NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Diane Black, who as a powerful committee chair has championed cutting safety net programs such as Medicaid and food stamps, announced Wednesday that she will run to become the next governor of Tennessee.
In her video announcement, Black touted a record that included passing anti-abortion legislation and opposing a state income tax when she served in the Tennessee General Assembly.
"I wasn't afraid to stand up to the weak-kneed people in my own party when I had to," she said. "I believe in secure borders and tough choices in cutting spending and beating the liberals instead of caving in to them."
About one in four Tennesseans is enrolled in TennCare, the state's expanded Medicaid program, while one out of six residents receives food stamp assistance.
Black, who chairs the House Budget Committee, is the latest candidate to join the growing field seeking to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Bill Haslam by winning the November 2018 general election. Republican candidates State Sen. Mae Beavers, state House Speaker Beth Harwell, businessmen Randy Boyd and Bill Lee are also running. Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean is seeking the Democratic nomination, while state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh is also expected to join that race.
Black has been a strong ally to Republican leadership in the House since her election 2010, and was named interim chair of the Budget Committee in January when President Donald Trump nominated Rep. Tom Price of Georgia to become secretary of Health and Human Services.
The budget plan faced opposition from both hard-core conservatives and more moderate Republicans even as it advanced through Black's panel last month on a party-line 22-14 vote.
"Both parties in Washington have failed to abide by a simple principle that all American families and small businesses do — that we must live within our means," Black said after the vote. "Balancing the budget requires us to make tough choices, but the consequences of inaction far outweigh any political risks we may face."
To many Republicans, the most important element of the plan is the procedural pathway it would clear to allow them to pass an overhaul of the tax code later this year without fear of a blockade by Senate Democrats.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers called Black's work on the Budget Committee "pivotal."
"Diane Black is a force of nature, and is simply unstoppable," he said in a statement.
Black won the Republican nomination for the 6th Congressional District race by a mere 400 votes in 2010. Her tea party-styled opponent, Lou Ann Zelenik, ran TV ads criticizing Black for state Senate votes that provided $1 million in state contracts to Aegis Sciences, the drug testing company owned by her husband.
Aegis sued Zelenik for defamation, but a judge dismissed the case and a state appeals court later upheld the ruling. Zelenik ran against Black again in 2012 but was handily defeated. Another tea party aligned candidate, former state Rep. Joe Carr, lost his primary challenge to Black by 32 percentage points last year.
While serving as a state lawmaker, Black was a major sponsor of legislation to put a proposed constitutional amendment before the voters to pave the way for stricter abortion regulations in Tennessee. Black and her husband helped push that constitutional amendment toward a 53 percent approval in 2014 with a late $500,000 contribution.
A legal challenge to the referendum is pending in the federal courts.
The state's gubernatorial primary will be held on Aug. 2, 2018.