A Rocky Top for Conservatives in Tennessee

We have a lot of readers and fans in Tennessee (not to mention Leon) and after reading this article by A.C. Kleinheider I think it is time for all of us nationally to focus a bit on Tennessee.For the longest time Tennessee has elected squishy moderates state wide. Howard Baker was conservative, but in a “compromise his mother to advance his goal” sort of way. Arguably Lamar Alexander is even worse, refusing to do anything that does not advance bipartisanship, even at the expense of core conservative goals. Hell, Alexander is not even and does not consider himself to be, a conservative.Bob Corker, who I know and like, is definitely and defiantly to the right of Alexander, but even Corker is more a pragmatist, willing to compromise on big and small issues — no doubt affected by his time as a mayor. I’m finding that municipal politics can skew one’s perspective on the need to work across the aisle.Tennessee has never elected to state wide office rock-ribbed movement conservatives. They’ve elected George W. Bush types who have conservative inclinations, but are not conservatives. As Kleinheider puts it:

Republicans will run Tennessee but which Republicans hold power and in what capacity will make a huge difference. Traditionally, Tennessee Republicans have talked a conservative game, but there’s a difference between being conservative — adjective —and being a conservative — noun.A movement conservative, for example, has never won a statewide primary and gone on to win a general election.

But as Tennessee grows further right and expands its Republican domination of the state next year — the GOP just took the State House and have expanded its margin in a special election — and becomes the entrenched party of power, we’re going to see more and more actual, factual conservatives moving up.That brings me to two races.The first is the Tennessee Governor’s race. Zach Wamp is not what I would call a movement conservative. He is a conservative and would govern conservatively, but he’s not a firebrand conservative. That actually makes him a terrific fit for Tennessee to embrace a statewide conservative in a state that traditionally has not. Compare Wamp to Haslam. Again from Kleinheider:

The moderates seem to be trying to rectify that with Bill Haslam’s gubernatorial campaign. Haslam is a true moderate — more so than either Corker or Alexander. Haslam is also much worse at cloaking his discomfort with rigid right-wing ideology. He seems reluctant to utter even the most cursory red meat rhetoric that conservatives want to hear. . . .The big question is how much a Gov. Haslam would be like our current governor. Would he be just an anomalously successful figure, an outlier in his own party, or would he work to bring moderate Republicans like himself into state political power?

That is troubling to me. In fact, many of my Tennessee friends tell me there is little discernable difference between Haslam and the present Democrat in the Governor’s Mansion, Phil Bredesen.As Tennessee begins its crawl to the right, I hope they’ll look favorably on Zach Wamp.That leads me to Zach Wamp’s seat. Robin Smith, who many of you who attended our Atlanta Gathering met, is running to replace Wamp. Among Tennessee’s Congressional Delegation, Marsha Blackburn leads as the conservative. She has no real ideological soulmates among the Tennessee delegation. Kleinheider notes:

A movement conservative, for example, has never won a statewide primary and gone on to win a general election. There have been congressional members (Ed Bryant, Marsha Blackburn), but every time conservatives have stepped up for statewide office they have either been defeated in the primary (Bryant) or in the general (Jim Bryson, Van Hilleary).Some consider Rep. Blackburn an extreme member of the congressional delegation. If former Tennessee Republican Party chair Robin Smith gets elected in the Third District, Blackburn will have an ideological soulmate with her in Congress.

Robin Smith is definitely one of us and right on all our issues. I’m excited to see good conservatives like Wamp and Smith stepping up. Haslam has a political dynasty behind him. His daddy thinks he should be Governor. We can stop him by supporting Wamp and we can give Marsha Blackburn the backup she needs in someone like Robin Smith.