One of the unknowns that political observers wondered about before the start of the legislative session was the prospective relationship between new Gov. Phil Bredesen and veteran House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh.
Although both are Democrats, relations were somewhat strained last year when Naifeh was pushing for additional taxes to balance the state budget and Bredesen was campaigning for governor on the notion that new taxes weren’t the answer. Predictably, Naifeh viewed many of Bredesen’s comments on the stump as unhelpful to his legislative struggle.
When Bredesen took office this year and faced further rounds of budget problems, he got rave reviews for the crisp way he went about trimming the budget. But Naifeh didn’t hesitate to point out that one of the reasons the situation was manageable was because Naifeh had secured nearly $1 billion worth of tax increases the previous yearwhich went a long way toward solving the problem.
Whatever the initial tensions may have been, Bredesen and Naifeh ultimately got along just fine, with Naifeh standing strongly behind the governor, who had a successful first legislative session.
As for the Senate, it had its usual confused dynamic. Lt. Gov. John Wilder hasn’t been a dominating force in a decade or two, and the recent departure of Sen. Bob Rochelle upset whatever semblance of order may have existed in the unruly body.
Oddly enough, Bredesen’s experience working with the Metro Council may have been helpful, as the council lacks a formal factional leadership structure. Of course, the Senate is not as big as the Metro Council.
One key indicator that the Bredesen-Naifeh relationship is going well is that Naifeh stood firmly behind Bredesen on his concerns about appointing lottery board members. It was Naifeh’s firm support that caused Memphis Sen. Steve Cohen to back down on the issue of legislative control after months of acrimony with Bredesen. Cohen, who worked for 20 years to gain passage of the lottery, wanted the bulk of the board appointments to be controlled by the General Assembly. Bredesen wanted the governor to make most of the appointments, as is the case with most other state boards.
As with most issues involving Cohen, there was a hefty dose of melodrama. Cohen suffers from being the legislature’s most articulate and colorful speaker as well as one of its brightest members, but he manages to overcome these handicaps. Any hope he might have had to win over the House on the board issue probably slipped away when he referred to House majority leader Kim McMillan as a “chastising harpy.”
Rhetoric like that makes Cohen a popular quote for journalists, but in the legislature, it’s just unconstructive.
Bedding down across the aisle
Lamar Alexander may have come from a more distinguished past than most of his freshman colleagues in the Senate, but in his first months in office he’s engaged in all the routine things that good novice Senators dokeeping his head down, his mouth largely shut and signing on to worthy but not too controversial legislation. (Among other things, he’s on the record as supporting Jackie Robinson’s integration of major league baseball.)
Meanwhile, Alexander is pushing his own maiden piece of legislationa $100 million bill to improve teaching of American history and civics. The bill provides for summer residential schools for students and teachers.
During his campaign, Alexander played to the red-meat right of the party by talking about how his election opponent, Democrat Bob Clement, would “take (incumbent Republican) Fred Thompson’s seat and move it over next to Teddy Kennedy,” the liberal Massachusetts Democrat long used as a symbol by the Republicans to stir up the bile of the party faithful.
But all that campaign stuff is just for fun, and now Alexander wants to get something done. So he’s lined up a bunch of co-sponsors for his school bill, Teddy Kennedy among them.
One of the various bills the General Assembly did not pass before adjournment was legislation barring circus elephants in Tennessee.
Of course, Tennessee has always been hard on circus elephants. In 1916, in Kingsport, a circus elephant named Mary got irritated at her trainer, picked him up with her trunk, threw him against a drink stand, and then stepped on his head until it was flat. Mary was condemned for her transgressions, but when available guns proved inadequate for the task of killing Mary, she was transported to nearby Ervin, where she was hanged with a chain from a large derrick used for clearing training wrecks.
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