Meeting Maryville folks

Wamp meets ‘The Committee’ at Panera, is guest at reception at commissioner’s home

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, center greets Bob Henry, left, and Steve Frana at an early breakfast meet-and-greet at Panera in Alcoa.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, center greets Bob Henry, left, and Steve Frana at an early breakfast meet-and-greet at Panera in Alcoa.

John Webb, center, poses for a picture with Bob Davis, left, and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, a gubernatorial candidate.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

John Webb, center, poses for a picture with Bob Davis, left, and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, a gubernatorial candidate.

U.S. Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Zach Wamp brought his campaign to Blount County on the morning of Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, for a sit-down breakfast talk with a group of seniors at Panera Bread in Alcoa.

Called “the committee” by some, the dozen of so men who meet each morning for coffee to discuss the issues of the day were visited last month by Knoxville Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam and on Veteran’s Day by candidate Zach Wamp. They grilled the lawmaker on issues and listened as he spelled out his “20/20” vision for the state.

Wamp said his “20/20 vision” for the state encompasses improving the overall health of residents, improving the state’s education system, promoting the state as a defense contractor and making Tennessee more secure by keeping repeat offenders off the street.

Regarding health, the congressman said Tennessee is 47th out of 50 states in terms of overall health. “Obesity is a problem among young people. I’m talking about ways to improve health of citizens. You can’t create enough health care to solve every problem. The most effective antidote is sweat,” he said. “I want Tennessee to be a healthier state. We’ve got to have prevention, maintenance and wellness.”

Improving education, Wamp said, is not as difficult a problem as some would have the public believe, Wamp said. “It’s not all about money. Early childhood reading is the key,” he said.

Wamp said students need to be plugging into classes they’ll need to go to work at places like the new Volkswagen plant or other employers and that community colleges can help by offering classes to high school students. “Plug them in now and let them get excited,” he said.

Regarding the economy, Wamp said investing in energy production; transportation industry and defense contract work could be boons for the state economy. “Our best years are ahead of us,” he said.

Wamp said he believed that Middle and West Tennessee had potential for becoming an area where defense contractors could build, especially along the Interstate 65/Interstate 24 interchange. “Is our state going to take advantage of the defense sector and grow? We’ve got unmanned aircraft being made in Hardin County,” he said, giving those gathered an example. Wamp said the state’s economy could be stronger by luring defense contractors to build and grow in Tennessee.

The fourth area of the congressman’s 20/20 vision is improving the state’s security. “We don’t have strong enough codes in state legislation to keep hardened criminals behind bars,” he said.

Wamp said he wants to be governor in part to slow the federal mandates that come from Washington, D.C. “One of the reasons I’m running is the federal ‘nanny’ state,” he said. “We have to stand up with a strong, tough governor and push the federal government out.”

Wamp told the group at Panera that if the federal health care legislation being pushed by Democratic speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi is passed in the Senate, it will force a 10 percent sales tax increase in Tennessee.

The lawmaker said balancing the state budget isn’t rocket science. “It’s a matter of having the courage to downsize government,” he said. “There are agencies in state government that need to go on a diet.”

When asked about completing the Pellissippi extension from East Broadway Avenue where it now ends to East Lamar Alexander Parkway near Morningstar Baptist Church, Wamp said as governor, he would first want to determine which roads in the state had priority in being completed. He said he was confident he would win the Republican nomination and become governor. “We’re going to make Tennessee a better state,” he said.

The individuals who gathered to listen to the veteran lawmaker were said they were impressed. “He did an excellent job presenting what he thought should be done as governor, and he is well informed on issues in the state,” Bo Henry said. “I was impressed by his expertise in government. Our coffee group was really impressed. We’re looking to hear from the other candidates, too.”

Robert Russell said he has “liked what he’s been saying for years.” Steve Frana took a more hesitant approach. “He said all the right things,” Frana said. “Saying the right things and doing the right things aren’t the same.”

Later in the day Wamp returned to Alcoa for a reception organized by Highway Superintendent Bill Dunlap and his wife, Judy, at the home of Blount County commissioner Brad Harrison.

“We had close to 100 people come, which was a very good response,” Dunlap said.

Dunlap said Wamp helped him years ago when it appeared the lock at Chickamauga Dam in Chattanooga was going to be closed. Dunlap was calling the lawmaker on behalf of highway superintendents throughout East Tennessee. “He saw me without an appointment, answered my calls and emails and had repairs made to where it wouldn’t devastate a lot of highway officials in East Tennessee who have to purchase products that are shipped through the locks,” he said.

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