About 30 people gathered for a barbecue luncheon at the Wilson County Expo Center to meet and listen to Bredesen, an opportunity Kyle Heckman, president of the 15th Judicial Bar Association was happy to have, especially in such an significant election year.
“This is a very important race, not just for Tennessee, but it’s pivotal nationally and we’re glad to have him here to speak to us and to share his version of what he wants to do if he makes it to Washington, and we’re just happy to be a part of it,” Heckman said.
Bredesen jumped right into the issues, honing in on the contentious debate over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who has divided both politicians and the public.
“I wanted to talk a little bit about some ideas,” Bredesen said. “And I’ve been trying hard in this campaign to talk about ideas, which is what I think campaigns ought to be about as opposed to explaining all the reasons why your opponent is terrible.
“I have to say that I’m embarrassed by the circus that I’ve seen up there [in the Senate]. “This process has devolved into pure partisan gamesmanship – I’m talking about both parties here – Democrats and Republicans. Republicans are running this thing through, in a way, that I don’t think was the founder’s intent, and Democrats have got people running for president who are acting as presidential candidates, not as U.S. senators, in this process. I do find it embarrassing. It’s something that’s relatively new in the past couple of decades, when the process we had in this country, has gotten subjugated by a more recent partisan soap opera that is designed for cable news. That’s where we are.
“I think it’s important to remember that we have not always been here. Relatively recently, we were not.
“At the time that both Ginsburg and Scalia were confirmed in the Senate by more than 95 votes, even though their ideologies were polar opposites, and their ideologies weren’t any secret at the time that they were nominated, but that was a time when the senate was less concerned with the details of their views and more concerned with issues like if they were qualified for the job, if they had the experience that it would take and so on,” Bredesen said. “Unfortunately, we’ve gotten in the position now where the most important issue is whether you have a D or an R after your name, and I think that’s wrong.”
Bredesen touted his many judicial appointments as governor of Tennessee from 2003-2011, where he appointed both Republicans and Democrats.
“I tried very hard to be non-partisan about it and try and put people in from both sides of the aisle. In the Supreme Court, for example, I appointed Bill Koch, a Republican, and I appointed Sharron Lee, who was a Democrat from East Tennessee. Muecke Barker, who is the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, who was a Republican. He told the Chattanooga newspaper recently, ‘Bredesen took a non-partisan approach to his appointments.’ Coming from a Republican, appointed by a Republican governor [Lamar Alexander], I think that’s meaningful,” Bredesen said.
Bredesen said during the vetting process, he was careful to not ask the judges their political views on anything, specifically on issues or cases they may have coming before them while on the bench.
“I just thought it was inappropriate to ask that,” Bredesen said. “Instead, I’d ask about their experience, their reputation with their peers, things that I found to be appropriate.
“In the U.S. Constitution, there is a Senate vetting process for a lot of appointments, certainly that of federal judges, and I really believe that in the Senate, that process has become corrupted. It should not be about re-living past elections on either side. It certainly should not be about electoral politics. It shouldn’t be an opportunity for someone to act out who are running for other offices. I think it the Senate should exercise its authority to advise and to do so respecting the fact that they presidents get to nominate judges whose political views correspond more or less with their own.”
Bredesen outlined four things he considers the most important when assessing someone to be a judge. Those things are the qualifications of the nominee and their standing with their peers, a nominee who has good standards based on a pattern of behavior and not just based on a single mistake or misstep that someone may have made, experience on the bench and a focus on temperament.
“I think the notion of someone who is just respectful of everyone and has that quiet confidence that it takes to listen to them and their arguments and render an opinion is important,” Bredesen said.
Bredesen said he did not immediately make up his mind about Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh, who was nominated by President Donald Trump in July, after just a few hours as many politicians chose to do publicly.
Bredesen also said he is in the process of going over the transcripts of the hearings, watching excerpts of the hearings, researching the nominee and talking to a mutual friend before deciding where he stands on the Kavanaugh nomination.
Bredesen said the inactivity or unwillingness of Congress and the Senate to perform their jobs has resulted in the resignation of authority to the president and Supreme Court.
“One of the ideas that I’d like to bring to Washington is that this is a co-equal branch of government. It has a real role to play in providing checks and balances that the founders of this country set them in place for, and that the proper place to solve the political issues is the U.S. Congress, not courts or the presidency,” Bredesen said.
Bredesen said his mission is to stop the party-over-country attitude that is present both nationally and at the state level. He said it would probably be his last political venture, a venture that Bredesen has previously said is to bring the best opportunities to Tennesseans and not work against Trump for the sake of working against him.
While Bredesen values non-partisanship, he also considers himself an “equal-opportunity offender of both parties” and said his status as a Democrat is not a religious affiliation but a membership to political ideology that most fits him.
When asked how Washington could get back on track and work for all Americans, Bredesen said it’s not just getting good people into Congress, but working with those good representatives who are there and creating a structured environment to succeed in bipartisan efforts.
“One of the things that I found as governor that was very helpful, because remember, I got most everything done with pretty good majorities on both sides of the aisle,” Bredesen said. “And one of the things I found is that if you work on some easy things first. I think back to my time as mayor, and we did some tough things like get the Titans there with all the votes involved. That wouldn’t have happened in my first year just because we hadn’t yet shown that we could do some things together.
“So I actually think that conversely to where things seem to be going now, which is we need a comprehensive immigration plan that solves all the issues in immigration in one fail swoop. I there think you could pick out something like DACA, where there is actually pretty broad agreement about what ought to be done and deal with that, and just the process of working together on some easier things helps to lay the groundwork for some of the more difficult issues.
“I’m not Pollyannaish about this. I recognize how deep some of this is and how engrained that it is, but it’s also I just think really dangerous to the country. I can’t think of anything that I’d rather do at this point in my life than try to find some ways to start breaking some of that stuff down.”
Bredesen will face off against his opponent, Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, on Sept. 25 in a debate at Cumberland University, and the general election will be held November 6, 2018.
The Bar Association noted that they also reached out to Blackburn’s campaign and offered to have her speak at their meetings as well, but they did not hear back.