Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Making A Silk Purse Out Of A Sow's Ear

Facing governmental and political challenges greater than any Volunteer State Governor in at least eighty years, Phil Bredesen stepped up to the plate to deliver the annual State of the State address last evening. The environment could hardly been more daunting:

- worst national economic crisis since the Great Depression;

- great uncertainty as to how - or even if - the Federal government would act to kick-start the nation's economy;

- state revenues dwindling every day;

- a State Senate in firm control of the Republicans;

- a State House of Representatives in firm control of.. well, of nobody. After a well-orchestrated coup d’état by House Democrats to select the Republican of their choice as Speaker and the Governor's candidate for Minority Leader having previously lost an intra-party battle, Bredesen faces a House with lots of raw political emotion on both sides of the aisle;

- the Governor's preferred candidate just recently lost his bid to become Chair of the State Democratic Party;

- the extremely popular, and fellow Democrat, President Barack Obama chose the very same evening for his first live, televised prime time press conference; talk about being upstaged!

All in all, Governor Bredesen was expected to give us an honest and non-partisan assessment of Tennessee's current condition, the top priorities for the next year and some broader vision for the state beyond that - all this in about as tough a setting as could be imagined. As I say, a very challenging task indeed. 

To his great credit, Governor Bredesen did just that. In calm, measured tones he aptly described the dire situation we face. There was no evasion and no sugar-coating. "We are living in tough times." 

Bredesen underlined the importance of what he called three basic principles of governance: 

- sound budgetary policy (spending only what you have);
- focusing on the basics (education, creating good jobs and health care); 
- bipartisanship, (he acknowledged the current highly charged partisan atmosphere in Washington and in Nashville and urged lawmakers to move "beyond politics and do the peoples' business").

It was a speech with few specifics and even fewer details, largely due to the uncertainty of the federal Economic Recovery Plan. The Governor did right not to get ahead of himself, though the temptation to do so must have been great. He did emphasize once again the critical importance of education, job creation and health care, in keeping with his earlier remarks.  

Critics - from the Left and the Right - took some of Bredesen's remarks as a not-so-subtle shout out to the President, pushing himself as a possible Secretary of HHS. I don't see it that way. To me it seemed as if Bredesen was leaving that door slightly ajar if President Obama wanted to open it more fully.

In short, Governor, it was certainly a good speech. Under the circumstances, I would say it was a great speech. Well done!

Full text of the Governor's State of the State Address can be seen here.

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