Incumbent Senator Rosalind Kurita rejects the high ground in campaigning
A slew of last minute negative media from the incumbent begs the question- Whatever happened to taking the high ground? Is the incumbent so fearful of her challenger’s appeal? After all, as the incumbent, shouldn’t your record speak for itself?
August 2nd was the close of early voting in Tennessee for the State and County primary ballot. The election Commission saw brisk and fairly steady traffic for most of the day. Many citizens are dismayed by tactics that have been attributed to the incumbent, Senator Rosalind Kurita. Phone canvassing is said to have been conducted among Black voters, urging them to get out on August 7th and vote for Senator Barack Obama and Senator Kurita. Since the presidential candidates are not listed on the August ballot whatsoever, this seems a deceptive ploy to solicit the Black vote.
Senator Kurita has not made much of a show in the Clarksville arena. Personal appearances have been low on the general public’s radar. She has, however, bombarded voters’ mailboxes with printed material, including glossy supersized postcards with unauthorized pictures of herself with Governor Bredesen, inferring a nonexistent endorsement. There’s that TV spot that berates her challenger for effectively seeking to collect judgments for his wronged clients.
Her campaign mailings proclaim dedication to helping lower high fuel and energy cost. Having just been appointed to the Governor’s Study Committee on Alternative Energy Technology and Production this Spring however, is not going to impact gasoline prices anytime soon or in the near future. The committee won’t even submit its preliminary organizing report until December.
She rejected the State Democratic Party stance on preserving HOPE Lottery Scholarship funds for only scholarships in favor of the Republican stance to set up a commission to dole out $99 million from the fund for K-12 school construction, focusing mainly on adoption of geothermal heating and cooling systems. There are 95 counties in this state. Recall that our own county commission, just this spring, rejected this alternative system as being too costly, despite its admitted environmental advantages.
Challenger Tim Barnes reminds voters that while she hails the senior citizen home nursing care reform legislation that passed this past legislative session, she, herself, did not vote for its passage. Financial disclosure reports show that Senator Kurita has received large donations from the nursing home industry lobby. They are her largest contributor.
While the senator’s party affiliation is officially Democratic, she did cast the lone vote to deny John Wilder continued tenure as Speaker of the Senate and as Lt. Governor. With that switched vote, the agenda and priorities of her party were placed on the back-burner of the state’s Republican Party bandwagon. Overnight, committee chairmanships were dramatically reassigned. Legislation favored by her own party has been repeatedly buried in committee or rejected on the senate floor. She voted with the Republicans to pass legislation which seriously cut some injured workers benefits under the state’s meager Workers Compensation Program. ( SB 3424- 5-20-04) The good senator has so faithfully supported the Republican Party cause that Knoxville and Memphis political pundits hail her as the GOP’s best asset. State Republican fundraisers have been directed by the new Lt. Governor to support her re-election campaign. One pundit has even intimated that, no matter what the outcome of this election, her party affiliation switch was practically written on the proverbial wall.
Kurita also voted with the Republicans to deny Senator John Wilder’s attempt to save the Tennessee Plan, the state’s method for selecting Supreme Court and appellate court judges. Wilder had heralded the plan as a sound method to shut out partisan politics in selecting judges. Kurita said she considered her vote, ‘procedural,’ not indicative of her stance on th Tennessee Plan. She wouldn’t declare her position on the plan, instead saying, “she’s a nurse and not an attorney.” In summing up the past legislative session, The Knoxville Sentinel has recognized her with its “Best Republican Democrat” award.
Challenger Tim Barnes, a Clarksville attorney with no nursing home industry lobbyist ties, has pledged to remain true to the Democratic Party priorities and issues. He has received the endorsement of many professional, collegiate groups and private citizens. The APSU College Democrats declared their support for Attorney Barnes and a punitive phonecall was placed to the TBR about the group’s action. The Tennessee Federation of College Democrats, TFCD, have also come out for Barnes. Will another phonecall follow their action as well? TFCD President Leah Kirk said, “College Students across the state are tired of the degrading acts of Senator Kurita to the Democratic party’s values and ideals in Tennessee,” Kirk said. “We are standing up for our issues. We need someone in the State Senate willing to vote with and for Legislators who care about minimum wage, HOPE Scholarship funding, as well as funding to allow more Tennesseans the opportunity to attend college,”
Barnes has received the support of the Tennessee AFL-CIO and Clarksville’s Labor Organizations United Together (CLOUT). CLOUT includes the Clarksville Montgomery County Education Association, the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 364, the American Federation of Government Employees, the International Association of Machinists Union Local 1296, the Plumbers and Pipe Fitters, the Central Labor Council and the Clarksville Firefighters. Barnes benefits from having the support of the most prominent labor union in the state, which is heralded for their ability to mobilize voters in favor of their candidates.
Barnes’ campaign also has the endorsement of the United Auto Workers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, State Association of Firefighters, United Steel Workers, Laborers 386, Machinists District 711, Tennessee Carpenters Regional Council, the Stage Employees Union, Communication Workers of America Local 3808, American Federtion of State County Municipal Employees L.L. 2173, the Building and Construction Trades, the University of Tennessee College Democrats. Additionally he has received support from former Governor Ned McWherter, House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle, Mike McWherter, Nashville Sen. Thelma Harper and Memphis Sen. Beverly Marrero.
Much of this intra-party opposition comes as a result of Senator Kurita’s vote to switch control of the senate to the Republican Party. She said her reason for aligning with the Republicans was because ‘she wanted to be somebody.’ Was it not enough to be the District 22 Senator? Well, she is now Speaker Pro Tem of the Senate. This is a largely ceremonial position, true. In theory, she is now the Assistant Lt. Governor of Tennessee, but that is a non-existent position under the state constitution. It would also be another non-publicly elected state office which Kurita has consistently said she opposes. What other temptations draw the senator’s glaze: U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, the governor’s office, even? Was this all some form of ‘tit for tat’ for the Democratic Party’s failure to support her bid over Harold Ford Jr. for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by former Senator Bill Frist?
In January 2007, Senator Kurita said of her Senate Speaker vote, “It was purely a vote of conscience,” and “I have not asked for anything for myself.” [Leaf-Chronicle, January 11, 207] It would seem that pledge certainly was applied to the Democratic Party, which received only two of nine senate committee chairmanship appointments under new Speaker Ramsey. Former Speaker Wilder had given Republicans four of the nine senate committee chairs under his tenure.
Financial reporting records show Kurita had a substantial war chest with which to wage her re-election bid. The good senator is reported to have retained the services of Fletcher and Rowley, the renown Nashville public relations firm, known for negative advertising. According to the Nashville Post politics blog jam, Sean Braisted said her biggest expense was to Fletcher and Rowley. Nashville media political pundits have speculated whether she was feeling stressed enough to unleash the hounds at Flecther as the campaign draws to an end. Judging by the caliber of her recent campaign mailings, it would seem that she has decided time has come to get down and dirty with this campaign. How else would you explain mailings criticizing an attorney for providing constitutionally guaranteed legal counsel to those who need it?