Lights Out 

They'll never get the Tennessee Tower past the censors

They'll never get the Tennessee Tower past the censors

For a long time, one of Nashville's more enduring traditions was the messages emanating from the National Life building located southwest of the State Capitol. At some point, a National Life employee got the bright idea of turning the west side of the building into a giant nighttime billboard using the windows and indoor lights. It was a hit among Nashville residents and a conversation piece for out-of-towners just passing through. During football season, the building might read "Go Vandy." At Christmas, "Peace on Earth." And so on. There was no predicting what would be up there next; as a private enterprise, National Life could do whatever it wanted.

When the state of Tennessee took over the building in 1994 and rechristened it the "Tennessee Tower," the building went silent. There were some early efforts to resurrect the tradition, but they went nowhere. Now Metro Council members Mike Jameson and Ludye Wallace want the state to turn the lights back on, in part because, according to Jameson, "the message conveyed by the change [in building ownership] was that government can't provide the level of service that private industry can."

The problem with that statement, as Jameson surely knows, is that in fact government often can't provide the level of service that private industry can. That's especially true in this case, given that the menu of potential messages will be sorely limited by the state's role as the de facto messenger. Religious missives, including the fairly benign "Merry Xmas," will be out of the question. Messages in support of for-profit endeavors ("Go Preds!") would also be a questionable use of state resources. And let's not even think about posting anything even remotely political. You think specialty license plates have become controversial? Just wait until someone from Tennessee Right to Life wants to stick "Choose Life" on a 31-story government building.

This particular Nashville trademark is indeed sorely missed, and Jameson and Wallace have their hearts in the right place (although Wallace's idea of using the building to post the current temperature and date makes no sense whatsoever—it's not a bank clock). But it's not really worth the trauma. Best to leave Nashvillians with pleasant memories of what once was.

Wilding

According to Robert Davis, a former Marine and the only black ever to serve on the Carter County Commission, Lt. Gov. John Wilder, the Democratic speaker of the state Senate, made some rather odd comments during a March 9 meeting with the Carter County Leadership Tomorrow Class.

In a pointed letter to Wilder, Davis accused the veteran legislator of telling the group that "because of affirmative action favoring blacks, women and other minorities, people like me...could no longer get decent jobs." Davis also wrote that Wilder later "blatantly singled me out and asked if I had anything to say" and refused to shake his hand at the end of the meeting.

Wilder apparently responded to Davis' letter with a telephone call during which Davis alleges that Wilder apologized only for Davis' feelings about what was said rather than what was actually said and how. Davis says also that Wilder shared his desire that "when he comes back, he wishes he would be black."

Davis was unimpressed. Wilder, on the other hand, seemed pleased with how things went, telling the media that Davis now "understands what Wilder is. Who Wilder is. That I like black people."

Wilder also added that he was one of the few white landowners in his area who refused to remove black tenant farmers from their property during the early days of civil rights. Furthermore, black families in his district now own homes and cars "and John Wilder made that difference."

Davis believes that Wilder should resign his position, something that Wilder says is not going to happen, and which appears very unlikely to happen, since there doesn't seem to be any pressure being brought by anyone to make it happen. This brings to mind a perfectly legitimate question: Could Lt. Gov. Wilder have gotten away with this if he were a Republican? Just wondering.

Taking issue

State Rep. Rob Briley contacted the Scene to express his concerns about a recent item criticizing House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh for playing games with Republican requests for roll call votes in House subcommittees. Briley relates that Republican leader Tre Hargett was given ample opportunity in a Rules Committee meeting to amend his request that "all votes" be subject to a roll call tally to apply instead only to substantive votes. It was only after Hargett made clear that his caucus members wanted their request to apply to procedural votes as well that the change was implemented at the speaker's behest. Given Briley's well-deserved reputation for fair play and the fact that the Young Turk wing of the House Republican Caucus is not exactly known for its political cunning, this explanation has the ring of truth, and we are happy to make the clarification.

But the subcommittee system still smells.

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