While the rest of the city’s small political universe has been watching the turmoil disrupting both state party organizations, there has been one interesting development. Or, perhaps more accurately, non-development.
Attorney Jeff Yarbro and state Sen. Douglas Henry are headed for a recount in their Democratic primary for the 21st District, while the Republican Party is stuck with a divisive stalemate after Lou Ann Zelenik’s refusal to concede defeat to state Sen. Diane Black in the GOP primary to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon.
What has been curious, though, is retiring state Rep. Ben West’s silence on an endorsement — or even a statement — about who will take the legislative seat he has held for the past 25 years.
It’s not like West has ever been afraid to talk. The passionately pro-gun Democrat, who has at times sponsored legislation that was questionably close to his business interests (security companies and an ATM business), recently waded into the 5th District congressional campaign by endorsing Republican challenger CeCe Heil, also a Sarah Palin “Mama Grizzly.” Heil finished third.
The candidates for West’s seat are Jim Gotto and Sam Coleman, both members of the Metro Council. Gotto, the Republican, is being touted by the state GOP and has a great shot at winning the race. Coleman, the Democrat, is scrambling to unify his base, which normally would include West.
But does Coleman really want — or need — West’s blessing?
President Barack Obama carried the state’s 60th House District with a slight majority. Former Vice President Al Gore got about half the votes in the district during his 2000 presidential run. Bob Clement, Phil Bredesen and Jim Cooper all carried it in 2002. In fact, the only time in the last 10 years that a member of West’s party flat-out lost the district was when Bob Tuke was swept aside by the Lamar Alexander re-election campaign in 2008; Tuke garnered about 45 percent of the vote.
Interestingly, back in March, it was Gotto who introduced a Metro Council resolution honoring West. While there were a number of co-sponsors, Coleman was not one of them.
Maybe not seeing Coleman kiss his ring will encourage West to endorse Gotto. Or perhaps it’s a more ideological thing.
“[My wife and I] are of the opinion that this country has been heading in the wrong direction, and that our voices have not been heard by our current representation regarding congressional legislation,” West said in a statement endorsing Heil. “After looking at all the candidates in this race, it became abundantly clear that CeCe has the leadership skills and the moral character needed today to be a leader in this country. She is a strong Constitution Conservative and successful business owner, a devoted wife and mother, and Christian. She believes in smaller government and lower taxes to boost this failing economy, so more people can be put on the payroll, rather than on unemployment rolls. She is opposed to ObamaCare and government takeover of private industry; and so are we.” [sic]
That sure sounds like someone who’d show up at a Republican fundraiser.
Back in 1951, West’s father, also named Ben West, won election as mayor of Nashville. The most significant moment in Mayor West’s tenure occurred in 1960, during the sit-in demonstrations of 1960, when civil rights activists were fighting the segregation of downtown lunch counters. The protesters marched on City Hall and met the mayor at the doorstep. They challenged him to take a stand against segregation. West did, and the business community quickly followed his lead.
As a result, Nashville became the first Southern city to desegregate public facilities.
West the younger has never taken a stand as bold as his father’s. He has always been part of a larger crowd on major initiatives — never a leader in the legislature. Just once, it would be nice to see him stand out front and alone with his beliefs. Like his daddy.