NASHVILLE ELECTION REFLECTIONS

11 10 2019

Twenty-one percent of Nashville’s voters turned out on September 12th, meaning that John Cooper’s “landslide victory” over David Briley boils down to 15% of our adult citizens choosing Cooper, while only six percent of the city’s voters preferred Briley. The initial round of voting produced a 24% turnout rate, enough of a decline to demonstrate the advantage of ranked-choice voting, but still such a light turnout that, if all of those who didn’t vote could have weighed in as  “abstaining,” or voted for “neither of the above,” the election could have been declared null and void. But the threshold for election is not 50% of all potential voters, it’s a majority of the actual voters, and so John Cooper, “the choice of 15% of Nashville,” is now our mayor. I’ll have more to say about him a little later.

Why is there such a marked lack of interest in local government? Is it because most people presume that, no matter who is officially in charge, things will remain about the same? That’s a dangerous presumption to make as climate chaos increases and resource depletion and economic collapse loom on the horizon. I once approached an intelligent, innovative, outspoken member of Metro Council, and told her I’d like to see her run for mayor. Her response was, “Got a million dollars? Cos’ that’s what it takes to run for mayor in this town.” She is no longer involved in Metro politics. This election certainly proved her point. Both Briley and Cooper are members of the millionaires’ club. “Who wants to be ruled by a millionaire?” You could call that the “reality show” we’re involved in, like it or not .The drawback to this arrangement is that millionaires, almost no matter how hard they try, are going to have difficulty relating to the kind of problems the rest of us face, and consequently will have difficulty coming up with ideas that speak to the needs of the rest of us.

We need radical change, because it’s well documented by now that “business as usual” is going to get us all killed. On the other hand, it’s difficult for the elite of Nashville, or the elite anywhere, to conceive of anything but the “business as usual” that has made them wealthy and keeps them wealthy. Beyond our ruling class’s limited vision, adherence to “business as usual” here in Tennessee is enforced by our micromanaging state legislature, which seems determined to smother any rising progressive tendencies anywhere in the state.  I should mention that our state government, like our mayor and metro council, are elected by a minority of the state’s voters. In other words, Tennessee is a “red state” not not because a majority of its citizens vote Republican, but because the Democrats are so uninspiring, and the two corporate parties have such a lock on ballot access, and media access, that trying to get a third party going in this state is a truly Sisyphean task. As I’ve chronicled here, we Greens have tried,failed,  and, frankly, all but worn ourselves out in the process. I think we might properly refer to the phase our country is in these days as “the twilight of democracy.” Some people would disagree with me, I’m sure, saying that the sun set long ago on American democracy. I think they have a point. Not just in Tennessee, but nationally, the two corporate-friendly political parties  have, um, “colluded” with our corporate owned and consequently corporate-friendly media to exclude everyone but themselves from the levers of power, even as their support dwindles. Need I remind you that, nationwide, turnout in the 2016 election was 55-60%, depending on how you count it, and around 50% in 2018?  It was less than that here in Tennessee. That means that, in 2016, about 40% of the adult public didn’t care whether Trump or Clinton became President, and then, in 2018, after two years of Trump showing how dangerous he is and the Democrats showing how ineffectual they are at opposing him, even fewer voters thought the Democrats were an alternative worth voting for. When half the adult population sits out the election, the problem we have is not about how easy, or difficult, it is to vote. The problem is that neither party inspires the voting public. Sure, the Republicans were running on a program of brute corporate domination, but all the Democrats had to offer was kinder, gentler corporate domination. Apparently, about half of our voting population is savvy enough to say, “Neither of the above, thank you!”

If only we could get them to vote Green…..

I think that what I just laid out also also explains why, over the last seventy years, political power has pretty reliably flipped from one party to the other every eight years, as well as why Nashvillians, to the extent that we cared at all, dumped Briley and elected Cooper. Read the rest of this entry »





ASKING INCONVENIENT QUESTIONS

14 07 2019

As long-time readers of this blog know, I ran for an at-large seat on the Metro Nashville Council in 2015, mostly in an effort to publicize the long-term concerns I express. I received a couple of thousand votes and came in second to last. I said I’d be back, but when this election cycle came around, I didn’t file papers to run, for several reasons. First, somebody asked me to run last time, and nobody asked this time. Second, as I ran last time and got a better understanding of what was involved, it seemed that, if I ran again, I would have to run with the pledge that I would hire somebody as a legal consultant to help me translate my somewhat radical proposals into Legalese, the language in which our governments do business. From there, I concluded that it would be more efficient, and more credible to the voting public, if I, or the “we” that constitutes the local Green Party, simply found a lawyer who shared my/our values, and offered to help her or his campaign. And that’s as far as that got.

