Skip to comments.Humphrey: Politics isn't new to state Highway Patrol [Tennessee]
Posted on 12/17/2005 10:23:42 PM PST by SmithL
In dealing with recent state trooper troubles, it has become something of a mantra for Gov. Phil Bredesen to recite that the problems did not begin on his gubernatorial watch, but they will end on it.
He is at least half right in advancing this public relations proposition. The patrol and politicking, with favoritism to friends, go way back.
Anecdotally, a retired veteran trooper called the other day to recall that, when Gov. Ray Blanton more or less officially transformed all of state government into a big political patronage system 30 years ago, one branch of government where nothing much changed was the Department of Safety, the patrol's papa.
This gentleman had been hired under the administration of Republican Gov. Winfield Dunn. Though known as a Democrat by family ties and personally apolitical, he had GOP friends, and they put in a good word for him.
That and his gung-ho attitude toward law enforcement (his professional qualifications, like a great majority of other patrol people, are unquestioned, even when his politics are) got him a move up from rural deputy county sheriff to the higher-paid, dream job of state trooper.
Then his Democratic ties, after Blanton's election, allowed him to keep the job.
On a more scholarly level, a passage in the textbook "Government and Politics in Tennessee" - recommended reading, by the way, if you're in a learning mode about our state's political operations and especially if suffering from insomnia - was also recently pointed out by an e-mailer fan of Bredesen.
(Disclosure note: One of the book's authors, Billy Stair, gave yours truly a free copy in exchange for reading the manuscript of the chapter on media and offering a few comments, which were largely ignored. Still, the process of reading the whole book provided many good nights of sleep.)
The passage from the book, published in 2001, says:
"Although most Tennesseans primarily think of the Highway Patrol when they drive too fast or witness a wreck, a legacy that goes back more than a half-century makes this division of the Department of Safety among the most politicized agencies in state government.
"In many of Tennessee's counties, one finds troopers divided - sometimes openly - into Democratic and Republican factions.
"Early commitment to a candidate for governor, especially in the primaries, can lead to rapid advancement in the event one bets on the winning horse. Meanwhile, those on the losing side can look forward to working the night shift on Interstate 65."
So, yes, there is much precedent for patrol problems. The departure of Fred Phillips as Bredesen's safety commissioner, for another specific example, came under much more dignified circumstances than when Gov. Ned McWherter accepted the resignation of his safety commissioner, Bob Lawson, following a very bad night on the town that involved a lady and her husband calling police to report the state's top law enforcement officer unconscious in their front yard.
So, yes, Bredesen is at least half right. As for the other half of his mantra, fixing things on his watch, well, the jury is still out.
The governor's first step of bringing in Transportation Commissioner Jerry Nicely for 60 days of damage control seems a solid one. The second step of hiring a New York-based consulting firm - without any bidding - to review things and recommend changes has come across as a bit more shaky, given Kroll Inc.'s ties to political friends of the governor.
But the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which in October had declared Tennessee's Highway Patrol best in the nation, turned down the job of investigating its foul-ups. And Kroll apparently does have a good reputation for probing police problems.
The path to patrol patching also runs through the legislative thicket, with a committee planning hearings that may include some briars for the Bredesen administration.
At the end, Bredesen says, he wants to fix things on his watch by naming a new Safety commissioner who has a law enforcement background and hails from Tennessee - rejecting the idea of a nationwide star search, as he calls it. In other words, he's going to stick with the tradition of the patrol being led by former sheriffs and such.
That provides another cause for questioning just how big a change in tradition is coming on the Bredesen watch. But he does appear headed in the right direction.
More on the THP
The current practices/activitites of both Nashville & Memphis have become a laughing stock for the entire state.
Regardless of what this apologist writes about historical perspectices.
btw ~ this article was originally ran in "The Pulse". For anyone who may not know, it is the Knoxville version of those crappy little free liberal newspapers that are sitting in racks at every grocery store or street corner.
I like to pick up a few Pulses when I'm going home to start up a fire this time of year. They go up in flames quite nicely.
Is this info supposed to logically prove that the story is false?
It's the same with the "Dixie" er...Memphis Flyer as Mike Fleming calls it.
I found it to be a good job of reporting a news event.
If you think that Republicans are any less drawn to patronage than are Democrats you are incorrect. Politicians are simply that. You must watch then all with a sharp eye.
You do know that the author's son is chief of staff for Lt. Gov John Wilder, don't you? Keep that in mind when reading his stuff.
No, I didn't know that.
It sure makes you go hmmmmmmmm.