Bob Corker

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Bob Corker
Bob Corker official Senate photo.jpg
United States Senator
from Tennessee
Assumed office
January 3, 2007
Serving with Lamar Alexander
Preceded by Bill Frist
Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Assumed office
January 3, 2015
Preceded by Bob Menendez
71st Mayor of Chattanooga
In office
April 16, 2001 – April 18, 2005
Preceded by Jon Kinsey
Succeeded by Ron Littlefield
Personal details
Born Robert Phillips Corker, Jr.
(1952-08-24) August 24, 1952 (age 64)
Orangeburg, South Carolina, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Elizabeth (1987–present)
Children 2
Alma mater University of Tennessee, Knoxville (BS)
Website Senate website

Robert Phillips "Bob" Corker, Jr.[1] (born August 24, 1952) is an American politician and the junior United States Senator from Tennessee, serving since 2007. Corker, a member of the Republican Party, is currently the chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in the 114th Congress.

In 1978, Corker founded a successful construction company, which he sold in 1990. He ran for the 1994 U.S. Senate election in Tennessee, but was defeated by future Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist in the Republican primary. Appointed by Tennessee Governor Don Sundquist, Corker served as Commissioner of Finance and Administration for the State of Tennessee from 1995 to 1996. He later acquired two of the largest real estate companies in Chattanooga, Tennessee, before being elected the 71st Mayor of Chattanooga in 2000; he served one term as mayor from 2001 to 2005.

Corker announced his candidacy for the 2006 U.S. Senate election in Tennessee after Frist, a two-term incumbent, announced his retirement from the Senate. Corker defeated Democratic Representative Harold Ford, Jr. in the general election, with 51% of the vote. In 2012 Corker was re-elected, defeating Democrat Mark E. Clayton, 65% to 30%.

Early life and family[edit]

Corker was born in Orangeburg, South Carolina,[2] the son of Jean J. (née Hutto) and Robert Phillips "Phil" Corker. His family moved to Tennessee when he was 11.[3] He graduated from Chattanooga High School in 1970 and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Management from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 1974. Corker is a member of Sigma Chi fraternity. Corker's roommate in the Sigma Chi fraternity was Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam,[4] whose brother is the current Tennessee governor Bill Haslam.

During his twenties Corker participated in a mission trip to Haiti, which he credits with inspiring him to become more active in his home community. Following his return, Corker helped found the Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise, a nonprofit organization that has provided low-interest home loans and home maintenance education to thousands of Tennesseans since its creation in 1986.[5][6][7]

Corker and his wife Elizabeth, whom he married on January 10, 1987, have two daughters.[8] The family's permanent residence is at the Anne Haven Mansion, built by Coca-Cola Bottling Company heirs Anne Lupton and Frank Harrison.[9]

Business career[edit]

In an interview with Esquire, Corker said that he started working when he was 13, collecting trash and bagging ice. Later he worked at Western Auto and as a construction laborer.[10] After graduating from college, he worked for four years as a construction superintendent.[11] During this time he saved up $8,000, which he used to start a construction company, Bencor, in 1978.[12] The company's first large contract was with Krystal restaurants, building drive-through windows.[11] The construction company became successful, growing at 80 percent per year, according to Corker, and by the mid-1980s carried out projects in 18 states.[10][12] He sold the company in 1990.[13]

In 1999, Corker acquired two of the largest real estate companies in Chattanooga: Osborne Building Corporation and Stone Fort Land Company.[11] In 2006 he sold the properties and assets that had formed these companies to Chattanooga businessman Henry Luken.[14]

In recognition of his business success, in 2005 the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga named him to their “Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame.”[11] Corker has said that he believes his business background has been valuable in his political career and that experience "gives [him] unique insights and allows [him] to weigh in, in valuable ways".[12] As of 2008, Corker's assets were estimated at more than $19 million.[15][16]

1994 Senate campaign[edit]

Corker first ran for the United States Senate in 1994, finishing second in the Republican primary to eventual winner Bill Frist. During the primary campaign, Frist's campaign manager attacked Corker, calling him "pond scum".[17] Despite the rhetoric, Corker arrived in Nashville the morning after the primary to offer the Frist campaign his assistance. He went on to campaign for Frist in the general election.[18][19]

From 1995 to 1996, Corker was the Commissioner of Finance and Administration for the State of Tennessee, an appointed position, working for Governor Don Sundquist.[2]

Mayor of Chattanooga[edit]

