Saturday, December 16, 2006

Editorial: Kingsport Times News

Friday, December 15, 2006

Ron Ramsey should be lieutenant governor

Earlier this week, Tennessee GOP state Sen. Ron Ramsey of Blountville was unanimously re-elected by Republican colleagues to be the Senate’s majority leader. But on a subsequent vote to make Ramsey the Republican candidate for speaker of the Senate and lieutenant governor, there was one abstention — that of Sen. Michael Williams of Maynardville.

Given the Senate’s Republican majority, Ramsey should have held the position of lieutenant governor since 2005. But Williams and GOP state Sen. Tim Burchett of Knoxville crossed party lines and supported Sen. John Wilder, a Democrat from Mason.

Wilder, 85, has held the position for what will be 36 uninterrupted years as of Jan. 1, a period that has seen the popular election of five different Tennessee governors and seven successive occupants of the White House.

As such, Wilder is believed to be the longest serving head of a democratic legislative body, not only in the United States, but in the entire world.

Wilder’s service is without parallel and demands respect. But the very length of his tenure, combined with his advanced age, demands that his Senate colleagues take a fresh look at the physical and intellectual demands of the office he holds and has the potential to hold should something happen to the governor.

Although it is perhaps natural for most lawmakers to see the Wilder-Ramsey contest as a political question, the far more important dynamic is a purely practical one. If party labels were removed, would any reasonable lawmaker, looking merely at the age and ability of the candidates involved, choose the octogenarian Wilder over the 51-year-old Ramsey? Is there any doubt that Wilder would have long since become a political memory if the office of lieutenant governor were subject to periodic public vote?

To the average Tennessean, the office of lieutenant governor is perhaps seen as a largely honorific one. But beyond his Senate duties, which are scarcely insignificant, the individual who occupies this position stands in immediate succession to the governorship. In short, it’s critically important that the person who is chosen for lieutenant governor be prepared, in the full sense of that word, to adequately discharge the duties and responsibilities that position entails.

Particularly in the last few years, it has become increasingly, even painfully, obvious that Sen. Wilder is staggering under the burden of his office and public life in general.

Early next year, preparatory to the convening of the 2007 General Assembly, state senators will meet in Nashville to, among other things, elect one of their own as lieutenant governor. By far, the easiest choice is simply to revert to form and re-elect Sen. Wilder to an historic 19th term of office.

The much harder, though wiser course, is to set aside the storied, yet souring legacy of Sen. Wilder for Sen. Ramsey, an individual whose relative youth, energy and ability in that body have marked him as a natural leader richly deserving of his own season at the Senate helm.

In the meantime, voters in state Senate District 4, which includes Hawkins, Hancock, Claiborne, Grainger, Jefferson and Union counties, may want to contact Sen. Williams to help him resolve his conflicted position on this issue.

Sen. Williams may be reached by mail at P.O. Box 176, 5224 Maynardville Highway, Maynardville, TN 37807. His in-district phone is: (865) 992-6254. His Nashville office is: 4 Legislative Plaza, Nashville, TN 37243-0204. His Nashville office phone is: (615) 741-2061. The office fax is: (615) 253-0286.

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