Commentary: McNally must do the right thing

Screenshot from WZTV Fox 17 story on ad.
Screenshot from WZTV Fox 17 story on ad.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally once risked his political career to do the right thing.

It’s time for him to take that risk again.

In the late 1980s, McNally, an Oak Ridge Republican, helped the FBI, as part of Operation Rocky Top, expose political corruption in state government by wearing a wire and recording efforts to bribe him and other lawmakers.

Today, an even more corrosive corruption is seeping through the body politic of Tennessee.  It is racist and xenophobic.  It is setting neighbor against neighbor.

And McNally has fallen victim to it.  His political action committee, MCPAC, has aired an ad in the state Senate race between Republican incumbent Steve Dickerson and his Democratic challenger, Heidi Campbell.  The ad seeks to besmirch Campbell for supporting Gideon’s Army, a North Nashville group that aims to heal its community.    

Here is their mission statement: “Gideon’s Army is a community-based, grassroots organization that uses restorative justice programs to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline through social activism by children, families, and the community. Our programs address school-push-out, youth violence, policing, and juvenile justice.”

The MCPAC ad features dark images of rioting and looting and ominously proclaims Gideon’s Army as a proponent of  defunding the police.

And Gideon’s Army has advocated for that.  But what does that mean?  As The Nashville Scene reported in June:  “While “defund the police” is easier to fit on a sign, the Nashville activists pushing that approach are insistent on building something new — not just tearing the old system down. And beyond the work Gideon’s Army has been piloting in North Nashville, around the country there are examples of established alternatives to police and the broader criminal legal system.”

In short, they are asking for a serious policy conversation between the community and government leaders about what “public safety” should look like, what the investments should be, and what are the real resources needed.

The MCPAC ad seeks to inflame and incite.  It ignores the real issue much like Gov. Bill Lee and the Republican-dominated General Assembly ignored the protestors on the War Memorial Plaza and passed a law making camping on state property a felony to drive away the protestors.

That’s the corruption seeping through our state’s body politic today.

When McNally fought the bribery corruption of the 1980s, Lamar Alexander was governor and Ned Ray McWherter was House speaker on his way to being governor.

McNally may want to remember how those two led the state.

McWherter ran for governor, saying that if you gave him a cup of coffee and ‘Nilla wafers, he was ready to start working.  It’s not hard to imagine that if McWherter had been governor earlier this year, he would have invited the protesters over for a cup of coffee and ‘Nilla wafers.  He would have listened to them, he would have argued with them, but in the end he would have found a way to make it work.

When Alexander launched Tennessee Homecoming ’86, he asked the author Alex Haley to be co-chair, and through the years he quoted Haley: “Find the good and praise it. ” The founder of Gideon’s Army credits some of her vision on the need to break “the school-to-prison pipeline” through restorative justice to the time she spent on Haley’s farm, now owned and operated by the Children’s Defense Fund as a retreat center.

Home.  North Nashville.  Oak Ridge.  

McNally would do well to remember all Tennesseans are proud of where they call home.

If the MCPAC ad is the only way to remain lieutenant governor, it’s not worth it.  Pull the ad.