I can’t speak for all Tennesseans, but I believe the Democrats are now a primary-vote away from what could feasibly be their long-sought golden ticket to Senatorial victory in my red state home of Tennessee. On Friday, our former governor, Democrat Phil Bredesen (2003-2011), announced his entry into the race for outgoing Republican Senator Bob Corker’s Senate seat; if your first thought is that a Democrat could never win Corker’s current seat in a “red state,” think again.
Many people outside of the South, of all political persuasions, assuage their own insecurities by perpetuating prejudicial ideas about us Southerners as a group: we are uneducated, uncivilized, close-minded, inbred, racist, bigoted, toothless, and backward-thinking lowlings, gun-nuts, whose goals in life include a desire to oppress the huddled masses, eliminating perceived threats to the white hillbilly seniority. The derogatory and, quite honestly, offensive mischaracterizations of Southerners are too numerous to count. Over time, we’ve developed pretty thick skins and, at the end of the day, all of us “lowlings” know the difference between truth and pompously fallacious opinions.
The real, cryin’ shame is that none of us hicks will ever be able to erase the years upon years that we Southerners have had to endure of audible torture by way of the linguistic monstrosities that some people in Hollywood apparently believe to be authentic Southern vernaculars. Listening to Nicholas Cage’s authentic Southern accent turned the simple act of watching “Con Are” from beginning to end a real accomplishment! Which brings me back to Phil Bredesen…
The good governor:
Tennessee has a diverse citizenry, but there is cultural undergirding. Not all, but for the most part, Tennesseans of varying political and religious leanings and of diverse racial backgrounds are generally bound, ideologically speaking, by a respect for personal authenticity and follow-through, a dislike of taxes and of fiscal mismanagement upon the part of the government, and a desire to be left alone to live in peace, without having anything forced upon us from the government or other powerful entities. Phil Bredesen was elected governor for precisely these reasons. It is because of these very same reasons that he could very well be the Democrat’s golden ticket. He is authentic!
Bredesen, who was the mayor of Nashville before becoming the 48th governor of Tennessee, assumed office amid a budget shortfall due to TennCare (the state’s Medicaid). The previous governor, Republican Don Sundquist, had tried instituting a state income tax to generate more revenue. Predictably, proved to be a wildly unpopular measure, drawing protests and a few acts of vandalism at the government building and Sundquist’s office in Nashville. Sundquist’s income tax attempts ultimately failed. We Tennesseans generally prefer to keep our hard-earned money, thank you very much!
Many of Don Sundquist supporters turned against him, seeing him as unauthentic since Republicans are supposed to be fiscally conservative. This seed of distrust led many Tennesseans to elect Phil Bredesen – already known to be a conservative Democrat – over his Republican challenger, Van Hilleary. [It also didn’t help the Republicans that Van Hilleary was a no-show to a skeet-shooting match-up between himself and Bredesen.] As an article at Nashville Scene explained, “In 2002, Tennessee voters had three essential beliefs. No. 1: The state budget was screwed up, and they were sick of hearing about it. No. 2: It seemed to have something to do with TennCare. No. 3: They did not want a state income tax to “fix” the problem. Both Bredesen and Hilleary understood these things. Nevertheless, there was the sense even among some Republican voters that whatever Hilleary’s ideological purity might have been, only Bredesen had the chops actually to do what needed to be done.” The article continues, “And, yea, verily, upon Phil Bredesen’s inauguration, all of these things came to pass. The budget fights disappeared from the headlines. TennCare was tamed. And the income-tax genie retreated into its bottle, never to be heard from again. Little wonder, then, that four years later Bredesen was re-elected almost by approbation, winning even staunchly Republican Williamson County, the home base of his GOP opponent.”
I am a conservative. I voted twice for Phil Bredesen, for governor.
Under his tenure, the fiscally conservative Bredesen understood and respected Tennesseans’ preference for low taxes over “government goodies” and did not attempt to force more taxes down our throats. Tennessee also requires a balanced budget, which basically means that the state can’t spend more than it takes in. In a 2011 exit interview, he remarked, “As long as you’re willing to tell people there are certain things you can’t do — you can’t have Massachusetts services and Tennessee taxes … [then there’s an understanding] that Tennessee’s future lies more in being a low-tax state and accepting the level of services that implies.” And so, under the taxation-restrictive environment of Tennessee, he made the most of what he had to work with.
