Q&A with Senate hopeful and former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen

Zach Vance • May 4, 2018 at 9:24 AM

Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen made his first stop in the Tri-Cities Thursday since launching his U.S. Senate campaign late last year.

While in town, Bredesen said he planned to stop by the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce for a brown-bag lunch before concluding his visit in Morristown, where he planned to host a political event with supporters.

Bredesen’s popularity and success as governor easily makes him the Democratic frontrunner for Sen. Bob Corker’s seat, and recent polling suggests he will be a formidable opponent to Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who’s already received the backing of the president.

Although President Donald Trump carried Tennessee with 61 percent of the vote in the 2016 presidential election, a Middle Tennessee State University poll released in April showed Bredesen leading Blackburn 45 percent to 35 percent. Other polls have revealed Bredsen leading Blackburn by just a few points.

Bredesen is the last Democrat to win a statewide election in Tennessee, and in 2006, he carried all 95 counties to win his re-election bid. However, Tennessee voters haven’t sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in more than 20 years.

Bredesen answered some questions during a Thursday meeting at the Tri-Cities Airport:

What spurred you to get back into politics and run for this Senate seat?

A: “I’ve been upset with what’s going on in Washington, D.C. It’s been going on for a while, it’s not just Trump or anything like that. Most particularly, it just seems (Washington, D.C.) has got to a place where nothing gets done, everyone stands around and yells at the other person.

“During my time as governor, I think I had a lot of success in getting “D’s” and “R’s” to work together and pass legislation. I really would like to break that logjam a little bit. I think there are so many things that people need that the federal government should be doing to help them.

“I think the way you make a change is start sending people there who are willing to compromise and know how to get things done across the aisle, and I’ve done that. So I’m giving this a shot.”

What’s your strategy for winning this race?

A: “The strategy is really the same strategy that I used in the governor’s race. Obviously, I need to have the votes of the Democrats. There’s a lot of independents in this state, and I’ve always done well with them. I’m certainly reaching out to them.

“There are some ... I guess what I’d call economic Republicans, the more traditional-minded Republicans, and again, being out of the business for a long time, I’ve always done well with them.

“So it’s just a combination of keeping Democrats together, reaching out to independents and reaching across the aisle to find some votes. That’s the way I won in 2002 and 2006, and I believe it will be a successful strategy again.”

Do you think your campaign will appeal to some of Bob Corker’s voters?

A: “Bob Corker is a perfect example of what I’d call an economic Republican. He’s sensible, out of the business world and is focused on getting things done. I think there are a lot of people who have voted for him, who still would and who I believe I can attract.

“And that’s not something new. I mean that was the case in the governor’s races, as well.”

While he said he would be back in the Tri-Cities soon, Bredesen credited this area for helping propel him into the governor’s mansion over a decade ago.

A: “In 2002, when I won the govenor’s race, in a real sense it was really won in Northeast Tennessee. There were a lot of counties I didn’t win, but I didn’t lose them by much. The nice thing about the governor’s race is every vote counts. It’s not about winning counties. I just found a lot of people who thought the same way I did up here (in the Tri-Cities).

“I’m originally from a rural area (Shortsville, New York), which is actually very much like Northeast Tennessee. So I’ve kind of felt at home here. I’ve always loved this part of the state.”

What are your thoughts on addressing the opioid epidemic?

A:  “Obviously, it’s a terrible problem. It sort of echoes ... I know when I was governor there was a methamphetamine problem, and I think just like that, there is no one single solution to it. I think going after some of the manufacturers, and the way they are marketing and promoting these drugs, is a part of the question.

“There certainly are clinics around that exist for the purpose of making these prescriptions, these pain clinics and so on. I think we should be very tough on them, and frankly, I’d also like to see physicians themselves take a little more responsibility. I think it’s just too easy to write a prescription for 30 or 60 days when someone might only need five of them.

“Unlike some of the other kinds of drug epidemics we’ve had, so much of this starts with perfectly legal prescriptions that are given unsuspecting people, people who never thought they would become hooked. That leads to some of these other abuses.”

Northeast Tennessee’s two biggest hospital systems recently merged into one entity. What’s your thoughts on the Ballad Health merger and should hospital systems fight to maintain local control? 

A: “There’s a lot of that kind of consolidation going on right now. I think hospitals in smaller communities and more rural hospitals everywhere, certainly across the state, are having to face up to either closing or finding some merger that makes sense for them to get the scale up a little bit. I hope this one (Ballad Health) works well and succeeds in what it’s trying to accomplish.

“In the bigger cities, there’s room for a competitive environment with a lot of different hospitals. When you have smaller communities, where the hospital really is in effect the only hospital (and) there’s very little competition, then I think local control really helps make sure that hospital is serving the needs of that community rather than the needs of some investors somewhere else.”

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