Modern extension of the Hunter Museum of American Art

Corker served as mayor of Chattanooga from 2001 to 2005. While in office he implemented a merit-based bonus system for teachers. The system, established in 2002, awards teachers and principals bonuses for improving student performance at Chattanooga's lowest performing schools.[20] Two years after its implementation, a study published in The Tennessean showed that the percentage of third graders reading at or above grade level had increased from 53% to 74%.[21] However, a report by the think tank Education Sector suggested that specific teacher training had at least as much to do with the student improvement.[22]

In 2003 Corker started a program called ChattanoogaRESULTS, facilitating monthly meetings with public service department administrators to evaluate their performance and set goals for improvement. The program has been continued by Corker's successor, Ron Littlefield.[23] Corker has credited the increased collaboration between departments for decreasing crime in Chattanooga. City data showed a nearly 26% decrease in crime and a 50% reduction in violent crimes between 2001 and 2004.[24]

Corker was also heavily involved in the development of the Enterprise South Industrial Park in Chattanooga. Later, as a U.S. Senator, he worked with state and local officials to recruit Volkswagen to open a production facility at the site.[25] Also during his tenure as mayor, Corker oversaw a $120 million riverfront renovation project, including an expansion of the Hunter Museum, a renovation of the Creative Discovery Museum, an expansion of Chattanooga's River Walk, and the addition of a new salt water building to the Tennessee Aquarium.[26]

U.S. Senate[edit]

Elections[edit]

2006

In 2004, Corker announced that he would seek the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by incumbent Republican Senator Bill Frist, who had announced that he would not run for reelection. In the Republican primary, Corker faced two former congressmen, Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary. Both of his opponents ran as strong conservatives, denouncing Corker as a moderate and eventually labelling him a leftist.[27] In the course of his campaign, Corker spent $4.2 million on television advertising, especially in the western portion of the state, where he was relatively unknown.[15] In the August primary, he won with 48% of the vote; Bryant's got 34% and Hilleary got 17%.[28]

In the general election campaign, Corker's Democratic opponent, Harold Ford, Jr., challenged Corker to seven televised debates across the state. In response, Corker said he would debate Ford, though he did not agree to seven debates.[29] The two candidates eventually participated in three televised debates: in Memphis on October 7,[30] in Chattanooga on October 10,[31] and in Nashville on October 28.[32]

The race between Ford and Corker was described as "among the most competitive and nasty" in the country.[33] In October 2006, as polls indicated that Ford maintained a slight lead over Corker,[34] the Republican National Committee ran a controversial television advertisement[35] attacking Ford. In the 30-second ad, sound bites of "people in the street" pronouncing Ford wrong for Tennessee were interspersed with two shots of a white woman animatedly recalling meeting Ford—who is African-American and was unmarried at the time—at "the Playboy party". The ad concludes with this woman leeringly inviting Ford to phone her.[33][36] The ad was denounced by many people as racist, including former Republican Senator and Secretary of Defense William Cohen, who called it "a very serious appeal to a racist sentiment." Corker subsequently pulled ahead in the polls,[37] and went on to win the election by less than three percentage points. He was the only new Republican Senator in the 110th Congress.[38] Corker was sworn in as Senator on January 4, 2007.[39]

2012

In November 2012, Corker won his re-election bid with 64.9% of the vote. Corker faced the conservative Democrat Mark E. Clayton, from Davidson County, near Nashville, who received 30.4% of the general election vote.[40] Clayton was disavowed by his own party, the leadership of which urged Democrats to write in a candidate of their choice in the race against Corker; the reason given by the party was Clayton's association with a hate group, an apparent reference to the fact that Clayton was vice president of the interest group Public Advocate of the United States, based in Washington, D.C.[41]

Tenure[edit]

Corker was joined at his inauguration by Bill Frist, Howard Baker, and Lamar Alexander
U.S. Senators Bob Corker, Richard Burr, Lamar Alexander, and Congressman John Duncan among others at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2009

Corker was one of the original members of the Gang of 10, now consisting of twenty members, which is a bipartisan coalition seeking comprehensive energy reform. The group is pushing for a bill that would encourage state-by-state decisions on offshore drilling and authorize billions of dollars for conservation and alternative energy.[42]

In June 2008 Corker was among the 36 senators who voted against a cloture motion needed to allow the further progress of the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, a measure to set up a "cap-and-trade" framework to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.[43] Shortly before, Corker had offered three amendments to the act which focused on returning as much money as possible to American consumers, in part by eliminating free allowances and international offsets.[44] Two years later he supported a proposed Senate resolution to express disapproval of the rule submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency on its endangerment finding identifying greenhouse gases as a matter for regulation under the Clean Air Act.[45][46] In spring 2011 he was a co-sponsor of the Energy Tax Prevention Act, which would have amended the Clean Air Act to prohibit the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, and aimed thus to protect households and businesses from paying increased costs passed on to them by businesses compelled to comply with new regulations.[47] Corker said at the time that he hoped that as an alternative to administrative regulations by the EPA, Congress would "determine a rational energy policy for the country, broadly advancing our energy security and maintaining existing policies to ensure clean air and water.” [47]

