Striving to maintain a substantial presence in the Tennessee General Assembly, Democrats appear more aggressive than Republicans do in attacking their opponents in legislative races across the state as campaigns enter the final stage.
“We are holding a lot of incumbents accountable for their reckless actions … and some non-incumbents,” said Brandon Puttbrese, communications director of the Tennessee Democratic Party. He described the state GOP as “a political party that flaunts the law and believes in accountability for everyone but themselves.”
“Our candidates are running on a record of accomplishments, a record to be proud of,” said Adam Nickas, executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party. “Democrats are trying to find sideshows.”
If Republicans can gain just two seats each in the state House and Senate on Nov. 6, they will have two-thirds control of both chambers — enough to meet and conduct business even if all Democrats were to walk out. The “super majority” would also be able to suspend normal parliamentary rules and enact legislation on a moment’s notice, if all Republicans are in agreement
Some of the Democrats’ criticism has focused on legislative issues, such as an attack on Republicans for pushing a bill that could lead to a state takeover of the federal Medicare program. But more often, individual Republican candidates have been criticized for activity outside the legislative arena.
Republicans have also targeted a few individual Democratic legislators — declaring House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh guilty of “blatant hypocrisy,” for example — and Nickas says there is more targeting to come. The party has been vigorous in defending candidates from attacks by Democrats or their perceived allies.
But the underdog Democrats have overall been more aggressive.
Perhaps the most heated contest for a state Senate seat has been in the northern Middle Tennessee’s District 22, where incumbent Sen. Tim Barnes, D-Clarksville, is challenged by Republican Mark Green, a doctor and president of a hospital staffing company.
Last week, Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, which presents itself as advocacy group for the public interest, filed a complaint with the Registry of Election Finance that says Green set up a political action committee that has violated state campaign finance laws. GreenPAC was financed by just three persons — $250 from Green and $8,000 from two men who had already given the candidate the maximum amount permitted by state law, the complaint says. GreenPAC, shortly after being created and funded, then gave $8,000 — its only contribution reported — to Green’s campaign, the complaint says.
State Republican Chairman Chris Devaney promptly issued a news release declaring the complaint “a farce” that should not be taken seriously.
“Tennessee Citizen Action is a renowned group of Democrat-friendly agitators who continually propagate the latest liberal cause du jour,” Devaney said. “They are pro-income tax, pro-union thuggery and pro-Obamacare. They scoff at job-creating measures like tort reform and question why citizens should have to show a photo ID to vote. Like Sen. Barnes, they are out of step with Tennesseans and this complaint is out of line.”
Replied Mancini: “This is a typical reaction by political party operatives — rather than address the issue at hand, they attack the messenger.
“Tennessee Citizen Action doesn’t play in that sandbox. We’re looking out for the people of the state who, because they are simply trying to put food on the family dinner table, don’t have a ton of money to contribute to campaigns or candidates.”
The Democratic Party, meanwhile, sent out a direct mail piece declaring that a Clarksville medical center was the lowest-ranked hospital in the state under Green’s management and that Green directed doctors to “cherry pick” patients to boost profits. Devaney declared the mailer “a political hack job” and hospital officials said the cited statistics were outdated or incorrect.
Some other recent attacks in legislative races:
n State Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester urged state officials to remove the name of Charles Williamson from the ballot in House District 50 because the Republican candidate does not live in the renovated barn listed as his address on qualifying papers. The Forrester news release, which has been ignored by officials so far, followed a Tennessean story saying Williamson has acknowledged he does not live at the listed address, which city codes officials have deemed inappropriate for use as a residence.
n Sumner County Assistant District Attorney William Lamberth, the Republican nominee for House District 44, has been attacked by his Democratic opponent, Steven Glaser, for taking campaign contributions from the father and the lawyer of a man facing charges of killing his wife. The charges were subsequently reduced in a plea bargain negotiated with the district attorney’s office. Lamberth said he had nothing to do with the case in question.
Glaser, an attorney and former Portland city judge, has acknowledged facing $158,000 in liens filed against him by the Internal Revenue Service for past due taxes, according to media reports. He said he is working to pay the taxes in question.
n Lauri Day, the Republican challenger to state Rep. John Tidwell, D-New Johnsonville, has a $46,000 lien against her McEwen home because of unpaid personal income taxes, according to the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle. Tidwell said “anyone that has tax liens against their house should not be in charge of the public’s money.” Day says she is working toward paying off the taxes under an approved plan.
n Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, was criticized by the Democratic Party on Friday for missing the opening days of the 2012 legislative session to attend a Farm Bureau convention in Hawaii, where he accepted an “excellence in agriculture” award as a farmer. “Voters elected Andy Holt to look out for their interests in the legislature, but when the session started this year Holt was busy looking out for waves off the beaches of Hawaii thanks to lobbyists,” says the news release.
n In West Tennessee’s Senate District 24, Democrat Brad Thompson’s campaign is highlighting court documents that indicate his Republican opponent, lawyer John Stevens, ripped up a dying woman’s last will and testament as she lay unconscious in a hospital room. Stevens, an attorney, says he was following the woman’s wishes, as expressed before the will-ripping incident, according to the Commercial Appeal. A lawsuit over the will was settled out of court.
n The Republican Party suggested in a news release that Flo Matheson, the Democratic nominee opposing Republican Rep. Cameron Sexton of Crossville, was supporting a state income and questioned whether that was part of a general state Democratic platform. Matheson said her remarks were addressed to the federal income tax and an audio recording distributed by the GOP was edited to eliminate the portion of her speech where she made that clear. She contends the “smear” attempt has backfired on Republicans.