Ned McWherter

Ned McWherter bigraphy, stories - Governor of Tennessee & Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives

Ned McWherter : biography

October 15, 1930 – April 4, 2011

Ned Ray McWherter (October 15, 1930April 4, 2011) was an American politician who served as the 46th Governor of Tennessee, from 1987 to 1995. Prior to that, he served as Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives from 1973 to 1987, the longest tenure as Speaker up to that time.Billy Stair, The Life and Career of Ned McWherter (State Public Affairs Office, 2011).

Tennessee House of Representatives

McWherter became actively involved in politics in the late 1950s, when he worked for the successful campaign of 8th district congressional candidate, Robert "Fats" Everett. In 1968, Doug Murphy, the Mayor of Martin, convinced him to run for Weakley County’s seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives. McWherter won the seat without opposition. He was reelected to the seat eight times, usually running unopposed.

McWherter entered the House of Representatives at a turbulent time in state politics. During his first term, Republicans controlled the House for the first time in several decades. During his second (1971–1973), Democrats regained control of the House, but a Republican governor, Winfield Dunn, had been elected. To counter Dunn, Democrats chose fiery Nashville attorney James McKinney as Speaker of the House. McKinney vehemently opposed Dunn’s initiatives and refused to consider most of his legislation.

At the beginning of McWherter’s third term (1973–1975), Democratic legislators, who controlled the House by a slim 50-49 margin, were concerned that McKinney’s stubbornness was preventing the state from conducting its affairs, and several suggested replacing McKinney with McWherter. In the House Democratic Caucus, McWherter was chosen over McKinney as the party’s choice for Speaker by a single vote. Sensing disunity among Democrats, Governor Dunn tried to convince disgruntled McKinney supporters to vote for a Republican in the full House vote, but was unsuccessful, and McWherter was elected Speaker by a 50-49 margin.

One of McWherter’s first major issues as Speaker was a 1974 bill that sought to establish a medical school at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. The bill was popular in East Tennessee, parts of which were struggling with a low doctors-per-capita ratio. Governor Dunn, however, vetoed the bill, arguing the medical school in Memphis was adequate for the state’s needs. This sparked cries of favoritism from East Tennesseans (Dunn was from Memphis). After the state senate voted to override the veto, McWherter, brushing off a threat from former Memphis mayor Henry Loeb, led the House in overriding the veto, allowing the bill to become law.

In 1976, McWherter supported Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter. At a Carter campaign event in Memphis, McWherter expressed irritation with an ABC cameraman, prompting reporter Sam Donaldson to tell the cameraman, "don’t mind him, he’s a nobody." Years later, when President Ronald Reagan was scheduled to appear before the Tennessee General Assembly, McWherter removed Donaldson’s name from the media credentials list. When Donaldson showed up at the state capitol, he was denied admission by the House sergeant-at-arms. After issuing a string of profanities, Donaldson stormed out of the building and returned to Washington.

In January 1979, outgoing Governor Ray Blanton issued pardons to over 50 state inmates, including several convicted murderers. His administration had been under investigation for selling pardons, and the FBI and state lawmakers feared more illicit pardons would be issued in his final days in office. To prevent this, McWherter and Lieutenant Governor John S. Wilder engineered a constitutional maneuver that allowed the governor-elect, Lamar Alexander, to be sworn in three days early.

During the 1980s, McWherter worked with the Alexander administration on a number of issues, including foreign investment and education. McWherter’s support was critical in helping Alexander obtain passage of the "Career Ladder" bill, which provided income supplements to the state’s top teachers.