On Politics: Three lessons for state's political players

Monday, December 1, 2008 at 12:02am

The year is almost over, and 2008 was a wild one in Tennessee. While our state was largely left out of the national political picture this year, the state topography was changed drastically in last month’s balloting.

After a year of change and consternation here in the Volunteer State, here are three things we know about the political players in Tennessee that hold lessons about the past and clues about the future of state politics here.

1. Gov. Phil Bredesen has absolutely no electoral coattails.

If there was any doubt left lingering after 2004 as to whether Tennessee’s very popular governor has anything amounting to coattails in an election year, then 2008 put the notion to rest.

Once again, Bredesen went to the mat — short of writing any substantial checks — for Democratic state legislative candidates. And, once again, Democrats got trounced statewide in legislative races and lost the state House as well as seeing Republicans run up their majority in the state Senate.

True, Bredesen was running against the proposition presented by two Democratic tickets in 2004 and 2008 that abdicated the Volunteer State before the primaries were even over. Still, Bredesen’s popularity numbers are higher than any statewide figure in recent memory. Despite campaigning, radio spots and personal endorsements from the governor, Democrats lost ground in both election cycles.

It appears Tennesseans trust Bredesen to fix the state’s budget problems, they just don’t believe he needs a Democratic Legislature to do it. Given the lack of cooperation from within his own party on some budgetary matters in recent years, Joe Sixpack in Tennessee may have a better understanding of the legislative process than anyone in Nashville thinks possible.

2. Rep. Jason Mumpower was underestimated.

There is a story going around state government circles that GOP state House leaders were dialing for dollars in the final days of the campaigns last month. One Republican Caucus leader called the government relations office of a well-known Tennessee company looking for PAC money. This Republican told the gatekeeper on the other end of the line that the GOP had a chance of taking control of the House. The pro on the other end of the line laughed out loud at him.

State Rep. Jason Mumpower cuts a figure more along the lines of a Sopranos enforcer or former bouncer than a consummate politician, with his wide shoulders and shaved head. Clearly, though, he knew something the rest of the state did not. That’s all right, people used to judge former Gov. Ned Ray McWherter by his looks also. Who is laughing now?

Mumpower is the architect of the GOP’s takeover of the House, and if he can hold the GOP Caucus together will be the next speaker of the House. Already, the state’s media is fixated on the social agenda the new GOP majority will push — namely guns and abortion.

However, Mumpower and company are quietly preparing not only social reform measures but also an aggressive pro-business agenda. Think anybody else in the business community will laugh when the GOP House Caucus leaders call after the session is over?

3. Harold Ford Jr. is still Tennessee’s most eligible Democratic candidate.

Ford was maligned by the national left wing of the Democratic Party during President-elect Barack Obama’s rise in the primary season. Ford was knocked on forums like Daily Kos for being too moderate and failing to catch up with the “new” politics of the party.

Since Obama has picked a slew of moderate to center-right former Clinton White House veterans to lead his administration, Ford looks downright prescient.

There is only one Democrat in Tennessee who can raise money at a national level for a statewide campaign, and that is Ford. If anything is clear after 2008, it is that the rest of the Democratic Party in the state is in a state of chaos. Tennessee Congressional Democrats will be reluctant to give up seats in the majority to come home and fight a GOP majority in the General Assembly.

Ford may not be keeping his profile up here locally by putting in time traversing the state, but his face is on television almost every week. There is no other Democrat who could give former Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist a contest in the 2010 governor’s race.

Filed under: City Voices
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By: dnewton on 12/31/69 at 7:00

If a pro-business agenda means more subsidies, count me out. I am tired of money being paid to buy and get rid of jobs. Jobs used to take care of themselves if the fundamentals were right everywhere else. I am interested in the state taking a greater interest in the spending policies of local governments. The state is already required by law to review plans for borrowing and to get what seems to be approval from the Comptrollers office but there seems to be no record of any local spending ever causing a problem in Nashville. The legislature has set the limits so high that it is possible to chronically spend more than a county or city population makes year after year. There is no debt limit for county governments except in a few cases where one time spending amounts to 10 percent of assessed property value. Nashville and any area over 300,000 is exempted. Alarm bells should go off well before that and they do in credit rating agencies. After the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac debacle, it seems that credit rating agencies can no longer be trusted to accurately grade the entities that they evaluate. Many counties are holding taxes down by swelling debt. Some creditors have offered the flexibility to capitalize debt by allowing missed or skipped annual payments. The legislature should extend taxpayer protections so that inter fund borrowing and other work arounds to prevent a referendum on taxation can be protested with equal vigor as debt incurred through general obligation bonds. Several counties are saving up large amounts of cash to avoid having to have a general obligation bond sale. The rules for parking those funds in super safe short term instruments are so strict that you can bet that inflation is eating that spare cash every day. This mismanagement of cash and credit is going on under the nose of a governor that has sometimes been thought to have business sense.

By: morpheus120 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

"Ford was maligned by the national left wing of the Democratic Party during President-elect Barack Obama’s rise in the primary season. Ford was knocked on forums like Daily Kos for being too moderate and failing to catch up with the 'new' politics of the party. Since Obama has picked a slew of moderate to center-right former Clinton White House veterans to lead his administration, Ford looks downright prescient."Clint, this makes absolutely no sense. Ford looks "prescient" only by your definition, which has to do with Obama picking bureaucrats to run an Administration, not winning an election.If Ford was indeed prescient when he was running for office in 2006, he would be a United States Senator. He would have seen that the old "winning" formula of the Democratic Leadership Council (which Ford is now chairman of) has been a losing strategy since 1994... and still is. Just ask the state Legislative Caucus. Indeed, if Ford (and Tennessee Democrats, for that matter) was prescient, he/they would have realized that trying to out-Republican Republicans is a losing strategy.Ford and the Tennessee Democrats will NOT stage a comeback until they stop pandering to conservatives and run as fiscal populists and embrace the notion that the Democrats are the party of the people - not the powerful.

By: Captain Nemo on 12/31/69 at 7:00

If the Tennessee Republicans continues has the National Republicans has done. Then Tennessee will become blue in time.

By: sarabellum on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Tennessee "will go blue"???? The Democratic party has run the state for over 100 years, and can't find its' rear end with both hands. Dems have taken it for granted for years that it would be the party in power, and as a result thought it could get away with the game-playing and shenanigans it's well known for. The Republican party may well mobilize liberals if it starts pushing a religious social agenda, but if it sticks to conservative fiscal principles, the state will do well.

By: morpheus120 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Sarabellum: "but if it [the GOP] sticks to conservative fiscal principles, the state will do well."Actually, we are already using conservative fiscal principles and that's why our state is failing miserably.Rising unemployment, collapsing school test scores, underfunded public education, low-paying jobs - all of these are making even Mississippi look good right now. And you can thank the "pro-business" conservative policies brought to you by a "Democratic" governor for the problems.Until the state does something to stimulate the local economy - like implementing progressive taxation, a living wage, raising the cigarette tax, and pushing more money to municipalities - we are going to see Tennessee flail around on the ground like the national economy (which also has collapsed thanks to conservative ideology that favors wealth instead of work).But I do agree with you, sara, on the state Democrats managing to destroy themselves through a potent combination of arrogance, complacency, and corruption. In the case of Tennessee Democrats, though, I think we're going to have to "destroy the village in order to save it".

By: Captain Nemo on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Yes the Democrates took a 100 years to get were they are now. However if you look at the Republicans as a whole, they will screw up in short order.