Saturday, December 02, 2006

My Conversation with Bob Clement's Campaign

The Bob Clement campaign contacted this blog and was kind enough to engage my questions regarding education policy. I will post my side of that conversation here. I invite the Clement campaign (or any other) to join this discussion of public education in Nashville. Send me comments.

Here are my thoughts for anyone who wants to be mayor of Nashville:

I have more thoughts than I can write with the time I have right now, but I will boil it down this way. I appreciated the money that Bill Purcell was able to bring to the MNPS, and his administrators (Garcia and Johnson) did a commendable job of focusing the District on standards and getting the schools ready to educate well (or at least evaluate how well they were doing accurately).

I, however, do not believe that money is enough. Money is very important, and the schools need more, but without creativity and innovation, money alone will be wasted. Education too easily misses the need to educate the next generation by clinging too long to practices well suited to the world of the previous generation. Creativity, innovation, and flexibility are required if a school system is to prepare students of today for the creative, innovative, and flexible job demands they will face when they graduate. School choice is not an option or a way to resegregate schools; today, school choice is an essential ingredient for successful education. And Nashville has school choice, but not for everyone. If we are not careful, the present school administration will misapply very good standards to undermine flexibility and choices for those who are unable or unwilling to choose private sector alternatives. We need good charters, public-private partnerships, innovative schools within schools (here the prospects look better), and a host of other good ideas to be successful. Those of us in education have to work together rather than at cross purposes whether we are in independent, zone, magnet, charter, or sectarian schools.

So, in short, I believe that an education mayor worthy of the name needs three things:
1. Creativity, innovation, and ideas (specific ones) for helping the public schools meet the unique challenges of educating for the next century rather than the past.
2. A willingness and ability to work the legislative and bureaucratic process to secure significant and well-managed monetary increases to support those good ideas.
3. A charismatic personality and the passion to inspire the people of the city to support public education.

So, although I love and trust Larry Woods, and I believe wholeheartedly that Bob Clement is a very good man, I will admit that I am torn. Does Bob Clement agree that these are the three things a Mayor needs regarding education, and does he believe he has these characteristics?

If so, I am interested in helping him be elected. If not, since education is the issue about which I am most concerned, I will have to continue to look for a Mayor who does. If none of the candidates has these three characteristics, I will still make a choice, but it will be a choice about which I will have far less actual passion. Education, to my thinking, is the most important thing our community does. I don't undervalue economic development, and I appreciate all the other aspects of the job, but education is my life's passion, and I am looking for a Mayor who shares that passion and has the tools to make serious progress.
Thank you for contacting me, and I hope you will receive this response in the spirit in which it is intended.

After a response from the campaign, I further wrote:

You are on to something if you acknowledge the significance of standards and the work the MNPS has done under Purcell and Garcia, but we are ready now to hear more about authentic instructional strategies with the flexibility to ensure that different students have an equal chance to meet the standards. One of the biggest problems in our school system are the ridiculous divides we spend so much time on (public-private; zone-magnet; public-charter, etc.) We need leadership that shifts the focus from these persistent debilitating conflicts to the common purpose we share as a community to see that every child has the instructional capacity and educational tools he/she needs to meet the standards we have set. Debate is a great example of a teaching tool that works wonders for many students, but there are many others. LEAD Academy, a charter school application currently being reviewed by MNPS (and on which I have worked significantly) is an example of a public charter that seeks not to reduce the public school's ability to educate but rather to enhance the system's success. We need to speak out against the thinking that views public education resources as a zero-sum struggle between magnets, charters, zone schools, special needs schools, reading specialists, and so on. If we really believe that every child can learn, we cannot seriously believe that every child learns equally well from the exact same instruction. Variety in instruction is needed within and outside the pure public system. When a charter school student succeeds, MNPS succeeds if the goal is to see Nashville's children succeed. Unfortunately, the potential synergy among different forms of instruction is lost when the scarcity of resources forces the MNPS into a continually defensive posture (see my Nashville Eye piece

We need a mayor and a city council that can help the main parties as well as the citizens of Nashville understand this new focus. How can we work together to ensure the every student has the best chance to meet the standards even though different students learn differently? That, in my opinion, is the question we need to hear much more clearly.

