insights (2006-42)

Bob Corker for U.S. Senate

To me, the defining issue in the race for the U.S. Senate is the difference between the two candidates’ personal attributes and accomplishments.

From everything I know about him, Bob Corker is a man of great integrity whose exemplary skills, values, and purposes have been manifest both in the way in which he succeeded in business and in his commitment to public service.

Unlike Harold Ford, Corker wasn’t handed anything on a platter. He’s worked very hard for everything he’s accomplished, starting with the tough summer jobs he held as a teenager that helped pay his way through the University of Tennessee. It took a great deal of intelligence, resourcefulness and drive to build the construction company he started on a shoestring into a multi-million dollar enterprise. And having done well in business, he poured himself into doing good for the less fortunate. The not-for-profit Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprises that he founded brought rehabilitated houses and self help in owning them to thousands in rundown sections of the city.

As mayor of Chattanooga, he distinguished himself as a bold and visionary leader. The $120 million revitalization of the city’s waterfront which he spearheaded represents a masterful model which Knoxville is now trying to emulate. Fostering job creation and incentive pay for teachers that helped elevate performance in inner-city schools were among his many other accomplishments as mayor.

Through all of this, Corker never lost his common touch, identifying with the needs and aspirations of ordinary citizens. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine anyone whose life experience and shared values provide better qualifications for representing his fellow Tennesseans in the U.S. Senate.

I don’t know nearly as much about Harold Ford and certainly don’t have any basis for saying he lacks integrity. What he does lack, though, is anything remotely resembling Bob Corker’s lifetime record of having been of, by and for the people of this state. Ford basically grew up in Washington, D.C, during his father’s 20 years in Congress. He attended an elite prep school there, then an Ivy League college.

Shortly following his graduation from law school, his father anointed him to succeed to what amounted to a family seat in Congress—never mind that the younger Ford hadn’t worked or lived in Tennessee and had just flunked the Tennessee bar exam. Ford may have represented Memphis well during his 10 years in the House, but I question his qualifications for representing the rest of the state and especially its eastern region.

Memphis politics is a law unto itself—or unlawful as the case may be where the dominant Ford family is concerned. Ford’s father was indicted (but acquitted) of fraud while serving in Congress. His uncle is under indictment for taking bribes as a state senator. His brother, who is running for the House seat that Ford is vacating, has twice been arrested for assault.

Ford bristles with indignation whenever the improprieties of family members are brought up; and he’s certainly entitled to be judged on his own merits. But I question the propriety of his accepting an expense-paid trip to attend a Christmas party in Miami of a company represented by his father, who is now a Washington lobbyist.

When he’s asked what he’ll do for East Tennessee, he responds by reciting, as beneficial to all Tennesseans, his stances on issues of overriding national concern. These start with Iraq and extend to curbing federal deficits, an energy policy that’s less dependent on foreign oil and healthcare that’s affordable to all.

Ford sounds from the hip to me, however, with his proposal to partition Iraq into three autonomous zones (Shiite, Sunni and Kurd). He also urges a hastening of recommendations from a bipartisan commission co-chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker. But Baker is loud and clear that attempting to partition Iraq along sectarian lines would only make things worse.

Where federal deficits are concerned, Ford has lifted his simplistic solution right out of Newt Gingrich’s 1994 contract with America: namely, a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But economists of nearly every stripe have railed against such a constraint, and political leaders of both parties have long since dropped it.

Corker has also made curtailing federal spending and deficits a cornerstone of his campaign. And I would place a lot more reliance in his bringing his business acumen to bear in dealing with this issue as opposed to looking to Ford, who is the epitome of a career politician. The same goes for shaping federal energy and healthcare policies.

It’s equally clear to me that Corker will be much more knowledgeable and attentive when it comes to representing the interests of the Knoxville area including the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee as well as our local governments. Having more support in the Senate could be all the more important if, as widely expected, Democrats gain control of the House in the wake of cumulative scandals involving its Republican leaders. That would mean a loss of influence on the part of Rep. Jimmy Duncan who has effectively championed the area’s interests in Washington.

Corker has said, “The people of Tennessee need to send someone to the Senate who’s had real life experience, who’s mature and who’s  grounded in the state’s values.” I wholeheartedly agree with him.

Joe Sullivan made a financial contribution to Bob Corker’s senate campaign. His views do not represent those held by Metro Pulse , which endorses Harold Ford Jr. to represent Tennessee in the U.S. Senate.