editorial (2006-45)

An Election to Ponder

Corker to the U.S. Senate, four more years for Gov. Bredesen, and a national shift

An Election to Ponder

The 2006 election season is finally over, and decisions made by Tennessee voters Tuesday will likely have considerable impact at home and across the country, where the electorate established a mood for change in the way the nation is governed.

As control of the U.S. House of Representatives shifted from Republican to Democrat, the Senate’s party configuration still hung in the balance as ballots were counted into Wednesday, when Metro Pulse went to press.

It appeared Wednesday morning as if the election of Bob Corker to the Senate seat vacated by fellow Republican Sen. Bill Frist would keep Democrats from reaching a Senate majority, though final results in Montana and Virginia had yet to be tabulated. The situation echoes that in 2004, when Tennessee Democrat Al Gore lost the presidency by failing to carry his home state.

For Democrat challenger Congressman Harold Ford, Jr., the loss to Corker by about three percentage points among more than 1.6 million ballots cast meant an end to his first quest for higher office in a race characterized by negative campaign advertising, the most damaging directed at him.

Ford’s elegant concession and congratulatory speech early Wednesday morning, in which he made it clear his political aspirations were far from satisfied, was punctuated by a moment of applause from Corker himself, the former Chattanooga mayor who was watching on television. Corker’s subsequent acceptance speech strove to accentuate the positives he expects to project in his Senate term. We would certainly hope he is able to realize those expectations. A split Senate will require him to think and act for himself, separate from the agenda of a crippled Republican administration. Corker has exhibited good common sense, and we expect him to apply that to his Senate votes on the Iraq War, national security, health care, the economy, and the host of other vital issues facing the nation.

We hold reelected Republican Congressman John J. “Jimmy” Duncan of Knoxville to that same standard, and we’re confident from his voting record that he’ll use his own judgment as issues are raised in the Democrat-controlled House.

Within the state, Gov. Phil Bredesen won all 95 counties to assure the Nashville Democrat a second term in office. Popular across party lines, Bredesen’s challenges are mainly fiscal, to keep the state and its education and health-care systems and public services running under the pressures exerted by Tennessee’s antiquated tax system. He’s been able to do a remarkable job in that regard in his first four years.

Two amendments to the Tennessee Constitution passed overwhelmingly, with more than 80 percent of statewide ballots recording yes votes. The first, an embarrassing and incongruous Marriage Protection Amendment, will prevent same-sex marriages and deprive gay and lesbian couples of their equal protection rights. The second authorizes cities and counties to freeze property taxes on the homes of people age 65 and over to give senior citizens on fixed incomes more leeway in meeting their living expenses. We expect Knoxville and Knox County to give that new option full consideration. It merits adoption locally.

Legislative races affecting the city and county went pro forma, with Republican state Sens. Tim Burchett and Randy McNally winning reelection handily, and incumbent Democrat state Reps. Harry Tindell, Parkey Strader, Joe Armstrong, Bill Dunn, Frank Niceley, Stacey Campfield and Harry Brooks returned to office.

Five of eight City and County Charter amendments, mainly housekeeping measures,  passed easily. The exceptions were two city amendments affecting pensions, with associated costs. A county amendment providing Sheriff’s Department deputies pension parity with city police was still technically up in the air Wednesday, pending the count from one balky voting machine. But it appeared to pass narrowly.

The impetus for change in this election season was obviously less effective on local and state races here than it was nationally.

And we do continue to pray for change on the national political scene, particularly, and not necessarily in the way anticipated by Wall Street. The financial markets rallied strongly on election day and the day before, and the reasoning posed by analysts was that the business world anticipated a congressional and executive gridlock, with the split in party control of the houses of Congress and the White House, meaning nothing will get done in President George W. Bush’s two lame-duck years. We need relief from the Bush administration’s policies in many areas, and we don’t need two years of total inaction, slogging along in an inert status quo in Washington.

Let’s hope that our new senator-elect, Bob Corker, can contribute to general advances in economic, security, educational, environmental and civil rights legislation in his new position. Lots of progress in those areas has stagnated or withered away under Bush. One senator can’t end the nation’s impossibly draining war in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he should do whatever he can to keep from protracting that debacle and its obviously losing proposition.