Friday, July 16, 2010

Dear 58: early voting starts today and I will not be joining you

The Tennessean's local beat journo Nate Rau asked for my opinions yesterday on the state House race between Mary Pruitt and Steven Turner, some of which you can read here. I have fielded several queries on why I have not taken a stance on this election, given my expressed dissatisfaction with Ms. Pruitt and Mr. Turner's seeming embrace by local progressives. This post is my attempt at a more full explanation.

A recurring (and perhaps the strongest) argument for voting for Mr. Turner is that Ms. Pruitt has been "absent from the legislative process in any meaningful way." Indeed, the constituents of 58 have been underrepresented by Mary Pruitt. She did not give any indication that she fought for security measures on Bicentennial Mall after a Germantown woman was raped not too long ago. She showed up to the Hope Gardens' community meeting on the Greyhound bus terminal relocation, but she did not make it plain in word or deed that she would be the community advocate in the face of Metro insularity. She chooses to remain invisible.

However, Turner campaign supporters are hard-pressed to explain exactly how he would be a better option other than "anyone would be better than Mary Pruitt." Given what I have read of Mr. Turner and heard from him, I have reservations about voting for him.

Let's assume that Steven Turner would be more proactive than Ms. Pruitt and that he take leadership positions on House committees, crafting legislation. If he is proactive and prominent in working for the Democratic Party establishment and the wealthy business interests who fund their fights with Republicans, how is that an improvement for all of us in 58?

I attended the North Nashville community meeting Erica Gilmore called on the Music City Center proposal a few months ago. Mr. Turner stood at that meeting to express unqualified and enthusiastic support for building a convention center. He did not bother to acknowledge community concerns about obligating Metro's General Fund (which pays for everything from brush clean-up to adequate policing) as a safety net for construction overruns.

However, the prospect of tapping into the Metro budget to prop up a convention center exposes infrastructure like parks and street and alley maintenance to risk. Steven Turner came across as callous on an important neighborhood issue, although his passion for MCC is entirely consistent with the priorities of local business interests. Support for a convention center is not necessarily a deal-killer for me in the voting booth, but I was not mobilized by Mr. Turner's appearance. He seemed more committed to growth than to softening the blows growth makes on communities.

My concern arises from precisely that kind of appearance. Let's grant that he may be more proactive on committees, with legislation than Ms. Pruitt has been. That may be good for the Tennessee Democratic Party, but to whom will he be beholden? I have yet to find a case where Steven Turner would balance his advocacy for commercial interests with a defense of neighborhoods.

His website collapses community development into economic development while referring to local businesses and young professionals. He makes no mention of balancing growth and infrastructure and quality of life in neighborhoods.

His commitment to education refers to "modernization." I do not know what that means, but it sounds like the kind of public school privatization that Davidson County Democratic leaders like Mayor Karl Dean support.

And would Steven Turner lead a House fight to build 2 or 3 bridges from West Nashville neighborhoods to Bells Bend to sprawl urban developments and retail across rural greenspace? I know next to nothing about his commitments to conservation, but would he be so bold as to undermine every other neighborhood's community plan by striking blows at those of West Nashville and Scottsboro-Bells Bend under the guise of "creating more jobs" in North Nashville?

So, the idea that just putting anyone more proactive than Mary Pruitt in the 58 House seat does not motivate me to participate in the Democratic Party's primary. This primary strikes me as inside partisan baseball: should we replace an entrenched do-nothing Democrat with a Democrat who may be exclusively in the pockets of developers and corporate big shots? Either way the people who win are not the people of 58. So, I intend to exercise the grace of doing nothing during this primary.

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