Phil Bredesen ran the state like he had his business. He instituted 9% across-the-board spending cuts and incentivized business, which brought to 2,889 new companies to Tennessee, including International Paper and Nissan, which brought $2.8 billion in business investment into the state and created 104,000 jobs. He reformed TennCare and, with the subsequent fiscal savings, implemented “Cover Tennessee,” a coverage safety net for people with pre-existing conditions and the uninsured. The TN Lottery was successfully passed which enabled teacher pay to be raised above the Southeast average and Tennessee’s pre-kindergarten initiative to be expanded statewide. Tennessee’s bond rating rose to exemplary status. Oh, and did I mention he was the first TN governor in modern times who did not raise the state’s sales tax?
In the past, Bredesen has referred to DC’s debt proliferation as “immoral,” warned states against financial dependency upon the federal government, criticized the forced passing of ObamaCare, and has consistently derided partisan politics, even encouraging his own party to be more centrist. In addition, Phil Bredesen remained respectful of Tennesseans’ beliefs, which was in stark contrast to the typical democratic condescension towards all things outside the stringent party line. For example, although he had believed it to be “excessive,” when Tennessee voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment defining marriage as “one man and one woman”, Bredesen signed it.
In essence, Bredesen was hugely popular simply because he was genuine and authentic, followed through on his promises, demonstrated respect for the will of his constituents, and didn’t tax the heck out of us. The hard left loathed his fiscal responsibility and sweeping entitlements reform, and the power Republicans were mad because they didn’t win and because, in several circumstances, Phil Bredesen acted more fiscally conservative than those calling themselves “conservatives.” Meanwhile, the rest of us – ya know, the normal people – were generally pleased. He understood what regular people wanted and needed, and while imperfect, he basically followed through, relatively fanfare and drama free. To be completely honest, I would still prefer to have Democrat Phil Bredesen over our current Republican governor, Bill Haslam.
The golden ticket:
Tennessee is a moderate-conservative state. When Phil Bredesen took on Van Hilleary in the race for the Tennessee governorship, the Republicans tried to paint Bredesen as a far-left “liberal.” This proved to be fatal to Republicans for one reason: Phil Bredesen was well known as a moderate, even conservative Democrat. Just this week, Bredesen stated in an interview with the USA Today Network that he is not running against Donald Trump. Yet, in the past few days since Bredesen’s announcement that he is seeking Bob Corker’s Senate seat, the Republicans appear to be aimlessly falling back on this exact same losing strategy. It boggles the mind!
Marsha Blackburn, a well-liked Congresswoman, is currently the lead contender for the Republican team. She has stated that Bredesen is a supporter of liberal policies. She also claims that Tennesseans want a change, indicating that the 74-year-old ex-governor is not the change agent we seek, as he already served us for eight years. Yet, Ms. Blackburn has herself been a member of Congress for Tennessee since 2003. I believe this is called “the pot calling the kettle black.” To the point, the Republicans don’t seem to, at least not as of yet, know exactly how to counter a popular ex-governor with a conservative record to which they, themselves, claim to champion.
How popular is Phil Bredesen? He secured his second term as governor winning 100% of the counties in Tennessee. So, then, what might his odds of be at winning a Senate seat? Consider a 2011 Nashville poll. Bob Corker was currently running for re-election (2012 election cycle) to the Senate. The poll sought to weigh the odds of a hypothetical contest between the then-outgoing governor (Phil Bredesen) and the current Senator Bob Corker for Corker’s own Senate seat. The poll’s sampled voters chose Phil Bredesen over Bob Corker by 46 to 41 percent. Given voters’ overall distrust of career Republicans, a distrust to which Bob Corker undoubtedly contributed, coupled with Bredesen’s authenticity and conservative record, he may very well be the golden ticket.
Will the 2018 senate race turn out to be a replay of the Bredesen verses Hilleary gubernatorial race?
My own reservations:
I find myself left wondering why Phil Bredesen chose to run as a Democrat. Why is he a Democrat? The Democrat party has become socialist, racist, and, frankly, verging on the absurd. Why on God’s green earth would Phil Bredesen choose to align himself with such nonsensical, anti-American thinkers who now dominate the Democratic party? Has he had some sort of change of heart? Is he the same person who led our beautiful state for eight successful years? Has he, himself, abandoned his well-known “live and let live” mindset? I can’t help but wonder. I can’t help but to be suspicious…
Bredesen’s choice to align himself with the Democrats who openly display their disdain for Southerners like myself causes me, as a Tennessee voter, to be uneasy, to say the least.
I can’t say how the race will turn out. What I can say is that this race just got a whole lot more interesting! If Republicans want a win, they are surely going to have to work for their meal.
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