Tennessee's State Democrats: A Fading Power but with Bulging Wallets

Sam T. Harper

May 15, 2006

Tennessee's state Democrats: a fading power but with bulging wallets

I have been writing for the last few years about the demise of the southern conservative Democrat. I believe that there is no such thing anymore.

Southern Democrats have become as liberal as northeast Democrats; government is their livelihood and the solution for whatever ails you.

On the surface in Tennessee, it appears that the southern Democrat is alive and thriving.

The governor (Phil Bredesen) is a "successful businessman" Democrat. That descriptor is often used by the media to reinforce the idea that he is really a conservative democrat. (It is a façade that I will expose in future articles.)

The President of the Senate (John Wilder) is a Democrat and has held his leadership position since I was in high school (1968-1971)! He was re-elected to this leadership position even though Republicans held a 1 vote majority in the Senate at the beginning of the term. (The two GOPers, whose votes put him back in the "high chair", will soon see themselves isolated if not defeated.) 

In the Tennessee House, Democrats hold a 5 vote lead. The Speaker (Jimmy Naifeh), as politically liberal as Ted Kennedy yet as good ol' boy as a Hee Haw regular, rules with an iron fist as he gleefully increases spending and adds fiscally unsupportable programs.

To counter all this, we conservatives can look upon a steady flow of positive news.

George Bush carried the state in 2000 against homeboy, Al Gore (another walking façade). "W" again carried it against a Massachusetts Democrat. That in itself is no indicator except that he carried several traditional Democrat counties (for example, my residence, Franklin County) in that one.

Tennessee provided the US Senate with one of the best conservative senators in recent memory: Fred Thompson. His state vote totals and those of Bill Frist demonstrate that there are more Tennesseans willing to vote for Republicans than willing to vote for Democrats. No current Democrat has received as many votes as these two.

The Tennessee Senate had a recent conversion of an old line Democrat to a Republican. The GOP majority is now 2 with more GOPers expected after the November elections; more than enough to de-throne the dinosaur Senate President.

The Tennessee House has several active campaigns that can change the state House majority. The votes are there to make the change. Total GOP votes in House races were greater than total Democrat votes in 2004. If the campaigns can be run to provide the victories, the Democrat Speaker may find his new office in a cubicle across town at the beginning of the next term.

Do the liberal Democrats see this loss of majority coming? I believe they see it and are preparing for it.

WSMV.com (the website of the Nashville NBC affiliate television station) recently gave me the clue that the Democrats are preparing for loss of power.

WSMV.com reported that the Speaker and Senate president have been steadily increasing the salaries of their politically appointed administrative positions since 2003.
Speaker Chief of Staff: $145,000, a 26% increase since 2003.
Senate President Chief of Staff: $134,000, a 28% increase
Various legal advisors (22 total): 18%-20% increases

By way of comparison (2003-2006): Civil service state employees (25,000 total): 6-9% increase.

Now you may ask why this little publicized event of recent double digit pay raises for Democrat appointed officials gives me hope for the demise of the Democrats.

To find out why, we need to only look at the Tennessee retirement system. Retirement pay is calculated on the number of years of service and the average salary of the last five years.

The Democrats have controlled Tennessee legislative government since Reconstruction. Any Democrat appointed employee has had ample time to build the number-of-years requirement.

Jimmy Naifeh and John Wilder recognize that the end of their power is near so they are helping their buddies build up their five-year-average-salary-requirement.

You will be able to identify these appointees after they lose their jobs. They will be walking out of the Capitol on their last day of employment with big fat wallets bulging with generous retirement pay.

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