Let local goats, squirrels, rabbits, and all other gilled or feathered creatures beware. The Davidson County political season is upon us.
With the arrival of the campaign season, normally stiff and reserved dark-suited attorneys will shed their Brooks Brothers suits and don Lamar-esque flannel shirts. They’ll roll up their sleeves, grab a paper plate, and serve themselves up huge helpings of curious, cooked creatures never meant to be eaten.
Just as Labor Day marks the end of the summer white-shoe season, General Sessions Judge John Brown’s annual Goat Roast always marks the beginning of the political season in Metro. Attendance at Brown’s to-do, for which several hundred people showed up earlier this month, is mandatory for anybody who plans to run for anything in Metro.
And last week witnessed another unavoidable exercise for Davidson County politicians. Charlie Cardwell, the county trustee, hosted his annual Democratic Unity Fish Fry. The best thing to come out of that this year was an hysterical photograph that appeared in the next day’s Banner showing state Rep. Bill Boner, a candidate for register of deeds, standing in between, and talking to, two blond women.
Still ahead this campaign season, although months away in the spring, are Former Metro Sheriff Fate Thomas’ Sure Shot Rabbit Supper and state House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh’s Coon Supper in Covington, Tenn. In between there will be dozens of miscellaneous backyard barbecue suppers and white bean and cornbread buffets.
All of these idiosyncratic events are heldand will be well attendedbecause the primary ballot for May 1998 includes, among other items, more than two dozen judicial positions in Metro, the sheriff’s office, and a handful of courthouse clerk jobs that often get handed down from father to son. As far as the general public is concerned, these jobs are hard to define, and they remain very much out of sight, except in election years.
They include, for example, the office of Davidson County criminal court clerk, who keeps the files on everybody who comes and goes through that court, and the register of deeds, who records real estate transactions and property transfers.
Also on the ballot is the office of district attorney, whose staff prosecutes crack dealers, murderers, and other thugs, and the office of public defender, where the staff defends those same crack dealers, murderers, and thugs.
All this, and Boner too
Meanwhile, there is some actual news on the countywide political front. Metro Council member Eric Crafton, who has been ferociously attacked in recent months by his constituents, many of whom say he waffled during the Metro Council debate over zoning for a Wal-Mart store, seems to have abandoned all hopes for another Metro Council term.
Instead, the first-term Council member says he may get in line for the register of deeds office. “I’ve been considering this for some time,” Crafton says, calling the job “an excellent way to serve the citizens of Davidson County.”
Crafton isn’t saying anything definite yethe’s only saying that he’s considering the register’s racebut even the possibility adds an interesting twist to the race. First of all, it raises the question of whether a recall of Crafton, for which constituents collected signatures this past summer, will even be necessary.
Beyond that, it looks like the register of deeds office, which has been dominated by one family for decades, will be the most sought-after job in Metro.
But Crafton says he’d most likely run as independent so that he can bypass the primary process and go head-to-head against the Democratic nominee in the August general election. If that happens, the register of deeds race won’t be decided in the May primary as most of the other races will be in this solidly Democratic county. Instead, the decision will be postponed until Crafton faces the Democratic nominee.
And that nominee will be selected from among a virtual riot of candidates that includes, most notably, state Rep. Bill Boner and Bill Garrett Jr., whose late father served as Metro Trustee. The field also includes a slew of lesser names, including former Metro Council member Lorinda McLaughlin and Mayor’s Office of Economic Development executive director Lady Jackson, among others.
Garrett is said to be a formidable candidate, but if Boner were magically to win the primary, Crafton would have a real race on his hands. And he could win.
The register of deeds race is one that hasn’t been really open for a while. Only now that Felix Wilson II, the third generation of Wilsons to hold the office, is retiring will there be any real competition for the job.
The register of deeds job has been in the Wilson family for more than 50 years. Former Nashville Mayor Felix Wilson won election to the office in 1945. When he died five years later, his son, James, took his father’s place. When James Wilson retired in the early ’60s, his son, Felix Wilson II took over the job.
Attorney David Kleinfelter, another Metro Council member, has in the past few days taken his name out of the race for a General Sessions judgeship. Kleinfelter says he’s busy with his family and his work on a Metro pedestrian task force that hopes to ease speeding and neighborhood cut-through traffic, a problem in his Green Hills district. Metro Council member John Aaron Holt, however, is running for one of the judgeships.
When it comes to the May primary, most of the talk is focused right now on the judgeships, specifically two newly created General Sessions judgeships and a new Circuit Court post. Most sitting judges will probably be unopposed.
The stiffest competition will be faced by Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle, a new convert to the Democratic Party. Lyle is being targeted by former Tennessee Public Service Commissioner Frank Cochran, also a Democrat, who doesn’t have much experience to speak of in actually practicing law.
Another moving target is General Sessions Judge Penny Harrington. One of the more intelligent judges on the General Sessions bench, Harrington is nevertheless a victim of her own sometimes abrasive personality. A several-years-old controversy over Harrington fixing her own parking tickets will probably come back to haunt her. At least one local attorney, Gloria Dumas, is running for Harrington’s seat.
Meanwhile, Harrington seems to be keeping her options wide open. She’s talked about running against District Attorney Torry Johnsonan unrealistic propositionor against Davidson County Clerk Bill Covington, an endearing and effective local figure who could potentially be harmed by publicity surrounding an overhyped FBI investigation into various aspects of his office management.
The investigation did take place, although it is now widely believed to have been prompted by a disgruntled employee. The probe fizzled out, and Covington’s reputation is solidly intact, but he has been lying low during the past year.
Political observers are waiting to see what Covington will do, since there has been some speculation that he wants to leave public life and go into business for himself.
The only other race that can’t go without mention is the one for sheriff. Sheriff Gayle Ray will almost surely have opposition next year. The latest news is that former Police Chief Joe Caseyknown for his tough-on-crime rhetoricis thinking about stepping back into the ring. But other names have been mentioned as well, including that of state Rep. Gary Odom, a former Metro Council member who has some criminal-justice experience.
Then, to wrap things up nicely, there’s the possibility of a Hank Hillin candidacy. Hillin, a former sheriff and a likable maverick of a character, has been consistently and sometimes brutally harsh on Ray. It’s conceivable that he might come out of retirement for a rematch.
Let’s hope so.
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