Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Sen. Bob Corker speaks to McCallie School students last November.

We need Corker's voice

Last November, Bob Corker reminded us why we would miss him in the U.S. Senate when he returned to private life in Chattanooga in January.

It was the same day Vice President Mike Pence was in Dalton beating the ridiculous "build the wall" and "stop the caravan" drum during a campaign event for then-Georgia governor candidate Brian Kemp, who in an ad sported a long gun he said he needed to round up undocumented immigrants. We knew we'd miss Corker because, though he too is a Republican, he possessed — and spoke — a different conscience.

Noting that "much of this [the politics of the day] is theater," Corker told members of the Rotary Club of Chattanooga, "I have never met, seen or known an immigrant that I am angry at because they want to come to the greatest nation on Earth to escape Central America where people are being raped, necks are being slit, people are being tortured and there is unbelievable corruption."

Fast forward 11 months of what feels like 111 years — through the end of the Mueller probe and the start of an Trump impeachment inquiry — and our former Mayor Corker, who spent a dozen years in the U.S. Senate, is still trying to make peace. Maybe even peace with himself.

"I was a Republican in the Senate for 12 years and we cared about fiscal issues, world leadership and free trade," Corker said Thursday in a new speech to Rotarians. "I look at the Republican Party now and we are isolationist, protectionist and care nothing about keeping these institutions that have kept the world safe in many ways."

He doesn't recognize the Democrats either, saying they "want to reconfigure our economy overnight. ... After watching these political races I'm sure in another week or so my dry cleaning is going to be free."

Corker has always been funny. And always outspoken — sometimes sharply so.

He's the guy who in May 2017 said the White House was "in a downward spiral" after reports that Trump had revealed sensitive intelligence to Russia's foreign minister and U.S. ambassador. Three months later, after Charlottesville, Corker told the Chattanooga Rotary Club that the president "has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence to be successful" and "has not demonstrated he understands the character of this nation."

In late 2017, he said then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, then-Defense Secretary James Mattis and then-White House Chief of Staff John Kelly "help separate our country from chaos." Then after a series of tweet insults from Trump, Corker's Twitter rejoinder was: "It's a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning."

So it disappoints us that Corker today has "nothing" to say on Trump's possible impeachment over his entreaties to foreign officials to find him some dirt on a 2020 political opponent. In part, it disappoints us because one of the things Corker immersed himself in was foreign affairs. He was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

That's not to say that Corker's counsel last week wasn't wise.

"The Senate is the jury in impeachment, and I would just say to my friends on both sides of the aisle that I would say absolutely nothing," he told Rotarians. "An impeachment is a process where the Congress tries to undo what the electoral process has done before. It is a major undertaking and once you start pulling threads you have no idea where it is going to go."

Fine. But you're not in the Senate anymore, Mr. Corker. And this was your wheelhouse; you know this president, and you know that this community values your observations and opinions.

Please don't just look the other way.


Tell Gov. Lee who's the blockhead

Thank goodness Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has finally gotten around to scheduling public input meetings in Chattanooga and Memphis for his Medicaid block grant proposal.

Of course, it's clear that the afterthought was prompted by the fact that two public meetings earlier this week in Nashville and Knoxville met with a cacophony of concerns and opposition.

Lee maintains, however, that the opposition is from misinformation or failing to take sufficient time to understand what he's trying to achieve.

"We're listening and hearing what is said," Lee said in Nashville. "I think there is a real opportunity if people will look deep at this. It's a complicated block grant proposal. There's a lot to understand about it. Certainly anyone can understand it and if they take the time to do it."

Wait, Governor. Whose information have good Tennesseans not studied hard enough to understand?

Tennesseans aren't dumb, Governor. They understand that Tennessee's population is one of the nation's sickest and that we lead the nation in kicking kids off TennCare — the state's insurance for the poor. We know when the state says it will save money with block grant "flexibility," that almost inevitably means carving new big holes in our health care safety net.

Southeast Tennesseans, listen up. This region's "input" hearing is Wednesday, Oct. 16, at 2 p.m. at the downtown branch of the Chattanooga Public Library.

Study up, and bring the governor your concerns.