Posted by R. Neal

As hard as it is to work up much sympathy for the guy, Democratic Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen appears to be the victim of a coordinated swiftboat-style political attack campaign. The problem is that Bredesen keeps shooting himself in the foot whenever he tries to deflect the incoming fire.

Click "there's more" for the rest of the story...

The first shot was fired back in May when a Nashville TV news investigative report charged that the state tourism director improperly awarded a large PR contract to a friend. Bredesen was reportedly "furious" and ordered his own investigation. The investigation found no wrongdoing and concluded the bids were handled properly according to state law. Despite this, the contract was subsequently canceled.

Also in May, Bredesen's office was stung by a sexual harassment complaint, prompting the Governor to fire his top lobbyist. Fast forward to this month, when an AP investigative report criticized the state's handling of sexual harassment complaints. The report notes that Bredesen ordered statewide workplace harassment training in 2004 which one employee said has resulted in a "more businesslike" atmosphere, but goes on to say there is no consistent policy or enforcement, and that in some cases evidence has been destroyed.

Last month, the Tennessean ran an investigative report suggesting ties between political campaign contributions and Tennessee Highway Patrol promotions, noting that two-thirds of those promoted had made contributions to Bredesen's campaign. Bredesen denied the charges of favoritism, but Republican lawmakers accused him of "shaking down" state employees for contributions in return for favors.

Amid growing concerns about corruption in the department, Bredesen then ordered background checks on all 855 state troopers, and found that 48 had prior criminal charges. In the wake of all this, Col. Lynn Pitts, commander of the Tennessee Highway Patrol with 31 years on the job, was fired for bidding on a $1700 aluminum fishing boat that had been confiscated by the THP and put up for sale at a state surplus property auction. It's against state law for anyone directly or indirectly involved in the seizure of property to bid on it. Pitts says he didn't know this. State Safety Commissioner Fred Philips asked for his resignation anyway.

The next day, State Safety Commissioner Fred Philips resigned and Deputy Commissioner Tom Moore retired, presumably at the request of the Governor. No reason was given, other than the Governor's statement that state troopers "deserve a department as good as they are, and this is a first step toward making sure that happens."

But wait, there's more. Bredesen hired a security consulting firm to help TDOT commissioner and now temporary Safety Commissioner Gerald Nicely investigate allegations of cronyism and ethical misconduct and make recommendations. But it turns out that the no-bid contract was awarded to a firm which has a subsidiary in Nashville whose senior advisor made large campaign contributions to Bredesen in the past.

In the middle of all this, Bredesen is being criticized for shepherding "secret" legislation through the state legislature to provide Nissan Corp. $200 million, or $50K per job, in relocation assistance for moving their headquarters from California to Tennessee.

On the one hand, I admire the way Bredesen tackles these issues head-on and takes swift, decisive action, similar to how early in his tenure he handled a scandal involving a U.T. president by summarily firing him and ending the controversy. On the other hand, it sometimes seems that, in his desire to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, he may sometimes overreact.

For example, firing the THP commander and ending his 31 year law enforcement career for bidding on a $1700 fishing boat seems a little harsh to me. Spending up to $200,000 for consultants to investigate ethical lapses in the THP seems imprudent. Besides, some of this stuff sounds relatively trivial. Fixing tickets is a long-standing tradition in law enforcement. Who hasn't had a ticket fixed? If there is more going on than what is being reported, it should be disclosed.

I thought politicians understood that politics is a tough game with high stakes and you need to be pretty thick-skinned to play. If Bredesen fires somebody every time he or someone in state government is criticized by some enterprising local TeeVee reporter there won't be anybody left to run the state. You have to wonder how a really tough poliltician, somebody like, say, Bill Clinton, would handle it. My guess is he would tell some of these people to shut up and take a hike.

Anyway, it's hard to tell where all this is coming from -- disgruntled Democrats feeling betrayed by some of Bredesen's less-than-progressive policies (i.e. dismantling TennCare), or the powerful GOP attack machine that just wants to put an R in the Governor's office next year. Either way, the Governor does not appear to be handling it well.

OK, then.