Randy Boyd, like Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, is a Knoxville native who amassed a fortune in the private sector.
Most recently, Boyd served as Haslam’s top economic and development chief after managing the governor’s “Drive to 55” and Tennessee Promise education initiatives as an un-paid adviser.
But while Boyd is talking a lot like Haslam on the campaign trail and touting a similar agenda as he seeks the 2018 Republican nomination for governor, he’s not embracing the label “Haslam 2.0.”
“I’ve always seen myself as an innovator and a disrupter,” Boyd said when asked Wednesday whether he would be a governor in the mold of Haslam. “If you see yourself as an innovator and a disrupter, it’s kind of hard to see yourself in the mold of anyone else. But I can say that the things I’m focused on are things that I did help start while I was working for the governor.
“I’m not into whether that’s a ‘mold,’ or a ‘2.0,’or not. Somebody else is going to have to decide what that is,” he said. “I can say that we are still not doing all the things that we need to do to get to where we need to go.”
Boyd’s comments came during an appearance with reporters hosted by the Society of Professional Journalists’ Middle Tennessee chapter. Democratic candidate Karl Dean addressed the group last month.
Boyd, who announced his candidacy in March, has leaned on two main areas from his record in Haslam’s administration as he stakes out a message in what’s expected to be a crowded GOP field to replace Haslam.
He said he wants to see the realization of “the “Drive to 55,” the governor’s goal to ensure that 55 percent of Tennesseans have a post-secondary school degree.
Boyd is also touting his achievements as commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, which he held for two years until stepping down in January to run for governor. He said he wants to carry out his vision of Tennessee becoming the No.1 state in the Southeast for high-quality jobs by focusing on the state’s most distressed counties.
Though Boyd may not be a fan of the “Haslam 2.0” tag, he called the state legislative session that adjourned Wednesday “one of the most historically successful sessions ever.”
“I say that because we just passed a new program that allows all adults to go to community college for free. We just passed some new legislation that allows broadband to go to all our rural communities. We provided some incredibly significant tax relief for existing manufacturing businesses that’s going to be a windfall to bring new businesses into our state as part of the IMPROVE Act.”
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When asked whether he has any criticism of Haslam, or areas he would have approached differently than his former boss, Boyd did not offer any.
Boyd made his fortunate founding Radio Systems Corporation, an invisible fence company for dogs. He also owns two minor league baseball teams — the Tennessee Smokies, an AA affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, and the Johnson City Cardinals, a rookie league affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Boyd and Franklin businessman Bill Lee are the lone declared candidates in the 2018 GOP primary. Mark Green announced his candidacy earlier this year but abandoned his bid after President Donald Trump nominated him for U.S. Army secretary. Green withdrew his nomination last week after controversial past statements surfaced.
Other candidates considering entering the race are House Speaker Beth Harwell, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tennessee, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, former state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, and Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet.
Boyd on other items:
Boyd embraced many of the same privatization efforts as Haslam, saying he’s unsure that the state of Tennessee should operate golf courses, for example. He said it might also be more effective to find different providers for some park services such as marinas. But he stopped short of saying it would be on his agenda as governor.
“There’s a lot of things that we do that maybe we should look to for providers,” he said of state government. “In each case, it’s on its own merit.”
Though Haslam has supported a limited school voucher legislation as governor, Boyd said it should be up to local communities to make their own decisions. “As I go across the state, many of the communities that I have met with are not in favor of it. It should be their decision.”
Boyd floated a heath care policy whereby hospitals would be required to post the cost for visits, surgeries and other medical procedures — similar to restaurants posting calorie counts. He said it could make for a smarter consumer in the health care market.
“It’s educational,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be interesting if every medical service you were buying, it was required to have the price on there?”