Gov. Phil Bredesen (D)
Elected: 2002, term expires Jan. 2011, 2nd term.
Born: Nov. 21, 1943, Oceanport, NJ .
Education: Harvard U., B.S. 1967.
Family: Married (Andrea Conte); 1 child.
Elected office: Lexington, MA, City Cncl., 1972-73; Nashville mayor, 1991-99.
Professional Career: Founder, HealthAmerica Corp., 1980-86.
Phil Bredesen is a Democrat who was elected governor of Tennessee in 2002 on his second try. Bredesen grew up far from Nashville, in Shortsville, N.Y., 30 miles southeast of Rochester. His parents were divorced and his mother worked as a bank teller; his grandmother lived with him and took in sewing for a living. He got a scholarship to Harvard University and graduated with a degree in physics. In 1967, he moved to Lexington, Mass., where he went to work for Itek, doing classified work that got him a draft deferment during the Vietnam War. He caught the political bug early. In 1968, he volunteered for Democratic presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy in New Hampshire. In 1970, he ran for the Massachusetts state Senate and lost to a longtime incumbent. In 1972 he won a seat on the Lexington Town Meeting. He went to work for Searle, a pharmaceutical firm, and moved to London, where he met his wife. She was recruited by Hospital Corporation of America, so he quit his job to follow her to Nashville in 1975. There he got a job with Hospital Affiliates International, negotiating management contracts with hospitals. He started his own business in 1980, with $50,000 cash and $250,000 in backing from local venture capitalists, operating from a computer in his den. Bredesen launched HealthAmerica, which began acquiring and operating health maintenance organizations across the country. When it went public in 1983, it ran 20 HMOs with 400,000 members. His backers decided to sell the firm to Maxicare in 1986; Bredesen’s share of the sale was $47 million.
|Phil Bredesen (D)||1,247,491||(69%)|
|Jim Bryson (R)||540,853||(30%)|
|Phil Bredesen (D)||393,004||(89%)|
|John Jay Hooker (D)||31,933||(7%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2002 (51%)
In 1987, he ran for mayor of Nashville, a particularly powerful position because the city includes all of Davidson County. Bredesen spent $2 million on his campaign but lost in the primary. In 1991, he ran for mayor again and won with 71%. He had some spectacular successes. He lined up financing for a hockey arena and, later, a football stadium and brought the National Hockey League’s Predators and National Football League’s Tennessee Titans to Nashville. He enticed Dell to locate a facility in Nashville. The city boomed in the 1990s and gained 106,000 jobs. Once a regional center, Nashville now seemed to be a major national city.
Nashville is Tennessee’s largest media market, covering almost all of Middle Tennessee, and a successful Nashville mayor is a natural candidate for statewide office. In 1994, Bredesen spent $6 million on a run for governor and won the Democratic nomination with 53% of the vote in a 10-candidate field. He did not campaign heavily in East and West Tennessee and lost to Republican Don Sundquist by 54%-45%. But in the years that followed, Bredesen had a more successful record than Sundquist. The state’s expensive health care program, TennCare, had one of the nation’s lowest revenue bases, with no state income tax. TennCare, established in 1994 with federal waivers, covered not only those eligible for Medicaid but others with relatively low incomes or who were uninsured; enrollment zoomed and costs increased. In his second term, Sundquist went back on a campaign promise and sought an income tax. Most Republicans opposed him, arguing that Tennessee’s low taxes fostered its more robust economic growth as compared to neighboring states. Barraged by honking motorists and slogan-chanting anti-tax crusaders mobilized by radio talk show hosts, the Legislature refused to pass the tax hike.
Against this background Bredesen decided to run for governor again. He said that he opposed an income tax and argued that his experience managing health care systems would enable him to straighten out TennCare. He won the Democratic primary easily, but the favorite was Republican Rep. Van Hilleary, who based his campaign on opposition to an income tax. Hilleary charged that Bredesen was a rich Northerner who didn’t really understand Tennessee. Bredesen undercut that by sitting down with folks over coffee and describing his youth in a small town. Unusual for a Democrat, he appeared on conservative talk radio shows and made a favorable impression. Much of Hilleary’s campaign was based on the premise that Bredesen didn’t really oppose an income tax, and pointing out that he had raised property taxes three times as mayor of Nashville. Bredesen focused more on fixing TennCare. “Everybody in the state of Tennessee knows somebody on TennCare they don’t think should be on TennCare. It needs to be the bronze package, not the platinum package,” he said.
Bredesen spent $3 million of his own money on his campaign, to counter, he said, money raised for Hilleary by President George W. Bush. This turned out to be the closest Tennessee governor’s race since 1896. Bredesen won 51%-48%. This time he had campaigned across the state, raising money in small fundraisers, holding chili suppers in rural counties. He broke into the Republican base in East Tennessee, carrying Knoxville’s Knox County, and holding Hilleary to a narrow lead in his own region. Bredesen carried Nashville solidly, had a big lead in Memphis and carried rural West Tennessee, often a swing area in Tennessee elections.
