Category Archives: Mike McWherter

Harlan Mathews — former U.S. Senator, state treasurer, deputy governor — dies at age 87

Former U.S. Sen. Harlan Mathews, who also served as Tennessee’s state treasurer, deputy to Gov. Ned McWherter and mentor to many Democratic political figures for decades, died Friday at age 87.

Mathews, recently diagnosed with brain cancer, died at Alive Hospice in Nashville with his wife, Patsy, at his side, according to an email distributed to media by family friends.

Mathews began a long career in the public service arena in 1950 during the administration of Gov. Gordon Browning. He continued to serve during the administrations of Govs. Frank Clement and Buford Ellington, including a long stint as state finance commissioner.

Mathews subsequently served as an assistant to longtime state Comptroller Bill Snodgrass, then was elected state treasurer in 1974, holding that position until 1987, when he became deputy governor to McWherter.

He served as deputy governor until January, 1993, when McWherter appointed Mathews to the U.S. Senate, succeeding Al Gore after Gore became vice president. He did not seek election to a regular term and stepped down in December, 1994, after Fred Thompson won the seat.

He was afterwards active as a lawyer and lobbyist until retirement. Besides his wife, Mathews is survived by two sons, Stan and Les Mathews, and granddaughters Katie Zipper and Emily Mathews. He was preceded in death by his son Rick Mathews.

The funeral is scheduled for 3 p.m. Monday at Harpeth Hills Funeral Home, 9090 Highway 100, in Nashville. The service will be preceded by visitation starting at 1:30 p.m. The family requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Nashville School of Law, where Mathews obtained his law degree, and Alive Hospice.

“Harlan was the man behind the man,” said Billy Stair, a longtime friend who was senior adviser to McWherter while Mathews was deputy governor.

He was a behind-the-scenes adviser to Clement, for example, in dealing with the aftermath of the 1957 Clinton school bombing and to Ellington when state legislators moved to assert more independence from the governor in the 1960s. He counseled McWherter on many matters, including how to deal with a historic Supreme Court ruling that found the state’s education system unconstitutional.

“In all those decisions his fingerprints were not there because he never sought the limelight or acclaim,” aid Stair. “But his counsel and his advice were there in all those decisions.

“He was not an eloquent public speaker. His eloquence was in the example that he showed every day with the people he worked work. That’s what inspired us to stay in public service.”

“There is no figure in modern Tennessee history, in my opinion, who was more impactful to the citizens of Tennessee than Harlan Mathews – and I include my dad in that,” said Mike McWherter, son of the former governor, the 2010 Democratic nominee for governor and currently a member of the TVA board. “He was a highly-active, behind-the-scenes guy who has had an impact on a lot of people.”

“Except for his great friend Ned McWherter, no one had more friends around the state capitol than Harlan Mathews did. He served our state and our country with distinction. Honey and I send our sympathy to Patsy and to their family,” said U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican who was governor during much of Mathews’ tenure as state treasurer.

The current state treasurer, Republican David Lillard, said Mathews was “a great leader and a wonderful person” and “the father of the modern Tennessee Treasury Department.”

“During his service as state treasurer, the department established its unclaimed property program, its 401(k) and 457 plans and its chairs of excellence program, to name only a few of his many initiatives. He also managed the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, the retirement program for state workers, teachers and other public employees, in a financially prudent manner which still has a positive impact for retirees and future retirees to this day.

“Sen. Mathews has been a good friend to me personally during my service as Treasurer. His support for the Treasury Department he loved and its employees never wavered. He will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his widow and family,” Lillard said.

Born in Sumiton, Ala., Mathews came to Nashville from Jacksonville State College to enroll in Vanderbilt University, where he later obtained a masters degree in public administration. While in school, he took a job at the State Planning office and then met Clement, who hired him as an assistant.

That led to Mathews appointment in 1961 as state finance commissioner by Gov. Buford Ellington, a post he held for ten years.

