DESTIN, Fla. Ð Capitol Hill reporters, at least this one, thought Gov. Don Sundquist was joking each time he said he was taking vacation at his doublewide in Florida.
He wasnt kidding.
Sundquist, who since has built a comfortable retirement home near Townsend in the Great Smoky Mountains, really has a doublewide mobile home in Florida. Its parked off the beaten path about five blocks from the Gulf of Mexico. The structure is the only doublewide sitting in the Destin RV Resort (motto, Your Sun Sets Here).
Only one other mobile home is set up in the park, which has 153 spaces for recreational vehicles. The rest are RVs, according to the park manager. Sundquist rarely spends time there these days. Mostly, a daughter and brother-in-law use the mobile home, the manager says.
From outward appearances, Sundquist did not soak Tennessee taxpayers for this spot, which is located near some of the best golf in the Southeast. Tax records show the entire RV park, owned by Arquette Development Corp. of Panama City, Fla., is valued at less than $1.6 million.
The Sundquist villa is a nondescript tan structure with an attached carport. There are better things to do than check out your departing governors vacation home during a getaway to the Gulf Coast. But when it rains Ð hard Ð one has to amuse oneself, since one cannot play golf as planned.
That means reading (Tom Clancys Red Robin is a nice diversion.) and/or watching television, which brings us to our next point. Destin is so close to Alabama that it is nearly impossible to avoid radio and television political ads broadcast from Mobile and Dothan, Ala.
The ads sound eerily familiar. Theres President Bush telling a crowd that Republican Bob Riley is the sort of man who will bring integrity and strong moral values to the governors office in Montgomery.
As I recall, Bush did much the same for our own Van Hilleary, and that shows up time and again in Hillearys television ads. The Alabama governors race appears to be at least as intense as Tennessees battle between Hilleary and Democrat Phil Bredesen. Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, a Democrat, accuses Riley of failing to pay his taxes for nine years. The Siegelman ads say Riley paid the taxes only after authorities forced him to do so.
Riley denies that, and targets Siegelman for non-bid state contracts to campaign contributors.
An intelligent, mature lawyer from Huntsville, Ala., brought up the Alabama governors race and called it the nastiest hes even seen. That includes the bitter battle over an Alabama lottery, which was defeated three years ago.In Tennessee, as we well know, Hilleary tries to create the impression that Bredesen, who became wealthy and created thousands of jobs as a health care entrepreneur, is just an HMO millionaire. That label is supposed to paint Bredesen as a bad guy on two fronts: hes rich and hes been involved with HMOs, which we are supposed to despise.
The Sundquist-Bredesen campaign of 1994 was hard-fought but didnt plunge to the low level of these two gubernatorial races. Negative campaigning works, but why must candidates Ð or their political advisers Ð take it to such distasteful levels?
The Nov. 5 election is less than two weeks away. We must take the claims, as my grandmother used to say, with a grain of salt. There may be some truth in there somewhere.
Meanwhile, Sundquist is enjoying his last months in office away from the political wars. His support of a state income tax made him persona non grata, even to his own political party. Hilleary has TV commercials showing Bredesen morphing into BredeSundquist. Now, the Hilleary campaign is passing out bumper stickers that say, No More BredeSundquist. When he was shown the commercials, Sundquist paused and said, I regret it, if Hilleary has his people doing that. He ought to know better. Shame on him!
Sounds like the sun hasnt yet set on Don Sundquist.