Mayoral candidate Dave Crockett is remarkable for his breadth of knowledge and his unusual ideas.
He says he avoids familiar categories such as left, right, conservative or liberal. His proposals for Chattanooga include a highly centralized taxpayer-funded light rail project connecting the city to Atlanta on one hand and decentralized, environmentally friendly, lococentric small-scale programs on the other.
In an interview, Mr.
Crockett explains his “total quality management” themes, boasts he alone is qualified to get things done, touts his green credentials and declares he will create jobs and save taxpayer money.
He gave his interview on the David Tulis program Dec. 20, 2016, to NoogaRadio AM 1240 101.1 FM.
David Tulis. The question I have for Dave Crockett, candidate for mayor will come from the perspective that you, my listener, know. That is, what about constitutional liberty, what about the right of property, what about the threat against prosperity that comes from people who have force on their side, who have the law on their side who have laws, ordinances, statutes regulations, license demanders and bean counters on their side? That’s to say, government. That is to say, state actors. whether in Nashville or whether in city hall.
How can we prosper if we have people who think that with force we can do better, if we just throw our weight around in law we will have prosperity and good things will be brought to us here in Chattanooga. And so, that’s how I approach every office seeker, ever politician, I try to bring that question and make him answer these questions because he may have ideas that are very good, but if he thinks that the instrumentality of bringing about those good things is compulsion, well, there’s going to be a limit, and he will find, we will find, that his scheme in office, his time in office, will not in the end have a lasting effect.
It’ll be just one more government program that needs external funding, that is not self-supporting, that is not prosperous, that doesn’t use the things that are there to enhance everybody involved but just feeds the elect, you might say, the selected few, the hangers-on, the people who get the government contracts; it feeds them, but everybody else is left behind.
That is the peril and that is the question that I think that you my listener are asking, and you entrusted me your host here, David Tulis, to ask the question in a cogent way to people such as Dave Crockett. Now we have Dave Crockett here in the studio. He’s one of the first guests I’ve had who’s taller than me. He’s six — how high, Dave?
Dave Crockett. Five
David Tulis. And I’m about six-two. He’s standing here with his brown jacket, his tie clasped, his 10-gallon hat catching the light of our studio overhead light. Dave, tell my listener who you are and, just briefly, your past and a quick sketch of you and then we’ll get into some of the ideas you have. Give us a thumbnail.
Dave Crockett. I grew up in a small town, smaller than a thousand, in Alabama. My grandparents were from Tennessee, Bradley County and my grandfather was a minister and in Weakley County, and they were all farmers. I came here with IBM after the service and thought it reminded me a lot about where I grew up. Became involved in community associations and helped create the largest one in the city, and worked with them all over the city in the ’70s. Was chairman of an inner city task force in the ’80s and ran for the city council in 1990. Served three terms, was chairman of the council and chairman of economic development, environment and strategy.
I’ve had a life career with IBM and running a software company — over 25 years in the computer business. Was a military officer in the United States Army and I've worked all over, as David has said, I worked all over the country with a group called Citistates, speaking and consulting with cities and economic regions — and that’s my background.
David Tulis. Tell the listener what a city-state is. Why is that an important concept for the future?
Dave Crockett. A city state — the easiest way to remember or to think about it is like the old Greek city-states of legend and lore. It is a region around a large city, and it’s all the things associated with that little area or region. It’s about 85 percent of the economy in this country. And it is the most effective unit for getting things done. Not necessarily by law, but by collaboration. Economic issues, environmental issues, major transportation issues, and culture don’t have any idea where city, county, state and even federal borders are. We’ve done sessions from Toronto all the way around to Cleveland and the Great Lakes area. Just on things that they had in common.
David Tulis. My listener is immediately thinking of Thrive 2055, Dave Crockett, and here’s his concern. He doesn't like the fact that this effort involves three states, 16 counties all of which — and then the federal government — he’s jealous of the idea of the border of the distinct jurisdiction because of the threat of being overwhelmed by Washington. That’s his concern is that we are already enslaved by Washington, which has churned up and destroyed the identities of the states as distinct political bodies — and bought the people into direct subjection, not through states necessarily, but individually and directly. That’s his concern. Address that issue, please.
