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Bredesen Denies Pulling Strings on Morgan Appointment

by Andrea Zelinski on August 25, 2010

Gov. Phil Bredesen said he was offended that anyone could think that he had anything to do with Deputy Governor John Morgan’s recent appointment to a top job overseeing Tennessee colleges and universities.

The Democratic governor, serving out the last of his eight years in office, told reporters during a Wednesday morning press availability he hasn’t used his influence in to ensure someone was hired for a job.

“I think if you look back over my time that I’ve got a really good record of not messing around behind the scenes to make political things happen for friends or something like that,” Bredesen said.

“Frankly, I mean, to suggest that now, I don’t like it. I don’t think that’s appropriate. That’s not a fair assessment of what was going on here,” he told reporters.

Morgan was appointed to head up the Tennessee Department of Regents, managing six universities,13 two-year colleges and 26 technology centers across the state.

But the decision has been loaded with controversy.

Prior to the search, the board changed its job requirements in a way that some critics say stacked the odds in Morgan’s favor.

The board rewrote requirements so that applicants no longer must have a doctorate degree, but merely a bachelor’s or associate’s degree instead. Morgan holds a bachelor’s degree in education.

The job posting also stipulates that qualified applicants must be politically connected — in particular, that they have “experience working in complex political environments, including the legislative and executive branches of government, community and/or business constituencies.”

According to his resume, Morgan began working for the state in 1974 as a legislative research assistant. After years of working in government, he became Comptroller of the Treasury in 1999, where he worked for a decade. He then took a job as Bredesen’s deputy governor in 2009.

Regents board members also indicated they were looking for candidates prepared to embrace the Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010, a law (pdf) Morgan played an instrumental role in passing through the Legislature.

The board interviewed only Morgan before selecting him for the position a week later.

At the press conference, a reporter asked whether it was “far fetched” that the best candidate for the position “just happened” to be the deputy governor.

“No, it isn’t. That’s kind of offensive,” Bredesen said. “There’s no place where I’ve slid somebody in.”

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