Saturday, August 04, 2018

Primary Elections Confirm Tennessee’s Bi-Partisan Support for school choice

by Rod Williams, Aug. 4, 2018- There are times when finally a consensus forms on an issue and it becomes settled.  Such seems to be the case with school choice. Not that there is still not disagreements about how much school choice and how fast it should be implemented and not that there is still not phony arguments made that charter schools drain money from district schools. However, on the basic question of if there should be school choice, school choice has won.

Tennessee Federation for Children PAC, a pro-school choice political action committee put out a press release today noting that advocates of school choice prevailed across geographical areas and political parties in this weeks election.  Jesse Chism, a Democrat supportive of school choice won the crowded Democratic primary in House District 85. 

In District 23 in the Republican primary Mark Cochran, an advocate of school chose, defeated Trey Winder who had the support of the National Education Association.  In other primaries in both parties, incumbents who support school choice beat back challengers. In the governor's race both Republican Bill Lee and Democrat Karl Dean support school choice. In our own school board races, no one was running as an avowed opponent of school choice. 

School choice was for many years a cause advocated by the libertarian right. Economist Milton Friedman was a voice crying in the wilderness advocating for school choice when no one was listening. Gradually, over time, school choice was tried and attracted advocates. Now, it is no longer identified as only a conservative cause and as many advocates can be found among liberals as conservatives. That is a positive development and means that the trend is not likely to be reversed when Democrats regain power. School choice is no longer an ideological position. The teachers unions are a powerful force in the Democrat party, but they are out of touch and Democrat candidates have not allowed themselves to be dictated to by union interest.  The teachers unions have failed to stop the move toward school choice.

I would like to see ever greater school choice. I support charter schools, tax vouchers, and education savings accounts. I wold also like to see regular public schools become more like charter schools with more local school autonomy and competition between schools.  One is not required to go to the closest doctor or church or grocery store, why should children be assigned to a certain school?  In fact, in Nashville and many other places one no longer has to send their child to the district school. Every winter, Metro Schools have a School Choice Festival in which parents can learn of the options available and apply for admittance to schools other than their district school. That is good as far as it goes, but it should go further.

Those who believe in the benefits of competition and the morality of options should continue to advocate for greater school choice.  Allies in this fight may now come from liberals as well as conservatives. In some rural areas the major opponents of school choice may be from conservatives who simply oppose change.  In some urban areas, the leading advocates may be Black parents who are tired of having their kids forced to attend failing schools. School choice has opponents and proponents in both political parties, but it appears what school choice has been won is not likely to be lost and the prospects for more school choice looks good.

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Friday, August 03, 2018

Bill Lee, the nice guy, won!

Congratulation to Bill Lee on a stunning upset victory in the Republican primary for governor last night.  I did not expect it. I did not vote for Diane Black but I expected her to win the nomination and she came in a distant third with only 23% of the vote. She started the race with much more name recognition than her opponents, got the endorsement of Vice President Mike Pence, and spend the most money. I assumed she would win.

Maybe last night's election results will make politicians rethink the wisdom of getting in the gutter and slinging mud. The wisdom is that politicians engage in dirty campaigning and attack ads because they work.  This time they didn't.  Diane Black was the worst offender by attacking her opponents over insignificant nit-picky stuff, such as that Boyd had not contributed to the Trump campaign and that Bill Lee gave a small amount of money to Democrat candidates such as Megan Barry in the past. She attacked both Lee and Black for being "moderate."  Diane Black started the attack ads but Boyd responded with attack ads of his own and also engaged in attack ads against Lee.  Lee, by contrast, never attacked back.

I voted for another candidate in this campaign although from the first I was supporting Black. I did not make up my mind in this race until the day before election day. The attack ad that caused me to finally decide I could not vote for Diane Black was when she exploited a situation in which Lee Company had to lay off someone who was in the military reserves. Reading the details of what really occurred, it seemed to me that Black crossed a line in dirty campaigning. The Lee Company did nothing wrong in that situation. I finally decided that Diane Black crossed a line and I just could not vote for her.

I know politics can be a dirty business. However, it doesn't have to be.  Lee's victory shows that you do not have to fight fire with fire. It shows you do not have to be as dirty as your opponent to win an election.  Lee's victory shows that nice guys do not always finish last. 

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TNGOP 2018 Unity Rally

I received the following in an email and it is posted to the TNGOP website, so I assume the invitation is to everyone.

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TNGOP Statement on Nomination of Bill Lee for Governor

August 2, 2018 - Nashville, Tenn. - Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Scott Golden released the following statement:
"We congratulate Bill Lee on his victory tonight as the Republican nominee for governor, and we commend the other candidates on a hard-fought race. Bill has the experience, skills, and temperament to be a terrific governor, and he will unify Republicans ahead of the general election victory this November. We look forward to working with Bill across the state to ensure he is the 50th Governor of Tennessee."

