his mother and a Presbyterian minister were some of the most influential figures in his life.

“I shared that background with you because we’re all products of our own experiences and our own backgrounds, I know I am,” said Gibbons. “And my growing-up years and my experiences do affect how I face challenges and how I approach problems and opportunities.”

Gibbons said he was running for governor because Tennessee has some big problems and he wants to go to work every day to work on those challenges. He went on to talk about the high unemployment rates in the state and wages being lower than they were in years past.

* On jobs

“One thing the next governor’s got to do is position Tennessee for the good jobs of the future,” said Gibbons. “To create a climate so that we can have more good-paying jobs in our state.”

* On taxes

He said Tennessee has got to keep taxes low and referenced the situation California and New Jersey were in because of high taxes.

“If the general assembly passes an income tax I will veto it the minute it hits my desk,” said Gibbons. “I promise you that.”

* On spending

He said Tennessee needed to make sure it is running a lean and efficient state government and cut out wasteful spending. Also, Tennessee must set clear priorities in what government should do. He said the No. 1 priority should be providing the basic infrastructure for the economic growth Tennessee wants, such as roads and bridges, water lines, sewer lines and industrial sites.

* On projects

Completing the river port in Lake County, I-69 and the mega-site in Haywood County were all projects he would make top priority.

* On education

He went on to talk about the need to improve education.

“I’ll be a governor who encourages more of our best and brighter to become teachers and then rewards good teachers and makes it easier to get rid of the teachers who aren’t that good,” said Gibbons. “I’ll make it easier for retirees to choose teaching as a second career if they would like to do that.”

* On crime

Gibbons said Tennessee has been second in the nation in the violent crime rate for three years in a row.

“The problem is law enforcement doesn’t have enough tools in the tool box,” said Gibbons. “It’s as though we have a wrench and a screwdriver and not a hammer. As governor I will give law enforcement the hammer that it needs.”

He said he would specifically change the sentencing laws, so repeat and serious offenders are in prison where they belong.

“We need to make sure those violent offenders are taken out of our neighborhoods.”

He closed by saying as governor he would take on challenges, which were important to the entire state such as good jobs, good schools and safe communities.

“We have got to make progress on those big challenges,” said Gibbons. “And I’m going to work every day as governor to make sure we do make progress on those challenges.”


Next, Haslam was introduced by a childhood friend of his, Missy Smithfield, saying he had 25 years in executive experience in private business and public service. She said he created over 13,000 new jobs in his business ventures. Smithfield also stated Haslam is pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, a lifetime member of the NRA and adamantly opposes to any state income tax.

* On free enterprise

Haslam addressed the crowd saying he believes in the free-enterprise system.

“Right now, we have an administration, as far as I can tell we don’t have anybody that’s run as much as a lemonade stand. I think you see what happens when people don’t put a high value on free enterprise. The market system, while we might have had our struggles, I’ll take over any alternative.”

* On values

Haslam then said he believes in the sanctity of life and marriage.

“There’s no greater gift we can give children than a mother and father who love each other,” said Haslam.

He also said he believes in Second Amendment rights (the right to keep and bear arms).

Haslam also said the next governor would face the hardest job of any governor in recent memory and would face two major challenges: job shortage and a budget that fell $1.3 million dollars short.

* On bringing jobs to Tennessee

He spoke about being a businessman with personal experience in marketing the state of Tennessee as a potential location for businesses.

“I do think it’s important to have somebody that can look across the table to a CEO who’s considering bringing their company to Tennessee and say ‘let me tell you from personal experience why this is a great place to be,'” said Haslam.

He then mentioned Knoxville’s record for being one of the top 10 cities in the country for job creation and job retention for three years straight.

He also said that selling Tennessee is easy because there is no state income tax, it is a right-to-work state, it has a great geographic location, a great work ethic and a great quality of life.

“We have something great to sell and I know we can sell Tennessee,” said Haslam.

* On education

However, he said he did have work to do with Tennessee being number 42 in the nation in education.

Haslam said Tennessee needed to do five things in the area of education: 1. Raise the standards. 2. Give local principals more training and more authority. 3. Needed a specific strategy for great teachers. 4. Use data. 5. Expand and give parents more choices such as charter schools and home schooling.

* On the budget

As for the budget, Haslam referred to it as the 1,000-pound gorilla waiting in the room. He said the next governor would not have the federal stimulus money or savings account to help with the budget.

“Our next governor needs to know how to manage in tough times,” said Haslam. “Having been 20-plus years in business I know how to make those hard calls.”

