Letters of the Law

That Was a Close One

This letter was written to Kathryn Reed Edge about her June “Bank on It” column.

Katie, thanks for your excellent “Bank Robbers” article in the current Tennessee Bar Journal. Although, regrettably, I do not have any of the Butcher political memorabilia which you seek, I do have a story which you might enjoy:

In 1971, before his campaigns to be Tennessee’s governor, Jake Butcher ran a very powerful and almost successful campaign to be Tennessee’s treasurer. As I’m sure you know, the treasurer, along with the comptroller and the secretary of state, are elected by the Tennessee General Assembly (the treasurer and comptroller every two years, the secretary of state every four years). These elections are by the combined House and Senate on a “one person, one vote” basis — that is, for these elections, the votes of senators and representatives are equal.

The custom and practice is that the combined Senate/House Democratic and Republican caucuses meet, and each selects its nominee, also on a “one person, one vote” basis. Then, although there have been some very notable exceptions, all of the members of each respective caucus follow the majority vote of their caucus and vote for the caucus nominee, which means that the nominee of the political party having a majority of combined senators and representatives wins.

In 1971, I was in the Senate, and we Democrats enjoyed a joint Senate/House majority of 75 out of the total 132 General Assembly seats. There were two candidates that year for the Democratic caucus nomination: Tom Wiseman (the present senior status Federal District judge), and Jake Butcher. Both waged very strong, effective campaigns. The ultimate Democratic caucus vote was 38 for Wiseman and 37 for Butcher! I voted for Wiseman, and thus my vote was key to his nomination and ultimate election (although, of course, the same could be claimed by each of the 38 senators and representatives who voted for him in the Democratic caucus)! Think of the field day Jake Butcher could have had as treasurer of Tennessee if there had been a one-vote difference! Indeed, Jesse, Willie and Sundance would have been envious!

We have much to be thankful for.

— William R. Bruce, St. Marys, Ga.