NASHVILLE -- Three Democratic state Supreme Court justices,
anticipating efforts urging voters to vote against giving them new
terms on Aug. 7, are collecting money to counter such a campaign if
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he does expect such an effort, at least
from the national Republican Attorneys General Association and
perhaps others. The Senate speaker said he will be playing an
informal "educational role," urging Republican voters in his
speaking appearances to vote "no" on the three Democrats.
Chief Justice Gary Wade has already raised $166,699 for his
retention re-election campaign. Justices Cornelia Clark and Sharon
Lee have also set up campaign accounts, though Clark so far has
funded it with just a $3,800 contribution of her own money and Lee
has raised just $9,550.
In past retention elections, the three did not raise or spend any
money whatsoever, according to Registry of Election Finance records.
Only one Tennessee Supreme Court justice has ever lost a retention
election -- Penny White in 1996.
A group of prominent lawyers, meanwhile, have scheduled a May 14
fundraiser to help the justices. An invitation letter says they have
"credible information" that more than $1 million in "out-of-state
money will be spent against our three justices in an effort to exert
influence over our Tennessee Supreme Court."
"There is absolutely no reasonable justification for such a
campaign: all three justices were strongly recommended for retention
by the diverse and bipartisan Tennessee Judicial Performance
Evaluation Commission, and reports are that the 'no'-vote efforts
are expressly grounded solely on partisan grounds," the letter says.
The extent of an organized effort to defeat the three judges
seems to be an open question. Ramsey said in an interview Monday he
believes RAGA will be involved, having discussed the possibility in
his role as leader of the Republican Lieutenant Governors
Association, an affiliated group under the umbrella organization
called the Republican State Leadership Committee.
Ramsey said RAGA sees the Tennessee situation as a "relatively
inexpensive" way of adding a Republican attorney general to the
group's ranks. Tennessee's attorney general -- currently Democrat
Bob Cooper -- is elected by the Supreme Court. If a majority of the
Supreme Court justices are Republicans, it is reasoned, it is likely
they will choose a Republican to replace Cooper, whose term will
expire Aug. 31 along with those of all five Supreme court justices.
In contrast, Ramsey said Republicans "just spent $8 (million) to
$10 million" trying to elect an attorney general in Virginia and
Two other current justices, Janice Holder and William Koch, are
not seeking new terms. Gov. Bill Haslam has already named their
replacements -- Holly Kirby and Jeff Bivens, respectively -- and
they will take office Sept. 1 and serve until 2016, when they will
face a retention election of their own. Bivens and Kirby are
Officials of the Tennessee Republican Party and Americans for
Prosperity, both mentioned elsewhere as possibly becoming involved
in a campaign against the three incumbent judges, say there are
currently no such plans.
Brent Leatherwood, executive director of the state GOP, said the
party is presently focused on its "Red to the Roots" campaign to
elect more Republicans at the local level, including support of
local judges running as Republicans in 24 of the state's 31 judicial