The newest member of the state’s internal watchdog group says she won’t let partisan politics taint her ability to make fair decisions when weighing in on campaign and lobbyist reporting discrepancies.
Republicans hand-picked Tammy White, a former state government worker, to sit as the party’s Senate representative on the Ethics Commission last week.
Once an East Tennessee regional representative for former Gov. Don Sundquist and a business consultant for the Department of Economic and Community Development, White says she brings diverse experiences and an appreciation for accountability to the table in her new role as a government-employed ethics guru.
She says her experience gives her an edge to figuring out how to make the bureaucratic processes designed to make government more transparent also more efficient.
“You can collect a lot of data, but it’s what you do with the data that makes the most sense and value,” said White, 44, who is now the president and CEO of Leadership Knoxville, an organization that looks to inspire people to better lead their communities. “I think there are things like using more technology, and then reports that can be generated from that technology that can assist on the administrative side of the department.”
The Ethics Commission regulates lobbyist activity and financial disclosure statements from appointed and elected lawmakers.
White is one of six members appointed to the commission which is split evenly to represent both Republicans and Democrats. They set policy, issue opinions and review related complaints.
The members, serving four-year terms, are appointed by leadership in the Senate, House and the governor.
White was one of three people the caucus considered for the position. She replaces Nathaniel Goggins of Chattanooga
Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, called her a “vivacious lady full of energy and character” when introducing her to members of the State an Local Government Committee.
Although her last political work was done on a Republican governor’s watch, White says party biases won’t interfere with her decisions on the commission.
But Sen. Thelma Harper, a Nashville Democrat, said she wanted to make sure anyone taking the spot would be impartial.
“I would hope simply because your politics are different from my politics, I would not want that to get in the way of fairness. That’s the only thing I ask,” said Harper.
“I believe in ethics and transparency in government makes for the best representative government that we could ever have,” she told committee members who voted unanimously for her appointment. “I do believe that we are all human, and can make errors, but I think we can look at that fairly and justly, and I give you my word that that’s exactly what I will do.”
Harper then joked about White slapping candidates with hefty fines, adding, “When you’re female, you have to smile as you turn the knife.”
After working in a variety of government jobs, White says she has an appreciation for transparency in government, holding people accountable and “really trying to find wrong and unethical behavior.”
She maintains that Tennessee, by and large, does a pretty good job at keeping politics clean, and legislative deal-making on the up and up.
“I will do my very best to be impartial when it comes to party politics and to be fair and just,” White told TNReport. “And I think that’s the most that anybody can ask for,” she said.