Facing a predicted $800 million budget shortfall, Bredesen got the Legislature to cut state spending 9% across the board in 2003 and to vote for a lottery to pay for college scholarships. He supported changes in workmen’s compensation supported by businesses and opposed by trial lawyers. He got the Legislature to limit driver’s licenses to citizens and aliens with permanent resident status. In 2004, he pushed through a $174 million education increase, raising teacher pay above the Southeastern average and starting voluntary pre-kindergarten.
But the big elephant remained in the room: TennCare. By early 2004, it consumed nearly one-third of the state budget and its 2005 cost was estimated to be $650 million over budget. In May 2004, the Legislature approved Bredesen’s proposed changes. In November, Bredesen announced that he would abolish TennCare and move back to standard Medicaid, which would eliminate coverage for 430,000 people, one-third of beneficiaries. On January 10, 2005, he announced that all non-Medicaid-eligible adults would be removed from TennCare and that strict limits would be imposed on prescription drugs and doctor visits, with no appeals. By the end of the year, the state trimmed 191,000 people from the program and by 2006, the overhaul of TennCare had reduced the cost increase from $650 million to $115 million and resulted in budget surpluses. Bredesen sought to ease the pain of the cuts by using money saved from TennCare to establish a “safety net” of health clinics, indigent hospital care and prescription drug assistance for the mentally ill. Bredesen also used the savings to boost state education spending by $366 million, targeting pre-kindergarten initiatives.
The governor in 2006 also launched Cover Tennessee to fund health care for those with pre-existing medical conditions, uninsured children and working adults. Unlike TennCare, the new state program would not receive federal money, except to cover children, and would tap some of the TennCare savings to get the program started. Bredesen said he would consider a tobacco tax increase in the future, but not an income tax. Fixing the state’s health care system, a preoccupation for much of his first term, became a personal cause for Bredesen that year. The governor had returned home to New York to watch his younger brother, an alcoholic, die of liver disease. Dean Bredesen, a vacuum cleaner salesman, had never asked his older brother, the multimillionaire former health care executive, for the $10,000 deposit that would have gotten him access to health care. Bredesen grieved publicly. He said he did not know if better care would have saved his brother but said the death gave him insight into what it is like to be an uninsured American.
Bredesen’s administration has faced criticism on ethics matters, although the governor sought to address the issues before they became major distractions. He ordered a shake-up of hiring practices at the Tennessee Highway Patrol after the Nashville Tennessean ran a story in 2005 about political insiders who were given official-looking identification that some of them tried to use to get out of traffic violations and drunk driving arrests. An outside review found evidence of corruption and cronyism at the THP, and Bredesen backed reforms. In 2006, Bredesen called the state Legislature back in to session to write an ethics bill to limit cash contributions from lobbyists after the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Tennessee Waltz bribery investigation resulted in the arrests of five current and former state legislators.
Bredesen began his final term forced to reconcile a looming state financial crisis with his desire to expand both education and health care spending. In 2007, he proposed $343 million in additional money for schools, paid for by increasing the state’s cigarette tax threefold. Bredesen’s budget also included $55 million in job training and infrastructure improvement for companies to keep jobs in the state. Lawmakers kept Bredsen’s wishes largely intact, particularly approving his education initiatives, giving $136 million to TennCare and $14 million to a new program providing health care for uninsured children. The state ended the year with a surplus.
But in 2008, as the national economy faltered, Bredesen’s budget shrank from the previous year’s. He proposed more education funding along with $29.3 million for job creation. But he also called for $129 million in spending cuts across government agencies and a voluntary buyout program aimed at encouraging 2,011 state workers to leave, reducing the workforce by 5 percent without layoffs. In 2009, Republicans controlled both the House and Senate for the first time since Reconstruction, and lawmakers began pushing bills to curb abortion rights and expand gun rights. Legislators passed a bill allowing people legally carrying guns to bring them into restaurants and bars where liquor is served. In May 2009, Bredesen vetoed the bill, only his sixth veto. “There are sensible rules to be applied to the exercise of [gun] rights. I believe this bill crossed that line,” he said. In June, the House overrode his veto 69-27, with the Senate following the next day, 21-9. It was the first time a Bredesen veto had been overridden.
The New Republic ran a laudatory cover story about Bredesen in 2005. The following year, he was up for re-election. A strong fundraiser who also could spend his own millions, Bredesen ended up with weak Republican opposition in freshman state Sen. Jim Bryson, who ran negative television ads accusing Bredesen of not doing enough to crack down on illegal immigrants. Bredesen carried all 95 counties and won 69%-30%.
Bredesen was mentioned by some as a possible vice presidential candidate in 2008. As the Democratic primary became a dead heat between Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York over undecided superdelegates, Bredesen proposed a “mini convention” for superdelegates to decide their presidential pick. “We have an obligation as a party to try to find some way to bring closure to this thing and not let it tear us apart,” Bredesen said on “Fox News Sunday.” Bredesen himself remained neutral until after Obama secured the required delegates in June 2008. After Obama’s first Health and Human Services Secretary nominee, former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle, was forced to withdraw because of tax problems, Bredesen was mentioned as a candidate. But some liberal advocacy groups such as MoveOn.org and Families USA objected to him, citing the TennCare cuts he made during his first term. The job went to Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.