He closed by saying he wasn’t making a lot of promises, but he would promise he would be a faithful steward of Tennesseans’ tax dollars, he would use all of his energy and experience to bring jobs to Tennessee, there would be reform in schools and he would fight to hold on to the values that made the United States great.”


Ramsey first said Norris was doing a fantastic job and mentioned the fact that on Jan 9, 2007, 12:36 p.m. he was elected as Tennessee’s first Republican lieutenant governor in 140 years. Ramsey also made note that Bill Sanderson would be in the state legislature next year. Sanderson ran against Rep. Judy Barker last year for the seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Phillip Pinion.

Ramsey told of his grandfather once telling him that God gave him two ears and one mouth for a reason.

“Your supposed to be listening twice as much as you talk,” said Ramsey. “As I travel the state that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.”

Ramsey said people are concerned about the direction of the economy. He told the story about working for a surveyor in Boone Creek, Tenn. and ultimately going to work for himself.

“I’m a small businessman, I get this, I still practice it every day,” said Ramsey. “I’d like to think my philosophy in state government over the last several years has reflected that fact. I’ve protected us to be a right-to-work state. I’ve protected us being a low-tax state.”

Ramsey said he was the only person at the table that had voted against the state income tax.

“I’ve got blood on the floor on that issue,” said Ramsey. “And with Ron Ramsey (as) governor there will not be a state income tax in the state of Tennessee, period.”

He also said the reason Tennessee was making gains was because Republicans were acting like Republicans.

* On education

“There’s nothing better than competition,” said Ramsey. “If I was the only surveyor and only auctioneer in Northeast Tennessee I could provide a lousy service and charge whatever I wanted to for it. That’s exactly what’s happening in some public schools in Tennessee. It’s a monopoly that needs to be broken.”

Ramsey said he was a huge advocate for charter schools and home schooling. He said when parents have their children trapped in failing schools, they deserve the right to send them somewhere else.

He also said he would put home-school test scores against any others in the state.

“When parents take the time to educate kids they will do a good job every time,” said Ramsey.

* On values

Ramsey said he co-sponsored the bill that that made a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as one man and one woman.

“I not only talk the talk, but I walk the walk,” said Ramsey.

* On gun control

Ramsey said he was an advocate of Second Amendment rights and in 1997 as a freshman in the state senate he carried the bill to allow people to have handgun carry permits.

“We now have 250,000 law-abiding citizens in the state of Tennessee that have handgun carry permits, including me, and we have had basically zero problems with them,” said Ramsey.

* On birth control

Ramsey said he is pro-life and this year he possibly had one of his proudest moments while working with Norris and others in the state legislature. He said they found out that Planned Parenthood was getting over $200,000 out of the state budget. Ramsey said he along with a Republican-led state Senate took the money out of the budget and now they receive zero state dollars.

* On the federal government

“Ladies and gentlemen, they’re spending too much, they’re borrowing too much,” said Ramsey.

He said he wants to band with other Republican governors across the United States to tell the federal government that enough is enough.

“We don’t want your money, we don’t want your help, we can handle it ourself,” said Ramsey.

Ramsey closed by saying he would be ready to lead on day one.

“Ron is ready,” said Ramsey. “It’s that simple. On day one I can walk in and be ready to go. I’ve been there for 17 years. I don’t need on-the-job training. I don’t need training wheels. I am ready to go on day one. That’s exactly what we’re going to need.”

Next, it was time for the congressional primary candidates to speak.


Fincher, who is a farmer from Frog Jump, Tenn., started off by saying that he was there because Congressman John Tanner does not represent the value of the 8th District.

Fincher said he entered the congressional race after having a discussion with a friend about how President Obama and Democrats in Congress were leading the country in the wrong direction. He then met with former state Rep. Jimmy Wallace, and former Tennessee Republican Chairman Tommy Hopper, to talk about running for office. After the meeting, Fincher said he prayed on the matter and was finally convinced after his wife and father told him he should enter into the race.

Fincher said Hopper told him it would take $2 million to defeat Tanner. He told Hopper he could raise $1 million dollars and in 10 weeks he has already raised $400,000.

“The reason John Tanner needs to come home is because he has left us a long time ago,” said Fincher.

He said Tanner voted for the largest tax increase in U.S. history and both bailouts. He also said Tanner votes 84 percent of the time for the Service Employees International Union, which he said is the right arm of ACORN.

“He votes with Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank, 94 percent of the time,” said Fincher. “He does not represent the values of this district anymore.”

Fincher said he was pro-life and a conservative first and a Republican second.

