TN Chamber laments ‘dirty, dirty deed’ in falsely-labeled ‘push poll’

Nashville voters living in a district with a hot school board race underway got what are described as “push poll” calls from the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, reports Andrea Zelinski. But they weren’t … and the Chamber thinks the Legislature should do something about it.

Questions in the roughly five-minute poll using the chamber’s name included asking whether endorsements from the School Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Metropolitan Education Association (MNEA) would help earn their vote.

“We’ve never seen anything as dirty as this that’s been done,” said Bradley Jackson, a lobbyist and vice president of government relations for the state chamber who said he does not know who is behind the poll. “This was a dirty, dirty deed.”

The calls apparently began after employees from the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, headquartered in Nashville, left for the weekend. Bradley said people contacted by the pollsters said their caller ID indicated the call was from the Tennessee chamber and listed the chamber’s office phone number. The calls appear limited to Friday evening, he said.

The SEIU had nothing to do with the poll, said Freda Player, political director for the union’s Local 205 which had endorsed candidate Becky Sharpe on Friday. The endorsement a day after the Nashville Chamber endorsed candidate Mary Pierce citing “her careful skepticism of labor agreements that tie the hands of the director of schools.”

Player said she heard about the calls. She said she was told the pollster asked residents whether they would vote for Sharpe or Pierce; how knowing that Sharpe has children in public schools and Pierce has children in private schools would affect their vote; asking whether they favor charter schools given as public schools they distance teachers from unions; and whether endorsements from the Chamber, SEIU, MNEA, the Tennessean and Mayor Karl Dean would effect their vote.

Jackson said he learned about the poll after receiving calls Friday night from people familiar with the chamber and confused why it would conduct a pro-union poll. He said the chamber is investigating the situation, and is willing to go to state lawmakers next year to see if there is a way to stop the practice from happening.

“Now we’re going to play in the legislature to work to fix his,” said Jackson.

House Speaker Beth Harwell, who hails from that school district, said she received calls of concern about the poll and would work with the chamber to see if there is something that can be done at the state level.

“This I think was more of a push poll, in other words trying to push people toward a candidate or away from a candidate and I think that’s what had people a little concerned,” Harwell said. “I would be more than happy to sit with the chamber and work through it with a staff attorney to see if there’s something we could possibly do. Off hand, I don’t know what it would be.”