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Politics & Media 2010: Writer's Picks

Best of Nashville 2010

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Ellis is what embattled Tennessee progressives could use a lot more of: a fighter. His efforts on behalf of vote reform got him branded an alarmist by the entrenched forces of legislative stagnancy — until the electronic voting-machine snafus during the recent primaries showed his warnings were dead-on. But it was his role as the architect of (and chief lobbyist for) legislation to legalize medical marijuana in Tennessee that showed his true colors: an unfailingly polite but lionhearted advocate who appeals to legislators' decency — or at least wears them down to the point they have to get reacquainted with it. Ellis is a onetime public health official who nearly lost his farm to the DEA for giving away (not selling) homegrown weed to the sick and dying in Middle Tennessee. That unasked-for outlaw cred — coupled with impeccable public-policy credentials and an avuncular manner — makes Ellis a dangerous man in the best possible way. JEFF WOODS & JIM RIDLEY


For a moment — brief but certainly distinct — there was a chance Eric Crafton would stay in public life. With turnout higher for the Republican primary in August, there was talk Crafton would be elected Juvenile Court Clerk on the coattails of heated top-ticket primaries. It didn't come to pass, though, and once his term on the Metro Council is up, we won't have Crafton to kick around anymore. Which is too bad, really. Ignoring the naked nativism of his English-only referendum, Crafton's a pretty good council member. He got good reviews for his post-flood work in hard-hit Bellevue. During an otherwise tedious discussion of Metro's charter in September, Crafton gave a rousing speech on the importance of elected officials getting personally involved in schools. And beyond all that, Crafton's a nice guy who, at the very least, hasn't advocated secession or suggested Islam's a cult. J.R. LIND


Bless his heart. We all knew Basil Marceaux stood no realistic chance in Tennessee's 2010 gubernatorial race. But he was the only candidate to be featured on The Colbert Report AND to be interviewed by Jimmy Kimmel — primarily thanks to the Internet's immediate embrace of all things LOL-worthy — and his one-minute monologue on WSMV from back in July now has well over 1 million hits on YouTube. Hey, did you see Zach Wamp go viral on a national scale over the summer? I didn't think Ceaux. D. PATRICK RODGERS


Emily Evans watches out for taxpayers by asking tough questions of people in power. She took the lead in criticizing Mayor Karl Dean's financing plan for the new convention center, calling it a "riverboat gamble." She fought for a fairer stormwater fee system, one that didn't let big run-off producers like Opry Mills and Wal-Mart off the hook. She lost both battles, and her persistence has rankled some colleagues, who accuse her of grandstanding for publicity. Of the convention center debate, the council member from Hillwood says, "This was a policy debate, not an election. ... I still disagree with the policy, but I hope it's successful." JEFF WOODS


It says something about the sad state of the Tennessee Democratic Party that a losing candidate is the best hope for its future. But in falling only 17 votes short of defeating the Democrat-in-name-only Sen. Douglas Henry in this summer's primary elections, baby-faced Jeff Yarbro showed how a political campaign is supposed to be run. Yarbro never disrespected the 83-year-old Henry, an icon of the state legislature, but still managed to point out their differences on women's rights, the environment, health care and other issues dear to the hearts of progressives. At the same time, the Bass, Berry & Sims attorney demonstrated a formidable fundraising prowess. He'll be back. JEFF WOODS


It made little sense that a woman whose husband was cheating on her and allegedly even sexually abusing her would languish on death row while other Tennessee black widows walked out of prison on reduced sentences for murdering their husbands to make room for lovers. Gaile Owens arranged the murder of her husband, Ron Owens, in 1985, allegedly fed up with his affairs and his treatment of her. Neither the jury nor the appellate judges who'd later hear her case ever knew the whole story. But on July 14, Gov. Phil Bredesen stayed the death clock that had been sweeping away the minutes of her life for a quarter-century, citing the possibility of abuse and the plea agreement Gaile signed, which was withdrawn by the prosecution when the convicted hit man refused to take a plea. After a quarter-century in prison, she could be eligible for parole by 2011. BRANTLEY HARGROVE


