If they are aware of such things, doves must dread election years. It is the time when otherwise pacific politicians feel the need to go out blasting away at the landscape, believing that one of the paramount demonstrations of qualification for office is the ability to put some bird shot into the Symbol of Peace.
So it was this year, with the opening of the dove season. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Bill Frist were on a private farm in Williamson County on Labor Day, downing an appetizer’s worth of doves between them. Neither has much of an image as a sportsman, and punching that ticket for this year will surely help them to bond with the common folk. Both happily admitted to a Tennessean reporter that they didn’t have a clue as to the kind of ordnance they were using. (And it’s a fair guess too that their camouflage fashions were right off the rack.)
Frist, of course, is notorious for cavalier expediency of the Animal Kingdom. In his autobiography, he recounts how he secured subjects for medical experiments by going to local animal shelters and claiming he wanted to adopt the cats. To rationalize the deception, Frist took each of the cats home first and played with them for a while before having them make the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of science.
Democrats Phil Bredesen and Bob Clement pursued similar sanguinary activities. Because of the national party’s association with gun control measures, Democrats in the South generally feel the need to load, shoot and reload againto display their dedication to hunting and keep the National Rifle Association off their backs. Support for gun control measures was a big factor in the defeat of Sen. Jim Sasser in 1994 and of Al Gore in his bid to carry his home state in the 2000 presidential election.
Offing a few doves also will help underscore Bredesen’s common touch. Although he’s a bona fide hunter, his taste generally runs to the kinds of bigger prey he can gun down in the Rocky Mountains. Clement, meanwhile, as a second-generation politician, has probably been at it so long that he regards it as being as much a part of life as breathing.
Of course, the all-time low point in ballistic campaigning may have happened in the 1988 presidential race. George Bush, a genuine war hero who never came across as being particularly manly, sometimes tried too hard to compensate. During a dove hunt in 1987, he accidentally killed a representative of an endangered bird species.
Oops. At least he didn’t go riding around in a tank.
Two decades later...
The recent decision by U.S. District Judge John Nixon to vacate the death sentence of convicted killer Ron Harries brings a bizarre end to one of the state’s most melodramatic criminal cases.
Harries was sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of a convenience store clerk during an armed robbery. As his case worked its way through the convoluted appeals process in 1985, Harries decided on an audacious strategy to try to avoid execution. Dropping all his appeals, Harries called on Gov. Lamar Alexander to commute his sentence. While he didn’t want to die, he also didn’t want to stay on death row for 10 or 12 years during his appealsonly to be executed anyway. If it was going to come down to that, he explained, he’d just as soon face his fate right away.
After a concentrated review, Alexander called Harries’ bluff and affirmed the death penalty. Harries went on death watch status. Correction Commissioner Ernest Pellegrin briefed the press on execution arrangements.
At that point, anti-death penalty lawyers succeeded in intervening in the case. Arguing that conditions on death row were so vile that Harries could not make a rational judgment about his appeals, lead attorney Larry Woods asked that the sentence be stayed. The judge agreed, especially after hearing about the heavy tranquilizer doses Harries was receiving.
Subsequent litigation (ultimately rolled up into the general litigation on prison conditions) resulted in improvements to the conditions on death row. Harries resumed his appeals.
Harries, who began the year 1981 as an insignificant little malignancy, is back to being an insignificant little malignancy. Alexander is running for Senate.
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