Gubernatorial Dialectics

Tonight I had the great privilege of attending the first ever televised Tennessee Gubernatorial debate to be held outside a metropolitan area, as Bill Haslam and Mike McWherter squared off in the Wattenbarger Auditorium in Tennessee Tech’s Bryan Fine Arts Building — my old stomping ground!

I don’t really have much to report about the debate itself (I just wanted an excuse to use the word “gubernatorial” a few times). If you’re curious about the substance of the debate, you can read through the Tennessean’s Liveblog. I’m sure there will be much more written about it tomorrow.

Mostly I just wanted to reflect quickly on the entire experience. Debate is my favorite part of the political process. I want to hear someone be able to concisely but clearly make a case, and defend it against criticism. Anybody can make a stump speech (Okay, almost anybody). Not everybody can communicate the logic behind their positions.

As far as political debates go, this is one of the best moderated that I’ve seen. It was very fast paced, and both candidates were candid with the audience and respectful of each other. Neither resorted much to mud-slinging or the type of logical fallacies typical of many political debates (ad hominem attacks, straw men, etc).

I went into the debate as an undecided voter, though mainly because I knew next to nothing about Mike McWherter. I’m a pretty independent voter, and though I tend to rarely vote Democrat, I at least wanted to give him a fair shake. I thought both candidates presented their arguments well, though I believe Haslam was the clear winner (and according to the poll at NewsChannel5.com, so do the vast majority of others). Early on I felt McWherter was leading — Haslam seemed nervous to me — but the Republican came on strong at the end during the portion of the debate in which the candidates questioned one another (easily the best part of the night). I don’t think McWherter chose his questions well, and Haslam let him have it. I would also have preferred to see the Democrat distinguish himself a little more rather than ride the coattails of our current Governor.

The scope of this debate was relatively narrow, focusing primarily on the economy, education, and the environment. There were a few areas where they are in obvious disagreement, but I was surprised at how similar they are in many of the things that are most important to me. I disagree with them both on most everything related to education, which is to be expected… nobody who shares my beliefs about education is going to get elected Governor anytime soon! They said a lot of the same things about balancing agriculture and rural development with preserving our state’s natural beauty (and the tourism dollars that come with it). Ditto the separation of powers between state and local governments (specifically with regard to the issues with the Murfreesboro Islamic Center).

Where they differed most was on the budget. Here is where I feel Haslam excelled most; not because I’m more likely to agree with his fiscal policies (which I am) but because he actually addressed specific budgetary issues. McWherter seemed to dodge some specific questions a little bit. The closest he came to answering how he’ll pay for all the things he wants the state to provide was saying that if we create enough jobs (his entire platform is based on job creation) we’ll have the revenue to pay for it all.

Because of the nature (and sponsors) of this particular event, I still haven’t heard from both candidates on the issues that matter most to me, so technically I’m probably still undecided. However, If I had to vote just based on what I heard tonight (and if my choice were limited to the two candidates who participated in tonight’s debate), it would be Haslam.

I look forward to another election season, and to learning more and more about the potential leaders of our local, state, and national government.

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