Associated Press

Senate candidates clash on eve of debate

The Associated Press State & Local Wire
October 5, 2002, Saturday, BC cycle
Senate candidates clash on eve of debate

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: Political News

LENGTH: 827 words


Bob Clement, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, pounced Saturday on an unconfirmed television news report that a company affiliated with Republican Lamar Alexander is under investigation.

Clement, a Nashville congressman, charged that Alexander’s “shady, inside dealings have attracted the attention” of the FBI and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Alexander would not respond to Clement’s attack because “it’s just Bob Clement thrashing around trying to deflect from his own credibility problem,” Alexander spokesman Kevin Phillips said.

The clash came as the candidates prepared to debate Sunday in Jackson and Monday in Knoxville.

Clement said he will focus on Alexander’s role with Education Networks of America, which pays the former governor $5,000 a month for consulting work and has a $102 million contract to build an Internet system for Tennessee public schools.

WTVF-TV in Nashville reported Friday night that the ENA contract is part of a joint state and federal investigation into insider contracts handed out by Republican Gov. Don Sundquist’s administration.

But ENA head Al Ganier said Saturday, “No one has indicated that to me whatsoever and I talk to the (state) education commissioner weekly.”

Ganier said the claim that Alexander used political influence on ENA’s behalf was “absolutely false.”

“Before Lamar joined the board, he made it absolutely clear that he would never in any way, shape or fashion contact any government official regarding any business with ENA,” Ganier said.

Clement said he had no independent confirmation of the WTVF-TV report, and Phillips said Alexander had heard “not a word” about an investigation.

“This is a preposterous charge by a candidate who is behind in the polls, running out of time and running out of money,” Phillips said.

But Clement said: “This is a huge issue. … I think the people in Tennessee are sick and tired of sweetheart deals, sick and tired of people working in state government trying to take care of their friends.”

TBI spokeswoman Jeanne Broadwell would not say Saturday if the ENA contract is under scrutiny in an investigation that has targeted Workforce Strategists, whose owner, John Stamps, also is a registered lobbyist and an officer with ENA.

“All I can say is we’re investigating the state contract issue and just leave it at that,” Broadwell said.

FBI spokesman George Bolds did not return a phone call Saturday.

Earlier this month, the FBI and TBI removed seven boxes of documents from Workforce Strategists in Chattanooga. That investigation apparently centers on a state contract awarded to Workforce Strategists in 1999.

Clement called on “the Don Sundquist and Lamar Alexander political power machine” to come clean about the state’s dealings with ENA. Clement said Sundquist, whose second four-year term ends in January, “is trying to keep his hand in the game by helping elect Alexander to the Senate.”

Sundquist spokeswoman Kriste Goad said: “Contrary to Mr. Clement’s innuendo, we have no reason to believe either the governor or the state is under investigation and we’re not going to comment on Mr. Clement’s obvious political grandstanding.”

Goad said the governor’s office has not been contacted in the state contract investigation.

Clement urged Alexander to resign from the ENA board and return money he has received from the company “so it can be used for the benefit of Tennessee schoolchildren.”

When Alexander joined the ENA board in 1999, it already had a contract with the state. The contract, renewed earlier this year, was reviewed and approved by state Comptroller John Morgan, a Democrat, Phillips said.

“As a former governor and U.S. secretary of education, it’s entirely appropriate for Lamar to serve on the board of an education company,” Phillips said.

Ganier said Alexander’s experience as education secretary under the former President Bush and as University of Tennessee president has “brought incredible understanding and experience to our company on how to best meet the needs in education.”

In the upcoming debates, Alexander would rather discuss education, jobs, prescription drugs and a possible war with Iraq, Phillips said.

But if necessary, he said, Alexander will be happy to ask again about Clement’s relationship with the “Butcher banks,” a reference to a Tennessee financial empire that collapsed in a fraud scandal about 20 years ago.

Alexander said Clement served on the board of a bank owned by brothers Jake and C.H. Butcher, who eventually were imprisoned for bank fraud. Clement said his only involvement with the bank was serving on a community advisory committee from 1973-1975.

“If my opponent wants to say I’ve served on a board instead of calling it a community advisory committee, then I simply concede the point,” Clement said Friday.

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