Don't Worry, Be Happy

Haslam learned something as a business exec: Reward those at the top

What will they do next?

• A Tea Party leader might view Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, part owner of Pilot Corp., as a "socialist" but so far he looks like a typical chief executive. CEOs routinely reward vice presidents with bonuses for achieving cost savings in their departments—usually by finding a way to lay off workers and make the rest work harder.

Haslam has his commissioners working on a plan to eliminate as many as 1,200 rank and file workers in state government to balance the budget. Okay. But last week he gave the department heads raises, averaging 11 percent, when state workers haven't had a raise in forever. These department heads are people that hired on at their existing salaries three months ago. Putting on my public relations hat, I would say that it is extremely bad timing. As a public scold I will say it is unconscionable, morally squalid, and provides a good example of what is wrong with American business executives these days.

But you don't worry about bad PR if you are Haslam. You can even let your political party have a fund-raiser in the executive mansion, a building owned by the citizens and taxpayers of the state—Republicans and Democrats.

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• I agree with the eulogies that former Gov. Ned McWherter, who died last week, was a giant in state politics. He was the best governor of the modern era and his education reforms, creation of TennCare, and his efforts to build four-lane highways to backward rural communities were models of a progressive chief executive.

But I find these descriptions of his "bipartisan" approach to politics to be hysterically funny. Ned McWherter was the most partisan sonofabitch to ever wield power in Nashville. Nothing delighted him more than grinding Republicans into the dirt. His bipartisanship consisted of being gracious and not humiliating you after he gutted you. He set up one-party rule in Nashville through constitutional officers, the state building commission, election commissions, and the machinery of state government that protected Democratic rule in Tennessee for 16 years after he left office, even in the face of a Republican-trending electorate.

He was the consummate Yellow Dog Democrat who taught Bill Clinton how to win and failed to get through to his other star pupil, Al Gore. If Gore had listened to McWherter, he would have been president. If there ever is another Democrat elected statewide in Tennessee, they will no doubt be a student of the McWherter model.

For all his partisanship and his ruthlessness, if you were in the same room with him you could not resist his imposing charisma. To this day, I don't know why I liked him so much.

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• Republicans in the General Assembly are all about opposing federal mandates, but they have no trouble voting to regulate issues in local governments around the state. Years ago the tobacco lobby had the Legislature forbid local governments from banning smoking. This year there is a bill that would at least allow a hospital to ban smoking in front of its front doors. How liberal of them. On the other hand, state Rep Glen Casada, who rails against federal interference, has a bill that forbids local governments banning discrimination. Casada is afraid that local governments will decide that homosexuals shouldn't be discriminated against, adding them to the list of women, minorities, and religious groups who are protected. If Knoxville City Council wants to vote to forbid discrimination against homosexuals by city government and anyone it does business with, just what business is it of the representative from a Nashville suburb?

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• There is a bill proceeding merrily along that allows high school biology teachers to teach alternatives to evolution—all in the interest of intellectual diversity. If there is any justice, the children of legislators who vote for this bill will next get a biology teacher who is a Scientologist. The teacher will then be free to explain to the kids that mankind descended from space aliens. It is an alternative explanation and is certainly intellectually diverse.