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“Democrat against Democrat…” as Primary vote is overturned; Executive Committees to decide outcome in Senate race

“Brother against Brother. Democrat against Democrat. The Republicans don’t need to defeat the Democrats – they’re doing that all by themselves.” ~~ Beth Robinson

Some long-time Democrats become “Incurably Uncertain” about remaining in their own party after Kurita’s election win was discredited on September 13. The eight hour session which seemed to most observers to be a sure win for Kurita ended with a 33-11 vote to null and void Kurita’s Senate election win.

When this decision was announced, APSU Associate Professor of Biology, Dr. Joe Schiller, told the officials in the room that “they had been instructed to vote based on the evidence and facts, not on retribution and revenge”. He was asked to leave the room. Feeling disenfranchised, he told me that the whole event was a miscarriage of justice and he is seriously reconsidering his party affiliation. “If it is a Republican conspiracy when Republicans vote for Democrats, that’s a conspiracy I’d like to have.”

“There was no proof. It was a Scopes monkey trial. It was embarrassing”, said Beth Robinson, a Clarksville computer systems analyst and member of The Climate Project. “This reminds me of the Supreme Court ignoring the voting public and handing Bush the White House despite the fact that Gore received more votes.” Beth said she’d like Senator Kurita to explore a write-in campaign and possibly run as an Independent.

Standing room only as the Tennessee Democratic Executive Committee hears evidence in the Kurita/Barnes primary election case

R. Neal wrote his view on the case in the Tenn Views web site. He includes a link to Kurita’s attorney’s response to the Barnes challenge, which you can read here or at http://www.tennviews.com/files/kuritachallengeresponse.pdf Neal writes that Barnes filed a challenge, citing a litany of alleged irregularities. Kurita filed a response refuting them point by point. Read the rest of Neal’s article at http://www.tennviews.com/node/3882.

Retired attorney, Alma Sanford was in shock and declared publicly that she is leaving the party and will vote for McCain. In a later interview, she admitted that she would never vote for McCain, but she will also not vote Democratic. For the people who know Sanford and her 49 years of dedication to the Democratic Party, this is indeed a sorry blow.

Alma Sanford with Attorney Robert Rochelle

Democrats scurry to discredit Alma Sanford, who is a Tennessee native.  She won a Humanitarian Award in 1994 for her efforts in defending the elderly from evictions from their homes. Sanford did extensive volunteer work on the Gore and Kerry campaigns, raising thousands of dollars for Kerry. Starting in 2004, she co-founded the Tennessee group, Gathering to Save our Democracy, and she lobbied two or three days a week for four years seeking improvements or alternatives to Tennessee voting machines, from which votes cast are  not verifiable. (Ed: In January, 2010, Tennessee will launch a verifiable voting system.)

Here is Alma Sanford’s letter to Clarksville Online:

“As I sat beside my friend who is also a retired attorney, at the eight hour long hearing of the Tennessee Democratic Party on Saturday, I kept remembering the years I practiced law in front of Judges in a real court setting.  My friend agreed with me after a couple of hours of testimony from witnesses called by Tim Barnes, the complainant, that any judge before whom we had ever appeared would have thrown out the case.  The so-called “evidence” was based on thinly disguised vengeance and the anguish of a ‘sore loser.’

The Executive Committee

“We wish we could have heard the Executive Committee members discuss the evidence – or the lack of evidence.  Only three members ever spoke to the ‘heart of the case,’ i.e., discussed the evidence.  One member stated emphatically that he was concerned about setting a bad precedent by throwing out an election because Republicans had voted in the Democratic Primary, when Tennessee is a state that allows open primaries.  He stated that if the election of the voters of District 22 was set aside, that at the next meeting of the Executive Committee, the members should determine how many Republicans will be allowed to vote in a Democratic Primary before the threshold is reached.

Instead of a decision based on evidence and facts (as Sen. Kurita’s attorney was able to get Tim Barnes to say he wanted), one member after the hearing told me, “The decision would have been the same had the vote been taken at 9:00 a.m. (when the hearing began).”  She said the members had made up their minds because they were still so angry about Senator Kurita voting to unseat Sen. John Wilder as the speaker of the Tennessee Senate.