Dave Crockett. I think the states are kind of a carryover from kind of territories and provinces, and I’m not sure how long they will last into the future. In business, that would be called the regional office, a middle layer of management that’s already been taken out of business because it slows everything down.
David Tulis. But the listener is concerned about the states being there to defend him, but we find in just the past two years that the states have capitulated, say Obergefell v. Hodges on marriage, they have capitulated to the definition of marriage even though they have a constitutional requirement for one man and one woman, the states have not done that, they’ve capitulated on every other point — abortion, for example. There’s no sense of structural or political integrity among them. So maybe it is good if they go away.
Dave Crockett. I think the regions and city states will, in the end, be the most important part of government. It’s closer to the people than any level of government and it can be formal and informal, and it lends itself more to market forces and creating markets that are local ,and decisions are bottom-up instead of top-down.
David Tulis. How are city governments run now? How were they run when you were on the city council in the 1990s? Did they have a top-down approach? Do we still have in Chattanooga a top-down approach of government, Dave Crockett?
Dave Crockett. I think in the early ’90s we had just the opposite. We had more citizen-driven, constituent-driven government than we have now. We had less partisan, less political and more constituent-driven —
David Tulis. That was the period of the visioning process, this sort of astroturf consensus that Chattanooga Venture and these other groups got to give approval, seeming public approval, of things that the elites wanted.
Dave Crockett. That was in the ’80s. And 10 years before that I led one in Hixson that was the first one in Chattanooga. It was no counterfeit anything about that. We had 1,500 people participate, all of the community organizations, and then set down for seven months with representatives until we got consensus on everything from building a new school to widening the bridge over the Chickamauga Dam, and doing things like voluntary efforts to clean up Chattanooga, north Chickamauga Creek and put the first draft of the greenway in place. We did all those things and we had hundreds of people. The congressman came, and the local leaders and we got things done. And they were what we wanted and not what somebody else told us.
David Tulis. You were on the city council for three terms, then you ran the office of sustainability. What were the dates of that second tenure.
Dave Crockett. 2010 through 2012, I think for the office of sustainability.
David Tulis. What did you do in that office? What did you accomplish?
Dave Crockett. I think we accomplished a lot. I was asked to come back and administer a federal grant. It was $1.8 million and my objective in that was to get a ratio of leverage 20 to 1, and I got actually 25 to 1, of things that we put in place that would save a lot of money into the future and they would include energy savings and lighting and one of which got dropped by this administration.
David Tulis. Which project was that?
Dave Crockett. That was the lighting from a local vendor. It was the industry-changing networked street lighting. And, frankly, it would have employed 250 people locally and would have given us a great service and was the first of its kind in the country — in the world, and was modeled after the process of the electric buses, and how we managed to do that. That model has been lost to a lot of our people. We don’t remember those models of doing things in the early ’90s.
David Tulis. So the office of sustainability was to use the idea of sustainability. Now, my listener, when he hears that term, he is on his guard. He thinks that it refers to conceptions and ideas and efforts and movements in law and by other means, through leverage, to effectively take control of domestic activity by far away posts in Brussels and the United Nations in New York. The idea of sustainability has a great burden of weight on it. Deal with these questions of my listener, please.
Dave Crockett. There are people that associate that word with black helicopters and the United Nations and something else. Actually, it’s pretty simple idea and it builds on an idea that corporations have used for many years, at least in my view, which is something called total quality management and the elimination of mistakes, the elimination of waste and the maximum of efficiency and competitiveness. It’s just the next and highest logical iteration of that concept. And what it says, when you make a decision you don’t trade off, you don’t do something that helps this production line over here and at the same time causes all sorts of errors in other parts of the plant. That’s what total quality management says.
Sustainability says, when you make a decision, and I would say the quadruple bottom line: You improve the environment, you improve the economy, you improve the education system and you improve the community. It’s real simple. If you improve all four of those areas with every dollar you spend, and I’m convinced you can — and I will, as mayor — you will have an improvement in all four of those areas with every dollar you spend.
