Saturday, May 18, 2002



Posted By on Sat, May 18, 2002 at 4:00 AM

The political week just passed was notable as much for what didn’t happen as for what did. One thing that didn’t happen was a showdown in the legislature over an income-tax bill. (That’s been deferred.) Another thing that didn’t happen was that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Bredesen didn’t send legislators a letter opposing the IT after likely GOP rival Van Hilleary did.

That was a relief to Democrats everywhere in the state, many of whom -- even some formerly stout supporters of the ex-Nashville mayor -- have been forced, uncomfortably often of late, to utter the P-word (yes, “Pander,” that’s the one) in connection with the Democratic frontrunner.

This is not a matter of concern only to the more ideological-minded about party activists; fears are being expressed at high Democratic levels about Bredesen’s propensity to play Pete-and-Repete with Hilleary on the tax question.

Two key state Democrats stood in front of the downtown Sheraton in Nashville Thursday after the legislature had folded its hand without betting (at least for a week) and discussed the matter,

“He didn’t need to go there,” said one about Bredesen’s readiness last month to chime in with Hilleary on a promise to try to “repeal” an IT if one somehow got enacted into law this year. The other Democrat nodded in agreement.

The problem, the two of them agreed, was at least two-fold. First, the still-inevitable-looking Democratic nominee had alienated “the folks over there,” as one of them said, indicating the state Capirol spire across War Memorial Plaza. It is a well-known fact that House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh won’t return Bredesen’s phone calls and that legislators deeply involved in negotiations over a tax bill -- not just Democrats and not just IT proponents --have felt their efforts undermined by Bredesen.

By Hilleary, too, of course, but the 4th District GOP congressman is being cut more slack, on the dubious ground that he Knows Not What He Does, as well as on the logical one that his position is not so flagrantly at odds with the assumptions of his party’s spokespeople. Bredesen’s hardening position against the income tax , on the other hand, puts Democrats running for the legislature on the spot.

But an even worse problem, noted the two key Democrats with furrowed brows was that Bredesen had raised grievous doubts concerning his ability, present- or future-tense, to take public positions -- good, bad, or indifferent -- with any risk attached to them. “He’s got people worried about his character,” as one of them said.

Only if he takes one or two more steps of the “repeal” magnitude might he endanger the inevitability of his nomination, the two Democrats concurred, but Bredesen may have already conditioned a number of Democrats to the idea of sitting the election out, or of skipping the gubernatorial portion of the ballot in protest.

And such losses would not be balanced by commensurate gains, the Democrats agreed.. It was notable Wednesday morning that anti-tax talk-show host Steve Gill mocked Bredesen’s sincerity on the tax issue by pointing out his absence from the ranks of protestors outside the Capitol. (Of course, Hilleary wasn’t there, either -- a certain level of decorum being expected of mainstream candidates.)

There was one bottom-line matter the pair of Democratic Party llions agreed on -- Phil Bredesen had lost, not gained, ground as a result of his frantic footwork on the IT.

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