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Phil Bredesen
Governor Bredesen.jpg
Official portrait, 2008
48th Governor of Tennessee
In office
January 18, 2003 – January 15, 2011
Preceded by Don Sundquist
Succeeded by Bill Haslam
4th Mayor of Metropolitan Nashville
In office
September 27, 1991 – September 24, 1999
Preceded by Bill Boner
Succeeded by Bill Purcell
Personal details
Philip Norman Bredesen Jr.

(1943-11-21) November 21, 1943 (age 80)
Oceanport, New Jersey, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Susan Cleaves
(m. 1968; div. 1974)
Andrea Conte
(m. 1974)
Children 1
Education Harvard University (BA)

Philip Norman Bredesen Jr. (/ˈbrɛdəsən/; born November 21, 1943) is an American politician and businessman who served as the 48th governor of Tennessee from 2003 to 2011. A member of the Democratic Party, he was elected in 2002 with 50.6% of the vote and re-elected in 2006 with 68.6%. He served as the 66th mayor of Nashville from 1991 to 1999. Bredesen is the founder of the HealthAmerica Corporation, which he sold in 1986. He is the last Democrat to win and/or hold statewide office in Tennessee.

Since 2011, he has been chair of Silicon Ranch Corporation, a firm that develops and operates solar power stations. On December 6, 2017, Bredesen announced he would run for Bob Corker's open seat in the United States Senate, as Corker chose not to seek reelection in 2018. On August 2, 2018, he won the Democratic primary and faced off against Republican nominee Marsha Blackburn. He lost in the general election on November 6, 2018. After losing the Senate race, he and his campaign team founded Clearloop, a renewable energy startup.

Bredesen has been widely characterized as a moderate Democrat who is fiscally conservative but socially liberal.

Early life and private career

Bredesen was born in Oceanport, New Jersey, the son of Norma Lucille (Walborn) and Philip Norman Bredesen. His parents divorced and his mother was employed as a bank teller. During Bredesen's childhood, his grandmother, who sewed for a living, lived with the family. Bredesen grew up in Shortsville, New York, 30 miles from Rochester. He attended Red Jacket Central Elementary and Secondary School in the adjoining village of Manchester.

He received a scholarship to Harvard University, where he graduated with an undergraduate degree in physics. In 1967, Bredesen moved to Lexington, Massachusetts, where he did classified work for Itek and received a draft deferment during the Vietnam War.

In 1968, Bredesen worked for the campaign of Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy, who was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. Bredesen launched his first political campaign in 1969, when he ran for the Massachusetts State Senate. He was defeated by a popular incumbent Republican, Ronald MacKenzie.

Bredesen joined pharmaceutical firm G.D. Searle & Company in 1971, and moved to London in 1973 to manage one of the company's divisions. In 1974, he married Andrea Conte. In 1975, the family moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where Conte had been recruited by Hospital Corporation of America. In Nashville, Bredesen founded HealthAmerica Corp., an insurance company. He sold his controlling interest in HealthAmerica in 1986, and because of the wealth he earned from the company, did not accept his gubernatorial salary.

Political involvement

Mayor of Nashville

In 1987, Bredesen ran for mayor of Nashville. He finished second out of 10 candidates with 30% of the vote, behind only 5th District Congressman Bill Boner, who won 46%. Since Boner fell short of the necessary threshold for an outright victory, he and Bredesen faced each other in a runoff. Boner won the runoff, 75,790 votes to 66,153, largely by emphasizing that he was a Nashville native while Bredesen was a Northerner.

In December 1987, Bredesen ran in the Democratic primary for the 5th District congressional seat left open by Boner's victory. He finished a distant second behind Bob Clement, son of former governor Frank G. Clement.

..... Bredesen won the election, defeating Councilwoman Betty Nixon, 78,896 votes to 30,282.

As mayor of Nashville, Bredesen added more than 440 new teachers, built 32 new schools and renovated 43 others. He also implemented a back-to-basics curriculum to teach students the fundamentals of learning. Under the Bredesen Administration, the NFL's Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans) were brought to Nashville and furnished with a new stadium, Nissan Stadium; the NHL awarded Nashville its first of four new expansion franchises, the Nashville Predators; and Bridgestone Arena was built. Bredesen also attempted to lure the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves and later the NHL's New Jersey Devils to Nashville, but both efforts were unsuccessful. A new downtown library was built as a cornerstone of major improvements to the entire library system, the city's downtown entertainment district was renovated, and two parks, Beaman Park and Shelby Bottoms, were established.

Bredesen did not run for a third term in 1999. The Metro Charter had been amended in 1994 to limit city council members to two consecutive four-year terms, and was worded in such a way that it appeared to apply to mayors as well. Although mayors had been permitted to serve a maximum of three consecutive terms since the formation of Metro Nashville in 1963, Bredesen did not make an issue of that.

