Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Davis and Quillen

An interesting comment exchange has arisen over at Kleinheider's about my comments yesterday regarding Congressman David Davis. Nothing I said, of course, was intended as a personal slight at Davis or even as a political attack. It was intended to remind Davis that at this point in his Congressional tenure, he serves at the pleasure of the Republicans of the First District, he does not owe his election to the White House, as many freshman Republicans do. He owes a certain independence to his District that other members of Congress may not be able to afford.

Sure enough, the discussion led to the inevitable comparison to the late Congressman Jimmy Quillen, one of the longest-serving members of Congress in history:

I suspect David Davis doesn't care one bit about "original fire and brimstone." Because he is in a safe seat, Davis cares about proving his loyalty to party leaders instead of to voters. After several terms of doing leadership's bidding and not rocking the boat, Davis will be rewarded with membership and influence on key committees. He'll then be able to bring back all the pork to which the First District has grown accustom. It is Jimmy Quillen model of congressional representation. The First District wouldn't have it any other way.

Jimmy Quillen didn't give a hoot about party loyalty, if you want to be real about things. He cost
Winfield Dunn the Governorship in 1986 after convincing a lot of people not to give their support to Dunn. His reasoning was because Dunn refused to lend his support to opening a medical school at ETSU. Dunn lost and ETSU got their medical school-the James H. Quillen College of Medicine.

Another commenter wrote:

Assuming Davis gets past 2008. He is not universally loved up there. I don't expect him to have "years." Jimmy, on the other hand, was liked by the progressives up there as well as the conservative. Davis is loathed in by people in both camps.

Quillen was one of the rare sorts that went beyond "go along to get along." Jimmy Quillen did what he thought was right and he didn't particularly care who he made angry doing it. Party Leadership? Who were they? He had more power at home than he did in Wahington-and that was the way he liked it.

Quillen was "before my time" in the sense that I was still just a boy when he retired from the House. However, anyone who knows anything about Southern and Tennessee politics knows Jimmy Quillen's name and who he was. I don't say what I do in defense of Jimmy Quillen as a Congressman, because if I had been in his shoes, I would likely have conducted myself very differently.

However, few can argue that Jimmy Quillen loved East Tennessee and he spent his life proving that to the people of the First District. The one-time newspaper copy-boy who never went to college became a self-made millionaire, and when he died, nearly all of his fortune went to fund scholarships at East Tennessee colleges and universities so that a lot of East Tennessee kids could have the opportunity that he never did. Jimmy Quillen was a very flawed Statesman, but was a Statesman nonetheless.

I think the people of the First District are hungry for a Congressman upon whom they can place that moniker with pride.

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