Will Sanders supporters turn out when Bernie’s not on the ballot?

Betty Bean
Government/Politics columnist

Could there be a more thankless job than chair of the Knox County Democratic Party?

There are no Democratic countywide officeholders. Republicans control all but two seats on the 11-member County Commission.

But Democratic Party chair Cameron Brooks has made it his personal mission not to allow Republicans to run unopposed for commission, so he took on the Sisyphean task of recruiting candidates.

Democratic candidates Evelyn Gill and state Rep. Joe Armstrong prepare to canvass East Knoxville with supporters of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
Democratic candidates Evelyn Gill and state Rep. Joe Armstrong prepare to canvass East Knoxville with supporters of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

And he has been, relative to other years, quite successful. This year, six credible Democrats will contend for commission seats in the August general election.

But here’s the rub. Brooks is like the unlucky guy the gods condemned to spend an eternity rolling the boulder up the hill – for all his herculean efforts, even those last two Democratic-controlled seats could be in jeopardy.

In the first district, which is traditionally African-American and reliably Democratic, the question seems to be will Bernie Sanders supporters show up to vote in an election when their guy’s not on the ballot? Will they come back and vote for the candidate they put on the ballot?

Community activist Rick Staples was considered the district favorite in the primary, but finished with 200 votes less than educator Evelyn Gill, and a precinct-by-precinct analysis showed that Gill’s successes mirrored those of Sanders. Election Commission boss Cliff Rodgers observed that a crowd of new voters, many of whom were wearing Sanders gear, showed up to sign up on the last day of voter registration. The precincts on the fringes of the district were feeling the Bern and supported Gill. The traditional wards in the center of the district went for Hillary Clinton and Staples. There is such intense dissatisfaction with the primary outcome among Staples’ supporters that they want to run a write-in campaign. The deadline to get that started is June 15, and Staples is being urged by Democrats not to do it.

And the turmoil begs a question:

If Staples supporters don’t vote for the Democratic nominee, and Sanders supporters don’t show up, who’s left?

Republican Michael Covington, who got nearly 1,000 votes in the primary and is so deeply conservative he has said he supports repealing the Voting Rights Act. That’s who.

Will Gill, a candidate with an outstanding record of professional and educational achievement, be able to bring Sanders and Clinton supporters together? A joint Sanders/Clinton canvassing event two weeks ago is a step in that direction.

A qualified apology to Dunn

Looks like we owe state Rep. Bill Dunn a qualified apology.

Dunn registered a complaint about a Shopper News story that quoted school board member Amber Rountree saying this:

“When Bill Dunn was trying to push his voucher bill through, saying he had a letter from the school board, when in reality it was a letter from (board chair) Doug Harris. The majority of the board did not support Dunn’s bill.”

Dunn complained, accurately, that he said the letter was from the board chair when he presented his voucher bill to the Finance Ways and Means Committee. And he is correct. He did not say the letter was from the board as a whole.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. He mentioned the letter from Harris after Memphis Rep. Larry Miller essentially invited Dunn to butt out of his district:

“When you have an elected school board, and when they come and say, ‘We are opposed to this for so many various reasons,’ then I have to listen to that.”

Dunn failed to mention that Harris does not have the support of the Knox County Board of Education, a gap that Rep. Joe Armstrong filled in later in the discussion. The bill, which (for now) applies only to certain schools in Memphis, passed in committee but ultimately failed for lack of support.

One thought on “Will Sanders supporters turn out when Bernie’s not on the ballot?”

  1. The events of the past few days reinforce what is at stake in the 2016 general election. Sanders supporters will turn out to vote for Democrats, and we’ll continue to work for reforms that Sanders proposed. Thanks Mr. Brooks!

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