Mayor Phil Bredesen was apparently the only individual to put any money into the effort to end term limits in the Nov. 3 election.
Despite promises early on from other anti-term limits ideologues, the political action committee set up to repeal the limitsVoters for a Responsive Councilneither took in, nor spent, any money.
While local labor organizations made some modest independent expenditures, sources say the mayor made the only real individual effort in the campaign by personally commissioning a poll before the election.
When the poll numbers came back just after the mayor decided he would not seek a third term, it was relatively clear Nashville voters were intent on keeping limits in place for Metro Council members, just as they had in 1996. At that time, Metro Council put the question on the ballot in an effort to repeal the limits imposed in the midst of the national Ross Perot reform frenzy in 1994.
According to one source who saw the poll, only 27 percent of voters supported repealing the two-term limit for Council members, while a solid 51 percent wanted to keep them. The remaining 22 percent of those polled said they were undecided.
Indeed, on Nov. 3, 62 percent of Nashville voters registered their support for a built-in glass ceiling on Metro Council careers. Once again, they decided the limits needed to stay.
For half the 40 Metro Council members who will be forced out of the body next year because of the limits, the cold, hard reality is still setting in. Meanwhile, they and their supporters are still scratching their heads about why the electorate voted the way it did and why there was no money to fund a repeal campaign.
Forgetting the most fundamental reason why term limits stuckwhich is that voters are tired of being ignoredsome are blaming the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, which publicly advocated the repeal of term limits but whose members raised no individual contributions for the campaign.
“We can communicate to our membership and encourage them to support initiatives,” explains chamber President Mike Rollins. But, he says, the organization, by virtue of its federal tax-exempt status, can’t make direct contributions to political campaigns.
Disappointed term limits opponents point out, however, that the chamber could have done more to encourage its members to contribute to the cause through the PAC.
In the end, Council members may have been asking more from the chamber than was realistic. The Council is, after all, the body that, during the summer’s Metro budget process, eliminated a $200,000 city contribution to the chamber.
Reading tea leaves
Only two of the 35 Metro Council districtsthe North Nashville districts held by Morris Haddox and Melvin Blackvoted on election day to repeal Council term limits. All the other districts votedby margins ranging from 51 percent to 69 percentto keep the limits.
Demographics and voter turnout were no doubt factors in the outcome within each district. But if the weakness or strength of the status quo vote within the districts says anything at all about the popularity of the Council members, the following are the most popular office holders:
♦ Morris Haddox (49 percent of his district voted to keep term limits)
♦ Melvin Black (just under 50 percent)
♦ Mansfield Douglas (51 percent)
♦ Julius Sloss (51 percent)
♦ Willis McCallister (52 percent)
♦ Stewart Clifton (53 percent)
♦ Frank Harrison (54 percent)
♦ Don Majors (55 percent)
It’s worth noting that, excepting Stewart Clifton, all the members in the above list are black, which could indictate that black Nashville voters may be more satisfied with the quality of their elected leadership than other voters. Or, limiting the Council terms may have been seen as a way whites were limiting the terms of effective black leaders.
By the same standard of the strength of the status quo vote, the following are the least popular Council members:
♦ Roy Dale (69 percent of his district voted to keep term limits)
♦ James Bruce Stanley (68 percent)
♦ Eric Crafton (68 percent)
♦ Ron Turner (68 percent)
♦ Craig Jenkins (67 percent)
♦ Vic Lineweaver (67 percent)
♦ Lawrence Hart (66 percent)
♦ Michelle Arriola (66 percent)
♦ Jerry Wayne Graves (66 percent)
♦ Charles French (65 percent)
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