By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog
NASHVILLE — There’s a bit of irony with the Nashville lawyer who has repudiated Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s efforts to unseat three Tennessee Supreme Court justices, calling it an act of big business corrupting the judiciary.
As Tennessee Watchdog reported, Ramsey, a Republican, is distributing literature portraying three state Supreme Court justices, up for a retention vote in August, as soft on the death penalty.
Nashville’s News Channel 5 held up Lew Conner, a fellow member of the GOP, as someone who thought Ramsey’s actions go too far and are a big money partisan attack on an independent judiciary.
But if Conner believes that big money has a corrosive influence over a judicial election, why is he hosting a fundraiser for the three justices — Gary Wade, Connie Clark and Sharon Lee — Wednesday night?
Conner told Tennessee Watchdog on Tuesday he is hosting the fundraiser on the top floor of his Nashville law firm, specifically the 27th floor.
“This is about a system being wrongfully attacked, and Ramsey is the attacker,” Conner said.
Tennessee Watchdog asked Conner why it’s OK for him and others to raise money on behalf of the three justices, but it’s not OK for opponents to raise their own cash.
Is it not OK for both sides, for instance, to have equal footing?
“Yes, but on a nonpartisan basis, and with facts contained in their assertions,” Conner said.
“Ramsey doesn’t know what the facts are,” he said. “I think it’s important that the people understand that if this race were designed to be nonpartisan, based totally on their merit, then he has made it blatantly partisan and political.”
Conner said in an invitation to the fundraiser that he and his supporters have credible information people from out-of-state plan to contribute more than $1 million to use against the justices.
When asked about specifics, Conner declined to provide them.
“We haven’t seen anything yet to base this on,” Conner said, instead referring Tennessee Watchdog to News Channel 5’s reports on Ramsey’s plan.
News Channel 5 alluded to the Republican Attorney Generals Association’s theoretical involvement, as well as theoretical contributions from the industrialist Koch brothers.
“It happens that I’m a Republican, but I think you’ll find that 90 percent of the bar and 100 percent of the bench would probably agree with the position that I have taken,” Conner said.
Records show that Conner has indeed contributed to several Republicans throughout the state, although he has contributed to Democrats including U.S. Reps Steve Cohen of Memphis and Jim Cooper of Nashville. Conner also contributed money to Vice President Al Gore in 1999, presumably for his 2000 presidential campaign.
Those same records also show no contributions to Ramsey.
Conner said the two men have never met, something Ramsey spokesman A.C. Kleinheider confirmed Tuesday.
Conner also points to the fact that Ramsey appointed people to a commission that recently stated that voters should retain the three justices.
In response, Kleinheider said:
“Yes, he has appointments to that commission, but he doesn’t control that commission.”
Former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, appointed the three justices. If voters remove even one, then that will allow Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, to replace that person, supposedly giving Republicans a majority on the court.
News Channel 5 of Nashville suggested Ramsey’s plan is misleading the public with one-sided information.
As Tennessee Watchdog reported Monday, Tennessee has executed six people since 1960, yet the state Supreme Court suddenly scheduled 10 execution dates this year and next — just before voters decide the fate of these three justices.
Ramsey questioned whether the timing of these executions has anything to do with the August retention election, but state Supreme Court spokeswoman Michelle Wojciechowski told Tennessee Watchdog on Monday the justices are merely abiding by state procedures.
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