The Spirit of Rivalry 

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As political flaps go, the current argument between Democrats and Republicans as to just who should get the most credit for the ongoing development of the Haywood County megasite is a good thing, not a bad thing.

The quarrel arose over a new 30-second video spot made to boost the gubernatorial candidacy of Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam, and the problem is that some Democrats, including Memphis state senator Jim Kyle, who leads his party's contingent in the Senate, believe that Haslam, whose support for the facility is ballyhooed in the commercial, is piggybacking onto the efforts of Kyle and other Democrats, who are the ones who really did the deal.

It appears to be one of those happy circumstances in which both sides are right. It is certainly true that Democratic legislators, particularly ones from West Tennessee, were the first movers in the funding of the project, which gives this end of the state a chance to attract some of the kind of heavy-duty industry that in recent years has been attracted to the other end of Tennessee, where a new Chattanooga Volkswagen plant is a typical specimen of what has been a relative windfall in economic development.

It is also true that Republican legislators, including several from East Tennessee, were instrumental in efforts to cut back or eliminate funding for the Haywood megasite. All for high-minded budget concerns, you understand. East versus West rivalries have figured at least as important in Tennessee history as political ones, if not more so. Indeed, the election in 1986 of former Governor Ned Ray McWherter, a Democrat, owed much to a deluge of votes from East Tennessee Republicans. McWherter's opponent that year was former GOP governor Winfield Dunn of Memphis, who, during a previous tenure at the helm years earlier, had been a steadfast opponent of the establishment of a medical school in upper East Tennessee to rival the one in Memphis.

So when Haslam, running for governor last year and looking to make connections in West Tennessee, got behind the Haywood County project and discouraged efforts by party-mates to retard it, it was indeed something worth boosting in a TV ad later on. All the fuss began when Haywood County mayor Franklin Smith, a Democrat, was seen in Haslam's video throwing the Knoxville mayor a thank-you for his help.

It is no doubt true that the major credit for the West Tennessee megasite belongs elsewhere, and it is also the case that Mayor Haslam's campaign rhetoric runs to the vague and exhortatory rather than to the specific. His favorable attitude toward the Haywood megasite may have been more a case of his favoring economic development in general than of boosting any particular project. It's remembered that way not just by Democrats but by Senate Finance Committee chair Randy McNally, an Oak Ridge Republican.

Well, so be it. We like this kind of competition — rivals all claiming credit for the same positive result — a whole lot better than the kind of kneecapping that goes on these days in most political contests.

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