It was thought to be Big News when the Republicans became the majority party in the Senate in November andfrom a historical perspective anywayit was. But "majority party in the Senate" doesn't mean actual control of the Senate, as Tennessee Republicans once unfamiliar with the wacky ways of Capitol Hill's House of Bores have now discovered.
As we predicted in these very pages, Democrat John Wilder was elected to the speaker's post for the 18th time in a row by his fellow senators, including two veteran Republicans who just couldn't bear to part with the guy they grew up with. One of these, Tim Burchett of Knoxville, has always marched to the beat of a drummer only he seems to hear. The motivation of the other GOP, turncoat Micheal Williams of Maynardville, was a bit harder to figure out, until it was announced that Wilder appointed Williams "speaker pro tempore" of the Senate. In effect, Williams sold out his party for the privilege of holding the gavel when the speaker leaves the podium to take a piss. Well, everybody has his price.
Tennessee Republicans are justified in carping about the outcome. There are more of them than there are of the other guys, and by all rights the speaker of the Senate should be a Republican. But beyond that, well, things could be a whole lot worse. No, a Republican doesn't control the influential Finance, Ways and Means Committee, but the fellow who does, Doug Henry of Nashville, is more Republican than most Republicans we could name. (This is a man who has said that he's a Democrat only because the Republicans destroyed his family's land during the Civil War. Now that's old school.) And no, the Republicans don't control most of the Senate committees, but Republicans have been appointed to the chairs of important ones such as education, judiciary and transportation. These are positions their GOP counterparts in the Housewho have practically zero political leveragedefinitely envy.
The rest of us, however, should probably be a bit less sanguine. By virtue of his position in the Senate, Wilder, who has seen better days, is officially the lieutenant governor of our great state. Consequently, we are all strongly advised to pray to the deity of our individual choice for the continued good health and safety of Gov. Bredesen.
Clinton, version 2.0
Speaking of whom, there has been yet another Phil Bredesen for President in 2008 sighting. Officially, of course, there are no plans by the Bredesen Bunch to make a run for the White House in three years. Unofficially, though, it's an open secret that the idea has been batted around among members of the governor's inner circle. These folks will be pleased to know that the editors of Washington Monthly have put Bredesen on their short list for the Democratic nomination in the current issue of that publication.
According to the editorial, "The only two successful Democratic candidates in the last 30 years have been Southern governorsif anyone can repeat the formula, it's Bredesen. He's Clinton, version 2.0: tough on crime, a fiscal conservative, a death-penalty supporter and a gun owner. Widely touted as the face of the 'New South,' the self-made millionaire came into office during the 2002 election debacle, bucking the Republican tide that swept the rest of the country."
Lest anyone get too excited, though, Bredesen's name appears with other political luminaries like Lance Armstrong, Tom Hanks and Queen Noor of Jordan. That makes the list a little difficult to take totally seriously, not to mention the fact that the self-styled "progressives" at the Monthly put it together before Bredesen took a buzz saw to the TennCare rolls.
Which brings us to a less flattering Bredesen mention in another little periodical called The Washington Post. A story this week by Ceci Connolly recalls the protests of a few nights ago at the Tennessee Capitol, where Bredesen attended a black-tie dinner with legislators. Talking with Connolly, Bredesen identified by name a TennCare enrollee and activist in the crowd, Lori Smith, who suffers from lupus and multiple sclerosis. Writes Connolly, "He denigrated Smith and many of the...TennCare clients deemed 'uninsurable' for making 'lifestyle choices' to work for small businesses that do not offer insurance rather than finding jobs with the state or large companies that do."
Meanwhile, the governor's communications team cringes.
Room to grow
The new numbers are out, and according to Knoxville's Metro Pulse, Nashville has by far the lowest property tax rate among the four major cities in the state. At a mere $4.58 per $100 of assessed value (in the urban service district), Nashville's tax bite is but a nibble compared to that of Chattanooga ($5.57), Knoxville ($6.01) and Memphis ($7.27). Expect to hear these figures a lot from the Mayor's office and its fellow travelers over the next few months as the quadrennial property tax increase train rolls into town.
Ode to brevity
Last week, we asked members of the Davidson County delegation what their priorities were for this General Assembly. The aforementioned Senator Henry submitted an entry of his own, but it was after we had gone to press. So, here it is:
"Stabilizing state expenditures within the revenue forecast of the Funding Board."
Dare to dream, senator, dare to dream.
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