David Tulis. In what sense are your ideas free market oriented, and in what sense are they progressive or statist in their need — the need to use compulsion and law and statute and taxation to further them?
Dave Crockett. Frankly, none of mine do. I am the only candidate and the only local government official, period, that’s ever cut taxes. I cut property taxes three times, 50 cents each time when I was in office by passing significant legislation. And that funded a surplus that funded the Volunteer site.
I was one of the — Gene Roberts and I were the initiators of that conversation to get that land, and I was the initiator of the Southside plan and the trade center, and got the funding to fund all those things, plus three tax cuts. So, when I say I am going to do something — when somebody tells you they’re going to do something, first ask ’em what HAVE you done? Have you gotten five votes for anything? Have you done anything that people told you that couldn’t be done? And in this race I am the only person that meets that test.
David Tulis. In the race for mayor of Chattanooga we have the incumbent, a Democrat lawyer, and then we have Larry Grohn, who is a city council member, and we also have Chris Long, who is a former builder and architectural consultant. *** Dave, you say that what really matters for the listener is that he vote for someone who has accomplished things, and you’re pointing to a record and you have cited some of them —
Dave Crockett. — I would say arguably I have the best record of accomplishment of any local official, mayor, council, commissioner, since Robert Kirk Walker. *** His last term would have been in the ’70s. He’s the one that, one of the major things he did was grow the city by annexation to its current size.
David Tulis. Say something about your boast that you will be the most activist mayor in Chattanooga’s history. I ask that question with the sense representing the listener.
When the listener hears of an activist officeholder, he’s immediately alarmed. He says, "Man, that’s what we don’t want. We want someone who can’t do anything. We want someone who incapable of doing anything because if they do something, I’m going to get hurt. I’m going to be taxed more. I’m going to be bothered more, there’s more things I have to deal with, and I’ve had enough. I’m fed up. I’m fed up with government. I’m fed up with mayors, I’m fed up with senators, fed up with presidents." That’s my listener. Now you say you want to be an activist mayor — explain that.
Dave Crockett. I don’t think I’ve ever said I’m going to be an activist mayor. What I’ve said is, No. 1. I’m going to be successful. This mayor isn’t. I’m going to be involved. I’m going to roll up my sleeves and be involved in what’s going on. And we’re going to be transformational.
Lemme give you an idea. I think we can mine the city of Chattanooga for employment opportunities and entrepreneurial opportunities that frankly we could create 5,000 jobs and save $500 million rather than spend $500 million and create 5,000 jobs. And they’re easy if you take that template and you know how to do it. If you’ve been involved in startups — and I have, I’m the only one in the race that has — if you’ve been involved in business and in startups and in government and you understand all three of those things — then you can do things like the electric buses. You can take money we’re already spending, and we will create in the first term, we’ll have a goal of 2,000 jobs. And you take the money you’re spending now that you’re already spending on, like, picking up garbage, and do things that are innovative, that will start companies, that will employ people, employ people at every level from plumber’s assistant all the way to Ph.D. And that’s my goal in doing economic development.
David Tulis. Is economic development government led, or market led?
Dave Crockett. It’s government-supported and market led. I don’t believe in a dollar — if I as a government go out and hire you, I don’t count that in economic development category.
David Tulis. I wouldn’t either. So, so, what are you saying?
Dave Crockett. Yeah. What I’m saying is the role of government, and government does have a role in the economy, is that, one, you stay out of the way of business enough to let them create economic opportunity. Two, you have great expenditures just in carrying out government. for instance, in just picking up the garbage and going to the landfill and going to the sewage treatment plant, we spend a lot of money.
And I’d like to redirect that money so that it creates entrepreneurial activity and jobs all the way from a plumber’s assistant up to a very high level. And creates companies.
David Tulis. It seems, Dave Crockett, my listener would say, we need an active government, but here’s the way the action would take place. That the government keeps retreating and withdrawing from the many, many areas in which it has asserted itself, to the detriment of liberty, to the detriment of people’s costs, adding a lot of friction in the marketplace.
