John Jay Hooker for Governor? Really?

Rep. Cohen touts the one-time Democratic lion, now an independent, as a way of defeating Amendment 1. Really.

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If Immanuel Kant’s “categorical imperative” were applied to Steve Cohen’s wishes, the next governor of Tennessee would be a once-rising politician who first sought the office almost 50 years ago and, after numerous fits and starts, has fallen way out of the mainstream — though he has never quite gone away.

Cohen, the Democratic congressman from Memphis’ 9th District and a longtime exponent of women’s rights, doesn’t really think John Jay Hooker of Nashville, a onetime Democratic lion who’s on the ballot as an independent, can win the governorship away from Republican governor Bill Haslam, who’s a virtual shoo-in. But he’s not much enamored of Charlie Brown, the East Tennessee retired contractor who won the Democrats’ largely overlooked gubernatorial primary on the strength of a familiar cartoon name.

And, as Cohen explained to attendees at a well-attended “Vote No on 1” rally held by the Tennessee Democratic Party at the Racquet Club last week, the fate of Amendment 1, which would strengthen restrictions on abortion, will be settled Yes or No on November 4 depending on which side gets a numerical majority based on the total votes in the governor’s race.

The way it works out mathematically, an avoidance of the governor’s race coupled with a Yes vote on any one of the four constitutional amendments on the fall ballot would lower the threshold for that amendment’s chances, while a vote for governor along with a no vote would raise the threshold.

So it was that Cohen ended up touting Hooker, an octogenarian lawyer and erstwhile friend of the Kennedy clan who was a valuable political property once upon a time, running second in the 1966 Democratic gubernatorial primary to ultimate winner Buford Ellington and winning the primary in 1970, only to lose to the GOP’s candidate, Memphis dentist Winfield Dunn.

Hooker had a few chances to get back in the limelight after that and was the Democratic nominee for governor (against Republican incumbent Don Sundquist) as recently as 1998, but his recent political forays have been mainly as a litigant against the “Tennessee Plan,” a method that allows state appellate justices to stay in office via retention votes rather than through straight-out contested elections.

(Ironically, another issue on the November ballot, Amendment 2, would resolve the ambiguity in the state Constitution which Hooker has targeted, permitting gubernatorial appointments followed by regular retention votes in the case of appellate judges.)

In any case, Cohen exhorted the pro-choice attendees at last week’s rally to vote for governor if they wanted to defeat Amendment 1, which would give the General Assembly authority to legislative on numerous aspects of the abortion issue, including cases involving rape, incest, and medically acknowledged threats to the life of the mother.

“Do what I’m going to do, vote for John Jay!” said Cohen.

Other speakers at the Vote No on 1 rally, organized by Adrienne Pakis-Gillon, included the Democrats’ U.S. Senate nominee, Gordon Ball, state Democratic chairman Roy Herron, City Councilman Myron Lowery, and Ashley Coffield, CEO of Memphis’ Planned Parenthood.


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