Will Congress confirm Obama appointees to TVA in lame duck session?

Will Congress confirm Obama appointees to TVA in lame duck session?

Customer groups want Democrats on TVA board to stay

November 15th, 2016 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

TVA headquarters in downtown Chattanooga.

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

Who is up for reappointment

* Joe Ritch, a Huntsville, Ala., attorney, was elected in 2014 by his fellow TVA directors as board chairman. He has also served as chairman of the Tennessee Valley Base Realignment and Closures Committee since 1994 and as co-chairman of the Tennessee Valley Growth Coordination Group since 2008. From 2005 to 2011, he was a member of the University of Alabama board of trustees.

* Peter Mahurin, a Bowling Green, Ky., businessman who is the chairman of the TVA finance, rates and portfolio committee from Kentucky, is chairman of Hilliard Lyons Financial Services. He is also a member of Houchens Industries, Albany Bancorp, First Cecilian Bancorp, Gray Construction and Jackson Financial. Prior to his time at Hilliard Lyons, Mahurin was a high school math and science teacher.

* Mike McWherter, the chairman of TVA’s exernal relations committee from Jackson, Tenn., is an attorney and businessman and is the son of former Tennessee Gov. Ned McWherter. The younger McWherter ran unsuccessfully in 2009 for governor as a Democrat. He is owner and president of Central Distributors Inc., and Volunteer Distributing Co., Tennessee-based beverage distribution companies. He served as chairman of First State Bank of Union City, and on the board of directors of the Jackson Energy Authority.

TVA Chairman Joe Ritch

TVA Chairman Joe Ritch

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

TVA Director Peter Mahurin

TVA Director Peter Mahurin

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

TVA Director Mike McWherter

TVA Director Mike McWherter

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

One third of TVA's board, including its chairman, will have to be reappointed by the lame duck session of Congress that begins this week in Washington, or the three directors will end their terms on the governing board for America's biggest government power utility at the end of the year.

Tennessee's senators, both Republicans, have previously voiced support for the three board members and said last week they know of no plans to try to block the reappointment of the three Democrats in the GOP-controlled Senate.

But the three Democrats Obama recommended for a second term on the TVA board acknowledged last week that their re-appointments by President Obama are more uncertain after last week's electoral victory by Republican Donald Trump, who could appoint GOP members to the board after he becomes president in January.

TVA Chairman Joe Ritch, who chaired what could be his last meeting of the TVA board last week, quoted the late President John Kennedy who asserted in a 1963 speech at TVA's facilities in Muscle Shoals, Ala., that "TVA's work will never be done.

"Our work at TVA may not be done, but we understand the political situation that we're in," he said, noting that his own work at TVA could end next month if the Senate opts not to confirm him for another term.

Ritch, a Democratic attorney in Huntsville, Ala., who has served as TVA's chairman for more than two years, was nominated by President Obama in July for another 5-year term on the TVA board, along with former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter of Tennessee and Hilliard Lyons Chairman Peter Mahurin of Kentucky. The original terms for the three all expired on May 18, although they are allowed to stay on the TVA board though the end of this year until a successor is named.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the state's senior senator and a key member of one of the Senate panels that oversees TVA, noted that he voted in the past to confirm Ritch, McWherter and Mahurin.

"I have supported these three Democrats and I know of no effort not to confirm them," Alexander said last week during a visit to Chattanooga.

But if the Democrats are not confirmed by the Senate in the next six weeks, they must give up their seats on the board, which pays $50,000 a year to Chairman Ritch and $46,000 a year for each board chairman, including McWherter and Mahurin.

The presidential nominations for directors for the 9-member TVA board must be approved by the U.S. Senate, which has yet to take up the board appointments. Currently, the entire board of TVA was appointed by Obama.

"If I'm back at the next meeting, then I'm back," McWherter said after last week's TVA board meeting in Georgia. "But regardless, I just want to thank everyone from TVA for their hard work. I know my physics teacher in high school would be proud to know that I learned a lot more physics at the TVA board than I did in high school."

Despite the partisan shift in the White House, customer groups and other board members at TVA said the appointees to the TVA board don't necessarily tend to vote along any Democratic or Republican lines.

Jack Simmons, president of the Chattanoga-based Tennessee Valley Public Power Association, said the municipalities and power coops that buy TVA power and distribute it across the Valley are backing the reappointment of the three TVA board members.

"We think consistency and continuity is very important," Simmons said.

Richard Howoth, a former Oxford, Miss., mayor who was reappointed to the TVA board a year ago late in the year, urged Congresss to confirm the nominees. He said it takes most TVA board members a few years to effectively understand and oversee the federal utility and he said it would be difficult to vacate a third of the board at the end of 2017 and then to try to replace three of the key board members with novices.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.


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