My idea of a free trade zone is reflected by a candidate for mayor, and he would say that his idea is actually better than mine, because mine is a legal construct and his idea is organic. That candidate is Dave Crockett. His idea is that of the city-state, something in the future that we’ll be hearing more of, no doubt as nation-states and you might say the propaganda of maps fades and loses its grip on the people’s imaginations and the people’s minds and in fact in the marketplace.
These are megatrends, you might say, these are geopolitical prospects of the future covered by writers such as Martin van Creveld, who covers war and military history (The Rise and Decline of the State, Transformation of War), and also Robert Kaplan, whose book The Ends of the Earth I’m in the middle of reading, "a journey at the dawn of the 21st century." It’s a major history of looking at how the idea of nation-states is collapsing. *** (The Kaplan book Revenge of Geography) argues that geography controls history much more than we realize. He’s making the case of the future. It is more market oriented, it is much more fluid and the state, the modern state with its compulsion, its wars, its false narratives of unity around warfare, these are losing ground. And we have to celebrate that. We’re past the era of major wars, according to Kaplan and others, and we have low-intensity conflicts, and so, how does that affect us here in Chattanooga? What kind of political figures do we have that maybe understand those issues and will propose reforms in the way of municipal government today does things.
Because, Dave Crockett, municipal government is still that. It is bureaucracy. It is funded by compulsion against property holders who don’t own their land; they have to pay taxes to pay a rent on it effectively, and so even the best person holding a public office has to use force to get his will done, even though his will may be informed by the best and brightest ideas.
What are your plans, Dave, if you win the mayor’s race?
Dave Crockett. No. 1, we’re going to have every community in a neighborhood in this city will be clean, green and safe. And we’re going to address crime, we’re going to address jobs and cleaning each neighborhood and we’re going to address the culture change that’s necessary. Because when I try to solve a problem in computers, I always ask ’Is this a hardware problem, or a software problem?’ And a lot of the dysfunction we have now is not the guns, it’s a software problem. It is how we think. It is somebody thinks. And so you have to change that.
The Army has a program that builds resilience into all its soldiers and their families. And we’re going to adapt that in Chattanooga on a voluntary basis and the government will just be a facilitator and not a catalyst not a controller or a deliverer of that program. But it is a start to changing the culture where people act and react in a different way and do not fall into these victim kind of circumstances where they think they have no other choice but to do things that are dysfunctional.
David Tulis. How can the mayor’s office improve culture? That’s seems like a very large and vague policy point, if you will.
Dave Crockett. The mayor has the ability to convene major organizations. That’s his biggest job. To be a catalyst and a convenor. And to convene groups, and with some universities and the people who created the Army program in our university, and all of the employers and faith-based organizations — in theory, we can deliver this. The city won’t be sponsoring it. The city won’t be delivering it. That’s not the role of city government. But we can facilitate people coming together and putting up the money from the employers to put this program in place.
David Tulis. You’re suggesting that city government and municipal government and the mayor’s office which is the executive branch, is going to be encouraging — what you’re describing is really a voluntaryist approach. It’s not compulsory. It is voluntary.
Dave Crockett. It is voluntary. It’s delivery vehicles are employers, faith-based organizations for the culture part of this.
David Tulis. Is faith-based your word for church?
Dave Crockett. Churches, synagogues, other things. I’m a Christian but I grew up in a community that in Alabama because of the war had Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Jewish, Catholics, we had everything. I’m a Baptist.
But, anyway, that program of addressing crime and not doing it as a social experiment, but how it should be done and, second, addressing each community — we’ve broken it up into microwatersheds to look at it carefully, make sure that community is clean, green, and jobs are delivered to that specific area.
David Tulis Is that something that can be done, or is that just a yearning from your overheated imagination?
Dave Crockett. Well, I do have an overheated imagination, but I also have a red-hot resume, and that is getting things done that people said could not be done. And when you look out at the Volunteer site with the Volkswagen plant sitting there, and you look at the Southside of Chattanooga and you see it growing and you see greenways, and you see Chattanooga Creek on its way to being cleaned up — long way to go — then, those are all part of my overheated imagination at one time as this is. And I believe I did those, and I believe I can do this.
