The Statesmen Get TogetherNicole and I attended the 2009 Tennessee Republican Statesmen's Dinner Saturday evening at the Nashville Convention Center. We drove to Knoxville and then carpooled up with Rob Huddleston, who was waiting on Angela to finish a beauty treatment-she had to be in Nashville that morning anyway, due to the State Republican Executive Committee meeting. Rob and I were in agreement that the ladies certainly looked better than we did.
When we arrived, the Haslam people were noticeable immediately and were out in force. Haslam's little helpers were everywhere on the entrance floor distributing stickers and pointing people to Bill Haslam's reception. Haslam was the only gubernatorial candidate with a reception before the dinner itself, and there was even a bit of supper at that event. Bill Haslam didn't have a hospitality room, he had a hospitality court-perhaps we might even term it a hospitality hallway. The bar wasn't open, but everything else was and there was plenty to eat and drink. It was quite clear that money was obviously no object to the Haslam camp, especially when one considers that this was an event filled with party activists who are likely going to back the Republican nominee whoever that might be. Bill Haslam has enough money to throw what amounted to a lavish pre-dinner social hour prior to the main event with very heavy hors d'œuvres . When the other candidates complain that they need their financial playing field a bit more level because they are up against the Haslam monetary juggernaut, one only needed to attend the Haslam hospitality hour to grasp the truth behind that statement. If no one donated to Haslam's campaign (and plenty are doing so), the Haslams would have plenty of money to fund the race themselves and it wouldn't hurt them in the least.
There was good reason to be seen at Haslamfest, namely because everyone else was there whether they really supported Bill Haslam or not. Susan Richardson Williams, Rob Huddleston and I once again teased one another over SRW's paid support of cap and trade (something every dinner speaker railed against, and I am sure this caused Susan no small amount of nausea). Not a single person there supported the President's health care proposal, and I suspect that if they did secretly agree with it, they wouldn't dare have said anything about it in that setting. Mike Bell, Gerald McCormick, Deb Maggart, Tony Shipley, Delores Gresham, and Vance Dennis were all to be found moving around the Haslam hallway at some point, and not everyone in that group is part of the Bill Haslam fan club by any stretch. Robin Smith made her way to the back of the room, and Robin's sticker was the only candidate advertisement I wore all night. I made a conscious decision not to wear stickers or pins for any of the gubernatorial candidates, even my favorite. I was there as a blogger, yes, but also as a Republican ready to support our party. I know that one of those men will be the nominee, and we will all have to close ranks around him. As for Robin, I wore her sticker because I would gladly do anything Robin Smith asks of me which I am capable of, and she knows this.
The dinner fare was the standard Republican menu at most such events around the State (see chicken and potatoes, roasted), and Jeff Sessions gave a pretty good speech on the evils of Cap and Trade and Obamacare, but the highlight of the night were the speeches by the gubernatorial candidates. Bill Gibbons went first, and it is with Christian love that it can be said that Gibbons looked like a deer in the headlights tonight. From the minute he was introduced, he didn't seem in his element. Crime is the consistent theme in his stump speech. An important issue, but not the only one. He says he wants to improve our schools and expand Tennessee's economy, but he doesn't tell us how.
Someone killed Bill Haslam and took control of his body. I don't know this new person but they sure sound fine. According to Haslam's body-double, he is pro-life, believes in "our fundamental values as Republicans," and wants to "preserve our Second Amendment rights." New Haslam is also one of America's most fiscally conservative mayors. I'm not sure where New Haslam is the Mayor, but from the sounds of this magical place we all need to move there. New Haslam also derided the President's fiscal irresponsibility and made sure we knew that while the President was irresponsible, New Haslam was not.
Ron Ramsey gave the most charitable speech, highlighting Republican accomplishments of the last year and saying that he "guaranteed" that one of the four of them was going to be our next Governor. Ramsey also reminded the audience with no small amount of glee that Republicans now control every county election commission. Zach Wamp talked about his desire to improve Tennessee health, but acknowledged that he had no power to force us not to eat our morning buscuits and gravy. Wamp also talked about wanting to improve Tennessee education and literacy still further, but I had to wonder what candidate would not want to accomplish that goal.
Both Lamar Alexander and his State Director Patrick Jaynes were very kind to us. Patrick introduced us and I thanked the Senator for having us, he thanked us for coming and sitting at his table. Lamar joined Bob Corker in presenting the inaugural Howard Baker Award to the man for whom it is named, and Senator Baker really seemed genuinely moved by the special presentation. Terri Lynn Weaver closed things out with a medley of The Battle Hymn of the Republic and God Bless America.
After dinner we talked a few minutes with John Duncan III, who introduced himself to me and pointed out that his father is quite a fan of this weblog. Apparently, this dates back to my 2007 comparison of Congressman Duncan to George Washington in his conservative opposition to frivilous foreign wars. JDIII is a very affable young man, and several people have told me just how down-to-earth he is, and I can see it. No wonder many East Tennesseans believe that he should succeed his father in Congress one day.
Rob, Angela, Nicole, and myself eased our way to Zach Wamp's hospitality room. There was a live band that was very good, but the music was so loud in that confined space that it was hard to enjoy it in there. Wamp had an open bar at his reception, but I decided against an adult beverage so that Rob and I could chat on the way home-I settled for a Co'Cola. One thing no one can say about Zach Wamp is that he is a stuffed shirt who does not enjoy himself. I came away from his hospitality room with the understanding that if elected, Wamp may be Tennessee's first air guitar-playing Governor. He also clearly enjoyed being with those who visited his room.
Nicole-who shares my political views but isn't normally as gung-ho about political functions-has told me more than once how much she enjoyed herself and would like to attend another Statesmen's Dinner. The first thing she told me when we had a chance to be by ourselves was "I had a really good time tonight." I was gladdened by this, because I have a feeling this Statesmen's Dinner probably won't be our last.