At a stop Wednesday at Cherry Mansion in Savannah, Phil Bredesen, the Democratic Party nominee for Tennessee’s open U.S. Senate seat, reiterated his campaign focus that he’s a moderate more interested in progress than party politics.
The former Tennessee governor said he feels he has “unfinished business” and that serving in the U.S. Senate would give him an opportunity to do something about it.
“I’d had no intention of running for office again. I really enjoyed my time as governor – it was the best job I ever had,” Bredesen said.
But, he added, “I have this high school civics view of my government; I think it’s a brilliantly designed government. I think our national government has huge opportunities and responsibilities, to protect people and create opportunities for people and to solve problems when they come up in our country.”
Bredesen said he’s hated to see how the direction of the national government has drifted over the last two decades from one of “one people, solving problems” to a bitter tribal partisanship, with combative political ideologies where seemingly the only goal is to “win” and get reelected.
“I don’t think it’s what the Founders of our country intended – I know we’re not getting stuff done; there’s just a lot of issues that are not being tackled,” Bredesen continued, saying he wants to go to Washington to try and help start turning that around.
In an interview with The Courier following his public comments, Bredesen explained how he felt he could help achieve that goal.
“First of all, I don’t think it’s easy. I don’t have some silver bullet for ending it, but I think you start by electing some people to office, at all levels, that have a commitment to ending it,” he began.
“I’m running against somebody who started their campaign saying, ‘The problem is that Washington is not partisan enough,’” Bredesen said, referring to Republican nominee U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn.
He said while governor, he had a lot of experience in structuring legislation so it would be attractive to “both sides of the aisle,” and owed that to being willing to listen respectfully to differing views.
Bredesen said one key to working together across the political divide on complex issues is finding common ground.
“I think both parties are guilty of attaching a lot of other stuff. Republicans will say, ‘We’ll vote on that, but we want the wall,’ and then Democrats will say, ‘Well yeah, but we want a stop to the Muslim stuff.’ I think the way you find cooperation is to (start on) small things together, find where there is common ground, and then you ought to be able to move it forward,” he said.
“Both parties have got to stop seeing it as a weapon they can use on the other party, and (instead) say, ‘We’ve got to solve this problem, so what compromise do we need to make because we need to do it.’”
Bredesen explained how, after two terms as the state’s chief executive, two terms as Nashville’s chief executive, and many years as founder and chief executive of a healthcare management company that grew to over 6,000 employees, he intends to shift to a legislative post where he wouldn’t get to be in charge.
He said being the chief executive of a state and then CEO of a private company were “very, very different,”noting, “I just always saw the job as being one of persuasion. OK, you’ve got the best bully pulpit around, and if you want stuff done, you’ve got to bring people together and persuade them to take different kinds of actions.
“In a way, a senator looks at his job the same way; it’s a different platform, but you’ve got the ability to convene people, and you’ve got to persuade some people to adopt some point of view.”
He said being senator is harder than being governor, but, “the rewards are much greater. If you do something about healthcare, you’ve got 320 million people who’ve got benefits. So I don’t look at it as being fundamentally different, but a continuation of the progression I’ve made from being the executive of a company where I could do what I wanted to one where I’ve got to persuade others to come along.”
Given his healthcare business background, that field is one of his biggest campaign planks.
Bredesen said he wants to improve contractual agreements with drug manufacturers to lower the cost of prescription drugs in the U.S.
“They can price their product wherever they want to. I’m just saying, if we’re the biggest purchaser, we don’t want to pay more than everybody else does,” he said.
“A couple weeks ago (U.S. Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell (R, Ky.) started talking about how we’re going to have to cut Medicare, because of the deficit,” he said. “Long before I’d ask anybody over 65 in our country to take some reduction of benefits, I’d want to squeeze some of the over-pricing” out of companies that are doing this.
Bredesen said any company would negotiate to get the best pricing it could on anything, and the federal government should, do the same – but it doesn’t. He said the country could net some huge savings if it did.
Touching on the topic of social media, Bredesen said he believes people are beginning to grow more wary of information they receive through social media platforms.
He said that as a result, he believes voters are turning back to traditional sources to learn about candidates – such as family and friends.
He encouraged those at the campaign stop event to be good sources of information and to help citizens get to the polls.
“The campaigning part of it’s all fun, but really, it’s worth zero until somebody actually goes to the polls and pulls the lever or pushes the button,” Bredesen said.
Acknowledging how close the race for the open Senate seat is currently predicted to be, Bredesen said it may well come down to which candidate’s supporters help voters get to the polls.
The Tennessean reported that a Fox News poll released Wednesday found that Blackburn is the preferred choice of 50 percent of likely voters in Tennessee compared with 41 percent for Bredesen.
Five percent said they are undecided, while the remaining people polled either said they didn’t know whom they will vote for or wouldn’t vote.
As Tennessee’s 48th governor, from 2003-2011, Bredesen was first elected as governor in 2002 with 50.6 percent of the vote, then reelected in 2006 with 68.6 percent of the vote.
While in office Bredesen was widely seen as a moderate Democrat who tended to be fiscally conservative but socially liberal.