Why Howard Baker made secret phone calls to Al Gore's mother | Opinion

Keel Hunt, Columnist for The Tennessean
Published 5:00 a.m. CT Sep 20, 2019

Last Monday in Murfreesboro, Al Gore got some tongues wagging with a tantalizing new footnote to Tennessee’s history of bipartisan cooperation in the 1980s.

The scene at Middle Tennessee State University was a well-attended book launch for the new biography of Al’s dad, the late Sen. Albert Gore Sr. Its author, the historian Anthony Badger, and former Vice President Gore were featured on a 90-minute panel discussion about the elder Gore’s life and politics.

One of the panelists, history professor Mary Evins, asked Al about the influence his mother, the late Pauline Gore, had on the political careers of her husband and son. The son spoke effusively about his accomplished mom, who had been the first female graduate of Vanderbilt’s School of Law, and how she was a shrewd political thinker in her own right.

Gore also told the audience how Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr., the eminent Republican, had had a long friendship with the Gore family, all Democrats. That much we knew.

What we didn’t know was what Al shared next..…....[READ MORE]

Former Vice President Al Gore discusses the political legacy of his father, Al Gore Sr., during a panel discussion Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, at MTSU. The panel also included Louis M. Kyriakoudes, Anthony J. Badger, Mary Evins and Kent Syler.   (Photo: HELEN COMER/DNJ)

Former Vice President Al Gore discusses the political legacy of his father, Al Gore Sr., during a panel discussion Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, at MTSU. The panel also included Louis M. Kyriakoudes, Anthony J. Badger, Mary Evins and Kent Syler. (Photo: HELEN COMER/DNJ)


What travelers ask you about these days: family, food and Trump | Opinion

Keel Hunt, Columnist for The Tennessean
Published 5:00 a.m. CT Sep 16, 2019

We have been away for a few days, across the wide Atlantic, and as always I am struck by the perspective that the separation of an ocean gives a traveler.

Travel is always full of lessons. It helps us see and know other peoples, and also the better to see ourselves, our own country and its changing face in the wider world.

It is not only the distance that make this so — thousands of miles and the many time zones removed from the routines of home — but also the fresh wisdom of new friends we meet on the far side of a great divide.

Take the Brit couple we met at dinner in Florence, Italy, sitting at the next table. The woman leaned over, inquired politely about our accents and asked where we were from. (In a moment she also asked where exactly Tennessee is.) Seems they hailed from a town near London.

To our questions, she and her husband described the recent days they had spent in Lucca, another ancient Tuscan town to the west. She spoke of the treat of the big outdoor summer music festival they had experienced. Though not an opera buff, she said, listening to Puccini’s aria "Nessun Dorma" had moved her to tears.…....[READ MORE]

President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrive for a bilateral meeting during the G7 summit in Biarritz, France.   (Photo: Pool, Getty Images)

President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrive for a bilateral meeting during the G7 summit in Biarritz, France. (Photo: Pool, Getty Images)


History is now Cameron Sexton's to write in post-Casada era | Opinion

Keel Hunt, Columnist for The Tennessean
Published 5:00 p.m. CT Aug 27, 2019

What kind of House Speaker will Cameron Sexton be?

Watching him take the oath of office on the morning of Aug. 23, then hearing him address the House that just elected him, I was struck by the tactical timeliness of his brief remarks. His words were few, but to the House members in the chamber they spoke volumes in the immediate wake of so much disorder.

“The good news is we agree on a lot more than we disagree on,” he said. “Respect for those on the other side will make us better.”

To my ear, this was the perfect note to sound after seven months of deep trouble. Everyone seated in the great hall, and all watching from the galleries above, knew exactly what he meant. The House had been a troubled workplace through the first half of 2019.

The task now, leaving specific issues aside for a moment, is in fact for Sexton to install a higher grade of mutual respect as members approach their regular session come January. What’s needed is a return to regular order…....[READ MORE]

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House Speaker-select Cameron Sexton a 'pragmatic conservative' with deep roots in Tennessee | Opinion

Keel Hunt, Columnist for The Tennessean
Published 5:00 a.m. CT Aug 16, 2019

Cameron Sexton of Crossville, who will become Tennessee’s new House speaker Aug. 23, comes from a notable political lineage of Tennessee Republicans.

He was born in Lake City (now called Rocky Top) on Nov. 11, 1970. Folks who follow horoscopes might say that made him a Scorpio, but he definitely came into the world in an auspicious month of rising fortunes for the GOP in our Volunteer State.

