Giving Thanks 

Some Tennessee politicians and agencies should count their blessings

Some Tennessee politicians and agencies should count their blessings

The year is in the home stretch, and the annual assessments are beginning. Some of our political leaders, more than others, have particular reason to be thankful: for what they’ve been given, or promised or delivered in a back room somewhere. As all of us gather around the turkey, the Scene requests that the following individuals and groups give particular thanks for the blessings bestowed on them in the public trenches:

Bill Purcell should thank term limits—To apply an overused phrase, Bill Purcell is successful in his own right. But it doesn’t hurt that the legislative body charged with deliberating his proposals—so far, one tax increase and two substantial capital spending plans, among other lesser legislation—is hopelessly green. Unfortunately for Nashville, Metro got caught up in a national term-limits movement in 1994 that resulted in capping Metro Council members’ terms to two four-year stints. In two subsequent efforts to repeal the limits, the Nashville electorate, apparently unaware that it already has a solid history of turning out the council’s bad apples, affirmed the cap. The result is a body of well-meaning but largely irrelevant citizens with very little institutional memory and backbone. In other words, a mayor’s dream come true.

Suggested Thanksgiving dish: baby carrots.

John Wilder should thank Don Sundquist—Were it not for a governor rejected by his own party and vilified daily on radio airwaves for income tax advocacy, Senate Speaker John Wilder may well have earned the title of the most roasted statewide politician in the year 2000. Fortunately for him, political memory tends to be short. Just a few months ago, Wilder, who has led the Senate for about three decades now, was finally being characterized truthfully by the state’s media—that is, as a bumbling, self-serving figurehead who exhibits leadership only when it’s to preserve his rank. In fact, it’s his adroitness at self-preservation that, more than anything else, has kept him in charge of the state Senate. Still, his days may be numbered.

Suggested Thanksgiving dish: minute rice.

Tommy Hopper should thank the income tax—The outspoken former chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party wouldn’t have been rescued from oblivion this year had it not been for the snowballing income tax deliberations in the General Assembly. Hopper built his reputation among the party’s hard core by opposing elite leaders who rallied around an income tax in the early 1990s. But his failure to get along with the bizpigs cost him his job. Although Hopper went on to do some interesting political work outside Tennessee, he was largely a forgotten man at home. Not so any more. The renewed income tax issue has been made-to-order for a natural street brawler like Hopper, who practices a scorched-earth style of politics. And this time he’s not weighed down by any of those namby-pamby “responsible” Republicans.

Suggested Thanksgiving dish: crème brûlée (burnt cream).

Talk radio host Phil Valentine should thank state Sen. Marsha Blackburn—Next to the state senator from Brentwood, WLAC’s conservative broken record looks like a statesman. Blackburn, who never misses an opportunity to kowtow to the narrow-minded white-toast Brentwood electorate, seemed decidedly anti-immigrant this year as she opposed a new state law allowing illegal aliens to obtain driver’s licenses. Her smug conservatism might have been less offensive than Valentine’s had it not been for the frequency with which she found her face and voice front-and-center with the state’s media. Suggested Thanksgiving dish: ham.

Williamson County should thank TDOT—While a collection of Williamson residents has risen up in aggressive protest against the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s (TDOT) current pet project—the monstrously invasive state Route 840—the collective psyche of that county seems more aligned with instant gratification, huge vehicles and wide roads. It is precisely that kind of Tennessean to whom TDOT, with all its road paving money, caters. Now, more than ever before, state lawmakers are considering stripping TDOT of at least some of its incredibly vast wealth. But until then, it is the most porcine department in the state of Tennessee, and it has delivered unto Williamson some of its vast stores. Suggested Thanksgiving dish: 840 road kill.

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