Mumpower's Test This WeekAs the 2010 Tennessee budget heads for the House of Representatives for consideration this week, the rumors are circulating as to whose version of the budget will gain the most traction. Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, a man who many observers (including yours truly) believe is the real Democratic Leader in the House, has hinted that Democrats are hardening on the budget and that they can get a few Republicans to go along with them. If true, I can probably name which ones these are, and it is doubtful their disunity will be complete because the Senate will never accept a Democratic budget without major changes. In short, the House Democrats are going to have to give up serious ground either to the Republican Senate or to the Republicans in the House if any budget is going to pass both Houses of the Legislature.
The first session of the 106th General Assembly has not been the complete disaster many of us predicted, and Kent Williams hasn't been a total wash as Speaker of the House, either. He has proven to be both politically shrewd and surprisingly accommodating on key issues. His biggest problem is that he simply doesn't seem to be very bright. Often, he appears to believe everything the Governor tells him, and seems incapable of seeing issues from multiple points of view. Perhaps the Democratic Leadership saw these weaknesses in Williams and thought they could manipulate him throughout the session.
Jason Mumpower is also a much-weakened Republican Leader, largely because he failed to accept that Kent Williams was a loose cannon who had no problems at all with betraying him. I questioned Jason the night before the Speakership vote at the Nashville City Club about Williams. In fairness, neither of us thought at the time that Williams would be the Democrats' nominee for Speaker, but I remember asking Jason what reason Williams would have for supporting him when the Democrats would gladly throw him bones for a betrayal. He might reason that if the GOP were going to take his party credentials away, why not vote with the Democrats anyway and get pork for Carter County that could benefit him politically. "We're on top of that," Jason told me. As it turned out, Mumpower not only wasn't "on top of that," he had no clue what was going on.
Truthfully, I have come to personally like Jason and I no longer question his conservative credentials in the way that I once did. It is quite clear where his political heart lies. However, it is also entirely too evident that if Jason's present primary concern is not his own political advancement, that was his concern prior to January 13th. Further, some of his colleagues thought his desire for self-promotion was too evident. One veteran Republican House member told me "the problem with Jason is that he thinks he has done this [get the majority for Republicans], but he isn't really the one responsible. Some of us have been working toward this for years before he was in Leadership," the legislator said. About the Speakership vote, the same member said "that is what happens when you send a boy to do a man's job."
Jason Mumpower does have the ability to command the confidence of his caucus, and especially the critical conservative wing, but to do so he has to move beyond bitterness over what happened this past January and into a phase of proactive movement to control the agenda. If he can do that this week, he deserves to continue as Leader.
We shall see on Tuesday, and I'll be there to watch.