Photo and video by Caleb Revill / Assistant News Editor
Diane Black, a 2018 gubernatorial candidate, visited Middle Tennessee State University on Monday to speak with Sidelines about her vision for the university and the state.
Black, who has had a varied career as a registered nurse, an educator at Volunteer State Community College, a state senator and a state representative, explained to Sidelines that she believes MTSU can serve a critical role in the economy of the state.
“We want to do the kinds of things that will attract good business to our state (and) also help those businesses that are already here,” Black said. “A part of that is having an educated workforce, and I see MTSU as being a part of that. With all of the great programs that are here at MTSU, we can supply this area and throughout the state with an educated workforce.”
A 2017 report by the Business and Economic Research Center in the MTSU Jones College of Business displayed that MTSU is responsible for over 8,000 jobs in Tennessee and is Murfreesboro’s second largest employer. The report also showed that the university generates $1.12 billion in revenues and over $408 million in wages and salaries across the state.
Black also stated that her diverse career has “uniquely qualified” her to be Tennessee’s next governor.
“Someone that has had the experience in all of those different levels certainly brings a rich environment of experiences to the table of finding solutions to the big problems,” Black said. “More than 45 years in health care allows me to have a lot of ideas and experiences.”
Black has been quoted as saying that “we have to do better” in regards to health care in the country. Black wishes to allow Americans to purchase health care across state lines, protect people with preexisting conditions and to enact medical malpractice reform, according to her website. Despite many of the 2018 gubernatorial candidates expressing that Tennessee made a mistake in passing up the Medicaid expansion for Obamacare at a recent gubernatorial forum, Black said that the state made the right choice in rejecting the health care provision.
“I do not think that we should have taken the Medicaid expansion, and I’m glad we did not,” Black said. “The program is set up to entice states to take on more Medicaid by saying that the federal government would pay more of the cost of it. They’re finding now that it is breaking the federal government and that they can’t afford the program.”
Tennessee officially rejected the expansion in 2015 when Gov. Bill Haslam’s alternative plan to expand Medicaid, which included conservative policy elements, was rejected by a Senate panel. The plan would have covered over 250,000 uninsured adults in Tennessee and would have brought millions of dollars in federal money to the state. Critics of Haslam’s plan stated that it was foolish to take on that much federal debt in Tennessee.
While she does not support future Medicaid expansion, Black stated she is in favor of “simple, decent health care that is available to everyone, whether they have insurance or not.” She said that this can be accomplished through public health departments and that people could pay certain amounts based on their individual incomes.
Black also said that she also has a passion for improving Tennessee education. Black is in favor of school choice, which would allow for public education funds to follow students to whatever learning environment that parents choose. Black said that she wants Tennessee students to take aptitude tests in order to find their “God-given talent” and where they belong within the workforce.
“I think we’re missing that opportunity right now,” Black said. “Too many students graduate from high school and do not have any idea about what they want to do.”
Black told Sidelines that she supports Haslam-era programs, such as the Tennessee Promise and the Drive to 55 initiative, but wants to keep an eye on the programs if elected.
“I think that the Tennessee Promise, being new, is yet to be looked at and made sure that it is working as intended,” Black said. “We want to make sure that we are measuring those who are taking the classes, whether they are completing them (and) whether they are matriculating on to the next level.”
Black is also an avid supporter of defunding Planned Parenthood in Tennessee and served on a panel that investigated Planned Parenthood practices in 2015.
“First of all, I would like to say that I’m pro-life and that life begins at inception,” Black said. “The panel was to look at how the tissue from an abortion, which is a baby, was being used and whether it was honoring what we already have in our current law about the handling of baby body parts. We did find problems with organizations that were selling baby body parts.”
In April 2016, the state House of Representatives passed a bill that banned the sale of fetal remains by abortion providers, and, in May of 2017, a law in Tennessee banned abortions after 20 weeks if a doctor determines the fetus to be viable.
Black also said that she stands by President Donald Trump’s controversial ban on seven Muslim-majority nations, which was lifted in October 2017 with a stricter screening process for refugee applicants.
“I do stand by the president’s decision to ban people that were coming from those countries where we knew they had active hostile activity toward the United States,” Black said.
According to research conducted by New America, a Washington-based think tank, there have been 13 perpetrators of lethal jihadist terrorist attacks in America since 9/11. All of the perpetrators were American citizens or legal permanent residents and not immigrants.
“I think it’s rightful that when people are coming from countries that we know are hostile to us that we make sure that those who are coming to our country are safe and that they don’t want to harm us,” Black said.
Another national threat that Black addressed during the interview was the opioid crisis. Black participated in the American Legislative Exchange Council summit as a keynote speaker in December 2017. During the summit, Black said, “(The opioid crisis) is the greatest challenge that I believe we face right now where we could lose a whole generation.”
“I do think that it is a huge problem for us as we are losing a whole generation of people who either intended or unintended an addiction to opioids,” Black told Sidelines. “It’s a multiple of answers that will fix this problem. It’s a scourge on our society, and I’m afraid that we will lose a whole generation if we don’t address the issue.”
Black said that the first step in combating the opioid epidemic is prevention and education on opioids for young people in Tennessee. She said that the second step is stopping people who illegally bring drugs across the border, and the third would be implementing programs for people who are attempting to recover from an opioid addiction.
The Tennessee Department of Health Drug Overdose Data page displays that 1,186 people died from an opioid overdose in Tennessee in 2016.
In response to the epidemic, Haslam announced the TN Together plan in late January, which would create programs to treat people addicted to opioids, enhance law enforcement efforts against opioid pushers and prevent the spreading of opioids in Tennessee.
Black said that Haslam has some “very good points” in his plan but that her campaign would be releasing a plan to fight against the epidemic soon.
“You’ll see that some of the ideas are mirrored, and then you’ll see that we may have some ideas in addition to what the governor is proposing,” Black said.
Black also addressed the fact that she made headlines on Monday after a Super PAC, Tennessee Jobs Now, released a radio ad that referred to the gubernatorial candidate as “Dishonest Diane Black” and included a toilet flush sound effect.
“I would say that, in all campaigns, there are things that are put out that we now use the title of ‘fake news’ for, and this certainly is one of them,” Black said. “I would encourage people to look at what I’ve done in both the federal and state level and to be cautious of these ads.”
As of 2014, Diane Black’s estimated net worth was almost $78 million, and Black and her husband held assets in 2013 that were potentially worth $147 million, combined. When asked if her high financial status could be a deterrent for some Tennessee voters, Black said that she was proud of her accomplishments.
“I was raised in public housing,” Black said. “I am fortunate that I had someone who guided me and helped me to receive a good education. My husband and I are both the American dream. The message that I want people to get from this is that the American dream is still possible and that you can come from nothing, you can work hard and you can be successful.”
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