New Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett and his little hillbilly sidekick, elections coordinator Mark Goins, are getting off to a fantastic start. They are faced with a ragtag collection of earnest citizens audaciously trying to ensure accurate elections. Against all odds, the do-gooders succeeded in passing the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, which mandates new voting machines with paper trails for ballots by 2010. Hargett and Goins tried to delay implementation of the law but failed. Now they're behaving like a couple of thugs.
In the latest news, Hargett sent the TBI to investigate his complaint that one of his terribly dangerous political opponents, a mellow dude named Bernie Ellis, made a "terrorist threat" against the secretary of state's office.
The good-humored Ellis is founder of the fair election group Gathering to Save Our Democracy. The two TBI agents who came to his farm last week said they were told he had threatened violence against the secretary of state's office in his comment on a Knoxville News-Sentinel blog. In his comment, Ellis proclaimed Goins is "full of s***" and made a literary allusion to an obscure 1946 event known as the Battle of Athens, in which some World War II veterans in McMinn County rose up against a corrupt local government and forced the honest counting of ballots in an election that was about to be stolen.
After a little polite conversation with Ellis, the two TBI agents said they were satisfied that they'd been sent on a pointless mission and left cordially. Ellis sent an email to friends and supporters about all this:
"I also asked the two TBI agents to deliver a message from me to whoever had caused them to have to drive to my farm today. Before they left, the lead agent repeated my message verbatim to make sure he had it right: 'Mr. Ellis would like whoever issued the complaint against him to grow a pair of balls, man up (the agent's words) and call him at any time to discuss any concerns they may have with him or with anything Mr. Ellis has ever said.' The agent looked to me like he is going to be happy to deliver that message personally."
In another email, Ellis adds: "The only threat that existed was between Hargett's ears (and there's lots of room for imaginary threats there)."
We phoned Hargett's spokesman, Blake Fontenay, for comment. He said he'd love to talk, of course, but he just couldn't. The TBI wouldn't let him, he claimed, "because they're still investigating." Yes, it was the old "we never comment on pending investigations" trick.
"I really am not supposed to say anything more than that at this point," Fontenay apologized. "We'd love to respond but we were asked by the TBI specifically not to respond. There definitely is another side to this...but it's not usually advisable to get the TBI mad at you. My hands are tied at this time."
So we phoned the TBI, whose spokeswoman Kristin Helm said basically there was no investigation, and she didn't know what Fontenay was talking about.
"We had to go pay Bernie a little visit," Helm said. "We had a public official who felt as though he was being threatened, who felt there was something floating around in cyberland that was a threat. A couple of agents went to talk to Bernie and pretty much found the threats were unsubstantiated."
Helm confirmed the public official who complained was Hargett. Asked whether the TBI planned to engage in political intimidation at the behest of state officials, Helm said, "Political intimidation? We went out because he felt threatened and we needed to see if that threat was substantiated or not. I don't know anything about any political intimidation."
Afterward, Fontenay started talking. He said Hargett was merely "calling something to the TBI's attention out of an abundance of caution for his employees."
That's right, Hargett was worried about the safety of his employees.
Unfortunately, this isn't the first time his office has threatened opponents. Goins also threatened Liberadio's Mary Mancini, who worked with Ellis and others to beat the secretary of state's office this session. Goins plopped down beside Mancini in the legislative cafeteria.
"I'm a friend of paper ballots," he said, "But when you push your friends too far, sometime they bite back."
He added, "I'm this close to biting back."
Here's the moral of this little tale of jackassery: Don't mess with aging hippies. They're meaner than you think.
Hargett, who was only recently elected secretary of state by the legislature's new Republican majority, sees them as a bunch of pansies. But the pansies kicked his ass on this legislation, so he was embarrassed and decided it was time for payback.
Unfortunately for Hargett, Ellis, who's a really nice guy, has more than a few friends in the media. As soon as the TBI left his farm, he sat down at his computer and sent an email to these friends. When the first blog post hit the web, it must have been an oh-shit moment for the new secretary of state.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 615-844-9445.
Of all things. We must issue more Phony, Lying "Liberal" Alerts.
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