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Reflections on the Tennessee Democratic Party Executive Committee’s overturning Senator Kurita’s primary victory

Senator Rosalind Kurita
Senator Rosalind Kurita

Recent reports from Democratic Party officials describing the vote at the Democratic Party Executive Committee Hearing that overturned the election of Rosalind Kurita in the Democratic primary vote have been rife with “spin,” omissions, and outright lies.  Party officials claim they voted to overturn the election because it was “Incurably Uncertain.”  This means, in their opinion, too many Republicans crossed party lines to vote for Senator Kurita.  They assert there was a grand Republican Party conspiracy to reelect Senator Kurita.  Presumably this was a secret conspiracy, which is convenient, since one can hardly be expected to produce actual evidence if it is “secret.”

What angers democratic voters such as myself, is not that Republicans would choose to vote for a Democrat, but that leaders of my own party would overturn an election on the basis of such flimsy evidence because they did not agree with the results.  However, if the public examines the record of the proceedings recorded by the court recorder at the hearing, they will see for themselves how weak and inconsistent the evidence for such a conclusion is.  Given how incredibly weak the evidence presented to justify overturning the election is, the only other rational conclusion is that the executive committee was not interested in the evidence and had other motives.  This is why I am pleased that Senator Kurita has chosen to sue the Democratic Party Executive Committee’s action as unconstitutional.  If the court agrees to hear the case, the Democratic Party Executive Committee’s evidence will have to meet the standards of a fair and impartial court, not one which clearly was not interested in the facts.

Almost all political analysts believe that the Democratic Party Executive Committee’s real motive for overturning the primary election result is revenge for Senator Kurita’s vote to elect Republican Ron Ramsey Lieutenant governor.  This conclusion was reinforced at the hearing by the fact that almost no discussion of the evidence and its merits, or lack thereof, occurred after the evidence was presented.  Instead, a motion was immediately made to send the decision to a convention of the District 22 party officials.  While this may have given the Executive Committee a little political cover, and the appearance of fairness, they well knew that most of the members of that small group were Barnes supporters that could be counted upon to name Barnes as the Democratic Candidate.  Perhaps this would not have angered me so much if it didn’t remind me so well of the 2000 presidential election.

However, the official mandate of the Democratic Party Executive Committee meeting was to evaluate evidence for election irregularities.  Had the Executive party fairly and objectively considered the evidence presented it could not have reasonable over turned the election.  I am confident the federal trial will reveal this to be the case.  If the motive was in fact revenge, as many democrat commentators in the letters to the editor have freely acknowledged, I would remind them that in a democracy, revenge is taken against elected officials by not reelecting them.  Senator Kurita was reelected in a free and fair election that was certified by the election commission.

Some of these commentators have accused Senator Kurita of not being a “true” Democrat.  Senator Kurita’s voting record clearly refutes this contention.  Senator Kurita has the highest environmental voting rating in the Senate from Tennessee Conservation Voters for the past two years and was awarded the conservation legislator of the year award this year.  Senator Kurita has the highest voting ratings on women’s issues and education issues.  These are core Democratic party policy issues and Senator Kurita’s voting record is rock solid on them.  If however, the issue is strict adherence to party position, regardless of the implications for her constituents in District 22, senator Kurita is willing to seek compromise solutions with Republicans.

Let’s examine the so-called evidence for the “Incurably uncertain” primary election.  First, even though Democratic Party officials claimed to know about this “secret” Republican conspiracy in advance, they took no action to prevent it from happening.  Under state election laws, the Barnes’ campaign was entitled to place election observers in the polling places to challenge any and all of the Republican conspirators they did not want to vote for Kurita, but they did not do so.  What evidence did they provide to support this conspiracy theory? The fact that one poll worker accidentally misspoke and told a prospective voter that Barnes was a Republican.  Contrary to the claims of David Luciano that Senator Kurita’s counsel “had ample opportunity to put on a defense, and yet offered not a single witness or affidavit to dispute the evidence offered by Barnes’s attorneys.”  The record clearly shows that every allegation of voters being misdirected or told to vote in the Republican primary was refuted in affidavits obtained in interviews with multiple election workers who were present at the polling places.  Attorneys for both candidates were present at these interviews.  One of the things that most disturbed me about the testimony presented by Mr. Barrett was his willingness to denigrate the integrity of our poll workers.  These poll workers are our friends and neighbors.  They are people who are providing their community a valued service.   Attorney Barrett portrayed them as members of some grand Republican conspiracy.

