Add one more to the growing list of passion projects springing up on Sevier Avenue in South Knoxville. No, it’s not another brewery or restaurant. It’s the Bredesen for Senate Knoxville field office, which officially opened at 1119 Sevier Ave. Thursday night.
Phil Bredesen, who was Tennessee’s governor from 2003 to 2011, welcomed a crush of supporters to the new office and shared his own ground rules for his campaign to win the Senate seat that Bob Corker is vacating.
“I’m trying to make it clear to people that I want to keep this thing on a good plane, and that’s the way I want to function when I get to Washington,” said Bredesen, a Democrat who was acclaimed during his two terms as governor for being able to build consensus across the aisle.
State Rep. Rick Staples and sixth district City Council member Gwen McKenzie were on hand to praise Bredesen and pump up supporters and volunteers.
Staples warned that Bredesen’s race would be a fight to the finish, and McKenzie took his words up a notch.
“I know about a fight to the finish because in my race for City Council, we had 13 people running for one seat,” she said. “Talk about somebody who likes to fight – I’m all in.”
Asked about the fiery issue of immigration on the southern border, the separation of about 3,000 children from their parents and the chaos of reuniting them, Bredesen said, “I think that’s child abuse. There’s just no other word for it.”
As for the “Dreamers,” he said, “I’ve had a chance in this campaign to meet a lot of them. … I think we’ve got a moral obligation there. These kids who were brought here as young people, they’ve got no more connection to Mexico or Guatemala or somewhere than I do.
“To leave them in limbo the way that they are at the moment, with the possibility of being deported to a country that they know nothing about, I think that needs to be resolved. Frankly, in talking to people across the political spectrum, I think there’s a broad consensus in our state and in our country that that part of the problem needs to be dealt with, and I hope we can take care of it. If it has not been dealt with by the time I get there (to the Senate), I’d love to be a part of the solution.”
Bredesen credited his passion for public service to his mother, a single mother who supported her family by working as a bank teller. He said that when he told her he was going to pay her back, she said, “No, you don’t pay me back; you pay me forward.
“Someday I hope you’ll have a wife; you’re going to have some kids. I just hope you do the same things for them that I’ve been willing to do for you.” And since she was a teller in a bank, she said, “with interest.”
Bredesen continued: “And that’s really what I’m trying to do. Our state, this country, has been so good to Andrea (wife Andrea Conte) and me, and this is really a chance for me to do that same thing of paying forward. … I’m going to pay you forward by being the best damn senator this state has ever seen.”
After his remarks, Bredesen told KnoxTNToday.com that he couldn’t take credit for opening his field office on one of SoKno’s most vigorously developing corridors. He wasn’t aware of the proximity to enterprises such as Alliance Brewing, the Landing House, South Coast Pizza, South Landing CrossFit and Uncle Lem’s Mercantile & Outdoor.
“I’m not sure that was part of the decision,” he said with a laugh.
Though it has been seven years since he left the governor’s office, that experience was invaluable to his approach to politics now. He said it’s a mistake to look only at people’s party affiliation.
“People’s views are a lot more complex than that, a lot more nuanced than that. What I’m trying to do is forget the party-label stuff a little bit, just try to understand what people’s problems are, what kinds of things I think would help them, and then work from there.
“That became very clear to me as governor. I dealt with some tough issues on budgets and TennCare, all those kinds of things. The thing that worked for me, I would say, is forget about the party playbooks, talk to people, understand how you might solve their problem and frankly pick a little bit of the solution from different parts of the political spectrum and make it work.”
The Bredesen for Senate office is open noon to 8 p.m. Sundays and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Election Day is Nov. 6.