KINGSPORT — The question follows Kim McMillan wherever she goes to speak, and it came up again when she addressed a Sullivan County Democratic Women’s group on Saturday.
McMillan, senior adviser to Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, was asked: Will you run for governor in 2010?
McMillan, who said she has not yet formed an exploratory committee for a gubernatorial bid, did not give a “yes” or “no” response to the question. Under Tennessee law, Bredesen cannot run for a third term in office.
“I am very honored and privileged to be able to work for Governor Bredesen and to help him promote his agenda, and that’s kind of where I’m going at this point,” said McMillan, a former state House majority leader. “But I’m certainly trying to listen to everybody and take the good advice from people about what I ought to do. I can tell you that after 13 years in state government, including 12 years in the legislature, I truly love public service. I love being able to do what I can to help the people of Tennessee. After 13 years, I don’t want to say that will be the end. I’m certainly looking at what other opportunities may be out there, but right now I’m focused on the governor and his agenda.”
During her remarks, McMillan talked up Bredesen’s accomplishments and tried to lend support to state Reps. Nathan Vaughn of Kingsport and Eddie Yokley of Greeneville — two Democrats who expect to have Republican opponents in their re-election bids next year.
She also reflected on her early years as a lawmaker and the tenure of former Gov. Don Sundquist, a Republican who unsuccessfully tried to push through a state income tax in 2002.
“All of you know what happened in the eight years he was in the governor’s office,” McMillan said of Sundquist. “Even though we had a Democratic majority in the House and in the Senate, we weren’t able to overcome a lot of the things that were done by the Sundquist administration ... it took a businessman and a governor like Phil Bredesen to get things straightened up, work things out and make sure the state is running properly.
“The people of Tennessee realize Republicans do not have a lock on running good government. They don’t have a lock on fiscal responsibility. They don’t have a lock on the things that a lot of people believe Republicans may have a lock. I think Phil Bredesen and representatives like Nathan and Eddie have proven that Democrats can run a tight ship. They do know how to manage money. They do know how to be fiscally responsible. They can run government the way that makes sense for the people of Tennessee.”
McMillan noted that Bredesen fixed TennCare — the state’s multibillion-dollar Medicaid program — in addition to starting the Cover Tennessee health care initiative covering workers in small businesses.
“The good Democrats said ‘It’s not all about the people who were disenrolled from TennCare,’” she said. “What about those 700,000 people in Tennessee who don’t have access to any insurance? What about those 110,000 children who don’t have access to health insurance? We need to do something to help those people, too.”
She stressed that Democrats have pushed harder on equality issues.
McMillan recalled she once sponsored a bill to bring equal pay to women.
“I thought ‘Who could be against a bill that would say that a woman who is doing the same job as a man ought to be paid the same?’ How can you be against that ... to a woman who is doing her job every day and working hard ... that she ought to not get 70 cents on the dollar for what a man would get paid for the same job,” she said. “It got killed in committee .... it got killed by the Republican women in the General Assembly.”
Vaughn told the group that McMillan’s job is to look after Bredesen’s legislative agenda and work with lawmakers.
“She’s in a position to understand that legislative process,” he said. “She’s really been a real help to the governor ... sometimes we are very difficult to deal with. ... She’s there to make sure the governor’s priorities are going to be on the front burner of the legislature.”