“Where was the anger of the members of the Tennessee Democratic Executive Committee when, in 2004, so many elections for State Senate candidates were lost that the Senate no longer was in Democratic control?  Did any one of them ever express anger at the Chair of the Party?  Did one member express anger at the Chair of the Coordinated Campaign who was charged with the duty to elect all Democrats?  Did any one express anger at the Senate Democratic Caucus Leader because he failed in his job.

Left front: Attorney George E. Barrett and Tim Barnes, second from right

To date, I have never heard any member of the TNDP or anyone else for that matter, find fault with any of the MEN who held the aforementioned positions.  No one ever challenged Sen. John Wilder when he regularly appointed Republicans as Chairs of Senate committees, passing over Senator Kurita (and other Democrats) as she continued to rise in seniority with the numbers of years she served in the Tennessee Senate.

“I talked with Senator Kurita on Thursday, September 11th, and she had just read my e-mail asking people to come to yesterday’s hearing to support her.  In that e-mail, I had stated that Tim Barnes’ campaign manager told me that Tim Barnes is anti-choice.  Senator Kurita said, “Well he managed to keep that a secret because no one ever asked and he never did state his position on ‘choice’ during the campaign.”  She stated emphatically that she had no idea Tim Barnes was anti-choice.

I noticed in Sen. Kurita’s statement at the hearing yesterday, she stated clearly, “I am a pro-choice Democrat.”

“The reason I have been so adamant in my support of Senator Kurita is because of a certain hearing before the Tennessee Senate in 2006.  There was a bill (SJR 127) before the Senate that would have sent to the voters a constitutional amendment banning all abortions in Tennessee, even to save the life of the mother.  Senator Kurita made a very impassioned speech, as a Registered Nurse, about how important it is to have that personal decision made by the Mother and her Doctor without interference of any governmental agency.

As a pro-choice voter, if I lived in District 22, I would much rather have Senator Kurita represent me than Tim Barnes.  However, the Tennessee Democratic Party has probably made sure that will never happen again.

“What a sad day for all who have spent years and many dollars defending democratic principles and who thought that the Democratic Party agreed with those principles.  It appears we were wrong.”

~~ Alma Sanford, J.D. , Antioch, TN

A packed house for the Kurita/Barnes hearing on Setember 13

Other Kurita supporters who came to the session:

Penny Brooks of Ashland City, State Chapter Co-Legislature Chair and Co-Political Chair of the Sierra Club, said that she came in support of Kurita because of Kurita’s outstanding environmental record, especially on energy. Brooks supported Kurita’s election win because she does not believe there were deliberate illegal tactics to determine the election in her favor.

Cynthia Bennett, National Board Member, of Tennessee National Organization of Women (NOW) in Nashville, said that Kurita has been a strong supporter of women’s rights in Tennessee. Bennett came to this panel hearing to show the support of the women of Tennessee for someone who has actually stood in the well of the Tennessee Senate and spoke eloquently against changing Tennessee’s constitution, which was an action to take reproductive rights away from Tennessee women. “Kurita stood strongly for us and we stand strongly for her.”

Shane Ray, Fire chief of the Pleasantview Volunteer Fire Department, came in uniform. He said “She’s hard working and dedicated; a good woman who is open and willing to listen, even when we disagree. She’s honest.”

Kathy Parker of Clarksville said that Kurita stands up for State employee’s raises.

David Borden Kircher of Nashville said Kurita won the majority of votes and to take victory away from her would be unfair.

Russell A. Cain of Clarksville came to support Senator Kurita and his vote. Issues raised are alarming and tend to indicate serious political and ethics concerns, he said.

Holly Quick and Floyd Poston, from Nashville, said they came in support of Kurita’s win and said the election was certified by the state. In addition, they are both staunch supporters of women’s rights including the right to a safe and legal abortion. They feel strongly about  election integrity. Holly was an early and strong supporter of verifiable paper ballots for all Tennessee voters. She is the secretary of Gathering to Save our Democracy.

