The notion of carrying water for Gov. Bill Haslam has come up for discussion in a Sevier County campaign for a state House seat this summer and perhaps serves to illustrate the differences between candidates Richard Montgomery and Dale Carr.
“Mr. Montgomery said, ‘I’ve carried the governor’s water and I’d be happy to carry it all the way to the White House,” says Carr, 57, an auctioneer and Sevierville alderman.
“If I’m elected, I’m not going to be one to carry anybody’s water,” Carr said. “I don’t want to make the governor mad in any case, but sometimes in Sevier County we don’t like people telling us what to do.”
Yes, says Montgomery, he has made comments on gubernatorial water-bearing while facing his first Republican primary challenge since he won the seat by defeating an incumbent lawmaker 14 years ago.
“As long as Gov. Haslam wants to cut $100 million out of taxes on people, cut a billion dollars out of the state budget and shrink government … I’ll carry that water all the way to the White House if he wants me to,” said Montgomery, 65, who is retired from a professional career involving Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Haslam, while studiously avoiding involvement in some Republican legislative primaries, has warmly endorsed Montgomery, chairman of the House Education Committee, by co-hosting a fundraiser — the first of the campaign season for a GOP incumbent — and posing for pictures with the candidate while holding one of his campaign signs. House Republican leaders have also uniformly backed him.
“I believe I am an effective legislator with the trust and respect of my peers down there (in the Legislature),” said Montgomery. “It takes years to develop all that. Actions speak louder than words … When they know you’re honest and mean what you say, you can build on that.”
But Carr says Sevier County has been “kind of neglected” by the powers-that-be in state government on matters ranging from road improvements to education funding. The incumbent, he said, has “lost touch with the people” he represents.
“If you’ve been down there (in Nashville) a while, you get complacent. You don’t look for new avenues,” said Carr, adding that he will end his auctioneer work and devote full time to legislating if elected. “My ideal is not to go down there and start writing bills. My main goal would be to be an advocate for Sevier County.”
Both men profess unhappiness that Sevier County gets less money per pupil from the state in education funding than any other county in the state under the present Basic Education Program (BEP) formula. Both are uncertain, however, on how the complex BEP formula should be changed.
Montgomery says that, as chairman of a key committee dealing with education, he is best positioned to find a solution and get it implemented; that would start with simplifying the BEP formula. Carr says Montgomery has not done so in the past and he would provide a fresh perspective.
Montgomery says he is in tune with regular people and “getting out and meeting people and talking with them” is a positive aspect of the campaign.
Carr says he already knows many people personally because of various community endeavors, including serving as auctioneer at various church and charity auctions and as an alderman.
Local issues are apparently a factor in the campaign as well. At a debate last week, Carr faced questions on his involvement in seeking a liquor-by-the-drink referendum in Sevierville and city financing of an economic development project that has not gone well. Montgomery, in turn, was questioned about legislation that set up a new vote on liquor-by-the-drink in Pigeon Forge.
On most state-level issues, the two men in separate interviews generally voiced the same or similar views.
An exception was the so-called “don’t say gay” bill that would prohibit classroom discussion of homosexuality in grades kindergarten through eight. The bill passed the Senate last legislative session, but failed in the House.
Montgomery voted against it in committee. Carr said he would have voted yes.
The incumbent said he felt the bill was unnecessary after education officials told his committee that there’s no such teaching permitted now under state law and that passage could “open a can of worms” with unintended consequences.
The most recent financial disclosures filed by the candidates, covering the three months ending March 31, show Montgomery has a substantial monetary advantage — though Carr actually outspent him in the first quarter. Montgomery had a cash-on-hand balance of $67,519. Carr’s balance was $737.
But Carr spent $12,456 in the first quarter compared to $4,992 for Montgomery. New campaign financial disclosures must be filed later this month. Both men have held fundraising events recently that are not included in the first-quarter reports, including the Haslam-hosted fundraiser for Montgomery.
The election is Aug. 2. With no Democrat running in November House District 12, the winner of the GOP primary is assure of election.