In, 1971, following the electlon of Republican Winfield Dunn as governor, Mathews briefly left state government to work in the private sector. He returned in 1973 to serve as the legislative assistant to longtime state comptroller Snodgrass. The Tennessee General Assembly elected Mathews state treasurer in 1974 when his predecessor, Tom Wiseman, opted to run for governor.

He served as state treasuer until beoming McWherter’s deputy and held that position until appointed to the U.S. Senate.

From the family-approved email:

Honorary pallbearers include Steve Adams, Tom Benson, Carl Brown, Tom Cone, Nancy-Ann DeParle, John Faber, Jim Hall, Don Holt, Carl Johnson, Dr. Joe Johnson, Jeremy Kane, David Lillard, J.W. Luna, David Manning, Raymond Marston, Mike McWherter, Clayton McWhorter, John Morgan, William Nichols, Roy Nix, Parker Sherrill, Arnold Tackett, Bo Roberts, Pete Sain, Dale Sims, Captain Bobby Trotter, David Welles, Bill Whitson, and “Harlan’s Girls” – Estie Harris, Adrienne Knestrick, Katy Varney and Beth Winstead.

House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh in line for TVA board seat?

TVA board member Mike McWherter is expected to be a major influence in picking three new member, reports Metro Pulse. The son of former Gov. Ned McWherter and the Democratic candidate for governor four years ago is said to have been consulted by the White House on who to pick.

State Capitol Hill sources say a front-runner for the board is likely former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh. Naifeh was a protege of Ned McWherter’s when McWherter was Speaker of the House and Naifeh went on to become one of the longest-serving speakers in state history and one of its most powerful political figures. He served until the Republicans took over the House. He then engineered a coup putting Republican Kent Williams in as speaker with Democratic votes and his party retained committee chairs during Williams’ two-year tenure.

The White House was said to be displeased that the last round of Democratic board members deferred to Tennessee’s two Republican senators and retained Republican Bill Sansom as TVA chair. McWherter was the lone vote against Sansom.

Sansom and Barbara Haskew’s terms are up in May and Neil McBride left the board at the end of this past year. That leaves three positions to be filled in May.

Given the change in filibuster rules, whoever President Obama nominates will likely be confirmed—and possibly in a speedy manner by Senate standards.

Mike McWherter: Haslam has created a ‘culture of corruption’

Mike McWherter, the 2010 Democratic nominee for governor who lost to Republican Bill Haslam, told Roane County Democrats last weekend that he’s not running against Haslam in his bid for reelection next year. But he blasted the incumbent for creating a “culture of corruption” within state government.

In the speech, McWherter links the federal investigation of Haslam-family-controlled Pilot Flying J and the seven guilty pleas by its former employees to “corporate fraud” charges with the Haslam administration’s approval of a trio of contracts with companies having some sort of tie to administration officials.

McWherter, currently a member of the TVA board of directors, harkens back to things he said in the 2010 campaign – deploring, for example, Pilot “price gouging,” which was depicted by Haslam then as basically honest mistakes, long since corrected – as exemplifying “a culture of corruption which management, at the very best, allowed.”

The federal investigation, he says, shows more of the same is afoot in the company.

“Now this same culture of corruption is invading state government at its highest level,” McWherter said in his prepared remarks,

Here’s the text of McWherter’s speech as provided after an inquiry (with editing in the form of inserting paragraph marks and correcting what seemed a typographical error):
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Obama Nominates McWherter, Others to TVA Board

President Obama has nominated Mike McWherter, the 2010 Democratic nominee for Tennessee governor, to fill one of five current vacancies on the TVA Board of Directors.
Obama also nominated V. Lynn Evans, a Memphis accountant, and Joe H. Ritch, a Huntsville, Ala., attorney, as new members of the board while proposing to give Marilyn A. Brown, a current board member whose term has expired, a new term on the nine-member panel.
The president in February had nominated Peter Mahurin of Bowling Green, Ky., to a TVA board seat, but Mahurin’s nomination has not been confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The four nominations announced Friday in a White House news release are also subject to Senate confirmation.
The nominations come with the Senate planning to recess until after the November election and with Tennessee’s U.S. Sen. Bob Corker declaring the “entire TVA governance structure” should be re-examined with an eye toward reform.
They also come with the TVA board facing the task of selecting a new CEO to replace Tom Kilgore, whose announced retirement takes effect at the end of the year..