In 2008, Corker was one of the only sixteen Senators who opposed the tax rebate stimulus plan,[48] criticizing it as “political stimulus” for electoral campaigns.[49] He later described the stimulus package that passed Congress as "silly".[50]

In December 2008, Corker opposed the federal bailout of failing U.S. automakers,[51] and expressed doubt that the companies could be salvaged.[52] Corker proposed that federal funds be provided for automakers only if accompanied by cuts in labor costs and other concessions from unions.[53] Negotiations regarding Corker's proposal broke down on the evening of December 11, 2008. The United Auto Workers, which had previously accepted a series of cuts in its current contract, sought to put off any further cuts until 2011, while Corker requested that cuts go into effect in 2009.[54] Republicans blamed the UAW for failure to reach an agreement, while the UAW claimed that Corker's proposal singled out "workers and retirees for different treatment and make[s] them shoulder the entire burden of restructuring."[55] On December 13, 2008, Businessweek reported that Corker was "one of those responsible for winning the new Volkswagen Chattanooga Assembly Plant at a cost of $577 million in tax incentives" during his tenure as mayor of Chattanooga, raising questions about Corker's motivations during the bailout negotiations.[56]

In September 2009, Corker became a ranking member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, replacing former Sen. Mel Martinez.[57]

On May 20, 2010, despite his initial role as the key Republican negotiator on financial regulatory reform, Corker voted against the Senate financial regulations bill ("Restoring American Financial Stability Act", S. 3217, the Senate version of what eventually became the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act), which included provisions for increased scrutiny of financial derivatives traded by major U.S. banks and financial institutions.[58] Following the Senate vote, Corker expressed his disappointment with the bill, stating, among other things, that it did not adequately address concerns about the integrity of loan underwriting, or the need to strengthen bankruptcy laws, and provide for orderly liquidation.[58] The main critique of financial reform offered by Corker on June 10, 2010, at the joint House and Senate conference on Financial Regulation, was that it would hurt industry and jobs if passed.[59]

Corker does not believe that the government should regulate markets more carefully, but rather that they should be regulated by current laws already on the books.[citation needed] He supports the view of many conservatives that the Glass Steagall Act should not be reimplemented.[60] He also opposes limits to credit card fees imposed by banks on merchant transactions.[61]

Corker was one of three Republicans to support the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September 2010.[62]

In April 2013, Corker was one of forty-six senators to vote against a bill which would have expanded background checks for all gun buyers. Corker voted with 40 Republicans and 5 Democrats to stop the passage of the bill.[63]

Corker has called for tempering the role of outside spending in elections by giving political candidates the right to approve advertising on their behalf made by an outside party committee.[64]

Committee assignments[edit]

Political positions[edit]

In the 2006 Senate race, Corker positioned himself as a conservative on most social and economic issues through television advertisements, his campaign web site, and in debates.

Corker scored 83% on American Conservative Union’s 2008 Ratings of Congress.[66] According to National Journal’s 2009 Vote Ratings, he was ranked as the 34th conservative member among the 40 GOP senators.[67]

111th Congress

Social policy[edit]

Corker with U.S. Representatives Jim Cooper, Bart Gordon, and Zach Wamp

In the 2006 primary campaign, Corker's opponents said that he has changed his view on abortion since his first Senate campaign in 1994.[71] Corker responded that he "was wrong in 1994" when he said that the government should not interfere with an individual's right to an abortion, stating that he now believes that life begins at conception.[71] Corker now says he opposes abortion rights except when the life of the mother is endangered or in cases of rape and incest.[71] In the 2006 general election, Corker received the endorsement of the National Right to Life Committee, but the state branch of the group, Tennessee Right to Life, refused to endorse him, calling him a "pro-abortion" politician.[72]

Corker supports broad Second Amendment rights and "appointing Federal judges who practice judicial restraint."

