Gotto Eyes a Comeback, and More to Watch in 2014



In part two of this week's cover story at The City Paper, Andrea Zelinski offers five things to keep an eye on as next year's elections loom.

Will the charter school money continue to flow? (Yes.) What will happen to U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais? (He's in trouble.) And will a Democrat stand up to challenge Gov. Bill Haslam? (Hahahaha.)

But here's one that will jump out at Metro and state political observers alike: Former Metro Councilman, state representative and Davidson County Election Commissioner Jim Gotto wants back in.

From the CP, after the jump:

2. Will Darren Jernigan have an opponent? What about Bo Mitchell?

Near the more conservative eastern edge of Davidson County, Republicans are trying to line up the right candidate to run against freshman House member Darren Jernigan.

A Democrat, Jernigan barely wrestled District 60 from then-Rep. Jim Gotto last year, edging him out by 95 votes, or less than 1 percent.

“There’s a lot of conservatives out here. It’s a dogfight really every time,” said Jernigan, who doubles as a Metro councilman.

Redrawn in 2012 as a Republican enclave that Romney easily won by 8.5 percentage points last year, the district is seen as having enough of a GOP voter base for the party to stage a comeback if it can land the right candidate.

So far, Gotto — who served a brief stint on the county Election Commission before resigning in protest over the ouster of election commissioner Albert Tieche — is still considering a rematch.

“I’d very much like to return,” said Gotto, who added that he is consulting with his family and trusted confidants with plans to make a decision whether to run within the next 50 days. “The last election was very, very close.”

Casting the right candidate to run against Jernigan is a challenge. Jernigan, long active in public service, is wheelchair-bound after a car crash more than two decades ago left him paralyzed, making him a unique political opponent. Speculation among GOP insiders is the party is looking for a woman to run for the seat.

One important question, as far as Gotto is concerned, is whether his stunt at the election commission pissed off too many of the people he would need to help him. His strident conservatism made him controversial in some quarters, but kept him popular in others — like, for example, the conservative activists who cheered his self-immolation at the election commission in May. But quitting the post assigned to him by the county's GOP delegation — most notably House Speaker Beth Harwell — after little more than a month was no way to say thank you for re-entry into government.

If he wants to cross over again, will the bridge still be there?

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