The first hat has been thrown into the ring in the 2010 Tennessee governor's race, and it belongs to former state representative and House majority leader Kim McMillan of Clarksville, who has filed papers to form an exploratory committee for the race.
First elected to the Tennessee House in 1994, Democrat McMillan served 12 years there, the last four as majority leader. A lawyer, she was the first woman in state history to hold that office. She then took a position as senior adviser to Governor Phil Bredesen, resigning last year to become director of community and business relations for Austin Peay State University in her hometown of Clarksville.
McMillan's announcement of candidacy promptly drew raves from state House speaker Jimmy Naifeh of Covington, who praised her service as majority leader and said, "I think she'd make an excellent governor, and I do see her as someone I could support. It's time we broke that gender barrier in Tennessee."
Naifeh's commendation, which McMillan termed an "endorsement," fueled speculation in some quarters that the state Democratic establishment has earmarked McMillan as a possible opponent and counterweight to 7th District Republican congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, who is reported to be looking at a gubernatorial race in 2010.
Blackburn, who now has a race on her hands in the Republican primary, where she is challenged by Shelby County register Tom Leatherwood, recently owned up to a failure to properly disclose some $250,000 in campaign expenditures over the past six years, as well as roughly $50,000 in campaign contributions. After engaging the services of an accounting firm, she has since made a full disclosure to the Federal Election Commission, though Leatherwood charges that she withheld doing so until after this year's filing deadline.
Other names mentioned prominently as likely gubernatorial candidates are those of former U.S. senator Bill Frist and state lieutenant governor Ron Ramsey on the Republican side and, among Democrats, former 9th District congressman Harold Ford Jr., former Nashville mayor Bill Purcell, and 4th District congressman Lincoln Davis.
• Is state senator Rosalind Kurita in trouble this election season or not? Opinions differ in Nashville, where Clarksville Democrat Kurita holds the office of Senate speaker pro tem under Republican speaker Ramsey of Blountville.
Ramsey got his position (and consequently Kurita got hers) in January 2007, when Kurita cast the surprise vote across party lines that deposed longtime speaker John Wilder, a Somerville Democrat. That action resulted in Kurita's virtual ostracism by her fellow Democrats, notably from Jim Kyle of Memphis, the Senate Democratic leader whom many credit as the sponsor of Clarksville lawyer Tim Barnes' challenge to Kurita in this year's Democratic primary.
Not so, says Kyle, and even Kurita can't say so for sure. But she has to take Barnes seriously. He was a near winner against GOP state representative Curtis Johnson in 2006. No less an authority than McMillan, who as a fellow resident of Clarksville knows them both (and who actively supported Barnes two years ago), compares the Kurita-Barnes race to another ongoing contest. "It's very much like the situation between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. We've got two good candidates, whoever wins," McMillan opined.
As a likely sign of official GOP regard for Kurita, no Republican filed in Senate District 22, which was handily carried by George W. Bush in the last two presidential elections.
• By all accounts, District 29 state senator Ophelia Ford, who returned to legislative service in March after being sidelined for almost a year by illness, is performing well, or at least without incident, attending Senate floor sessions, keeping up with legislation, and attending to her committee assignments.
• Memphis state representative G.A. Hardaway (District 92) may have lost out on his recent radical proposal to mandate paternity tests for all state births, but he continues to be active on behalf of legislation in the sphere of gender and parenting. His proposal to strengthen the rights of non-custodial parents through Juvenile Court passed through the House State and Local Government committee last week on its way to Judiciary.
Hardaway, a lobbyist for fathers' rights before entering the House via a special election victory in 2007, is opposed for reelection in the Democratic primary by Eddie Neal, who held the seat briefly as an interim appointee in 2006.