Doctors aren't known for their social skills, and Howard Dean is no exception. But the newly elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee does have a reputation for offering pragmatic, candid assessments of whatever political situation is at hand. So when he's in Nashville March 22 and 23, all eyes will focus on his ability to motivate the Democratic base without scaring itor alienating notoriously cautious party big shots. Can Dr. Dean diagnose the Southern Democrats' ailment without killing the patient?
Dean reportedly told state Democratic chairman Randy Button to use his visit to raise money for the Tennessee Democratic Party however Button sees fit, which is a nonthreatening (read: politically savvy) approach to come to town with. It also indicates that Dean's rhetoric about strengthening local parties may have been more than mere lip service. So when the chairman's in the city, he'll speak at Vanderbiltincluding, we're told, a guest lecture in former political advisor Roy Neel's classbut he'll also raise some cash at a pair of fundraisers, perhaps hold a public event at TSU and hopefully meet with state House and Senate Democrats.
But will he meet with Gov. Phil Bredesen? The real question may be whether the governor will meet with him.
That's because many Bredesen advisors view Dean as more of a liability than an energizing force for the Democratic Party. The Dean dodgers, reportedly led by Bredesen political advisor Dave Cooley (the deputy governor), see Dean as a volatile know-it-all, a hot-headed Yankee coming down to tell Southerners what to do. Rightly or wrongly, the guy is regarded as a flaming Commie, and that's the last thing red-state Democrats need on their side. Thanks, Doc, but no thanks.
It's an understandable view, but it could be shortsighted for a governor being mentioned as a presidential contender. After all, to go anywhere worth mentioning in a political party you need its chair in your cornereven if you hate his guts. Which Bredesen, increasingly seen as a leading Democratic governor, doesn't. It's just that Dean's take-no-prisoners brand of populism is hardly Bredesen's style.
The Dean dilemmathat is, how to seem warm without getting cozyis facing a bunch of high-profile Tennessee Democrats at the moment. (Try to picture local Democratic leaders sharing a stage with Dean. It's hard, isn't it?) But if they'll just relax and give the new guy a chance, they might like him; maybe they'll even catch some of that populist fever that made rank-and-file Dems proud of their party affiliation again, if only briefly.
"His biggest challenge is to be himself in a way that seems nonthreatening," says one local Democrat. "And then, don't stay too long."J.S.
When the public information office of the Tennessee Department of Children's Services called us after last week's account of a commissioner's memorandum that took a hatchet to the state's community services agency program, we assumed we were going to be taken to task for misrepresenting the memo (a popular defense mechanism) or somehow misquoting someone at the department.
What we didn't expect was a request for a copy of the memo. That's right. The DCS public information office, whose whole reason for existing is to communicate DCS initiatives to the public, had no clue about a commissioner-penned memorandum communicating a DCS initiative that was then distributed to the public. In fact, according to our calendar, three whole weeks went by between the publication of the memorandum and the public information office's learning about it. Compounding this embarrassment, the office had to get the information from a media outlet (us). It's supposed to work the other way around. Little wonder that DCS has the reputation of the most dysfunctional agency in state government.R.A.
Asked of us last week by a Democratic activist:
"With all of this ethics stuff going on, what with John Ford's stuff, Mike Williams' problems, Ron Ramsey's Ethics Committee seeming to drag its feet and all of these partisan ethics bills in the legislature right now, where is TIGER (the "Tennessee Institute for Governmental Ethics and Reform," which sprung up last year to highlight Democratic House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh's alleged ethical lapses)? Why haven't we heard anything from them with all of this going on? When it was an election year, they were all over the place!"
Good question. If a representative of TIGER wants to respond, feel free to drop us a line.R.A.
Billing itself as an "independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan research organization dedicated to providing concerned citizens, the media and public leaders with expert empirical research and timely free-market solutions to public policy issues in Tennessee," the Tennessee Center for Policy Research doesn't even have an office yet. It does, however, have a website, www.tennesseepolicy.org, which nowadays may be all it needs.
Belmont University graduate Drew Johnson serves as the center's president, and seeks to bring his public policy experience with Washington-based groups like the National Taxpayers Union and the American Enterprise Institute a little closer to home. Johnson tells the Scene that while the center hasn't hung its shingle anywhere other than on the Internet thus far, an actual place of business is in the works. Intriguingly, the Center is adamant about fostering "inclusiveness," and will therefore focus only on economic issues rather than "questions of social ethics such as abortion, censorship and gambling." Right now, its biggest challenge may be getting state legislators to think about anything other than these sorts of issues.R.A.
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