Phil Bredesen is a healthcare executive and successful serial entrepreneur who served as the 4th mayor of Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County (1991–1999) and as the 48th Governor of Tennessee (2003–2011). Born in New Jersey to a military family on November 21, 1943, Philip Norman Bredesen was raised by his mother and grandmother in Shortsville, New York, a small upstate town. He subsequently attended Harvard University, earning his A.B. in physics by 1967.
After receiving his degree from Harvard and marrying Susan Cleaves, Bredesen initially worked for Itek, a contractor which specialized in producing extremely high-resolution cameras for U.S. spy planes and satellites. He then entered the pharmaceutical industry, which saw him move to London. While in England, the young executive married his second and current wife, Andrea Conte, with whom he has a son, Ben. Bredesen and his new family relocated to Nashville in 1975, where he founded HealthAmerica Corp., a successful insurance company that employed around 6,000 people and was publicly traded on the NYSE when Bredesen sold his ownership share in 1986.
During the years following his graduation from Harvard, Bredesen displayed a proclivity for the politics, serving on Minnesota congressman Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign staff in 1968 and unsuccessfully running for the Massachusetts State Senate in 1969.
His next attempt to enter the political arena occurred when he ran for mayor of Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County in 1987; he met defeat at the hands of Congressman Bill Boner in a tightly contested runoff election. Bredesen next ran for Boner’s empty Congressional seat, but lost in the Democratic primary to Bob Clement.
Following Boner’s decision not to seek reelection after his scandal-wracked tenure as mayor, Bredesen again set his sights on the mayorship in 1991, this time easily beating his opponent, Councilwoman Betty Nixon, taking nearly 70 percent of the vote. Once sworn in, Mayor Bredesen focused on capital improvements to the city; under his watch, the city built dozens of schools, renovated an even greater number of existing ones, erected a downtown public library as the heart of an expanded library system, renovated the Broadway entertainment district, facilitated the partnerships which produced the move downtown by both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, and constructed two stadiums as a part of an ultimately successful plan to bring professional sports to Nashville. The Houston Oilers of the National Football League relocated to Nashville, becoming the Tennessee Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans), and the National Hockey League awarded the city an expansion franchise, the Nashville Predators. Also during Bredesen’s two terms as mayor, Nashville saw explosive economic growth due to the arrival of several major companies, such as Dell Computers.
During his tenure as mayor, in 1994, Bredesen waged an ultimately unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign; following a first-ballot Democratic primary victory despite a crowded field of candidates, he was soundly defeated by Republican Don Sundquist in the general election. Despite this setback, Bredesen remained a successful mayor and quietly prepared to run again for governor in 2002. After a narrow victory, Bredesen inherited a significant state fiscal crisis, including a projected budget shortfall of some $800 million. He worked to alleviate the crisis with an across-the-board spending cut and a reform of TennCare, which saw nearly 200,000 people leave its rolls. H would later implement the CoverTN program in order to assist some of these uninsured individuals, including those with what the insurance companies deemed to be “preexisting conditions.” Bredesen also aimed to increase education funding, which was accomplished partially through savings provided by the TennCare cuts and partially through the 2003 establishment of the Tennessee Lottery, which funds scholarships for academically qualifying Tennessee high school graduates who plan to attend college in Tennessee. The economic growth that Bredesen’s policies had encouraged in Nashville followed him to the governor’s office; his reforms are credited with helping entice nearly 3,000 companies to either relocate to Tennessee or expand their existing operations within the state. Such growth allowed him to notch a record victory in the 2006 gubernatorial election, which saw him garner more votes than any candidate in the state’s history, simultaneously carrying all 95 of the state’s counties.
Among Bredesen’s other initiatives were a statewide campaign against methamphetamine use that targeted producers while attempting to rehabilitate users, a statewide Pre-K program for four-year-olds, and the establishment of a conservation trust fund for the state. Near the twilight of his term in office, a minor controversy arose when it was reported by The Tennessean that he was the chairman of a solar energy company founded by two of his cabinet members. Bredesen defended his investment as “perfectly appropriate” and shortly thereafter amended his disclosure forms to reflect his minority stake in the startup. When he departed office in 2011, Tennessee held a strong financial reserve (its “rainy day fund”) and had a AAA bond rating despite the the ongoing effects of the Great Recession of 2008.
Since leaving office, the former governor has written a book and frequently addresses audiences on healthcare-related issues and political leadership, according to his personal website. He has also served on the board of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and remains the chairman of the board for Silicon Ranch, the solar energy company founded by two of his former aides. He and his wife still reside in Nashville.
Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » March 21, 2017