Ramsey’s Reckless Campaign 

Politics need to be kept out of our Tennessee Supreme Court races.

Popeye the Sailor Man was one of my favorite cartoon characters as a child. I remember particularly fondly one of those "throwback" episodes where Popeye somehow found himself in the Old West facing his arch rival, Brutus, who had taken on the persona of the ruthless bully "Black Bart." Brutus wore big pointy-toed black boots, which he used to mercilessly kick the crap out of the slow-to-anger Popeye, until he couldn't take it anymore.

click to enlarge les_smith_mugshot.jpg

Of course, we all knew at some point, the battered, bruised, but not bowed Popeye, would reach for his spinach can and find the strength to dispatch his dastardly foe. And, just before he'd slog down his spinach, he'd say the immortal words that formed his life credo: "I am what I am, and that's all that I am!"

Though his name is not on the ballot for Thursday's August 7th election, the heavy hand of this state's "Black Bart," Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey can be seen everywhere. Wearing his famed black boots and armed with hundreds of thousands of dollars in PAC money, Ramsey is attempting to grind three respected members of the Tennessee Supreme Court into the dirt.

On this longest and largest ballot in the history of Shelby County, with so many conflicting and controversial candidates seeking election, I would urge all voters not to bypass what I believe is the most important selections we in Tennessee can make for our future. In a campaign that has been waged for months and filled with misinformation, false fears, and flat out lies, Ramsey has boldly attempted to destroy the character and integrity of current state Supreme Court Justices Connie Clark, Sharon Lee, and Chief Justice Gary Wade.

Why? Because, as Democrats appointed by former Governor Phil Bredesen, Ramsey thinks their retention thwarts his blatant attempt to pack the court with all Republican appointees, who will perhaps be more empathetic to the unbridled conservative agenda of the GOP-controlled Tennessee General Assembly.

At first, Ramsey was content to simply direct the political assault from the sidelines. However, recent financial disclosures have revealed he's now used more than $400,000 from his personal action committee, compiled with the help of out-of-state conservative causes, to openly lead the fight against the trio of judges. Ramsey and his cohorts have unleashed a bombardment of political ads, without any presentation of proof, accusing the targeted justices of being soft on crime and the off-the-wall allegation they helped instigate Obamacare.

There are those of you who might not understand why I'm so adamant about supporting this trio of people you've probably never met, heard of, or read about during their tenure on the bench. As judges, protectors, and interpreters of state laws, retaining a low-key status is a great strength. Who wants "showboats" to be judges sitting on the highest court in Tennessee? Who wants the men and women who wear judicial robes to be flawed by their own personal biases or be so spineless they'd be willing to pander to the bullying of politicians?

Let me try to put it even more in perspective. With a Tennessee legislature determined to meddle in every aspect of citizens' lives, from challenging federal abortion laws to drug-testing welfare recipients to jailing drug-afflicted mothers or passing more voter suppression measures, the chances of these hot-button issues falling into the laps of the justices becomes more than likely. And without the retention of Clark, Lee, and Wade and the narrow 3-to-2 margin they currently hold over Republican appointees, are we truly willing to roll the dice as to whom Governor Bill Haslam might choose to fill that trio's slots as hand-picked by Ramsey?

This is not to say the other candidates you'll be casting your votes for on Thursday don't require serious consideration before you vote for them. I know many of you made up your minds months ago. This political campaign season has been one of the most unpredictable, shocking, and nastiest I've covered in my years as a reporter. I often wonder if we, as voters, deserve this. Unfortunately we seem to tolerate it more than we should.

But, remember Popeye's simple adage: It's about being secure in knowing who you are, accepting your own limitations, and embracing humility. It should be equally applicable to us and those we choose to elect.

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