Just one week earlier, Winfield Dunn of Memphis was elected governor, the first Republican to do so in 50 years, defeating Democrat John Jay Hooker Jr., and Chattanooga’s Republican Rep. Bill Brock defeated U.S. Sen. Albert Gore Sr., Democrat of Carthage.

Suddenly all three of Tennessee’s statewide elected officials were now Republicans, as Brock took his new seat in the U.S. Senate alongside Howard H. Baker Jr...... [READ MORE]

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For city and country, go vote | Opinion

Keel Hunt, Columnist for The Tennessean
Published 5:00 a.m. CT July 25, 2019

Voting is like a muscle. You have to use it on a regular basis to keep your power strong. Fail to use it long enough and weakness replaces strength.

Using our power to vote has rarely been more important to democracy than now. If you haven’t noticed evidence of this in the national news lately, then you haven’t been paying attention.

It’s as important in local elections this year as in the national choices we will make next year. On Thursday, Nashville voters will choose a mayor and council. Exercising your power there is a good way to prepare for the 2020 votes for president, Congress and legislature.

New Americans are the least likely to take voting for granted. You may also remember (as I do) a grandmother telling you (as mine did) of the time she and all women were denied access to the ballot at any level of government. Once they could, they never stayed home on Election Day..... [READ MORE]

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Tennessee needs a big celebration of the state’s role in women’s suffrage | Opinion

Keel Hunt, Columnist for The Tennessean
Published 5:00 a.m. CT July 12, 2019

July is both a festive and reflective month, the mid-point of our year that offers both a chance for looking back and also ahead, a moment for memories and also high expectations.
With parties and pyrotechnics we celebrate our freedoms and our good nation in July. We can argue about our government, because the founders said we should.

Some July memories are sad. In our family, July was the month we lost our Dad (1967). It was another July – five years ago this week – that we lost John Seigenthaler(2014). He was my Dad’s friend and my revered editor in the old Tennessean newsroom.
I think of them both when I think about family and friends and freedom. But when I think in particular about voting I remember most the women in my family.

Seigenthaler placed great importance on the suffrage movement

Both my grandmothers were born in a time when women could not vote – could not exercise this essential act of citizenship that many now take for granted. America did not right this fundamental wrong until 1920, and Tennesseans played a pivotal part of the story. Suffrage for women was not given – it was fought for and won by courageous women.
Just weeks before Seigenthaler died, he told me he was working on a new book. It was to be a biography of the trailblazing suffragist Alice Stokes Paul. She was from New Jersey, not Tennessee, but helped to advance the national suffrage cause through her civil disobedience. That book was not completed before Seigenthaler’s death, yet the project was a measure of the importance he assigned to the suffrage movement.... [READ MORE]


The Supreme Court's new gerrymandering decision turns back the clock by six decades | Opinion

Keel Hunt, Columnist for The Tennessean
Published 5:00 a.m. CT July 3, 2019

Anyone still wondering what President Trump has accomplished need only look to the Supreme Court’s announcement last Thursday saying it is helpless to fix cases of partisan gerrymandering now.

With the strokes of their five pens, Trump’s new conservative majority on the high court swept away 58 years of judicial history flowing from the Baker v. Carr decision of 1962. That case established the “one person, one vote” standard and, importantly, opened the door to proper federal court review of legislative redistricting.

Previously the courts had regarded partisan gerrymandering as a “political” matter outside the purview of the judiciary. On that basis, judges sidestepped taking up gerrymandering cases, in which some legislatures re-drew districts to protect themselves in future elections. (Baker v. Carr was soon applied to congressional districts also.)

Last week, the current court said pretty much the opposite: That partisan gerrymandering cases – where a majority political party has disadvantaged the other in drawing new district lines – are now off-limits going forward.

Constitutional scholars will parse all this in the days ahead, but this morning it feels very much like the current Supreme Court has turned back the nation’s clock by about six decades.

That was a big win for Republican officeholders and a high triumph of Trumpism, for whom the Supreme Court is now sufficiently packed. By cementing Republican control of legislative districts, this overshadows even Bush v. Gore (2000) and Citizens United (2010) in its potential erosion of modern democracy.. [READ MORE]

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Find the Good, and Praise It': Why optimism counts | Opinion

Keel Hunt, Columnist for The Tennessean
Published 5:00 a.m. CT June 14, 2019

My optimism rises from many sources. I don’t like feeling pessimistic or being down about my country, despite temporal leaders when they fail us.

The great American author Alex Haley, who grew up in West Tennessee and became important to the whole wide world, urged us in his lifetime to “Find the good, and praise it.”

