One Buck-Naked Emperor 

John Wilder is past his prime like the Kingston Trio is past theirs

John Wilder is past his prime like the Kingston Trio is past theirs

If, heaven forbid, something were to happen to Gov. Phil Bredesen, the Tennessee Constitution requires that the powers and duties of the governor's office would become Lt. Gov. John Wilder's. You would think that possibility, combined with his status as Senate speaker, would rank Wilder among the most powerful people in Tennessee.

Business Tennessee thinks otherwise. While the magazine's profile of "The Power 100: Tennessee's 100 Most Powerful People" includes obvious choices such as House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh (D-Covington) and House Majority Leader Kim McMillan (D-Clarksville), along with less obvious ones like state Sen. Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) and state Sen. Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville), Wilder himself, a man who has presided over the state Senate for over 33 years, garners no mention at all.

David Fox, editor of Business Tennessee, offers this explanation for the omission: "Since the Power 100 isn't a 'Lifetime Achievement Award,' we include only those people currently wielding the most power. And in comparison to the iron grip of Naifeh, Wilder's control over the Senate and its members appears tiny. He really has no legislative agenda he's associated with, and the Republicans are making a credible bid to dislodge Wilder from leadership."

It was a surprising exclusion, but, in truth, Fox is absolutely correct, and Business Tennessee deserves a lot of credit for its candor. Other media outlets, in contrast, treat Wilder—who insists on being addressed as "Gov. Wilder"—with kid gloves, reporting the frequently incoherent and laughable observations he makes verbatim and at face value. Here is Exhibit A, a recent quotation regarding the abortion issue as reported by The Tennessean in March: "I'm pro-life. I think the constitution ought to provide to that end except in the instance of rape, incest and when the mother's life is at stake. When you ask if the constitution ought to be changed, that gets kind of gray with [Sen. David] Fowler because he wants the legislature to do it instead of the Supreme Court. He wants the legislature to have the authority.... I favor the constitution providing for pro-life. Until Roe v. Wade goes away, it's not going to do anything. I don't know when and if Roe v. Wade is ever going to go away."

Actually, this is one of his more cogent moments. But try this bit of wisdom regarding the beat-a-dead-horse topic of civil unions, also quoted in the local daily: "I don't see why it's necessary...a written contract if it's not a marriage. I'm not opposed to people living together, two or three men or two or three women as long as sex is not a part of it. I know that people have their disposition and can't help it. I still don't think that's the right thing to do. If it's sex-driven, I don't think that's in tune with nature."

Would Naked Twister be OK? In any case, the weirdness doesn't stop there. A few weeks back, Wilder was quoted as saying he "boo-booed" with regard to one senator's vacation schedule. On another recent occasion, Wilder put in a request to Bolivar Republican Ron Stallings to kindly drop out of the race against him so that he could have just one more term in office, after which he would gracefully step down and turn the reins over to a suitable successor.

Stallings, a 44-year-old accountant, didn't bite, telling folks that Wilder seems to be more interested in remaining as Senate speaker than serving his constituents—a fair observation. Stallings said that while he had a great deal of respect for Wilder, it was simply "time for him to come home."

Indeed, everyone you talk to has some measure of respect for the man, but most will say privately that John Wilder—Gov. Wilder—is past his prime. Actually, that's probably understating things. The 82-year-old Wilder and his prime haven't seen each other since the advent of the Rubik's Cube. He is "past his prime" the way the Kingston Trio are past their prime. Kudos to Fox's pub for having the guts to publicly say—by way of omission—that the great Emperor John Wilder is wearing nary a stitch.

Will he love the smell of Fallujah in the morning?

Robert Duvall is off to Iraq. Not the guy from Apocalypse Now, but the fellow who ran for Congress as a Republican against Democrat Jim Cooper in 2002. Duvall, who won the GOP nomination for no other reason than he had the most familiar-sounding name on the ballot, later spearheaded an effort to elect local Republicans to the Metro Council. He became a pretty well-known figure among the 16 or possibly 17 active Republicans living in Davidson County.

Now he's off to assist the war effort "in a civilian capacity," in part because he has been a consistently outspoken supporter of the war in Iraq.

"How could I not go overseas when we ask our soldiers and their families to sacrifice so much?" Duvall wrote in an e-mail to acquaintances. "Now it is my duty to serve and support these fine young men and women. I am proud to play a small part on their behalf and will serve them well."

Duvall may have chosen wisely, as it may be more feasible to establish a vibrant, functioning democracy in a nation the size of California with various warring factions that hate one another than it would be to build a viable Republican organization in Davidson County.

Tax leakage

Metro finance director David Manning was seen entering a Williamson County supermarket over the weekend. This means that, in these dire times of looming budget cuts in city departments, Manning was taking his local sales tax dollars outside the county.

Political Notes would take a (good-natured) jab at this outright perfidy on the part of the man in charge of our city's purse strings, but, unfortunately for us, we saw Manning doing this while we were grocery shopping at the very same place.


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