Bredesen out of hospital; state lacks duty transfer provision - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Bredesen out of hospital; state lacks duty transfer provision

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Gov. Phil Bredesen went home Friday from four days in the hospital, and state government functioned "as usual" while he was ill, his deputy said.

The 62-year-old governor was released from Centennial Medical Center, where he has been treated since Monday for a high fever that doctors think may be related to a tick bite.

"The governor remains in good spirits, staying on top of business at the Capitol and is steadily recovering. He plans to remain at home for the next few days for additional rest and recovery," his spokeswoman Lydia Lenker said in a statement.

Deputy Gov. Dave Cooley said Friday before the governor's release that he had spoken with Bredesen daily about state issues, but the pace of government has been slow right now.

"There's no good time for something like this, but frankly this is the time of year he could just as easily be on vacation. It's kind of a slower period for state government and not really the heat of the (re-election) campaign," Cooley said.

Although Bredesen had been handling his duties from his hospital room, the state has no plan for what to do if the chief executive became incapacitated, Cooley said.

"We have not even addressed that issue. We've not even had that conversation," he said.

Before Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher had gall bladder surgery in February, he temporarily turned over his duties to the lieutenant governor. Kentucky's constitution allows the lieutenant governor to assume power for different reasons, including death, resignation and by executive order of the governor.

So does the U.S. Constitution, which was amended in 1967 to respond to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, said University of Tennessee law and political science professor Otis Stephens.

Under the Tennessee Constitution, Senate Speaker John Wilder, 85, would become chief executive if the governor dies, resigns or is removed from office.

Second in the succession is House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, 67., but there's no provision if the governor is disabled and a quick search of state laws also didn't find a statute dealing with the issue, Stephens said.

"I think it's always good to have a provision in the constitution for disability of a key official and certainly for a key executive of the state," Stephens said.

The 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does that, setting out the rules to let the president transfer power to his vice president temporarily or permanently.

It also allows the vice president and Congress to strip the president of power if he's unable to do his job because of physical or mental problems.

President Reagan briefly transferred powers to the vice president in 1985 when he underwent colon cancer surgery but not when he was wounded in an assassination attempt in 1981.

State officials considering a way to provide for a temporary transfer of power "might want to take a look at the 25th Amendment to see if that could provide a model," Stephens said.

"The issue might be handled by statute, but since there's already a provision for the death of the governor it would seem to me to be better to make it a constitutional amendment," Stephens said.

As Bredesen recovers, he is receiving get-well wishes from around the state, Cooley said. "Our office has been flooded with calls and e-mails. I think that's heartening to him but he has not been personally spending any time with visitors or on the phone," Cooley said.

Sen. Jim Bryson, the Republican running against Bredesen in the Nov. 7 election, is among those who have passed along wishes for a speedy recovery, campaign spokesman Lance Frizzell said Friday.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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