Tennessee Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen on politics and policy
HH: Special treat, you know how we like to have on Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota. Governors have real, hard jobs, and they actually have to come up with real solutions. And we’ve had Governor P. for a long time. Well, we’ve got a counterpart now, from the other side of the aisle. From the great state of Tennessee, Governor Phil Bredesen joins me now. Governor, welcome, it’s great to have you on the program.
PB: It’s great. I appreciate the invitation.
HH: Well, this alarms me. You know, if Democrats who are smart start showing up on talk radio, we’re going to lose one of our last refuges in the media.
PB: Well, we’re trying to, you know, invade slowly around here at the edges until we get enough numbers to just really overwhelm.
HH: Well, it’s great to have you on, and I hope we can get you back a lot.
HH: We’ll talk a little politics, a little policy. First, the politics. You came up with this idea to get the superdelegates on the Democrat side together after the last primary. Is it gaining strength? You got legs?
PB: Yeah, it seems to have some legs. You know, when you write something for the newspaper, I put, you know, an op-ed piece in the New York Times, you never know what’s going to happen. And a lot of times, they plunk in, and there’s twelve hours of little waves, and that’s the last time anybody ever saw them. But this one really had legs. It started getting calls, and they’ve been growing, and this week’s been very, very active. I think a lot of people are just trying to come to grips with the idea, and people know we’ve got to do something. And I think they’re starting to warm up to it.
HH: Of course, I’m hoping it goes all the way to Denver, and that bricks are thrown. But today, Senator Obama gave a speech on the economy. Senator Clintons’ people came out and blasted it as empty, meaningless rhetoric. I’d love to see that all the way through Denver. What are the odds, do you think, of actually getting it closed in June?
PB: I think the odds are reasonable of finding some way to close it out in June. I don’t know, but gosh, there are few people who I know in my party who think it’s in any way good for the party to continue on with this stuff through the summer. You know, it’s one thing to have primaries in both parties. They can be tough, but you get beyond them, and everybody finds a way to make up, and the winner says their mea culpas for what I said about the loser, and everybody moves on. And that’s kind of what we need to do here.
HH: Governor Bredesen, in terms of Tennessee, is Tennessee in play in 2008, do you think? It’s a pretty red state.
PB: Yeah, I think it is in play. It’s a state growing more conservative over time, but Tennessee’s actually been an almost perfect microcosm of the country. We have missed getting the presidency right just once since the 1920’s. That was a half century ago in 1960. So it really is a bellwether state in a lot of ways. And since I think this election is clearly in play, I think Tennessee is clearly in play.
HH: And how does Barack Obama do well…he did he fare in Tennessee in your primaries?
PB: He lost the primary to Senator Clinton here, and I want to say by fifteen points, but don’t…I’m not sure I’m remembering that exactly right. But it was not, as a contest, I don’t think very determinative, because he had, the candidates really hadn’t campaigned in Tennessee, so it was more of a sort of fossilized, political view from probably early in November, or something, is what came out then. I’d say it’d be much closer today if we reran it.
HH: And you have not declared for either of them, have you?
PB: No, I have not. I’m, as the governor and a superdelegate, I felt I wanted to sit back a little bit. And frankly, I think that’s what gave me the ability to put an idea forward like this. If I’d been clearly in one of the two camps, you know, I think it would have been impossible.
HH: I agree with that. Now what are you going to make your choice on? When it call comes down to it, you’ve got to cast a ballot, whether in June or in Denver. How’s Phil Bredesen going to decide?
PB: You know, I think ultimately, there’s several things. I think really trying to figure out what’s best for the country has got to be in the front of everybody’s mind. Obviously, what my constituents want at the time is important to me. I think electability is important. I want us Democrats to be a muscular party that’s good at winning elections. And I think that’ll be important as well. Obviously, a lot of those kinds of considerations, but it’ll be in June, after the primaries are over. I think it would be wrong to try and do something like I’ve described before the voters have had their say in all the primaries. But after that’s over, you know, we’ve got the information we need to make a decision. It’s right, and we just need the party to step up and say you guys need to do it now.
HH: If Senator Obama maintains his delegate lead and his popular vote lead, and we don’t get revotes in Michigan and Florida, it seems increasingly unlikely, do you see the party denying its first African-American nominee the laurels under those circumstances?
