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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Wilder than ever

Today may (or may not) be decision day regarding the next speaker of the Tennessee State Senate. Whenever a verdict is reached, I sure hope Kleinheider is right:

They say in Tennessee Politics never to bet against the old man [incumbent speaker John Wilder], but I am tempted to this morning. My out on a limb prediction is that a week from now, John Wilder will no longer be Speaker. It may be [Sen. Ron] Ramsey or it may be someone else, but it will not be Wilder.
I think this would be a very positive development for Tennessee. In my opinion, Wilder has succeeded in establishing some level of bipartisanship that may well not have existed without him. That is a good thing. He has failed, though, in doing much other than maintaining his position as speaker, and he is largely responsible for the quagmire that the State Senate often is.

Here's one question I can't answer yet: Would Ramsey make a better speaker? Unquestionably, I think he would be a more credible figurehead for this governing body, but his ascension would likely lead to a much more partisan atmosphere.

I also wonder how much that atmosphere would change if Wilder is no longer the speaker. Regardless, I think having someone other than Wilder as Lt. Governor would be a good thing for the state, but how would the Senate operate in the wake of such a big change? Keep in mind that Wilder has served as speaker since 1971, so suffice it to say that there's a well-worn, if undeniably eccentric, pattern of (or lack of) leadership in place.

I am holding out hope that Randy McNally emerges as the speaker, as Kleinheider speculates may be the case.
If no one can bust through the gridlock, someone very well may put McNally's name in the hopper. He is a Republican, which would be fitting since the GOP holds a numerical majority. Also he is viewed as a Republican that Democrats can work with. If no one is able to achieve 17, I would look for a Lt. Governor McNally on a third or fourth ballot.
All of this leads me to a larger question: Is there anything that can reasonably be done to improve either legislative body of the General Assembly? There appears to be plenty of cynicism, self-interest and corruption to go around for quite some time, and I would sincerely like to see things change for the better. Unseating Wilder would likely be at least one solid step in that direction.

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