Longtime court officer defeats Crafton in Juvenile Court clerk's race

Friday, August 6, 2010 at 4:49am

Nashville’s progressives — and the Tennessee Democratic Party, for that matter — let out a collective sigh of relief Thursday night as one of their worst fears never came true: Republican candidate Eric Crafton didn’t become the new Davidson County Juvenile Court clerk.

In a contest that began last winter with a crowded field of 11 contenders, the oft-controversial Bellevue Metro councilman — he of failed English-only fame — was never the favorite.

Frontrunner status always belonged to the better-financed, better-connected choice of the downtown legal community, General Sessions court officer David Smith, who in the end came out on top by 10 percentage points, and is now poised to take over the seat held by the maligned incumbent Vic Lineweaver.

Though once a foregone conclusion, Smith’s victory seemed less certain when early voting figures showed turnout in the Republican primary outshone that of the Democratic primary by more than 2,000 voters, a pattern that continued on Election Day. Republicans, clearly energized by the three-way battle in their party’s gubernatorial primary, were motivated and arrived in full force.

To pull out a win, Smith knew he needed a huge chunk of voters in the Republican primary to cross over and vote for a candidate with a “D” next to his name when it came to a down-ballot general election race.

“I probably lost weight,” said Smith, recalling his nerves as he dwelled on the party-turnout discrepancy. “I was absolutely concerned.”

The candidate wasn’t the only one who felt uneasy. For any Republican to win a local race in decidedly blue Davidson County would be an embarrassment for Nashville’s Democratic establishment. But this wasn’t just any Republican. It was Crafton, the man who led the city through the failed English-only referendum only 18 months ago, a push many progressive Democrats called wrong and mean-spirited.

Leading up to Election Day, the state Democratic Party rallied behind Smith’s candidacy and, perhaps just as telling, attacked Crafton. The party pumped $15,000 into Smith’s campaign in the form of direct-mail pieces, with party chairman Chip Forrester vowing Democrats were “fully engaged” to defeat Crafton.

“We see the potential of Eric Crafton, who is a right-wing nut-job Republican, using this [office] as a steppingstone for higher office,” Forrester told The City Paper a few days before Election Day.

Then on election eve, there was a not-so-veiled email sent by Nashville For All Of Us — the group formed to defeat the English-only push — that urged voters to “project what a particular candidate will do to support our mission of ‘A Productive, Just and Welcoming Nashville For All of Us.’ ”

Most observers interpreted those words to be directed at Crafton.

As fate would have it, Republicans did vote for Smith in numbers large enough to push him over the threshold. For Smith’s part, he had always touted his group of Republican supporters. At the same time, there’s a general consensus that some Republicans may have been turned off by Crafton’s English-only tag.

Reviewing the outcome, At-large Councilman Ronnie Steine said voters simply sized up the two candidates and identified “exactly what motivations one might have for wanting the job.” He added that voters’ memory of English-only undoubtedly played some role.

“I think that without question, that is one of the things [Crafton] will be identified with,” Steine said of the English-only referendum. “I think this is the second time this community has rejected that kind of notion.”

Former At-large Metro Councilman David Briley, who sent a last-minute email urging people to vote for Smith, said independent voters accounted for a sizable percentage of those who voted in the Republican primary and also for Smith. Still, Briley also believes centrist Republicans remembered Crafton’s English-only past.

“When the chamber of commerce is leading the fight against English-only, that’s a good indication that a lot of Republicans are against it as well,” Briley said. “I think they hadn’t forgotten Eric’s role in what they saw as a pretty solidly anti-business agenda.”

Contacted by The City Paper shortly after his defeat, Crafton had only kind words for his opponent. “He ran a really good race,” Crafton said. “He and I were the only candidates who never said a negative thing or ran a negative ad about one another. I’m very proud of that fact.”

Crafton rejected the notion that his English-only push may have hurt his chances.

“I don’t think it hurt me because on that I did what I thought was right,” Crafton said. “And I would do it again if it cost me every election I ever ran in. I did what I thought was right, and I don’t have any regrets about that whatsoever.”

Asked whether Crafton’s English-only past may have helped him, Smith refused to go there. (Apparently Crafton wasn’t joking about the fair gamesmanship between the two.)

“I started this campaign in February of ’08 with a promise that I was not going negative in any way at all,” Smith said. “I’m not going to talk about Eric Crafton and English-only.”

With a 30-month campaign in the rearview mirror, Smith is all business now. His new job begins Sept. 1, and he says he’s ready to go. He’s even got a list of things he’d like to do.

“I’d like to meet with the mayor, the finance director and ask for an audit of the office, No. 1,” Smith said. “And then I’d like to start figuring out how we can update the scanning of those files, like we talked about doing from day one.”