PB: Well, I guess, you know, it’s hard to talk about the party, because what all the party is, you know, is 4,000 or plus or minus delegates. I think that he would have an enormous moral claim on it. But this thing is getting so divided now, and of course, there’s still a lot of water to go over the dam on these things. We’ve seen some significant issues come up in the last couple of weeks, and so on. So I don’t know quite what will happen after these primaries are over. But I think that if he really is well ahead, and nothing has changed, and a bunch of people get in the back room and deny him the nomination, I think we would have a real problem that would take a long time to fix. I have to agree with that.
HH: Has the Jeremiah Wright controversy passed, in your opinion?
PB: I think it has passed in the short term. I think it has left, however, a lasting impression. I honestly do believe, and I would say that to him, I do believe that it’s an issue and it’s a problem for him. And I think we will see it reappear many times in September and October.
HH: You know, Governor, I’ve been all week playing audio from the book he did, the audio book, Senator Obama tape from Dreams From My Father. Have you read that, or have you listened to it?
PB: No, I haven’t. I’m sorry, I have not.
HH: Okay, I would recommend it to you. It’s very eye-opening. Now Governor, let’s turn over to some policy, because last week, you put together the Tennessee energy effort, this task force.
HH: And I read this with interest, because it’s got a lot of Republicans on it, got some Democrats on it, so it’s bipartisan. But it doesn’t really feature nuclear energy, and I’m wondering, with oil so high, and energy in such demand, don’t we really have to push nuke energy in the United States?
PB: Well, speaking for myself, I mean, I happen to be a believer that you can’t really solve the energy problems of this country without relying more heavily on nuclear energy. You have no argument with me on that whatsoever. And I think there’s obviously public concerns about it. I believe they can be addressed. And certainly here in Tennessee, TVA is busy expanding their nuclear capacity, and I think it’s an important piece of it. The thing that I did was I think much narrower in trying to really focus on some, probably mostly conservation-related things, which I can affect here at the state level, and focus very heavily on the state of Tennessee. I mean, we operate millions of square feet of buildings, and Lord knows how many thousands of vehicles, and all those things. And before we ask others to be doing things, we probably should get our own house in order.
HH: Are there any new nuclear plants under construction in Tennessee?
PB: There is a nuclear plant that TVA is doing, which is basically the de-mothballing and finishing of a plant that was started, and the construction was stopped about twenty years ago or so.
HH: Oh, that is excellent. That’s great news.
PB: Yeah, so we’re moving forward, and again, I’m not, I certainly think it has to be a part of any real solution to this problem.
HH: What’s your take on climate change, Governor? How urgent an issue for you?
PB: I think, actually, I think it’s a serious issue. I think that I’m not ready to ascribe every hundredth of a degree of global warming solely to human activity. There’s also other cycles that go there. But I think that we’ve substantially changed the atmosphere over the course of the past century in particular. I think it’s going to continue, the situation will continue to deteriorate in that regard for another hundred years. It’s something that’s not going to happen tomorrow. But certainly doing things like trying to invest in technologies, discover technologies for sequestration and so on. It would be important things to put some leverage behind, and I think we need to start doing that.
HH: Now there’s a big controversy right now, and your state has a lot of experience with the Endangered Species Act and the snail darter. A lot of the environmental activists want to list the polar bear, because the Arctic ice is melting, and they want to regulate the American economy via that listing. Now do you think that’s a good way to go about confronting climate change, back dooring it that way?
PB: No, I think, I mean, I consider myself an environmentalist, but I think that sometimes, the environmental movement short-changes itself by trying to use the law in ways that it wasn’t intended like that. I think that you end up worse. I think these are things that need to be tackled much more head on than that, than kind of back door use of laws that were passed for different purposes.
HH: I tell you, you’re really scaring me, Governor. You’re sounding way too much like a moderate here, and we need the Democrats to be over on the left.
HH: My friend, Pawlenty, what do you think of him as a vice presidential nominee for the Republicans?
PB: I like Tim an awful lot. He’s…I’ve gotten to know him, of course, through the governors, and happen to be an admirer of him. And if he’s the one who’s chosen, I think will serve the party well. I’m going to vote for the Democrat, as you probably can understand, but Tim is a fine man.
HH: And last question, anyone talk to you about the vice presidency yet, Governor?
PB: Oh, they…you get people talking to you from time to time because you’re a Southern governor, but it’s not something I’ve been chasing after. I’ve got my own job to do right here.
HH: Well, it’s hard to ask a Southerner to make a Shermanesque statement, but if offered, would you consider it?
PB: Well, it’s…if that bridge were ever to arrive, I’ll cross it when I get there.
HH: Governor Phil Bredesen, great to talk to you. I hope you’ll come back often. That was useful. I appreciate it very much, Governor.
PB: Enjoyed talking to you.
End of interview.