Karl Dean, the Democratic candidate for governor, told attendees at a luncheon Thursday afternoon that, if elected, he will focus on turning around the economy of struggling small towns.
The remarks were part of what was meant to be an event with both gubernatorial candidates, organized by Farmers Insurance Group.
Dean said one of his priorities will be bringing back jobs across the state.
"Middle Tennessee is booming. I bet most of the discussions at your tables are about transit, or about affordable housing. It’s not about unemployment," Dean told a group of about 300 people. "But there are communities in our state, particularly rural and small-town places, that lost jobs in the '80s and '90s, like the apparel industry that hasn’t been replaced."
As a result of that, Dean said those towns also have a hard time funding schools and keeping their hospitals open.
Dean’s opponent, Republican businessman Bill Lee, was also invited, but Harvey Fischer, who coordinated the event, said his campaign canceled about an hour before the lunch started.
“It’s a disappointment for MTSU, Farmers Insurance and the sponsors," Fischer said. "These people paid money to come and be here today for this luncheon.”
State Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, made some remarks on behalf of Lee.
A spokeswoman with Lee’s campaign said in an email his absence was due to an “unfortunate miscommunication.” She said he was in East Tennessee.