NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican Bob Corker’s war of words with President Donald Trump and his surprise decision to retire from the Senate after two terms is the top Tennessee news story of 2017, according to an annual Associated Press survey of reporters, editors and broadcasters.
Corker’s retirement set off a scramble among potential candidates to succeed him. When the dust settled, Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former Rep. Stephen Fincher became the major candidates seeking the Republican nomination, while former Gov. Phil Bredesen came out of political retirement to announce he would run as a Democrat.
Corker took Trump to task after the president said both sides were to blame for deadly violence surrounding a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August. Those comments, Corker said, showed that Trump had not yet been “able to demonstrate the stability, nor some of the competence, that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.”
After he announced he wouldn’t run again, Corker doubled down on his criticism of the president, charging that Trump had turned the White House into an “adult day care center” and was setting the U.S. “on the path to World War III.” Trump hit back at Corker, tweeting that he was a “lightweight” and charging that the lawmaker “couldn’t get elected dog catcher in Tennessee.”
Corker maintained in a recent interview that he would have won the nomination and the general election had he chosen to run again.
“Do I realize that some of the conversations I’ve had publicly since that time have affected my current standing with some Republican voters? No question, in a big way,” he said. “Do I think that goes away over time? I do.”
“Tennessee is still a place that respects and wants to elect people who have the ability to be pragmatic and get results,” he said.
Corker’s narrow election to the Senate over Democrat Harold Ford Jr. in 2006 was elected that year’s top AP story.
This year’s top stories survey was conducted before Memphis police charged the ex-wife of former NBA player Lorenzen Wright in his slaying more than seven years after his body was found in a field. It was also before the city of Memphis sold parks to a private entity to circumvent a state law banning the removal of Confederate statutes.
Lawmakers’ passage of Gov. Bill Haslam’s road funding program was voted the state’s No. 2 story of the year. Dubbed the Improve Act, the measure included a 6-cent gas tax increase, the state’s first hike since 1989. The measure also cut taxes on investment income, manufacturers and groceries.
The Greeneville Sun’s Michael Reneau said the debate over Haslam’s proposal “divided his own party and at times was very contentious. But it brought into the spotlight Tennessee’s much-neglected infrastructure and sparked conversations about how to fund services.”
A man opening fire at a Nashville church, killing one woman and wounding six others, was ranked the state’s No. 3 story. The shooting “exemplifies the growing concern for unprovoked gun violence that is gripping the nation and has led to churches throughout Tennessee rethinking their safety measures,” said the Southern Standard’s James Clark.
The turmoil surrounding the University of Tennessee’s football program after the firing of coach Butch Jones was the No. 4 story. The school was close to hiring Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano before that deal fell through amid a public backlash stemming from an unproven claim in court documents that he might have known about sexual abuse of boys when he was an assistant at Penn State.
The saga led to former coach Philip Fulmer replacing John Currie as athletic director and the school ultimately hiring Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt as its head coach.
“It was like a Netflix series,” said Kingsport Times-News reporter Hank Hayes.