Roy Exum: Honor Mr. Baker’s Legacy

Sunday, June 29, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Howard Baker, a man universally regarded as one of the greatest statesmen in Tennessee’s history, died at age 88 on Thursday after a rich and full political life. He was a most remarkable senator and served as chief of staff for President Ronald Reagan, both in large part because he was an undisputed master at “the lost art of bipartisanship” and could get a deal done.

In a glowing tribute written for the Washington Wire by Linda Killian, a Senior Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Baker was described in this way. “Throughout his career, Mr. Baker remained well liked and respected by members of both parties because he prized compromise and civility and prioritized good bipartisan legislation, including passage of the Clean Air Act, fair housing and voting rights laws.”

Killian then wrote, “By contrast, another Tennessee Republican, Senator Lamar Alexander, is facing a Tea-Party primary challenge because he is seen as too conciliatory in his efforts to legislate. In today’s Republican Party there seems to be no room for someone like Mr. Baker. More is the pity for our nation.”

I don’t believe the truth could be more clearly written on both the state and national level. Distrust and disgust with our politicians has never been higher and, until someone very brave dons the mantle of bipartisan skills that Mr. Baker used so effectively, we can count on “business as usual.”

I am told that there is a man currently running for the state legislature who boasts that he has never once voted for a Democrat. My goodness, I’d rather ride down a bumpy road sharing my seat with a loaded pistol than vote for such an idiot. If he were to get elected, any kindergartener can clearly see he will get little if anything done for those in his district. It’s people, not political parties!

The mood in Nashville is already ugly. Another legislator told me this spring he was followed to the men’s room during a session where two Republicans challenged him for not voting for two “party” bills. He replied, “I vote for good laws and against bad ones. They don’t come in red or blue – just good and bad.”

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann has been such a disappointment to me and, sadly, very few of his deepest supporters can tell you anything he has done in two terms in Washington, other than to openly snub the president of the United States when he came to Chattanooga to praise our city and to make his weekly forays to the nation’s capital into an art form of one-week vacations.

Lamar Alexander, in my opinion, has failed miserably in the last four years. His voting record is abysmal and his reasoning shows he has lost his compass. His sickening stance on horse abuse best illustrates his disconnect with the vast majority of Tennesseans and, when he voted to “feather his nest” while taking away from our greatest heroes – our veterans – my disgust became so overwhelming it was easy  to forget the good things he once did as our governor.

It wasn’t lost on me that our Republican Senator Bob Corker, when he put forth a plan to shore up our Highway Trust Fund, teamed with Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy. That’s the way things can get done and, while Corker faces a huge task to get his Republican colleagues to raise any kind of taxes, there are millions of Americans who agree with Bob that all of us are “sick and tired of Congress talking about fixing our transportation funding shortfall and avoiding specifics simply because the solutions are politically uncomfortable.”

I have no choice but to vote for Alexander’s lightly-regarded opponent, Joe Carr, in the primary but keep a close eye on a Democratic hopeful from Knoxville, Gordon Ball, because you might be in for quite a surprise by November. Granted, that is a long way off in the fickle political process but Ball, a storied attorney, has shown early signs of being someone who knows how to negotiate for the common good.

I honestly believe that until we can elect statesmen, men and women with a touch similar to that of Howard Baker who was masterful at compromise blended with respect, our political efforts will be stymied and, for the most part, futile.

Let’s vote for people we believe can make a difference like Howard Baker certainly did in such a valiant way.

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