Now/It's: An Interview with Former Mayor Karl Dean

As promised in the Now/It's 2017 year-end retrospective, we've made our brave foray into something other than music and arts (but no need to fret, there will be plenty throughout 2018) - politics. 2018 is a significant year regardless of wherever your views lie - the 2018 mid term elections serve as the first major electoral moment of the Trump administration, and Tennessee stands to serve as one of the most competitive political landscapes in the country. While there are multiple branches that will undergo electoral shake-ups, one such race that has a uniquely Nashville-connection is the state gubernatorial (governor) race. There are multiple Nashvillians in the race, but only one was the former mayor of Nashville AND the first Now/It's feature interview for 2018, Karl Dean. Our interview with Mr. Dean is the first of hopefully multiple interviews with gubernatorial candidates in 2018, to help inform the reader (you) of platforms and initiatives championed by candidates on both sides of the aisle. So, without further ado, read on for our conversation with the former mayor of Nashville and current gubernatorial candidate (Democrat) for the state of Tennessee, Karl Dean.

Now/It's met with Karl Dean at the Karl Dean for Governor offices in the Berry Hill neighborhood of Nashville.

Karl Dean - Hey, how are you?

N/I - Hello, Mr. Dean. Nice to meet you.

Karl Dean - The same.

N/I - I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.

Karl Dean - Happy to do it.

N/I - Great, let's get started. Ostensibly, this website is focused  on culture and the arts, but it’s important for people with such interests to look at civic enterprises and things that are happening in that nature. So this will likely be a little more general - I think I referenced that in the email. Admittedly, I don’t know how much the people that read the site keep up with things such as the gubernatorial race, as of right now. I figured we could talk about the nature of your campaign, and with things being in the early ages, so to speak, with people still declaring, and you declared pretty early….

Karl Dean - Yeah. Back in March [of 2017].

N/I - So maybe you could lay out what the purpose of [declaring early] is, or what [a candidate’s] approach is in declaring early.

Karl Dean - Well, in terms of this race, [current] Governor Haslam when he ran, probably declared earlier than I did - I don’t know if it was before or about the same time period Bill Lee, Randy Boyd, and a bunch of other people were already in the race.

N/I - Is your approach different than say, the mayoral race, which is non-partisan? So with this [race], you’re a democratic candidate with moderate stances….

Karl Dean - Right.

N/I - So is that approach different as far as, when you interact with people, are you able to speak more extemporaneously about things?

Karl Dean - I think when I ran for mayor, it’s obviously a non-partisan race, so it’s clear in that race that you’re appealing to democrats, independents, republicans. And when you run a city, you don’t do it in a partisan way, you’re just trying to move the city forward and help the people have better lives, and I think this race is basically is that. The big difference is you have party labels, and there are the good things that come with that and the bad things that come with that - people make assumptions about things - or they hopefully don’t just make a decision based upon what letter is behind your name. I think, in this race, I want to appeal to independents, republicans, and democrats.

N/I - Yes. Absolutely.

Karl Dean - And so, when I talk about issues, I think I talk about them very much in the same way that I did when I ran for mayor. So really the basis of my campaign is an idea that the people of Tennessee want a moderate governor who’s going to be pragmatic, common sense, kind of “get it done,” not an ideologue, someone that will focus on issues that will move the state forward and improve the lives of Tennesseans, and not have some other agenda. For me, it’s talking about education, economic opportunity, and health care. So, it doesn’t feel like a radical shift to me.

N/I - Sure. I would figure since both [positions] are executive offices on different levels, there’s some mode of overlay in terms of overall approach. With that in mind, do you feel like that gives you any sort of distinct - I don’t want to say “advantage” - but familiarity with the responsibilities, but on different scales?

Karl Dean - Yeah. I think if you look at our two past governors have been Phil Bredesen, Bill Haslam, both are former mayors. I think being a mayor certainly gives you executive experience where you have to run a large organization, and again are more interested in pragmatism, practicality, and actually achieving things [more] than anything else. So I think it trains for that.

N/I - So you mentioned education earlier - Tennessee as of 2016 is well below - the nation as a whole is rated as “mediocre,” but Tennessee within that group is not abysmal, but far below par. I’m just curious, what approaches and initiatives do you have in mind to improve that?

Karl Dean - When it comes to education, to me, it’s the top priority for the state. I think you have to recognize that under both Governor Bredesen and Governor Haslam, the state has made progress, and that we’re moving in a direction that if we stay true to it, and continue to keep education as our top priority, we will make progress, and our goal should be to be in the top half of the states. So for me, it’s a combination of things, I think we need to be a state that gives every student a chance to have a quality seat in a school where they’re getting the education they need to succeed.

N/I - Absolutely.

