Wednesday, January 23, 2019

State Rep. John Clemmons announces run for mayor

Rep. John Clemmons
by Rod Williams - State Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) last week announced he would run for mayor, becoming the first challenger to incumbent Mayor David Briley to announce.  Mayor David Briley is up for reelection seeking a full term in the August Metro elections.  Accidental Mayor Briley assumed office after Mayor Megan Barry resigned last year following exposure of  her tax-payer funded extramarital affair.  As Vice Mayor, Briley became acting Mayor, and then he was elected to complete her term of office in a special election in May.  The election for mayor is in August 2019.

Clemmons was first elected to the House in 2014. He recently was elected to his third term representing West Nashville’s House District 55. His district includes the Belmont area and parts of West Nashville. Clemmons is a former political director for the Tennessee Democratic Party.

Although Briley is a proud progressive, Clemmons is positioning himself to the left of Briley.  In the new Nashville that will probably help him. Clemmons has criticized Briley in three areas, transportation, affordable housing and public education. I think all agree these are three problem areas that people are concerned about but many will disagree about what to do about them.

Mayor David Briley
Briley supported the $9 Billion transit plan rejected by voters in a referendum in May of last year.  However, Briley did not propose a tax increase this year when many liberals advocated a tax increase.  Also, on this past November's referendum creating a community oversight board for police, Briley opposed it while Clemmons says he favored it. Clemmons has not said he would have proposed a tax increase this year but he has criticized Briley for failure to fund the promised cost-of-living pay raise for Metro workers. I join him in the criticism but think the pay raise could have been funded by austerity measures rather than raising taxes. I doubt that is how Clemmons would have funded he pay raise.

I have not seen Clemmons in person so I do not know how he projects or his personality but he is better looking than Briley. In a Tennessean article, the writer reported that Clemmons has more charisma and energy than Briley. That superficial stuff shouldn't matter but we know it does. If the election were held today, given what I know today, and if the only two candidates were Briley and Clemmons, I would stick with Briley, maybe.  Or, I might just write in my own name or not vote in that election.  Sometimes when the choice is between equally bad candidates I write in a name or do not vote in that election.

I strongly supported David Fox in the 2015 election and thought he had a chance of beating Megan Barry but it didn't happen. My perception is that Nashville is even more liberal now than then.  As the demographics shift to younger people and more Northeastern and California immigrants, the chance for a conservative candidate to be elected mayor dims.  Many of these newer immigrants to our city may not care a lot about the details of local governance and particular policy positions but they will vote for the candidate that they perceive as the most liberal. Issues like being pro-abortion, pro-gay rights, favoring removing confederate names and monument (not that we have many) and racial "social justice" are going to be more important than the city's debt, tax rates and an adequately funded pension plans. I hate to be so pessimistic but I do not see an opportunity for a path to victory for a conservative.  About the best we can hope for is a social liberal who is fiscally responsible. You rarely find that combination.

I wish we could elect a mayor for Nashville who would do what Bill Haslam has done for Tennessee.  I would like to see a mayor who would cut the number of metro employees, cut taxes, give employees their promised pay raise, put our pension plan on a sound sustainable footing and reform our failing school system.  Since the school system is governed by an elected school board, it is difficult for the mayor to make an immediate and huge impact but the mayor can use the bully pulpit and advocate and influence. If we had the right leader who would tackle the issue, I believe the right leader could make an impact on our education system but it would not be easy.  In addition to the objectives listed above modeled on Haslam's accomplishments at the state level, I would like to see a mayor who had a vision for improving public transportation that relied of new technologies and markets rather than the standard nineteenth century model of fixed rail. I don't expect to find the idea candidate.

While I do not expect to find the idea candidate, fortunately, other candidates will be announcing soon and we will have more choice than Clemmons and Briley. It is expected that Bill Freeman will again seek the office. Bill Freeman finished third in the 2015 race behind David Fox.  Since then he has bought The Scene and weekly writes a political opinion piece for the publication. That gives him a public platform and keeps his name before a slice of the public.  I don't know who it will be, but I would expect a Black candidate to run, maybe At-Large Metro Councilwomen Erica Gilmore. She would check the Black box and the female box and have some build in support based on those characteristics and she has ran and been elected county-wide.  Renata Soto, the founder of Connexion Americas, is another person mentioned as a potential candidate. She is personable and attractive. She would have a built in base of support among immigrants citizens and might to well just because a lot of people who are hostile to President Trump might want to support a person who advocates for illegal immigration.

Another potential candidate is At-Large Councilman John cooper. While he is a Democrat and the brother of our Congressman Jim Cooper he has been a strong advocate for fiscal responsibility in the Metro Council. As of today, he is my favorite Democrat politician. I watch the Council closely and he is knowledgeable and cares deeply about the city's finances.  I doubt he would do the things I want a mayor to do spelled out in a paragraph above but he would, I believe, work to restore financial stability to Nashville and keep our growing debt within bounds. He would be concerned about the nut and bolts of government and the status of reserve funds and pension plans and the line items in a budget.

If the election were held today and the candidates were Briley, Clemmons, Gilmore, Soto and Cooper, I would vote for Cooper.

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