If the Senate confirms President Barack Obama's most recent selections for the Tennessee Valley Authority board, its part-time members will for the first time be all Democrats.
Residents of the Tennessee Valley should be perturbed but not surprised at this turn of events.
Although the part-time board was created in 2005 when Republican George W. Bush was president, TVA never had a full, nine-member board filled by members who supported Republicans during his remaining three-plus years in office.
Democrat Skila Harris, who was the last remaining member of the former three-member, full-time board, left in May 2008, nine months before Bush left office. The reappointment of Bishop William Graves, a registered Democrat who supported the Bush-Cheney re-election effort in 2004 and the first black on the board, was held up by congressional Democrats for six months before being OK'd in June 2008.
The reappointment by Bush of board member Susan Richardson Williams continued to be held up for the remainder of his term. Harris's position was not filled, either, as the country began to deal with the first few months of the Great Recession in late 2008.
As the other Bush-appointed board members left or weren't reappointed, Obama appointed Democrats. The last Republican on the board is Chairman Bill Sansom of Knoxville, whose term expired in May. He and Chattanooga Democrat Barbara Haskew, whose term also expired in May, won't leave the board until the Senate confirms their successors or until the next Congress convenes. Obama also must make one more appointment to have a full board.
Unlike during Bush's term, when Democrats played politics with the appointments, Republicans have little ability to block the president's nominees since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., changed Senate rules last November to require only a simple majority to confirm nominees.
Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, knowledgeable of what Reid's maneuver did for the potential makeup of the board, have said in the past they just want to see qualified business people nominated.
"I would like to [have] the most highest qualified, broadly experienced men and women on the board who can chart a realistic course for our region, not to see political appointments or people who really don't know enough to appoint the board," Alexander said in 2009.
"As you look at TVA today as an $11 billion-a-year company with tremendous challenges," Corker said in 2012, "it has a board of directors with the qualifications that I think would cause most Tennesseans to be very concerned. We have only one person on the board, to my knowledge, who even has any corporate board experience."
The senators were particularly vocal at the time about the reappointment of Dr. Marilyn Brown, a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for co-authorship of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, believing another nominee would be "better suited to the TVA board."
They didn't say it, but they may have believed her climate change fanaticism was at odds with the requirement that board members "profess a belief in the feasibility and wisdom" of the 1933 law creating TVA. That language from the original TVA Act was left in place when the board was overhauled in 2005.
When Bush was president, he could count on advice for appointments from 14 Republican senators from each of the seven states served by the agency. Today, Obama can get similar senatorial advice only from two Democratic senators in Virginia and one in North Carolina.
However, Corker said in 2013, presidents of both parties probably don't spend much time picking TVA board nominees or worrying about the federal utility.
"To them, it's a total pain and not something they relish doing, so they don't spend a lot of time on it," he said.
Democrat Craven Crowell, a former TVA chairman, said in 2012 the qualifications for board members should have been better described in the 2005 reform.
"When the board was enlarged," he said, "there were no congressional hearings to consider the unintended consequences of the change. We ended up with a major restructuring of the board without any requirement for a balance of experience and politics on the board and with part-time board members who don't always have the time for the steep learning curve involved with leading TVA."
It's a shame the board has to be partisan either way, but, the 2005 reform fortunately called for a strong chief executive officer. So, relatively new President Bill Johnson may take precedence, more than the part-time directors, in setting policy for the agency. And so far at least, he seems to be steering the ship on a fiscally responsible course, reducing its debt, lowering its charges to industrial customers and seeking the best options for generating power.