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Bredesen campaign fires back at Blackburn over 'driver licenses to illegal aliens' claim

Zach Vance • May 12, 2018 at 12:01 AM

Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen’s U.S. Senate campaign issued a statement Friday firing back at comments made by U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn during a Thursday night Carter County Republican dinner.

Speaking to a crowd of nearly 200 Republican supporters, Blackburn claimed Bredesen, while he served as governor, “gave driver licenses to illegal aliens.”

In fact, it was Republican Gov. Don Sundquist who signed House Bill 983 into law on May 3, 2001, which allowed illegal immigrants to get actual driver’s licenses in Tennessee. Gubernatorial candidates Beth Harwell and Diane Black were among the 69 House members who voted in support of the measure. Blackburn was among the nine senators who voted no.

Tennessee had been issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants for two years before Bredesen entered office as governor in 2003.

“It’s clear that Governor Bredesen’s message of working together to get things done is resonating with voters throughout the state who are tired of the hyper-partisan yelling and finger-pointing,” Alyssa Hansen, press secretary for Bredesen’s campaign, said in a statement.

“The contrast between the Senate candidates is increasingly clear — Tennessee voters can pick someone who's used to causing gridlock as a Congresswoman for over the past 15 years she's been in Washington — or they can hire someone who has a proven track record of working across the aisle to get things done for all Tennesseans,” Hansen wrote.

In July 2004, Bredesen actually proposed legislation that ended the practice of issuing state driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants for public safety and homeland security reasons.

Under the legislation, immigrants who could not establish a legal presence in the U.S. could obtain a new “certificate for driving,” which could be used for driving but not for identification purposes, such as boarding a plane or purchasing a gun.

House Bill 3486 passed overwhelmingly 92-2-1 in the House and 32-0 in the Senate, with Black, Harwell, former Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and current Lt. Gov. Randy McNally voting in support. Blackburn was serving in the U.S. House of Representatives at that time.

However, in 2006, Tennessee ended its policy of issuing “driving certificates” after the governor’s office was informed that immigrants were traveling from other states to get the certificates using forged documents.

"At this point it just seems that we've got this very ... serious problem, and we really felt that the appropriate thing to do was to suspend this program," Bob Corney, then-spokesman for Gov. Bredesen, told the Los Angeles Times.

Following a seven-year hiatus from politics, Bredesen, 74, announced in December 2017 that he would seek retiring U.S. Sen. Bob Corker’s seat.

A political moderate and fiscal conservative, Bredesen is the last Democrat to win a statewide race in Tennessee, and is expected to face Blackburn during the Nov. 6 general election.

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