POLITICS: Flying High

POLITICS

Posted by Jackson Baker on Wed, Aug 7, 2002 at 4:00 AM

FLYING HIGH It is is a familiar ritual. Candidates who have vilified each other nonstop for months and led everyone else to believe that their opponents are unfit for public service suddenly appear on the stump in the immediate aftermath of an election to bestow beatitudes and blessings on each other. So it hath been with the state’s Democrats and Republicans during the last several days.

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Lamar Alexander’s metaphor for the phenomenon, as he expressed it in Memphis at the end of a six-stop state flyaround of GOP winners and losers Monday , had to do with friendly football rivalries, but a boxing match, during which the brawlers do their best to kill each other but after which they embrace, might be a better description of what happened between former governor Alexander, the winner, and 7th District U.S. Representative Ed Bryant, the loser, in the state Republicans’ U.S. Senate primary that ended last Thursday.

“I am solidly behind Lamar Alexander,” said Bryant at the Signature Air Terminal gathering Monday afternoon. The sentence was a n ironic echo of a campaign in which Bryant contasted the “solid” nature of his take-no-prisoners conservatism with what he suggested was the moderate “plaid” variety represented by Alexander, whose characteristic plaid shit was a symbol of his 1978 gubernatorial campaign and of his two presidential campaigns in 1995/1996 and 1999.

For his part, Alexander complimented the “great” congressman who had, just a few days before, been his “mean-spirited” opponent, and promised Bryant his support for any future political venture. (“I don’t know what I[m going to do,” joked Bryant,who will leave office at the end of the year, “but one thing I’m not going to do, I’m not going to grow a beard!”)

Similar obsequies were exchanged between 4th District congressman Van Hilleary, the winner of the Republican gubernatorial primary, and his erstwhile foe, former state Representative Jim Henry of Kingston. This race, too, had been bitterly contested, but Henry dismissed what he called “this little family argument” and said of the man whose credentials he had so recently and so publicly doubted, “Van Hilleary is going to be a great governor of this state.” Responded Hilleary, “This is sincere, folks.” The GOP gubernatorial nominee went on to decry the state’s educational deficiencies and promised to remedy them -- without, however the kind of “cradle-to-grave” governmental activism favored by the Democrats.

The occasion was also a farewell appearance of sorts for retiring Senator Fred Thompson, whose announcement of non-candidacy in March set up the Alexander-Bryant race. (Various observers had theorized that Thompson’s belated announcement left the relatively unknown Bryant insufficient time to establish a statewide identity to compete with the well-known Alexander. But the congressman himself confided last week, on the eve of the election, that he disagreed. “I doubt that I could have kept this up for much longer than four months,” Bryant said of the grueling campaign ordeal.)

Thompson heaped praise on all the combatants, referring to “four really good men, two really good races.” And making the expected declaration that the future of the state and the nation depended on their election. He was less forthcoming about his own future, though the erstwhile movie actor had earlier mused privately, “ I may have time now to go looking for a good Western todo.”

Conspicuously missing from the flyaround, both in Memphis and in the other five venues (the tour had begun in the Tri-Cities area of northeast Tennessee) had been Governor Don Sundquist, a circumstance which had led state Democratic chairman Bill Farmer to issue a press release charging the Republicans with an “out and out snub-fest.” Said Farmer: “How on Earth the Republicans can claim they’re unified in Tennessee is beyond me.”

  • Democrats, too, were on the move. After a well-attended party unity rally in Nashville on Friday morning (presided over by 9th District congressman Harold Ford Jr. of Memphis) the party’s two main nominees, Senatorial candidate Bob Clement and gubernatorial candidate Phil Bredesen launched their own independent forays into Tennessee’s nooks and corners.

    Clement arrived bright and early on a steam Saturday morning for a photo-op with U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fl), a former astronaut; state chairman Farmer; local Democrats; and assorted veterans at the Memphis Belle on Mud Island. Reason for the tableau was to underscore Clement’s former Army service as a response to criticism of the 5th District Nashville congressman’s military-preparedness stands by Alexander, who -- as Clement wasted no time pointing out -- had never performed military service.

    Styling himself “a liberator, not a liberal,” Clement took out after greedy corporate CEOs and promised to safeguard “security” for Tennesseans: “Social Security, Homeland Security, and health security.” He promised to hit “all the Ed Bryant corners” of Tennessee and to capitalize on whatever discontent with Alexander still lingered with the 7th District congressman’s supporters.

    The same, perhaps overly wishful note had been struck by Bredesen, who had begun his own criss-cross across the state on Friday from Henry’s home town of Kingston in East Tennessee, where he solicited support from supporters of the defeated Republican moderate.

    Meeting with fellow Democrats and the media at the Plaza Club in Memphis Saturday afternoon, Bredesen, the ex-mayor of Nashville, blew verbal kisses at Memphis, which he described as “ a vigorousÉbigger, more brawling” city than this own, and spoke of ongoing negotiations between himself and Hilleary on the format for an extended series of debates.

    One issue on which he and Hilleary had agreed on during their respective primaries was the matter of a state income tax, which both opposed. After making his prepared remarks Saturday, Bredesen noted the defeat of several pro-income-tax incumbents in legislative contests and said that fact, plus the opting out of reelection races by other pro-income-tax legislators, and the defeat of income-tax legislation by the General Assembly in July , amounted to a “referendum by stages” against the income tax.

    Bob Clement and friends

    Beth Harwell and friends

    Photos by Debbie Johnson and Jackson Baker

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