Photographs with news stories balance the words with images that get to the point. The photo of new Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee that appeared in The Daily Times on Sunday was one of those. Lee is pictured with his right hand raised as he takes the oath of office. A historic moment.
But that wasn’t the only photo sent across the state by The Associated Press. Another one probably not widely printed shows two former governors together in an image we hope doesn’t turn out to be historic. A Republican and a Democrat standing side by side before an inauguration should be the norm, not an object of fascination. Our democracy is lessened if the time comes when adversaries in politics can’t be cordial with one another.
Captured in the moment are Lamar Alexander and Phil Bredesen, two former governors talking and listening to each other.
We don’t know what they talked about, but we do know they both were aware of a historic inauguration that took place in that very hall 40 years ago — at once a low point and a high point in Tennessee gubernatorial history. Until Saturday’s inauguration, which was moved indoors because of a thunderstorm forecast, the last time a governor took the oath of office in Nashville’s War Memorial Auditorium was Jan. 17, 1979. That’s when Alexander was sworn in as governor under dire circumstances. With the support of Democrats — in fact at their instigation — the 38-year-old Maryvillian took office three days early to prevent sitting Democratic Gov. Ray Blanton from selling more pardons for cash.
It’s hard to imagine a more striking example of politicians shedding their party stripes to accomplish what had to be done for the good of Tennessee.
The time will come when Lee will be expected to step up and do what’s right under trying circumstances. It’s the essence of the oath he took.
In his inauguration speech, Lee said “… no governor will solve the problems — in fact, no government will solve the greatest problems that we face.” The new governor also said, “Government is not the answer to our challenges.”
Lee is right about that. Government is not the answer but the opportunity. That’s a governor’s challenge. We wish Lee well, and his constituents expect a job well done. Despite his demurral about government’s limitations, Lee will be expected to find solutions. You can’t spell governor without govern.