Aides to Gov. Phil Bredesen are dismissing a new study commissioned by one of his political enemies that purports to show Tennessee is failing to keep pace with poorer Southern states economically.
The study paid for by Nashville developer Bill Freeman claims that Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Arkansas and Kentucky — all states with smaller economies — have gained on Tennessee over the past decade by various measures of growth.
The average income in Alabama grew from 83 percent of Tennessee’s in 1997 to 87 percent 10 years later, the study says. In '97, Tennessee's average gross domestic product was 89 percent of Virginia's, but a decade later, it had fallen to 81 percent.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next five years, the per capita income for Alabama begins to be the same as it is for Tennessee,” said J. David Woodward, the author of the report and a Clemson University political scientist who doubles as a strategist for conservative Republican candidates.
But aides to Bredesen point out the study does not take into account the two signature achievements of the governor’s economic recruitment efforts: Chattanooga’s Volkswagen and Clarksville’s Hemlock Semiconductor plants, both billion-dollar investments.
“You could spend days thumbing through one of these home-cooked reports trying to verify the facts,” said Will Pinkston, a senior aide to Bredesen. “But the bottom line is, anyone with a calculator can cut economic data 10 different ways and come up with just about any result they want. In the meantime, the governor and his team are going to stay focused on recruiting jobs.”
Freeman, a Democrat, has feuded with the governor since the beginning of Bredesen’s political career. Freeman sided with Bill Boner and Bob Clement against Bredesen in the governor’s first political races.
Most recently, Bredesen torpedoed Freeman’s fund-raising efforts as state Democratic Party treasurer, forcing Freeman to resign. In retaliation, Freeman says he phoned White House officials to bad-mouth Bredesen when he reportedly was under consideration for an Obama Cabinet appointment.
Freeman freely acknowledges he'd like to make Bredesen look bad, but he insists his economic study is objective and factual. He says he paid about $15,000 for the report, well worth the money he says if it creates negative publicity for his nemesis in the governor’s office.
“This study really shows what’s been going on under Phil’s leadership,” Freeman says. “I think he’s accomplished very little. I don’t know why he doesn’t like me. I’ve reached out to him and he’s refused to meet with me. I don’t know what I’ve done.
“[The study] is all just factual stuff. I’m not trying to do anything other than report what’s gone on under his tenure. I think the report speaks for itself.”