Ear to the Ground: Circular Firing Squad

Circular Firing Squad

Outgoing state Democratic Party Chair Gray Sasser is being lambasted for Democratic losses in Tennessee while President-elect Barack Obama was rolling up a huge victory nationwide. But the responsibility of the unprecedented Republican takeover of the state House of Representatives mostly lies with the members.

Historically, Democrats in the House have never relied on the state party to maintain their numbers. The House Democratic caucus has always raised its own money, using its powerful position to recruit candidates and to run its own races. (Not that the party didn't help, they just didn't have primacy.)

During the last year, the Democratic caucus has been mired in a power struggle within its ranks. Majority Leader Gary Odom wanted to unseat Speaker Jimmy Naifeh and both men spent a lot of time focusing on their electorate—the Democratic House members—and not the electorate at large. There was a lack of a coherent campaign to maintain the Democrats' margin in the House. While fighting among themselves, they took their eyes off the ball.

Other factors? Naifeh stripped state Rep. Frank Buck of his power to punish him for insubordination. Buck decided to retire. His seat was won by a Republican. State Rep. Randy Rinks gave up his seat to run for Secretary of State—a sure thing in a Naifeh-controlled House of Representatives. A Republican won his seat.

The only people more shocked about the Republican takeover than the Democrats were the Republicans. The split between the Naifeh and Odom forces has also hampered efforts by Naifeh to split off a Republican vote and retain the speaker's chair.

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Con Officer Campaign

Ira Brody is an investment banker who worked for New York Gov. George Pataki. Since he relocated to Nashville, he has contributed thousands of dollars to the state Republican Party and he was chair of the Tennessee Victory 08 campaign. He is considered the front runner to be state treasurer when the incoming Republicans elect new constitutional officers.

Brody was in Knoxville last week, touring with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. He attended state Sen. Tim Burchett's campaign kickoff for Knox County mayor, then went to a reception with Ramsey at Regas Restaurant to "politik" the local legislative delegation.

Brody is trying to woo rural/conservative legislators to support a New Yorker for the job. Brody is believed to be pursuing the Gov. Phil Bredesen (another New Yorker) strategy of coming south to begin a political career, eventually running for Congress in the Nashville area.

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Price Point

The commodities market has been going crazy in light of the world financial crisis, but a lot of families in East Knox County are keeping an eye on zinc prices. When zinc fell to between 40 and 50 cents a pound early in the decade, the Mexican-owned ASCARO closed its mines in Mascot, one of the largest employers in the east end of the county. That was just below the break-even point for the mine's operations

When zinc prices soared in recent years, new Swiss owners reopened the mines and now employ between 300 and 400 people. But with the world economy slowing, zinc prices have also declined. The price per pound has fallen, though it is currently between 50 and 55 cents.

The Swiss owners and the Australian management run a more efficient operation than past owners, and declining fuel prices have also help transportation costs. They are in a stronger position than the previous owners. But the company may approach TVA for help on utility costs.