So Tennessee is a place that doesn’t mind stunting economic development by limiting retailers and inconveniencing millions of shoppers who might want to buy a bottle of cabernet at Publix (by God, that’s unlawful), but where it’s perfectly fine to sidle up to a bar packing heat and order nine rounds of Southern Comfort (in fact, let’s pass a law making it so).
Such is the case when there’s a Republican majority in the state House — a group beyond saving — and a governor whose mysterious work ethic and bizarre sense of priorities deem it simply too much trouble to involve himself on either the front or back ends of such monumentally moronic legislative efforts.
While Gov. Phil Bredesen vetoed the guns-in-bars bill, he did so knowing as an absolute certainty that the legislature would override it. How did he know? Because he wasn’t willing to lift a finger to have the veto sustained.
“I guess the issue for me was it seems this would have taken a very difficult, all-out effort,” he told reporters by way of explanation. He characterized the bill as “an invitation to disaster” but defended his hands-off approach by saying he had “bigger fish to fry” in passing the state budget, which, now that we mention it, is pretty well a dog too, as it victimizes the mentally disabled and others whose lives are already tough enough.
It also represents yet another year gone by for a state whose tax structure is flat broken — and especially ineffective when the economy takes a nosedive as it has in the last year.
But fatalism — or laziness — has been a theme with our governor for much of his political career. Last fall, Bredesen advised then-presidential candidate Barack Obama to skip any meaningful campaign efforts in the state, indicating it would be a waste of time and resources. The governor himself apparently did very little to help his party — that would have meant exerting some effort — and the result: Tennessee joined only Arkansas and Louisiana (states distinguished mostly by abject poverty and poor educational systems) in demonstrating during November’s election increased Republican strength over 2004 levels.
The only real effort we’ve seen recently from Bredesen, who has over the years been fond of saying, “I’m going to roll up my sleeves and get to work,” has been his relatively overt but unsuccessful campaign to secure a cabinet post.
While crafting a budget under the current economic conditions has certainly required a considerable amount of time and difficult decision-making, it happens to be an inescapable requirement of the job, and Bredesen has in the past demonstrated an ability to balance more than one task at a time. Which is why his lack of leadership and unwillingness to expend any political capital on issues that have generated considerable public discussion are especially disappointing, if not entirely surprising.
Clearly there are aspects of the job he continues to enjoy. But they are more often than not of the shiny-object variety, such as closed-door deals with Volkswagen and Wacker Chemie.
The announcement that those two German companies would open plants in Tennessee has led to his latest adventure. He’s off to Switzerland, Germany and Poland on an economic development tour, saying in a press release in advance of the trip that a recession is as good a time as any to “redouble” state efforts to lure higher-paying jobs to the state.
No argument there. But throwing up his hands on what may seem like more mundane issues will only make business recruitment more difficult.
State lawmakers’ obsession with expanding the presence of lethal weapons where men drink can’t help to endear the state to industry considering relocations here. Coupled with the state of our schools, which only are notable for their lack of achievement, these embarrassing legislative triumphs over reason and good judgment have to make Tennessee less attractive, not more.
Beyond all that, why is Bredesen hoarding his political capital? Just what is he saving it for? He’s not one to take counsel from columnists, but it shouldn’t go without saying that this lame duck should quack more. Otherwise, he’s just lame.
Contact Garrigan at firstname.lastname@example.org