I look forward to continuing to share these thoughts. If Bob Clement is committed to a debate team in every high school, then he must implicitly understand this point of view. I hope that the upcoming campaign can help to make this view more explicitly clear in the city's discourse.

Friday, November 24, 2006

English Only? In Nashville?

OK. I am sure I will be disparaged by many of you for being a leftist, but can someone please explain to me the rationale for wanting the City Council to tell us what we have to say and how to say it? I understand (and disagree) with the jingoistic reasons behind requiring English for official business, but let's all take a deep breath before we beg the government to tell us how well we have to understand official business before we are allowed to participate in it. After all, new citizens are already required to understand more of our political and governmental language than the average "English-speaking" native citizen. Why allow the government to write official business in a language we know many people cannot understand? It is very easy to know what is an isn't English, right? I'm not so sure.

I think people ought not be allowed to use racist and bigoted language, yet when the supporters of English-only bills are confronted with anti-hate speech rules, they often hit the streets to protest the injustice of government oppression. So, I have an idea. Let's all join the movement for English-only and then ask the City Council to rule that hate speech is not English. It isn't, after all. It wasn't considered legitimate English in my house growing up, and it isn't in my house now. (Spanish, by the way, does find its way into English conversations. Let's hope the City Council is never in the position to regulate health conditions in a place that serves Tacos or Fajitas). In reality, of course, hate speech is violence, not English, so it won't be too big of a stretch for the City Council to take this step.

There you go. Bipartisanship. I will support the English-only bill if hateful violent speech is declared not to be English. Or, maybe, the English-only supporters would care to reevaluate their zeal for government speech codes?

Congratulations to the "NO" votes. These people seem to have actually thought the question through.


Monday, November 13, 2006


The City Paper reports:

By Rex Noseworthy, rnoseworthy@nashvillecitypaper.comNovember 12, 2006

It’s almost official.Councilman At Large David Briley is expected to announce this week he will run for mayor in 2007. Word of the imminent Briley announcement rippled through Nashville political circles on Election Day last week.The fledgling mayoral contest got off to a semi official start on election night when both Briley and former Congressman Bob Clement were in WKRN News 2’s building at the same time to appear live on the air with Bob Mueller as part of the station’s election coverage.Clement was flanked by an extended entourage while Briley appeared to be traveling alone.One of the biggest surprises to the Nashville political establishment may be the level of young talent that surfaces behind the Briley campaign. Briley, in his early forties, will bring with him a decidedly younger set of players, fund-raisers and operatives to this countywide race that will serve as a departure from the old Democratic Party crowd in Nashville.

So, the race is heating up with some interesting dynamics. As noted here, the Clements groups is an established and dedicated political group with experience in politics and campaigns far beyond Briley's. Briley's group may bring more youth and energy to the campaign. That comparison sounds alot like the comparison between Kerry and Dean in 2004. The role of the blogosphere for fund-raising, organization, and general excitement in the Dean campaign cannot be overlooked. I am torn on these guys right now, but Briley definitely carries the possibility for a netroots expansion in the area (win or lose), and that effort may pay off in elections down the line.

What's your opinion? Which candidate should I back?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Ford as DNC Chair?

Tennessee Politics blog ( is reporting that James Carville is leading a group of DNC insiders aiming to dethrone Howard Dean and replace him with Harold Ford. I like Harold Ford, and I think he has an incredible political future, but this news is not about Ford or Dean, it is about the struggle for control of the Democratic party. There is an on-going split between insiders associated with Carville and the Clintons who believe that the secret to winning national elections is the focused, polarizing get out the vote strategy that Karl Rove has championed to such success over the past three election cycles. Dean, on the other hand, publicly battles with insiders as he tries to create a national party (one that wins votes all over the nation).

I am interested in opinions about this question. The insider approach will take Ford from Tennessee. It will take every other new Democrat with ideas and leave Tennessee as a permanent Red state. I MIGHT be able to be persuaded by this strategy if it had any empirical success. The simple fact is that national elections have not been won by democrats since the collapse of the New Deal Coalition during the 1960's. The two apparent exceptions (and the ones that convince the insiders of the wisdom of the strategy) are Carter and the 2 Clinton elections. To read these as evidence that focusing on the blue state base and generating intensity and turnout through polarization works for Democrats is to seriously misread those elections.

