Former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, said he’d have preferred that the five members of Tennessee’s Supreme Court, composed of two Republicans and three Democrats, award Robert E. Cooper with another eight-year term as attorney general.
But Bredesen said the court wasn’t in a position to allow Cooper to continue serving as the state’s most influential government attorney. “I had hoped that he would be able to stay. As a practical matter, that was almost impossible with the changes that have taken place in the governor’s office and so forth,” Bredesen said following an event in Knoxville to promote Amendment 2.
“I am sorry Bob didn’t stay. But if he were not going to stay, this is a wonderful choice to replace him,” Bredesen said of the court’s selection of Herb Slatery, Gov. Bill Haslam’s chief legal advisor since 2011.
Cooper served as the Bredesen administration’s legal counsel from 2003-2006 and was campaign treasurer on Bredesen’s first gubernatorial run in 2002.
Bredesen’s comments indicated he isn’t inclined, at least publicly, to share in criticisms expressed by other prominent Tennessee Democrats, like House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh and state Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron, alleging that the Supreme Court succumbed to partisan political pressure in selecting Slatery.
Fitzhugh issued a statement Monday charging that the court had “capitulated” to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, and “the very special interest groups” that unsuccessfully campaigned this summer to replace the three Democratic justices initially appointed by Bredesen.
Herron’s statement said, “It appears to many that General Cooper’s party affiliation was used against him.”
Slatery won appointment over a field of seven other applicants, among them Cooper, Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts Director Bill Young, Republican state Sen. Doug Overbey of Maryville, former solicitor general Mark Fulks, Eugene N. Bulso, Jr, a Nashville business lawyer, Andrew Tillman, a former chancery court judge from the Upper Cumberland region, and Nashville attorney William Helou.
Ramsey issued a statement Monday hailing the court’s decision to appoint a Republican attorney general, who he predicted “will be a strong advocate for the people of Tennessee and a vigilant defender of Tennessee’s conservative reforms.”
The lieutenant governor had in fact indicated in comments to the media last week that “Bill Young may be handicapped somewhat because he at least has the impression that he’s Ron Ramsey’s candidate.” On Monday, Ramsey revealed he had met earlier with Chief Justice Sharon Lee and Justice Gary Wade “to bury the hatchet” with respect to the retention campaign fight, and also to lobby for “a more conservative AG.”
Cooper is in the processes of transitioning out of the attorney general’s office, a space he’s occupied since 2006.
Following a swearing-in ceremony for Chief Justice Lee in Knoxville Wednesday, Slatery told TNReport he’s in the process of preparing to move into his new role as attorney general. But he said a date hasn’t yet formally been set for when he will officially take over. “We’re are trying to figure that out right now. There is a transition and we want to be sure we leave my office (as the governor’s lawyer) in real good shape,” he said, adding that Cooper “continues to hold the office until the successor comes on.”
Regarding the allegations by Herron and Fitzhugh that the Supreme Court felt pressured to pick a Republican, Slatery said, “I am not going to be partisan, and they know that,” he said.
With respect to the court’s decision-making, Slatery said, “I don’t think it was a real political process.”