Monday, May 28, 2001

THE TRY-HARDER CANDIDATE GETS READY TO ANNOUNCE

THE TRY-HARDER CANDIDATE GETS READY TO ANNOUNCE

Posted By on Mon, May 28, 2001 at 4:00 AM

Andy Womack, the former state senator from Murfreesboro, plans to make his official announcement of candidacy for the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial nomination next week in Nashville.

And Womack, a State Farm insurance agent and a 12-year legislative veteran who retired from the General Assembly just last year, can calculate the odds. He not only knows what the line is, he knows what his line is.

"I've just got to work at it a little harder," he said Friday morning at a stop at The Peabody in Memphis, making only a modest variation in the vintage phrase which Avis Car Rental used in its efforts to catch up with industry leader Hertz.

In Womack's case, the presumed leaders are named Bredesen, Horne, and Clement, although U.S. Rep. Bob Clement may, if current rumors are to be believed, be on his way out of the governor's race.

Not Womack, however. An obvious underdog, he is nevertheless prepared to compete all the way to next year's primary election date against the well-heeled likes of ex-Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen and former state Democratic chairman Doug Horne of Knoxville, who is certain to be a candidate if Clement opts out.

Some of Womack's backers insist their man can raise $2 million for a governor's race -- a sum that would seem both to tax the former legislator's capacity and to be only a pittance compared to what multi-millionaires Bredesen and Horne can come up with.

No matter.

"I'm prepared to wear out a lot of shoe leather," Womack says. "I never have run in an election in which I wasn't outspent."

As the 55-year-old Womack discourses on such past experiences as being a platoon sergeant in Vietnam, when he not only faced enemy fire but worked closely with civilians in numerous friendly villages, it is clear he has confidence in both his leadership ability and his affinity for the grass roots.

"I'm not going to have the big lick contributors, but I'll have lots of ordinary people, and that's who I'm running for," he says. "I think Tennesseans are tired of the same old names. They want to shift gears a little bit."

Which is Womack's way of acknowledging that he isn't exactly a household name. He is well known to followers of the legislature, of course, having served for six years as chairman of the Senate Education Committee and having sponsored the 1992 Educational Improvement Act which effected the reforms called for by former Governor Ned McWherter.

Womack thinks it's time for more focused attention on education, both at the K-12 and higher-ed levels, which is one reason why he's running. He also thinks that, as someone familiar with the practices of the insurance industry, he is well equipped to pursue the overhaul which he thinks TennCare needs.

He professes concern that, in these two areas, and in that of taxation as well, state government has for too long followed a "laissez faire" logic.

"I think my experience in the legislature gives me a pretty good grounding in how to fix that," he says. Unlike many in state government, he does not shy away from the prospect of making unpopular choices. On taxes, for example, he says, "We can't afford to take anything off the table." That means looking at both the sales tax and the income tax, each of which has evoked strong opposition.

"Mainly, though, what we've got to do is establish what we're going to do in government, then determine how we're going to pay for it," says Womack, who thas a good many specific specific proposals in mind Ñ involving changes in TennCare's underwriting basis, for example, or instituting "dual-institution" credit for high-schoolers taking college-level courses.

How much campaign money does the Try-Harder candidate have on hand right now?

Womack grins. "My mother told me never to tell how much money I make."

At some point in the future, when he'll have to 'fess up in the form of financial disclosure statements, we'll know, of course, and that will be some gauge of how serious Andy Womack's chances are.

There's no doubt, in the meantime, that his intentions are quite serious indeed.

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