By Zachary Toillion
An unorthodox election for attorney general in Tennessee has now managed to make waves in the governor’s race as well. Gov. Bill Haslam has come under scrutiny for his handling of signing bills into law. A total of 79 different bills became law without the signature of Governor Haslam, and an additional 67 were signed after their signature deadline. Tennessee law gives the governor the power to veto or sign any given bill within ten days of its passage excluding Sundays.
These revelations were brought to light by Herbert Slatery-a chief legal counsel to Gov. Haslam who is among a list of eight candidates to become attorney general as early as May 13th 2014. Also vying for the position of attorney general are five other candidates, most notably sitting incumbent Bob Cooper, a Democrat. Cooper’s two other main Republican challengers include State Senator Doug Overbey and Bill Young, who currently serves as a chief administrative officer to the courts.
Tennessee’s next attorney general will be selected on Monday, September 15th by the State Supreme Court. The eight candidates already met with the Supreme Court for a closed door meeting on Monday, and six met with the Court again on Tuesday, September 10th. Tennessee is the only state in the country that selects it’s attorney general through the Supreme Court, a fact bemoaned by many, including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey who stated, “I don’t necessarily like the fact that they’re apparently going to make the decision behind closed doors,” when questioned by reporters. While Ramsey did not criticize current attorney general Bob Cooper, he also expressed his optimism that the Court would choose a Republican for the position, saying “I feel confident one of the three I mentioned (referring to Slatery, Young, and Overbey) can do as good or a better job.”
The composition of the Court leaves the outcome of their selection up in the air. Currently the Tennessee Supreme Court is composed of three Democrats appointed by former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen, and two Republicans appointed by Governor Haslam. The current composition of the Court was also ratified by Tennessee voters in a judge retention vote in August. Lt. Gov. Ramsey launched an unprecedented campaign during the summer to influence the retention election, describing the judges as “liberal”, primarily by connecting them to Attorney General Cooper’s decision not to join the legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act in 2012. Despite a campaign on behalf of Ramsey that spent nearly $500,000, the judges were re-elected by large margins. The judges and their allies benefited from their own influx of money for the campaign-totalling nearly $600,000. Reflecting on the judicial retention campaign, Ramsey stated “The people spoke. Their message that we don’t want partisan politics in the judiciary won out.”
Whomever the Supreme Court chooses to be Tennessee’s next attorney general on Monday will serve out an eight year term, starting November 1st, 2014 and concluding November 1st, 2022. Political insiders believe that Cooper is likely to retain his position.