On Capitol Hill, the proverbial poop is starting to hit the fan. And Gov. Don Sundquist has just cranked up the speed of the fan. Eighteen of Sundquist’s 38 staffers have just received significant pay raises, giving the governor’s opponents in the Legislature ammunition to criticize him during upcoming talks about the budget and employee layoffs.
The pay raises amount to a reprise of last year, when then-Chief of Staff Peaches Simpkins gave top staffers enormous salary hikes. Sundquist came under fire for it at the time because he was preaching departmental belt tightening and government-wide frugality. Sundquist is sticking with the same sermon this year.
This year the issue will probably make Sundquist’s first week of the 100th General Assembly a living nightmare. Nevertheless, his office is defending the raises as part of an officewide restructuring.
“We’ve had a transition. The majority of these people have taken on additional duties,” says press secretary Beth Fortune, who was one of the few top staffers unaffected by the raises. Her $62,000 annual salary remains the same.
Fortune reiterated Sundquist’s recent justification for last year’s pay raises: According to Fortune, and her boss, paying fewer people more money increases efficiency.
“We’ve cut our budget 15 percent for the remainder of this year and next year. This restructuring is an example of how the governor thinks state government can and should operate,” Fortune says, adding that Sundquist’s office has eliminated four vacant positionsan office finance director, two governor’s aides, and an executive assistant for policy.
The biggest pay raise went to Sundquist’s legislative assistant, David Locke, whose salary has jumped from $64,380 to $75,000. Deputy Gov. Hardy Mays, who eased into Simpkins’ position when she left state government Dec. 31, now makes $85,000, up from $77,160. The pay raises total just over $69,000, a nominal amount in a $14 billion state budget. But look for legislators and state employee lobbyists to say, “It’s the principle of the thing.”
Two new staffers, legal counsel Courtney Pearre and environmental policy guru Justin Wilson, have been added to the governor’s staff roster; each pulls in $80,000 a year. Their addition, however, raises another issue altogetherone of diversity.
The governor’s inner circle is now made up almost entirely of middle-aged white men from blue-chip law firms. Deputy Gov. Mays and Pearre both come from the prestigious Baker Donelson firm in Knoxville, and Wilson comes from Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis in Nashville. Since Simpkins’ departure, Fortune is the only woman who holds a top slot in the office.
Nominee No. 8
Southerners in generaland Nashvillians in particulardon’t usually take too kindly to outsiders, especially strangers who hail from north of here. But there are exceptions. Take for example Mayor Phil Bredesen, who grew up in Shortsville, N.Y., a rural town of 1,100 that, the mayor joked last week, is to New York City what “Grundy County is to Nashville.”
So there is some likelihood that Nashvillians could accept as their mayor yet another outsider who’s built a strong reputation here. They might, in fact, accept Bill Purcell, who’s called Nashville home since he moved here from Philadelphia some two decades ago. The Scene is going to chance it and add Purcell’s name to its list of dream nominees to fill Bredesen’s soon-to-be-empty shoes.
Purcell was majority leader of the Tennessee House for 5 years, representing a largely blue-collar district on the east side of the river. Still, whenever he took the mic, he never quite managed to sound anything like one of the good ole boys in the General Assembly. His speaking style is professorial, not homey and emotional. Nevertheless, until Purcell retired from the Legislature this year, his colleagues not only accepted him; they made him their leader and their star policy-man on key issues.
Purcell has left public life for the time being to head up a wonkish division of the Vanderbilt Institute of Public Policy Studies at Vanderbilt University. At VIPPS he’s dealing with children’s issues, which were one of his pet projects while he was in the Legislature. Purcell was the go-to man on any legislation or administrative policy issue that dealt with Tennessee’s kids. And he intends to keep it that way, even though he’s now in the private sector.
A graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School, Purcell has been mentioned as a possible Democratic gubernatorial candidate to challenge Gov. Don Sundquist in 1998. During last year’s legislative session, Purcell and House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh had the power to make life as difficult as possible for the governor, and they did. They held back important legislation, including welfare reform and the merger of all state children’s services into one vast department, until the Democrat-controlled House had amended the bills to its heart’s content.
Purcell surprised his colleagues and created a whirlwind of speculation when he announced during a caucus meeting last year that he would not seek re-election to the House. Everybody wondered how Purcell would make his gubernatorial bid after taking a year off from public life. Then Purcell went to work as head of the Clinton/Gore campaign in Tennessee, prompting all sorts of speculation that he might go to work in Washington as some sort of point man on children’s issues. He didn’t make the move to D.C., and we’re glad he stayed.
Purcell has the kind of intellectual and thoughtful power that Nashville needs in its top officer. He was the chief spokesman for his party on the floor of the House and has been intricately involved in political strategy for his party in Tennessee.
And he drives a Saturn.
I suspect you mean that as an insult, but your odd syntax makes it unclear.
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Yes, but it's a term that you are infinitely more acquainted with than I.
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