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Throw the Democrats Out!
Tennessee's Tax Revolution - Part 3

October 1, 2002

As someone who was born and raised in the south, I knew of yellow dog democrats from an early age. They were portrayed as "sons of the Ol' South", suspicious of growth in the federal government and conservative, the latter to a fault when it came to civil rights. They were also strict constitutionalists and states rights advocates. They positioned themselves as the citizens' protector against government power and intrusion.

The yellow dogs began to fade out of federal offices after they fully embraced the socialism of Lyndon Johnson's The Great Society. I have always thought of Jimmy Carter as the last gasp of the old yellow dog democrat culture. (Full disclosure: I voted for Jimmy Carter, the only Democrat I have ever voted for as President. In 1976, I was an ensign in the decimated, post-Vietnam Navy and felt a former submariner would get the Navy back on an even keel. I was wrong.)

On the state legislature level here in Tennessee, the story has been different. (The GOP has held the governor's chair more years then the Democrats since 1970.) Democrats have held both houses in the Tennessee legislature since the Civil War. The Senate is close to balance but a few "I want to be like Democrats" GOP senators give the leadership roles to the Democrats. On the House side, tax and spend Democrats hold power by a large majority. Because Tennessee is a majority conservative state, this is where I predict we will see a big change in November.

One year ago, I sat in our kitchen after reading the Sunday newspapers and realized that the local state representative position, long a Democrat stronghold, was winnable for the GOP. Why? The state democrats were no longer conservative. Here is the evidence.

1. The state had a budget crisis (aka spending crisis) and the House Speaker, Jimmy Naifeh, along with a disappointing GOP governor, Don Sundquist, were planning to raise taxes by instituting Tennessee's first ever state income tax. My conservative instincts told me that fighting against higher taxes/a state income tax was a winning issue. (See the rightturns.com archives for my 6/1/02 and 7/15/02 articles describing the legislature's dishonest antics in trying to pass the state income tax.)
2. The state TennCare (a federally approved substitute for Medicare) was turning into an abused, budget busting, fiscal nightmare. TennCare is the only HillaryCare program in the country. The last Democrat Governor, Ned McWhorter, started it. And has become a proud pillar of the state Democratic Party's platform. Another winning conservative issue.

The local Democrat state representative was a big supporter of both of these. The primary election in August saw the defeat of four legislators who voted FOR the income tax. The timing for defeating the incumbent was perfect.

I then began searching for the local GOPer who was planning to run for the local state representative position to offer my analysis and support.

I found him: Judd Matheny. I did not know Judd at the time. I arranged for him and me to meet and discuss his campaign. Within the first few minutes of our meeting, I realized Judd was real: an energetic, focused, practicing, walking and talking conservative. (See www.juddmatheny.com for his background details.) I volunteered to be his campaign manager and he accepted.

Judd's campaign is themed "Responsible Spending, Conservative Government" - the theme state democrats used back when they were conservative. This is not just jingoism. Judd spent the last year meeting with state government commissioners and department heads. That is when he learned that the state budget crisis was really a spending crisis.

Without giving away our tactical plan, I can say that we are driving home the theme and the NO INCOME TAX issue via mailers, letters to the editor, candidate forums, and Judd's specialty: personal appearances throughout the district. 69% of polled Tennesseans are against a state income tax. 51% say they will vote against any legislator that voted for the state income tax. Walk up anecdotal reactions from voters tell us we are on the right track. The polling says the race is winnable, albeit close. Stay tune!


Sam T. Harper graduated cum laude from Vanderbilt University.  Following a tour in the US Navy and a stint as Operations Manager at Roadway Express, he earned his MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.  He was a contributor to “In Search of Excellence,” the best selling business book of all time.  Sam was also Manager, Economic Planning & Analysis at Sohio Petroleum, Partner and Chief Financial Officer at investment-banking firm Bridgemere Capital, and Chief Operating Officer of the Institute for Contemporary Studies, a San Francisco Bay Area-based think tank and international publishing firm that specializes in self-governing and entrepreneurial public policy.  Sam was a chairman of the San Francisco Republican party and the GOP co-host of California Political Review on KALW-FM in San Francisco.  Sam is currently the co-owner of the Tennessee based Institute for Local Effectiveness Training, LLC – a management consulting, training, and coaching firm.