You know Oscar Night? That glitzy celebration where beautiful people get together to clap each other on the back, honor the best and brightest accomplishments of the year, and flash a rictus grin as someone else takes home the statuette?
This is not that occasion.
These are the Boner Awards, baby — our 22nd annual roundup of the year's lowest moments, oddest characters and dirtiest deeds. We don't have movie stars swanning out of a limo — we have clowns spilling out of a Volkswagen. We don't have a red carpet — we have a mile-long No-Pest Strip. Forget the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. We've reserved the Little Evil Jacobs Ballroom at Fernando's Hideaway on Brick Church Pike.
But star quality — this year's Boners have it in shovels. Hey, over there — it's the "Don't Say Gay" Bill! Smile for the cameras, Mr. Arriola! Say, looks like you've got something in your teeth there, HB 600. Never before have so few done so much to so many — and received so much attention for it.
Was it attention we wanted? Are we going to put up billboards in the hubs of industry that say, "Tennessee — come for the far-right social agenda, stay for the intelligent-design classes"? No. We come to bury the Boners, not praise them. You dig?
And with that, meet the unlucky stiffs.
As always, there were plenty of erected officials at the state legislative level. These bold Boners stood apart from the pack.
Get this man a steering committee.
Just before the House overwhelmingly adopted his guns-in-bars law, Rep. Curry Todd solemnly told his colleagues: "I just ask you to vote your conscience to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves and their families." In October, police say it was Todd himself who became the public menace, allegedly careening drunk and red-eyed toward Hillsboro Village at 60 mph with a loaded Smith & Wesson 38 Special in a holster in his SUV. He was "obviously very impaired and not in any condition to be carrying a loaded handgun," the arresting officer said. The Collierville Republican publicly apologized for doing exactly what he claimed repeatedly during legislative debates that no handgun permit licensee ever would do. But not even a subsequent appearance at a charity golf tournament could keep him from getting his balls whacked down the fairway.
Confronted with an outrageous public embarrassment serving as chairman of a significant House committee, what did Speaker Beth Harwell do? Absolutely nothing. For a full week as the media storm raged unabated, she couldn't manage to express even the slightest displeasure with Todd. The accused chucklehead finally stepped down as chairman of the State and Local Government Committee. Harwell said she appreciated that. (We bet she did — those TV klieg lights are hot.) You might recall it was Todd who last year compared pregnant undocumented workers to breeding rats during a public hearing on prenatal health care. That didn't stop Harwell from naming him chairman of the committee in the first place. After all, he helped her win the speakership this year, and that comes with a chauffeur and snazzy black SUV. (Pistol sold separately.)
If you need yet more evidence why Democrats have been virtually extirpated in Tennessee, House Democratic Caucus chairman Mike Turner is Exhibit A. After Todd's arrest, Turner said Todd should not only keep his House seat but also his committee chairmanship. Turner called Todd "one of the best chairmen we have up there." There's a "world's tallest midget" distinction if ever we heard one, but Turner still managed to undercut his own party chairman, Chip Forrester, who issued a strong denunciation of Todd and demanded that Harwell either force Todd to quit or explain why she wouldn't. Turner seemed more concerned about not upsetting Republicans who are about to redraw district lines. He needs all the help they'll give him in his Old Hickory constituency. In '10, Turner only barely squeaked past an oddball unknown Republican, who narrowly lost despite broadcasting himself on YouTube smashing buffalo turds.
Y'allah be praised!
Defeating an impressive field of challengers, Rep. Rick Womick won the prize for most outrageous remark at a Nashville conference of Muslim haters. The Murfreesboro Republican said the United States should purge all Muslims from the military because they can't be trusted, hate our freedom, don't listen to "Delilah," etc. Muslims called for Republican leaders to rebuke Womick, but not a single one did. After a reporter asked him about it, Gov. Bill Haslam did manage to say he disagrees with Womick, but he wouldn't criticize him. "That's not my role," the governor said. (Which is true: Most of the year, he was too busy playing SNL's Church Lady.) For his part, Womick went on right-wing radio to puff the hookah of self-pity. "I'll be honest with you," he said. "This has been a brutal, brutal week. I mean, emotionally, it's draining. It's a constant attack against your character, against your opportunity to speak out, against my First Amendment. But I'm not going to back down." Watch out, you folks who smoke Camels.
That's why they call him Dollar Bill.
Speaking of Muslim haters, Sen. Bill Ketron caused an uproar with his legislation to essentially stamp out Islamic law in Tennessee. The bill made practicing some forms of religious Shariah law a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison, declaring it a threat to homeland security that embraces jihad and commands followers to overthrow the U.S. government. But as peaceable, law-abiding Middle Tennessee Muslims pointed out, the bill's vague terms all but outlawed their entire religion. Under heavy criticism around the state, Ketron was forced to rewrite his bill and render it meaningless. But his close encounter with the Boners didn't end there. The mustachioed senator and insurance salesman also earned mockery when he called for Tennessee to study establishing a monetary system of its own to be ready "in the event of hyperinflation, depression, or other economic calamity related to the breakdown of the Federal Reserve System, for which the state is not prepared ..." As the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy said, it's all about the Ketrons.
Leave it to Beavers.