Governor of Tennessee

Official portrait of Phil Bredesen
Official portrait of Phil Bredesen, hanging in the Tennessee State Capitol

Bredesen declared his candidacy for the 1994 Tennessee gubernatorial election in November 1993. He won the Democratic nomination for governor, capturing 53% of the vote in a primary that included more than a half-dozen candidates, among them Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris and state senator Steve Cohen. In the November general election, Bredesen was defeated by the Republican nominee, 7th district U.S. Representative Don Sundquist, 807,104 votes to 664,252.

Bredesen ran for governor of Tennessee again in 2002. He easily won the Democratic nomination, capturing nearly 80% of the vote in a six-candidate primary, and faced Republican 4th district U.S. Representative Van Hilleary in November (the incumbent, Sundquist, was term-limited). Bredesen promised to manage state government better, improve Tennessee's schools and use his experience as a managed-care executive to fix TennCare, which had created a critical budget shortfall toward the end of Sundquist's term. His reputation as a moderate Democrat was well established (he is a member of the "good government" faction of the Nashville Democratic Party), so Hilleary's attempts to brand him as a liberal ultimately failed. Republicans also suffered from Sundquist's unpopular attempts to implement a state income tax. Bredesen garnered more support in East Tennessee than was usual for a Democrat, especially one from Nashville. In November, Bredesen narrowly defeated Hilleary, 837,284 votes to 786,803.

First term

Phil bredesen
Bredesen in 2003

Bredesen became governor amid a fiscal crisis, with a predicted state budget shortfall of $800 million. Much of the shortfall was due to TennCare, which was $650 million over budget. Sundquist had hoped to remedy the budget shortfall by implementing an income tax, but this proved wildly unpopular and was never enacted. Bredesen argued that services would have to be cut, saying, "you can't have Massachusetts services and Tennessee taxes." In 2003, he signed a 9% across-the-board spending cut. In 2004, he enacted a series of changes to TennCare, essentially removing 191,000 Medicaid-eligible patients and reducing benefits. By 2006, these changes had reduced the program's cost by more than $500 million. Bredesen used some of the savings to establish a "safety net" for health clinics affected by the cuts. In 2006, he implemented "Cover Tennessee" to cover people with preexisting conditions and the uninsured.

During his first term, Bredesen enacted a number of measures aimed at improving education. In 2003, the state established the Tennessee Lottery to fund college scholarships for the state's high school graduates. Teachers' pay was raised above the average salary in the Southeast, and Tennessee's pre-kindergarten initiative was expanded to include a statewide program for four-year-olds. Bredesen created the Governor's Books from Birth Foundation, a statewide expansion of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library that offers free books for children, and in his fourth year, he signed legislation that increased funding for education by $366.5 million, much of which came from savings due to TennCare reform.

To attract new industry, Bredesen worked with the General Assembly to reform Tennessee's worker compensation system (changes supported by the business community and opposed by trial lawyers), and invest in programs to help laid-off employees develop new skills. During his tenure, 2,889 companies, including Nissan and International Paper, expanded or moved to Tennessee, bringing more than 104,000 jobs and $12.8 billion in new business investment to the state.

..... In 2005, Bredesen signed legislation establishing the Tennessee Heritage Conservation Trust Fund, which increased the state's land-buying power in hopes of protecting ecologically significant land and conserving or restoring historically significant areas.

In his 2006 reelection campaign, Bredesen brushed off a primary challenge from John Jay Hooker, winning nearly 90% of the vote. In the general election, he defeated State Senator Jim Bryson, 1,247,491 votes to 540,853, sweeping all 95 counties and garnering more votes than any gubernatorial candidate in state history.

Second term

Phil Bredesen 1
Bredesen at the 2008 Governor's Luncheon
FEMA - 43993 - Flood survivor tells story to FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate and Governor Phil Bredesen
Bredesen meeting with FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate (back)

In 2007, Bredesen was criticized for proposing a private donation funded $4.8 million dining room upgrade to entertain lawmakers and other dignitaries to the Tennessee Governor's Mansion. Critics labelled the proposed complex "Bredesen's Bunker," and derided it as too elaborate and expensive.

In August 2008, Bredesen enacted further cuts to TennCare, placing restrictions on services to 10,800 TennCare patients who received some type of home nursing care. The new limits affected about 1,000 of those patients.

In the 2008 elections, Republicans gained control of both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time since Reconstruction. The onset of the Great Recession also limited what Bredesen could accomplish during his remaining years in office. In 2009, he called for nearly $129 million in state spending cuts and enacted a voluntary buyout for state employees that reduced the workforce by 5% without requiring layoffs. In April 2009, Bredesen signed a bill into law which eliminated thumbprint requirements for gun purchases. In May 2009, Bredesen vetoed a bill that would have allowed people to carry guns in bars, but the legislature overrode his veto. In June 2009, Bredesen signed a bill into law allowing loaded guns in cars.