Carter: Beat Ford 50% to 48% nationally and claimed electoral success on the strength of a total sweep of the South (including Texas, a solidly democratic state at that time). Carter won in large part because of Ford's pardon of Nixon, but he still did not win a single state west of the Mississippi (except Texas).

Clinton: Beat Bush when Ross Perot bled some of the economic conservatives out of Bush's camp and Clinton capitalized on an economic downturn that crippled Bush who was a victim of his own success. Winning the first Gulf War in 30 days, Bush also presided over the end of the Cold War, so the complete absence of any apparent security concerns left Bush with nothing in the face of the economic campaign. Clinton focused on "the economy, stupid." 1992 and 1996 did convince the Clintonites that simply picking off one or two southern states would be enough to win as long as the basic coalition of big states could be maintained.

The erosion of focus on Texas completed its transition to a Red state, and the razor-thin margins that the strategy was based on have failed democrats spectacularly in 2000 and 2004. With no margin for error, the GOP can easily gather its red state votes without serious challenge and fight hard in the battlegrounds of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Since the Democratic strategy requires winning most of those states to carry the electoral college, the GOP is at a tremendous advantage. The vaunted GOTV machine of Karl Rove focuses in those states, and the Democrats lose close one after close one.

Whether or not the "national party strategy" of Howard Dean's is the right one, only time will tell. I guess there is the risk that reaching out to the West and South will alienate the big state liberals, but that kind of deference to the New England liberals was the strategy that produced Mondale, Ferraro, and Dukakis, Bentsen. Those good candidates not electable nationally.

Sound familiar? That's the leading fear about a Hillary nomination. Let's give Dean's national strategy at least one national election cycle before with subvert it from within. Let's get Harold Ford elected in Tennessee (readers of this blog can start organizing to make that difference now), and let's nominate a presidential candidate who can restore the national appeal of the Democratic Party.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Political Rising Star Alert - Jason Powell

Remember this name, Tennessee. Jason Powell. Jason was a first-time candidate in the Democratic primary for District 58. While he narrowly missed the nomination that Mary Pruitt has held, he did earn the Tennessean's endorsement and run a fine race with mostly amateur, grassroots support. He served as his own campaign manager most of the race, and his sense of political strategy is sophisticated well beyond his years. Couple these skills with a strong speaking presence and a huge heart, and Jason Powell is clearly a political star on the rise.

Nashville is lucky to have a man like Jason. Expect great things from him.

Check out his 2006 campaign website (!

Two Cents on Iraq

This blog concerns itself mostly with Tennessee Politics, but Iraq policy currently dominates politics nationally, so I offer the following observation:

The phased withdrawal plans that are beginning to float around offer the potential for bi-partisan consensus when one considers the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (Welfare Reform). Democrats and Republicans were finally able to come together for that bill once Democrats embraced a portion of the conservative critique of welfare dependency. Welfare (government assistance), Republicans had argued, undermined the opportunity for recipients to work because they were shielded from assuming personal responsibility. The longer the government provided assistance, the worse the situation was said to be for those receiving welfare. A strict time limit on the lifetime receipt of welfare assistance was imposed in conjunction with specific requirements (once called workfare) that recipients also pursue job training or actual jobs to qualify for aid.

So, how about following that same logic in Iraq. If the problem is that Iraqi soldiers and government personnel have become overly dependent on US forces to provide security, then indefinite assistance or increases in US troop support may breed their dependency on US forces. If so, then according to the logic of welfare reform, continuing indefinite assistance must be damaging the Iraqi government's opportunity to provide their own security by shielding it from assuming personal responsibility. So, a phased withdrawal with strict time limits ought to reverse the situation by forcing the Iraqi government to provide its own security, especially if further US aid, even under the strict time limits, is conditioned on their successfully providing that security for themselves.

