Nashville blogger Adam Kleinheider this week posed a perfectly sensible question regarding Democratic state Senator Rosalind Kuritas decision to cast an unexpected and decisive vote early this year that unseated the venerable John Wilder, a nominal Democrat. as lieutenant governor and gave that post to Republican Ron Ramsey.
Kleinheider, commenting on someone elses prior interview with Kurita and imagining what he might ask her if he had the opportunity, had this to say: [I]f your conscience prevented you from voting for Wilder, if you knew you did not want him to be Speaker, why not vote for Haynes? That was apropos Kuritas action in an earlier Democratic caucus vote that preceded the floor vote unseating Wilder.
At that prior vote, widely regarded at the time as a dress rehearsal for the Senate vote itself, Democratic caucus chairman Joe Haynes of Goodlettsville had sought the party nod as Senate speaker, but the consensus including Kurita sided with Wilder.
Kleinheider continued: I wanted to hear why, given the choice between Haynes and Wilder, Kurita stuck with Wilder .Obviously she thought that Wilder was not worthy of the office and that his leadership had lead to a dearth of Democratic initiative, right? That's what she said in the interview. So why not Haynes?
I had the opportunity of putting Kleinheiders question to Kurita during an interview with her in Nashville on Thursday. Her answer: Thats a nonsensical question. I voted for Ron Ramsey because I thought he would do the best job for the people of Tennessee. The basic tenet of a democracy is that the majority rules. Its not about putting together 17 votes to pretend we [the Democrats] are in charge.
The import of her answer, then, would seem to be that the principle of majority vote superseded that of Wilders suitability to lead or Haynes, for that matter.
Kurita declined to discuss the option of voting for Haynes rather than Wilder in the party caucus. Thats a ridiculous question, thats hindsight. It doesnt have any bearing on how we do good for the people of Tennessee.
The Clarksville senator, who gained the position of Senate Speaker Pro Tem as a result of Ramseys ascension, was then asked to respond to this speculation on blogger Kleinheiders part: [D]id she vote for Wilder because she she wanted to run stealth? Did she vote for Wilder because she did not want her colleagues to suspect her as the traitor and thus make her betrayal easier? After all, had she voted for Ramsey when Haynes was the nominee, she would have caught infinitely more flack.
Was she voting for Wilder in the caucus because she and Ramsey had already hatched the scenario that made her the woman of the hour and a Haynes nomination would have sullied that scenario and ruined her deal with Ramsey?
To which Kurita said only: He must be projecting the way he operates. Its not the way I operate.
During her short tenure as Speaker Pro Tem, Kurita said, she had gained access to a more bipartisan aspect [of legislation] than I ever did before. She contrasted the drawbacks of partisan one-upmanship with the goals of making a difference.
She said her new position had allowed her to carry bills of greater significance notably an energy package and an initiative, proposed last year with Republican state Representative Brian Kelsey of Memphis, to amend the state constitution to the end of electing constitutional officers. (Thats moving now.)
A licensed nurse, Kurita prides herself on having waged a successful campaign against the excesses of cigarette smoking having been the prime mover in getting smoking banned from state buildings. She has new legislative proposals to prohibit giveaway packs of cigarettes in the state and to mandate treating tobacco solid in Tennessee so that it doesnt smolder and burns itself out.
Kurita professes to enjoy the act of presiding over the Senate, something she has done so far at the rate of once a week. Shes still learning the ropes, as she candidly admits. As she observed about presiding Thursday morning, A couple of people were trying to get my attention, and I didnt see them right away. Im not completely used to scanning the chamber yet.
On the plus side, she pointed out, You may have noticed there were some rather chatty senators I had to calm down.
As it happened, too, Kuritas floor duty required her to have brief pro forma interchanges on Thursday with both Wilder, now an ordinary senator in the body he led for 36 years, and Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle, who has made no secret of his discontent with Kurita for her vote on Ramseys behalf and who recently dispatched a critical letter to statewide Democrats challenging her bona fides.
She recognized Wilder to note the presence of visitors from Fayette County in the balcony and acknowledged Kyle for the purpose of his making a motion. (Note: Former Lt. Gov. Wilder was in critical condition at The Med on Friday after suffering a fall at his Fayette County home on Thursday night.)
Asked about Kyles letter, Kurita shrugged and said, Well, you know, Senator Kyles a smart guy, and hes a good senator, but I think anybody who knows him knows that when hes angry, he will lash out at people. And thats what he did. And hopefully in time he wont feel that he has to lash out.
As for Wilder, who (to put it mildly) had also been unhappy with her, Kurita said somewhat ambiguously, Theres no difference in the number of times we communicate now from a year ago.
She had some kind words for the former speakers method of presiding over the floor. He tried his very best to be fair to everyone in terms of letting everyone speak.
Wilder had, in fact, offered her the same chance he afforded others to preside briefly, and somewhat honorifically, over the Senate. She never took him up on it.
The pretend factor of it just didnt appeal to me. If its a real job, I wan t to do it. And so she is doing it now, at least at periodic intervals, as backup presiding officer to Ramsey.
Indeed, there is no pretend factor to it. For better or for worse, and altogether for real, Kurita has become a high-profile member of the state Senate. And, whatever some others may think, she likes it like that.