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VOL. 129 | NO. 112 | Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Knoxville Democrats Stump for Memphis Votes

By Bill Dries

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Four years ago at about this time, Shelby County voters were seeing a lot of the four contenders for the Republican Party’s nomination for governor.

This election year, Shelby County voters are seeing a lot of the top two contenders for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.

And that is likely to continue up to the Aug. 7 statewide primary election day because of the large base of Democratic voters in Shelby County – along with Nashville – the only two large pools of Democratic voters left in the state.

That’s why Knoxville attorney Terry Adams was standing outside the Veterans Affairs medical center on Jefferson Avenue Thursday, June 5, in a hard rain trying to link the scandal at VA hospitals across the country to Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander.


He termed the medical center “Lamar Alexander’s VA Center.”

Later that evening, Adams paced the aisle between rows of folding chairs at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union hall in Midtown as the local Democratic Party’s executive committee met.

“I think a Democrat can win,” Adams said of the general election campaign on the November ballot.


That’s the same message Knoxville attorney Gordon Ball took to a room of about 60 Democrats the next evening at The Racquet Club in East Memphis.

“It’s a long, hard decision to run a statewide campaign, and 77 percent of the vote is here in Shelby County and Davidson County,” he said. “We’re going to be running hard to make you proud of us, no matter what happens.”

But Ball and Adams have fundamentally different outlooks on the road to recovery for Democrats in a state that has been red since the 2000 presidential election, when Democratic nominee and Vice President Al Gore lost his home state to Republican George W. Bush.

Adams went out of his way to say he’s not a “blue dog,” or centrist or moderate Democrat.

“The rich are getting richer. The poor are getting poorer,” he said, “and the middle class is disappearing.”

Ball defines himself as a moderate Democrat along the lines of former Govs. Ned McWherter and Phil Bredesen.

“I’ve been a Democrat for a long time. I supported John Kerry, Al Gore, Harold Ford, Bredesen. I’ve given them money over the years,” he said, acknowledging that he also contributed to the 2010 campaign of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor.

In the process, Ball is sounding a theme that Alexander has been sounding since he was governor.

Alexander credits his 1978 election as governor, as well as Memphian Winfield Dunn’s 1970 election as governor, with making Tennessee a “two-party state.”

“The Democratic Party – if it’s not dead in this state, it’s dying. … We’ve got to put out good candidates and we’ve got to field candidates,” Ball said. “This state needs a two-party system. We only benefit when we have a two-party system.”

Ball and Adams both come from a part of the state that is dominated by Republicans, and both are expected to offer up plenty of red-meat criticism of Alexander.

Ball was critical of Alexander’s opposition to new regulations on carbon emissions from power plants.

“We’ve got to lead, and we’ve got to have clean air, clean water,” Ball said, citing his role representing plaintiffs in lawsuits over pollution in East Tennessee’s Pigeon River. Ball saying he told the judge in the case, “I’m going to sue these people every three years until I’ve got it, and then I’ve got three little boys who are going to be lawyers and they are going to sue them.”

Alexander announced last week he has signed on to co-sponsor legislation that would prohibit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon dioxide emissions on new and existing power plants. The signoff would require multiple federal agencies to certify the limits will not affect the economy and the source of electricity.

Alexander said the regulations on carbon “will drive electricity prices up for families and businesses and drive down job growth.”

He also termed the regulations “the big, wet blanket of harmful regulations on the economy that destroy job growth and put people out of work.”

Alexander is also touting his role in similar legislative measures dating back to 2010.

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