Transcript: State senate candidate Gardenhire says he’s free marketer

Todd Gardenhire, right, a GOP state senate candidate, answers questions from newspaper reporter Chris Carroll, left. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey listens.

State senate candidate Todd Gardenhire suggests the difference between himself and his rival may be more in the direction of their diverse birthdates than their ideas.

Mr. Gardenhire is in his 60s. His rival, Andrae McCary, a Democrat, a father of five, a former theology student and a former host of WGOW “Live and Local” talk show, is in his 30s.

I’m working on a separate brief touching on the thinking behind my questions, which Mr. Gardenhire was kind enough to field after lunch today at a fundraiser for him at Mountain City Club in Chattanooga.

David Tulis. Can you give an in idea of how you will try to overcome the indifference to politics among Christians, conservatives — among the populace in general? Many people seem to not be voting anymore. The nonvoter is the majority in almost every election. Tell us about your [candidacy] as opposed to those people who think it doesn’t matter who is elected.

Mr. Gardenhire. Well my first effort has been to go after the people I know vote, and have voted in the past — identify them, identify my supporters, or potentially my supporters, remind them that this election was not over in August, that this election is in November. The difficulty I face is almost everybody knows the presidential race; everybody’s got their mind made up on that, I don’t care what the polls show. There’s no undecideds in that race, in my opinion. And they’ll turn out. You have a senate race that’s not going to be very contested, and you have a congressional race that’s not very contested. Then you have me, the fourth one down.

And a lot of people think my race is over, and that it was over in August. And so there is a normal 10 percent dropoff on the top of the ticket anyway. So I’ve got to find not only mine, but I’ve got to search the undecideds, or the people that hadn’t voted in a primary at one time or another lately, identify those people who could potentially be mine and make sure they turn out to vote.

And how do I do that? I’ve got to do that by personal contact *** door to door. We’ve targeted those people to do that.

Q. How are you different from Andrae in your view of the world and your view of your calling as an elected official?

Mr. Gardenhire. I hate to use an old phrase that was used in 1984 in a debate between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale. But, his youth. I mean, he’s 33 years old; I’m 64 years old. I’ve got 30 years more of life experiences. I’ve got 30 years more of doing the right thing, making mistakes, overcoming my mistakes — learning by my mistakes. I’ve got 30 years more of maturity that will help me get along with people. That’s the key. When you get to Nashville, you have to get along with people. I look back on my time when I was 25, 35 years old, and I was a bomb thrower and I was very cocky and whatever. And I look back with a little bit of embarrassment how I did things. But that’s one of things you learn in life. You learn to overcome those things. And that’s the big difference. I’ve got the maturity. I’ve got the experience, and I’ve got the know-how.

Q. Well, understood that’s the main difference. But what would be a secondary difference in the world of ideas and perspective, and the calling of government, and your place in that profession?

Mr. Gardenhire. As I said awhile ago when I was talking, I’m not using this as a resume builder. I’m not using this to get another job or as a stepping stone. I’m not saying he is. But, you know, this is it for Todd Gardenhire. This is what I’m going to be doing. And I hopefully will be doing it four years, maybe eight years, whatever the voters decide. And I’m going to apply myself, not try to to feather my nest, or raise my visibility or anything, but when you have that sort of attitude toward elected office, you can get a lot of things done because you don’t care who gets the credit. And I’ve shown all through my later life that I don’t care who gets the credit. Let’s just get something done. and that’s what I think gives me the edge on anybody running is that I’m willing to step back, get the things going, and if somebody else needs the credit, that’s fine. Just get the job done, that’s wonderful.

Q. How are you a defender of the free market?

Mr. Gardenhire. I absolutely love the free market. You know, having been involved with Reagan’s campaign for thee terms, Jack Kemp’s campaign, which was probably the premier free market person — and Steve Forbes, when he ran for president. But the kind of people I’ve supported in the past and put my money on, put my time and effort on — are all Mr. Free Enterprise-type individuals. I didn’t do that to get a job in Washington, I didn’t do that for any other reason. But I believed in their ideas. I strongly believe in supply-side economics, and not governmental economics or anything else, or Keynesian theories. So I am a big defender, a big proponent of the free market and the things that go with it.

Q. So, how does that affect your hands on the levers of government, which of course is power and coercion? How will your hand touch those levers or maneuver those levers in Nashville?

Mr. Gardenire. You know, I’ve never had that question asked before. For one thing, my personal motives are not to try to worry about pushing the right levers, or using it for a bad way. If the laws are on the books, the programs already done, then you have to make as much use of those programs as possible. You can’t just turn your eye and say, well, I don’t like that program so therefore I’m not going to do anything to participate in it. I’ve got to represent my district the best I can to the best of my ability for the benefit of the district. It almost gets down to the argument of, Are you a statesman or are you a legislator, or representative? You have to kind of blend those two. So pulling the levers or pushing the parts of power that you might have, really come down to the core of my beliefs on what I want to try to get done.

Q. And what is that?

Apprenticeship idea — a revived Kirkman?

Mr. Gardenhire. I want to help this district be the best it can. I want to make sure that we have some kind of technical school here in Chattanooga and in Bradley County, in Cleveland (it can be done in both places) that’s like the old Kirkman, where these kids can learn a trade and get a career, and be proud of what they’ve got, and not be a stigma, and not just, “OK, I’ve got a college degree but I can’t get a job.”

Q. Is that the idea of apprenticeships, and students in the public school could get apprenticeships on track for the trades?

Mr. Gardenhire. I’m trying to get a meeting together with some people. This is not Todd Gardenhire’s idea. I’m really borrowing ideas from leaders of the past that’s been promoting this and have run into roadblocks of one way or another. You know, Dalton Roberts, Harold Coker were big proponents of something like this. But their time ran out, and so did the people they were dealing with. I want to pick up what they were talking about and promote it.