It was a noticeably more subdued crowd at the Tennessee Republican Party Statesmen’s Dinner in Nashville on Friday than a year ago.
The night played more like an affirmation of what the Republicans had accomplished rather than what they were about to do.
There were 1,150 people at the Nashville Convention Center, compared to 1,400 in 2010, when there had been an electric atmosphere and an historic sea change in Tennessee politics. The crowd had been more like 900 in 2009.
The dinner Friday raised $500,000 for the state GOP, according to party chairman Chris Devaney. Those funds will go toward Republican campaigns in 2012, when Devaney hopes they can deliver a “walkout-proof” majority in the Legislature, meaning the Democrats wouldn’t even have enough members to deny Republicans a quorum. Two more Republicans in each chamber would do the trick.
One prominent GOP politician expressed a workmanlike approach.
“Our mission is to govern responsibly and reflect the will of the people, balance our budget, try to move the state forward and make a good environment for job creation,” House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick said matter-of-factly during one of the breaks in the proceedings.
The Republicans now hold a 64-34-1 majority in the House, 20-13 in the Senate, along with a 7-2 advantage in the state’s U.S. House delegation to go with two Republican U.S. Senators.
So it was not surprising that U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander reminded the audience of a warning passed on to Tennessee Republicans a few years earlier by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Romney had quoted his father, former Republican Gov. George Romney of Michigan, as saying, “Nothing is more vulnerable than entrenched success.”
Whether Republicans are vulnerable remains to be seen, but they certainly are entrenched in their current power, although it was noticeable that while seeking a “walkout-proof” majority numerous attendees Friday night headed for the exits long before the lengthy program ended.
There wasn’t a whole lot for Republicans to say about the Democrats on Friday other than to bash President Barack Obama and point to national goals in 2012.
The featured speaker was Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, and he took the opportunity to express disagreement with Obama’s policies.
“There’s no reason under present circumstances, given the policies of this administration, to expect this economy to be in much better shape in a year or 15 months from now,” Daniels said. “I hope I’m wrong.
“If you had summoned together a committee of Nobel economists and given them the mischievous assignment to design policies to stunt investment and growth and paralyze the economy, they couldn’t have done better than the Obama administration has done.”
Daniels was viewed at one time as a presidential candidate in 2012, but he has decided against a presidential run.
“Things could get so bad we could win next year as the default option, just by being not them,” Daniels said. “I don’t think it’s the right way.
“We have to say to folks, ‘We are here to save the safety net.’ The worst enemies today of Social Security and Medicare are the people, the reactionaries on the other side, who are saying, ‘Just leave it the way it is.’”
Daniels spoke of the need to address citizens as “grown-ups” in troubled times.
“You can address Americans as adults, and they won’t shoot the messenger,” he said. “You can tell them about trade-offs that will have to be made, and they will understand you.
“You can get them to agree that you can’t do everything you would like to do, or that you can’t do it all at once. You can get them to think about the long term, the future of their kids or their neighbors’ kids.”
Daniels took note with the media before the event and with the audience from the podium of the long line of national leaders — “heroes” he called them — Tennessee had produced, naming former senators Bill Brock and Howard Baker and former governor Winfield Dunn among them. Those Republicans had broken through a Democratic stronghold long before the wave of 2010 candidates. Brock and Dunn were in attendance Friday.
“This state has turned out more tremendous people, leaders of our party and country per square mile than any I know of,” Daniels told reporters, throwing in the names of current leaders Alexander, Sen. Bob Corker and Gov. Bill Haslam.
Haslam said Daniels has been the first governor he looks to for input.
Daniels this week announced he will give bonuses to most of the state workers in Indiana, following a $1.2 billion surplus in the state’s budget. They will be one-time bonuses of $500, $750 or $1,000.
That came the same week Haslam denied raises to about 2 percent of state employees in the executive branch who had faced some disciplinary measures. Haslam told reporters again Friday he felt comfortable with that position, and Daniels backed him up.
“We practice exactly what he just preached and have for several years,” Daniels said. “I can’t think of anything less fair, honestly, than to treat the best workers no better than those who are not pulling their weight.”
Daniels said those in his state whose performance was judged deficient won’t be getting bonuses.