Wrapping up some recent politics:
— Madeline Rogero has become the first woman elected mayor of Knoxville and in fact, as far as I can tell, the first woman elected mayor of any of the state’s major cities. It is an important barrier to break through when you consider that in the past decade being the mayor of a major city has been the path to statewide office.
Former Gov. Phil Bredesen served as mayor of Nashville. Current Gov. Bill Haslam, mayor of Knoxville. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker was mayor of Chattanooga. It didn’t hurt that they are all filthy rich, but there have been a lot of rich guys who have run for statewide office getting nowhere. Being a mayor gives you a public track record and a firm base.
I’m not predicting that Rogero will try and follow Haslam into his current position, but her election surely may spur some other women to consider pursuing the mayor’s office in their city. (It is also interesting that no man had the temerity to join the four women who contended for the state Senate seat given up by Jamie Woodson, the seat won by Becky Duncan Massey.)
I used to think Woodson would be the first woman elected governor of Tennessee but she has taken herself out of state leadership (Senate Pro Tem) to take a job in education reform. I don’t rule her out because in her current job she will be working with some very rich and powerful business executives who have taken up education reform, including former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist. And education reform is not a bad platform for the future.
While waiting for a woman mayor to emerge, the best prospect for the first woman governor at present is state House Speaker Beth Harwell. Harwell is a veteran legislator, and she represents one of the richest zip codes in the state—Nashville’s version of Sequoyah Hills and Chattanooga’s Signal Mountain. She isn’t filthy rich but she knows all the people who are. She has been state Republican Party Chair and worked them all to raise money for the party.
Someone, probably a Washington PAC, is running a poll in Nashville about Harwell’s chances of defeating U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, one of the two Democrats from the state still in Congress. Cooper and Harwell have assured friends they are not doing the poll. That probably means national Republicans will start putting pressure on the speaker to “take Cooper out.” Cooper is a veteran and widely respected. But his district will be redrawn this year by the Republican Legislature. Harwell has to decide, post-Haslam, whether it would be better to have been Speaker of the House for eight years or be a member of Congress. (Please stay where you are Madame Speaker.)
— It must have been 1994 when little known Congressman Newt Gingrich came to Knoxville. I went to the Lincoln Day dinner to see Don Sundquist and Fred Thompson. Gingrich gave a rousing speech about the Contract With America, a plan being studiously ignored by the national media. The enthusiasm that night for his ideas and the whooping it up for Sundquist made it easy to predict that Republicans were likely to surge in 1994. They did. They took over the U.S. House for the first time in decades and Gingrich became speaker. Gingrich sneaked up on everybody.
Considered dead at the beginning of the presidential race he has now climbed to the top three candidates in national polls. If Herman Cain starts to slide it may well be a Gingrich-Mitt Romney race. Gingrich has sneaked up on everyone again.
— Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman barely registers in national polls, but he is creeping up in New Hampshire. If he is campaigning there like he did here he may surprise some people. At a luncheon at former Mayor Victor Ashe’s house recently he was impressive—working the crowd, giving them his stump speech, answering questions. He was in total command of the issues. He is starting to get some attention in GOP debates as one after the other of the rest of the candidates start sounding like crackpots and fools.