As chairman of the Republican National Committee for two years, Robert "Mike" Duncan was "the invisible chairman" of the GOP, according to RNC Committee member Shawn Steel.
Mr. Duncan, a 58-year-old banker and attorney from Kentucky, lost a re-election bid for RNC chairman in January to the more high-profile Michael Steele. But the outspoken Mr. Steele since has sparked criticism and led Houston Chronicle political columnist Kathleen Parker recently to observe that many Republicans are nostalgic for "whatshisname" - the guy who ran the party before, the guy whose name no one can quite remember.
"At least he kept the trains running on time," Ms. Parker said of Mr. Duncan's behind-the-scenes management style.
As the new chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority, Mr. Duncan again is taking a lower profile than the 14 predecessors who have led TVA since its creation in 1933. He says he wants to "keep the trains running on time" by continuing to push more responsibility for daily management of the agency to TVA President Tom Kilgore.
From his home in Inez, Ky., Mr. Duncan spoke by telephone last week with the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Q: What were your impressions of TVA before joining the board?
A: I was born in Scott County, Tenn., and my father has operated a general store in McCreary County, Ky., which he has had for 62 years. So I do have valley connections and I've grown up knowing about TVA and rural electrification and how it changed people's lives. The creation of TVA was very unique because it was both fish and fowl as far as a government corporation vs. private industry. I come with an historic knowledge of the good that TVA has done as well as some of the controversies and challenges that TVA has had.
Q: What is TVA's biggest challenge today?
A: Earning and building public trust is the thing that we must do. I think TVA has enjoyed a tremendous amount of good will through the years, but I think there have been times that people have questioned what TVA does. I believe in the new governance structure that Congress adopted (in 2006 to create the part-time TVA board), and I give Sen. (Bill) Frist a lot of credit for bringing us into a more modern, corporate structure. I don't see my role as an executive. As board chairman, I'm first among equals among directors and our big responsibility is to choose and support the CEO. I think we need to continue to work toward that transition from a management board to a policy-making board.
Q: How has the coal ash spill at Kingston tarnished TVA's image?
A: Every day, every person at TVA has to get up with the idea that they will earn and maintain the public's trust. Kingston is one of those things we have to work on and make sure we do the right thing there. I certainly am eager for the consultant's report on the root-cause analysis of this accident, and we want to see that to understand all of the lessons and changes we may need to make.
Q: There are legislative and regulatory proposals in Washington to cut carbon emissions, abolish wet coal ash storage and mandate renewable energy generation. How is TVA responding to these proposed environmental changes?
A: Those are policy decisions that are going to be made at the congressional and at the executive level in this country. Our job would be to make sure that the Tennessee Valley Authority is a leader and that we meet or exceed those goals that are given to us by the Congress.
From my standpoint, I think it all begins with conservation and I think we're going to do a good job in teaching people how to conserve energy.
I think we also have to have more of an emphasis on renewable energy, and I was pleased to see us put out for proposals requests for another 2,000 megawatts of energy from renewable sources. I look forward to having us have any many of those sources on line as we can.
I continue to support our nuclear power program, and I think coal, for the foreseeable future, will continue to be a part of our energy mix. I think natural gas will also be needed, and I hope to see us do more with solar and wind and be a real leader in promoting hybrid and electric-powered cars.
Q: What do you think of the current management of TVA?
A: I think that Tom Kilgore has done an excellent job, and I support him fully. I look forward to Tom's continued leadership.