What is ‘nonpartisan’? A view behind the scenes of the Brainerd forum

Tuesday evening’s candidate meet-and-greet and forum was sponsored by the Brainerd Unity Group, which bills itself as a nonpartisan community organization. I am a member of the group, though I confess I’m not regularly active in it, and I’ve slacked a couple of years on dues. (I’m paid-up now.)

When Candy Corneliussen, one of the group’s steering committee members, introduced me as the moderator, she described Tennessee Ticket as a “nonpartisan…or bipartisan” blog.

Media reports both before and after the forum made much of the fact that not many Republican candidates accepted the invitation to attend. The Democrats in attendance also attempted to heap shame on their GOP counterparts for being no-shows.

There are several factors that help round out the story. I want to make sure readers know as much as possible.

  • Todd Gardenhire, candidate for the Senate District 10 seat, was already booked for an event in Bradley County when I contacted the campaign to invite him.
  • That said, Marti Rutherford is Gardenhire’s scheduling person. There is enmity between Rutherford and the Brainerd Unity Group (or certain of its leaders) that dates back to the time Rutherford resigned from the Chattanooga City Council. I asked if a surrogate could attend in Gardenhire’s stead, and Rutherford rightly expressed concern about having someone speak on the candidate’s behalf. I suggested maybe just sending someone to hand out fliers and bumper stickers who wouldn’t participate in the forum.
  • Rep. Gerald McCormick is virtually unopposed in House District 26. (Rodger Cooksey is an independent on the ballot, but I cannot locate any information about his campaign.) The 26th does not really involve the Brainerd area.
  • Mike Carter is the only candidate running in District 29. The 29th does include a Brainerd precinct or two, but for the most part is drawn around the fast-growing Ooltewah area.
  • Rep. Richard Floyd probably feels fairly safe in his reelection effort, which is why he probably didn’t choose to face his District 27 opponent, Frank Eaton.
  • Rep. Vince Dean probably feels fairly safe in his reelection effort, which is why he probably didn’t choose to face his District 30 opponent, Sandy Norris Smith.
  • Since many (though not all) of the Brainerd Unity Group’s leaders are Democrats, it was my responsibility (as an Independent) to contact the Republican candidates. It is possible that I was not diligent or persuasive enough, even though I made every effort, given my schedule, to ensure all candidates knew they were invited to participate, including U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann.

A few Republicans were at the event (including Oscar Brock, who manned a Romney/Ryan table), but they were greatly outnumbered. This is consistent with what I have observed about many political events in this town, whether explicitly partisan or not—and no matter which explicit or implicit party puts on the show. They are generally lopsided.

And I just wonder if that is all right and good. If we try too hard to sterilize these things, they may just become yawnfests that nobody wants to attend. One of my Republican friends who attended Tuesday acknowledged his ideological minority status, but quickly added that he has fairly “thick skin,” so it didn’t matter. He got to see how the other side thought. I think that’s great, but I don’t expect everyone to act similarly.

Even so, I do wish more GOP candidates had come to the Brainerd forum. As the moderator, my aim was to give voters of all stripes a fair view into the mindsets of candidates of all stripes. And if I were a campaign consultant (which I don’t ever want to be, for the record), I would highly encourage my candidate to make every possible effort to be in front of potential voters, no matter how seemingly “hostile” the political territory. In-person appearances do matter.

For the record, I do not consider Tennessee Ticket to be “bipartisan.” I spend too much time trying to inform citizens that there are often more than the two media-supplied choices for that to be accurate. I am not sure if “nonpartisan” or “unpartisan” is the correct descriptor, but you get the idea. At the same time, I am realistic about the fact that, most often, an election will produce either a Democratic or Republican winner. I try to be fair to that reality as well as to all potential alternatives.

We all have choices to make—even the candidates, on where they will show up. But if any candidate felt like he was not suitably welcomed to the October 2nd event, allow me to extend an apology (though I have no evidence to suggest that is the case).

Aside from all this: please review your choices in the upcoming election as they relate to your personal values, and please vote accordingly.

Posted in TN House Elections, TN Senate Elections, U.S. House Elections Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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