Monday, February 13, 2006

Bredesen Unplugged

Last Thursday evening I joined some dear friends at a dinner hosted by the Tennessee Press Association. The main speaker was Governor Phil Bredesen.
For disclaimer purposes - I used to work in Bredesen's administration in the economic development department. I was not appointed by Bredesen directly, although I was asked to serve and my appointment was blessed by members of his inner circle. As long time Bredesen supporters will attest, I have always had great respect for him, but I never was regarded as a devoted follower or avid supporter. When he ran before, I always found myself deep in some other Democrat's race, with little time or energy to do much else.
In my two year tenure at the state I got to see the Governor at work - in public and private settings. For the most part my impression has been that what you see is what you get. He is much the same in front of cameras as he is behind the scenes - straightforward, almost deadpan in his delivery, and always, always incredibly focused.
Thursday night I saw another dimension to our Governor - sort of a Bredesen unplugged, discussing issues and ideas in an almost folksy manner - connecting in a light-hearted way with a crowd of cynical news publishers and editors.
Over the years I've heard others close to the Governor talk about seeing him share an intimate reflection as he connects some aspect of his job or an issue to something that has personal meaning in his life. Since I had never witnessed that side of him, I largely dismissed it as political spin.
During his address Thursday, the Governor, in recapping his recent State Of The State recounted a story - in a seemingly unscripted manner - that illustrated how he felt about our state's community colleges. He couched it as a moment of awakening to the value and benefits of a two-year college education.
The story was about his niece, who at age 21, found herself with no real education, unmarried, with a child, working long hours as a waitess. As he put it so succintly - she had little hope for a better life. He went on to tell how she decided to turn things around by enrolling in a local community college, which opened her eyes and opened doors to further education. Today, he concluded proudly, she is a teacher and is now opening young eyes to great promise.
The story in and of itself was not especially gripping. What was moving about it was seeing and hearing how one woman's road to discovery had served to be such an inspiration to an intellectual like Bredesen. Had you been seated in that room Thursday night, there would be no doubt in your mind as well that his niece's experience had a measurable impact on his way of thinking.
At a time when it seems so many of our elected officials let political winds guide their ships, or let independent thought be clouded by volumes of statistics or studies, it is refreshing to see a Governor who will look no further than the loved ones in his life for direction.
As a sometime shoveler of political bullshit, I can smell it a mile away.
But try as my cynical mind may, all I see in this Governor is sincerity and a devotion in life to do right for others.