Why, then can't the Iraqi Security Opportunity and Governmental Responsibility Reconciliation Act of 2007 achieve support from the GOP?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Time to end the abortion wars

Any honest assessment of the political polarization in this country during the past 33 years has to account for the role of abortion politics. With the election of several pro-life democrats in this year's midterm elections, the emergence of late-term abortion adjudication, and the defeat of a sweeping proposal to ban all abortions in South Dakota, I suggest that the time for a compromise on abortion is upon us.

Public opinion on abortion is far less volatile and demonstrates much more overlap that politicians eager to exploit a hot-button issue for political gain will often admit. The vast majority of people share widespread potential to agree on the following broad principles:

1. Abortion should not be outlawed completely. Life and health of the woman (to varying degrees) as well as conditions that absolve the woman from moral responsibility for pregnancy are widely recognized as justifications for abortions. If they are to be allowed in any cases, they should be safe, legal, and equitably available.

2. Abortion is less effective than other forms of available birth control technology. Widespread support for sex education, birth control information, and birth control technology should be able to reduce unwanted pregnancies considerably, reducing the significance of abortion except in the seriously justifiable cases listed above.

3. Unwanted pregnancy is a tragedy that can be reduced if we put aside our ideological and senseless fight over abortion. Jobs, health care, education, job training, housing, income support, education loans, adoption, and a host of other sensible and useful approaches (public and private) are KNOWN to reduce unwanted pregnancies by reducing the desperation that can sometimes confront a woman considering abortion.

Ultimately, the decision is not one that men can or should make for women, but there is merit and good public policy in striving to make abortion safe and legal while genuinely rare. However, this sensible approach requires compromise. Each side has a good opportunity right now to let the abortion issue go as a political football and fashion a meaningful compromise in which neither side realizes its absolute and uncompromising vision, but both sides are able to agree on their common goals and improve the lives of millions in the process.

Did we elect political leaders on Tuesday with the courage and the vision to make this dream come true? If you agree with me, help me put pressure on politicians from both sides of the Aisle to make this or a similarly reasonable compromise a reality. With the abortion issue off the table, there is almost no limit to the progress we can make as Americans.

Cause 2 - The "Good Ol' Boy" Factor

Republican candidate Bob Corker fell into this trap more than many. He actually ran ads claiming that Harold Ford's U Penn education disqualified him to represent Tennessee, while Bob Corker's Tennessee education made him a better choice. This stereotypical dig at Tennesseans is often overlooked for its insulting character. It is Bob Corker (like the opposition that Gore faced from such organizations as "Gore Free Tennessee") who embraces a demeaning and debilitating stereotype of Tennesseans as strictly provincial, narrow-minded, and simple folk. Tennessee is a first-class educational institution, but U Penn is widely recognized as among the very best educational institutions of higher learning in the nation. The idea that leaders who would represent Tennessee should limit themselves only to Tennessee's home schools is ridiculous. Tennessee has many fine schools, and leaders should by all means be proud to display their educational credentials earned in-state. But, to disparage as unworthy of understanding this state, those whose educational degrees are earned outside of Tennessee is to portray the state and its people as completely out of touch with the rest of the nation.

Tennessee is a wonderful state, and one of its incredible strengths is its ability to attract highly capable leaders from all over America and the world. Not only do these ridiculous "outsider" attacks discourage very capable individuals from helping to expand the quality of life and opportunity for all Tennesseans, these offensive appeals seriously intimate that Tennesseans are unable to interact productively with the world outside our state.

The reality is exactly opposite. Tennessee is one of the finest states in the Union, and its people go on to productive careers all over the world. Likewise, the best and brightest from all over long to be part of Tennessee and contribute to our standard of living because of their attraction to our fine state. Candidate appeals that suggest that Tennesseans are and ought to be afraid of outsiders diminish us all. Everyone should enjoy "Rocky Top," but suggesting that it is the only tune a genuine Tennessean can sign is demeaning and rude to us all.

Bob Corker should apologize for stooping to that kind of harmful stereotyping in his campaign, and future candidates should eschew this approach. Leaders of Tennessee should be proud to bring high quality education and first-rate skills to our state, rather than demeaning the state's residents as unable to relate.

When Life Hands You Lemons...

