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Former lieutenant governor hospitalized in Memphis

Former lieutenant governor hospitalized in Memphis

Posted: Tuesday, December 29, 2009 9:02 pm
By: AP

 

By LUCAS L. JOHNSON II Associated Press Writer NASHVILLE (AP) — John Wilder, a Democrat who led the Tennessee Senate for 36 years, was in a Memphis hospital after suffering a stroke, lawmakers said Monday. Wilder, 88, was Senate speaker from 1971 to 2007, a tenure the National Conference of State Legislatures said made him the longest-serving presiding officer of a legislative chamber in modern U.S. history. As speaker he also held the title of lieutenant governor and was the second-ranking official in the state. Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said he was told Monday by 911 officials that Wilder had been found unconscious at his home in Mason in West Tennessee and was taken to a Memphis hospital. The Tennessee Senate Demo-cratic Caucus and Senate Demo-cratic leader Sen. Jim Kyle said in a statement that Wilder had suffered a stroke. Members of Wilder’s family couldn’t immediately be reached for more details. Ramsey, who defeated Wilder for the speakership nearly three years ago, said he didn’t know Wilder’s condition but would “keep him in my thoughts and prayers and hope he gets well.” “Governor John Wilder is known for his toughness,” Sen. Lowe Finney, Democratic caucus chairman, said in a statement from Jackson. “We hope for a full and speedy recovery.” Former Democratic Gov. Ned McWherter, a close friend of Wilder’s, said he talked to him right before Christmas. He said Wilder “seemed very well” and that he talked about helping Democrats gain control of the Senate, which is now controlled 19-14 by Republicans. “I said ‘John, you going to be involved in that,’ and he said, ‘I’m going to do anything I possibly can to help them,”’ McWherter said. As speaker, Wilder distributed key committee assignments to both Republicans and Democrats to defeat challengers for his post from both parties. He retired from the General Assembly in 2008. Supporters long cited Wilder’s light touch in controlling the 33-member Senate, letting it take a path of its own choosing. Wilder’s mantra of “the Senate is the Senate” was often followed by expressions of pride for the members’ actions — no matter what they might have been. Wilder built a reputation for refusing to publicly state his support — or opposition — to key pieces of legislation until it was a time for a vote. Wilder was also known for his sometimes rambling and bizarre speeches, including explaining his philosophy on the “cosmos.” Nevertheless, he still garnered much respect. “He is one of those people who has made history in Tennessee and is known all over the country,” said John Deberry, a Memphis Democrat and chairman of the Tennessee Black Caucus. “I think that all of the people of the state of Tennessee wish him well … and hope that he recovers.” Published in The Messenger 12.29.09

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