Dear Gov. Bredesen: It’s a new year, and you know what that means. Yep, they’re coming back. The legislators. This Tuesday. All 132 of them. Yes, even the guy with the FedEx fetish. Him too. An embarrassment you say? Hey, give him a break; at least he used a Tennessee company. Imagine the scandal if he’d used Airborne Express.
Well, it certainly looks like you’re in for a barnburner of a session. Already, you can hear partisan carping about your administration from those pesky Republicans. Check out these zingers the Associated Press reported Sunday:
“I’d say Bredesen is in pretty good shape politically,” said John Parish, former press secretary for Republican Lamar Alexander. “My assessment is that he had a very good first year,” said Rep. Jack Sharp, Republican from East Ridge. “[Bredesen has] done remarkably well his first year,” said Republican Victor Ashe, former mayor of Knoxville.
Um, well, maybe things are actually going to be just fine. Upon closer inspection, you seem to have every coalition in the legislature eating out of the palm of your hand, or at least, not biting your hand, which is about as good as you can hope for.
You’ve probably had the hardest time pleasing the West Tennessee Democrats, the close-knit fraternity that has controlled both houses of the legislature since the days of Ned Ray McWherter. For them, the good news about your victory over Van Hilleary was that their party regained possession of the governor’s office. The bad news, though, was that they would no longer be the bullies of Capitol Hill. For eight years, they pushed poor Gov. Sundquist around like he was the Secretary of the Chess Club in gym class. And then here you come, Mr. I-Actually-Read-the-Budget-and-Know-What-All-the-Numbers-Mean, to spoil all the fun. Now the West Tennessee Dems have to answer to you, and the old sheriff in town always has a hard time getting used to the new one. But hey, they’ll live. Hold a fundraiser or two at the mansion and they’ll be happy. What’s that? You’re having one this Monday night? Well then, that’s that.
It’s all good in any case, because the Middle Tennessee Democrats like the fact that you’ve taken over. Many of them have felt like their brothers from the west have given them short shrift in terms of committee assignments, bill sponsorships and other legislative favors. Since you’re from their neck of the woods, the Midstate Dems feel like they’ve got an ally in their corner. Many of them are also pretty conservative, and they like the fact that you’ve taken the income tax issue off the table. Bully for you.
The Legislative Black Caucus, it seems, likes you too. Of course, they prefer Democratic governors generally, but they especially like you, because they know you owe their constituents a great dealTennessee’s urban centers gave you the winning margin in that close 2002 race. Plus, you’ve successfully governed a major Tennessee city, so you have up-close and personal knowledge of the problems that beset our cities. That’s the going theory anyway. Run with it.
So you’ve got the legislative Democrats taken care of. What about the Republicans? Well, as we’ve seen, most Republicans think you’re pretty keen. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t take them for granted. The old go-along-with-the Democratic-leadership-to-get-along wing of the perpetual minority party is slowly but surely losing its grip on the Republican legislative caucuses. The income tax issue killed a number of them off, and many of their replacements actually believe that being a Republican means acting like a Republican from time to time. They are worth keeping an eye on, so throw ’em a bone once in a while. It couldn’t hurt.
Interestingly, your presence in the statehouse has emboldened the Republicans, but it’s not because you’re doing a bad job. On the contrary, you are managing to prove that, in many respects, the Republicans were right. You have, after all, managed to run the state without an income tax. You have acknowledged that TennCare is a significant problem. And you have demonstrated that some budgetary reductions can be made without Tennessee going to hell in a handbasket (not an expensive handbasket anyway). Ironically, in one of those odd turns of events that happen from time to time in the world of politics, you have becomefor some Republicanstheir unofficial patron saint. Keep this up, and you may be the nominee for both parties in 2006.
Well, let’s not get carried away, lest there be accusations of giving you a long, lingering, journalistic wet kiss. (In the interest of full disclosure, and in the interest of quelling angry letter writers, let it be known that this writer hails from the other side of the political fence.) Don’t forget, you’ve still got three years to go, and with TennCare still in critical condition, a state university board of trustees with a collective IQ apparently lower than the number on Casey Clausen’s jersey, and a multimillion dollar state lottery on the way, there are plenty of landmines ahead.
Happy New Year, and best of luck.
Real Christianists don't call themselves Christianists, Jim Collins. I see right through you.
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