frank_talk (2006-04)

Long Odds

When you fire a Democrat fixture, you’d better have a lock

by Frank Cagle

What’s happening, below the radar screen:

• Bye, Rebecca. It’s been nice. Hope you saved some of the money.

Steve Adams gave up being the State Treasurer, a job he held for 17 years, to take a job over at the Tennessee Lottery. Adams is part of the inner circle that runs things in Nashville. His wife Rita is House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh’s administrative assistant. Adams moving to the lottery from the inner circle was a sign the people that run state government might not have been content to have a free-standing agency processing and controlling millions of dollars without any help or input.

It was about time for some speculation to start. Why are we paying this woman from Georgia an obscene amount of money to run the lottery? It’s up and running and doing well. We’ve got old Steve over there on the staff, the former treasurer for the state of Tennessee. We can let Rebecca Paul go and pay old Steve just a semi-obscene amount of money.

But good old Steve got abruptly fired, on a workplace harassment rap.

Ordinarily it would be game, set and match for Ms. Paul.

But if you fire the former State Treasurer and a fixture of the Democratic Party, you better have it nailed down seven ways from Sunday. They don’t. One judge has already labeled the action shaky, violating due process. Adams seems to be set up for a very nice lawsuit for reinstatement. Senators are already calling for hearings on the dismissal. You can expect to see lottery officials face a grilling and testimonials from Democratic legislators as to Adams’ probity. The smart move would be quick settlement agreement, but it may be too late.

Sorry, Rebecca. You may be smart, and you may know how to start lotteries. You certainly know how to negotiate an employment contract. But you ain’t from around here. Good luck. Maybe somebody else is starting up a lottery somewhere. If it’s any consolation, they will probably give you a semi-obscene amount of money to go away. After all, it isn’t their money. It’s just the kids’ scholarship money.

• Democrats were waxing nostalgic last week watching the Republicans in the state Senate vote to expel state Sen. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis, because of election irregularities.

Back in the old days, a political activist on the UT campus named Bill Nolan registered enough students to get elected to the House of Representatives. Then along came a Republican student named Jimmy Hutson, from Chattanooga, who registered enough Republicans to beat Nolan in a subsequent election. But Hutson was registered to vote in his home of Chattanooga and there was some question of the legality of his registering people in Knoxville to vote for him. That and other allegations made for a major controversy and the issue wound up in front of a House committee.

House Speaker Ned McWherter refused to overturn an election. He and his fellow Democrats ruled against Nolan, an incumbent Democrat, and seated the Republican challenger Hutson. McWherter said the standard to overturn an election was “without a shadow of a doubt,” an impossible standard.

Some House Democrats were pointing to the Nolan case last week as an example of what the Republicans ought to be doing in the case of Ophelia Ford.

(Hutson was defeated by Pete Drew, who then switched to the Republican Party, and he was defeated in turn by state Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, who still holds the seat.)

• Congressman Bill Jenkins, R-Rogersville, has represented upper East Tennessee for 10 years and is 69 years old. There is some speculation that Jenkins will not run for re-election. So far he has not confirmed or denied it. He has raised very little in the way of campaign funds for a re-election bid. He says he will announce a decision soon.

That’s enough to get a swarm of potential candidates geared up. State Sen. Majority Leader Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, who recently announced he would not run for governor, may have had this race in mind. Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable, who lost to Jenkins in a crowded field 10 years ago, may be running. There are assorted state representatives in upper East Tennessee who may also get into the race.

Sevier County District Attorney Al Schmutzer was also a candidate the year Jenkins won. He recently said he will not run for re-election to the DA’s office. He would also be free to run.

Jenkins won the seat to replace Congressman Jimmy Quillen with strong support from Hawkins and Greene counties (where he was a circuit judge), while several Tri-Cities candidates split the vote in the heavily populated metro area. Schmutzer captured the vote from the lower end of the district.

Frank Cagle is a political analyst and the editor of Knoxville Magazine . You can reach him at .