Make Lemonade!

OK, so all changes in property tax rates in Davidson County now must pass a county-wide referendum to take effect. Never mind that a tax referendum for public schools has not passed in Davidson County during my lifetime. Leave aside the strange quirk in metro policy that makes a tax increase for school alone virtually impossible. Let's not focus on the negatives in this news. Let's look at the reality we now face as an organizing opportunity.

We cannot wait. The public school system of Nashville needs a minimum of $12 million new dollars this budget cycle, just to keep the programs and teachers it has now. Without any innovation, upgrades, or improvements in a system with 60% dropout rates in some of its high schools, $12 million new dollars will have to be found. This reality posed a daunting challenge even before the tax referendum initiative passed. No one seriously expected the City Council to raise taxes in the next budget cycle anyway. It will be, after all an election year.

So, let's begin to develop a list of innovations and ideas that the school district can consider as it tries to make ends meet while still supporting the educational needs of our city's children. Any serious reform starts with some notion of site-based management by our school principals. Transportation costs ought to be contained by considering radical approaches to public transportation. Let's consider consolidation of the MTA and the School Buses, either in private or governmental control, as a way to capitalize on economies of scale, generate more useful mass transportation, and reduce unused capacity. The time has come to get serious about rezoning and school consolidation. The district should pursue and approve innovative charter schools to distribute the responsibility for education in Nashville to a wider and more sustainable base of support.

Join in the discussion. Twelve million dollars...probably more, just to break even. We must think and organize if we are to expect our elected (school board and city council) and appointed (school administration) leaders to pursue innovation and progress rather than simply reacting to narrow political pressure. Get on board. We need you. The future of Nashville lies in the education of its children. We are failing too many now. Let's use the budget crunch as motivation to act in advance of the problems, develop new ideas, and organize political support.

We have a responsibility to justify tax increases. That has always been true, but before the referendum passed, too many of the citizens of Davidson County were willing to pass responsibility for that justification to the school board and the city council. From now on, the burden falls squarely n us. Decisions about the future of schools was made less republican and more democratic last night. A democratic opportunity was opened. A democratic response is required.

Rumsfeld Out - The People Have Power After All

Well, it's official. Rumsfeld will step down. Leaving aside whether Robert Gates will be an improvement or not, one lesson is perfectly clear. When the people of the country speak with the clarity and volume of this year's midterm election, even a go-it-alone president who had promised to stick with Rumsfeld until the end of his term can be encouraged to rethink.

Being the Democrat He Wants To See

I want to take a minute to salute a man who has been a tremendous inspiration to me both personally and professionally. Ross K. Smith of North Carolina is the debate coach of the national champion Wake Forest University Debate Team.

Recently, he wrote a moving appeal for Democrats to stand up and "Be the Democrats You Want to See." He took this philosophy to the streets campaigning for the Forsythe County School Bord in District 2 (a heavily Republican district in an off-year election). Although he missed election to the board, he put together the strongest showing for a Democrat that the District has ever seen.

Let him inspire us in Tennessee. We need leaders. We need candidates. We need bloggers. We need workers. We need neighbors, and we need to pull together to create the Tennessee we want to see. We need Tennesseans from every walk of life to take time and make sacrifices to support those around them. Tennesseans make this sacrifice every day, but we cannot eschew politics if we are to make a real difference in our state.

Ross Smith ( is an inspiration to us all. What he accomplished by simply deciding to do it and building a strong coalition of supporters is just a hint of what we ought to be able to accomplish in Tennessee. Who's with me?

Nashville Mayor

The time to get together on a grassroots effort to shape Davidson County politics is now. Weigh in on these candidates for Mayor. Suggest others...



Allen (serious questions at best after yesterday)


Get your punditry in here. Who does Tennessee support? Can Frist win the nomination? Can Obama carry Tennessee?

Netroots, anyone?

It is time for Tennessee's bloggers to build the kind of grassroots relevance that national blogs and those in other states have developed in recent election cycles. The potential to make a difference in the outcome of Tennessee political contests is there, and I am sure I am a late-comer to the party, but I am putting out an APB. If you are a blogger concerned with Tennessee politics, share your suggestions for expanding our organization and coordination. The 2008 election is well underway.

