Editor’s note: This Q&A is one in a series that aims to allow voters to get to know candidates who are running in the Aug. 2 primary. Nooga.com sent questionnaires to candidates on the ballot. We will post responses as we get them.
The first female speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives Beth Harwell is running for governor, highlighting her government experience.
Harwell served as chair of the state Republican Party from 2001 to 2004, and during that time she was instrumental in the Republicans taking control of the state Senate for the first time in 140 years.
She’s won an array of awards, including the American Cancer Society Legislative Leadership Award and the Junior Leagues of Tennessee’s 2012 Legislator of the Year Award.
Harwell received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Lipscomb University and a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt.
She has been an assistant professor of political science at Belmont University.
She and her husband, Sam, have three children—Allie, Sam and Tucker.
Harwell on the ballot for the Aug. 2 primary election with five other Republicans—Diane Black, Randy Boyd, Bill Lee and Basil Marceaux Sr. and Kay White.
Democrats on the ballot are Karl Dean, Craig Fitzhugh and Mezianne Vale Payne.
Early voting continues through July 28 for the Aug. 2 primary.
What opportunities do you see in the state’s near future, and how do you plan to help seize them?
We must stay the course on keeping our fiscal house in order because this is important for every taxpayer in our state.
Tennessee is fortunate to be one of the best-managed states in the country, and we need to continue that record.
Because of good management, we can commit funding to our priorities, which is not something to be taken for granted. A good example of the benefit of sound fiscal management is the funding we have been able to commit to teachers and schools.
What is the most crucial challenge facing the state, and how you plan to address it?
I think our greatest challenge right now continues to be the opioid epidemic in our state.
We made progress on the issue this year: we committed funding for rehabilitation, changed dispensing laws to lessen the amount of drugs that can make it to the street, and enacted stronger penalties for those who are dealing these drugs, particularly fentanyl.
I do believe these laws will make an impact, but we must continue to be vigilant and assess what is working and what is not working, so we can build on the successful efforts.
What is your vision for your time in office, if elected?
Because of my experience in the legislature and as Speaker of the House, I would be able to hit the ground on day one. My two biggest priorities are keeping our fiscal house in order, and continuing our efforts to improve our K-12 education system.
What should Chattanooga residents know about you and do you have any thoughts about how the Scenic City would benefit from your leadership?
We have a beautiful state from Mountain City to Memphis, and everywhere in between.
Chattanooga is a particularly beautiful part of the state, and as governor, I want to do what we can as a state to protect natural resources and beauty.
One of my favorite things to do in my free time, and with my family, is to explore the outdoors by walking, hiking, and biking. I want to preserve that spirit in Chattanooga because it’s one of the things that makes our state special.
What specific ideas do you have to make the state and/or Chattanooga a better place to live for everyone, including minority groups and the disadvantaged?
Ensuring every child has access to a great education is a key to success.
We have also increased access to postsecondary institutions like community college and technological schools because we know obtaining a degree or certificate creates more opportunities for Tennesseans. A focus on education benefits everyone in the state.
What measures, if any, would you take to support small business owners and entrepreneurs?
I want to focus on those Tennessee small businesses—a majority of Tennesseans are employed by a small business.
What I hear from small business owners is that they want us to create an environment of less regulation and lower taxes so they can thrive, and then get out of the way.
I often hear from small business owners that they need government to be as unobtrusive as possible.
I want to see more homegrown businesses, so I will listen to small business owners and work with them to create more opportunity.
How do you believe a leader should handle people they don’t get along or agree with?
I have served as Speaker of the House for eight years.
In this position, if you can’t find ways to work together and find a solution, you won’t be speaker very long.
I have a long track record of bringing people to the table and finding a path forward on the challenges that face our state. This is a vitally important skill for any governor.
What values do you believe should drive the governor’s administration?
Personally, I read my Bible every day, and my faith guides my decisions.
What do you want the public to know about your background or personal life if anything?
As I’ve said, I have the experience to lead this state.
I’ve served for the last eight years as Speaker of the House, and we have accomplished some great things for Tennessee.
Our unemployment is below the national average, we are the lowest debt state in the country, we’ve cut taxes, our education system is improving, we’ve banned sanctuary cities, we took a good first step with legislation to stop the opioid epidemic, and we passed juvenile justice reform. I can build on these successes.