Tennessee lawmakers are remembering former Governor Ned McWherter as a politician of the people who worked across party lines. He died Monday at age 80 after battling cancer.
Before being elected to statewide office, McWherter served as House Speaker. Fellow West Tennessee Democrat Jimmy Naifeh stepped into that role when McWherter became governor. Naifeh, holding back tears, calls him a mentor.
“The way I handled myself in the legislature…I tried to mold myself after … the way he had taught me.”
As recently as earlier this year, McWherter was offering tips to current Governor Bill Haslam, a Republican who beat out McWherter’s son for the job. In a statement, Haslam says he’s thankful for the “wise advice.” He calls this a sad day for Tennessee.
Republican Senator Lamar Alexander was elected governor at a time when the General Assembly was controlled by Democrats, including then-House Speaker Ned McWherter. Alexander says a “bipartisan spirit” symbolized the two-term governor’s career.
“A lot of it was his willingness to say to a new young governor of the opposite party, ‘I’m going to help you succeed, because if you succeed, our state succeeds.’”
Alexander says about week ago he spoke by phone to McWherter as the ailing politician was going to the doctor to see if he had – in his words – “a short fuse or a long fuse.”