David Tulis. There’s a law going into effect in January, Dave. It’s a law that requires the state to look over each licensed occupation and determine whether the public interest is served by that occupation being possessed by the state. There are 111 jobs that are owned by the state government. We’re the 13th worst state for economic injustice where licensing is required to enter into an occupation. Fifty-three of those affect the poor. It takes 222 days to enter into these domains. It’s four times easier to become an EMT than an auctioneer; we have grievous disproportions in the so-called preparation time required for some of these occupations.
Dave Crockett. I’d have to study it. I can’t imagine that that’s a law.
David Tulis. The state is now required to review these seizures of the marketplace.
Dave Crockett. Thank goodness. Thank goodness it’s them and not the local government. I feel good about that right off the bat.
I’m trying to create jobs. For instance, we will create jobs that involve just getting rid of food waste. In some places they ban food waste from landfills. *** In cooperation with some major corporations, we will make available these InSinkErators that go in the sink and grind up your garbage. We make ’em available to anybody who wants one. We’ll put in the plumbing, wrap that up in a package, put it on your sewer bill and it’ll be over such a period of time you never notice it’s there. The city benefits because we’re spending money to pick up that stuff up, carry it out to a landfill, put it in a landfill, mitigate all the methane gas from it.
David Tulis. Because food waste creates more methane than nonfood waste?
Dave Crockett. It’s the worst. It brings rodents and insects into the neighborhoods, and also it very expensive to take care of. So if you put it down the sink, it goes straight out to Moccasin Bend and it enriches the sewage streams so we can put it in a biodigester that turns it into a gas that we use to make electricity. That pays for the electricity for the plant and all the pumping stations around town.
David Tulis. Is this being done now?
Dave Crockett. Yes, it is. It is. What that does is it benefits the homeowner. It benefits the city. And it creates job opportunities so if you’re going to put in 10,000 of these things, there’ll be opportunities. I don’t care if you’ve got three felonies and cain’t spell cat, you can be a plumber’s helper on your way to moving up the ladder. And there are all sorts of opportunities for entrepreneurs to put these things in. That’s just one program and I got about a dozen.
David Tulis. Give us another couple.
Dave Crockett. Let me give you this one. There’s a former professional basketball player in Milwaukee, Will Allen. I met him and went there to see him and had him down here. He has a program called Growing Power. One of his gardens literally feeds 10,000 people. Just one. And it involves all the schoolkids. Now if you take every single you do and go back to the waste disposal or to this Growing Power where you do farming and everything else, and you say we are going to do things that are good for the environment, good for the economy, create jobs, good for education and we’re going to connect this to Chattanooga State and the high schools through training programs, and good for the community.
And this cleans up the community. Both these programs benefit all those things and improve all those things. So if you do that every time, with every program — We spend all kind of money to take care of storm water. We have ways of doing that naturally that would cut our costs about half in two instead of making the city put a lot of concrete stuff in.
We’re going to do infrastructure. I’m not sure if $5 million is enough for roads. Well, we’ll have to look at that. But you have to get the money from somewhere and I know how to do that. I’ve proven I do. And we’ll put in a lot money into roads. But we’ll also put money into infrastructure. But it’ll be the new kind if infrastructure, not the kind that creates problems. You put in a bunch of infrastructure that makes a hard surface, and based on our annual rainfall an acre runs off one and a quarter million gallons a year, then we have to go in and fix that. The problem is that you put in that hard surface. We’re going to start putting in an infrastructure that makes the city green, clean, affordable instead of hard, dirty, scary and expensive.
David Tulis. Dave, one thing that seems like you’re really missing the boat on. That is mass transit. You are a proponent of a boondoggle between Chattanooga and Atlanta. You’ve said magnificent about the prospects of this high-speed rail, saying it will be more beneficial to Chattanooga than, than what?
Dave Crockett. I’ve said if you — I don’t want to trade of anything for anything else. If you had two Volkswagens ready to go in Chattanooga and I could connect immediately in 30 minutes, we’d be connecting to Atlanta. Let me tell you what. I’m not a fan of railroads. I like to ride ’em in Europe and Japan. But I’m not interested in them for transportation. I don’t really care if it’s a magic carpet. It costs $10 billion or $12 billion just to add one lane of superhighway between here and Atlanta.
