The time is fast approaching when Tennesseans will have to decide who will replace Phil Bredesen in the governor’s office. While I think most people accept the job he’s done, this state, like most, have been hit hard by the economic downturn. One of the things Phil made a big deal out of when he first ran for governor was how his experience as a businessman was going to help him administer the state in straightforward and businesslike manner. Of course, that ignored the fact that he’d have to deal with entrenched civil servants who fight change like barbarians storming ancient Rome. Or with lawmakers more interested in the special interests funneling them re-election dollars than enacting laws to bring about positive change.
Which goes to the point that all of Phil’s “business” experience couldn’t do much to stop the global economic downtown that hit the state like a baseball bat a couple of years ago.
So, it seems that the two guys trying to replace the governor are playing up one particular skill that each believes makes them the best man for the job.
The Republican nominee, Bill Haslam, a member of the family that owns and runs the Pilot Oil empire, notes that he has the business acumen to help pull Tennessee out of its economic doldrums and put people back to work. The guy is the mayor of one of the larger cities in the state, but doesn’t really talk much about his executive experience on the public side (not in his TV commercials anyway). He makes this point on his site: “Bill Haslam’s top priority as governor will be making Tennessee the #1 state in the Southeast for high quality jobs. At a time when our state is facing double-digit unemployment and many more are underemployed, Tennessee needs a governor who understands how to create jobs.”
Mike McWherter, son of former Governor Ned McWherter, is the Democratic nominee. As the operator of his own beer distributorship (and being pretty much in control of his father’s distributorship as well), he also says his business experience will help turn the state around, mostly by continuing Gov. Bredesen’s positive policies. Here’s a pertinent quote from McWherter’s site, on his approach to repairing the economy: “Creating new jobs. Mike is the proud owner of a Tennessee-based company that provides good jobs to working families. He knows how to communicate with businesses and industries that are expanding, and as governor, he’ll work overtime to bring new jobs to Tennessee.”
Promising job creation is a time-honored method of campaigning for high office. I grew up in Ohio when Jim Rhodes was governor. He was one of the few people to serve 4 four-year terms as a state governor. You could pretty much sum up his campaign approach in three words. “Jobs, jobs, jobs.” When he was mayor of Columbus, he helped convince voters to approve a city income tax. Income tax? That kind of leadership would never fly in the Tennessee Statehouse. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a fan. Even though we worked in the same office building after he left office and saw each other often, I soured on him after Kent State in 1970. Still, his “jobs” mantra worked on voters until he ran for a fifth term in 1986.
However, here’s my question: unless Haslam or McWhether offers every jobless Tennessean a position at a Pilot gas station or at Central Distributors, just how is their “business experience” going to make a lick of difference in getting people back to work? Seriously, the guy in office now is an experienced businessman, and we’ve seen that’s there is damn little he can do about keeping state workers in their jobs, much less other people, until the economic recovery gains steam around the country. Cutting taxes for the rich isn’t an answer. Rich people are interested in being rich – not necessarily using their money to create jobs. If they can get richer by creating jobs inside the U.S., they’ll do it. If they can get richer by moving jobs to other countries, wave goodbye – those jobs are gone for good. If making stock prices rise by laying off staff is necessary, it’s time to look for another job. Trust me, I felt that pain personally.
So Mike, Bill – lemme ask you – instead of joining all the other candidates on TV, slinging all that mud, why not tell us that you’re hoping that a rising tide will lift all boats economically and a governor really can’t do much to bring new jobs anywhere – unless businesses (which are sitting on tons of cash right now) are feeling confident enough to spend that money to create those jobs?