Phil Bredesen, the 48th governor of Tennessee, took office Jan. 18, 2003, with a promise to “focus energy on real results by leaving behind predictable and stale political debates.”
During his first year in office, Bredesen brought a new level of candor, openness and accountability to state government. In one of his first acts as governor, he opened the door to administrative budget hearings, allowing taxpayers to see for the first time the decisions that are made on how their money is spent. His first three executive orders established the toughest ethics rules in the history of Tennessee’s executive branch. He managed the state through a fiscal crisis without raising taxes or cutting funding for education. Most of all, he instilled a renewed confidence that government can work on behalf of its citizens for the betterment of the entire state.
Years two and three brought more progress. Bredesen pushed measures to improve education, including raising teacher pay above the Southeastern average and expanding Tennessee’s pre-kindergarten program as part of a statewide initiative. To recruit new industry and jobs, he worked with the General Assembly to reform Tennessee’s workers’ compensation system and invest in retraining programs to help laid-off employees develop new skills in the rapidly changing economy. He launched Tennessee’s war on methamphetamine abuse by focusing on treatment, prevention and public awareness as well as enhanced criminal penalties and resources for law enforcement.
Most importantly, Bredesen took control of TennCare–the state’s financially troubled Medicaid-expansion program–by preserving full enrollment for children and pursuing innovating care and disease-management initiatives. Even after necessary reductions in adult enrollment to maintain TennCare’s fiscal balance, the program remains one of the most generous and comprehensive state healthcare plans in the nation.
Before serving as Tennessee’s governor, Bredesen built a reputation for effective leadership as the mayor of Nashville from 1991 to 1999, charting a course that made Music City U.S.A. one of the best places in America to live, work and raise a family. Among other accomplishments, he invested nearly $500 million to build new schools and hire new teachers. He developed a state-of-the-art library system, oversaw downtown redevelopment, expanded the city’s park system and drove down the crime rate. Under his leadership, Nashville saw record economic growth by recruiting high-quality jobs and companies such as Dell Computer Corp. and HCA Inc. Bredesen also brought two professional sports teams to Nashville: the NFL’s Tennessee Titans and the NHL’s Nashville Predators.
Before entering public service, Bredesen was a successful healthcare entrepreneur. Between research trips to the public library, he drafted a business plan at the kitchen table that led to the creation in 1980 of HealthAmerica Corp., a Nashville-based healthcare management company that eventually grew to more than 6,000 employees and traded on the New York Stock Exchange. He sold the company in 1986.
Bredesen and his wife, First Lady Andrea Conte, are active members of the community, locally and statewide. He is a founding member of Nashville’s Table, a nonprofit group that collects discarded food from local restaurants and distributes it to the city’s homeless population. He also founded the Land Trust for Tennessee, a nonprofit organization that works statewide to preserve open space and traditional family farms. Conte is founder and president of You Have the Power … Know How to Use It, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness about crime and justice issues.
Bredesen was born on Nov. 21, 1943. He grew up in rural Shortsville, N.Y., and moved to Nashville in 1975. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard University. He is an avid hunter and outdoorsman, a licensed pilot and enjoys painting as a hobby. He and Conte have one son, Ben.