By this he meant each of us should seek out and share the stories of our families and communities. Haley’s own family research inspired his blockbuster Roots, the book and the TV mini-series, which spurred millions to find the record of their own generations.

Haley’s six words are timely advice for us now – especially now in this current period of national anger, drift, and worry. In fact, there is much good to recognize in our world, and across Tennessee, if we only look for it. [READ MORE]

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Glen Casada's career just imploded. Some lessons from the wreckage | Opinion

Keel Hunt, Columnist for The Tennessean
Published 5:00 a.m. CT May 24, 2019

There is much for members of the 111th Tennessee General Assembly to take away from this particular crash site. There is much for us all to learn.

From the smoldering ruins of Glen Casada’s very brief career  as speaker of the Tennessee House, we can try to turn our eyes from the wreckage he has left. But we should not just yet.

We should keep the memory of it in our hearts and minds, so it can inform voters next election cycle, and the one coming after that. Let it remind both office-holders and office-seekers that there is a limit to tolerance of bad behavior even in this angry age.

William Faulkner famously wrote of history, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” How true, even now, of our Tennessee. History lives. It watches, and it remembers. [READ MORE]

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After the turmoil, chaos and scandal in the Tennessee House, Speaker Glen Casada should apologize then leave.

Keel Hunt, Columnist for The Tennessean
Published 8:00 p.m. CT May 8, 2019

It is an unfortunate truth in some large organizations that there are usually one or two rotten apples somewhere down in the barrel.

But in the vaulted chamber of Tennessee’s House of Representatives, the bad apple hangs from the top. The past week has demonstrated that with great clarity. It is time now for Speaker Glen Casada to go.

When the 2019 legislative session ended in virtual chaos in the House, I could not imagine the scene getting any worse:

  • On the last day, the speaker ordered his sergeants-at-arms to block the chamber exits lest the minority Democrats leave to deprive him of a shaky quorum.

  • Worst of all, his chief of staff Cade Cothren was implicated in a scheme to take away the freedom of a young African-American man who dared to confront Casada in the Capitol on a number of public issues.

  • Casada, a deeply partisan Republican, appointed no Democrats to the key legislative conference committee, then claimed his predecessors had done the same partisan thing. [READ MORE]


TN school vouchers: Bill Lee pokes a sleeping tiger

Keel Hunt, Columnist for The Tennessean
Published 12:00 p.m. CT Apr. 19, 2019

Tennessee legislators should take a breath and listen more — and most of all to the voices of their own experts at home: teachers and principals.

Thirty-five years ago this month, then-Governor Lamar Alexander sat down with the re-constituted State Board of Education to discuss implementation of the “Comprehensive Education Reform Act of 1984.”

Passing the CERA had required two legislative sessions, battles with the state’s teacher association, and an aggressive public awareness program. After the dust settled, Alexander told the new board members: “I’ve run for governor three times, and the school reform fight was harder than all of them put together.” [READ MORE]

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School board should step down

Keel Hunt, Columnist for The Tennessean
Published 10:15 a.m. CT Mar. 27, 2019

The ouster of MNPS Director Shawn Joseph is an embarrassment and adds to the failures caused by this elected school board. Members must be replaced.

Director of Nashville Public Schools officially told the board he will not seek a contract extension. His speech Tuesday night might be his last. Autumn Allison, Nashville Tennessean.

Of all the stories in Greek mythology, it is the tale of Sisyphus that best captures for me this feeling of chaos and futility that now surrounds our Metro Nashville School Board . [READ MORE]

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Tennessee Speaker of the House Glen Casada must lead

Keel Hunt, Columnist for The Tennessean
Published 12:00 p.m. CT Mar. 15, 2019

For his first full month in office, February was not kind to Glen Casada, Tennessee’s new speaker of the House of Representatives.

Thanks to persistent news coverage, the dominant on-screen images we have of him so far are of the speaker’s backside - pictures of him evading quizzical reporters through convenient exit doors.

One day he had the aid of a uniformed state trooper, blocking journalists from following him with their inconvenient questions. Not a good look.

That’s a thing about legislature, especially with its new quarters in the renovated Cordell Hull Building; too many passageways for eluding determined news media. One almost wants to congratulate the building’s designers for their skills in the Architecture of Evasion. [READ MORE]

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Our worst enemies are not each other

Keel Hunt, Columnist for The Tennessean
Published 12:00 p.m. CT Nov. 16, 2018

The rest of us don’t have to like any aspect of what happened here on Nov. 6. But our duty as citizens is to accept it for now.

A good election can teach us a lot — and by “good,” I mean an election with a decent voter turnout as we saw across America on Nov. 6.