And the benefit is almost zero. We’ll take that up in no time, no economic benefit other than while you’re pouring concrete comes from it. You take the very same amount of money and create a link between Atlanta and Chattanooga that takes 30 minutes and what that does is immediately out at Lovell Field — not immediately but in decently short period of time — there was an article in the paper this morning saying we have 400,000 people using the airport. Well, the day this is open, we now have 5 million per year. Because we will be an extension of the Atlanta airport.
People will go into Marietta, check in their car, buy a ticket, check their bag and get on the train and either go out to Hartsfield and put up with all that or come north to Chattanooga and fly out of here directly on one of 150 flights. And we now have 30. Imagine what that does to our economy. Let me give you an example. Our convention business is based don people who can drive in here. Only about 2 percent fly into Chattanooga to go to a convention. Charleston, South Carolina, has nearly 25 percent.
So the day you have flights, 150, most of them direct coming in and out of Chattanooga, our convention business just goes straight up. More importantly, all the jobs that our kids leave and go to Atlanta and Charlotte and Dallas and Nashville and all these other cities, those professional jobs, those real good jobs we’re short on in Chattanooga, will start coming here because we have the air service. Those kinds of jobs have to have good air service. And then, second, we’re 30 minutes from Atlanta and we’ve got a quality of life that is off the scale compared to Atlanta. So this is the most transformative thing for our economy. We’ll grow quality, not quantity. We’ll move 5 million passengers up here without their cars and they will fly out of our airport.
That’s why we do that. It is for economics. It’s not for transportation.
David Tulis. What would be the bill for high-speed rail system proposed?
Dave Crockett. About the same as a lane of interstate.
David Tulis. F$15 billion.
Dave Crockett. — F$12 billion, maybe. People say, do you need one that fast? Well, no. You could get a computer built in 1985. It’d be cheap. Of course, you couldn’t get anything done with it. Actually, the cheapest thing you can do is the maglev. It’s about the same price to build that as any high-speed rail. It is a lot less maintenance because it doesn’t touch the track. And the other thing is, is when it’s 30 minutes away it can defray the cost out at the airport, help defray the cost, of a F$12 billion runway in Atlanta.
You add all that up. The cheapest single thing you can do is that 30-minute connection — that maglev. And president-elect Trump has said he wants a 300-mile-an-hour train. He wants to restore the steel business. This has about a ton of steel per foot, the rail system this thing uses. There are a lot of foots between Atlanta and Chattanooga. It is infrastructure, but it is infrastructure that creates something. The old government model of WPA spends the money, give the man a job, today it’s over. It has relatively no effect.
The day this is over, this has tremendous economic consequences.
David Tulis. Dave Crockett, in your presentations you talk about green rooftops, sustainable
site design, and street scenes, you have pictures of street scenes redrawn in the same way that our form-based code system recently implemented envisions, favoring somewhat the ideas of Jane Jacobs and her great 1961 book, The Fall and Rise of Great American Cities. What do you make of form-based coding and the idea of a kind of environmentally friendly downtown. What role does the mayor play if you are elected in that.
Dave Crockett. Let me just tell you real quick. The one with the best place wins. You’re competing. I competed every day when I was with IBM and when I was running a software company of my own. You wake up and you think about your competition. That’s the first thing you think about. And you have to be better than them.
Now, the idea of putting in a green roof — Nashville has a four-acre green roof on their convention center. Chicago got the idea from us, but they built the first one. We were going to build one in Chattanooga. A green roof on a flat roof absorbs 1 inch of rain. It cools the building down, saves 30 percent on the energy bill. It makes the roof last three times as long. The economics of it — it may sound funny, but it is a centuries-old concept to insulate a building or a home.
David Tulis. We do thank you, Dave, for joining us.
— David Tulis hosts a show 9 to 11 weekdays on NoogaRadio 1240 AM 101.1 FM, covering local economy and free markets in Chattanooga and beyond.