Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cooper is a symptom of the power problem

The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance voted to fine State Senator Jerry Cooper (D-Morrison) $120,000 yesterday for 23 instances of diverting campaign funds for personal use. While this sets a wonderful precedent, I fear that the State has merely scratched the surface of such behavior in both Houses of the General Assembly. Cooper's "difficulties" with drunk driving and illegal activity, coupled with the recent conduct of State Rep. Rob Briley show a clear pattern of Democratic arrogance and abuse of both power and the system in Nashville.

Some may ask me whether that's a bit of a stretch. I can see what some might say: "Oatney, do you really think that no Republican in Nashville ever had a drinking problem or engaged in ethically questionable or even illegal behavior as it relates to politics?" Of course not, and to make such a claim is ludicrous. The difference is how the two parties react to such things.

When State Rep. Chris Newton was found to be a part of the Tennessee Waltz bribery scandal, Republicans acted quickly to distance themselves from Newton and from the affair. The GOP made it clear that taking cash for legislative favors is not acceptable, and the Leadership in the House and the Senate condemned Newton's actions in no uncertain terms. On the other hand, Democrats were declaring in prayers on the Senate floor that their members involved in the scandal were not done justly, and that arresting them for their crimes against their constituents was "not God's way." Apparently, bribery and abuse of power are a part of the Way of the Lord in the theological and political mindset of the Tennessee Democratic Party.

The Rob Briley incident is another example of a difference in general mentality. I can't speak with certainty about what Jason Mumpower would have done with Briley, but I somehow think it couldn't be too different than what I know Bill Dunn would likely do-remove Briley from any position of real authority and distance the Caucus from Briley and his actions. Drunk driving is one thing, but damaging a police car and resisting arrest merit some real occupational consequences.

The difference in mentality and approach to wrongdoing is a symptom of a larger problem for Tennessee Democrats. After over 140 years of legislative control, Democrats now feel themselves to be the "natural governing party" on the Hill. Many of them cannot conceive that a Republican majority in both Houses is even possible, now or ever. As Mike Faulk and I have discussed in the past, Democrats on the Plaza quietly view Ron Ramsey's place as Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the Senate as an aberration-they still believe that they hold the real power. When a political party is that comfortable with power it becomes a danger to the institutions of the State, a danger to the people it purports to represent, and even a danger to itself.

I suspect if the State really wanted to dig-and the Registry won't, of course-it would find Democratic ranks filled with similar kinds of abuse. People tend to do that when they become comfortable and secure in positions of power-they think they can do whatever they please.



At Thursday, November 15, 2007 12:01:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Watching the Cooper campaign funds saga unfold, I realized something quite shocking: There is no way to know if any of the campaign disclosures filed with the TREF are accurate. Cooper's $95,000 worth of checks never were listed on his disclosure forms. In other words, his disclosure form at one point listed a balance that was $95,000 higher than it really was.

There is a simple legislative solution to that loophole - a loophole through which legislators can steal thousands of dollars from constituents (or, in effect, accept bribes laundered through their campaign accounts). The solution: Require campaigns to file copies of bank statements with their disclosures. Bank statements would show those $95,000 worth of checks. The TREF would have noticed the $95,000 discrepancy years ago.

At Friday, November 16, 2007 2:41:00 AM, Blogger Deacon David Oatney said...

As much as I personally disdain the invasion of privacy involved in filing for office (I think personal financial disclosure requirements often keep a lot of good people of modest means from running for office because a lot of those people would want to keep their personal financial affairs separate from their campaign-and private) I don't think filing a bank statement would hurt at all. In fact, if it were up to me, I'd limit the financial disclosure to declaring companies of interest and REQUIRING a bank statement to certify that personal accounts have no campaign money in them.


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