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Undaunted Diane

Freshman legislator stands up to Sundquist



The governor may have learned an important lesson during the state tax debate: If you play the game with someone who hasn’t played it before, you can’t assume they know the rules.

When Gov. Don Sundquist met recently with freshman House Republican Diane Black, a registered nurse who represents parts of nearby Sumner County, he didn’t expect her to blab all about it. Because, after all, that’s not how the game is played.

But blab she did, claiming the governor threatened that her opposition to an income tax would translate into no projects for her district and no support from him for a re-election bid. According to her story, she asked the governor if that was a threat. “It’s not a threat,” he reportedly said. “It’s a promise.”

Rather than quietly retreat to her legislative haven in Room 113 of the War Memorial Building, Black did something altogether different—and refreshingly bold for a political newcomer: She fought back, doing interviews in her district and telling her story on talk-radio.

“The reason why I made public what I did was because I wanted my constituents to know that there was a chance we would not get additional projects in this area by what the governor had said to me,” Black says.

As it turned out, she says, her constituents didn’t want her to change her mind. “People were angry—they were very, very angry—that the governor would even think to do something like that. And I’m new in politics. This may be the way politics are played all the time. This is my first experience ever in politics, and I don’t like it.”

Black says, too, that she’s not “grandstanding for some other great and wonderful thing that I want to do.” She says sometimes she even wonders “why I ran for state representative.”

“I’ve been told by folks in my party, ‘Diane, this is the way the game is played, and you just have to learn to play the game.’ Well, frankly, I will tell you I don’t like it. Maybe I’m being very naive and idealistic, but I continue to say to myself as I sit down there in the Legislature and I see the arrogance that’s down there and I see the games that are played that we need to change the system. And just because it always has been that way doesn’t mean it always has to be that way.”

Black says Sundquist staffers have asked her not to talk about the rift. “They were concerned about what I did and why I did it,” she says. “They were just asking me that if I could not be as vocal, it would be in my best interest.”

Undaunted, Black says, “If I had to do it all over again, I would do the very same thing.”

“Weird Al”

National Review’s Nov. 22 cover story—titled “Weird Al: A Troubled and Alarming Vice President”—claims that Al Gore suffers from depression. The story’s author theorizes that Gore’s 1992 ecological treatise, Earth in the Balance, can well be paralleled to Gore’s own life. The book’s central claim—that the environment is at risk of being spoiled at the hands of human treatment—is just a way for the vice president to displace his own psychological angst, the author writes.

“I am not trying to make a long-range diagnosis, only trying to read a man’s own words,” Richard Brookhiser writes. “What the words tell me is that Al Gore is depressed. He is depressed because he feels dead.” The heady essay goes on to say that the book’s subtitle, Ecology and the Human Spirit might be better-named Al Gore Out of Balance.

“The tone and vocabulary Gore uses to address his pet issue show a perturbed spirit, which bodes ill for his judgment should he become president.... He should not be encouraged to clip our sovereignty or pick our pockets in order to repair himself.”

Number crunching

Strategists on each end of the political spectrum are reading this week’s Mason-Dixon poll on the strength of Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Frist in very different ways. The poll gives Frist, up for re-election next year, a 48 percent positive rating and has him winning 55 percent of the vote in a head-to-head contest with Democratic U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., who is threatening to run.

Democratic campaign consultant Bill Fletcher says the numbers “should ring some alarm bells” in the Frist camp. “The big problem is for an incumbent to be so close to 50 percent. I think the polls would encourage a strong Democratic challenge.”

Republican pollster Whit Ayres, who has worked for Frist, disagrees. “The stunning aspect of that poll is that Mr. Ford had a favorable/unfavorable rating of 21 [percent] to 29 [percent],” he says. “So his favorables were less than half that of Sen. Frist and his unfavorables were higher, even though he’s nowhere near as well known.”

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