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Tanner reflects on service, looks forward

Tanner reflects on service, looks forward

Posted: Friday, August 6, 2010 9:06 pm
By: John Brannon, Staff Reporter

By JOHN BRANNON
Staff Reporter
The days trickle down.
The 111th Congress will adjourn in early December 2010.
The 112th Congress will convene in eary January 2011.
These days, Democratic Congressman John Tanner is sensitive to the pages that fly off the calendar one by one. He is a veteran member of the 111th Congress.
He will not be a member of the 112th Congress. Either Democratic nominee Roy Herron of Dresden or Republican nominee Stephen Fincher of Frog Jump takes over at that time.
Tanner officially retires when his current term expires Dec. 31.
Earlier today, The Mes-senger asked him to share his thoughts about this turning point in his life.
He expressed his thanks and appreciation to the people who endorsed him, supported him, voted him into office time after time.
He was first elected to Congress in 1988 and has been re-elected each two years since then.
Over the years, he’s been on the election ballot in Tennessee many times. “I know exactly how many times,” he said. “It’s 17 times total, in the state House and the U.S. House.”
In the years 1977-88, he represented House District 77 in the Tennessee General Assembly.
In 1988, he was elected to Congress.
And now, he’s about to clean out his desk on Capitol Hill and make way for his yet-to-be-chosen successor.
Tanner said he would have retired two years ago, but the fact that he was elected president of the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) parliamentary assembly convinced him to give it two more years.
At the time, both the United States and its NATO allies were in a war in Afghanistan.
“I felt I owed it to the country,” he said. “An American was elected to lead the parliamentary assembly and we were at war.”
But, he said, he’d already given much thought to turning his head toward home, which is northwest Tennessee.
“About 10 years ago, I was in the cafeteria of the Longworth House Office Building in Washington, talking to (Congressman) Sonny Montgomery of Mississippi. He’s a dear friend of mine,” Tanner said. “We were talking SEC football and basketball. Sonny’s a big Mississippi State fan; I’m a Tennessee fan.
“Suddenly, he stopped and asked me, ‘How old are you?’ Well, I was 57 or 58, I forget which. He said, ‘Let me give you some advice. Don’t stay here too long. It’ll become your whole life and you will then be trapped.’
“That’s always stuck with me and I’ve always thought that 20 years was long enough (in Congress) to be effective and not so long that you have lost your effectiveness, and it was time for something else.
“(The late President) Harry Truman once said, ‘You spend your first six months in Congress wondering how you got there and the rest of your career wondering how these other guys got there.’”
Tanner said he’s going to “do some things in the area of national defense.” He wants to stay active on “think tank” boards. And he’s been asked to join the Board for a Responsible Federal Budget.
“It’s a bipartisan board, Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “I call it the ‘Sensible Center.’ It’s a group working for solutions rather than political fights. That appeals to me very much.”
What would Tanner tell young people today about public service?
“I think it’s a noble caling,” he said. “It’s a hard life. I wish more people would consider it, more people that I consider well balanced. The polarization of this country and the crass partisanship is as bad as I’ve ever seen it, making it virtually impossible for America to answer the challenges it faces.”
He said that when he’s out of office, he’ll spend more time with his grandchildren in Jackson and Union City. “Betty Ann and I want to be there when we’re needed,” he said.
John Brannon may be contacted by e-mail at jbrannon@ucmessenger.com.
Published in The Messenger 8.6.10

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