Fiscal policy[edit]

In 2006, Corker supported making the 2001 tax cut and the 2003 tax cut permanent.[73] He has shown interest in replacing the federal progressive income tax with a flat tax.[74]

Corker has expressed skepticism regarding the claims of human-caused global warming. He favors imposing a tax on carbon.[75] Corker opposed John McCain's 2008 campaign proposal to suspend the 18-cents-per-gallon federal gasoline tax, calling it "pandering extraordinaire".[76]

He endorsed the initial $350 billion of Wall Street bailout money in 2008,[77] and opposed releasing additional $350 billion of it in 2009.[78]

In 2011, Corker voted in favor of the Republican alternative budget proposed by Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), a proposal that would eliminate the health care provided through the Medicare program and instead give seniors subsidies for part of the cost of obtaining private medical insurance.[79] Corker referred to such programs as Medicare and Social Security as "generational theft".[80]

In 2013, Corker endorsed the Marketplace Fairness Act and voted for its passage in the Senate. The Marketplace Fairness Act would enable states to begin collecting sales taxes on online purchases.[81]

Foreign policy[edit]

Corker has become a defender of the Iraq War since taking his seat in Congress in January 2007.[citation needed] Corker said that any further reduction in U.S. forces in Iraq should be based on improved conditions in the country. He urged ultimate success will be determined by the Iraqi government, over which the U.S. has limited control, and the withdrawal of some of the troops that were added in 2007 has created some pressure on the Iraqi government, but warned in April 2008 that further cuts could destabilize the country.[82][dead link]

In April 2009, Corker criticized President Obama's Afghan war strategy, which boosted civilian efforts to rebuild the impoverished country and placed nuclear-armed Pakistan at the center of the fight: "I have no idea what it is, other than sending additional troops. I hope we dig a lot deeper," said Corker.[83] He expected that the United States is having to build the economic and governmental structure of Afghanistan after decades of war.[84]

In April 2015, Corker's position on Iraq was that turmoil in the Middle East predated Barack Obama's presidency, and that by invading Iraq in 2003 the U.S. “took a big stick and beat a hornets’ nest”, unleashing rivalries that might take decades to resolve.[85]

Corker supports supplying Ukraine (fighting the War in Donbass) with lethal weapons.[86]

Health care policy[edit]

In September 2009 Corker, opposed a health-care reform amendment that would legally allow Americans to buy cheaper Canadian drugs.[87] He opposed President Barack Obama's health reform legislation. He voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in December 2009,[88] and he voted against the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.[89]

In late February 2010, Corker became the sole senator to back retiring Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky in filibustering a 30-day extension of expiring unemployment and COBRA benefits.[90]

Controversies[edit]

Sale of protected wetlands[edit]

Corker speaking at the Brentwood Cool Springs Chamber of Commerce breakfast in 2010

In 2003, Osborne Enterprises, an affiliate of the real estate company Corker Group, sold protected wetlands near South Chickamauga Creek in Chattanooga to Wal-Mart for $4.6 million.[91] In July 2003 environmental educator Sandy Kurtz filed a restraining order to stop the construction of the Wal-Mart. After briefly being upheld, the lawsuit was dismissed on July 15, 2003. The Wal-Mart opened in May 2004.[92]

Attorney Joe Prochaska, who represented Kurtz, served from 1992 to 1997 as a member of the Davidson County Democratic Party’s executive committee. Prochaska accused Corker of selling the land shortly after the construction easement was approved. However, public records show that the land was approved for development by the city prior to Corker becoming mayor in April 2001. As part of the development plans, the Corps of Engineers approved the filling in of 2.5 acres of the wetlands, to widen an access road, in exchange for the creation of an additional 11 acres of new wetlands in a nearby area.[92] Public records show no involvement of Corker in the approval process.[93]

In 2006, during Corker's United States Senate campaign against Democrat Harold Ford Jr., a second lawsuit was filed by Kurtz, again represented by Prochaska, and the Tennessee Environmental Council.[92] The lawsuit accused Wal-Mart of encroaching onto an adjacent protected nature area that was also held by a company owned by Corker. The suit alleged that Corker did not fully disclose his interest in the property where the Wal-Mart was built or in the adjacent nature area at the time the deal was made. The Corker campaign countered that an article published on March 5, 2003 in the Chattanooga Times Free Press publicly identified Corker's ownership interest in the land, through Osborne Enterprises, and that as mayor, a blind trust barred Corker from being involved in issues like these that affected his business.[92][93]

On October 13, 2006, lawyers involved in the case announced a settlement agreement. Details of the settlement were not announced, but court records indicate that a portion of the settlement involved a 45-day option for the Tennessee Environmental Council to purchase over 13 acres (53,000 m2) of the land in dispute that the Council hopes to dedicate for public use.[94]

Blind trust[edit]

