For some years now, East Tennesseans have held all three statewide offices. And had the largest population of the three Grand Divisions. But not any longer. The balance of power is shifting west.
East Tennessee’s Bob Corker has retired from the Senate. East Tennessee’s Bill Haslam is term limited out of the governor’s office. East Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander will be retiring from the U.S. Senate in two years.
Corker and Haslam have already been replaced by Middle Tennesseans. Whither Lamar?
I may be wrong, but if Haslam doesn’t run for Alexander’s seat in 2020 we will likely have all three statewide offices in the hands of Middle Tennesseans. At this juncture Haslam appears to be the only East Tennessean likely to run for and win a statewide race for the U.S. Senate. Who else is there?
Corker ran for the Senate after being Chattanooga’s mayor. Haslam ran for governor after being Knoxville’s mayor. Those two offices are now held by Democrats. Corker and Haslam also had personal wealth to undergird their effort.
For decades East Tennessee was the most populated of the three Grand Divisions. Thanks to the growth of Nashville and its suburbs, Middle Tennessee is now the largest. With the increase in voters also goes an increase in political power. East Tennessee had 2.4 million people as of 2016 and Middle Tennessee had 2.7 million.
Middle Tennessee born and reared, new Gov. Bill Lee has filled his staff with people from the Nashville suburbs. Where is the prominent East Tennessean in the Lee administration? The Speaker of the House, Glen Casada, is from Middle Tennessee. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, from Oak Ridge, is the only East Tennessean in a leadership role.
Nashville is on its way to being Atlanta. Memphis is still described as the state’s largest city, which is technically true, but not really. The Nashville metro area is larger than Memphis’s and growing. Memphis is losing population to Northern Mississippi.
The three Grand Divisions are not just handy geographic descriptions. The counties in each are codified in law and are the basis of legislation. For instance, no more than two justices of the state Supreme Court can be from the same Grand Division. There was a time when most Republicans in the state legislature were from East Tennessee. That’s no longer the case. We will have to see if East Tennessee gets its share of appropriations going forward. You may recall when the governor, the speaker of the house and the lieutenant governor were all Democrats (Ned McWherter, Jimmy Naifeh, John Wilder) from West Tennessee. The conservation budget got spent on duck blinds in West Tennessee. An intersection of two four-lane highways in rural West had so little traffic the intersection didn’t have a traffic light. (It was a four-way stop.)
My prediction is that most of the state transportation budget for the next four years will be spent expanding interstate highways through Nashville.
The invisible man: With all the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the Vols’ national football championship, and the continued fan worship of Peyton Manning, newcomers might be surprised to learn that Manning was not the quarterback of the championship team. His senior year he again lost to Florida. The quarterback for the undefeated year was Tee Martin. The Vols are looking for an offensive coordinator. Martin just lost his job as offensive coordinator at the University of Southern California and is available for the UT job, but his name hasn’t come up for consideration. At this writing there are reports he may be going to the University of Louisville. But it won’t be Knoxville. Even if he does have a street named after him.
Student housing: You might want to reexamine your child’s housing at UT. One dorm is infested with mold and now closed for repairs, with 600 students without housing. Another suffered $2 million in damages when students burst a pipe and flooded the place. And during calendar year 2017 there were eight sexual assaults reported; three sexual assaults were reported in September 2018 and a total of five for the year. Not to mention two sexual assaults reported at a fraternity house. A note to legislators – there is more to worry about over there than the Office of Diversity and Sex Week.