Political Notes 

Joking matters

Joking matters

Gov. Don Sundquist proved to be a good sport last week when a gritty group of reporters from the Capitol Hill Press Corps concocted a grand practical joke on one of their own, weaving the governor into the devious plot.

The occasion was Nashville Banner political writer Andy Sher’s 40th birthday. To celebrate the milestone, Commercial Appeal reporter Paula Wade, perhaps the corps’ most gifted jokester and poet, lay the groundwork for one hell of a political story—except for the fact that it wasn’t true.

To pull off the caper, she enlisted the support of her colleagues, who spend a lot of their time huddled together in a room off of the Legislative Plaza’s main floor. Sher’s colleague, Jeff Woods, made sure a rumor was leaked to Sher, who is known for being one of the more dogged reporters on the hill, that Sundquist was going to appoint Lt. Gov. John Wilder to the Supreme Court. When voters rejected Justice Penny White in the Supreme Court elections earlier this month, the obligation fell to Sundquist to name a replacement.

The story would have packed one helluva bang, and Sher must have been drooling. First of all, the Republican Sundquist would have been appointing a Democrat, a move that would have left him open to criticism. The appointment would also have revamped the intricate political arrangement in the state Senate, where, even though Republicans hold a majority, the Democratic Wilder still presides as speaker. Moving Wilder to the court, however, would mean that a Republican might have a great shot at becoming speaker and lieutenant governor.

Sher jumped on the story. He made calls to both Sundquist legal counsel Hardy Mays and to Sue Allison, spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the Courts. Everyone he talked with was appropriately coy. Having been tipped off by Wade, they would neither confirm nor deny the rumor. But they were more than happy to acknowledge that Wilder was a great guy and a man for whom the governor had the utmost respect.

Sher wrote a speculative story, thinking he had enough to go on. Everything was ready to go in the afternoon Banner when Sundquist called Sher directly and asked him to kill the story. If he didn’t kill it, Sundquist added, he’d have to call Sher’s ultimate boss, Banner publisher Irby Simpkins. For Sher, that was all the confirmation he needed.

Then Sher’s editor, Ed Cromer, called him to say Sundquist was leaning on Simpkins real hard not to run the piece. Unfortunately, Cromer told him, the story wasn’t going to see the light of day. At about that time, Sher’s colleagues gathered around him to sing “Happy Birthday.” He realized he’d been had.

It was definitely a slow week on The Hill.

Long-windy city

As Democrats met in Chicago this week for their national convention, they found themselves—not unlike the Republicans two weeks earlier—divided on some issues. President Clinton’s signing of the federal welfare reform bill and his support for the Food and Drug Administration’s regulation of tobacco advertisements were met with mixed support.

But the leader of Tennessee’s Democratic delegation to the convention, former Gov. Ned McWherter, says it’s good for the party to reassess itself and to move toward the middle, just as Clinton has done and just as he did when he served as Tennessee governor.

“I really believe in a two-party system,” McWherter recently told the Scene. “I really believe the Republican Party and Democratic Party have served this country well. I think the Republican Party goes too far to the right, and I think the Democratic Party goes too far to the left. I want to help steer the Democratic Party more toward the middle.”

McWherter praised Tennessee’s welfare reform bill, which was passed by the state Legislature before the federal bill became law.

McWherter points out that he did his part to make sure the Tennessee bill received the necessary federal approval. “When Gov. Sundquist asked for the waiver,” McWherter said, “I was up in Washington, and I tried to put in my 80-cents’ worth to let him have it.”

Sprouting green

Green Party supporters have succeeded in putting Ralph Nader on the ballot in Tennessee as an independent. He joins eight other independent candidates, including Libertarian Harry Browne and Reform Party leader Ross Perot.

In Tennessee, it is difficult for minor parties to get their candidates on the ballot under the name of their parties. It is easy, however, to qualify as an “independent candidate,” a category in which minor parties wind up being lumped together.

In Nader’s case, supporters only needed to find one electoral vote to support him and turn in an accompanying petition with 25 signatures. But the Green Party of Tennessee actually managed to find 11 electoral votes and get 275 signatures. Browne and Perot also managed to gather enough votes and signatures to make it onto the ballot.

The ballot status means Tennessee will have an established Green Party once the Nov. 4 election is over.

“Clearly, Ralph Nader is not going to be elected president unless some really unusual things happen,” says Winston Grizzard, who serves as state coordinator for the Nader campaign and also works in the U.S. Department of Human Services. “But what this does is help us establish a Green Party of Tennessee. On Nov. 5 we plan to have a victory party and establish the Greens here,” Grizzard says. “Greens see this as a real opportunity. He’s really letting the Greens use his candidacy to get their message out.”

The Green Party advocates, among other things, the use of more public referendums, and allowing voters more chances to recall officials. The party supports a binding use of “none of the above” in elections. In other words, “Every voter should have the opportunity to vote ‘none of the above.’ If that category wins, the candidates are thrown out and new candidates can come in,” Grizzard says.

The party recently had a gathering at the UCLA campus, where about 500 people came to hear Nader speak.

At one point, he attempted to make a reference to the old television show Laverne and Shirley, botching the name to say “Shirley and Levine,” then correcting himself, still wrongly, to say, “That’s Shirley and Laverne.”

At least we know Nader, who represents a party with membership in 73 countries, including Mongolia, doesn’t waste a lot of time watching Nick at Nite.

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