Category Archives: Political News

What a nice nap. Did I miss anything?

Hello again, Tennessee.

The election cycle is quickly ramping up to full-on circus mode, and it’s causing me to want to rekindle this thing. I had every intention of maintaining a steady pace of updates in the off-season that followed what our elected officials actually do after we send them to their respective capitol buildings, but life happens (and roads get paved). No excuses; just picking-up and moving-on.

A Slow Bern?
I checked in on Tuesday with a small group of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders supporters in downtown Chattanooga. The event was not heavily publicized, so unlike the huge crowds that show up when the candidate is present, this gathering could have fit inside a VW Microbus. A couple of the folks had been to the recent Sanders rally in South Carolina, and spoke rather glowingly of the event.

They also spoke of larger groups active in Upper East Tennessee. I don’t have a good sense for how well the Sanders movement is doing statewide, though. Any comments from the Middle and West?

On the other hand, I’m also not aware of any grassroots organizing going on for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, or for former U.S. Sen. Jim Webb.

Carr going for a Cruz
Last week, a Facebook post by former Rep. Joe Carr declared his endorsement of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s GOP presidential primary bid. Carr, as the leading “Beat Lamar” candidate at a Chattanooga Tea Party event in 2014, had praised Cruz and fellow U.S. Sen. Mike Lee. The Cruz campaign also recruited former Williamson County Republican Party chair Kevin Kookogey as state director.

Cruz recently whisked through Tennessee on a bus tour.

With so many Republicans in the race, it is interesting to see how local support is lining up. Former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp is coordinating U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s efforts in the Volunteer State. Rubio is expected to visit Chattanooga on Sept. 3rd.

Businessman Donald Trump and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum will appear at a convention in Nashville this weekend. There are pockets of support for Dr. Ben Carson and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. Anecdotally, a lot of people remain undecided.

The Local
Nashville is in the midst of a municipal runoff election. Memphis is gearing up for its own elections in October.

Hamilton County will elect a new Assessor of Property in March—the only county office to be elected along with the presidential preference primary—and that campaign has kicked-off as well.

There is, as you know, lots more going on. I’ll put my thoughts together on some more political happenings.

Speaker: mouthpiece or bullhorn?

The Republican-dominated Tennessee General Assembly today effectively chose its leaders for the next session. Though they won’t be official until voted on by the full House and Senate in January, House Speaker Beth Harwell, and Senate Speaker and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey each cruised to another term at the helm via their party’s legislative caucuses.

Ramsey’s re-election was unanimous, but Harwell faced a minor challenge from Rep. Rick Womick, who found 14 other caucus members to stand with him. Womick’s ultimate target in the ill-fated takeover bid wasn’t Harwell, of course, but was instead Gov. Bill Haslam. Womick’s criticism of Harwell was that she served as a mouthpiece for the Haslam administration; whereas, he contended, a House under his speakership would amplify the voice of the electorate who sent conservative members to Nashville, and who oppose the governor’s moderate positions on items like Common Core.

Another increasingly loud critic of Haslam is Rep. Joe Carr, who on Saturday mounted his own conservative-backed challenge, in this case for the chairman spot in the Tennessee Republican Party—with similar results. Carr has taken to Facebook in attacking Haslam. This comes mere days after running for the TNGOP chair as a “unity candidate.”

The style employed by each legislative chamber’s leadership is something to ponder. It can be debated whether Harwell shows enough independence from the governor; but she is often described as fair, intelligent, and deliberate by members of both parties. She does not come across as a firebrand.

Ramsey, an auctioneer by trade, embodies a bolder voice—particularly in online communications and press releases, thanks to his talented and sharp-tongued spokesperson. Given that Ramsey challenged Haslam for the 2010 GOP nomination for governor, it’s unlikely that he’d functionally appear anywhere close to the “puppet” moniker critics have attempted ascribe to Harwell. But even Ramsey stops short of appearing to openly defy Haslam…most of the time.

What would a Womick speakership have looked (and sounded) like? I suppose, for now, the answer is moot.

TNDP: Reorg or reboot?

The Tennessee Democratic Party has some rather existential and fundamental questions to answer, and quickly.

What is a political party’s actual purpose? Is it solely to (raise money to) win elections for its nominees, regardless how (or why) they perform once in office?

Is it a bit broader than that, having a goal of advancing legislation that more or less aligns with a commonly held platform, thus relegating elections to “means” status, as opposed to “end”?

Or is it a fully engaged and powerful member of a larger social ecosystem that works at all levels to solve real problems that face all people (not limited to its membership)?

As an outsider, I sometimes get the sense that those in the major political parties’ core operating units (local, state, and national) develop pretty severe tunnel vision. That they, you know the saying, can’t see the forest, or even the trees. I could be wrong. And we’ll deal with the GOP in a different post. For now, let’s talk about Democrats in Tennessee.

Their electoral fortunes have been staggeringly miserable over the past several years. But is that the disease, or just a symptom? Can they blame it all on U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, or President Barack Obama, or the Republicans? Should they look internally to see what dysfunctions might be standing in their way?

A nominating panel just came up with three names to recommend to the State Executive Committee as potential party chairs. Terry Adams, Rep. Gloria Johnson, and Mary Mancini made the cut; Lenda Sherrell did not.

Again, I’m on the outside looking in, but allow yourself to imagine that that very perspective lends someone an ability to troubleshoot root causes and recommend solutions.

Imagine further that a political organization that adopted an “outside-in” view—from the “customer’s” (i.e., citizen’s) perspective, instead of from central office looking outward—could collaborate with ordinary people to refurbish its purpose and vision, use that to craft a strategy for fulfilling that vision, and recruit hordes of eager volunteers (and, yes, donors) to execute that strategy, all the while keeping in close contact with the very public on whom it depends. It could happen.

I don’t have a proverbial dog in the hunt for TNDP chair. What compounds my apathetic stance further is my belief that it may not matter which one of the nominees gets it. The issues facing the SEC and the party at large are systemic; they run to the bone marrow. It would seem shortsighted to lodge all one’s hopes in the belief that a single executive (or even the SEC itself) could engineer a turnaround. To do that, the party actually needs a direction first.

Hamilton County Republicans mourn longtime leader Harold Coker

Local GOP stalwart and benefactor Harold Coker has died. Hamilton County Republican Party chairman Tony Sanders sent this message to the party’s email list:

It is with great sadness that I send this email out this morning. Harold Coker passed away this morning at 5:30am. Hamilton County has lost a great man and friend to all. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Lill, Corky and the entire Coker family.

We will let you know details when arrangements have been made.


Tony Sanders

Coker was a member of the Hamilton County Commission for two decades. In 1988 he unsuccessfully ran for the Third District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, against Marilyn Lloyd.