Tennessee Forum praises best, slams worst of state politicians

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Forum— a not-for-profit political organization that advocates for better government — has identified 10 Republican legislators in the state who they believe embody the best and worst of state government.

The list appears in the first-ever edition of The Best & Worst of the 109th General Assembly. Intended to educate and update Tennessee voters, the Forum’s review of state lawmakers includes a rundown of 10 recent cases of notable political integrity or lack thereof.

Susan Kaestner, president of the Tennessee Forum, said, “At the end of the day, legislators should be serving their constituents’ greater good rather than the whims of special interest groups and political fiefdoms — that’s what good government looks like, and we’re using our Best & Worst list to call out both good and bad government in a new way that we hope connects with local voters.”

The Best

  • Best Freshman: Rep. Jay D. Reedy, R-Erin (District 74)
  • Best Senator: Sen. Dolores R. Gresham, R-Somerville (District 26)
  • Best Chairman: Rep. John Forgety, R-Athens (District 23)
  • Best Chairman, First Runner-Up: House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chatta-nooga (District 26)
  • Overall Best: Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah (District 29)

The Worst

  • Worst Freshman: Rep. Eddie Smith, R-Knoxville (District 13)
  • Worst Senator: Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta (District 15)
  • Worst Chairman: Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson (District 73)
  • Worst Chairman, First Runner-Up: Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett (District 97)
  • Overall Worst: Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville (District 95)

Rep. Jim Coley

Cole-w-062316 Jim Coley is a lifelong government union stalwart trying to represent a conservative district. Almost by definition, his political survival is dependent on his ability to camouflage his voting record. For example, consider two 2nd Amendment votes by Coley in March 2015. In both instances, archived footage of the hearings shows Coley voting “no.” But later, he changed the records to “abstain.” When challenged, he said he made the change because he didn’t want constituents to draw the conclusion that he’s “not in favor of firearms.”

In March of 2016, Coley voted to kill a bill whose purpose was to prevent males from using girls’ dressing rooms and showers in public schools.

After religious organizations exposed his vote, Coley agreed to change his vote and support a difficult “reconsideration” procedure to resurrect the bill.

Jim Coley is known as a reliable government union vote, but his constituents would need to pay close attention to see through his smokescreen. The Forum considers Representative Coley one of the worst legislators of the 109th General Assembly.

Rep. Curry Todd

curry-todd-w-062316One could argue that Curry Todd’s core political strategy is “what happens in Nashville stays in Nashville.” Here are a few of his paradoxes.

  • The man who represents one of the largest religious communities in the nation is considered the go-to guy for the liquor industry. In the last three legislative sessions, Todd has carried 16 pro-liquor bills for his most significant political benefactor, the liquor industry.
  • Less than a year after sponsoring “guns in bars” legislation, Todd was jailed for DUI and possession of a handgun while driving under the influence.
  • In 2011 he lived rent-free for an undisclosed period of time in lobbyist Chuck Welch’s Nashville luxury home while voting on bills Welch was paid to get passed. He collected $29,000 in mileage reimbursement and state per diem meant to cover his expenses in Nashville.
  • Todd has amassed a $190,000 war chest to scare away would-be challengers. Of more than 150 contributors, the majority came from PACs and only nine came from his home district totaling less than $9,000 for 2010-2016.
  • Though reportedly in poor health, Todd got into a scuffle with another legislator on the House floor during the most recent session and had to be physically separated.
  • As of this writing, there appears to be no 2016 legislation sponsored by Todd that is focused on the needs of communities in his district.

It appears to the Tennessee Forum that since 2011, Representative Todd has spent most of his political capital going to bat for controversial industries, spawning unflattering headlines, fighting ethics allegations and building a war chest. Further, it seems that he believes $190,000 of campaign funds can paper over his real persona in Nashville. To us, the selection of worst Tennessee legislator of 109th General Assembly was easy: Curry Todd.