Election 2006: What does it Mean?

The pundits are already out in force to remind us that the 2006 election was just a diversion on the road to 2008. Maybe it was, but I hope we will hold our newly elected senator from Tennessee to a higher standard than that. It is time for Tennesseans to move beyond this biannual ritual of gauging the significance and purpose of our votes according to the national relevance of our state-wide races. We need to build a discussion based on the goals that Tennesseans share. We need to discuss our commitment to education for all students. We need to discuss the condition of our natural environment. We need to consider the economic conditions of ourselves and our neighbors. We need to discuss our shared hopes and dreams as citizens of Tennessee. We have far more that unites us in Tennessee than we have that divides us, and we need to spend the next two years discussing and defining those common features rather than allowing ourselves again to be divided in a national, pundit-driven, civil war over the next presidential election.

We have begin the discussion today.

Cause 1 - Democratic Timidity (Self-Loathing Rhetoric)

I detect a simple difference in the way Republicans and Democrats describe their candidates. Democrats in Tennessee almost always seem to degrade their candidate by saying things like, "Neither of these candidates is any good, but at least (insert a random, hard to articulate reason to support a democrats majority here)." Republicans do not frequently make the same comments. Is that because the Democrats have no good candidates and are forced always to settle for the bottom of the barrel? Hardly. It is because it is simply harder to prepare to defend one's choice on the issues, and the transformation of liberal into a dirty word means that Democrats who would defend the experience, ideas, and records of their candidates must first withstand a barrage of negativity that is not easy or fun to deal with. Political discourse, however, will not be restored by simply complaining that the other side shuts us out. The time has long since come for citizen supporters of democrats in Tennessee (and over 850,000 voted for Harold Ford last night) to re-engage the discourse.

Democrats in Tennessee care just as fervently about their neighbors, their state, and their country as the Republicans who put their lives on the line for public service. Democrats in Tennessee need to engage political discourse in a positive and honorable manner. Just as we ought to be careful to disparage the motives and personality of Republicans who oppose us, we should begin to be more careful about disparaging the motives and characters of those candidates who ask for our votes and represent the ideals that Tennessee Democrats hold dear.

"The lesser of two evils" is incredibly discouraging talk. When people put their lives, families, and careers on the line to serve the citizens of Tennessee, we need to avoid dishonoring that incredible sacrifice by calling them "evils." We need to return the focus of our discussion to the issue that separate the candidates and the opportunities they offer for the good leadership the people of Tennessee so desperately need.

All Politics is Local

I enter the blogosphere today with a bittersweet taste in my mouth. While I am thrilled by the national outcomes and fully expect both houses of the Congress to be controlled by Democrats in January, I am conscious that the races that mattered most to our daily lives in Tennessee went overwhelmingly against us last night. Leave aside Bob Corker, who is clearly a good man who will doubtless be a strong senator. He should be happy for GOP minority status because it will increase his flexibility to learn the job and follow his good judgment rather than following the national party's marching orders to the detriment of Tennessee voters.

My concern is that the state and local issues that exact the most direct impact on our daily lives, my fellow volunteers voted against their clear interests. In metropolitan Nashville, for instance, ballot initiatives that will seriously undermine the potential for wisdom and deliberation in establishing the county's budget passed overwhelmingly. Each of these will have direct and clear negative impacts on the provision of fire, police, and educational services in the county. Officials in Davidson County will continue to work hard within these new constraints, and public policy will proceed, but there is clear evidence that the people of the county have voted against their own best interests.

So, the question is, WHY? I, for one, do not believe that the people are incapable of evaluating their self-interests accurately. The people of Tennessee are intelligent, capable, and strong. They stand up aggressively to be counted against threats to their neighbors, and they can easily understand clear assessments and political/economic arguments.

So, this blog begins today. In the spirit of the book, What's The Matter With Kansas?, I will explore the causes of this seeming disconnect between election results and the demonstrable self-interests of the people of Tennessee. I invite your comments and ideas. Let's generate a strong discussion of the dynamics of the situation so that Tennessee voters will begin to protect their interests better in future elections.