A few weeks ago, after attending a Mayoral candidates’ forum in which my concerns for Nashville’s long-term stability were not addressed, I wrote the following letter to all four major Mayoral candidates, and to the ten at-large council candidates I think have the best chance of winning. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Candidate:

I ran for at-large Metro Council in the last election. For a variety of reasons, I’m not in the race this time, but I still have the concerns I ran on four years ago, and I am still writing my blog and doing my radio show, and that is why I am writing you now. I would like to hear from you about “my issues,” and I would like to share your response (and comment on it) as my next radio show/blog post, which will air/be published in mid-July, so I am also asking your permission to publish your response. If I need to do any editing/condensing, I will share my proposed edit with you, to make sure that I have preserved your intentions. Here’s what I’m asking:

The way I see it, Nashville is currently enjoying an extraordinarily prosperous period, especially compared to a great many other cities in this country, and regions of the world. However, the same crises that have overtaken them loom over us—a runaway climate crisis, an increasingly fragile national economy, and the rapidly approaching exhaustion of many of the material resources our civilization depends on, from fossil fuels to rare earth metals to fish, forests, fertile soil, and clean water. To what extent do these factors inform your political agenda?

To what extent do you share my concerns? What do you think the city should, could, or is likely to do in response to them?

Thank you for your time and attention.

No mayoral candidate wrote me back, although Facebook Messenger informed me that John Ray Clemmons opened my letter–at 7:30 in the morning. I hope that some day we will find out that it served as a wake up call for him.

I did better with the council races, with six responses to ten letters sent. Three of the candidates who didn’t respond are the ones who are generally identified as Republicans, although technically Metro Council races are non-partisan. The fourth non-responder was Gicola Lane, one of the organizers behind the initiative that established a Police Review Board here in Nashville.

I can understand why a political candidate would be inclined to handle my questions very gingerly. Al Gore nailed it when he called climate change “an inconvenient truth.” It’s easy to see human history as an increasingly rapid spiral into greater wealth and technological complexity. By and large, people don’t want to imagine that things might move some other way– a spiral of decreasing resources, complexity, and expectations. As Bill Clinton is rumoured to have said, “Nobody ever got elected by promising the American people less.” When Winston Churchill told the British people, “I have nothing to offer but blood, sweat, toil, and tears,” he wasn’t running for office, he had just been elected, and the Germans were taking over Europe and saturation-bombing Britain as a prelude to invasion.

It’s difficult to get people to see that we are in a “blood, sweat, toil, and tears” situation with climate change. Instead of an invading army, we are threatened by the way our own actions are skewing the planet’s climate into a “normal” that is far less human-friendly than the climate in which we have evolved as a species. So far, for most Americans, that change is nibbling at daily life, rather than devouring it wholesale, and so, for most of us in America, and especially here in Nashville, it is possible to live as if nothing has changed or is going to change. City election issues can be restricted to budgets and taxes,  infrastructure, zoning, education, policing, and similar daily life issues. These mundane issues offer almost infinite details to keep us occupied and keep us from looking at the longer-term questions I have been asking. When our community governments do address these questions, they will tend to do so in the context of the short-term, daily-life issues they are used to dealing with. With that in mind, let’s go through the responses I received, with some commentary from me, and then I will suggest a few things the city could do that would tend to steer the city, just as it is, into an entity that is better prepared to deal with the financial and material shortages and extreme weather events that we are likely to see in the mid-term future. Read the rest of this entry »





MAYOR’S MARATHON

11 03 2007

A few months back, I promised you that I would be investigating the green aspects of Nashville’s various mayoral candidates. The election’s not ’till August, so I figured I had plenty of time—but then one of the candidates forced my hand. David Briley made the following proposals:

• Create a Mayor’s Office of Sustainability to coordinate public-private environmental cooperation, to study methods of lowering carbon emissions in Nashville, to create an environmental standards report, to “address environmental racism and injustice” and to develop environmental education programs for school children;

• Establish “green building standards” for public and private construction, requiring new Metro construction to meet environmental standards and incentivizing private developers so they would build environmentally-friendly projects “through density bonuses, through fast-track approval of green projects in our community – we can do that and save the taxpayers money,” Briley said;

• Dedicate one cent from the existing property tax levy for Metro to buy private open space.

