VOL. 124 | NO. 90 | Friday, May 8, 2009
Memphis’ Kyle Has Budget Woes, Possible Run at Governor on Mind
By Andy Meek
Occupation: State Senator
Basics: The Memphis Democrat is considering a bid for Tennessee governor.
“I’d want to decide if I can win (the governor’s race). Just to be blunt. That’s the first thing. But I put that off because … I’m at the center of the (legislative) storm.”
– Sen. Jim Kyle
A few weeks ago, followers of state Sen. Jim Kyle’s Twitter feed took note of a seemingly ordinary post that sparked a round of political speculation.
“Daughter at first boy/girl dance,” Kyle typed. “If all this expensive, will need second job. Hmmm… been thinking about changing jobs.”
A founding partner of the law firm Domico & Kyle PLLC, the Memphis Democrat has made no secret of his interest in turning a page in his political career and launching a possible bid for the governor’s office. He’s made a few passing references to the race for the nearly 500 followers of his Twitter postings, and in one note went so far as to say he won’t make a decision until after the current legislative session ends.
Tweets to follow
To a degree that’s still not common for the average politician, the Internet messaging service has served as a regular outlet for the more than 20-year veteran of the state Legislature. Kyle’s postings include behind-the-scenes commentary and thoughts about life as a longtime legislator.
Kyle typed a quick note Wednesday morning about the first bill on the agenda for that day’s Senate Finance Committee meeting.
“Presently the collective intellect of the Finance Committee cannot understand Senator Bunch’s ‘dog’ bill,” wrote Kyle about legislation sponsored by Cleveland Republican Sen. Dewayne Bunch to change the way dog and cat dealers are licensed.
Earlier this week, the senator noted in an early morning post: “Just passed a bill out of committee that allows oral informal opinions of State Ethics Commission. Perhaps they should just Twitter.”
The width and breadth of his feelings about things such as the governor’s race and his take on the glut of issues confronting legislators at the moment, not surprisingly, don’t lend themselves to the 140-character maximum allowed in Twitter postings.
Kyle told The Daily News he’ll have more to say about the governor’s race once he’s out of what he refers to as the “center of the storm.” That storm, in his view, involves the dire financial straits confronting Tennessee and the hard budget choices that are going to have to be made to close yawning gaps straining state finances.
When asked what he’d base his decision to run for governor on, Kyle responded: “I’d want to decide if I can win. Just to be blunt. That’s the first thing. But I put that off because – and I’m not bragging here, because it’s true – I’m at the center of the storm.
“My job puts me at the center of the storm. And I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to create options for there to be different agendas as to my level of success, because I might be a candidate for governor.”
His current role as Gov. Phil Bredesen’s legislative point man is part of the mix of factors leading him to hold off for now.
“I have a job to do for the governor,” Kyle said. “Many people may not realize this, but there has not been an initiative of Gov. Bredesen’s that I haven’t been the sponsor on or been involved in passing in six years, now seven. That’s just our world up here.”
In a lunchtime speech to the Memphis Rotary Club in January, Kyle said the state’s financial picture is as dire as it’s ever been. Proving that point a little more than a week ago was Senate Speaker and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who was widely quoted as saying Tennessee has entered “scary times,” economically speaking, and that, “We ain’t seen nothing yet.”
The State Funding Board on Thursday projected a shortfall this year between $111 million and $157 million, and $161 million and $306 million next year.
“Next year will be real bad, but the year after that will be really, really bad,” he said. “Unless things turn around. See, that’s the beauty and it’s also the two-edged sword of a consumption-based tax system. It can go down and tank in a hurry, but it can come back in a hurry, too.”
The hubbub in the state capital over the usefulness of the federal government’s stimulus funding and how it should be spent has been the subject of much debate among state lawmakers. Kyle said he thinks it’s much ado about nothing.
“We’re spending the stimulus money on stuff we voted to spend the stimulus money on,” he said. “It’s sort of like the family budget, where dad has been laid off four or five months, and then grandma dies. And all of a sudden you’ve got some money to catch up on your bills. Well, you’re going right back down again; you just happen to have gotten your bills taken care of.”
What he said he’s hearing from voters and his constituents is a general optimism that the sour economy will right itself soon.
“I do believe things like what the president is doing is helping in softening the blow,” he said. “This $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit is getting people thinking about buying houses again, and that’s a good thing. I think people are optimistic we’re going to come out of this sooner than later.”