High school students peppered gubernatorial candidates Bill Haslam and Mike McWherter with questions on topics ranging from guns and obesity to money and mosques without any contrasting answers.
Republican nominee Haslam and Democratic nominee McWherter were introduced by Gov. Phil Bredesen at the “Student Town Hall,” which was organized by his wife, Andrea Conte. Bredesen called himself a “has been” at the outset and said the occasion was a “bittersweet moment” as he winds up his term in office.
The format called for high school students to take turns asking each candidate a question. The opposing candidate was not allowed to respond to the same question and there was little opportunity for presentation of contrasting views.
Perhaps the closest the candidates came to a disagreeing was in McWherter’s response to a question on his views, as a National Rifle Association member, on a situation where a student threatened a teacher with a gun.
“I did not join the NRA to run for governor,” said McWherter, a reference to Haslam joining the organization shortly before becoming a candidate – a statement that is part of McWherter’s stump speech on Second Amendment rights.
“There are appropriate places for guns and there are inappropriate places for guns,” said McWherter. “School is not an appropriate place for gun.” He voted to fully prosecute anyone violating a ban on guns in schools.
Haslam was asked by another student for his views on a law, passed by the Legislature over Bredesen’s veto, to allow “guns in bars.” The Knoxville mayor replied that “I do support the legislation” so long as it includes – as the new law does – a right for the owner of an establishment serving alcohol to ban firearms if he or she chooses.
McWherter, though not answering the question on Tuesday, has previously said he agrees with Bredesen’s comment in his veto message that “guns and alcohol don’t mix.”
Haslam on occasion stressed the need for “personal responsibility,” including when questioned about providing health care to Tennesseans and combating obesity.
“My thought is what we have to focus on in America in health care is personal responsibility,” said Haslam, while promising to “model a healthy lifestyle” in anti-obesity efforts.
Responding to a separate question on TennCare, Haslam said, “We’re going to have to shrink the size of state government and TennCare is going to have to be one of the places where that happens.”
Asked about supporting art classes in schools, Haslam said he believes such programs, subject to local approval, are a good thing but added, “We shouldn’t kid ourselves that w have very difficult cuts to make.”
Questioned about the controversy surrounding construction of a mosque in Murfreesboro, McWherter declared himself “a huge proponent of providing freedom of religion” while at the same time understanding objections of people concerned about disruptions in a “quiet neighborhool.”
As for an apparent case of arson last weekend at the Murfreesboro mosque, McWherter said “the people who committed those atrocities down there by burning the equipment should be caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
(Update: Haslam, asked about the mosque later, said, “No one should condone what’s just happened, OK. It’s just not acceptable in any way, and those folks should be found and appropriately punished.”
On the issue of whether the mosque should be built, TNReport reported, Haslam said it is a “local land-use issue. … As somebody who has been a mayor, I didn’t want the state or federal government telling us what to do… That’s where you follow constitutional guidelines and local land-use planning and you let the local land-use people decide.”)
also expanded on previous statements saying the federal government should be responsible for dealing with illegal immigration, not states, and that he would oppose Tennessee adopting an immigration law similar to that enacted in Arizona. On Tuesday he added that he would support such a move “if we’re forced into that” by the failure of Congress to resolve the problem.