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Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Metro Council: The good, the bad and the term limited. Opportunities for new faces.

There is no such thing as a conservative or liberal pot hole and most of what the council deals with are things like pot holes. Nevertheless, the ideology of the Metro Council matters a great deal. The first way it matters is in insuring our city is financially well-managed.  The city has taken on a tremendous amount of debt and Nashville is the city with the most long-term financial debt in the nation. Not even counted in our debt obligations is health care obligations to Metro retirees. We have no trust fund for this obligation.

While we are not in a serious crisis yet we have laid the ground work to have a serious crisis should something happen, such as another 9-11, such as another great recession, another flood like that of 2010, or if we should lose a sports franchise. It may be that we could face a financial crisis even without something momentous casing it. If Nashville's growth just slows and we are no longer the hottest city in America and if property values began to moderate, we may be unable to pay our bills without massive tax increases. We are acting as if the good times will last forever.

Also, we have been irresponsible by letting our reserve fund balances drop below recommended levels. Should we have an economic downturn and need to dip into a rainy-day fund and not have the sufficient reserves, then bond rating agencies could lower our bond rating, causing borrowing to cost us much more. With an increase in the cost of borrowing, it would take a greater portion of Metro's tax receipts to pay debt service.

Also, we have handed out a lot of corporate welfare in the form of tax increment financing (TIF) or Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) or other enticements, so while we have had tremendous growth, we have not seen that growth swell the city coffers the way it should.

Also, in my view, our priorities are wrong. We fund a lot of frivolous, unnecessary stuff while skimping on police, fire, and schools. Our schools are next to the worst in the state and getting worse, not better. We need a council that will prioritize spending. We have to make choices.

Another way, that it matters who serves in the Metro Council is that our Council occasionally passes memorializing resolutions favoring illegal immigration, opining on the parts per million of acceptable CO2 in the air, urging an end to the mythical gender pay gap, and any number of other liberal feel-good measures. These do not have the force of law but I do not like the Council expressing itself on national policy best left to our elected US representatives.

Other ways in which the Council promotes a liberal agenda is by efforts to thwart the will of the people by destroying the fair grounds. In a public referendum the public voted to keep the fairground by a vote of about 70% yet the city still seems determined to chip away at it.

Below is a chart showing how members of the Council voted on two crucial issue and showing who is "term limited" and ineligible to run for reelection. The two issues in this chart shows how members of the Council voted on a proposal to raise property taxes and how they voted on  making the ballot language on the transit referendum reflect the true cost of the proposal. I view these two votes as the most important votes cast by members of this Council.                          

District Term
Council member
voted for tax increase Voted for
Transparency *



not serving

not serving
Decosta Hastings  yes  yes
Brenda Haywood yesyes
4 Yes Robert Swope NOyes
Scott Davis NONO
6 Yes Bret Withers yesNO
Anthony Davis  yesNO
8 Yes Nancy Van Reese NONO
9 Yes Bill Pridemore yesNO
Doug Pardue yesyes
11 Yes Larry Hager NOyes
12 yes Steve Glover NOyes
Holly Huzzo NOyes
Kevin Rhoten NO yes
Jeff Syracuse NONO
Mike Freeman NONO
Colby Sledge yes NO
18 Yes Burkley Allen yesNO
Freddie O'Connell NOyes
Mary Corolyn Roberts NOyes
Ed Kendall yesxxx
22 Yes Sheri Weiner NOyes
Nina Johnson yesyes
Kathleen Murphy yesNO
Russ Pulley NO NO
Jeremy Elrod NONO
27 Yes Davette BlalockNO xx
Tanaka Vercher NOyes
29 Yes Karen Johnson yesNO
30 Yes Jason Pottsyes NO
31 Yes Fabian Bedneyes yes
32 Yes Jacobia Dowellyes yes
Antionette Lee yesNO
Angie Henderson NOyes
Dave Rosenberg NOyes

At Large
Jim Shulman NOyes
At Large
Erica Gilmore yesyes
At Large
Bob Mendes yesyes
At Large
Sharron Hurt yesyes
At Large
Jon Cooper NOyes

* On February 6, the Metro Council voted to approve Mayor Barry's transit improvement program (Bill BL2017-1031 (as amended) which would put the referendum question on the ballot. As presented the bill listed the price tag as  $5.3 billion. On the night of final passage, the bill was amended to reflect the true cost of $8.5 billion. This column is a list of how council member voted on that amendment. Those voting "yes" voted for the referendum to reflect the $8.5 billion cost.

The Fairgrounds
Other important votes that indicate who the "good" councilmen are is  RESOLUTION RS2017-910, the $225 million bond issue for the $275 million soccer deal. It passed by a vote of 31 to 6.  Those voting against the resolution were John Cooper, Steve Groper, Holly Houzo, Larry Hagar, Mina Johnson, and Dave Rosenberg

Auto Emission Testing
Resolution RS2018-1171  was a resolution which would continue the auto emissions testing program in Nashville even though the State says we may discontinue it, passes. Voting No (7): Cooper, Swope, Hagar, Glover, Rhoten, Roberts, and Rosenberg.

