Politics » Politics Feature

Roz in '08? Fahgitaboutit!

After her takedown of Wilder, Kurita is unlikely to be anybody's idea of a model statewide Democrat.



NASHVILLE -- There was a canard that went around after Rosalind Kurita's surprise withdrawal from the U.S. Senate race last April, a day or two before the withdrawal deadline.  The Clarksville state senator's action gave Memphis congressman Harold Ford the Democratic nomination on a silver platter, though it's fairly clear he would have won the primary anyhow against an underfunded opponent who lacked any traction at all with state and national party hierarchies who were patently lusting after Ford's supposed star appeal.

 Her withdrawal -- too late to allow another name opponent to enter the fray -- was a grave disappointment to a minority of yellow-dog Democrats who were desperate for at least a token alternative to the ever bluer (maybe that should be ever redder) Blue Dog Ford. And the whole circumstance gave rise to the supposition that Kurita must have made some deal with the movers and shakers, that by accommodating them and allowing Ford to conserve his money for the general election, she had some claim upon party-establishment loyalties in the event of a 2008 reprise of her Senate ambitions, against incumbent Republican Lamar Alexander.

There were several things wrong with that hypothesis - among them that any number of Democratic heavy hitters are looking at the 2008 race (the name of former state Atty. General Paul Summers has been prominent in speculation, and some are even talking up a renewed Senate bid from Harold Ford Jr.) and that Alexander would be a difficult man to beat in any case.

But that - Roz in 2008 -- was a bedtime story that lots of unregenerate Yellow Dogs were telling themselves. Overnight - in the wake of her pivotal vote on Tuesday to make Republican Ron Ramsey Speaker of the Senate and Lieutenant Governor -- that slogan has come undone; Kurita will have to worry about Democratic opposition if she hazards reelection from state Senate District 22 (though, under the circumstances, it is unlikely she will have any serious Republican foe in a district that is very, very Middle-of-the-Road politically).

The stories floating around Nashville's Legislative Plaza after this week's bombshell events have it that Kurita was aggrieved not only at the way the state party hierarchy followed the national Democrats' lead in dissing her Senate intentions in 2006 but, specifically, at the way her state Senate ambitions had been disregarded.

Two years ago, during the Senate's reorganization, she let Speaker John Wilder, a nominal Democrat whom she had dutifully voted for, know that she wanted the chairmanship of Transportation; that committee went instead to Mark Norris, the ambitious Republican from Memphis who went on to make something substantial out of it and is slated to inherit Ramsey's job as Senate majority leader.

Last week, when the Senate Democratic caucus met to allot positions within its ranks, Kurita campaigned briefly for the post of caucus chairman. That went again to Joe Haynes, the Goodlettsville Democrat who had launched an abortive challenge to Wilder but had lost the caucus vote for Speaker. Kurita talked her caucus-mates into splitting off the job of candidate recruitment and became chairperson of that effort. That is her ironic position as of today: At a time when she is being vilified in several corners of the state Democracy, Rosalind Kurita has been officially entrusted by it with the task of drumming up promising new Democrats for the state Senate.

That is even more of an eyebrow-raiser in that Ramsey has confided that he had known "for several days" that he had Kurita's vote in the bag. Unconfirmed rumors sprouted Wednesday that Kurita and Ramsey had made their compact, such as it was and whatever it entailed, as far back as three weeks ago, well before the Democratic caucus met to do its pre-session thing.

Meanwhile, whatever fate awaits Kurita among her legislative party-mates - and Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle's denunciation on Tuesday of what he called a "broken trust" was not a good augury - she is likely to fare well at Ramsey's hands. Asked about her prospects at his post-election press conference on Tuesday, Ramsey said he had made no specific promises but that "Rosalind Kurita can do anything she wants to."

That could well mean that she will become the new Senate Speaker Pro Tem to replace Michael Williams, the Maynardville Republican who had voted for Wilder two years ago and would presumably have done so again on Tuesday, had Kurita's vote for Ramsey not already made the point moot.

Williams, whom Ramsey specifically ruled out for a return stint as Speaker Pro Tem, has spent the time since 2004 as something of an outcast among his GOP mates; whether Kurita succeeds him in a like role with the legislature's Democrats remains to be seen.

One thing seems certain, however: She is unlikely to be anybody's idea of a model Democrat for statewide purposes, not in 2008 and not, presumably, for some time to come.

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