Gov. Don Sundquist this week took his most substantive position to date on the issue of campaign-finance reform, saying there isn’t “a problem” in Tennessee.
While the governor still won’t debate his Nov. 3 general-election opponent, Democratic nominee John Jay Hooker, he did respond to questions about Hooker’s main campaign issue: the assertion that special-interest contributions are tantamount to legalized “bribery.”
“I think as long as you disclose [contributors], that is more important than anything else,” the governor said. “I don’t think we have a problem in Tennessee. I don’t think [the system] is being abused.”
Sundquist defended out-of-state campaign contributionswhich Hooker also opposessaying such donations could be considered more pure than contributions from people who can actually vote for candidates.
“Some people like to contribute to people because they think that they’re going to be good officials,” the governor said, citing his younger brother, Richard, who lives in Illinois, as an example. He added that “people who don’t live around you don’t want anything.”
Hooker’s latest reform efforts include broadening a Davidson County Chancery Court lawsuit against the governor to claim Sundquist is subject to the state’s official misconduct statute. Hooker says the governor and other politicians or candidatesincluding Democratic Lt. Gov. John Wildermay be “subject to removal” because of their participation at Executive Residence fundraisers. Those political activities on state property, Hooker says, amount to a “benefit” not authorized by law, and are therefore offenses covered by the official misconduct statute.
“He’s violated the criminal law, and he ought to be thrown out of office,” Hooker says.
In a meeting with reporters this week, Sundquist said the issue of “soft” money contributed to political parties with little regulation may be a legitimate topic of reform, as long as new measures are applied equally to “labor and business.” But, he said, Tennessee, “fortunately,” is “different” than Washington, D.C., where soft money is more of an issue.
As for responding to Hooker, Sundquist says, “it’s hard to be logical when you’re dealing with illogical people.” Sundquist also definitively said that there will be “no debates” with Hooker.
They do things different in Memphis
Louis Graham, a reporter for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, caused a ruckus in the river city last week when he reported on what looked like a sweet tax break given to longtime state Sen. Curtis Person.
Graham reported last week that Jimmy White, who represents the Memphis assessor’s office in Nashville during the legislative session, and thus has a working relationship with Person, ordered a $200,000 cut in the tax appraisal of Person’s home. White, Graham reported, had no appraisal training. And the cut was made despite objections from other appraisal staffers.
Graham wrote that the home owned by the Republican Person is appraised “at far less than its market value as required by state law,” based on an appraisal commissioned by The Commercial Appeal.
The 6,500-square-foot home is located on one acre in one of Memphis’ most expensive neighborhoods. It was originally appraised by another appraiser for $805,000, before White ordered the appraisal to be reduced by 25 percent, or $200,000.
Person, who has served in the Senate since 1967 and serves as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told the newspaper he did not ask for any favors. “I have not done anything that wasn’t proper,” he said.
In the wake of the story, White has been suspended by the department.
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