The proposed Safe Access to Cannabis Act would make medical marijuana an above-ground, state-sanctioned business that could help hundreds of thousands of gravely ill people — while funneling millions of dollars into Tennessee's cash-strapped economy. To no one's surprise, it didn't come to a vote. To the frank astonishment of many, however, the bill earned an honest debate in committee, raising hopes that it could actually come to the floor someday. For the bill to even get that far — to be considered worthy of serious contemplation — is a testament to the determination of its citizen lobbyists, especially Bernie Ellis' tireless efforts. It's an idea whose time eventually will come — even in Tennessee. JEFF WOODS


An insider's list of Nashville's top political animals will inevitably include PR executive Pat Nolan, a former journalist and mayoral aide who keeps his political chops sharpened hosting Inside Politics weekly at WTVF's NewsChannel 5+. The canny and genial Nolan is also a go-to guy for debate moderator and election-night TV analysis gigs. Less visible, though, are the 2,500 words of timely, incisive political analysis Nolan posts weekly deep within WTVF's navigationally challenged website. It's easier to find in your inbox, where "Capitol View Commentary" will alight in time for cocktails each Friday if you ask Nolan politely to add you to the list. BRUCE BARRY


Even after all these years in Nashville, Bredesen has never quite shaken his nasal, clipped upstate New York accent. Despite his electoral success, he's never been able to convince Tennesseans he's just folks. But as the floodwaters rose statewide, our governor made a choice that endeared him to the people slinging sandbags and hauling their neighbors in canoes: he decided to dress like them, donning a hunter-green fishing vest with dual rows of pockets containing unknown doodads. It was like Ashland City come to Curtiswood —and a telltale sign we were all in this together. J.R. LIND


The Contributor's salesforce sets up in high traffic areas, cheerfully — or as cheerfully as possible, given their sometimes indifferent clientele — waving a copy of their monthly paper as if were made of gold. Well, it is. Not only is The Contributor a damn fine read, it's also an alternative to panhandling for its sales crew, who buy the paper for a quarter and sell it for a buck. The paper focuses on issues of poverty and homelessness, but also includes original poetry and puzzles. Best of all, it creates a positive interaction between the vendors and their customers, and that's priceless. PAUL V. GRIFFITH


The 1940s and '50s were fertile periods in the American popular music revolution, and 91 Rock's Pete Wilson spotlights those distinctive eras with his magical two-hour radio show Nashville Jumps. Every Friday morning at 8, Wilson serves up two hours of vintage R&B, honking jazz, vocal groups, male and female singers, even novelty tunes and early rock 'n' roll. A typical show will take the listener from Roy Brown to Sam Cooke, The Clovers to Howlin' Wolf, with side trips via Etta James, Ruth Brown or Big Joe Turner. In recent years Wilson has expanded the time line a bit, occasionally dipping into barrelhouse blues and boogie-woogie piano on the front end and early soul on the back end. He also provides just enough information and detail to keep you informed, but not so much that it becomes dry. Thankfully, he was unaffected by the ham-fisted maneuvers that resulted in the loss of the station's other popular long-running programs Hipbilly Jamboree and D-Funk. Let's hope the news that Vanderbilt Student Communications is considering the sale of WRVU's broadcast license won't cast a shadow over the show's (and the station's) future. For now, Nashville Jumps is the perfect way to jump-start your weekend — literally. RON WYNN


Despite having only two Major League pro teams and an SEC team that's a football doormat, the Nashville airwaves are dominated as much by sports talk as right-wing patter. But since its debut Jan. 11, 560 WNSR-AM's Sports Xtra (weeknights 6-9) has established itself as a fierce, feisty voice that's unafraid to rip area and national sports figures and debate hot button topics. The show displays all the ferocity you'd expect from a small station battling the likes of big dog The Zone (104.5FM) and its twin ratings' juggernauts morning drive The Old Spice Wake Up Zone and afternoons' All State Sports Zone, co-hosted by George Plaster and Willy Daunic. Initially co-hosted by Jeff Thurn and Henry Nichols, the show's new co-host is Brad Reed. The Sports Xtra crew interviews bloggers as well as players, will actually discuss the NBA regular season (at times) and provides coverage of many other sports and topics beside the requisite Titans/Predators/Vandy/Sounds lineup. RON WYNN