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Mike McWherter: Haslam Should Call Special Session on Jobs

In an op-ed piece appearing in some newspapes, former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mike McWherter is urging a special legislative session on job creation.
While Congress trudges through the quagmire of partisan rancor, elected officials in Tennessee should seize the opportunity to do what’s best for our state and pass a bi-partisan jobs plan. Gov. Bill Haslam has the constitutional authority to call a special session of the General Assembly, a step taken by many of his predecessors — Democrats and Republicans alike.
Full article HERE.

Ned McWherter Campaign Donating to Pigeon River Society

News release from Shelby White, spokesman for Mike McWherter:
Newport, TN – On Saturday, August 27th, Mike McWherter, son of late Governor Ned McWherter, will make a financial contribution to the Pigeon River Society from the Friends of Ned McWherter campaign fund at the River Walk Park in downtown Newport at 1:00 p.m. The Pigeon River was at the center of a bi-state controversy between Tennessee and North Carolina during the McWherter governorship.
“My father had a deep appreciation for our state’s natural treasures and the people who worked so diligently to preserve these important resources.” said Mike McWherter. “The Pigeon River issue symbolized his approach to leadership, putting the best interests of our state and citizens above all else. It is a honor and a privilege to continue his legacy in east Tennessee, a place he held so close to his heart.”
The controversy centered around the Champion Paper Mill in Canton, NC located ten miles upstream from the Tennessee state line in Cocke County. For over 80 years, the paper mill had discharged industrial waste into the river, destroying wildlife habitat and recreational areas downstream. Residents of Newport, TN and Hartford, TN complained about the negative economic and health consequences of the pollution, including higher cancer rates in areas along the Pigeon River.
In the late 80’s, opposition to the Champion Paper Mill in Tennessee reached a political boiling point, with newspapers and elected officials calling on Governor McWherter to deny the renewal of a water quality variance needed by the paper mill to continue operations. During the debate, Champion threatened to close the mill and layoff over 2,000 workers, which sparked heated debate across state lines.
Early one September morning, Governor McWherter, legislative aide Billy Stair and an agent from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency loaded up in a canoe just north of the paper mill where the waters were vibrant and pristine. As they floated past the Champion operation, the clear headwaters turned into a black discharge that bubbled around their canoe. Just past the paper mill, a local sheriff stopped the group and informed them they were trespassing on “Champion’s River.” The sheriff did not realize he had stopped the Governor of Tennessee, but he did solidify Gov. McWherter’s decision to deny the variance request. On Christmas Eve of 1988, Gov. McWherter called on his Deputy Governor Harlan Matthews to deliver the news of the variance refusal to North Carolina Governor Jim Martin. Governor McWherter’s refusal of the variance request was met with much praise in Tennessee and solidified his legacy as a steward of Tennessee’s natural resources.

Note: The late Gov. McWherter had kept his old campaign account in place after leaving office, using it to help create a scholarship fund, donate to other political campaigns, buy flowers and the like.

