St. Crispin's Day 2009: Political praise to the heavens

We present to you our annual awards and an irreverent look back at the year in local and state politics

On Thursday night, regaled a few hundred of its friends with the fourth annual St. Crispin’s Day Awards, a light-hearted look at the year that was in Nashville and Tennessee politics. For a look back at previous years' awards, click here.

On St. Crispin’s Day in 1415, English monarch Henry V gathered his greatly outnumbered troops as they prepared to confront the full force of the French army on the fields of Agincourt. William Shakespeare recreated the moment nearly 200 years later for his play Henry V, in what has become known as the "St. Crispin's Day" speech.

In past years, our themes have been based on concepts emanating from Bill S.’s jolly old England. This year, we figured it would be worth our time to loosely tie together our award with something even more dear to all of us: religion.

So, with the formalities hereby dispensed, let’s get to the honors:

Speaker of the House Kent Williams invoked the ire of his Republican party by voting with all 49 House Democrats to install himself as speaker. After the dust settled, the Republicans trotted out an ethics complaint they had sat on for a year, alleging that he had offered a week’s salary to see a colleague naked. It turns out that a week’s salary for Williams is 30 shekels of silver, so on that note, we award him a purse from the Judas Iscariot collection at Macy’s.

Embroiled in all that mess was someone never invited to join Williams’ private party, likely-soon-to-be-elected State Senator Brian Kelsey. Apparently, Kelsey believes in reincarnation and is hoping that in his new life he won’t evolve into a gadfly again. It is in this vein that we present him with a Dollywood llama.

State Rep. Jason Mumpower has had a tough year. It appeared that he had rubbed the golden belly of Buddha and would become the chosen one. Ahh, but the wheel in the sky kept on turning past him and fate seemed cruel. But we don’t want him to finish the year on a sour note, so we present him with the gift of the CD “Nevermind” by Nirvana.

State Reps. Eric Swafford, Frank Nicely, Glen Casada and Stacey Campfield signed on to what is known as the “birther” movement, apparently not believing that President Obama was born in Hawaii. To honor their diligence in standing up for what they think is one of the more important issues of the day and auditing the records of national leaders, we signed them up for an auditing class just down the road to be taught by Tom Cruise.

Former Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chip Saltsman was baptized by fire when he sent out a Christmas gift in the form of CD with the song “Barack the Magic Negro.” The result was that the state started getting a reputation as being so racist we don’t allow color TVs here. Chip was trying to become the national chair of the Republican Party, but fell short in his bid. As a form of consolation, we offer him Joseph’s coat of many colors, which over time has become faded and is now predominantly white.

Gov. Phil Bredesen not so coyly attempted to become Secretary of Health and Human Services for President Obama, but he too fell short of the goal he claimed he never had. Instead of licking his wounds, we ask that he lick his chops and we are starting an annual dinner in his honor. We shall call it Passover.

Reps. Gary Odom and Jimmy Naifeh had their differences this year – a ruckus that spilled over into the rest of the House Democratic caucus. Arguments erupted over who moved heaven and who moved earth to stop both from becoming speaker. It was thought at one point that Odom was going to make peace and would offer to wash Naifeh’s feet with his hair. But, being an avid UT supporter, Nafieh opted out of becoming a Tarheel. In hopes of bringing this feud to an end, we present them both with an olive branch in four-by-four form. Let’s get it on.

Earlier this year, the Tennessee Democratic Party entered into a conclave to elect a new state party chairman. They chose to notify the faithful that a new leader had been selected with the use of white smoke coming from the ears of all the big-money Democrats. The new pontiff of the party was Chip Forrester, which caused a lot of strife considering that Phil Bredesen had endorsed his opponent. Since then, the party has been all talk and inaction. To honor its achievements in the past year, we give it an appropriate weapon, the jawbone of an ass.

We present former state senator and noted ladies man Paul Stanley the “Shroud of Tunica.” The former state senator will find that this garment matches what he wore on his shirtsleeve and will dissuade him from playing his cards close to the zipper, I mean vest, and busting on 21 again.

Of all the issues that were debated on Capitol Hill this past year, nothing – not education, health care or the economy – was more important than making sure you could carry a gun into a bar. True, Tennessee doesn’t really have “bars” according to state law, but under that logic we don’t have idiots, either. Groups like the Tennessee Firearms Association went on a jihad against all who opposed their cause despite the number of cheeks that were turned. To honor them and all who joined their crusade, we present a gift from the Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore Museum gift shop, a granite replica of The Nine Commandments.

Metro Councilman Eric Crafton did his part this year to make the list by finally getting his English-only referendum on the ballot in a special election. Sadly, he lost. We don’t want him to leave empty-handed though ,so we plan on setting him up in Tony Giarratana’s next high-rise, the Tower of Babel.

McNeely Pigott & Fox took it on the chin this year when word got out about how much they had charged MDHA for twittering, blogging and basic sermonizing on the proposed convention center. MDHA Executive Director Phil Ryan appeared to be some sort of false prophet when it was revealed that the words he spoke were not his own. MP&F’s cash cow was slaughtered at the altar of public opinion, but cheer up, guys – How does dinner at Nero’s sound so you can discuss how you got burned?