A know-it-all lawyer turned sports radio talker — what's not to love? From noon till 3 every weekday, Clay Travis makes you actually wish George Plaster was on the air. A blowhard and unabashed Volunteer homer who has written two (admittedly) great books about college football, Travis earned a modicum of fame for asking Florida's Tim Tebow — who makes no secret of his evangelical Christianity — if he was a virgin. Like to hear somebody tell you how much more he knows about any given subject than you do? Travis is your guy. He's never met a logical assertion he couldn't refute if it didn't fit his preconceived notion. He's especially irritating when law and sports collide — as they frequently do with his beloved Vols. Listening to Travis talk over his far more likable cohorts — Brent Dougherty and former Titan Blaine Bishop — will ruin whatever enjoyment there is in the early afternoon. We should turn it off, we know we should. But we can't. Arguing with Travis is just too much fun to give up. Even if he can't hear how smart we are. J.R. LIND


Although the national media took their sweet-ass time noticing Nashville getting all biblical in May, a handful of bloggers managed to establish Twitter as the best source of real-time information about the flood for those who still had Internet access. In that mess of white noise over #othersituation2010, Nashvillest emerged as a clear beacon of useful information about what was happening and, more importantly, how people could help. Bloggers Christy Frink and Morgan Levy posted hundreds of tweets from @nashvillest in the critical week following the flood and helped make sense of the madness we found ourselves in. LANCE CONZETT


Sure, we're no West End or East Side, but South Nashville has its own crusty, slow-paced charm, and neighborhood blog South Nashville Life ( is hot on its trail. It's a refreshing thing to stumble across a blogger more devoted to an informed portrayal than a deep need to divulge, and SNL charts the neighborhood's slow change, civic-minded offerings, growing pains and fascinating history through thoughtful posts accompanied by tons of cool photos from the state archives. Every once in a while, a funny joke or wry observation jumps out from the author, a Music Row song promoter and WeHo (Wedgewood-Houston) resident for a few years now. But the real highlights are the contributions from residents, such as the recurring posts from "Wayne," self-proclaimed old guy who grew up in the area and still recounts the neighborhood's history like a cool grandfather. Keep the memories coming, old-timer. TRACY MOORE


Leave it to a couple of college kids to create the web's most valuable resource for the poor, the hungry, and lovers of all things that don't cost a thang. The site is updated daily, and no free movie, music or art event, open bar, interesting Craigslist giveaway, complimentary promotional item or whatnot has gone unpublicized. Sadly, differences between the blog's contributors and administrators have resulted in an irreconcilable rift altering the blog's fate for good. We've been assured, however, that those relentless freedom seekers will return with a resource that's equally invaluable. SETH GRAVES


On May 28, a topless photo of Paramore's Hayley Williams was tweeted from her Twitter account. Allegedly the victim of a malicious hacker, Williams removed the photo within minutes, but not before it flooded the blogosphere. Months later, Perez Hilton posted an exponentially more compromising pic of Ke$ha that made Williams' look hella softcore by comparison. A devastating blow to the privacy of each young lady, no doubt — but let's face it, if Nashville's ever going to get over this "little big town" trip and truly compete with LA and NYC, we're gonna need even bigger scandals next year. SETH GRAVES

The Sweetest Thing


By Kristine LaLonde

Kristine LaLonde represents District 18 in the Metro Council.

This is what the job is not, mostly:  momentous votes, soaring rhetoric, front-page headlines, or decisions worthy of history books.  This is what the job is, mostly: serving the people of your district, listening to their views and complaints, and responding.  It is lobbying for stop signs, and alley paving, and codes enforcement and zoning changes so that people in your district can live better. Council-Lady Anna Page is a wizard at what the district councilperson's job is all about.  In a district, the 16th, that is diverse, challenging, and changing, she fights for her constituents.  She answers their many calls and emails and attends countless meetings to help meet their needs.  The legislation she sponsors almost always comes back to the needs of the 16th.  Anna honors the term public servant. It is the reason that she is not only my "Best Councilperson" but also one of my heroes.


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