Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Clement was eight years old when his father, Frank G. Clement, was first elected governor of Tennessee. He became enamored of politics at a very early age, and was widely regarded as quite an asset in his father's subsequent gubernatorial campaigns in 1954 and 1962, receiving the nickname "Little Bob", which has never fully left him (he is approximately 5'5"/165 cm tall). He attended the University of Tennessee and subsequent to his graduation and service in the United States Army ran for the Democratic nomination for the East Tennessee seat on the Public Service Commission. He defeated three-term incumbent Hammond Fowler in the 1972 Democratic primary by an incredible margin of almost three to one, bolstered in part by a televised debate in which he appeared to be young and vibrant while his opponent appeared to be old and doddering, and went on in November to overwhelm Republican nominee Tom Garland in what was otherwise largely a very good year for Republicans in Tennessee running for major offices. (No Republican was ever elected to the Public Service Comission in Tennessee during its existence, which later played a factor in its abolition.) When he did so, he became the youngest Tennessean ever elected to statewide office, supplanting the record that his father had set when he was elected governor at age 32.
Clement served his complete six-year term and announced that he would be a candidate for governor of Tennessee in 1978. Clement ran second in the primary behind Knoxville banker Jake Butcher, who had finished second in the Democratic gubernatorial primary four years previously and who had a level of name recognition roughly equal to Clement and, additionally, greater financial resources. (Butcher's total expenditures in running for governor of Tennessee that year exceeded $4,000,000, a then unheard-of amount for a relatively small state. By comparison, Jerry Brown in the same year also spent about $4,000,000 running for re-election as governor of California, a far larger state in both area and population. Butcher nonetheless lost the general election to Republican Lamar Alexander.)
Clement was not unemployed for long. President Jimmy Carter tapped him for an unexpired term on the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Clement made this office a high-profile position (at this time, the TVA Board had only three members and unlike most similar positions was a full-time job), largely as an opponent of then-TVA Chairman S. David Freeman, who was seen by many (including most TVA employees) as both too environmentalist and insufficiently pro-nuclear.
This term expired in 1981. Shortly thereafter, Clement announced his candidacy for the Seventh Congressional District seat being vacated by Robin Beard, who was leaving it to seek the Republican nomination against Senator James Sasser. Clement defeated Bartlett banker Harold Byrd for the Democratic nomination for Beard's former seat, but was defeated in the November, 1982 general election by Republican nominee (and future governor) Don Sundquist.
Temporarily out of politics, Clement remained active in Democratic circles. He also had a large network of contacts through his ongoing service in the Tennessee National Guard (from which he was eventually to retire as a colonel). He soon was named president of Cumberland College, a struggling private junior college 30 miles east of Nashville in Lebanon, Tennessee. This institution, founded in the 1840s, had at one time been a prestigious university but had fallen upon hard times, never fully recovering from the Great Depression and the widespread availablity of lower-cost public higher education after World War II. The low point in its problems probably occurred in the early 1960s when it was forced, for financial reasons, to sell its once-renowned law school (which Clement's father had attended) to what is now Samford University. During Clement's tenure, the school reobtained four-year college, and shortly later, full university status, and today Cumberland University is considered still to be on a sound financial footing, largely as a result of Clement's tenure as president.
When Tennessee Fifth District Congressman Bill Boner left his House seat in 1987 to become mayor of Nashville, Clement entered the Democratic primary for this office, winning nomination over a field of several competitors, including most prominently Phil Bredesen, future mayor of Nashville and current governor of Tennessee, who finished second. Clement coasted in the general election (this district has never elected a Republican to Congress since Reconstruction) and was elected to the balance of Boner's term. He was elected to a full term in 1988 and six subsequent ones. He never faced a truly realistic or well-funded challenge during this period.
In 2002, when Republican Senator Fred Thompson stated that he had changed his mind regarding his previous announcement that he would seek re-election, Clement entered the Democratic primary for the|U.S. Senate. He won the nomination fairly easily, but was soundly defeated (by a margin of almost 15 percent) in the November general election by Lamar Alexander, the former governor. Clement remains active in Democratic political circles and University of Tennessee alumni activities. His name has recently surfaced as a possible successor to current Nashville mayor Bill Purcell upon the expiry of the current term in 2007.
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