Shortly after taking office as mayor, Corker voluntarily placed his Hamilton County real estate holdings and businesses into a blind trust to avoid "even the perception of any conflict". Corker stated that the visibility of his properties and public knowledge of his ownership in them served as another check on his actions as mayor.[95]

On October 11, 2006, The Commercial Appeal reported that the blind trust that Corker set up to run his businesses to avoid conflicts of interest while he was mayor "may not have been all that blind".[96] According to e-mails discovered by the Appeal (some of which had previously presumed to be lost):

Corker met often with employees from his private companies while mayor from 2001 to 2005, and he shared business tips with others. Corker also got help organizing his 2001 mayoral campaign from City Hall, where a government secretary passed on voting lists and set up meetings for the millionaire commercial real estate developer.[96]

The e-mails show that Corker often met with officials from his private company, the Corker Group, which was part of the blind trust, while he was mayor.[96] When asked about these e-mails by the Appeal, Corker said that he thought the blind trust had "worked very well" and that he had sold most of his business holdings so that he could avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest in the Senate.[96]

Volkswagen[edit]

In 2014, Corker, a long-time opponent of unions in Tennessee,[97] tried to influence a secret ballot election of blue-collar workers at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant whether to allow the UAW to represent them.[98] "I had conversations today and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga," Corker said. The United Auto Workers was dealt a "stinging defeat" after a majority of employees at the Volkswagen plant voted against joining the union.[99]

Dispute with Local Academic[edit]

Hiking on Stringer’s Ridge near Chattanooga on November 13, 2016, Senator Corker encountered college professor David G. Haskell, who was hiking the trail with three companions. According to Haskell's blog[dubious ],[100] Haskell approached the Senator and greeted him, then told him how ashamed he was to be from a state where his senator will not denounce Donald Trump for boasting of sexual assault. Haskell said that as a Tennessean he was deeply ashamed of his silence. According to Haskell, Corker responded, “If you don’t like it, then you should leave the state.” Corker continued, “It’s people like you who won’t accept the results of the election who are deeply dividing this country. What have you ever done to contribute to this state?”

In an article in the Tennessean,[101] Corker's staff countered that Haskell had approached him aggressively and with profane language.

Haskell denies that he was aggressive in his behavior. His position was corroborated by his three hiking companions. Haskell was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2013 for his book “The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature.”

Electoral history[edit]

2006 United States Senate Republican primary election, Tennessee
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Bob Corker 231,541 48.1
Republican Ed Bryant 161,189 33.5
Republican Van Hilleary 83,078 17.3
Republican Tate Harrison 5,309 1.1
2006 United States Senate election, Tennessee[102]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Republican Bob Corker 929,911 50.7 -14.4
Democratic Harold Ford, Jr. 879,976 48.0 +15.8
Independent Ed Choate 10,831 0.6 n/a
Independent David "None of the Above" Gatchell 3,746 0.2 n/a
Independent Emory "Bo" Heyward 3,580 0.2 n/a
Independent H. Gary Keplinger 3,033 0.2 n/a
Green Chris Lugo 2,589 0.1 n/a
Majority 49,935 2.7
Turnout 1,833,693
2012 United States Senate Republican primary election, Tennessee
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Bob Corker (incumbent) 389,613 85.2
Republican Zach Poskevich 28,311 6.2
Republican Fred Anderson 15,951 3.5
Republican Mark Twain Clemens 11,795 2.6
Republican Brenda Lenard 11,384 2.5
United States Senate election in Tennessee, 2012
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Republican Bob Corker (incumbent) 1,496,668 64.9%
Democratic Mark E. Clayton 700,753 30.4%
Green Martin Pleasant 37,964 1.6%
Libertarian Shaun Crowell 20,813 0.9%
Constitution Kermit Steck 18,490 0.8%
Independent James Higdon 8,036 0.3%
Independent Michael Joseph Long 8,043 0.3%
Independent Troy Stephen Scoggin 7,105 0.3%
Independent David Gatchell 6,469 0.3%
Majority 795,915 34.5%
Turnout 2,304,341

References[edit]

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  102. ^ Official election results

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Jon Kinsey
Mayor of Chattanooga
2001–2005
Succeeded by
Ron Littlefield
Party political offices
Preceded by
Bill Frist
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Tennessee
(Class 1)

2006, 2012
Most recent
United States Senate
Preceded by
Bill Frist
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Tennessee
2007–present
Served alongside: Lamar Alexander
Incumbent
Preceded by
Bob Menendez
Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
2015–present
United States order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Bob Casey
United States Senators by seniority
40th
Succeeded by
Claire McCaskill