McWherter campaigns against ‘culture of corruption;’ wife may run for state Senate

Mike McWherter says he will not make a repeat run for governor next year – though he thinks the man who beat him in 2010 has brought a “culture of corruption” to state government – but his wife might run for the state Senate.

The son of the late former Gov. Ned McWherter, currently a member of the TVA Board of Directors appointed by President Obama, declared his non-interest in a rematch with Gov. Bill Haslam and his corruption concerns with the current administration in a Labor Day weekend speech to Roane County Democrats.

In an interview, he also disavowed any notion of running against U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, though he publicly flirted with seeking the Democratic nomination to run against the incumbent Republican senator six years ago but acknowledged the interest of Mary Jane McWherter in running for the state Senate seat being vacated by Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney, D-Jackson.

“The last place in the world I want to be these days is Washington, D.C.,” he said. “I’m doing everything I can to recruit Democrats to run. But I’m not one of them myself.”

On the other hand, McWherter said he is trying to recruit his spouse his spouse – “I told her I’d do anything I could to encourage her” – to run for Finney’s seat. It’s one of just seven Senate slots now held by Democrats and one of two considered vulnerable to Republican takeover next year. Finney is not seeking reelection.

McWherter said there has been “a groundswell of people” joining him in the recruitment endeavor. She’s listening, he said, but undecided.
The TVA board seat, McWherter said, “has turned out to be a whole lot more involved than I ever dreamed it would be” – starting with the federal background checks “from my toenails to the top of my head” that established “I am squeaky clean.”

He does not hold a similar view of Republican Haslam, who defeated him in November, 2010, winning about 65 percent of the statewide vote.
In the prepared text of the speech, which McWherter provided, he returned to criticism made during the campaign of Haslam’s refusal to disclose his federal income tax returns with much of his income presumably from the family-owned Pilot Flying J. Currently, he said, at least seven company employees “have plead guilty to corporate fraud.”

“Now this came culture of corruption is invading state government at the highest level,” McWherter said, citing three state government contracts wherein those getting the contract had some sort of tie with the Haslam administration – inconsequential and irrelevant, according to Haslam and members of his administration.

The contracts: An agreement for management of state government buildings with Jones Lang LaSalle, which the governor before running for office listed among his corporate investment interests; a contract state vehicle repairs with Bridgestone, which the former state finance commissioner once served as a top executive; and a contract for rental of vehicles to state employees with Enterprise Rent-a-Car shortly after one of the company’s executives went to work for the state Department of General Services.

“If the voters of this state understand the culture of corruption being brought on them, they will react, but it is up to us to inform them,” he said, contending the media has been remiss on that front.

All of which, of course, does sound rather like campaign rhetoric – in fact, the McWherter non-candidate speech seems more harsh and hyperbolic than the speeches made when he and Haslam faced off as candidates back in 2010.

McWherter says he hesitated to bring the subject up in his talk to Roane County Democrats, concerned that it would be seen as “sour grapes” – as it doubtless will.

But McWherter said he decided “somebody needed to say it and I’m not hearing the leadership of the Democratic Party or the Republican Party (or legislative leaders) coming out and saying it.”

Perhaps that is because nobody in the Democratic or Republican party has indicated any interest in opposing Haslam in next year’s election. The governor’s favorability rating, according to a May Vanderbilt University poll, remains about has high as his victory percentage over McWherter and, of course, raising money – from his own pocket or those of others – is no problem for the incumbent.

McWherter told the Democrats that “my challenge to you” is to spread the word about the “culture of corruption.” He may be setting a new standard for campaigns by non-candidates.

Note: This is an unedited version of a column written for the News Sentinel. The edited version is HERE. Previous post, including text of McWherter’s speech, is HERE.