Since leaving the governor's office in 2011, Bredesen has been the chairman of a solar energy plant developer.

Viewed by many as a moderate Democrat based in the South, Bredesen was touted as a potential presidential candidate in 2008, but he said he had no interest in joining the wide field of Democrats seeking the nomination. He did not comment on joining a Democratic ticket as Vice President of the United States. On June 4, 2008, Bredesen endorsed Barack Obama for U.S. president. Following the withdrawal of former Senator Tom Daschle as nominee for United States Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama Administration, The Atlantic correspondent Marc Ambinder reported that Bredesen was being vetted as a possible replacement. Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius was eventually chosen for the post.

2018 U.S. Senate campaign

On September 26, 2017, incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker announced he would not seek reelection in 2018. On December 6, 2017, Bredesen announced that he would run for Corker's open seat. Bredesen won the Democratic primary on August 2, 2018, with 348,302 votes (91.50%). Marsha Blackburn won the Republican primary on the same day.

In April 2018, Corker said that Bredesen was "a very good mayor, a very good governor, a very good business person" with "real appeal" and "crossover appeal", and that the two of them had cooperated well over the years, but that he would vote for Blackburn and contribute to her campaign. Corker said that he would not campaign against Bredesen. After Corker's praise for Bredesen, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned Corker that such comments could cost the Republican Party its Senate majority. Shortly after Corker's comments, President Donald Trump tweeted an endorsement of Marsha Blackburn, who was running for the Republican nomination in the Senate race. During the campaign, Trump attacked Bredesen.

According to Politico, Bredesen represents a "center-right coalition" including "Chamber of Commerce-type Republicans." During the campaign, Bredesen said that he opposed Trump's tariff policy, saying that the tariffs amounted to a tax on Tennesseans and "they will drive up prices, hurt our economy and will cost jobs, especially in our important automotive sector". Bredesen praised Corker for publicly opposing Trump's tariff policy.

In October 2018, singer-songwriter Taylor Swift endorsed Bredesen. The endorsement was notable because Swift had never been publicly political before. She said Blackburn's "voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me" and shared a link to the nonpartisan voter registration website, which saw a significant spike in page views and new registrations.

Blackburn defeated Bredesen in the November 6 election. Although polls showed the race to be close for much of the cycle, Blackburn pulled ahead after the confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which are believed to have mobilized Republican voters. In the general election, Bredesen lost by just over ten points, taking 43.9 percent of the vote to Blackburn's 54.7 percent. He carried only three counties — Davidson, Shelby and Haywood. The race was called for Blackburn less than half an hour after the polls closed.

Political positions

Bredesen has been described as a moderate Democrat. According to The Tennessean, he is a "political moderate", "known for his middle-of-the-road, fiscally conservative politics" and has "occasionally irritated liberals in his party". On The Issues, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization that examines politicians' records and statements, identifies Bredesen as a "moderate populist conservative". According to the Political Encyclopedia of U.S. States and Regions, Bredesen has embraced both fiscal conservatism and social liberalism "in a way that has a broad appeal to voters across the political spectrum". In his 2018 Senate campaign, Bredesen ran on a moderate platform.

The New York Times wrote of Bredesen's 2018 campaign that "in an indication of how precarious it can be to run statewide as a Democrat in the South, he also made no mention of his party and did not refer to President Trump by name."

Social issues

Bredesen has said the Affordable Care Act "needs fixing." In 2018, he said, "I was not a fan of the Affordable Care Act but when it passed, I said, 'it's the law of the land, let's make it work.'"

..... He supported a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in 2006, but supported the right of same-sex couples to adopt children. He supports non-discrimination protections for same-sex couples. Bredesen is a supporter of capital punishment.

Bredesen had an A rating from the National Rifle Association of America (NRA) as governor, but in 2018, the NRA gave him a D rating. During his Senate campaign, he has expressed his support for the 2nd Amendment and described himself as a gun owner. His campaign disagrees with the D rating and has responded that Bredesen "agrees with 80-plus percent of NRA's positions [but] differs, for example, by supporting gun show background checks." In the wake of the February 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, Bredesen called for universal background checks for gun purchases (including those made at gun shows), tighter checks for mental illness, and a ban on bump stocks. As governor, he vetoed bills to allow guns in bars or restaurants that serve alcohol. He also signed into law a bill allowing gun owners with handgun permits to carry their firearms in public parks. In 2009, Bredesen said he would not veto a bill exempting certain firearms from federal regulations, allowing the bill to become law without his signature, but he had vetoed a similar bill earlier (his veto was overridden).

Regarding immigration issues, Bredesen has taken positions that are commonly associated with both parties. In 2004, Bredesen introduced a bill to "end the practice of issuing state drivers' licenses to undocumented persons." He supports DACA for undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children.

