Thursday, August 22, 2002

Warning: Explicit Political Content

Democrat Phil Bredesen v. Republican Van Hilleary

It's still early in the campaign and a lot of things will come out before November 5, but I'd like to outline my thoughts on the two major party candidates.

In pure raw management ability, I think Phil Bredesen is the better candidate. He has been the CEO of a major health care company. TennCare will be one of three major challenges to the next governor (the other two being education and spending control). Granted, Bredesen ran his company during a go-go period for health care and it would have been tough to lose. But he did well.

Bredesen's also been the mayor of our capitol city, Nashville. It's the second-largest city in Tennessee as well. But it's being Nashville means he has had a lot of contact and elbow-rubbing with the legislators and lobbyists he will deal with as governor. That's a definite plus.

He's also the concensus candidate of his party and its grass-roots. That means political oomph behind him. He is well-known across the state and generally well liked.

Van Hilleary, on the other hand, is a lesser-known quantity. His two biggest accomplishments are service in the armed forces (which I'm not demeaning!) and election to Congress. His own bio says he "aided in the startup of" his family's business. That sounds like family-speak for lesser involvement.

Hilleary has similarities to our present Governor, Don Sundquist. He's a back-bench Republican of no outstanding accomplishment and a solid, if lack-luster, personality. He's not widely known across Tennessee. He was drafted into running, more or less, when a lot of brighter lights had other plans. And his political connections are within his own party or in Washington.

But there's one factor that trumps those short-comings. Bredesen is a Democrat; Hilleary is a Republican. When all is said and done, that's the clincher. While Republicans often have a hard time living up to their principle of limited government, Democrats seek out more government: new programs, new expenses, more expenses, more invasion, more regulation. It's built into who they are and how they view the world.

During the primary debates, it was amazing to hear the Democratic candidates speak. Their calls for fiscal responsibility, spending cuts and toughness on crime sounded like the Bizarro world of Superman comics, where everything is reversed. The leading candidate actually opposed more taxes or new sources of taxes, arguing for "management." But now that that's over with, Bredesen is loosening up some and making broader appeals, and his true Democratic stripes are starting to show.

Already, Bredesen has balked at clearly taking an income tax off the table. He knows, instinctively, that he may need more money, soon. He's talking as though it's a dead issue in his first term, leaving open a second-term opportunity ala Ned McWherter. But I suspect a sympathetic Legislature might encourage him to broach the idea in the Spring next year. He's also already proposed a new government reading program for children. Total cost is projected at $10 million. Only $10 million, it's a small start; it's doable for a people who care about the children, etc., etc. But coming after the bitter last session of the Legislature, which has destroyed careers and reputations, coming as TennCare's Director announces he needs over $100 million just to meet this year's needs, it's astonishingly tin-eared and a harbinger of what's to come.

Hilleary has clearly ruled out an income tax. He's making noises at TennCare. Given a Republican Legislature, he might actually start to cut and prune. Hilleary has appointed an 11 member advisory board. Oftentimes, that can be an admission that he's not as knowledgeable as the job requires and Bredesen may use that against him. But it's also heartening to hear.

Still, Hilleary lacks a good base of power within the State. When the same forces that have been pushing for an income tax for nearly thirty years come for him, can he withstand them? That's not clear; his anti-income tax pieties are at least as strong as Sundquist's, if not more so, but look what happened there.

But in the end, it comes down to party. And Bredesen, the Democrat, will raise spending and taxes when he can. It's a sure bet. It's who he is.

Until next time,
Your Working Boy

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