Sunday, February 19, 2006

Bredesen and criminals

In a story in today's News-Sentinel that hasn't yet appeared online, Governor Phil Bredesen's ties to convicted Cocke County chop-shop operator Harold Eugene Grooms were fully revealed. Mr. Grooms cannot vote as a convicted felon, but he helped raise nearly $65,000 for Bredesen's political campaign since 2001, and he helped carry Cocke County for Democrat Bredesen. Cocke County is historically one of the most Republican counties in Tennessee, and some would argue in the nation.

Cocke County is also a place known for illegal cockfighting rings run by local law enforcement(ironically, the local prep sports mascot in Cocke County is the "Fighting Cocks"), where members of the Newport Police Department and the Cocke County Sheriff's Department have been accused of violating civil rights and mistreating outsiders. The place is known as a hub of illegal activity of all sorts, where the law turns a blind eye to crime when the crime benefits those who enforce the law.

So bad is Cocke County's reputation that when I first came to Tennessee, people who knew me and knew well my penchant for political involvement told me to avoid Cocke County politics like the plague: Do not settle there, do not attempt civic involvement there, for God's sake do not put your neck out and run for office there, you are liable to lose your head.

I have since learned that not everyone in Cocke County would be so averse to someone like me. I even spent part of my honeymoon in Cocke County. I had a wonderful time, the folks were great, and I actually left the county in one piece, along with my bride, much to the surprise of many. However, the corruption problems that permeate Cocke County politics and government are very real, enough that people who are serious about keeping a good name and good reputation need to investigate any political help they may get from Cocke County very closely to make sure it is all above board.

Either Governor Phil Bredesen didn't do this, or he just did not care. It turns out that Harold Eugene Grooms is the target of a federal and TBI investigation. Mr. Grooms has long been suspected as the leader of a pot smuggling ring in Cocke County after two pilots were arrested for smuggling the whacky weed six years ago and told authorities Mr. Grooms was their boss. The investigation into Grooms was part of a larger federal and State investigation into corruption in Cocke County that involved everything from drug-running to cockfighting to brothels and brought about the resignation of Cocke County Sheriff D.C. Ramsey.

Now Bredesen says he is "sorry" about his association with Grooms. He didn't know Grooms had "problems." Harold Eugene's son, Jason Grooms, got a State job in which he was responsible for helping oversee development in upper East Tennessee, and Bredesen did not know Grooms "had problems." Apparently, the Governor has elected to simply plead Stupid when it comes to dealing with parts of our Tennessee world known for shady political business to begin with.

Do we really want a Governor who is too stupid not to take contributions and aid from felons who cannot vote, or employ their sons in the service of the State of Tennessee?

Perhaps Bredesen is not that ignorant after all. Maybe he somehow thinks there is ethical justification for making criminals and their associates a part of your campaign team and administration.


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