Chattanooga congressman Zach Wamp on Wednesday became the first gubernatorial candidate of either party to sign a pledge committing himself to returning all federal funds generated by indigent care at the Med back to the Med, a step that he said would guarantee the Med’s financial survival for the next several years.
Wamp, a Republican, was backed by a bipartisan group of Shelby County commissioners, commissioners-elect, and Sheriff Mark Luttrell, a GOP candidate for county mayor, as he stated his commitment to the pledge (Wam's signed copy of which was distributed in a press kit) in front of the Med entrance on Jefferson Avenue.
Copies of the pledge, prepared by unanimous vote of the county commission, had been sent to all gubernatorial candidates back in April, and Wamp is so far the only candidate to respond with an actual signature and full commitment.
At least one other candidate, Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam, a Republican, has indicated he would probably not sign the pledge, though Haslam promised to seek other remedies to fully fund the Med. Yet to be heard from are Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey of Blountville, a Republican, and Jackson businessman Mike McWherter, the s0ole remaining Democrat in the governor’s r ace.
Although both Wamp and the county officials gathered with him characterized the event as “non-political” — a case, said the congressman, of “doing the right thing” — its political impact was potentially formidable.
All county officials present praised Wamp for his action. GOP commissioner Mike Ritz, one of the originators of the pledge and one who had not previously stated his support for a particular gubernatorial candidate, said that if Wamp remained the only candidate signing the pledge, he believed the Republican commissioners, as a group, would endorse Wamp. And he said that, in such a case, he would help to organize such a unified approach.
The two Democrats present, commissioners Sidney Chism and Steve Mulroy, suggested that they would remain within party ranks in supporting a candidate for governor, but both agreed that Wamp would be likely to gain support in Shelby County. Asked whether he thought the Republicans on the commission would support Wamp en masse, Mulroy said, “They should.”
Mulroy said he thought Wamp’s decision to sign the full-funding pledge would have a strong positive impact on the Chattanooga congressman’s prospects in Shelby County, while negative reaction elsewhere in the state from hospitals that have been sharing Med-generated funds for indigent care would be negligible.
Wamp said a Tennessee governor had the unilateral pledge to make a funding commitment of this sort and that the annual additional amount made available to the Med would be in the neighborhood of $50 million.
The congressman said that, if elected, he would also convene the state’s congressional delegation, along with officials from Arkansas and Mississippi, neighboring states that depend heavily on care at the Med, in an effort to secure appropriate levels of funding for the Med from those states.
Here is a video portion of what Wamp said at the Med:
In addition to his remarks on-site, the congressman’s campaign issued the following press release:
Wamp becomes first gubernatorial candidate to sign pledge
to protect Shelby County MED
Republican frontrunner says a strong
Shelby County means a strong Tennessee
MEMPHIS — Zach Wamp, Republican candidate for governor, today became the first gubernatorial candidate to sign the Shelby County Board of Commissioners’ request for support for the Regional Medical Center (The MED) in Memphis.
Wamp today affirmed his commitment to The MED and its community-focused services by signing a Commission-backed pledge that as governor he will work to provide all federal funds received by the State based on the MED’s uncompensated care to the facility.
Wamp also pledged to advocate for the maximum continuing match of Shelby County’s new $10 million annual appropriation to the MED.
This afternoon Wamp delivered his signed statement to Joyce Avery, chairman of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, at a brief press availability in front of the Regional Medical Center in Memphis.
“I am signing this pledge because the MED’s continued operation is vitally important to Memphis,” Wamp said. “We need a governor with the right experience and backbone to do what we need to do to support the MED, including pulling together the Governors and all of the parties in Mississippi and Arkansas to make sure they are also contributing their fair share for this Regional Medical Center.”
Commissioner Avery noted the Med’s utmost importance to the citizens of Shelby County, its legislative delegation and local elected officials, and thanked Wamp for his commitment to the city of Memphis and Shelby County.
“I am delighted for Congressman Zach Wamp to meet with Shelby County officials today to express his commitment to help sustain the MED, a very vital stake here in Shelby County,” said Joyce Avery, chairman of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners. “His actions confirm his desire to make a positive difference in the lives of our citizens who have or will one day be dependent on the specialized trauma care that is widely offered by the MED.”
Wamp again pledged his commitment and strong support for Memphis and Shelby County during the event.
“As governor, I will work with the County Commission and other leaders here to make sure Shelby County gets the full attention and support this area needs to succeed because when Shelby County succeeds, the rest of Tennessee succeeds, too.”