Well, it was an idea.
That’s about the best you can say about the proposed half penny sales tax increase that Nashvillians rejected Tuesday; it would have been earmarked for school funding and senior tax relief. You can’t help but think that supporters of the increase knew it was going to turn out this way. Nashville Tomorrow, the alliance of public sector unions, a few business leaders and other assorted goo-goo types brought together to push for the tax hike, could never really shake off the appearance that they were just going through the motions: a few yard signs here and there, a couple of very poorly conceived mailings, a handful of phone banks. Even down 27 points against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, the Tennessee Titans maintained more energy than this campaign ever showed from the beginning.
The conventional wisdom holds that this defeat will do no significant political damage to Mayor Bill Purcell. For once, the conventional wisdom is actually correct. Few people associate Purcell with the effort. But isn’t that the real point here? He proposed the referendum for political cover—leaving it to the voters, so he wouldn’t have to do the dirty work. If Purcell had actually gotten on board the tax push in a truly dramatic way with media buys, highly publicized community-wide appeals and the like (in other words, things that truly would have associated him with the effort in voters’ minds), it might have had a fighting chance. We’ll never know. But here’s a question: what’s the point in winning an election with 85 percent of the vote if you don’t spend some of that capital on something you claim to believe in?
On Tuesday night, Nashville politicos who share the mayor’s ostensibly progressive agenda were crestfallen, if unsurprised. Some, it’s fair to say, were a little pissed. “I believe we would have been better off as a community if we addressed this issue in property taxes earlier this year,” said a diplomatic Don Driscoll, head of the local Metro employees’ union, when asked whether Purcell had handled school funding the right way. (Did we mention the pregnant pause before his answer?) Driscoll said his union would continue a fight for more school funding.
Schools director Pedro Garcia, meanwhile, was resigned to the bad news but said he didn’t see the vote as the public referendum on schools’ success that the mayor originally said it would be. “I don’t think it was about us. I don’t think it had to do with schools,” Garcia said from an election-returns gathering at the central office. The director described Purcell’s comments in a Tuesday meeting with him and the board as upbeat. “His message to us today was quite different from what it was maybe three months ago. So I’m not sure he believes what he did three months ago, because we improved, and we want to continue improving,” Garcia said.
It would be a lot easier if the school system had money to fund next year’s budget. Of course, you can’t pass a tax increase if the guy in charge doesn’t publicly seem to care. That’s something they don’t teach in school.
At a retreat on Monday night, Tennessee House Republicans elected Knoxville state Rep. Bill Dunn to be their party leader, replacing Tre Hargett from Memphis, who resigned the post for a lobbying gig with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. (He has since decided not to take that job). A few months ago, Dunn was listed in this space as a possible GOP candidate for governor next year, not because the little known legislator had any real designs on the job, but rather because we just thought it would be interesting. Here’s what we wrote then:
“You may have never heard of Bill Dunn, but the state representative from Knoxville is one of the most principled and incorruptible people on Capitol Hill. A devout Catholic, Dunn's social conservatism wears better on people who sense that it comes from deeply held beliefs rather the opportunity to score cheap political points. He’s also got guts: Dunn was voting against Jimmy Naifeh for House speaker back when all of the other House Republicans were kissing the speaker’s hindquarters.”
All that still holds true. In 10 years, Dunn has gone from a minority-within-a-minority backbencher whom Speaker Naifeh could (and did) ignore to someone the speaker will have to deal with on a daily basis during the legislative session. Maybe that governor thing isn’t so far-fetched.
The un-welcome wagon
You probably heard about the negative reaction a handful of Franklin residents had to the city’s plans to welcome hurricane evacuees. Franklin Mayor Tom Miller—God bless him—spoke for most people inside and outside of the affluent suburb when he told the grumblers that if they didn’t like it, they were more than welcome to move. Now, you may have asked yourself: what were these people thinking? Well, A.C. Kleinheider, a local blogger of some repute, has offered the following:
“Let’s be honest, while many New Orleanians are eager to go back and rebuild, many didn't really have much to begin with for a myriad of reasons. Urban neglect, corruption and welfare dependency ravaged New Orleans long before Katrina did. After being set up and welcomed, treated like many of them may have never been treated before, quite a lot of them may be in no itching hurry to go back.… You can call these Franklinites (and me) callous, uppity and downright racist if you choose to. It would be very easy and comfortable to do so. Some of them might very well be some or all of the above, but these people have carved out a little piece of heaven for themselves out in Williamson County, and they don’t much want Little Superdome on Franklin Square. Throw stones, if you like. I, for one, choose not to.”
Kleinheider’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He has a thick skin, and he’ll need it.