An Awkward Allegiance 

Candidate's mother-in-law endorses opponent

Candidate's mother-in-law endorses opponent

In a curious turn of political events, the mother-in-law of Rob Briley, who’s running for the 52nd District seat in the state House, has endorsed Briley’s opponent, Kathy Austin, in this week’s election.

Patricia Snyder, mother of Briley’s wife, Pier, was among the “Women Supporting Kathy Austin” listed on an invitation for a July 21 breakfast fundraiser.

Snyder said she agreed to endorse Austin, an attorney, some time ago, when Snyder was living in Knoxville and finishing her law degree at the University of Tennessee, where she graduated in May. That was before she knew her son-in-law had entered the East Nashville race to fill the state House seat being vacated by Bill Boner, Snyder said.

“I don’t withdraw my endorsement once I have given it,” Snyder said when asked about the awkward conflict of political loyalty and family ties. Had she known about her son-in-law’s candidacy sooner, she said, “family considerations” might have taken precedence.

Briley, an attorney and the grandson of the late Beverly Briley, who was the first mayor of Metro, said the situation hasn’t affected the way he’s running his campaign.

In her campaign, Austin has specifically targeted East Nashville’s vocal and politically active lesbian and gay community, although Briley has lesbian and gay supporters as well.

Snyder works in the office of local attorney Abby Rubenfeld, a well-known activist both nationally and locally for lesbian and gay causes.

Rubenfeld’s name was included, along with Snyder’s and several dozen others, on the invitation to Austin’s July 21 fundraiser. Rubenfeld also endorsed Austin, and criticized Briley, in a July 23 letter to members of the lesbian and gay community. “Kathy Austin, unlike her opponent, is a longtime supporter of our community’s interests,” Rubenfeld wrote.

She also quoted Briley, who recently said, during an appearance on Morningline, a show on WTVF-Channel 5’s cable channel, that he does “not like the idea of any special rights for individuals.” Such a statement, Rubenfeld asserted in her letter, is “the rhetoric of right-wing conservatives which is always used to try to deny our basic rights, such as freedom from discrimination in employment and housing.” The letter said Austin “maintains a firm commitment to fair and equal treatment for everyone and believes everyone has a right to be free from discrimination.”

According to Briley, Rubenfeld has misrepresented his position. “The question I was asked on that television program was, ‘Would you support giving healthcare and other pension benefits to the homosexual domestic partners of state employees?’ ” he said. “My response was no.”

Briley said such benefits should not be offered to people simply “because they’re homosexual. I think if you are going to give those benefits to domestic partners, you should not discriminate against heterosexuals or homosexuals. If you’re going to do it, you should give them to domestic partners, regardless of sexuality.”

Dozing at the polls

“Campaign to Oust Birch Escalates” was the headline on a press release issued this week by victims’ rights advocates trying to unseat Tennessee Supreme Court Justice A.A. Birch.

The press release heralded a statewide radio campaign criticizing Birch for voting to overturn 12 of 21 death sentences during his time on the state’s highest court.

But truth be told, nothing much has “escalated” during this election season. This week’s is the quietest statewide Democratic primary in several election cycles. Even the knee-jerk fervor over Birch’s supposed opposition to the death penalty hasn’t reached the sort of fever pitch that led Tennessee voters to oust Justice Penny White from the court in 1996.

Still, if voters want to, they can make some political statements at the polls this week:

Anybody offended by the idea that Tennessee’s appellate judges are now simply appointed by the governor and then “retained” at the polls in uncontested elections can hit the “no” button beside each judge’s name.

Any Democrat who wants to acknowledge longtime Democratic politico John Jay Hooker for his relentless efforts to reform judicial elections and campaign finances can vote for him rather than Mike Whitaker, the more mainstream Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

And if Republican voters are fed up with Gov. Don Sundquist for one reason or another, they can vote for Shirley Beck-Vosse, a Memphian challenging the governor in this week’s Republican primary. Beck-Vosse has primitive campaign material some of it handwritten and she’s something of an off-center Christian activist, but she’s congenial enough.

Locally, only a smattering of races have conjured up any real interest. Perhaps the most notable opportunity for a protest vote comes in the juvenile court clerk race, where incumbent Kenny Norman is virtually assured a victory.

Norman’s blatant politicization of his office has made him one of Davidson County’s most reviled public figures. This week, his only opposition in the county general elections comes from independent Bill Thompson, a former Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent and a former employee in the juvenile court clerk’s office. Thompson hasn’t run much of a campaign, beyond publicly criticizing Norman for his misdeeds.

Yes men

More than two years after Nashville voters passed the controversial referendum to build a football stadium to lure the Houston Oilers, the NFL-Yes campaign is being resurrected.

Worried that there are still approximately 10,000 unsold seats to the Oilers’ first regular-season game in Nashville on Sept. 13, members of the campaign’s original steering committee met this week to plot new strategies. After abysmal attendance in Memphis last year the worst in the National Football League the Oilers will play at Vanderbilt University’s 41,000-seat Dudley Field this fall. Although the Vanderbilt stadium has a smaller seating capacity than any other stadium in the NFL, it’s far from being a packed house.

“It’s always been a question mark: Is this city going to support this team?” said Dick Darr, spokesman for the NFL-Yes campaign. “We know all eyes will be on Nashville. I believe it would serve as an embarrassment for the city of Nashville if we don’t fill [the Vanderbilt stadium] up.”

Darr said the NFL-Yes campaign plans a marketing blitz to “rekindle some of the excitement and spirit” that led to the referendum’s passage in 1996. He acknowledged that the lackluster season in Memphis last year and controversies, such as owner Bud Adams’ reluctance to change the team’s name, have “clouded the picture and thwarted a lot of the enthusiasm.” But now that the team will be playing in Nashville, and now that Adams has agreed to a team name more suitable to Tennessee, Darr said, many of the “barriers have been lifted.”

According to Darr, his group plans to distribute thousands of bumper stickers and display banners bearing the campaign’s new slogan: “Sept. 13. Yes, I’m there.”

To reach Liz, call her at 244-7989, ext. 406, or e-mail her at


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