Post Politics: Republican rule here to stay… but what kind?

Sunday, October 18, 2009 at 11:45pm

If the result of the recent special election in District 62 is the bellwether, Tennessee is in for many years of Republican rule.

The state Senate is already solidly Republican. The state House is moving that way, and unless conventional wisdom is very wrong, we will have a Republican governor come 2011.

While the improbable could still become the probable, the likelihood is that the Republican Party will be the dominant party in Tennessee for the foreseeable future. If Republicans maintain their majority, they will have the ability to redraw legislative and congressional districts, relegating to minority status the Democratic Party that once ruled with an iron fist.

The question is not whether there will be Republican rule, but rather what kind. One-party leadership doesn't mean there aren't any bold and important fights along the lines of ideology and policy. It just means that those fights evolve from partisan skirmishes to intraparty civil war.

Republicans will run Tennessee but which Republicans hold power and in what capacity will make a huge difference. Traditionally, Tennessee Republicans have talked a conservative game, but there's a difference between being conservative — adjective —and being a conservative — noun.

A movement conservative, for example, has never won a statewide primary and gone on to win a general election. There have been congressional members (Ed Bryant, Marsha Blackburn), but every time conservatives have stepped up for statewide office they have either been defeated in the primary (Bryant) or in the general (Jim Bryson, Van Hilleary).

Some consider Rep. Blackburn an extreme member of the congressional delegation. If former Tennessee Republican Party chair Robin Smith gets elected in the Third District, Blackburn will have an ideological soulmate with her in Congress.

A third woman of a similar conservative stripe, Lou Ann Zelenik, is currently running for Rep. Bart Gordon's seat. If the Republicans wield the redistricting pen as expected, who knows what opportunities will open up for conservatives.

Our state legislature already is riddled with conservative firebrands. In fact, with potential senators Stacey Campfield, Susan Lynn and Brian Kelsey and the moderate conscience of the Senate, Randy McNally, moving to the right, the state Senate is not only thoroughly Republican but is on the cusp of becoming an almost radically conservative legislative body.

It wouldn't be too much to say that the statesmen of the Tennessee Republican Party, U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, through sheer neglect have allowed this slow creep of state-rooted ideological conservatism. Alexander's political machine has dipped its big toe into state races only very rarely. The moderate Howard Baker-type conservatism that had long defined Tennessee Republicanism has been slowly dying, and the harder stuff has been growing in its place.

The moderates seem to be trying to rectify that with Bill Haslam's gubernatorial campaign. Haslam is a true moderate — more so than either Corker or Alexander. Haslam is also much worse at cloaking his discomfort with rigid right-wing ideology. He seems reluctant to utter even the most cursory red meat rhetoric that conservatives want to hear.

If Haslam is victorious, he would have to contend not only with former opponent Ron Ramsey serving as lieutenant governor, but also with an increasingly reactionary legislature looking to move the ideological ball further down the field.

It'll be one-party rule alright — but hardly a harmonious march toward right-wing nirvana.

The big question is how much a Gov. Haslam would be like our current governor. Would he be just an anomalously successful figure, an outlier in his own party, or would he work to bring moderate Republicans like himself into state political power? Would he navigate Tennessee politics like a loner or would he try to transform the party in his own image.

More than once in recent months we've heard the clamor for a truly moderate Republican leader to stand against the ideological extremism enveloping the party. Corker and Alexander meet the moderate test, but they don't seem to have much desire to wage ideological warfare.

When push comes to shove, both Corker and Alexander will mouth the platitudes necessary to placate the Right. Haslam could be different. Phil Bredesen and Haslam are said to have similar politics, but might they also prove to have similar temperaments? Would Haslam stand against the rising tide of GOP conservatism and speak his mind despite the grassroots, or would he appease them to accomplish his legislative agenda?

With conservative purists becoming increasingly emboldened nationally and locally, it will be interesting to watch how Halsam carries himself as a candidate and, if the assumptions stay the assumptions, as governor of Tennnessee.

Kleinheider is's political blogger. Visit him at
Filed under: City Voices

9 Comments on this post:

By: govskeptic on 10/19/09 at 6:48

"Fear not" the media, business and labor interest of the
state will come together to give us the right Governor.
They always do, right? Let's try skipping the chicken
in my pot, I'd rather have a promise that you won't saddle
me we another Bunker, MCC, Stadium, or overpriced
and sized city or state building filled with people
shuffling paper and sending out regulations to help
me run my everyday life. I'd rather go into the "chill"
factor to catch my breath and just maybe "save" a
few dollars till the next onslaught of spending.

