If you are an ideologue, living in Tennessee can be maddening. For all the talk about our fair state being a “red state”, such labels are superficial and do not tell any kind of meaningful story. We do not, nor have we ever run super-hot or super-cold. When it comes to political passions, Tennessee has always been lukewarm. A cursory look at our history bears this out.
Although not a state at the time, the citizens of what would become Tennessee were divided about the Revolutionary War.
Tennessee did secede from the union in 1861, but did so tepidly. It was the last border state to do so. It was also the first state to rejoin the union. Because Tennessee had ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, it was the only one of the formerly seceded states that did not have a military governor during the Reconstruction period.
For all of our bible-thumping conservative misogyny, Tennessee became thirty-sixth and final state necessary to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provided women the right to vote.
The TVA and segregation guaranteed that politics in Tennessee would be dominated by the Democratic party throughout most of the 20th century. Yet, even that must be understood in the context of machine politics, specifically Memphis Boss Ed Crump. The state has had a political division by geography since before the civil war. As one heads west, Republican control cedes to Democratic control (with the exceptions of the donut counties around Memphis and Nashville).
Starting in 1970, the governorship has ping-ponged back and forth between the two parties: Ellington (1967-71) D,Dunn (1971-75) R,Blanton (1975-79) D,Alexander (1979-87) R,McWherter (1987-95) D, Sundquist (1995-2003) R ,
Bredesen (2003- ) D .
Our state legislature is split. And, even when Republicans first took control of the state Senate in 2005, they still elected John Wilder (D) speaker.
Although it could be argued that Tennessee is very conservative religiously, such a statement is relative. Compared to, say, Connecticut? Certainly. Compared to Alabama? I don’t think so. You can point to
StokesScopes (that’ll teach me to write a post before two cups of coffee…) all you want, and you’d be showing your ignorance. The Scopes monkey trial was a publicity stunt – a way to spur economic development. Not to say we don’t have our share of fundamentalists. But, even our fundamentalists are lukewarm.
There are many examples I’m leaving out, but, you get the picture. Check out this page for a really cool timeline of TN political history, starting in the 2nd half of the 20th century.
To understand politics in TN, you need to look at power. The most powerful Republicans are moderates, the most powerful Democrats are moderates. Tom Tancredo and Cynthia McKinney would not cut it here. We have our occasional Campfield and Cohen, but you will never see a mercurial type like that ascend to the top of their party here. They are distractions.
Tennessee is, no matter what the two parties try to claim, a moderate state. I like it that way.