Kayla Fleming/For the Times Tennessee gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean was the featured speaker at Saturday afternoon’s meet and greet, hosted by the Macon County Democratic Party.

Kayla Fleming/For the Times

Tennessee gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean was the featured speaker at Saturday afternoon’s meet and greet, hosted by the Macon County Democratic Party.

Karl Dean was the featured guest at Saturday's meet and greet, hosted by the Macon County Democrats at La Tia Mexican Restaurant in Lafayette.

The former Nashville mayor had lunch with many Macon County residents of all political affiliations. He also answered questions and addressed the attendees.

"I'm running for governor, because I'm convinced that the people of Tennessee want a moderate, common sense, pragmatic person as their governor," Dean told a capacity crowd in the restaurant's back meeting room.

Dean emphasized that he felt the people of Tennessee wanted a governor who would "get things done."

"I think that people are less interested in an extremist or somebody who only cares about ideological divisions," Dean said. "They want somebody who's going to actually work on issues that will help the state and help its people. For me, I come from a background as a mayor. I ran in a non-partisan race. I had to get Democrats, Republicans, Independents to vote for me."

Dean believes that his experience as a mayor helps him to work with both political parties.

"When you're managing the city, you don't do it on party lines," Dean said. "You do it on what's best for the city and what's going to help the people there."

He points to education, jobs, and healthcare as issues important to Tennesseans, adding that infrastructure and rural broadband are also priorities in rural Tennesseans.

"People want their kids to get a great education," Dean said. "They want the state to have a great education system that attracts jobs. They want somebody who is going to care about bringing jobs to areas, particularly rural Tennessee and small-town Tennessee that need jobs. And they want somebody who is going to try to make healthcare more accessible to people. What we've got now is hospitals closing and a lack of access to health care.

"I know, around here, people are interested in seeing, having better access to community college and not have it be so far away, and I think infrastructure in terms of building roads is absolutely essential to make sure that smaller towns can generate economic activity. Then, I think that rural broadband is a huge thing. I think, over the past few years, we've made some small movements in that direction, but we need to speed that up and get that done a lot faster for economic reasons, education reasons, community safety reasons, health-care reasons, we need to get broadband available all over the state, and that needs to be a much higher priority and more resources put into that."

Dean also acknowledged that school safety was a top priority at the forefront of everyone's minds. He stated that he wished to have more school resource officers available, staffed by retired police officers or others in those career fields.

"We need to be thinking of anything we can do to make sure students are safe," Dean said. "When parents send their kids to school, they shouldn't have to worry about them."

Dean addressed some of the same topics in his speech to Macon County voters. He told the crowd that he felt that education was "the key to the future of Tennessee." He stated that education was the key to creating and keeping jobs in the state and that it would improve public safety in the state as well.

"If people get a good education, they're going to work … they're going to thrive … and that's what we want," Dean said.

Dean said that he wanted to look at disparities in funding for education around the state between rural, urban, and suburban areas.

"We want to make sure that all parts of the state … are able to provide a good education to everyone," Dean said.

Dean also wants to evaluate how to pay teachers more. He told the group that many districts lose teachers to other districts within Tennessee and even other states because they are unable to match the pay.

"(The districts) say their biggest challenge is keeping teachers from going into the private sector because the pay is that much better," Dean said.

He also wants to devote more "time, energy, and resources" to vocational education.

"A lot of young people will choose not to go to college, and if they don't go to college, you want them to have access to good vocational/technical programs where they can get a good career and make a living," Dean said.

The gubernatorial candidate also told the crowd that he believed a strong private sector is essential as well.

"There can be no forgotten Tennesseans," Dean said. "Some places lost jobs in the 1980s and 90s. The garment industry virtually left our state. There were jobs lost in the last recession. We've got to make sure that we're using our economic development skills at the statewide level to help the communities that need the help the most."

Dean told the crowd that he believed the "biggest mistake our legislature ever made … was not doing the Medicaid expansion."

Dean claims that the state of Tennessee has lost more than $4 billon of federal funding.

"That money that we're turning down, part of that is money that our own tax dollars is paying for, and that money is being spent in other states," Dean said.

Dean also stated that 10 hospitals in the state have closed, and those have "largely been in rural and small-town areas."

"We need to make sure that we're working to make healthcare accessible for all Tennesseans, because it's part of all Tennesseans succeeding," Dean said. "We can't leave anybody behind. We can have no forgotten people.

"I think Tennessee's best days are still to come."