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December 20, 2006

In the Pulse: Top Ten Predictions for 2007

Whee, Next Year Is Election-free - Top ten predictions for what our government does with its mandate

I took a gander at last year’s top ten list, and found that I batted somewhere close to .500 on my predictions, give or take. That’s reason enough to take this year’s installment with a few grains of salt, but here goes....

State of Health

The kinks aren’t close to being worked out in the triple healthcare package Governor Bredesen introduced to rehabilitate TennCare. Look for much political wrangling, with the healthcare and insurance industries holding the reins a little too tightly.

A Special Time

The General Assembly lost a net two members, one from each chamber, due to election to other government positions. Former House Rep. Henri Brooks resigned after being elected to the Shelby County Commission. Former Senator Steve Cohen is one of three congressional freshmen from the Volunteer State. Each seat will be filled by special election, though the District 30 Senate seat has been given an interim seatwarmer named Shea Flinn. There’s little chance for any power shifts after these elections, for each district “belongs to” the Democrats, but it’s always worth keeping up with new General Assembly members as they come on board.

Cohen to a Party

Speaking of the progressive stalwart, soon-to-be U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen wasted no time in planting his feet firmly on Washington’s left shoulder. His satisfaction with being named to the Judiciary Committee – because, he reminded us, that’s where any impeachment proceedings against President Bush would likely start – portends a no-holds-barred approach to his new position that, frankly, garners affirmative reactions from political foes as much as from his “base.” Cohen will legislate from the left despite the overall sense that the new Democratic majority has a centrist taproot, and will reward those of us watching with a principled performance.

Wilder Yet

The Tennessee Senate has become a veritable circus of late. Try to stay with me here: in the last session, Republicans held a slim majority, but two “defectors” (Mike Williams and Tim Burchett) gave John Wilder the votes needed to remain Speaker, and therefore Lieutenant Governor. In 2006, Senator Don McCleary, elected as a Democrat, defected to the GOP and briefly added to their majority. However, in the November election, McCleary was ousted by Lowe Finney, which gave that seat back to the Dems. In addition, Sen. Burchett was enticed (threatened?) into supporting the GOP contender, Ron Ramsey, next time around. That left Mike Williams the lone wild card, and he appears to be eyeing another vote for Wilder. But wait – there’s more. Enter the Democratic counter-insurgency, courtesy of Sen. Joe Haynes, who is leading a charge against Wilder. The question is (at press time), is Haynes gunning for the post himself, or asking Democrats to offset Williams and vote for Ramsey? (BREAKING: Haynes will challenge Wilder.) And yet another acrobatic feat: 17 votes are needed to defeat Wilder, which means, if I understand correctly, if Ramsey were to get 16, and Haynes 16 more, and Wilder votes for himself, Wilder remains. I am predicting that very outcome: despite all the wrangling, John Wilder will continue his record-setting tenure. Even if I’m wrong, early January will be a hot time in Tennessee’s senior legislative body.

Helter Shelter

Mayor Ron Littlefield plans to move ahead and build a homeless campus downtown. The uproar from pro- and anti- forces will continue to drown out reasonable discourse on how to effectively manage municipal resources and assure safety to all citizens.

Ethics Omission

After 2006 started with a special legislative session on ethics, it took most of the year to implement the resulting recommendations. Hundreds of new lobbyist registrations have been data-entered, and we can see these on the new website. However, the new commission kicked things off with a controversial action on its own part, so it’s fairly easy to predict that there will be more to come as next year unfolds. What did they do? Well, they held discussions on policy via E-mail, away from public view. That’s a fine thing for an organization whose sole purpose is ensuring ethical government.

Cameron Steamroller

Blue Cross Blue Shield’s new corporate headquarters are being built atop Cameron Hill, and the oodles of already empty cubic feet in the Central Business District will soon be exponentially augmented. This is not really a big political story, but it’s one to watch, even if it’s for the sheer delight of observing large construction projects. In other construction news, Enterprise South...nah, never mind.

Crutchfield, Ward 19

One of last year’s predictions that I admittedly got wrong was that Sen. Ward Crutchfield would be on trial this year for the federal bribery charges against him in Operation Tennessee Waltz. Who gets arrested in May 2005, but doesn’t see a trial until 2007? Oh yeah: fellow waltzer John Ford, who now faces even more corruption charges. But surely we can count on a Crutchfield trial this coming year. Then things get interesting in terms of a District 10 replacement. I hereby invite public comment on the matter. Who’s up for it?

Blog Bubble Bursts

2006 wasn’t the year of the blog. I’m thinking that either 2000 or 2001 was, but I could be wrong. Regardless, next year will see a slowdown in the phenomenon. You may call it saturation; I refer you to the Law of Diminishing Returns. Besides, when Time magazine names the vast, vague collection of web content providers and consumers as its “person” of the year, you know it’s over. But hey, at least we beat out the rather pedestrian Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. (By the way, didn’t I read that the Iranian president had started blogging? That would be another signal of the technology’s impending lukewarmness, not to mention that every congressman is now being set up with a blog.)

The International

Yikes, there are all kinds of possibilities for 2007 on the world front, and not many of them are filled with hope and joy. India continues to emerge; Iran and Saudi Arabia stir up some inter-Islamic dust storms; Russia devolves further; North Korea runs more tests; Cuba softens; China is pissed about all of the above. Africa continues to be ignored by all but the usual celebrity do-gooders. The 2008 race for United States president is decided a year before we voters play our largely ceremonial roles. The war in Iraq drags on beyond even the most fervent neo-con’s capacity for tolerance. Meanwhile, though, the average person, regardless of borders, banks, talks, or tanks, strives to eat, work, live, and play as always.

Happy New Year.

[This column appears in the December 20, 2006 Pulse.]

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Pulsations | By joe lance | 07:32 AM