Monday, July 26, 2010

Tennesseans say economy, jobs are state's top problem

Public spending is secondary concern

By Nate Rau • THE TENNESSEAN • July 26, 2010

Jobs and the economy proved to be the most important issue facing Tennessee today, with state spending ranking a distant second, according to a new poll by The Tennessean and other media outlets in the state.

According to the poll of 625 registered Tennessee voters, 54 percent of those surveyed said their top issue was the economy and jobs. Government spending came in second, with 22 percent naming it the most important issue facing the state today.

As the economy sank and unemployment rose the past two years, job applications have been streaming into Hendersonville-based Stokes Production Services Inc., according to company co-owner Kim Stokes, a respondent to the poll.

The video production company puts more than 150 freelancers to work every year, but Stokes said there hasn't been enough work for the increasing number of applicants

Unemployment in Tennessee stood at 10.1 percent through June, down from 10.9 percent a year ago at this time, according to the state Department of Labor.

"I have freelancers calling me constantly because they don't have anything going on," Stokes said. "Everywhere I look, people don't have work — people like some of my friends who are older and have been let go. They've never been without work before in their lives."

Stokes is one of a majority of Tennesseans who found the economy to be the issue of most concern facing the state.

Like Stokes, Lisa Chism is a Middle Tennessee small-business owner. Chism and her husband own Tradewind Industries, which manufactures acrylic bathtubs. Earlier this year, Chism said her company was forced to lay off workers because of the downturn.

Chism chose government spending as her top issue because she hasn't seen the state and federal governments take cost-cutting measures as small business owners have done.

"There are a lot of things that I know the government can cut back on," said Chism, who was among the 17 percent of voters still undecided on whom to support for governor heading into the Aug. 5 primary election. "Every household in Tennessee has had to make cutbacks, but I'm not seeing it in our state or federal government."
Thompson's Station resident Hillard Carr also selected the economy and job creation as his most important issue. Carr, a retired junior college instructor from Virginia, said he had never taken a heavy interest in politics before this year.

"Like a lot of people, I've really gotten concerned since President Obama was elected and the Democrats have taken control," Carr said. "They're doing a lot of things that I just totally oppose and have believed my whole life."

Issue could sway vote

"It's pocketbook issues on people's minds," said Brad Coker, managing director for Mason-Dixon Polling & Research.

With the economy on her mind, Stokes said she was leaning toward supporting Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, because of his experience at the helm of Pilot Travel Centers

"He has created jobs, obviously," Stokes said. "He grew a large company, so he knows how to do that."

Health care came in a distant third, with 8 percent of the voters saying it was their top issue. Immigration was next, with 6 percent, followed by education, which was selected by 5 percent of likely voters.

"I just think (immigration) needs to be addressed, and I think Tennessee is going to need to address it just like Arizona did with its new anti-illegal-immigration law," said Wayne Dixon, a 62-year-old retired deputy with the Davidson County Sheriff's Office.

Other voters found some measure of aggravation with the immigration debate.

Republican U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, a gubernatorial hopeful, campaigned for votes on a recent Saturday morning at the busy Franklin Farmers Market, and Margaret Wilburn had a question for him: Why are the candidates for governor talking so much about immigration in their television ads?

As a small-business owner, she said the issue she's focused on in the governor's race is the down economy and jobs.

"It's the economic situation — how is that going to be addressed? I'm trying to sell a business, and I can't. The tough part is finding the financing for a prospective buyer."

The Aug. 5 primary features three contenders for the Republican nomination in Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Wamp. Jackson beer distributor Mike McWherter is the only name on the ballot in the Democratic primary. According to the poll, Haslam is leading the GOP primary field, with 36 percent.

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