Opinion » Editorial

The TVA Impasse



We're not naive (well, not that naive), and we know that there may be a political motive or two behind the unyielding support that Senator Lamar Alexander is giving the proposed renomination to the Tennnessee Valley Authority's governing board of Bishop William Graves of the

Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. Memphian Graves was the first African-American ever to serve on the TVA board when he was appointed in 2006 to fill out a term that expired last year. No doubt on the express recommendation of Alexander, whom he has consistently supported in the past, the bishop was renominated this year by President Bush for a full term. But Graves' nomination, along with that of another Tennessean, Susan Williams of Knoxville, has so far been blocked by Nevada senator Harry Reid, the Democrats' majority leader in the Senate.

Reid has accounted for his adamant opposition in the past by alleging that Republicans managed to purge Democrats from the board via a 2006 power grab that was led by then Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee. Graves, whose original appointment dated from that period, is a self-professed Democrat whose occasional digressions into support of Republicans apparently disqualifies him for Reid as an appropriate appointee. But Alexander — seconded by others, including the Democratic congressman from Memphis, Steve Cohen — continues to argue that Graves' credentials, his experience, and his place of residence all make him an ideal and deserving candidate for a new term on the TVA board.

Accordingly, Alexander, contending that Reid is departing from a long-established principle whereby presidential appointments to the TVA board are invariably honored, has blocked a nomination himself — of Ikram Kahn, a Reid protégé, to the United States Institute for Peace, a nonpartisan body established and funded by Congress.

This is where it gets confusing. Reid accuses Alexander, the GOP caucus chairman, of scuttling an elaborately balanced compromise reached last week between the two party leaderships. Alexander has now abrogated that pact, insisted a spokesman for Reid, and as a result, 80 presidential appointments, including that of a new secretary of Housing and Urban Development, have been held up.

In other words, some hardball is now being played. We don't know Kahn, who may be very deserving indeed, but we do know Bishop Graves, and we find it regrettable that a man who has bipartisan support on his own home ground should find his opportunities for further public service blocked because of a partisan turf battle.

At a time when both likely contenders for the presidency — Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain — promise they will reach across party lines in the formation of a new administration, we can only hope that the current impasse concerning the TVA board will end.

And we congratulate Alexander, not only for persisting in this matter but for seconding the objection of his Tennessee Republican colleague Bob Corker to a new attack piece by the state Republican Party on Michelle Obama. This is Alexander's second direct appeal to the state GOP to cease its personal attacks, a fact which makes his call for nonpartisanship in the TVA matter all the more credible.

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