Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is a funny guy. The Blountville Republican has been know to “cut up a bit” and tell a clean joke or two. And his laugh is quite distinctive. You might even describe it as bellowing.
Sometimes Ramsey’s humorous banter gets scrutinized in the news media. Such was the case a few weeks ago when he defended Texas Gov. Rick Perry for contributing money to then U.S. Sen. Al Gore’s 1988 campaign for president. “That’s just silly,” Ramsey told the Associated Press when asked how he could give his nod to someone who had once given money to a bug-eyed lefty like Gore.
Ramsey went on to explain his thinking, and this is the part that has had a lot of political pundits chuckling. “The Al Gore of 1988 wasn’t the Al Gore of today or even the Al Gore of 2000,” Ramsey said. “Al Gore is a political chameleon, and back in the 80s he was doing everything he could to convince conservatives that he was their representative in the Democratic Party.”
Not the same Al Gore? Certainly, Republicans at the time thought him to be a tree-hugging liberal. They were already calling him “Ozone Man” for his stand on greenhouse gases.
Of course, Rick (“Good Hair,” as the late columnist Molly Ivins dubbed him) Perry wasn’t the same coyote-killing Rick Perry who succeeded former President George W. Bush as governor of Texas. Before switching parties in 1989, Perry was a misguided Democrat who might not have been aware of the hidden political agenda of the junior senator from Tennessee.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is certainly not the same Ron Ramsey who entered politics in the early 1990s as a member of the state House of Representatives. I remembered the latter Ron Ramsey would bristle at comparisons to his predecessor, former Sen. Jim Holcomb.
You could even say the Ron Ramsey who rushed to defend Perry’s reckless Democratic past is not the same Ron Ramsey who had no problems attacking an opponent in last year’s GOP primary for governor for doing the same thing. That Ron Ramsey’s campaign ran television ads berating Gov. Bill Haslam for giving $1,000 to Gore following the future vice president’s failed 1988 campaign. The Haslam campaign said its candidate never backed Gore for president, and that he only gave “a fellow Tennessean $1,000 to retire some campaign debt after his candidacy ended.” Nice fellow, that businessman Bill Haslam of two decades ago. Would Gov. Bill Haslam write the same check today?
The 2011 Ron Ramsey told the AP he accepts both Perry’s and Haslam’s explanation of their contributions to Gore. So, to sum it up from the current Ron Ramsey: The Bill Haslam and Rick Perry of today are swell guys, as were the Bill Haslam and Rick Perry of 20 years ago, but the Al Gore of 1988 and the Al Gore of 2000 are not the same Al Gore of today, even though they all represent the same core beliefs. Confusing?
Yes, but as I said earlier, Ron Ramsey is a funny guy. And he may be just one re-election bid away from referring to himself in the third person — as was the custom of his predecessor as Senate speaker, the late John Wilder.
Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.