U.S. Sen. Bob Corker was mayor of Chattanooga when then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist asked him to go on a hike in the Smokies.
It was on that trip Frist recruited Corker to run for the senate seat Frist then held. “I didn’t know why he asked me to hike Mt. LeConte with two guys carrying machine guns,” Corker said, in reference to the majority leader’s Secret Service detail.
Corker spoke during a presentation at the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center Monday, June 15, announcing a Senate resolution celebrating the Great Smoky Mountain National Park’s 75th anniversary.
Retired United States Marine Gen. Robert Tiebout read Senate Resolution 137 honoring the Park on its 75th anniversary. “More than 1,000 families were called upon to sacrifice their land,” Tiebout said while reading the resolution.
The general said legislation creating the Park was signed on June 15, 1934. “At 521,621 acres in North Carolina and Tennessee it, is the largest park area in the Eastern United States,” he said.
On Sept. 2, 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt traveled to Newfound Gap on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee to dedicate the Park. The Park now annually generates $700 million in revenues for area businesses and creates 14,000 jobs, Tiebout said.
County Mayor Jerry Cunningham, whose family comes from Cades Cove, was on hand and introduced Sen. Corker. “The cream always rises to the top. That epitomizes Bob Corker,” he said.
Cunningham said he became acquainted with Corker while Cunningham was serving as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of the Tennessee and during the time Corker was mayor of Chattanooga. “He turned Chattanooga around,” Cunningham said.
Corker thanked everyone who organized the event and said he first became acquainted with the Park when he used to go camping in Cades Cove while a student at the University of Tennessee, adding that his wife, who is from Sevier County, rode horses in the Park growing up.
“The peacefulness of it almost makes you more whole,” Corker said of being in the Park. “I’m thrilled with the way support for the Parks continues to grow.”
Corker said federal money should be flowing soon to help with much needed roadwork in the park. “I thank each of you for what you do to make this such a special place,” he said.
Heritage Center executive director Bob Patterson thanked everyone for coming to the event. “One of the first things we did was establish a partnership with the park,” he said. “This is a great honor to be part of the 75th anniversary.”
Park superintendent Dale Ditmanson said the celebration was about people. “It’s about the people in the park, whether it was the people of the East Tennessee or Western North Carolina, who said this is a place we should preserve.”
Ditmanson said the people not only advanced the idea of the Park, they led the way in fundraising to buy the land for the Park.
Ditmanson said another group of people also to be honored are those who sacrificed their land for the park even though they didn’t want to go. “We respect the sacrifices people made,” he said.
The senator took the time to give the 50 or so people on hand an update on issues being debated in Washington, D.C. “These are transformative times in our country,” he said.
Corker said there is a push by President Obama to get health care reform legislation signed into law by Oct. 15. The senator said one of the questions is how to provide for the 48 million Americans who don’t have health insurance. “There are 800,000 Tennesseans who don’t have health insurance,” he said. “We have people who don’t have the opportunity for affordable health care.”
The senator said the plan could either be government controlled, or it could be something involving free enterprise. “If we open a Medicare-type plan, that would be the only plan,” he said. “The other issue is how do we pay for it?”
Corker said it would best if there were a bi-partisan solution that reflected the common sense values of Tennesseans.
The senator said the second issue lawmakers are debating is the energy policy. He said there needs to be an approach that involves more oil drilling in addition to use of alternative fuels and nuclear energy. “I hope we have an energy bill that focuses on ‘all-of-the-above’ solutions,” he said. “Tennessee has been at the forefront of energy development and on the cusp of a renaissance in nuclear energy.”
Corker said the third issue lawmakers in Washington are dealing with is unemployment and the economy. “I do think credit is starting to flow a little bit,” he said.
The senator said politicians in Washington have been spending too much money for a long time. “It didn’t start on Jan. 20,” he said of the date President Obama was inaugurated.
Corker said the large amount of spending by the government is alarming many concerned with the long-term strength of the country. “While we have differences of opinions regarding current spending, let’s focus on Medicare and Social Security and making them solvent,” he said. “I’m afraid those who have loaned us money on a daily basis are going to lose faith in us.”