Mike McWherter: Promoting Communication, Not Self, With New Blog

Mike McWherter says he is covering the cost of an Internet “daily buzz” report on Tennessee politics and state government to promote communication on the topics, not himself.
Still, the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial nominee did not exactly rule out future political endeavors during a recent telephone interview.
“I don’t know what the future holds for me. I truly don’t,” said McWherter, who lost in a landslide to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. The same basic comment was repeated in response to various questions about his political future, if any.
“I’ve seen a lot of people offering themselves for political office and then, at the end of the campaign, they tend to just fold it up and walk away from their supporters,” he said. “I want to make sure we continue communicating.”
The communication device, called “Out of the Blue,” is being run by Trace Sharp, a veeran Tennessee bloger who served as “director of new media” in McWherter’s gubernatorial campaign. Shelby White, the campaign press spokesman, is helping out a bit.
It is decidedly Democratic in orientation, especially on emailed daily briefings seen in the first week of operation. The the main website has the most extensive blog roll on Tennessee political stuff you’ll find – if you’ll click that ‘view all’ button down at the bottom and keep on clicking. (It even seems to be collecting everything I churn out – but then, I didn’t notice any Stacey Campfield’s posts.)
“Conceptually, I started really thinking about this after the campaign, in December; about an additional way to communicate with a lot of our supporters across the state,” he said.
A scheduled launch last month was postponed as his father, former Gov. Ned McWherter grew increasingly ill before his death April 4, he said.
“There’s just a lot of people out there, a lot of commentary, bloggers and newspapers… and most people, like me, just don’t have time to surf the Internet reading all that… What we’re trying to do is launch a communication vehicle that (inspires) water cooler talk in urban areas and coffee shop talk in rural areas.”
people talking around the urban water cooler and the rural coffee shop.”
“If you have good communication, you open up state government, make government more accountable,” he said. “I’m not out to beat anybody down, but to open up what’s happening in our state.”
McWherter said that “for right now,” there’s no advertising on “Out of the Blue” and he is covering the costs out of his own pocket “and I’m happy to do that.”

Mike McWherter Launches TN Version of ‘Daily Buzz’

Statement from Mike McWherter announcing the launch of his new ‘communication resource:
April 20, 2011 – Tomorrow you will be receiving a daily email from me titled “Out of the Blue.” It is designed to summarize the “Daily Buzz” of events happening around the state. It is not designed to be an “editorial,” but rather a short version of comments by others from around the state on current affairs.
Of course, with the legislature in session, many of the comments will center on their activities for now. My hope is this information will be useful in generating “coffee shop” talk throughout our state and provide you with commentary to engage in meaningful dialogue with your friends and acquaintances. Please feel free to forward this information onto others with whom you wish to share.
During my campaign for Governor, I realized a need to capture traditional and new media content in an easily accessible format to measure the thoughts of various constituencies. I am truly grateful to my supporters from the gubernatorial campaign, and in launching this communication tool, my goal is to help keep them informed.
Many of you may be like me in finding it difficult to have the time to navigate all the different sources available online. This is an attempt to summarize the “daily buzz” from around the state. Trace Sharp, former newspaper editor and social media expert, has graciously agreed to staff this effort. I hope you find it useful and informative.
So many candidates walk away and “fold the tent” following their races. I want to remain an active Democrat and do everything I possibly can to promote the values our party. Due to the recent illness of my father, Governor Ned McWherter, we were forced to delay this venture, but now we are moving forward.
Let me assure you, this is not an attempt to usurp any efforts by our leadership, but merely to help enhance communication efforts. United we can stand and develop an environment in our state which serves everyone, not just a privileged few.
To subscribe to “Out of the Blue” (go to)…
Mike McWherter

