Saturday, November 22, 2008


Look East, young man

Joltin' Django is already making plans to be in the gallery, blogging away, when the Republican Party takes control of the Tennessee House of Representatives - for the first time since Reconstruction - in January.

One of the interesting back stories of the Republican Party's rise in the General Assembly is the fact that the center of legislative politics in this state has shifted, decidedly, from West Tennessee to East Tennessee. That means House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh (D-Covington) is going to be out in the cold come January, and so will House Speaker Pro Tempore Lois DeBerry (D-Memphis). If you've ever heard one of DeBerry's shrieking, nearly incomprehensible speeches prior to the governor's State of the State addresses, you know what a welcome change a new Speaker Pro Tempore will be.

The Jackson Sun's Tom Bohs tells folks in West Tennessee they better get used to not being the center of Tennessee's political universe

[Y]ou can kiss West Tennessee political sway goodbye in Nashville. You can count on state Sen. Ron Ramsey keeping control of the Senate and staying on as lieutenant governor. And you most likely can look forward to a Republican to replace state House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh. Naifeh's control of House legislation won't be missed by too many people. He tended to heavy handedness. I guess that comes with too many years in the driver's seat; Naifeh had 18, more than any other state House leader in history.

Along with the retirement of Sen. John Wilder, a political legend, we are seeing the final vestiges of West Tennessee political clout slip away. Republican Dolores Gresham won Wilder's' seat in a surprise, some say, win over Democratic Party faithful Randy Camp. But Gresham doesn't bring much clout to the Senate table beyond being a Republican. Don't look for many West Tennessee perks during her first term in the Senate.

The recent election was just the final blow to the West Tennessee political hegemony. It began when Gov. Ned McWherter retired. It was followed by Jackson's Matt Kisber giving up his powerful House seat where he was chairman of the House Finance Committee.

Gov. Phil Bredesen took over the governor's office in 2002, but he is from Nashville. I have noticed that during his six years in office, Bredesen's appointments to boards, commissions and other positions have been heavy in Middle and East Tennessee. Memphis gets a few bones tossed its way, but Jackson and rural West Tennessee are largely left out in the cold.

Now, with the GOP in control, Republicans will be in charge of appointing all constitutional officers. Already former Sen. Rosalind Kurita, a Clarksville Democrat who supported Ramsey to give him the lieutenant governor's job, has been rejected by the GOP for the secretary of state job.

With the state Senate and House being controlled by the GOP, our area will have to look to District 73 Rep. Jimmy Eldridge and District 72 Rep. Steve McDaniel, for Republican clout. Eldridge has paid his dues in Nashville. He is a tireless worker, smart, and a political schmoozer of the first order. McDaniel is a party stalwart and is due a significant position. Eldridge and McDaniel will be our new go-to guys to get anything done. But they will have to do some political arm-twisting while avoiding the political pitfalls of deal making. As for other West Tennessee Republicans, they are mostly new and will have to pay their legislative dues before they can wield much power.

Tennessee is a decidedly red state, and it has been drifting to the right and into the arms of the GOP for years. Oddly enough, Gov. Bredesen will likely be the least affected by these changes. He has already accomplished much of what he hoped to do for Tennessee. He has governed from right of center all along, and it is hard to imagine what the GOP wants to do that he and they can't come to terms on during his last two years in office.

Look for the political power shift to be realized in Middle and East Tennessee. Ramsey hails from Blountville in East Tennessee. Rep. Gary Mumpower of Bristol is likely to become House speaker, though Naifeh still will be in the running. The governor's job, if recent history is any indication, will next go to a Republican. If the Republican is Bill Frist of Nashville, it will be a long time before West Tennessee rises again from the Mississippi delta to wield much political clout.

I don't mean to imply that GOP control of state politics is necessarily a bad thing. It is not. My concern is for West Tennessee. With the majority of Republican political power brokers being from Middle and East Tennessee, I am concerned about getting things done in our neck of the woods. I'm talking about economic development, building roads and other infrastructure and finishing the Haywood County industrial mega-site that could bring thousands of jobs to our area.

With control ebbing in favor of the GOP, it is time to give serious thought to Republican candidates from West Tennessee. The 2010 election is next in line. We must develop and elect the best candidates who can speak for West Tennessee.

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