It's been more than 16 years since Phil Bredesen, the transplanted upstate New Yorker and health-care tycoon who was then the mayor of Nashville, delivered a speech at the Peabody that intrigued a lot of Memphians in his audience. The speech to the downtown Kiwanis Club was devoted to the theme of "Ten Things I Will Do for Memphis."
And it was no ordinary laundry list. Bredesen, then the Democratic nominee in a gubernatorial contest with Republican nominee Don Sundquist, proposed, if elected, to accomplish a number of things that had long been coveted by residents of the Bluff City.
Among them were securing for the city an NFL franchise and awarding the University of Memphis its own independent governing board. The other eight items were just as tantalizing, and, had not Sundquist been a home-town candidate, the man from Nashville might have picked up enough local support to have carried Shelby County, and with it the governorship.
As it was, Bredesen would have to wait another eight years before taking the reins of state government, and here it is eight years after that, and, sad to say, most of the "Ten Things I Will Do for Memphis" remain undone (though Nashville has meanwhile become a staple on the NFL circuit).
Inasmuch as Sundquist didn't do those things either, it's hard to fault Bredesen overmuch. The outgoing governor made what could be his last swing into Memphis last week to help announce a grant for "Books from Birth," a program he and his wife Andrea Conte especially favor, at the College Park Head Start Center. He said all the right things about Memphis: "a tremendous city ... a lot of energy ... interesting politics here." And he said he had tried to be "very, very supportive," while acknowledging there is sentiment in Memphis (face it, there is always such sentiment in Memphis) that the city has been overlooked and short-changed.
Perhaps justifiably, the governor took some pride in having stabilized state government during hard times. He characterized the current economic facts of life this way:
"We've bounced up about a foot from the bottom, but we were 14 feet down to start with, so there's still a way to go."
Was it likely he would take another fling in politics, say, by running for the U.S. Senate? Bredesen almost recoiled. "I don't think so. I don't think I'd be any good at that. I don't think I'd be happy. I don't think people would be happy with me. I would be terrible in the Senate. It's just not me."
The one aspect of public life he said he was "really interested in" — the issue of health care — is back on the front burner after a judicial decision this week finding unconstitutional a key portion of the federal health-care bill passed last year. Bredesen had already made up his mind that the administration's bill needed to be modified.
"I think the president thinks so too," he opined. Who knows? Known to have been a candidate for secretary of health and human services in late 2008, maybe his hat's in that ring again.
We wish the governor luck and thank him for his efforts on behalf of the citizens of Tennessee.