Naifeh, DeBerry Lead House in Tribute to McWherter

Former House Speaker Pro Tempore Lois DeBerry, D-Memphis, and House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh gave brief eulogies on Ned McWherter at the outset of Monday night House floor proceedings and led representatives in a moment of silent prayer.
Naifeh said he and DeBerry spoke with McWherter every Sunday as a matter of custom and always found him “upbeat,” even as his cancer worsened and spread “all over his body.”
Naifeh said that, according to Mike McWherter, the former governor suffered a fall on Saturday that “aggravated his spinal cancer” and sent him to the hospital. He seemed to be rallying Monday morning, Naifeh said, and Mike McWherter had arranged for a hospital bed so that he could be transported back to his home.
But as Mike was going to get the bed, Naifeh said, he got a call from the doctor saying Ned McWherter’s condition had suddenly worsened. Mike returned to the hospital and was there when his father passed away.
“He had a living will, so obviously it was not delayed,” said Naifeh.
“He was my mentor, he was my speaker, he was my governor and he was my very, very dear friend,” said Naifeh.
He also repeated one of McWherter’s frequent sayings, attributed to an old fellow McWherter met while campaigning for governor. McWherter might become famous, the old man said, “but the crowd at your funeral is going to depend on the weather that day.”
DeBerry, who was serving in the House when McWherter was speaker (Naifeh, too), said the former governor “was sometimes like a brother and sometimes like a father.”
“Today we lost one of our giants. Gov. Ned Ray McWherter has gone to glory,” DeBerry said.
She also repeated an oft-heard McWherter saying, which the former governor attributed to the late U.S. Congressman “Fats” Everett: “If you don’t want to work, you ought not hire out.”

McWherter Public Campaign Schedule

Mike McWherter’s Public Schedule October 4-11
Monday, October 4
10:00a.m. CDT
Political Visit to Henderson County
Location: Henderson County Courthouse / 17 Monroe Ave./ Lexington
12:00p.m. CDT
Political Visit to Hardin County
Location: Molly Monday’s Restaurant / 295 Eureka St. / Savannah, TN
2:00p.m. CDT
Political Visit to Wayne County
Location: Courthouse Square / Waynesboro, TN
4:00p.m. CDT
Political Visit to Perry County
Location: Community Center / 121 E. Main St. / Linden, TN
7:00p.m. CDT
5 County Rally
Location: US Army National Guard Armory / 256 W. 9th St. / Parsons, TN
Tuesday, October 5
1:30p.m. CDT
Baptist Ministerial Alliance Luncheon
Location: Archer Rice Center / 460 E. McLemore Ave. /Memphis, TN
Wednesday, October 6
3:15p.m. CDT
TN Sheriff’s Association Meeting
Location: Sheraton Music City Hotel / 777 McGavock Pike / Nashville
4:30p.m. EDT
TN Association of Chiefs of Police Meeting
Location: Millennium Maxwell House Hotel / 2025 Rosa L. Parks Blvd. / Nashville, TN
Thursday, October 7
8:00a.m. CDT
TN Bar Association Health Law Forum
Location: Embassy Suites / 820 Crescent Center Dr. / Franklin, TN
8:00p.m. EDT
UT/WBIR Debate
Location: James R. Cox Auditorium / Alumni Memorial Building / 1408 Middle Dr. / Knoxville, TN
Friday, October 8
9:30a.m. CDT
TN Economic Development Conference
Location: Riverview Inn / 50 College St. / Clarksville, TN
11:30a.m. CDT
Robertson County Chamber of Commerce “Lunch & Learn”
Location: Fellowship Hall / First United Methodist Church/ 511 S. Oak St. /
Springfield, TN
3:30p.m. CDT
AARP/FiftyForward/Nashville Council on Aging Conference
Location: FiftyForward: Knowles Center / 174 Rains Ave. / Nashville, TN
Saturday, October 9
7:00p.m. CDT
WREG Debate
Location: WREG Studios / 803 Channel 3 Dr. / Memphis, TN
Sunday, October 10
6:00p.m. CDT
First Baptist Church Capitol Hill Forum
Location: First Baptist Church Capitol Hill / 625 Rosa L. Parks Blvd / Nashville, TN
Monday, October 11
7:00p.m. CDT
National Council of Jewish Women Meeting
Location: Akiva School Chapel / 809 Percy Warner Blvd. / Nashville, TN