If there are thorns in the flesh of Mayor Karl Dean, he would likely name the pricks Mike Jameson, Emily Evans and Jason Holleman. The Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego of the Metro Council seem to enjoy the fire directed at them by Hizzoner’s henchmen while Butch Spyridon and Marty Dickens fume at them all. So that there may peace in the valley, we’d like to offer them all a chance to turn that whine into water and drink from the Holy Grail – with water from the Cumberland River.

Metro Councilwoman Pam Murray has apparently gotten lost this past year on her way to the promised land and has affectionately become known as “Our Lady of Detroit.” Rather than wait 39 years for her to find her way home – or finding out if Jamie Hollins will be anointed in her place – we present her a Bethlehem Center star. It’s not in her district… but it is in Nashville.

Last but certainly not least, there is Tommy Burnett. Burnett did the impossible earlier in life and resurrected his political career from a jail cell. He somehow topped that this year: Only minutes after he was declared dead by, he came back again just to prove he could. Sadly, Burnett did pass away later that day, but to honor him and his career, we present him the Lazarus award, which we have a hunch he will come by our office and pick it up tomorrow.

OK, it’s time for a chance of pace.

The St. Crispin's Day awards were started for two reasons. The first was to bring people together and have a good laugh at ourselves and all that occurs in Tennessee politics. The second is to honor an individual that has made the city of Nashville a great place to live and work.

We call the latter "The Order of St. Crispin" and seek to honor those whose influence and deeds should be lauded. These are people who have served the city and should be lauded for their years of hard work that over time has either been taken for granted or overlooked.

In 2007, the late Eddie Jones was inducted as the first member of the Order for his work in shepherding what was known as "liquor by the ounce" laws. You may not think that a big deal today, but it was in 1967 and without it there is a good argument to be made that Nashville would not be the home of pro sports teams or major businesses without it.

The second inductee into the Order was Nashville's Public Defender Ross Alderman. A champion of the law and the least amongst us, Alderman was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident on an August afternoon. He was a friend that the city needed and his staff at the Public Defender's Office carry on his tradition of service with great care and ability.

When deciding on who would become the third inductee into The Order of St. Crispin, we looked at the example and lives led by Jones and Alderman. We also took a look at what is happening around us and thought about whose life lessons should be taught again.

It is with that in mind that we induct former Mayor Richard Fulton into the Order of St. Crispin.

Affectionately known as Dick Fulton, he was, from 1975 to 1987, the second mayor of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.

A product of Nashville's public schools, Fulton attended the University of Tennessee and later served in the United States Navy during World War II. He began his public service in 1954 when he was elected to the Tennessee State Senate in place of his brother Lyle, who had died suddenly shortly after receiving the Democratic nomination for that post.

Although he was sworn in, he had not yet turned 30, the age required for senators under the Tennessee State Constitution. His election was challenged and overturned because of this. He ran again in 1956, and won. He was re-elected in 1958, then left politics to begin a career in real estate.

In 1962, Fulton ran for U.S. Congress and won, eventually. He was challenging incumbent Congressman Joseph Carlton Loser and in the primary it looked as if Loser had won. But fraud was found to have taken place and a judge ruled that a new primary had to be held. Fulton won that race and easily won re-election in 1964.

During his second term in congress, he became an outspoken supporter of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a position that did not win him many friends among other Southern Democrats of the era.

Although he was re-elected in 1964, in the next four election cycles, he came closer than any Democrat before or since to losing a district that has been in Democratic hands since 1875. While his opponents were unwilling to state it publicly, much of the opposition to Fulton was a result of his unabashed support for the Civil Rights Act.

Fulton faced tough elections for the next eight years. Remember that segregationist George Wallace actually carried Davidson County in ’68, the first time someone other than a Democrat had carried the county in a presidential race since Reconstruction.

In 1975, Fulton came home and became the second mayor of Metropolitan Nashville Davidson County. His work as mayor can still be seen today, be it at Riverfront Park, the current convention center and even in our major sports teams. Fulton had laid the groundwork that future mayors capitalized on in bringing the Titans and Predators to town.

While all of those accomplishments are worthy of praise, there is one thing that Fulton did that should stand out above the rest. It was a decision he made in 1999 that showed how much he loved his city.

Having been out of office for 12 years, no one expected him to run for mayor again. He did, but things didn't go as planned. A former state legislator named Bill Purcell was his main competition and Purcell showed that he was more than prepared for the campaign. He beat Fulton, albeit without enough votes to avoid a run-off.

Fulton had a choice. He could have run a harshly negative mean-spirited campaign in an effort to get his old job back or he could lay down his sword. He chose the latter, telling friends that there was no need and that he had no desire to divide the city with negativity.

In today's politics, that negativity seems to permeate all factions of government. Gone are the days when opposing sides could fight all day and then laugh together at dinner. Civility is a word you seldom hear in reference to politics or politicians today, and that is a loss to all of us. Because you believe something is right and honorable, it should not diminish the argument of another who disagrees. They are just as committed as you.

Dick Fulton laid down his sword for what he believed was right and honorable. We concur, and ask that he accept our sword and become a member of the Order of St. Crispin.