POLITICS: Election Tenses 

This year's candidates rush to file, as some from the past and future come under the microscope.

On the eve of Thursday's filing deadline for statewide and federal offices, some of the still outstanding blanks were rapidly being filled in. Stressing his legislative experience, state Senator Steve Cohen (see Viewpoint, "A Level Playing Field) ended speculation about his status by formally filing for the 9th congressional district on Monday, and there was a rush of others - both Democrats and Republicans -- to do the same.

In Nashville, state Senator Jim Bryson of Franklin also eliminated doubt about his status, announcing his candidacy in the Republican primary for governor. Bryson had been under significant pressure to do so from the GOP establishment, which feared that otherwise the party's nomination might go to Minuteman leader Carl "Two Feathers" Whitaker.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rosalind Kurita meanwhile renewed her challenge to primary opponent U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. for a series of debates and boasted of new fundraising success.  "Our campaign has raised nearly $120,000 this quarter," said spokesperson Anastasia Apa in a campaign press release.  "That's double what we raised in the last quarter of 2006."

click to enlarge Election Commission head James Johnson - J.B.
  • J.B.
  • Election Commission head James Johnson

Shelby County Election Commission executive director James Johnson, speaking to members of the Germantown Democratic Clubon Saturday about a variety of matters, including the ongoing controversy surrounding last year's special state Senate election in District 29, provided a broad clue as to the mystery of deceased voters in the now notorious (and defunct) precinct 27-1:

Explaining procedures for selecting poll workers, Johnson said, "There's a reason why we select people that live in the community. Hopefully, they know their neighbors or somebody that's in the neighborhood."

Relating that fact to the District 29 situation and to the ongoing investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Johnson went on: "The irony with this particular election in District 29, and I'm going to give you a little bit of a hint on TBI's investigation, is that the polling officials knew these people....We didn't know them, but they knew them.

"They knew that they [two names listed as active voters] were deceased. In order to do wrong in the electoral process, somebody has to have offers, and somebody has to agree to do something wrong. There is, in my mind, a conspiracy there."

Elaborating on that statement this week, Johnson said the deceased voters --Joe L. Light and Archie L. Kirkwood - had until their deaths, which occurred not long before the September 15 special election, been residents of the same housing complex as the poll workers who were on duty at 27-1, a firehouse.

"They had to know these folks - especially Mr. Light, who was well known in the community - weren't still alive," Johnson said.

On another issue, that of some 40-odd District 29 voters whose addresses have been challenged and who have been asked for formal verification of their proper addresses by a state Senate investigating committee, Johnson said on Saturday that that aspect of the controversy had been overstated.

"State law in my opinion really doesn't go [that] far....," he said. Allegations by one side or another about improper addresses "could happen every time we have an election." He cited the case of a newly moved husband and wife - one of whom received a valid voter registration card in the mail and was able to vote in a recent election while the other hadn't and couldn't.

Originally, the wife, who was of a different political party than her husband, claimed the problem had partisan causes, but the explanation was simpler, said Johnson. "The wife had never changed her address, and he husband had." He said that questions of residential flux in a mobile society made hard and fast judgments of the sort now being sought by the Senate committee difficult.

Johnson also discounted one club member's fear that Diebold, Inc., supplier of new voting machines for this year's elections, might be able to tamper with election results in the interests of Republican candidates. He said technical safeguards made that unlikely and that Republican executives were no more prominent at Diebold than at the other companies that had submitted bids to the county.

Concerning controversies involving Diebold machines in such states as California and Florida, Johnson said, "Some of this stuff is business-oriented, not political."

Johnson was asked whether the Shelby County Democratic Party could challenge the right of two county commission candidates to run as party nominees if victorious on the May 2nd Democratic primary ballot. The party's steering committee attempted last week to decertify the two - J.W. Gibson in District 2, Position 1, and Johnny Hatcher in District 3, Position 1 - on grounds of prior Republican involvement. But, as Johnson pointed out, the deadlines had passed for excluding them from the primary ballot.

"Let the legal minds handle it," said Johnson on matter of stripping the two of the party label after the primary -- indicating a level of ambiguity in state law.

click to enlarge Election Commission head James Johnson - J.B.
  • J.B.
  • Election Commission head James Johnson

Gibson, a businessman who had voted in Republican primaries for the past decade and had served on the local GOP steering committee as recently as last year, issued a statement Tuesday reaffirming his identity as a Democrat, espousing such party issues as the "living wage," and contending, "Those people who have questioned the fact that I am a Democrat are involved in an unpleasant side of partisan politics."

Frist: Schiavo Role 'Appropriate'

Tennessee's Bill Frist, the U.S. Senate majority leader and, as of now, still a potential candidate for the presidency,took some serious lumps in the press this past week.
           

Writing in The New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg pronounced Frist to be floundering and said, among other things, "His standing as a national figure has been undercut by his performance in some high-profile situations, notably his moves a year ago to prod Congress to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case in Florida.
           

Pundit Joe Klein said much the same in Time, opining that Frist had been both awkward and opportunistic on a number of issues. He, too, singled out Schiavo as having been a pivotal case, noting an apparent effort by the senator, a physician and world-class transplant surgeon before entering the Senate, to diagnose the young woman, ultimately adjudged brain-dead, from a videotape. Says Klein flatly: "Frist's descent began a year ago, when he destroyed his reputation for medical probity...."

Frost was asked about the issue during a sit-down with the Tennessee media at last month's Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Memphis. Despite some statements made elsewhere that seem to indicate second thoughts on the senator's part, he declined to recant while in Memphis. Here, verbatim, is what he said:
 

"I am a physician who has served in the Senate for the last 11 years, but who comes to this body with a commitment, a professional oath to protect those who can't protect themselves, those who are the most vulnerable in our society today. That comes from a physician, but it also comes from being a United States Senator, where you are protecting life.
 

"My role was simply to say, 'Let's review before we allow this young woman, severely disabled but without a terminal illness, not on any sort of life support, no life support, who is not dead. Before you kill her let's have one more review.' That was the only thing we did on the floor of the United States Senate.
 

"She got that one more review, and the conclusion was, although every blood relative said, 'Don't kill her,' every blood relative, siblings, parents, said, 'Don't kill her,' the decision was made because the law reads that the spouse can make the ultimate decision. It was upheld. That's disappointing. From a moral standpoint that's disappointing to me.
 

"So I think that was an appropriate stance and an appropriate role. Again, we have to protect the most vulnerable in our society today, the people who can't speak for themselves, who can't protect themselves, and that is the role of government, and it's also the role of physicians." -JB

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