Courting support for his U.S. Senate campaign, Phil Bredesen fielded an array of questions in mostly warm and friendly territory at his ‘Memphis Matters’ Ideas Forum at Rhodes College Thursday evening.
The two-term governor received sporadic applause during a question and answer session moderated by Deidre Malone, chairman of the NAACP Memphis branch. He also got two standing ovations, one during and one after the session.
On the sidewalk leading up to McNeill Concert Hall, someone posed a life-sized cardboard cutout of U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Bredesen’s opponent in the senate race to replace retiring U.S. Senator Bob Corker.
Blackburn was invited to debate Bredesen at the event but declined the invitation.
Bredesen said he did the ideas forum anyway because he believes it is important for candidates to come out and meet people and answer their questions face to face without the campaign advertising on television and through printed flyers.
“Some of them (questions) are friendly and some of them are not so friendly, but the voters get to see how they (candidates) handle themselves in those types of circumstances,” Bredesen said. “That’s one of the great things about debates…I was disappointed the congresswoman decided not to do Memphis here but I decided to come anyway.
“The bottom line is this is a really important part of our state and I believe it deserves attention to the issues that are important here,” Bredesen said. “I just want to do the best job I can to address those issues.”
One audience member asked what Bredesen would do about the fact that Memphis is often ignored by politicians once they are in office. He also asked how Bredesen would help draw industry and more jobs to Memphis.
“The first thing I would do as senator is actually come to Memphis and listen to everybody,” Bredesen said to wild applause.
Bredesen said that two things in his background help him to understand the challenges cities face in recruiting and retaining businesses – he served eight years as mayor of Nashville and spent some time in the private sector before that in business.
“I’ve certainly found that when it comes to recruiting businesses and establishing the environment in which businesses can prosper having been in that decision process and having done these things really help in that regard,” Bredesen said.
Bredesen was asked about the woman President Donald Trump granted clemency to who was in federal prison on non-violent drug charges and how Bredesen might impact the war on drugs.
Bredesen said it’s a complicated issue because a lot of the people who are in prison are in state prisons controlled by state and local authorities.
Mandatory sentencing guidelines is a federal issue, he said.
“I think restoring some flexibility for these judges who understand the circumstances is a sensible thing…Second of all, I’m a firm believer in intervention… I have a particular interest in having in the school system some access to some of these types of services.”
One audience member asked Bredesen about his views on the opioid crisis.
“Obviously it’s a serious problem and in some other parts of our state it’s a more serious problem than here, like in some of the rural counties…,” Bredesen said. “I think it is a couple of different things. First of all, I really want to focus on prevention… But once someone is addicted it’s so expensive (to treat).”
Bredesen said pill mills and some physicians push the pills on consumers with no regard of the consequences.
He said the law the DEA once used to seize large shipments of pills had been “defanged” by Congress.
“It’s an issue in this campaign because my opponent was a leader in passing that law,” Bredesen said.
“When I get there I’d like to reestablish the DEA’s authority to deal with these things,” he said.
In addition to audience questions, Bredesen also answered questions submitted on Twitter that were read by Malone. One asked if black lives matter.
“Of course they do,” he said. In addressing the underlying problem, “I think we need to do a lot more training of law enforcement,” he said.
“…I think we’re also in a position now with technology, body cams and so forth, to have more accountability than at any time in the past.”
A Twitter question asked what Bredesen would do to address wage inequity.
“It’s become a real issue in this country and some of it is inequity between men and women and along racial lines,” Bredesen said. “…I think that ultimately, making sure that people are well prepared for the kind of jobs we will have in the future….is very important…but I think also exposing the disparities (in wages) is one of the ways of addressing it.”
An audience member asked why college students should vote for Bredesen. “What can you offer us,” she asked?
Bredesen said he has a particular interest in student loans so that students can have the means to go to college without be taken advantage of.
Asked about the biggest problem in the United States, Bredesen said it’s, “the total inability of Washington to get things done.”
He said his first job when he gets to the senate is to be part of the solution in getting Congress working again and doing its job.
Asked about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Bredesen said he believes the president has a right to appoint his own selections for the Supreme Court and the Senate is there to advise and to evaluate the candidates.
James Deke Pope said he came away from the forum disappointed.
“I think it was a general presentation, he wouldn’t allow himself to be nailed down to any specific decisions,” he said. “And of course the one issue I’m here for is I saw in the newspaper that he had not made a decision on whether he would vote for Judge Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, which is a lifetime decision, and Kavanaugh has written over the last 15 years what he would do on many great issues like Roe vs. Wade…
“So even though I voted for him two times for governor I can’t vote for him if he’s going to vote for Judge Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court…He didn’t say he would and didn’t say he wouldn’t but at this point in time he should have made a decision. If he can’t make a decision on that, he can’t make a decision on the other issues.”
Ann Riordan said she was “very pleased: with what Bredesen said in his presentation.
“Of course I am a supporter,” she said. “And actually, my girlfriend and I were talking and I said I’m glad Marsha (Blackburn) wasn’t here. It would have brought me down.”
Yvonne B. Acey said she also thought it was an excellent presentation.
“He dealt with issues. Maybe he didn’t answer all of the questions but he certainly proved that Memphis matters,” she said. “He came to Shelby County and he came to the people…I think once you express yourself there is hope.”