• Expand curbside recycling throughout the entire county — from the Urban Services District into the General Services District — on a voluntary, subscription basis;

• Encourage the use of “hybrid, low-emission, and alternative fuel vehicles” by creating “a Metro fleet of hybrid vehicles” and encouraging public use of green vehicles through incentives such as cheaper and priority parking; Briley would lobby the Tennessee General Assembly so that it would let such vehicle owners use HOV lanes;

• Have Metro plant trees or other greenery in the city’s rights-of-way and public property — such as in medians and intersection islands — and have Metro plant at least 1,000 trees annually;

• Establish a target for Davidson County to reduce emissions levels 10 percent below 2000 levels by 2014.
Very good beginning, Mr. Briley! So I got on the stick and mailed a fairly lengthy and detailed list of questions to the other candidates. Karl Dean’s campaign and Bob Clement’s campaign both responded, but Howard Gentry and Buck Dozier have ignored me, so far. I’m not surprised to be ignored by Mr. Dozier, who after all is the godfather of those obnoxious new animated billboards we are now plagued with, but I’m a little disappointed not to have heard from Howard Gentry. The Clement campaign requested my question list and promised a reply, but hasn’t actually done so yet. Karl Dean had this to say to me on the subject of creating a sustainable Nashville:

“I am dedicated to making Nashville an even more environmentally-friendly city. One of the biggest contributors to global warming is vehicle emissions, especially those produced in the inner city by diesel vehicles. Metro government can make an impact by using alternative fuels like biodiesel in mass transit buses, garbage collection trucks, and school buses. It can be used without engine modifications in any diesel vehicle including cars, buses, trucks, and off-road equipment. I would pursue the use of federal and state grants to pay for infrastructure changes for refueling stations and encourage Metro School and MTA to do the same.

“Increased use of mass transit will also greatly cut greenhouse gases. Nashville should begin to plan now for its future use of mass transit. But before additional transit options are funded, we need to make the most efficient use of what we already have. Mass transit will only work if we have enough flexible routes. We need to study the current routing plans, get customer feedback and look to other cities that have successful plans.

“Education programs aimed at better public awareness of the causes and solutions for green house gases can make a major impact.  The public is open to hear about this issue and seems eager to be a part of the solution. We need to lead this wave and make the most of it.

“Lowering electricity usage is important for reducing overall greenhouse gases. Again, public awareness goes a long way. Grants, incentives, recognition programs, getting schools involved with the education and publicity, are all inexpensive ways to “get started.” Partnering with NES, Nashville Gas, the Home Builders Association, and engineering and the architectural associations for outreach programs is the best way to get some expertise and free assistance for the city.

“I am also a huge supporter of our Greenways and our Park System. I’ve sat on the Greenways for Nashville Board. And I am committed to the implementation of the entire 10-year masterplan for Parks and Greenways.

All the best,

Karl Dean”

I appreciate Mr. Dean’s views, but I would have to give David Briley points for being “fustest with the mostest,” as the founder of the Ku Klux Klan, whose statue adorns the southern approach to our city, used to say. I would also give David Briley lifestyle points for having spent time teaching in Ecuador and getting to know the third world first hand, and a different kind of lifestyle points for using Jack Johnson’s “Let it Be Sung” as the song on his Myspace site. Dean’s Myspace site is run by his 19-year old son. He doesn’t feature any music.

On a perhaps more important note, dealing with crime in Nashville, Dean proposes to “Create a Plain-Clothes Neighborhood Intervention Unit. Citizens are on their best behavior when they know they are being watched. The Neighborhood Intervention Unit will reinstate the use of plain-clothes officers in unmarked police cars for daily patrol.”

This caused me to wonder if surveillance cameras would be the next step, and left me feeling slightly creepy.

Briley, on the other hand, notes that “10,000 young adults ages 16 to 24 in Nashville are responsible for 80 percent of our crimes, and that taking measures now to reach out to struggling students may help change this.” This seems like a much less scattershot approach to me, and one that I would feel more comfortable supporting—plus which, it would probably be cheaper than hiring plainclothes cops. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and all that.

So, at this point in the marathon, David Briley is far and away the “greenest” candidate running, with Karl Dean a healthy second, Bob Clement saying he’s gonna get with the program, and no word from Howard Gentry or Buck Dozier. Stay tuned.

music: Greg Brown, “One Big Town”








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