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Karl Dean - We need to be a state that produces more college graduates, but at the same time, there will be a lot of young people who choose not to go to college, and if that’s the choice they make, we need to have the vocational apprenticeships, and technical programs that will allow them to earn a good living. There’s certainly a demand for people who can perform a trade or have an expertise in an area that is important for them to do well, but also important for the state to progress economically. Workforce development, I think is a key issue for the state. So I think if you go back to looking at education, I’d say the key ingredient is teachers, we need to treat our teachers with respect, listen to their voices, and to pay them adequately. I think one of the challenges that the entire state feels, but is particularly felt in rural communities and small towns, is that their teachers can get lured away, or are attracted to other positions that pay better, and I think we need to address that.

N/I - And keeping with education, state equity of education, it’s once again very low, nationally. How do you improve upon that?

Karl Dean - One of the things I worried most about as mayor, and tried to work on hard was the fact that there are bigger challenges for students of poverty, and other students in terms of getting a quality education, I think there are disparities that exist in economic resources that are brought to bear in education around the state. I think rural communities have unique challenges, as do urban areas, which have very diverse populations and have unique issues that you find in cities. So what I would like to see us do is look at ways we can narrow those gaps and find ways that we can be supportive and find ways to make sure the state is still succeeding. To me, that’s the key.

N/I - And with you mentioning health care, that’s another realm in which the state is far below average….

Karl Dean - Well there are a lot of stats in terms of the way we eat, the need for more exercise, women's’ health, we’re 45th in that.

N/I - Right. So within healthcare, which of those indicators is an area of which you might - not rectify immediately - but more quickly identify solutions for?

Karl Dean - I think there are a couple things. The big issue right now is that people are talking about access to health care.

N/I - Very much so.

Karl Dean - And I think it was a big mistake by the legislature not to do the Medicaid expansion when we had the opportunity to. The state has lost in excess of $3.5 billion, and that money would have allowed people to have insurance to get access to healthcare, people with disabilities, people with low incomes, people with preexisting conditions, aging peoples. But what’s resulted is that Tennessee, compared to other states in the country, we get less Medicaid dollars. So you have people getting restrictions on their access to health care, and then we have our hospitals suffering from lack of reimbursement, or adequate reimbursement, where Tennessee is now second in the country, only behind Texas in the number of hospital closures. We’ve had nine, and they’ve been in mostly rural and small towns, that has a real effect on a community. It makes it harder to keep residents, to track residents, to track business, so I think that what we have to do as a state is get our fair share of Medicaid dollars. And it’s hard to say exactly where the Affordable Care Act will be, where health care will be in January 2019, but I think the next governor is going to have to be an advocate, and look forward to being an advocate for better healthcare for Tennessee.

N/I - Absolutely. Outside of healthcare and education, what are some infrastructure initiatives you’d like to see implemented?

Karl Dean - When I was mayor, I think I was very much a mayor who understood having a strong private sector that contributed to the creation of jobs, giving people opportunities to get ahead in life. Also, it’s good for the state to have a strong economy where we’re in a position where additional revenues being created to help pay for education, parks, and things of that nature.

N/I - Right. Keep things cycling through.

Karl Dean - So I think working on economic development, trying to bring in better jobs, trying to bring more prosperity to more parts of the state, that’s something that was one of my top priorities as mayor. We worked hard on it, and I’d love to get an opportunity to do that on a statewide level.

N/I - I’m sure. Finally, what can the arts community do to get involved? Are there any ways in mind to integrate the business and commerce related approaches into the arts community or vice versa?

Karl Dean - Going back to my experience as mayor, I think one of the things that we recognized and others certainly did, we made a real effort - for instance, the music industry - knew that we wanted them in Nashville, and that we wanted them in Nashville, and that we would do all that we could to help them. And you look at the state, music is such a key part of our state’s economy, whether it’s Memphis, Nashville, or East Tennessee with bluegrass and other forms of music….

N/I - Definitely.

Karl Dean - It plays such a huge role in Nashville’s recent tourism growth, and the strength of it’s economy. People come to Nashville because of music. That’s why they come. And I think that’s why people come to Memphis, largely, because of music.

N/I - Absolutely. Music, blues.

Karl Dean - And then the mountains and all that have strong music ties. So working to create an atmosphere in which the arts and music in particular can thrive, has a huge positive effect for the state. The way I always described it as mayor was that - anybody would die to have a city like Nashville, where all these creative people want to live. People who come here to go into the music industry, their capital is their ability to play a song, sing, write a song, produce a song, play an instrument. That is the creative people that make a city unique and strong, and the same thing applies to the entire state. So I would like to work as governor to sort of amplify some of the programs we did here in Nashville, whether it’s the music council, or the Music Makes Us program that I worked on in our public schools, I think Tennessee has such an advantage over other places because people know who we are, and we have an identity.

N/I - The brand is there.

Karl Dean - You say Tennessee and people think music. That’s a real asset.


This interview is not an endorsement.