During his first few weeks as a U.S. senator from Tennessee, Bob Corker tried to do too much too soon, dashing from meeting to meeting and attending as many as two dozen in a day. He admitted it left him feeling frustrated and ineffective.
"I didn't feel like I was making any difference at all," he said.
When he campaigned last year for the seat held by then-majority leader Bill Frist, Corker's aim was to make a difference. In November 2006, he defeated Harold Ford Jr., a representative from Memphis, by about 3 percentage points in one of the closest Senate races in the state.
And Corker, who served as state commissioner of finance and administration and as mayor of Chattanooga, reassessed his work and redirected his efforts to become more focused on issues he expected to come before the Senate. The result has been the emergence of a Tennessee senator who is energized and has been enjoying his work, and that is good for our state.
Believing it is important to have a positive relationship with one's senator, Corker in February began touring all 95 counties in Tennessee, beginning in Sevier County and ending less than a month ago with a town hall meeting in Monroe County. He heard plenty - about the war in Iraq, the freeze that hurt farmers last spring and the drought this summer. The tour, he said, "keeps you from developing a beltway mentality."
During the 2006 campaign, some claimed Corker would be another voice for the Bush administration in the Senate. They were wrong. He has supported the administration on the surge and generally on war policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, urging skeptics to give Gen. David Petraeus' plans time to work. However, he has been his own person on some key domestic issues, especially those affecting Tennesseans.
One of Corker's biggest efforts on behalf of Tennesseans was his intervention in a stalled negotiation between the state and the federal government over a waiver that Tennessee needed to renew TennCare, the state's health care program for low-income children, the uninsured and those with disabilities. When he believed the government was dragging its feet on the waiver, he halted confirmation hearings on all of the president's nonmilitary nominees.
The result was a better deal than the original proposal, which would have left the state $385 million short of what it needs to cover hospital costs over a threeyear period. Corker helped the state save $115 million, which in turn helps set an annual cap of $540 million from which the state can draw to reimburse hospitals for treating uninsured patients.
Said Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, "We would not have nearly as good a deal today without Bob Corker laying down on the track the way he did."
Corker also supported an energy bill that his fellow Republicans tried to kill. And he supported the expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, going against the desires of the White House. Corker backed the $35 billion expansion of the SCHIP bill because "I thought it was the right thing to do," he said.
"If I have to make a call - a close call - on something," Corker said, "I'm going to err on the side of people, of low-income citizens in particular, having access to health care."
With more than five years to go in his current term, Corker can work harder for Tennessee before deciding whether he will seek re-election. No doubt he will continue to immerse himself in the issues of the day and be prepared for the questions that will come. The interlude gives him plenty of time to fulfill his goal of making a difference.