NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Two prominent former Tennessee governors from separate political parties lamented on Tuesday the lack of bipartisanship in current politics and agreed that getting stuff done in government sometimes requires straying from the political party line.
Govs. Phil Bredesen and Bill Haslam participated in the forum hosted at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, marking the first time the two high-profile political leaders had publicly shared the stage since GOP Gov. Bill Lee’s inauguration in January.
Bredesen is a Democrat who served as governor from 2003 to 2011. Haslam, a Republican, served from 2011 to 2019.
In a room full of young college students, lawmakers and other political operatives, both men said they remained optimistic about the country’s ability come together, but also conceded most people across the country remain more divided than ever on politics with the ability to cherry pick news outlets.
Bredesen said good leaders look to find consensus when trying to make meaningful changes, particularly highlighting his effort to stem the escalating costs of TennCare — the state’s Medicaid program— when he first took over the gubernatorial office by cutting 170,000 adults from the program and reducing benefits to thousands more.
“When I took over the office, we had this terrible problem with Medicaid, or Tenncare, and it could not be done with only Democrats,” Bredesen said. “I think we were able to craft something that made it work.”
Haslam praised Bredesen’s efforts to find a solution to both an emotionally and politically challenging crisis, but later said he was unsure if Tennessee would continue to elect people who were focused on solving problems. Haslam recounted that even though he took over the top elected office with a GOP majority, he also struggled at times to push through his political agenda by noting that his TennCare expansion proposal soundly failed in the legislature.
“We have way out punched our weight class and I hope part of the culture is that we try to elect people who tried to solve problems,” Haslam said. “Will we always be that way? I don’t know.”
Haslam recently declined to run for Tennessee’s open Senate seat in 2020 that is being vacated by GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander. In 2018, Bredesen lost by about 11 points to Republican U.S. Sen Marsha Blackburn.
Republicans have held both Tennessee Senate seats since 1994.