Also appearing in support of Kurita:

  • Marietta Shipley, Attorney at Law, former Judge in Nashville
  • Margaret Behm, Attorney at Law, Nashville
  • Toby Abrams, Tennessee State President N.O.W.
  • Martha Wettemann, employee of TN Dept. of Labor and Pres. of Davidson County Chapter of TN State Employees’ Assn.; Treasurer of Cheatham County Democratic Party
  • Dr. James Powers
  • Roger Schecter, retired attorney
  • Jean Sanford McGee
  • Deborah Narrigan, Nurse – Chair of Gathering To Save Our Democracy, Legislative Committee
  • Matthew Taylor, Cheatham, Student & worker in Rosalind’s campaign, and his mother County
  • Linda Swindle and Penny Brooks from Cheatham County
  • Holly Spann, Active in Nashville Women’s Political Caucus and & Davidson Democratic Women County
  • Mary Parker, Attorney at Law

I was only able to find and interview a few Barnes supporters at this session:

  • Mark Olson of Clarksville came supporting Barnes because Rosalind, in his opinion, is a Republican. She voted for a republican for the senate speaker post.
  • Mike Williamson of Clarksville came supporting Barnes because Rosalind’s attitude toward the legal profession and the rights of the accused during the election offended him.
  • Tommy Vallejos from Clarksville came in support of Barnes saying it is time for change and that  Kurita sold out the people who voted her in.

My observations: During the session we heard about “potty-gate”: Kurita crossed the line at a polling place to use the bathroom. Witnesses saw her go into the school building where the gym held the polling booths. Kurita admits this occurred, but said she saw and talked to no one and did not enter the voting area. Barnes’ attorney said policy says this could be taken as trying to harass or intimidate voters. Kurita’s attorney produced the policy, which did not use those words.  It said that entering the poll could be trying to improperly influence the voters. Barnes produced no one who saw Kurita inside the building.

We heard testimony from a man who didn’t get to vote for Barnes. Part of his story was that when he went to vote he did not want to choose either the Democrat or Republican Party for voting purposes. Later we heard testimony from the poll workers about the man which gave us a different view entirely. Anyone who has voted in a primary knows you are required to declare your party affiliation.

A big part of the accusation was that the Republicans had deliberately set out to upset the election and its results. We heard testimony from APSU student Democrat leader, Adam Haynes, who said he went to the Republican headquarters where a woman suggested that Republicans should try to upset the Democrat election. Adam had no names and defense declared it hearsay. When questioned Adam admitted his golf club was used in a video on Facebook and YouTube showing a man beating an image of Kurita with a golf club. On YouTube it was titled “A young Democrat takes out his frustrations on Senator Kurita.” The video had been removed from the site soon after it was posted.

State Senator Rosalind Kurita (c) her husband, Dr. George Kurita (r) chat with hqtrs opening attendant
Senator Kurita, with her husband, George (l), speak with a constituent at the recent opening of Democratic Headquarters

One of the most serious charges made was by a woman who voted at the fairgrounds polling place. She testified that the poll worker told the man in front of her that Barnes was a Republican. Then she testified that another poll worker told her that “they are saying that to everyone” (that Barnes is Republican). Defense produced written testimony of a second poll worker who corrected the first poll worker’s mistake immediately. The woman in line corrected the first poll worker immediately. The Poll worker who was supposed to say, “They are saying that to everyone”, testified that she did not say, under any circumstance, that statement.

Also provided were written testimonies about an annoying phone call to someone telling them Barnes is Republican, and an annoying prank phone call at an early hour saying only “Barnes”. The “evidence” was given as speculation that his opponent was somehow involved in these pranks.

In testimony from Barnes, we learned that his animosity for Kurita started when he ran for office several years ago. Kurita did not attend his fundraisers and did not raise money for his campaign. Barnes said she did not support other Democrats either. Barnes brought up the fact that Kurita had voted out Democrat Wilder, (91), from his Senate seat, (an issue that put a lot of the wind in his campaign). Barnes also talked about the negative ad campaign that Kurita ran about his job as a lawyer.

The defense attorney asked Barnes if he knew as an attorney that unless evidence was submitted before the case as testimony it could not be considered in a case. Barnes said yes. Did he also know that everything he just said was not submitted and could not be used in the case? Barnes said yes.

People who went to support Kurita by showing up were encouraged by the seeming lack of substantial evidence against her and were subsequently appalled at the conclusion. In the aftermath, there is talk of a write-in vote for Kurita. In the wake of this primary election fiasco, a deep rift has developed within the Democractic Party in Clarksville, and throughout the three counties — Montgomery, Cheatham and Houston  that will be represented by on of these two candidates.

Democratic Executive Committees are meeting Wednesday, September 17, at 7:30 p.m., at the Riverview Inn, to decide which name will appear on the November ballot. That decision could be the final verdict on this state Senate seat, since there is no Republican contender for the seat. The wild card in November would be Kurita running as a write -in  or independent candidate.

