Cooper: Corker's pragmatic leadership

Cooper: Corker's pragmatic leadership

September 27th, 2017 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., second from left, has said he won't run for a third term.

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

United States Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., left the door open two weeks ago as to whether he would run for a third term, but on Tuesday he closed that door by saying he would not run.

We wish he would have, just as we wish the former Chattanooga mayor had been offered the vice presidential slot on President Donald Trump's 2016 ticket, or secretary of state under Trump once he was elected.

Corker, 65, may be glad he wasn't offered either job, but we like the thought of the steady, pragmatic former businessman advising the frenetic, bombastic president.

Nevertheless, as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, he has had his hand on the pulse of the nation's foreign policy and will continue to do so until January 2019.

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Since Tennessee is now a deeply red state, Republicans should not have too much difficulty holding on to the seat, but the incumbent would have had little trouble winning a third term.

Corker, though, has always been his own man. He first ran for Senate in 1994 but was defeated in the Republican primary by Bill Frist. He then took the post of commissioner of finance and administration under Tennessee Republican Don Sundquist but left after only two years. In 2001, he ran for mayor of Chattanooga, won easily, revitalized Chattanooga's waterfront, then declined to run for a second term he would have won handily.

Instead, he ran for Senate when Frist retired in 2006 and was the only freshman Republican elected in a year Democrats regained control of the body.

Corker was one of the many who deserve credit for Volkswagen's announcement in July 2008 — with an assist from millions in state and local money — to build a U.S. assembly plant in Chattanooga. That plant, according to Volkswagen Group of America, now employs 3,200 and 9,500 more in indirect suppliers.

It wouldn't be his only foray into the world of automobiles for the year, or for his tenure.

Only months later in 2008, when the Great Recession took hold, Corker was one of only 16 senators who opposed the tax rebate stimulus plan and later opposed the federal bailout of General Motors and Chrysler. It was his belief no federal funds should be provided unless concessions such as cuts in labor costs were made. Ultimately, talks broke down, but the carmakers did get federal relief after they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

In 2014, when the United Auto Workers (UAW) attempted to unionize the Volkswagen plant and get a foothold among foreign carmakers in the South, he said publicly that he'd been assured if the UAW were defeated the company would get a second automobile manufacturing line. The union was defeated, and, two years later, the company announced the plant would have a second line, the Atlas.

As Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, he worked to delay implementation of President Barack Obama's one-sided nuclear arms executive deal with Iran in 2015 and gave Congress the ability to weigh in on it. When all was said and done, though, the ploy to stop the deal failed, and the agreement went into effect.

Throughout Obama's presidency, Corker was a critic of his lackluster overall foreign policy and its disastrous results, especially in the Middle East.

Under Trump, he has tried to be supportive of a more firm hand and more decisive action.

We especially appreciate Corker for prodding Congress in general and the Senate specifically to examine entitlement spending. He has often said — correctly we believe — that ever-increasing entitlement spending will be the ruination of the country, that it must be wrestled with, and sooner rather than later. We hope other senators will take up this mantle before it's too late.

Tennessee's junior senator, we feel, has been "one of the adults in the room" in the Senate. Where many — of both parties — are satisfied to be re-elected over and over and become a part of the Washington establishment, he has kept his own counsel. So while Wednesday's announcement was a surprise, it actually wasn't.

Indeed, it is just like Corker not to do the expected, not to follow conventional wisdom, not to race after the crowd.

In his announcement, he said he had "always been drawn to the citizen legislator model" and that he had said in 2006 he "couldn't imagine serving for more than two terms."

We, too, believe that's the proper legislator model but still wish he would be staying around longer.

Whoever succeeds him — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Peyton Manning? — won't be Corker. But Corker, ever the Energizer Bunny and not about to retire, is likely to find another way to serve, perhaps continuing his senatorial fight against modern slavery.

We appreciate his two terms in the Senate and hope his remaining 15 months in the chamber allow him to see the passage of meaningful legislation and a lessening of turmoil in hot spots around the globe.

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