Bredesen unruffled by GOP majority in Senate

By Thomas Wilson
star staff
twilson@starhq.com

  Gov. Phil Bredesen believes the Republican party's capitalization on moral values apparently catapulted their candidates to success in the White House and the state houses of government in Tuesday's election.
  "There are a lot of thou shalt nots in the Bible," Bredesen said from Nashville during a teleconference with media members on Friday morning. "I think the Republican party has seized upon a couple of those."
  President Bush defeated Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry to win the presidency. Republicans campaigned with a platform opposing same-sex marriages and partial-birth abortion. Eleven states saw referendums on legalizing same-sex marriages soundly defeated by voters.
  Kerry, D-Mass., made a few appearances in Tennessee, but chose not to contest the state during his campaign. Bredesen said he had not spoken to either presidential candidate since Tuesday's election results. He jokingly noted that he probably was not among the first five people Bush wanted to talk with after his re-election victory.
  "I'm not somebody who is on his speed dial list," Bredesen said.
  Bredesen will also work with a Republican majority in the state Senate where Republicans picked up two seats to take a 17 to 16 advantage over Democrats.
  The governor called the division of power something that was "very healthy and very good" and said it was time for both parties to come together and work together.
  Bredesen said he did not feel the new GOP majority would have a great effect on how the Senate did business. He said he had worked well with Senate Republicans including Sen. Ron Ramsey of Blountville who is angling to become the next speaker of the Senate. Current Speaker John Wilder is aiming to win another term, and already has the backing of two Senate Republicans.
  "The Senate has always been not particularly partisan," he said. "Every success we've had in the past two years has been a bipartisan success."
  The Democratic party's dominance of the South, prevalent since the 19th century, all but vanished in Tuesday's presidential election. Bush won every Southern state as he did against Al Gore in 2000. Only eight years ago, former President Bill Clinton won Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Florida in 1996.
  Bredesen said Democrats could no longer take the South for granted as a Democratic bloc. He felt any Democrat who sought to win the South and change electoral map colors from blue to red had to do two things: Be more comfortable talking about values and set the party's platform with ideas that were specific and tangible.
  "I have a sense that I know what the Republican party stands for," Bredesen said. "I challenge you to tell me in 25 or 30 words what the Democratic party stands for."
  Despite the GOP's success, Bredesen felt Democratic candidates were out there who could give the party an identity and bring a system of values Americans recognized. He said the idea of values exceeded one or two controversial issues but encompassed a broad range of ideas.
  "I think there are an enormous number of affirmatives of Christians and other religions," said Bredesen who noted America's reputation as a "second chance country" for residents. "That is as much of a value issue as anything else."
  Bredesen said the state had seen significant progress in the past two years from a time when citizens circled the capital during budget talks blowing car horns in opposition to a state income tax. He said the administration sought to keep the state operations sound when the budget process began next year.
  "The trick will be to maintain the fiscal discipline we've had in the last two years," he said.
  Paramount to the budget will be the TennCare program.
  Bredesen said his administration remained committed to controlling costs of the TennCare and reforming the program. He said, however, a choice may have to be made on whether to continue trying to reform TennCare by limiting benefits or choose instead to cut enrollment.
  Bredesen said the state faced cutting people off the TennCare rolls to control rising health care costs and a loss of $120 million in federal funding toward the program. Up to 400,000 Tennesseans could lose their health care if the rolls are cut.
  The governor said he did not want to cut enrollees but court decisions denying reform proposals could leave him with no other choice.
  "We've hit a wall with the justice system and court decrees that have been entered into this," Bredesen said. "I am not getting any help from the advocates or Mr. (Gordon) Bonnyman or the Tennessee Justice Center."
  The Tennessee Justice Center has successfully sued the state over various aspects of TennCare over the years and won the court decrees.
  Bredesen unveiled a plan to reform the program earlier this year to control spending by limiting benefits such as prescription drugs and visits to doctors and hospitals. TennCare functions as the state's expanded Medicaid program covering 1.3 million poor, disabled and otherwise uninsured citizens.