15 Comments on this post:

By: govskeptic on 8/6/10 at 5:47

So, Ronnie Steine was the magic pill that defeated Crafton? I
suspect it wasn't as many Republicans that switched their votes, but Democrats voting in the Republican Primary that were interested in only the Governor's race.

By: richgoose on 8/6/10 at 6:56

You always hear a lot of comments about Chip Forester. I had an occasion to be introduced to him. It was very easy for me to see why the democrats never want him to be seen.

By: Photodeluxe on 8/6/10 at 7:00

This was the one race that concerned me the most. The trend was obvious yesterday, vote against any of those associated with the tea party racist views. We need someone like Smith who has a plan for fixing an embarrassing mess at the Juvenile Court. Crafton had an obvious agenda and it had nothing to do with helping those who use the Juvenile Court system. His aganda was to live off of the taxpayers dollars and stay in the spotlight to push his Aryan views.

By: jwk6179 on 8/6/10 at 7:09

Hopefully, this defeat will PUT AN END to Eric Crafton's "Political Career", at least for a while.

By: d4deli on 8/6/10 at 7:18

There are those of us who did not vote for anyone in this particular race, but rather, we voted AGAINST Crafton.

By: bruingeek on 8/6/10 at 7:19

The Juvenile Court Clerk job is not sexy. It is a thankless grind to handle an ever growing number of cases each year. The kind of activist for this job needs to be focused inward, on an antiquated sytem by someone with experience working in the court system. For many, this wasn't a 'red vs blue' decision, it was a decision to place the best person for the job, in the job.

By: HokeyPokey on 8/6/10 at 7:22

What a great day for moderates.

Doug Henry got the fright of his recent life, el tonto was firmly thwapped, and we'll prolly have a RINO governor.

The best news is that ("I'll change my unpronounceable name that marks me as a foreigner to) "VeeJay" ("I'm the onliest candidate in the world that knows the threat of islamo-fascism to Middle Tennessee) got squashed like "la cucuracha!"


By: jwk6179 on 8/6/10 at 8:57

I think what did in most of the Tea Party Canidates and the MAJORITY of the CONSERVATIVE Canidates what all the NEGATIVE CAMPAIGN ADS that they ALL ran attacking each other instead of ADDRESSING THE ISSUES. People get tired of all the BASHING and it turns A LOT OF VOTERS OFF.

Another thing that hurt the TEA PARTY and CONSERVATIVE CANIDATES for Congress was each one of them kept stating over and over that they would STAND UP against Obama and Nancy Pelosi. I think most VOTER realize that FRESHMEN MEMBERS of CONGRESS have very little, if ANY, clout or power to STAND UP AGAINST ANYONE. And by the time do get the clout or power for anyone to even PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT THEY ARE SAYING, Obama will be out of office.

By: tripwest99 on 8/6/10 at 9:02

Yeah, "racist," "Aryan-views" Crafton who is olive-complected, has a Japanese wife and "mixed race" children. Gimme a break.

By: tripwest99 on 8/6/10 at 9:11

You may think otherwise, but "NEGATIVE CAMPAIGN ADS" provide "the other side of the story" and most voters welcome them. But if you have "independent expenditures" (read NFAOU and MSM suspects), not to mention a ton of financial resources, you can afford to (appear to) stay positive.

And do you really believe voters (especially GOP primary voters) are calculating, "gee, all the bluster about standing on principle once I get to Washington won't really matter until a person has seniority sufficient to make a difference in Congress . . ."? I think you're letting your animus for Tea Party people or Conservatives cloud your reasoning.

By: richgoose on 8/6/10 at 9:57

Eric Crafton represented a faction of people who probably have great credit scores and send their kids to private schools or MLK or Hume Fogg.

In this county one cannot get elected by representing this kind of citizen. Were he a resident of Williamson County or Sumner County his position would perhaps be much more respected.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 8/6/10 at 10:02

lol, goose! you really have no clue.

By: pswindle on 8/6/10 at 10:32

The "GOOD GUY" won. Congratulations! David.

By: jwk6179 on 8/6/10 at 12:45

And do you really believe voters (especially GOP primary voters) are calculating, "gee, all the bluster about standing on principle once I get to Washington won't really matter until a person has seniority sufficient to make a difference in Congress . . ."? I think you're letting your animus for Tea Party people or Conservatives cloud your reasoning.

But the way EACH ONE OF THEM is stating in their ads is LIKE THEY ALONE are going to stand up to Obama and Pelosi. If they put it in the content of I, along with OTHER FRESHMEN Congress Member, WILL STAND UP to Obama and Pelosi. A group will be able to stand up and have power. A Diane Black or any other Freshman Congress member will not be able to be heard by Obama or Pelosi alone.

By: wayitis on 8/6/10 at 1:18

Here's to a true Nashvillian, a fellow shriner, a christian man. Good luck David you deserved it.