Politics » Politics Feature

The Judgment Stands

A state Democratic spokesperson's gallant appeal is given a review.

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Mark Brown, the communications/political director of the Tennessee state Senate caucus, has responded to last week's wrap-up in this space concerning his party's 2008 electoral misfortunes.

In the course of an extended e-mail conversation, Brown begins with this assertion: "There was never a television ad that claimed Dolores Gresham 'had voted X number of times' to raise her pay. Our accusation, which was fully documented in our ads, was that Gresham voted to increase her pension, which is pay. Also, this was a vote for a very specific bill, which, again, was documented in the spot. This was not a vote 'for the same routine bookkeeping resolutions that everyone else had.' To the contrary, Gresham specifically voted for a bill that increased her legislative pension. Your assertions are flatly incorrect, and I believe you should print a correction."

The context of my discussion of the race for the state Senate in District 26 between Democrat Randy Camp and Republican Dolores Gresham was the fact that, as I saw it, in race after race, the Democrats, who lost the state House and trail the Republicans in the Senate now by five votes, had largely invited misfortune by depending too heavily on negative, patently misleading advertising.

Brown's objection is well-taken in two particulars: 1) that, as he says, mailers sent out by the Democrats did reference the party's candidates' position on "the economy, jobs, and health care"; and 2) that the indicated pay-raise ad did not claim that Gresham had voted for an increase multiple times, only a single time.

That's as far as I can go in crediting Brown's objections, however. As he acknowledges, the 2006 vote that the anti-Gresham ad references was in two parts — a main bill that passed the House by the nearly unanimous margin of 86-1 and an amendment to it that was so uncontroversial as to pass by acclamation. Moreover, the bill-cum-amendment did no more than adjust legislative pensions to cost-of-living increases.

Given the fact that, of members present, only one member of the House, Harry Tindall (D-Knoxville), voted against the measure while another, Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), was recorded as "present, not voting," it is obvious that it enjoyed virtually universal support across party lines and that it was as close to a pro forma "routine bookkeeping resolution" as ever comes before the legislature.

Moreover, to contend, as Brown does, that a pension is "pay" is a stretch, and his subsequently made points that the amendment component of the bill was introduced on the floor by a Republican and was discussed out loud would seem to be irrelevant.

Mark Brown also takes exception to my having noted that official Democratic Party statements attempted misleadingly to saddle write-in candidate Rosalind Kurita, a Democrat who had significant Republican help, with support for a state income tax solely because she was financially backed by former Republican governor Don Sundquist. (For the record, Kurita was resolutely opposed to Sundquist's income tax proposals as a senator.)

Brown's response to that is something of a nolo contendere. After acknowledging that "we hit Kurita on Sundquist because Sundquist gave her campaign contributions," he amplifies on that later by claiming that Republicans often have made unfairly sweeping allegations concerning Democratic support for an income tax (a point well taken), so that "[w]e pushed back by pointing out that Republicans were taking campaign contributions from Don Sundquist, the father of the state income tax; however, other than press releases and a few automated calls, this was never a major piece of our messaging."

I'll let that statement speak for itself.

I appreciate Mark's polite and responsive way of dealing with points made both in my column and in e-mails to him. In defending his party's electoral strategy, ex post facto, he's arguably doing what a dedicated party spokesperson should be doing.

However, I stand by my original proposition that state Democrats lost ground in the election at least partly because of reliance on negative and misleading advertising. Granted, numerous Republican ads were equally offending. But, if anything, Brown's response seems to me to confirm my original argument.

• In a ceremony on Monday, Kemp Conrad, winner of a special election to succeed Scott McCormick, now president of the Plough Foundation, was sworn in as the newest member of the City Council.


A Postscript from Mark Brown:

"Thanks for the follow up. Guess we'll just have to agree to disagree.

"Three points, though:

"You write that I said 'Republicans often have made unfairly sweeping allegations concerning Democratic support for an income tax.' What I meant was that Republicans were making these allegations during the just-completed campaigns. Gresham, for example, did automated telephone calls claiming she was the only candidate that could be trusted to vote against an income tax.

"Also, the Republicans had zero message. Across the state they simply asserted that Obama is a liberal; therefore, (fill in Democratic candidate's name) is a liberal, and they threw around accusations that (fill in the blank) couldn't be trusted.

"The Senate Democratic Caucus lost three contested races by a total of 9,800 votes. In those three districts, President-elect Obama lost by approximately 70,000 - sorry, I don't have my figures here with me. These losses, combined with our losses in the last presidential cycle, cost us the majority.

"Bottom line, we have to compete at the top of the ticket or our best efforts will come up short down ballot."

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