It wasn't but six months ago that a couple of Republican state senators cuckolded Senate Republican Leader Ron Ramsey by backing Democrat John Wilder for the Senate speakership, leaving Ramsey with only the chairmanship of the Senate Ethics Committee to call his own. For a guy who by all rights should have been the lieutenant governor, this was the political equivalent of a case of Turtle Wax and a year's supply of Rice-A-Roni.
But that was before all ethical hell broke loose on Capitol Hill, and now "governmental ethics," ordinarily the province of goo-goo types and other policy wonks, is nownext to TennCarethe most important issue facing the state, putting Ramsey back squarely in the spotlight. What's more, as the top ranking state legislator in the Tennessee Republican Party, he's now also the top choice of many Republicans to make a run against Gov. Phil Bredesen next year. We figured that, with just over a year to go until the primary election, it's time for Nashvillians to get to know a little about the guy whoif you're among those truly ticked off at Uncle Philmay be your only practical alternative in 2006. Yes, we can hear the whining from some of you now: "But he's a Republican!" Well, you know what? So's the fella who's running things now.
First things first: what are the chances that you're going to run for governor in 2006 and when can we expect a final decision?
I don't want to start placing percentages. I will say that I am seriously exploring the governor's race, and I intend to meet and talk with people across the state to see what is on their mind. I would like to have a decision made before session begins, and sooner if possible.
A recent poll showed that Phil Bredesen is presently more popular among Republican voters than Democratic voters. Given those numbers, what are the chances of any Republican candidate running against the governor? Do you see any way that a Republican candidate could make inroads with some of the disaffected (and generally liberal) Democratic voters next year?
Most of the time throughout the course of a statewide election, Democrats and Republicans will vote for their nominee based on their political party's core principles. Sometime after a credible Republican nominee arises and the public realizes there is an alternative to Gov. Bredesen, the chances of victory next November will increase drastically. I think that it's always difficult to make inroads in an election year with the opposite party. However, if people are willing to communicate and cooperate in areas the Democratic Party has not been responsive to, there may be a chance for us to cultivate some long-term relationships.
What do you have to say to those who argue that Operation Tennessee Waltz demonstrated that your committee was essentially asleep at the wheel, and, further, that voters simply cannot trust legislators to police themselves?
First, let me say that I had been chairman of the ethics committee all of two months when we launched an unprecedented attorney general's investigation into Sen. Ford's consultant dealings. Two months later, the Ethics Committee Report came out, the very same day he was indicted by the federal Government, and he resigned two days later. I feel like the committee acted thoroughly and swiftly considering the circumstances and accomplished something that had never been done in the General Assembly.
If you could simply wave a magic wand to make whatever three governmental ethics reforms you would like for Tennessee, what would they be?
I would definitely like to see either a constitutional change or legal change to ensure that pensions and health insurance are not a benefit to legislators who are convicted of a felony.
I also believe that full disclosure of what lobbyists spend on legislators is an important issue for us to pass either in special session or regular session. There are other issues that are important, but I think that we need to focus on either strengthening the Registry of Election Finance's abilities or form a non-partisan appointed ethics commission that has the ability to investigate valid complaints and enforce our current laws.
On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being unbridled cosmic joy, how glad are you to see John Ford go?
I'm glad that chapter is closed both for the taxpayers of this state and for the institution that he left a mark on forever. I can't help but give that a 10.
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