Debbie Boen
Debbie Boen
Debbie and her family moved to Clarksville slightly after the tornado of 1999. Debbie founded the group, Clarksville Freethinkers for Peace and Civil Liberties, in 2004. She participated in Gathering to Save Our Democracy, a group dedicated to obtaining free and verifiable elections in Tennessee. She has supported groups including the NAACP, Nashville Peace Coalition, PFLAG, Friends of Dunbar Cave and the Mountain Top Removal Series of Films and speakers. She participated as an artist in the ARTZ gallery group in Clarksville and won Best of Show, First and 2 Second Place awards for four of her sculptures. She won a voter's choice award for a performance at the Roxy Regional Theatre. She is a wife, mother and cancer survivor. She is always amazed at the capabilities of the human spirit, and the wisdom to find humor when there is none.


  1. I am not a Democrat, but I am also no longer a Republican, 8 years of the Bush administration has seen to that. I like Sen. Kurita, and I also like Tim Barnes So I don’t have a bone in this fight. What we have seen with this one election is a correction. Basically an attempt was made by Republicans to influence the Democratic party primary by doing two things.

    1.Republicans were encouraged to vote on the Democratic party ticket and to vote for Kurita since they had no major candidates opposed by their own party up for election against a Democrat in these districts.

    2. Democratic party members stated they were told by poll workers that in order to vote for Tim Barnes as the Democratic candidate in the primary that they must vote on the Republican primary. This had the affect of robbing those voters of their choice in this election.

    The people I see objecting the most strongly are members of a grass roots organization GTSOD which I generally offer my strong support. I have fought on the front lines with them on more than one issue. This organization would generally never support the Republican dirty tricks that I highlighted above. They wouldn’t now except they see Sen. Kurita as being friendly to their aims and agenda. It’s time for them to take a step back and look at this again with a passionless eye. If they do so I think they will eventually see that this was the right step for the Democratic party to take in an election that was fraught with so many dirty tricks.

  2. I am amazed at the level of controversy that has arisen over the Kurita/Barnes primary race, and most recently over the ongoing challenge to that election result. If the race was so critical to so many, where were all these “concerned” and “angry” people on election day. Under 12% of Clarksville’s voters turned out for a race that created a mere 19-point gap between two candidates.

    Our candidates are human; they, as we all do, have a variety of beliefs and issues about which they feel passionate. Few people agree with absolutely everything someone stands for; both candidates took positions I liked and positions I didn’t like. When I vote, I factor in such things carefully before choosing a candidate.

    As a young voter years ago in New England, we had one day to vote, and rain, sleet, snow, or the occasional spurt of blistering Autumn heat, we got out and voted. It was drummed into us, the importance of having that voice, that influence.

    Only 12% of the Clarksville’s voters, with the added gift of a two-week early voting period, still couldn’t get off their butts and vote. That says less about the candidates than it does about Americans, our very friends and neighbors, who are obviously getting too complacent and just too damn lazy to get up, get out and vote. 12% is an embarrassing, humiliating voter turnout, a record we should all be ashamed of.

    There are countries around the world where people do not have this privilege, where people are killed for exercising this privilege, where they happily stand in line for hours and hours to have a say in their government.

    Had more Clarksvillians exercised their Constitutional right to vote, the result may or may not have been different, but it would have been more representative of the city’s residents.

    To those who voted, and who will continue to vote, thank you. Until the other 88% show up at the polls, they have abdicated their right to complain about anything or everything our government does.

  3. Bill,
    The evidence that was presented to prove that Republicans had sabotaged the election was non-sufficient, laughable even. I expected more proof after all that I had heard about the issue before last Saturday. Several people said if the panel already knew they were going to oust Kurita, why did they waste the day with the hearing. The hearing didn’t help Kurita supporters to deal with the election loss because the evidence and defense only convinced them more of Kurita’s validity as a winner.
    Please read the Response written by Kurita’s attorney.
    There were several people in support of Kurita from Gathering to Save our Democracy. When no one would take up the cause of verifiable elections, including and especially other Democrats, she did.
    There were supporters from NOW, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups. Then there was a list of people I didn’t know.
    Like I said, this issue is causing a serious rift in relationships. It’s not one that can be swept under the rug and not one that is needed right now.

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