This time voters nationally said we need better balance than a monolithic supermajority in Washington, where a president proclaims and a quiescent Congress bows in reverence.

This new House majority is not overwhelming but sets up a disruption that is welcome. American voters said power should be shared now, that checks and balances are good for everybody. [READ MORE]

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Amid pessimism from some voters, big turnout emerges

Keel Hunt, Columnist for The Tennessean
Published 12:00 p.m. CT Oct. 19, 2018

Two news items caught my eye this week, — each independently on its own but also for the special light the one seemed to cast upon the other.

Item 1: Reporters for The Washington Post wrote about their findings in Clarksville, Tennessee, quoting many voters they interviewed there who say they refrain from participating on elections.

Excuses ranged from disgust with how some campaigns are run these days to deep frustration with how Washington seems broken. Other interviewees voiced some form of “My vote doesn’t matter.” Ouch.

Item 2: In the news that same evening, I read how in Nashville and Knoxville, for instance, the voter turnout on Wednesday — the first day of early voting — was historically huge for a midterm election. [READ MORE]

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How Tennessee chooses its senators has a colorful history

Keel Hunt, Columnist for The Tennessean
Published 12:00 p.m. CT Oct. 5, 2018

Sixty-seven senators have represented Tennessee — all men. Democrat Jane Eskind was her party’s nominee in 1978, but she lost the general election to the Republican incumbent, Howard Baker Jr.

If Bredesen should defeat Blackburn this November, he will join Sen. Lamar Alexander as one of only two Tennesseans in 222 years to be popularly elected both governor and U.S. senator.  [READ MORE]


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Tennessee State Election: Calling out lies and where they come from

Keel Hunt, Columnist for The Tennessean
Published 12:00 p.m. CT Sept. 7, 2018

The slimy depths to which our national politics has sunk became grossly clear this past week, right here in Tennessee. The latest episode came from Americans for Prosperity, the Koch funded political action committee legally separate from the U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Marsha Blackburn, though she benefits from it. [READ MORE]


A tight senate race is Upon Us: MarshA Blackburn (R) vs. Phil Bredesen (D)

A tight senate race is Upon Us: MarshA Blackburn (R) vs. Phil Bredesen (D)

Red state, blue state: Consider the 'crossover effect' — it happens

Keel Hunt, Columnist for The Tennessean
Published 12:00 p.m. CT Aug. 24, 2018 | Updated 9:09 a.m. CT Aug. 25, 2018

If you are keeping score at home, here’s the key political question in Tennessee’s nationally watched U.S. Senate race, which will end just 10 weeks from Tuesday:

Will enough Republican voters “cross over” this fall and help elect the Democrat, former Gov. Phil Bredesen?

The very idea of this scenario must be Republican Marsha Blackburn’s worst nightmare. But just as this longtime Democratic state turned red over the past half-century, there is in fact much Tennessee tradition for crossover voting. [READ MORE]



How to agree on what a modern city like Nashville costs

Keel Hunt, Columnist for The Tennessean

Published 12:00 p.m. CT June 29, 2018

So we won’t be paying higher property taxes starting this weekend after all. 

Turns out, it was a real possibility and closer than anyone thought. Councilman Bob Mendes gave it his best effort, arguing that a 50-cent increase was the right thing to do — in a highly unusual budget crunch — to be fair to police officers, firefighters, teachers and the rest.

He came close to winning, too. After a good debate, Metro Council split right down the middle on the tax question. On June 19, they voted 19-19. (It doesn’t get any closer than that in the third-largest city council in America.) The acting vice mayor, Sheri Weiner, then cast the tiebreaker, voting against.

No tax hike. No raises. No way. Not this year. [READ MORE]

A GrowING MODERN CITY COMES AT A COST

A GrowING MODERN CITY COMES AT A COST


Lewis LAvine was a Champion for Transit, And my Trusted Friend.

Lewis LAvine was a Champion for Transit, And my Trusted Friend.

What Nashville must do about transit now

Keel Hunt, Columnist for The Tennessean
Published 12:00 p.m. CT May 11, 2018 | Updated 3:51 p.m. CT May 14, 2018

One of my best friends in the world died last week. Lewis Lavine had been my bud, colleague and confessor since the fall of 1977.

As much as I grieve for him now, I am certain the last thing he would want is for any of us to spend one more minute mourning him when there is important civic work to be done.

For Lewis, in his later years, that work was about modern transit.

It was the last civic project that Lewis poured his skills and talent into, dating from the time he was chairman of Nashville’s Metropolitan Transit Authority. [READ MORE]