Key Metro Council members are predicting that Nashvillians will, in the November election, fail to repeal a two-term limit for Council members. That would mean the murky issue of whether the limit applies to the mayor would remain unresolved.
Voters passed a two-term limit for Metro Council members in 1994 during a national term-limit frenzy. In a subsequent referendum in 1996, Nashvillians upheld the limit. Critics say it virtually guarantees a void of institutional memory in the Council in years to come. And because the 1994 measure passed by voters was so awkwardly worded, it makes it unclear whether the Metro mayor is subject to a three-term limitas originally provided for in the Metro Charteror to the same two-term limit as the members of the Council.
Chances are a third vote on the issue won’t be a charm for Council members.
“Unless there is a rigorous campaign by certain organizations and the mayor, then I think it’s unlikely it will pass,” says at-large Council member Leo Waters, who is currently serving his first four-year term.
“I’m a supporter of repealing term limits,” says at-large Council member Ronnie Steine, who plans to run for the office of vice mayor next year. “So I’m very hopeful. But I’m not optimistic.”
Steine says the ballot question will “amount to a popularity contest” for the Council and the mayor. “And popularity contests don’t usually bode well for people who are in office,” he says.
If Mayor Phil Bredesen, as expected, is vocal in encouraging voters to repeal the limit, it could actually have the opposite effect, some predict. That’s because voters might see repealing term limits as being a vote for Bredesen, who, after two terms in office, has developed a small army of detractors. Repealing the limits would free up the mayor to run for a third term. But maintaining the status quo would tangle up Bredesen as he decides whether to run again.
If the mayor really wants the ballot question to pass in November, he would do well to announce his plans to retire from the mayor’s office when his current term ends.
The Metro Council’s surprising vote last week to ban smoking from the arena, which scratched plans for a cigar bar there, hasn’t gone unnoticed outside of Nashville.
Cigar Aficionado’s online magazine noted the decision, quoting an official with the Nashville-based cigar company C.A.O. International Inc., which was working jointly with the NHL Predators to develop the private bar for club-level and luxury-suite ticket holders.
“It is quite ironic that the same group of individuals [Metro Council] who previously passed a bill allowing the sale of alcoholic beverages throughout the entire arena have now rejected a bill that would have allowed smoking in designated, controlled, and ventilated areas within the arena,” C.A.O. spokesman Jon Huber told Cigar Aficionado.
Metro Council member Tim Garrett, who argued to allow smoking in designated areas, predicts smokers will light up anyway. “If you don’t provide a place for smokers to smoke, some will regardless, which will cause confrontations,” he told the magazine. “To me, it’s just a question of personal choice about a legal product.”
The vote to keep smoking out of the arena may very well go down in Metro’s annals as one of the Council’s most irrational decisions ever. Arguments against allowing the cigar bar ranged from the socialistic (regulating access only to certain ticket holders is unfair) to the smug (it wouldn’t be good for children to see). It was not one of the Council’s prouder moments.
Upsetting the balance
It’s no small accomplishment when a politically untested legislative challengerwith a nasty habit of being bluntoutraises an entrenched Tennessee legislator without any help from special interests.
That’s what Republican Doug Hirt, a local businessman, has done in his race for House District 55 against Democratic state Rep. Gary Odom.
According to recent campaign filings at the State Registry of Election Finance, Hirt had raised more than $55,000 through July 27 for his November challenge. Odom, meanwhile, reported raising just under half that$28,245through the same period. While Hirt has refused donations from political action committees, Odom accepts special-interest contributions.
Odom, a lobbyist and former Metro Council member, has a reputation for being one of Republican Gov. Don Sundquist’s harshest critics, periodically staging press conferences criticizing the governor on a range of issues.
Sundquist, in fact, is personally helping Hirt, having attended a recent $250-per-person fund-raiser for the political newcomer at a supporter’s home. Hosts included such names as former state Finance Commissioner Bob Corker, contractor Walter Knestrick, and state Sen. Ben Atchley.
Unlike Odom, who, with knee-jerk predictability, falls on the side of labor interests, Hirt has refreshingly thoughtful views about the state of politics in Tennessee. But he says it’s too difficult for challengers to be elected to the Legislature. “There are two parties in Tennessee,” he says. “The incumbents and the challengers.”
Hirt also has a rare sense of honesty about any potential conflicts he may have in the Legislature. His wife’s family, for instance, has made lots of money in the publicly traded Corrections Corporation of America, which could take over the Tennessee prison system if the Legislature approves the governor’s proposal this winter.
“I see that as a conflict,” Hirt says. He adds that he would stay out of that fight unless the legislation came down to a single vote. In that case, he saysassuming the legislative leadership thought it was appropriate for him to votehe would probably support the measure.
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