Of all the political controversies to crop up in Tennessee this year, the most unexpected one by far concerns the orange-and-white color motif the University of Tennessee uses for its athletic teams and other emblematic purposes.
The issue burst into consciousness in Los Angeles on Thursday of last week, the last day of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, when state Democratic chairman Doug Horne urged members of the Tennessee delegation at a final luncheon to wear some UT caps he'd acquired for display purposes during native son Al Gore's acceptance address that night. Most delegates accepted the suggestion without demurrer, but some-- like State Representative Larry Miller of Memphis, bridled. Miller refused to wear a UT cap because, he said, the University of Memphis and other state colleges and universities had equal claim to represent the state publicly.
"That just shows what we're up against and why we [U of M] don't get our share of state money," Miller grumbled. (Not as vehemently, delegate Chip Forrester of Nashville declined to wear an orange-and-white cap because, he said, one would clash with his bow-tie.) When show-time came later that evening, perhaps half the seated delegates would not wear UT caps during Gore's speech.
The orange-and-white issue nearly resurfaced again on Friday, the day after Gore's speech, when Tennessee Republicans and GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush staged a well-attended pre-emptive rally in Shelby County, the western-most edge of Gore's home state, and the home base of the blue-and-silver-hued University of Memphis Tigers. At the climactic point of the rally, cascades of orange-and-white confetti were released from the rafters. No one complained on the spot, but all the returns are not in from the 10,000 or so Bush rooters who were on hand.