Category Archives: Ned McWherter

A video tribute to the late Gov. Ned McWherter

It’s pointed out, in a message received today, that this video tribute to the late Gov. Ned McWherter — it’s about 18 minutes long — includes an (understandably edited) brief comment from yours truly. Sadly, it includes commentary from folks since deceased — notably House Speaker Pro Tempore Lois DeBerry. And it’s never been posted on this blog. Well, about four years late, it is now.

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.

Jackson Day Focused on Tribute to Ned McWherter

Former Gov. Ned McWherter’s place in Tennessee history was the focus of the 2011 Jackson Day fundraiser for the state Democratic party, as Chas Sisk reported.
Gathering on a cool October evening under a massive tent on Bicentennial Capitol Mall, about 700 Democratic party supporters turned out to pay tribute to McWherter, a West Tennessee farm boy who helped lead a generation of centrist Southern Democrats that also included President Bill Clinton and Texas Gov. Ann Richards. McWherter died April 4.
“He saw out beyond where he was to where he was going,” said Chip Forrester, the Tennessee Democratic Party chairman. “This is really why we are here tonight, to honor a man who really created the most loving and powerful Democratic family this state has ever seen.”
Tickets for the event were $75 for individuals, while group rates varied. Brandon Puttbrese, a party spokesman, could not say Saturday how much the event would raise for the party.
Speakers included Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and former Tennessean editor and publisher John Seigenthaler.
“Now more than ever, those of us that are elected officials need to focus on the importance of community,” Dean said. “That was certainly the motivation behind everything Gov. McWherter did.”

For more details, see Mike Morrow’s full TNReport, which includes videos of several speakers.

Pigeon River Fund Gets $2,500 from Ned McWherter’s Old Campaign Account

By Megan Boehnke of the News Sentinel:
Along the banks of the Pigeon River in Newport, Mike McWherter on Saturday presented the final charitable payment from his late father’s campaign fund — a $2,500 check to help in the effort to clean up the waterway.
Former Gov. Ned McWherter, who died of cancer in April at age 80, took an interest in the Pigeon in the late 1980s after learning of high pollution levels caused by industrial waste coming from a paper mill upstream in North Carolina.
After floating the river himself in a canoe and nearly getting arrested by a local sheriff for trespassing on the property of the paper mill, McWherter denied the renewal of a water quality variance needed by the paper mill to continue operating on Christmas Eve 1988.
While the river is cleaner than it was in the 1980s, North Carolina and Tennessee have been wrangling over the plant’s pollution for decades and the two sides came to an agreement in 1998 that required the plant to clean up its wastewater. Still, despite involvement from both states and the Environmental Protection Agency, local officials and activists insist the water still isn’t as clean as it should be, affecting the quality of life of residents and the viability of tourism and rafting in the area.
When the former governor, in office from 1987-1995, returned to the river in one of his final public appearances, the younger McWherter said his father was appalled at the river’s condition.
“He specifically told me he wanted to make sure a nice donation went to the efforts to clean up the river,” the younger McWherter said.
The contribution from McWherter’s estate will go to a legal fund for a potential lawsuit against the mill, said local businessman and longtime activist Gay Webb, who is involved with the Cocke County Waterways Advisory Council.
“We’re going to hire one of the biggest, best law firms we can find because financial support seems to be here now,” Webb said Saturday.
Gordon Ball, a Knoxville lawyer who represented Pigeon River area residents in a lawsuit, said Ned McWherter was actually a “late convert” to supporting cleanup. Ball said that McWherter in 1988 as governor took steps that he saw as undermining efforts to eliminate pollution from the Champion paper mill.
The younger McWherter acknowledged that Ball was an early supporter of the cleanup efforts and that he was not always on the best terms with his father, but said the former governor was a strong supporter of cleaning up the river after witnessing the damage himself.
The contribution came from the former governor’s old campaign account, which he kept open after leaving office to create a scholarship fund and to donate to other campaigns. At the time of his death, about $43,000 remained.

FBI Records Show Ned McWherter Never Implicated in Corruption Scandals of His Era

By Erik Schelzig
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Ned McWherter, one of the most powerful Tennessee Democrats during his quarter century in public life, never got caught up in any of the FBI undercover investigations that pushed another governor out of office early and led to several prison sentences and suicides for others in his party.
The Associated Press obtained the 217-page FBI file on McWherter, who died in April, through a Freedom of Information Act request.
A 1995 background check into McWherter’s life and political career ruled out any involvement in an undercover investigation that rocked state government while he was governor.
“Although Mr. McWherter was surrounded by individuals who were involved in the bingo scam … he at no time was a subject, witness, or a target in the Rockytop investigation,” according to the memo.

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Was Al Gore, in Praising Ned McWherter, Criticizing Bill Haslam?