“There are things in the Republican Party I don’t agree with sometimes,” said Fincher. “I’m pro-life, I’m pro-gun, I’m anti-tax, I’m for small government. Folks, we’ve got to get back to common sense and integrity in this country.”

He said something is going on in America when the country is trillions of dollars in debt, unemployment is at 10 percent and the president reads from the Qur’an and says the United States is not a Christian nation. He then said he possesses the qualities he believed that Washington is lacking.

“What we need in Washington is more integrity and more common sense, and I have both,” said Fincher. “When you spend more money than you make, you’ll go bankrupt. You ensure peace through strength. You cannot fix a school system until you fix the family. A traditional marriage is a man and a woman, that’s what we have to believe in, folks.”

He went on to say that it was Congress that needed to be changed and not America.

“There is nothing wrong with this country,” said Fincher. “And I’m going to give everything I have to see that John Tanner comes home.”

Fincher asked the audience what could a farmer from Frog Jump do, that has never been in politics.

He referenced the British government being defeated by the patriots that founded the United States.

“We can take our government back,” said Fincher. “It’s ours, it’s not theirs.”


Next, David Rice, a businessman and flight instructor from Clarksville, Tenn., opened up his speech by quoting John Adams.

“In my many years I have come to the realization that one worthless man is a shame, two is a law firm and three or more is a congress,” said Rice.

He added that Congress’ irresponsible legislation was responsible for the country’s problems.

“I’m fed up,” said Rice. “How about you?”

Rice went on to say that the American tradition is self-reliance.

“We do not believe that responsible people should be accountable for the irresponsible acts of others,” said Rice. “We do not believe that successful people should be punished. However, John Tanner and his cronies vote as if they believe otherwise.”

Rice said Tanner voted for the bank bailout, the automobile bailout, the stimulus and voted to bring cap and trade to the House floor.

“With these actions, John Tanner and his colleagues absolutely ruined the American reputation,” said Rice. “They squandered the reserve currency status of the American dollar in both domestic and international financial markets. And simultaneously, they created for untold generations of Americans, a lifetime of indebtedness.

“As your congressman I will represent the values we share,” said Rice.

Rice said he believed that America is a Christian nation; the Constitution; the Second Amendment; that life begins at conception and that American armed forces should never be under the United Nations’ or foreign command.

“If we want to keep the republic that was given to us, we cannot reject the values that made America the greatest country in the history of the world,” said Rice. “We cannot adopt socialism, which has failed in every country hat has ever tried it. What we can do is send new voices to Congress. New voices that represent our values and those of our founding fathers. New voices that will restore trust in Washington. I will, and that is why I’m running for Congress.”


The final speaker of the night was Janes of Brighton, Tenn. He told the story of the life lessons he learned from his mother while he was growing up. Those lessons were the value of a dollar, how to live within your means and a strong work ethic.

Janes joined the Navy and that is where he met his wife. He said the most important thing in his life was family.

“This country’s been plagued with so many issues over the years that have gone unresolved for so long like Medicare, Social Security, our national debt, the list goes on and on,” said Janes. “But, it’s our leaders in Congress that no longer represent our interest.”

He said Tanner was part of the problem and not part of the solution.

Janes added that as congressman he would focus on the economy, jobs and small businesses so everyone could find a job and live the American dream.

He then noted the high unemployment rates of Dyer and Lauderdale counties.

Janes said he would make several promises if he were elected congressman. First, he would not forget whom he works for. Second, he said he would not vote to take away a person’s freedoms. And finally, he said he would not become a career politician.

“The first piece of legislation I will introduce will be a bill to impose term limits on the United States Congress,” said Janes.
He closed by saying the audience had a decision to make.

“I challenge you to make a choice, for yourselves and for future generations. To have true leadership and true representation again,” said Janes.

At the end of the evening Sanderson and his wife, Valerie, performed an original piece of music that poked fun at some of the gubernatorial candidates.

Reagan Day Dinner organizer and Dyer County Republican Party President Jewel Horner said the night’s event went over well.

“It was a wonderful success and I’m very pleased with it,” said Horner.

Horner said the all of the candidates were capable of performing their duties if elected.

“Every one of them is qualified to hold the office they are running for and I think they did a good job,” said Horner.

Some of the audience participated in a straw poll to see whom they would vote for. In the end, Haslam and Fincher were the top winners in the unofficial poll.

Straw poll results:

* Governor:

Haslam – 95 votes

Gibbons – 60 votes

Ramsey – 38 votes

Wamp – 3 votes;

Kirkpatrick – 2 votes

* Congressman:

Fincher – 139

Janes – 20

Rice – 19