Feud, you say? What feud?
Only those not paying attention the last few weeks, much less that last four years, can fail see what has been a growing, simmering rivalry between the Governor and the Lt. Gov. Credit both with keeping the public disagreements to date on the non-personal “policy level.” But while Ron Ramsey and Bill Haslam are both members of the same party, that is just one similarity in the midst of a sea of divergent agendas, styles, ideology and personal backgrounds.
The judicial retention debate is only the latest in a string of Ramsey slap-downs aimed directly at Haslam. So the gang at RTP delved into the archives to see if we could track down the moment this “feud” began. Our best guess is that it happened on Tuesday, July 6th, 2010 and was duly reported by “Action” Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press:
NASHVILLE — Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey attacked Republican gubernatorial rival Bill Haslam’s conservative credentials Tuesday, saying, “Tennesseans are smart enough to see through his fluffy commercials and realize he’s not the ‘real deal’ at all.”
The lieutenant governor charged in his news release that Mr. Haslam “counts liberals” such as former Vice President Al Gore and U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., as “supporters” and also noted Mr. Haslam has contributed to them in the past.
He also said Mr. Haslam “helped lead one of the country’s most radical gun groups — Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Guns — until 2008 when it became politically expedient to withdraw.”
Can’t be much more clear than that, eh? The funny thing about campaigns, what is frequently passed off later as just “heated campaign rhetoric” is more often than not one of the few candid moments in a politician’s public life. Ramsey said what he did four years ago because he believed it to be true.
What Ramsey saw that day was someone running as a Republican who, when at a time when Ronald Reagan was still president, gave $1,000 to replace him with Al Gore. Al Gore?
And in 2002, when Republicans were struggling to keep their majority in Congress, Bill Haslam gave $1,000 to Jim Cooper to keep his seat safe for the Dems. Ramsey was (and is) certainly not the only Republican who gets heartburn over little things like that. Ramsey believed (as do others now) that Haslam did not have the courage of the conservative political principles he was spouting or he was victim to the old saying: “he’s got more money than brains.” It doesn’t appear Ramsey resents Haslam’s wealth (like Zach Wamp so obviously did), but he is acutely aware of the lack of commonality.
Nature abhors a vacuum. So does Sen. Ramsey. A wishy-washy governor whose main consistency is his indecisiveness, is obviously frustrating to a take-charge kind of guy like Ramsey. Haslam’s propensity to publicly debate himself on everything from Medicare expansion to state healthcare exchanges does more than make Haslam a source of frustration to conservatives in the legislature – it makes him dangerous. Ramsey instinctively knows this and has sought opportunities to oppose and tweak Haslam with relish.
Look for Ramsey to further distance himself from the governor. And as members come to realize the emporer has no clothes, look for that rebellion to spread in the caucus ranks.
Ramsey and Haslam’s divergent personal backgrounds also make it difficult to respect one another’s positions. The governor grew up with great wealth, and thanks to his father and older brother, has enjoyed the advantages of even greater wealth since entering public office. Ramsey on the other hand is at heart a country boy auctioneer. If anything, his personal net worth (probably less than 1% of that of the governor) has likely suffered from the enormous amount of time he has dedicated to his public office. That makes a difference in the way both men approach an issue and approach each other
But, hey, other than that, they’re the best of buddies.
[Editor’s note: We would have included Speaker Beth Harwell in this political equation, but she has been totally missing from the judicial retention debate. Harwell’s reluctance to counter Haslam stems primarily from the fact that Haslam money and assistance has been key to her entire political career. Remember that, legislators, the next time she asks you “not to embarrass the governor.”]