Good start, governor, now try to keep it going

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
January 19, 2003

An open letter to our new governor:

Dear Governor Bredesen,

So far, so good. In your first 24 hours in office, you've broken no campaign pledges, you haven't pardoned any murderers and your PR from Saturday was positive. You haven't adjusted any tax collection forecasts. No one from either political party has called for you resign. John J. Hooker didn't even criticize you yesterday. It doesn't get much easier than this.

Whether or not it gets any better than this depends on a lot of different factors. Some you can control; others you cannot. You're a smart guy, so I suspect you will mostly worry about the things you can control.

Please remember the proper role of government. Government never created a nickel of wealth. All it can do is reallocate resources created by the private sector. The power to tax is the power to destroy. Propose the use of that power carefully - and sparingly.

In your first day, it seems you've done more bridge building than burning. Keep it up. Of course, you haven't approached many bridges yet, either. Don't pit one group of citizens against another just to get your way on an issue. Class warfare may be effective in politics, but it makes for very, very bad economics.

Manage the state's balance sheet, not just the income statement. Most of our family fights in the last four years were about the income statement, but we ignored our balance sheet. You know exactly what I mean when I write this.

Have fun. And let us see it. Don't just create photo-ops. You're a rich guy and most of us want to think rich people always enjoy life, even if they often don't. Give us something to shoot for.

Fix TennCare. I'm not sure what that means, but everybody says it needs to be done. When a quarter of the state's budget is spent providing medical insurance for a quarter of the state's residents - and the medical community still isn't getting paid for their services - something is broken.

Don't create any new "recipient constituencies." That's what we did when we created TennCare and now people expect to receive state provided medical insurance. Putting toothpaste back into the tube is tough for anybody; it's impossible for an elected body.

Be careful with the lottery. A majority of Tennesseans supported it. Please don't let its implementation or the use of its net proceeds create divisions where none previously existed.

During your campaign, you noted that most Tennesseans - regardless of political affiliation - agree about a lot of things. I might favor school vouchers and you might prefer to increase teacher salaries. But we both agree that our school buildings shouldn't leak and all of our students need proper textbooks. Don't let political gamesmanship push you to the philosophical extremes at the expense of the areas we all agree we have core needs.

But when you are strongly moved to adopt a controversial position, think it through clearly. Ask advice from smart liberals and conservatives, make up your mind - then do it. Lead. That would be nice change for Tennessee, I think.

I hope you have great success. You are off to a fantastic start. Let's see what happens on Day Two.



David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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