Senate Judiciary Committee chair Mae Beavers championed an Obama birther bill aiming to require presidential candidates to produce a "long-form birth certificate" to make it onto the party primary ballots in Tennessee. But during an appearance on the Internet's Reality Check Radio, the Mount Juliet Republican conceded she didn't even know what a long-form birth certificate is. "Now, you're asking me to get into a lot of things that I haven't really looked into yet," the busy Beavers told the show's host. But that may not be anything new. Email memos from a November document dump related to the state's infamous HB600 bill showed that Family Action Council of Tennessee's David Fowler was feeding her lines offstage about the proposed legislation. "The bill itself is not that complicated," Fowler wrote. "We don't need more regulation of business and business sure doesn't need the 348 different cities coming up with their own ideas of what a discriminatory practice is. That's the line and you just repeat it like Glen Casada did last night when the bill passed the House 73 to 24." Jeff Dunham couldn't have said it better through Walter.
Call now and get a "Give 'em the Boot" tote bag!
With the economy surfing the toilet and unemployment running at nearly 10 percent, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey finally produced a jobs plan: He wants to make it harder for jobless people to collect unemployment. According to Ramsey, if you take away their benefits — the magnificent weekly sum of $234 on average — then they will, by God, get a job. "When does it become a benefit and when does it become a lifestyle?" Ramsey, R-Blountville, asked about the unemployment compensation system. "There are jobs out there. ... It may not be the job you want, but there are jobs out there." The bright side: If those deadbeats refrain from food, clothing and shelter for 10 straight weeks, they might save enough to contribute to Ramsey's PAC, whose varying PBS-pledge-drive incentives J.R. Lind listed on Post Politics. For an annual kick-in of $2,000 (the Senators giving level), you get lunch with "top legislative leaders and committee chairmen." We suggest shelling out $20,000 for the commemorative gavel.
BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG BONERS
It was a year of high-profile scandals, failed machinations and creaky municipal machinery. There are a million Boners in the naked city. Here are five.
Here comes the Boner.
When you're as well-groomed as Davidson County Clerk John Arriola, it only makes sense to spend $806 in taxpayer money for a fancy head shot. If charging newlyweds-to-be more than $30,000 in "gratuities" for marriage licenses isn't worth impeccably coiffed hair, then what is? Unfortunately for Arriola, WTVF's Phil Williams photographed only his bad side in a scorching exposé that the clerk attempted to head off with his own pre-emptive press release — a move that backfired spectacularly, alerting anyone in the city who hadn't seen the promos to tune in. Once they did, they saw displays of astounding recession-era hubris, such as Arriola spending $34,087 in public funds to emblazon his name on signage he had installed outside his offices. Viewers were left hoping he'd used a dry-erase board. On camera, playing catnip mouse to Williams, the wide-eyed Arriola did his best impression of a guy who showed up at a "To Catch a Predator" taping with a six-pack and a Tootsie Pop in his zipper.
This whine's for you.
With the indignation of a child caught playing hooky, former Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk David Torrence balked when WSMV's Jeremy Finley revealed his penchants for showing up to work a mere three days a week, hiring family and using his government-issued vehicle to make wine runs. In response, the charity-minded Torrence said he was "willing to consider" paying restitution from his $125,000 annual salary. As with most people who suffer from a dimension-shattering sense of entitlement, it took the threat of legal ouster to hasten Torrence out the door. Maybe John Arriola needs a flower dude.
Dial M for Murray.
Writing about the multifarious boners of former District 5 Metro Councilwoman Pam Murray is like trying to pick your favorite Beatle — assuming The Beatles were prone to frivolous lawsuits and controversy. The only council member ever to be ousted in a recall election — and the only Detroit export less popular in Music City than the Red Wings — Murray sought to reclaim her office this year. Sadly, it wasn't in the cards, as newcomer Scott Davis handily trounced her. That didn't stop Murray from giving her all, however — most notably outside East Nashville's McFerrin Community Center polling station, where the candidate accused her opponent of sign-swiping and cell phone pilfering loudly and angrily enough to draw police, a crowd and an ice cream truck. Her failed re-election bid was further marred by the actions of an over-enthusiastic nephew, who was arrested for punching a man he saw removing Murray's signs (at the property owner's request, it turns out).
Gotto/Claiborne vs. Decency.
In July, departing Metro Councilman Jamie Hollin introduced a resolution to commemorate the bravery of high school student activists who protested the so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill. Hollin missed a committee meeting that would've paved the way for a vote on the resolution, so he attempted to invoke a common procedure during that night's council meeting to suspend the rules and force a vote. Under normal circumstances, Hollin's resolution might've sailed through. But Councilmen Jim Gotto and Phil Claiborne blocked it, and their combined action derailed the bill permanently — prompting a widely reported, profanity-laced tongue-lashing by Hollin. Of Gotto and Claiborne, he said, "They collectively represent the worst in us." We're not that bad, are we?
The Boner 500.
Regrettably, one multiple Boner casualty this year was Mayor Karl Dean. He won a second term decisively, yet his unsteady wielding of the municipal baseball bat resulted in at least two painful public whiffs. In the District 24 council race, even backing Sarah Lodge Tally — a well-connected challenger with vast ties to establishment Democrats — Dean failed to put the kibosh on supposed enemy-of-progress incumbent Jason Holleman, whose crime was evidently failing to support Hizzoner with 100 percent yes-sir-how-high inflexibility. If you're going to stomp an ant, better make sure you kill it — lest the ant wind up on the cover of the city's alt-weekly under the headline, "BULLETPROOF?" A greater political defeat, however, was the fairgrounds fiasco. Unable to offer a compelling (or even coherent) vision for the racetrack site, the Dean administration watched piece after piece of the plan collapse, thwarted by a combination of undeniable popular support and shrewd, deep-pocketed behind-the-scenes organizing. Here's hoping for dramatically different results for the proposed Sounds stadium — or a public process that resembles a road rally more than a demolition derby.