Federal judge to rule on Kurita case
Posted: Monday, October 13, 2008 9:06 pm
By ERIK SCHELZIG
Associated Press Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — A federal judge’s ruling on Democratic state Sen. Rosalind Kurita’s bid to be restored as her party’s nominee likely won’t come until just before early voting is set to begin this week.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Echols heard arguments Friday on Kurita’s case for throwing out a state Democratic Party executive committee decision that voided her primary win.
“She had the fruits of her victory, and they have been ripped from her,” said Kurita’s attorney, James Bopp Jr.
Janet Kleinfelter, a lawyer for the state, said Tennessee law and previous legal opinions have determined that the sole responsibility for deciding nominees lies with the parties, so there is no basis for Kurita’s challenge.
“Determining the party’s nominee is a party matter,” she said. “Those intraparty squabbles are to be decided by the party.”
Echols asked Kleinfelter whether in her opinion the Democratic Party’s executive committee could have taken a much more simple approach to deciding the challenge.
“Could they have just flipped a coin?” he asked.
“They could have,” she responded.
Kurita won her primary by 19 votes over Clarksville attorney Tim Barnes in August. But the Democratic panel last month voted to declare her win “incurably uncertain” after Barnes’ legal team argued there was heavy Republican crossover voting, and because poll workers allegedly directed Barnes supporters to vote in the wrong primary.
Many Democrats have been upset at Kurita ever since she cast a key vote in favor of Republican state Sen. Ron Ramsey to help him become the upper chamber’s speaker in 2007.
The fight over the nomination has drawn interest outside the district because the outcome could affect the balance of power between Senate Democrats and Republicans next year.
There is no Republican running for the Senate District 22 seat that represents Montgomery, Houston and Cheatham counties. Early voting begins Wednesday.
Kurita has drawn the support of Republicans in her efforts to be restored as the nominee, and for the write-in campaign she has launched in the meantime.
Bopp argued that state law doesn’t give the party the right to install candidates of their choice if they don’t like the person who wins the primary. The law “doesn’t say it’s advisory, it doesn’t say it’s a straw poll,” he said.
Kurita has asked Echols to either restore her as the nominee or put the Senate election on hold until the case is resolved. Echols said he will make a decision early next week.
Published in The Messenger 10.13.08