By: Kosh III on 10/19/09 at 7:14

Nothing in this article explains what, if any, differences there are. E.g. Lamar is just as fiercely gay-bashing as Wamp, just not as vocal.
IMHO, the only distinction is that the more "radically conservative" are unwilling to compromise.

By: TN4th on 10/19/09 at 7:57

Kleinheider's normally good analysis has flown the coop. In TN as elsewhere, as the GOP moves further and further into the realm of the ridiculous, they lose all but their base. I have too many formerly Republican friends who are embarrassed and disenfranchised by the shenanigans of the GOP, who are now calling themselves Independents, and looking for rational middle ground.

I would not read "solidification of the GOP" into the District 62 election. A Democrat-leaning moderate ran as a Republican, because he got the cold shoulder from the Democratic Party. A disengaged right-winger got the nod from the Democrats because his family pushed it to an ultimatum, and the Party let itself get strong-armed. Add to that silly mix the fact that Mike Turner and others in the party hierarchy are convinced that there is no intelligent life in the rural counties, and that the only way to win there is to run GOP Lite instead of principled Democrats. Their theory is misguided, and if left uncorrected, will lead to loss after loss, as Democrats lose enthusiasm, and conservatives stick to the Republican Party.

It's not that the GOP is winning in TN, it is that the Democrats seem determined to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.

By: pswindle on 10/19/09 at 9:22

If the republicans were for all the people, it would be a different outcome, but we democrats will have to fight for our human rights. The republicans would like for everyone to believe the way that they believe and that takes away our freedom. The church and state will become one when the republicans take over. That is a real problem with me. I truly believe in separateion of state and church. In the long run, the Bunker will be a good investment, and remember the mansion and bucker used a lot of private funds. I would like to congrattulate the First Lady in all of the hard work that she has done in saving our historical landmarks. I have been on a tour, and the wonderful work that has been done is unbelievable and it is what the mansion should look like. Before, it was crumbling to the ground. Another problem that I have is the dirty way that the republicans win. Corker was brutal to Harold Ford, and it would have been better if issues and policies were discussed, but the GOP likes to go after character. The nasty emails and things that the GOP says abour our president is hard to understand. If we democrats lived through Bush, we should at least give our new President a chance.

By: Kosh III on 10/19/09 at 10:20

Yes, the GOP talks a lot about "freedom" but their definition of it is limited to freedoms that the GOP approves of.

By: sidneyames on 10/20/09 at 6:40

So you guys, tell me: How is mandatory insurance (or else a fine) going to enhance our freedoms? Just a simple answer please.

I mean, do you want mandatory insurance for your dog? For your car? For your house? If your dog bites someone you must have it insured.

Did you know that in Germany, people who can own a dog, but are too poor to have the shots, get aid fromt the German gov't. I think we need that. I want free doggie care and I want U.S. tax payers to pay for it. Dig deeper swindle. We're checking your pockets for extra chump change!

By: sidneyames on 10/20/09 at 7:09

No logical answers to my question at 7:40 a.m.; it's 8:08 am and no one has a logical answer.

Go Dems, go!

I'm going to work now. This site is boring and my job is calling me. Bye now. See ya'll after 2 p.m. to find out if any intelligent answers to my question have appeared.

By: vechester on 10/20/09 at 7:50

Very good question. What part of mandated health insurance (or penalties) would you call "freedom"? What about the "carbon tax" that Dems want to impose on every citizen just for breathing? And what about the sugar tax? None of these represent freedom to me.

And another question about conservatives. Why are conservatives always the "extreme right wing", but you libs are the "norm"?? Right!

Let me clue you libs in on a little known fact. We conservatives don't really care what kind of "alternative life style" you live, as long as you don't force it on our children in our schools (Kevin Jennings, Obama's safe school czar). I don't care how many sodas you drink or how much sugar you consume,or even how many cigarettes you smoke, I really don't. And, finally, I don't care how much an NFL player makes, an NBA player makes, an insurance executive makes, or a Wall Street investor makes. It makes no difference to me and I won't get caught up in the envy of their prosperity.

Fasten your seat belts liberals, 2010 is quickly coming...

By: JohnGalt on 10/20/09 at 1:43

..."do you want mandatory insurance for your dog? For your car? For your house? If your dog bites someone you must have it insured."

In Tennessee liability insurance on your car is mandatory. Not having collision and comprehensive is your call. Without it...break fix it. Likewise your house must be insured if it is mortgaged. Injury caused by your dog is covered by homeowners insurance and insurers are now refusing to cover homeowners with aggressive pets.

The concept of insurance is shared risk with the money pool built up before claims are made. What many seem to want is to only buy insurance when a claim is imminent... the diagnosis is bad or the house has already burned down.

In those cases it isn't's charity.