At a Crossroads 

Will Gore's name come off the Tennessee welcome signs?

Will Gore's name come off the Tennessee welcome signs?

It’s not exactly the most pressing issue facing the great state of Tennessee, but it is a curious question: With the presidential loss of Al Gore, will state bureaucrats remove the phrase “Home state of Vice President Al Gore” from the 15 welcome signs that introduce visitors to the Volunteer State?

The answer as to the fate of the prolific Gore signs is: Nobody knows. (Tennessee is bordered by a whopping eight states, which explains why we have so many signs in the first place.)

The state Legislature has the power to dictate such signage and was, in fact, the body that asked the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) to erect the Gore portion of the signs in 1993 after he became vice president. Interestingly, Tennessee took its cue from Arkansas, whose lawmakers funded similar signs for Bill Clinton after his presidential victory in 1992. Just as interestingly, the Gore signs didn’t go up until 1999, because after former Gov. Ned McWherter, a Democrat, left office in 1994, the new administration was unfamiliar with the Legislature’s earlier request. Only when House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh raised the issue a couple years ago did the signs get posted around the state.

“I have no idea, really,” Memphis state Sen. Steve Cohen, a Democrat, says about what might happen to the Gore signs. “We haven’t had this situation since James Knox Polk was president, so we’ll have to do some historical research.” Cohen wonders if the one-term president, elected in 1844, had his name emblazoned on signage along the state borders. “Probably they had a barge crossing or something,” he says.

Luanne Grandinetti, spokeswoman for TDOT, says, “Putting most things up is a legislative prerogative.” So when will the Gore signs cease to be? “When the Legislature takes them down, I guess.”

State Rep. Rob Briley, a Democrat from Nashville, knows a little something about signage. Briley Parkway is named in honor of his grandfather, Beverly Briley, who was mayor of Nashville from 1963 to 1975. He suggests some simple editing. “He will no longer be the vice president after Jan. 20, but he will have been the vice president for eight years,” Briley says. “If it were up to me, I would say we make it ‘former vice president.’ ”

Whatever happens, the discussion about the fate of the signs probably wasn’t what Gore was talking about when he said he needed to “mend fences” in his home state.

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