Given the opportunity, Nashville almost always plays into the hands of national media types looking to portray us as rubes and knuckle-draggers. Not this time. Against all odds, the city rejected English Only last week with a solid 57 percent of the vote. Instead of a new dose of national mockery, we were held up as a shining example of what's right with America during the week that we honored Martin Luther King Jr. and inaugurated our first African-American president.
As Tom Oreck, chairman of the Oreck vacuum cleaner company, told The New York Times: "People here said Nashville is a warm, welcoming and friendly environment that celebrates diversity."
To hear our leaders talk, we're the new La Ville-Lumière. (That's City of Lights for all you rubes out there.) Mayor Karl Dean, who gambled his popularity on the outcome, declared: "From here, we continue to move forward as a city, and we do so with no barriers in our way."
Former Vice Mayor Howard Gentry gushed: "We refused to give in to the ugliness that something like this could create."
Let's not get too carried away here. True, it's heartening that the city's progressives seem able to stop daydreaming about love and harmony long enough to run an effective campaign. But not by any stretch is this the dawning of a new day or a crippling blow to intolerance in our city. In fact, had English Only been on the ballot in November as originally planned, it would have passed overwhelmingly.
It went down only because of low turnout due to a special election. That fact alone gave the English Only foes a fighting chance, magnifying the importance of their ability to educate and mobilize a small segment of voters. They spent $300,000 turning out 41,000 voters for their side. That was enough when only 73,000 of the county's 330,000 registered voters went to the polls.
K.C. McAlpin, director of ProEnglish—the hate group that bankrolled English Only—came to Nashville for the election and went sheepishly back to Arlington, Va., the next day. The lesson he learned? When you're selling ignorance, uninformed voters are your key demographic.
"We'll be a little smarter next time about staying away from special elections," McAlpin told the Scene.
The best news from this election? We might have seen the last of Eric Crafton. If English Only had won, the term-limited council member would have been emboldened to run for another office, maybe even mayor. Let's all hope he now just goes away.
Sex, lies and a secret memo
During his first week on the job, state House Speaker Kent Williams has been called a lying double-crosser, a traitor, a nitwit, and a sexual harasser. And that's just for starters. Guess the honeymoon's over.
Republicans have made no secret of the fact that they're out to put a whammy on Williams, who betrayed GOP leader Jason Mumpower and stole the speaker's gavel in a secret deal with House Democrats.
On his weekend radio show, right-wing windbag Steve Gill summed up the feelings by calling Williams "nothing but a lying, cheating, backstabbing, traitorous piece of scum."
And that was before Mumpower released a memo claiming that two years ago, a tipsy Williams approached Republican Rep. Susan Lynn in the legislative parking garage and told her, "I'd give a week's pay just to see you naked." According to the memo, Williams later apologized and promised Lynn he'd never sexually harass her again. Then he did it again eight days later, apologized again and promised not to do it again. Really. No kidding this time.
Williams has issued a blanket denial but stonewalls reporters' questions, claiming illogically that he's prohibited from saying more because of a confidentiality provision in the legislature's policy against sexual harassment. It makes him look like a criminal lawyering up as the cops close in.
Republicans are feigning innocence about the memo's release, suddenly fearing the public will think their smear campaign has gone too far and they'll look like vicious bastards. But they can't seem to get their story straight.
Mumpower said at one point that Lynn contacted reporters who then demanded the memo under the state's open records law, and he had no choice but to release it. Lynn says Mumpower misspoke. She insists she always wanted the matter handled privately and reporters contacted her, not the other way around. It's enough to make your head spin.
We can't wait for the next poll of our lovable state lawmakers' approval rating. After all that's happened, we see them falling below Pol Pot and Bernie Madoff in public esteem, just ahead of Dick Cheney.
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