Ketron: 'I concentrate on tough issues'

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

NASHVILLE (AP) -- A neatly folded T-shirt sits on a table in the outer office of state Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro. In red, white and blue letters, it proclaims: "Welcome to America. Now Speak English."

Inside his office, Ketron is told by a visitor that some Capitol Hill reporters have suggested him as a good profile subject because he's interesting.

"Maybe it (the recommendation) is because I concentrate on tough issues," the 57-year-old Republican says.

Indeed, it's some of his legislative proposals that have drawn attention to Ketron, the Senate's GOP caucus chairman.

They include:

-- A proposal that all driver's license exams be given in English.

-- A proposal for Tennessee to study creating its own currency in the event of a breakdown of the Federal Reserve.

-- A proposal to make it a felony to follow some versions of the Islamic code known as Shariah.

-- A proposal to make presidential candidates prove they were born in this country.

The Shariah proposal was amended to remove references to religion. None has become law.

Says Jim Kyle of Memphis, the Democratic Senate minority leader:

"He's been very controversial. Some would say extreme, in some areas."

In March, the Tennessee Democratic Party issued a news release calling him "Dollar Bill Ketron," referring to his suggestion for the state to study establishing its own currency.

Here are some tidbits about him:

According to his web site, he's a 32nd Degree Mason, a York Rite and a Shriner. He was an Eagle Scout at age 12, earning the distinction for pouring two wheelchair ramps at his Methodist church in Murfreesboro.

"That was before the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act)," he recalled.

He wears $700 suits and is rarely seen at the Capitol dressed casually.

Says Democratic Sen. Reginald Tate of Memphis, "He's just like me; he's just a cool guy."

He's president of his independent insurance agency in Murfreesboro and says he actually sells insurance when not occupied with legislative business.

Is he a good salesman?

"I'd say it's a successful company," Ketron says.

His political heroes are Abraham Lincoln "because he saw the big picture of these United States" and Ronald Reagan because "he communicated in a way like none other."

Time permitting, Ketron fishes at Center Hill or Percy Priest Lake in a quest for smallmouth bass. His big catch, though, was a 9-pound mackerel it took him 45 minutes to land off the coast of Florida.

His proposal about the Shariah code this session, since amended with no reference to Shariah, came three years after his daughter attended her high school prom in Murfreesboro with a Muslim.

"No problem with it," he said sharply during a 30-minute interview in his basement office at the teeming Legislative Plaza. "He was a nice young man."

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Ketron was dressed in a snappy blue suit and kept the jacket on as he sat in one of his upholstered chairs behind a closed office door. He often paused before softly answering a reporter's questions as several people waited in his outer office to see him.

This is his ninth year in the General Assembly, representing Maury, Lincoln, Rutherford and Marshall counties. On the floor or during committee meetings, he seems to maintain a calm demeanor even when challenged.

One item that did arouse him was an editorial in The Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, his hometown newspaper, which said he's been spending "an inordinate amount of energy chasing windmills."

Discussing his work in the Legislature, Ketron said, "What drives me is making things better and making life better for those who need a hand up."

Some of this outlook, he said, developed when he accompanied his grandmother while she took groceries to poor people once a week in Kingsport where he grew up.

"I want to give to other people," Ketron said.

Now about those $700 suits: He says he's actually been resourceful because he bought many of them on sale.

"Sometimes when you buy one you get one or two others free."