Civil Forfeiture
Another important vote concerned civil liberties. RESOLUTION RS2017-920 approved two agreements between the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Metro Nashville Police Department. These agreements govern the participation of DEA Nashville District Office Task force participants in the United States Department of Justice Equitable Sharing Program. In my view civil forfeiture is an evil practice in which metro should not participate. Both liberal and conservative civil liberty advocates included the ACLU and organization such as The Institute for Justice oppose civil forfeiture.  Dave Rosenberg sponsored the bill. Unfortunately it was approved by a vote of 16 to 15 with four abstentions.

Those voting against it were Cooper, Anthony Davis, Kindall, Blalock, Shulman, VanReece,Mina Johnson, Bedne, Scott Davis, Allen, Murphy, Rosenberg, Withers, O'Connell and Elrod.

The above is only a handful of votes the council has cast in the last three years out of hundreds, but I think these are some of the most important to distinguish who are the "good" council members who deserve to be reelected. Those who I think meet the criteria as a "good" councilman have their name and district highlighted in green in the above chart. Some of these I have highlighted have cast other votes I disagree with, but these I think are some of the most important votes.

The members highlighted in red in the above chart are the council members who I hope can be defeated if they chose to run for reelection. Those whose names are not highlighted, have a mixed record and I am undecided as to my opinion of them. Some of this categorizing of who the "good" councilmen are is subjective, of course.

In any event we have a very liberal council. We avoided a tax increase this year, but I suspect many who voted against raising taxes will be in favor of a tax increase next year. I am sure the reasoning of some of the council members in voting against a tax increase was that it would lessen the chances of the transit referendum passing and some simply followed the leadership of Mayor Briley.  The Council has never passed a tax increase not advocated by a mayor so voting against a tax increase was not a courageous act but a relatively easy vote.

Moving forward, I want to see more a more conservative council. We must get our financial house in order or we will face a crisis down the road. Also, if we do not economize and prioritize we will face a situation in which our essential pubic safety services are stressed and emergency response time will increase.

In saying I would like to see "conservatives" elected to the Metro Council, I am using the term very loosely.  Of course, I wish we had a council of all Republicans who were well-grounded in  conservative principles, but that is not going to happen. I would be pleased if we had people elected who were not likely to vote for a tax increase, who wanted to reduce corporate welfare, who respected private property rights, and who wanted to save the fairgrounds.  You will notice that I have colored John Cooper green in the above chart. He is a Democrat and the brother of Congressman Jim Cooper but he is a fiscally responsible member of the Council. He is a "good" councilman. When it comes to seats on the Council I really don't care what the person thinks about President Trump, or NATO or moving the embassy in Israel, or any other number of national or social issues. They can be liberal on the big issues if they are conservative on the local issues and I will be happy. They can be a Democrat but if they vote the right way on local issues, I don't care about their party label.

If you are reading this and ever thought about running for pubic office, I encourage you to think seriously about running for council. The best opportunity is to run for one of the seats where the  incumbent is term limited and ineligible to seek reelection. However, if you live in a district where the incumbent voted for a tax increase and voted against transparency on the transit ballot initiative and voted against the fairground and you believe those votes were contrary to the way the voters in his district feel about the issues, the incumbent may be vulnerable.

In addition to how an incumbent voted on crucial issue however are other factors that may make an incumbent vulnerable. The two that I think may be as important as how they vote on the weighty issues is their responsiveness and availability and how they handled zoning issues.  If people complain that the incumbent is arrogant, or they never see him or he doesn't return phone calls, he may be vulnerable.  Unfortunately, sometimes members of the council are blamed and often unfairly blamed for zoning that occurred in their district. If there is widespread dissatisfaction with an incumbent due to dissatisfaction with rezoning that has occurred in a community, the incumbent may be vulnerable.

The next election for Metro Council will be August 2019 and if there is a runoff in any district the runoff will be between the top two contenders the following month. Elections for Council  are non-partisan.  While August 2019 is a long way off, it is not too early to start laying the ground work now, especially if one is not well connected to donors or if one has weak credentials.  Please do not let lack of money or a weak resume deter you from considered a run for Council.  Fortunately, Council district are still small enough to where a person of modest means who is willing to work hard can still get elected.

If you are someone who is predisposed to oppose tax increases, who believes we must improve our cities financial management, who is concerned about corporate welfare, who believes in government transparency, and  has supported saving the fairgrounds, then you may be the type of person needed to run for the Metro Council. If you would like to discuss the potential for mounting a campaign, tips on how to raise campaign money, how to mount a winning campaign strategy and more, I would like to talk to you and introduce you to some people who might help you.  Please email me at

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