Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Fallout of Jerry Cooper Indictment

An article in this morning’s Nashville City Paper on the indictment of state senator Jerry Cooper speaks of his chairmanship of the “powerful Senate Commerce Committee.” Though no one should doubt the Committee’s power, a review of its recent history affirms the axiom that power is sometimes fleeting.

In 2004, the Senate Commerce, Agriculture, and Labor Committee included, among others who have fared better, the following members:

Bill Claybough, who lost his bid for re-election in 2004.

Jo Anne Graves, who lost her bid for re-election in 2004.

Larry Trail, who lost his bid for re-election in 2004 and tragically died earlier this week.

Ward Crutchfield, who has been indicted on charges related to the Tennessee Waltz investigation.

Roscoe Dixon, who left the senate in 2004 and was subsequently indicted on charges related to the Tennessee Waltz investigation.

Jerry Cooper, who was just indicted on charges of bank fraud and conspiracy.

In 2005, a new member joined the Committee: Kathryn Bowers, who has been indicted on charges related to the Tennessee Waltz investigation.

That’s quite an ill-fated committee. Nonetheless, the Cooper indictment will have many far reaching ramifications, as may be seen by considering the following factors that enter into the mix:

Even if he believes himself to be innocent, Cooper may not be in a position to defend himself due to his already desperate financial condition.

Cooper will lose his chairmanship of the Commerce Committee (while the Ethics Committee could in theory permit him to retain it, they will not do so). What remains unknown is who will replace him. Lt. Governor John Wilder for now has the power to name his replacement. Because the legislature will not meet in the remainder of 2006, any appointment made by Wilder will be largely symbolic. However, Wilder, a Democrat, is desperately trying to hang on to his position as Lt. Governor, which the Republican majority for reasons that defy rationality permitted him to retain last year, and will likely make every effort to use this appointment and promises of appointment for 2007 as a carrot for gaining promises of votes.

Cooper, who is not up for re-election until 2008, will not have to resign unless he is convicted of a felony. However, should he choose or be required to resign, his interim replacement will be appointed by the Warren County Commission, which appears to include no Republicans among its membership. As the Democratic Cooper has frequently voted with Republicans, that appointment may move that seat to the left.

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