Judicial nominees

In October 2018, Bredesen broke with the Democratic Party and endorsed the confirmation of Trump's second Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. The endorsement came the day before the final confirmation vote on the nomination.

Economic and fiscal issues

On fiscal issues, Bredesen leans conservative. He ran for governor opposing the state income tax and as governor made cuts to the state's government health care plan due to its financial trouble. Bredesen opposed the Republican Party's 2017 tax reform, saying it provided "crumbs" to the middle class. As governor, he proposed increasing taxes on cigarettes. In 2007, he expressed uncertainty about the Bush tax cuts stating they would not help everyone. He also sought to eliminate the grocery tax break arguing that funding was needed for the state's budget. He did not raise the sales tax and opposed raising taxes on gas, but did support increasing a tax on cable services. He supports an increase in the minimum wage.

Personal life

Bredesen married Susan Cleaves in 1968. They divorced in 1974 and had no children. Later that year, he married Andrea Conte in Wheatley, Oxfordshire, England. The two have one son, Ben.

As of 2018, Bredesen's net worth was estimated to be between $88.9 million and $358 million.

Bredesen is a founding member of the nonprofit Nashville's Table and he served on the board of the Frist Center.

Electoral history

Tennessee gubernatorial election, 1994
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican Don Sundquist 807,104 54.27%
Democratic Phil Bredesen 664,252 44.67%
Independent Stephanie E. Holt 9,981 0.67%
Independent Will Smith 3,365 0.23%
Independent Charlie Moffett 2,347 0.16%
N/A Write-ins 81 0.01%
Total votes 1,487,130 100%
Republican gain from Democrat Swing
Democratic Party primary results
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Phil Bredesen 426,418 79.05
Democratic Randy Nichols 38,322 7.10
Democratic Charles E. Smith 34,547 6.40
Democratic Charles V. Brown 17,506 3.25
Democratic L. Best 16,007 2.97
Democratic Floyd R. Conover 6,218 1.15
Democratic Write-ins 420 0.08
Total votes 539,438 100.00
Tennessee gubernatorial election, 2002
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Phil Bredesen 837,284 50.65% +21.17%
Republican Van Hilleary 786,803 47.59% -21.03%
Independent Edwin C. Sanders 7,749 0.47%
Independent Carl Two Feathers Whitaker 5,308 0.32%
Independent John Jay Hooker 4,577 0.28%
Independent David Gatchell 2,991 0.18%
Independent Gabriel Givens 1,591 0.10%
Independent Ray Ledford 1,589 0.10%
Independent James E. Herren 1,210 0.07%
Independent Charles V. Wilhoit, Jr. 898 0.05%
Independent Marivuana Stout Leinoff 645 0.04%
Independent Francis E. Waldron 635 0.04%
Independent Ronny Simmons 630 0.04%
Independent Robert O. Watson 579 0.04%
Independent Basil Marceaux 302 0.02%
Write-ins 376 0.02%
Majority 50,481 3.05% -36.10%
Turnout 1,653,167
Democrat gain from Republican Swing
Democratic Party primary results
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Phil Bredesen (incumbent) 393,004 88.50
Democratic John Jay Hooker 31,933 7.19
Democratic Tim Sevier 11,562 2.60
Democratic Walt Ward 7,555 1.70
Total votes 444,054 100.00
Tennessee gubernatorial election, 2006
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Phil Bredesen (incumbent) 1,247,491 68.60% +17.95%
Republican Jim Bryson 540,853 29.74% -17.85%
Independent Carl Two Feathers Whitaker 11,374 0.63%
Independent George Banks 7,531 0.41%
Independent Charles E. Smith 4,083 0.22%
Independent Howard W. Switzer 2,711 0.15%
Independent David Gatchell 2,385 0.13%
Independent Marivuana Stout Leinoff 2,114 0.12%
Write-ins 7 0.00%
Majority 706,638 38.86% +35.80%
Turnout 1,818,549
Democrat hold Swing
Democratic primary results, Tennessee 2018
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Phil Bredesen 349,718 91.51%
Democratic Gary Davis 20,170 5.28%
Democratic John Wolfe Jr. 12,269 3.21%
Total votes 382,157 100%
2018 United States Senate election in Tennessee
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican Marsha Blackburn 1,227,483 54.71% -10.18%
Democratic Phil Bredesen 985,450 43.92% +13.51%
Independent Trudy Austin 9,455 0.42% N/A
Independent Dean Hill 8,717 0.39% N/A
Independent Kris L. Todd 5,084 0.23% N/A
Independent John Carico 3,398 0.15% N/A
Independent Breton Phillips 2,226 0.10% N/A
Independent Kevin Lee McCants 1,927 0.09% N/A
Total votes 2,243,740 100% N/A
Republican hold

See also

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