Ending a prolonged waiting period of some months, during which it became ever more obvious that state Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle of Memphis intended to run for governor, Kyle made it formal on Tuesday, opening his campaign before a supportive crowd in front of the McWherter Library at the University of Memphis.
That structure was named, of course, for former governor Ned Ray McWherter, whose son Mike McWherter, a Jackson businessman, may be Kyle’s most formidable rival for the Democratic nomination.
That bit of symbolism no doubt figured in Kyle’s choice of venue, but so did the fact that candidate Kyle, whose son and three daughters were in attendance for his announcement, clearly intends to make a strong pitch for youthful voters. The part of his brief speech that won the most applause concerned the following promise to college students:
“So long as you are making sufficient progress towards obtaining your degree, we will never, never raise your tuition. What you pay as a freshman you will pay as a senior!” Kyle also promised to tap reserves from the state lottery fund to create “an incentive scholarship program” for students who, presumably for financial reasons, have had to interrupt their education.
In answer to questions from reporters, Kyle said that his plan for education would require some restructuring of the state budget, but he made no mention of needing to raise taxes. His only remark in that regard was a vow to veto any proposal for a state income tax, effectively reversing his position of 10 years ago when he was one of he supporters in the legislature for an income tax.
Explaining the reversal, Kyle, who has worked closely with Democratic governor Phil Bredesen, said, “Governor Bredesen convinced me it was wrong and showed me how to govern without it.”
Kyle, whose appearance was preceded on the dais by supportive remarks from both Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton and current city mayor pro tem Myron Lowery, was introduced by wife Sara Kyle, a member of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority who had previously won several elections as a Memphis city judge and as a member of the old Public Service Commission.
Numerous members of the legislature and other local political figures of consequence attended Kyle’s announcement. He has made no secret of the fact that his strategy for winning depends on beginning with a solid base of support in Shelby County.
Following are Senator Kyle's prepared announcement remarks:
I’d like to thank Bill Morris, Regina Newman and Gale Jones Carson, my Shelby County co-chairmen who I know will help make sure Shelby County is Kyle County in August and in November next year.
Also, thanks to Matt Kuhn, my statewide campaign manager. Matt is on one leg today, but he will be up and running soon just like I am up and running today.
Thanks to the University of Memphis for allowing us to use this beautiful venue in the center of a great university, which is in the center of a great city.
I would like to thank each of you for being here today, particularly my brother, sister, sister-in-law, Betty Belle and her children, Belle and Rachel Peery, and other dear friends and supporters.
My children are here and I appreciate them for being so supportive and involved in this event and for being the kind of kids that put up with a senator daddy. Would you please give my daughters Sarah, Mary and Caroline, as well as my son Jim a round of applause?
And last but not least, my wife Sara, what can I say, isn’t it great to see her on the campaign trail and wasn’t that a great introduction! She is truly the best.
While I was born in Memphis, I grew up in Capleville, which at that time was a rural community closer to Mississippi than Memphis. My dad, the late Jimmy Kyle, returned to the family homestead when my sister Pam was born, and on Highway 78, near Shelby Drive, I spent my childhood, across from the school yard and baseball field which were the centers of our community life. Dad drove a truck for railway express and my mother,
Louise Kyle, helped build tires at the Firestone tire factory in north Memphis. My mother will be 90 years old in October. She doesn’t handle the heat very well these days and isn’t here, but she has never lost a box for me and will be out in force next November.
My parents’ jobs were physical jobs, and both my parents worked hard. The values of being frugal, being honest, and being trusted were engrained in me early by depression-era parents who wanted more for their children.
My life has led me to lead many roles: college student, law student, husband, lawyer, senator, democrat leader, and chairman of the Shelby County delegation. But the role that has defined me more than any other isthat of a parent, who like Jimmy and Louise Kyle wants a better world for our children and laments the opportunities we fail to capture.
You know, the man who got me into the senate is here today. He is my brother, Mike. You can thank him or blame him, but in 1980 we were living together in a small house in north Memphis when one morning after hearing me comment about our current senator for what he thought too many times, screamed at me “I am sick and tired of hearing you complain, either run against him or quit” to which I replied, “Okay, I will.”
So I started that campaign that afternoon with two votes – mine and his. And his was soft.
That morning ultimately led to my election on June 10, 1983 and since that day I have been involved in the issues of the day in Tennessee. From “master teacher” to “bicentennial highway”; from “B.E.P.” to “prison reform”; from fiscal crisis to budget surplus; from B.E.P. 2.0 to pre-k funding.
I have been tested by the issues of the day, elected 8 times by those who know me best, and trusted by my fellow democrat senators as their leader since 2005.
Now what I learned from reforming our prison system, to reforming public education, to sponsoring and passing seven consecutive balanced budgets is that you plan for the long term. I have worked in partnership with our current governor Phil Bredesen to pass his legislative initiatives and I have been trusted to sponsor and pass every major initiative of his administration.
I am proud to be from Tennessee. We have a beautiful state and we are still the “volunteer state” as many charities will attest. We have a culture of self-reliance and friendliness unparalleled in this country. We can all be proud of our state and its people.
But Tennessee has some things we should not be proud of: First, our unemployment rate is one of the nation’s top ten. Over 10%! To put it another way, one of every ten people you see today will be unemployed.
But wages of those other nine with jobs aren’t doing that great because wages in Tennessee rank in the lower third of our country.
Finally, Tennessee lags behind other states when it comes to what the census bureau calls “educational attainment”, and by that I mean the percentage of Tennesseans with college degrees. Only 23 % have a college degree. 42 states are doing better. This is the reason we are paid less and have fewer job opportunities.
We can do better. Our children are trusting us to do better. That unemployed Tennessean trusts us to do better.
Ladies and gentlemen I have been tested by this life of mine. And trusted my whole life to strive to make things better. And I tell you today: We can compete and we can win!
This is how we will change our state and change our community. We start by taking a long-term view to higher education. We are going to have a higher education system focused on graduating students, not enrolling them.
We are going to tear down the barriers preventing our citizens from getting a college degree.
In the coming months I will put forward an education plan that will help more Tennesseans afford college in two different but very important ways.
We are going to start with those who have been frustrated by our current system and who couldn’t finish. As I understand it, there are over 30,000 Tennesseans who are one year from graduation and have stopped their education.
I am going to make them an offer they can’t refuse. We will use some of the reserves from the lottery and we are going create an incentive scholarship program that will help students return to college and finish their degree.
When this happens, overnight, we will increase our education attainment percentage and make our state more competitive for the high wage recession-proof jobs going elsewhere today.
And second, I make this promise to every Tennessean who enrolls in a higher education institution in Tennessee. So long as you are making sufficient progress towards obtaining your degree, we will never, never, raise your tuition. What you pay as a freshman you will pay as a senior!
We will take higher education to a higher place. We will restructure and refocus and build upon the progress Governor Bredesen has made. We will recharge our colleges and universities to make them economic engines for our state workforce.
A better Tennessee is a smarter Tennessee…But to do this, I need you. It’s hot today but it will be hotter before this election is over. Please… stand with me…walk with me…do it for yourself and your family.
In the height of the depression, my daddy had to borrow a pair of trousers to attend his high school graduation. But friends, he graduated…and I’m standing here today because he graduated!...
Let’s make a government that measures its success one citizen at a time.
At this time…
At this place…
In this moment…
For these reasons…
With you people…
For our people…
With the tests of my life…
With the trust you have given me…
I hereby declare my candidacy to be the 49th governor of great state of Tennessee.
Thank you, and god bless Tennessee and the United States of America.