As noted in a previous post, Dick Williams, chairman of Common Cause-Tennessee, was publicly thanked by Sen. Dewayne Bunch on the Senate floor for his help on a bill that declares the duties of county election administrators. The bill then passed 30-0 without discussion, though it had inspired intense partisan debate over on the House side, where Rep. Bill Dunn is sponsor.
Now, it turns out that Dunn had asked Williams for a letter expressing support for the measure. Williams said he initially agreed, but has since heard from House Democrats about the possible ramifications of the legislation – namely that it could impact a pending federal lawsuit over firing of Democratic election administrators by county Election Commissions now controlled by Republicans.
Williams has now changed his mind about support for the bill and has provided a copy of the letter he sent Dunn on the matter.
Here it is:
April 21, 2010
P.O. Box 150781 Nashville, TN 37215
In response to your request for a letter in support of House Bill 3056, I need to explain a change in my position.
I originally thought that this bill, as introduced and as amended by the House, did not significantly change existing law and did no harm. I understood that a few local election administrators wanted the amendment and that neither the Coordinator of Elections nor TACEO had any objections. I told a few Senators what I understood. Senator Bunch gave me more credit than I deserved, or now want, when they passed the companion bill without opposition or amendment.
Subsequently, I learned that it is at least possible that the subtle changes this bill would make to the law might have the consequence, intended or not, of being interpreted as “clarifying” that local election commissions delegate broad discretionary policymaking authority to administrators. With such an interpretation, according to AG Opinion 09-52, local election commissions could possibly fire the administrator solely on a partisan basis.
I’m not prepared to allege who, if anyone, intends this outcome but Common Cause/TN cannot support a bill that might, intentionally or not, codify political firing of election administrators. We believe they should administer the law and the policies of the commission, regardless of their political views or those of the commissioners.
I apologize for not earlier recognizing all of the policy implications of this bill. I respect your integrity and that of Senator Bunch, but we respectfully disagree with the potential consequences of enacting this bill.
State Chair, Common Cause/TN
CC: Senator Dewayne Bunch
Representative Gary Odom