What about all of these voters that were misdirected by these conspiratorial poll workers?  Two ended up not voting for Barnes because they did not check the sample ballot posted at the polling place to see which party primary they must vote in to cast a vote for Barnes.  Poll workers testified they informed these voters to do this.  In fact, these voters testified they were Independent voters and did not want to declare party affiliation.  Another voter, a Mr. Nepolitano, claimed that did not want to declare a party affiliation because he was an Independent, but was able to vote in the Democratic Party once he finally acquiesced to the process that required him to declare Democratic Party affiliation to vote in the Democratic Party primary.  Another voter claimed she was unable to vote in the Democratic Party primary because the poll worker could not operate the voting machine properly, but voting records show she did vote in the Democratic Primary.  That was the extent of the voting irregularities.  At most 4 votes were at issue.  Three by self avowed Independents, i.e. non-Democrats, that had no more or less a right to vote in the Democratic Party primary than the alleged dreaded hordes of Republican conspirators, provided they were willing to claim Democratic Party affiliation to vote in the Democratic Party Primary.  Two of those voted in the Democratic primary and may very well have voted for Barnes (in any case, they had every opportunity to do so).   The other two could have voted for Barnes if they had only been willing to follow the voting procedures I am sure all of us would insist our poll workers enforce.    In other words, as far as the Democratic Executive Committee was concerned, it was perfectly alright for a non-Democrat to vote in the primary, as long as they were voting for Barnes!

Let’s summarize.  A prospective voter enters the poll, says he/she is not a Democrat and does not want to declare Democratic Party affiliation, but wants to vote for a Tim Barnes, a Democratic Party candidate.  When it is explained to him/her the rules require he/she claim Democratic Party affiliation to vote in the Democratic Party primary.  At this point, he/she relents (or insists on going ahead and voting in the Republican primary even though the candidate for whom he/she wishes to vote is not on that ballot), declares Democratic Party affiliation, and then votes in the Democratic Primary.  This is then put forward as evidence by Mr. Barrett of a grand Republican Conspiracy?  Who would not laugh at such “laughable evidence?”

Several people and reporters have commented on my behavior at the Executive Committee Hearing.  First, I would like to apologize for getting angry.  I do want to clarify some of the descriptions of my behavior.  First, while I do support Senator Kurita, I was not, as reported, an angry Kurita supporter; I was an angry Democrat.  I believe this action by Democratic Party officials is unfair, unwarranted, and bad for the party.  I also feel it disenfranchises me.  Second, I want to correct David Luciano’s account of my behavior.  He accurately recounted that when one of the few Democratic Executive Committee members pointed out they had been instructed to vote based on the evidence and facts, not on retribution and revenge, I said “here! here!”  I did not shout that.  Then I was challenged by party officials and told I had no right to voice my opinion of the proceedings.  That is when I started to get angry and responded  ”but, I am a voter!“  It was clear that the party officials were very concerned that an insurgency might erupt and began hurrying toward me telling me to leave. That is when I went on to shout as I was voluntarily leaving “the Executive Committee should do its job and vote on the basis of the facts and the evidence, not vengeance.”  I did not need to be escorted out, but I am certain that I would have been escorted out had I stayed any longer.  At that point I retired to the restaurant and drank a cold Budweiser to wash down all the bull I had witnessed that day.

About the Author: Dr. Joe Schiller is an Associate Professor of Biology at APSU and a lifelong Democrat.

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