One of Nashville’s long-serving lawmakers is having to work harder than usual to get reelected. Sen. Thelma Harper has had only one other opponent in the Democratic primary since 1998, but this year she has drawn a competitive challenger.
Asked what she’s accomplished over the last four years in office, the 73-year-old Harper – known for never appearing in public without a hat – takes some credit for the new convention center in Nashville and a new minor league baseball stadium under construction. But she says she tries not to toot her own horn.
“I don’t go around telling people ‘I’ve done this, I’ve done this, I’ve done that,” the six-term legislator says. “When you go to public office, you should go to take care of people, and that’s what I do.”
But Harper hasn’t moved much legislation in recent years. A new ranking by the Sunlight Foundation puts her next to last for effectiveness in the 33-member body.
First-time candidate Brandon Puttbrese – who is the former spokesman of the Tennessee Democratic Party – points out that Harper also regularly votes with the Republican supermajority.
“It is painful to see,” the 32-year-old says. “It’s always more frustrating to see Democrats voting for those bad bills.”
Specifically, Puttbrese cites Harper’s vote for a new law that could jail pregnant women who are addicted to drugs, though every Democrat in the Senate voted yes on the bill.
Puttbrese has secured a few key endorsements, including backing from the Fraternal Order of Police. But the list of Harper’s supporters remains a “who’s who” of Democratic politics. Just this week, Mayor Karl Dean held a fundraiser for Harper, telling donors she has “always been there for the city.”