By Lucas Johnson
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Former Vice President Al Gore lauded former Gov. Ned McWherter’s commitment to transparency during a memorial service that was attended by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who’s been criticized over disclosure issues.
Gore joined former President Bill Clinton and others on Saturday to remember McWherter, a self-made millionaire and two-term Democratic governor who died last Monday of cancer at the age of 80.
Gore said in his speech that McWherter released not only his tax returns and income, but “things that people didn’t want him to release.”
“And (he) made sure that virtually every state record was open,” Gore said. “He had a commitment to absolute integrity.”
Haslam, a Republican, was heavily criticized by his Republican and Democratic opponents last year for refusing to disclose how much money he was paid from his family-owned truck stop business, Pilot Flying J.
Haslam said during the campaign that revealing his income from Pilot would reveal personal information about family members not running for office as well as proprietary information about the privately held company with annual revenues of about $20 billion.
His office had no comment Monday about Gore’s statements.
Haslam, who has stressed transparency and open government in the executive branch, made headlines in February when emails obtained by the AP revealed his aides carefully planned the media strategy for informing the public about a decision to scuttle financial disclosure requirements for the governor and his senior staff.
Haslam had steadfastly defended a move on his first day in office in January to toss out his predecessor’s requirement that top officials disclose the amounts of their outside earnings.
He has denied there was any attempt at gamesmanship, arguing that the disclosure issue was sufficiently hashed out during the governor’s race and the new policy shouldn’t come as a surprise.

McWherter’s Memorial Service in Dresden

By Erik Schelzig
DRESDEN, Tenn. — Former Gov. Ned McWherter was remembered Sunday by the neighbors and voters who first elected him and sent him on his way to become one of the most powerful Democratic politicians in Tennessee.
A memorial for McWherter, who died April 4 at age 80, was held on the front lawn of his home in Dresden, just blocks away from where an inscription on a bronze statue of the West Tennessee political giant reads: “One of us.”
The services drew politicians, friends and supporters from around the region and state.
“He improved so many lives, and he touched my life,” said Joe Fisher, 73, of Alamo. “I got to meet him one time, and I’m going to miss him.”
Longtime adviser Billy Stair noted that McWherter’s political career was founded in his hometown experiences.
“He came from this community, from a time and a place that today echoes only faintly across the years,” he said. “A small town, where they set up bleachers outside the ice cream parlor over on East Main street to listen to the St. Louis Cardinals on the radio.
“A time when where a future governor from this town dropped out of high school, and was convinced to go back by the mechanic at the local Pontiac dealership.”
A Great Depression-era child of sharecroppers, McWherter became wealthy through various business enterprises before entering politics. He was elected to his first of two terms as governor in 1986 after 20 years in the Legislature — and 14 as House speaker. He also was a political adviser to Bill Clinton during his presidency.

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I Miss Ned

(Note: This is an unedited version of a column written for Sunday’s News Sentinel.)
As Tennessee’s governor, Ned Ray McWherter was basically a benevolent dictator, or as close as you can get in a democratic society, and the likes of him will almost surely never be seen again in our state.
Certainly, we haven’t seen anything since that can be reasonably likened to the bald, burly, country-talking, self-made millionaire college dropout with extraordinary and seemingly instinctive skills in dealing with people and politics.
Note that our current chief executive, Bill Haslam, ran for governor promising a “top to bottom review” of state government. McWherter ran for governor declaring. “Swear me in, gimme a coupla vanilla wafers and a cuppa coffee and I’ll get to work.”
A campaign bumper sticker read: “He’s one of us.” All candidates want to get a similar message across, spending millions on TV ads to declare themselves, for example, a “good man” or “the real thing.” But McWherter was “one of us” common folk naturally.
After 14 years as speaker of the House, McWherter needed no review of state government. He could truthfully declare knowledge of “every pig path” in the state – that meant roads, even the small ones — name almost every politician in the state and even most of what he called, uh, dog posteriors (a printable version of the affectionate term he used for us media types).

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Clinton, Gore Remember Ned McWherter

By Lucas Johnson
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore on Saturday remembered Ned McWherter, Tennessee’s governor from 1987 to 1995, as a politician with a special way of connecting with everyday people.
Clinton and Gore attended a public memorial service for McWherter, a self-made millionaire who also was a longtime House speaker from West Tennessee. He died Monday of cancer at the age of 80.
Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, as well as several former state governors and lawmakers, also attended the service at War Memorial Auditorium.
Gore, a former Tennessee senator, said McWherter “always kept a connection to working people and the rural poor.”
Clinton called him a “fabulous politician” who “made us dream, and think and act.”

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Clinton, Gore to Attend McWherter Funeral

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore are scheduled to attend a memorial service on Saturday for former Tennessee Gov. Ned McWherter.
McWherter, a two-term Democratic governor and longtime House speaker from West Tennessee, died Monday of cancer at the age of 80.
The service at 2 p.m. in the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville will be open to the public. Another service is set for 1:30 p.m. Sunday in Dresden on the front lawn of McWherter’s home