Via the Boston Globe, this story is an example of the sort of thing that makes me so skeptical of Bernie Sanders' refusal to take superPAC money. He's basically saying he'll walk into a gunfight unarmed, that the support of his followers will lift him up and make him victorious. Well, I've been following the expenditures of the Kochs and the right wing machine for a long time, and all I can say is, good luck with that:
NASHVILLE — Karl Dean, a Democrat in his second term as this city’s mayor, had a few minutes to tell President Obama about his dream: building a “trackless trolley” line that would connect Nashville’s gentrifying east side with its ritzy west. He had spent years submitting applications for a $75 million grant, and he made sure the president knew about it.
Two months after that January 2014 meeting in Nashville, the dream seemed to be coming true. The White House announced that money for Dean’s project was in the president’s budget.
Unbeknownst to Dean, however, an extraordinary coalition was at work behind the scenes to take away the money before the check could be written. The local leader of a group created by the conservative Koch brothers helped write a bill that was introduced in the Tennessee Legislature by a sympathetic Republican lawmaker and that was designed to kill the project.
“I’m not used to having the state come in and try to crush us,” Dean said in an interview last month, on his last full day in office.
The tale of the trackless trolley is, on one level, a prosaic account of a fast-growing city struggling to pay for much-needed mass transit. But as the story unfolded, it became clear that there was something much deeper going on: a bare-knuckle city-versus-state fight at a time when the partisan divide between big cities — mostly run by Democrats — and state capitals, where the GOP largely holds sway, has reached a historic extreme. It showed how national politics, and secretly financed outside groups, can influence even local battles.
The way democracy is practiced is being redefined. To some, it is a breakthrough for free speech; to others, a threat to fair elections.
Indeed, Nashville had become a sort of ground zero for a series of local brawls infused by an “all politics is national” trend, as some have put it, inverting the mantra of former House speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr.
A city ordinance designed to stop discrimination against gays and lesbians was undone by the state. An effort to ban guns in Nashville’s parks was overturned by the state. A plan by the Republican governor to expand Medicaid, providing health insurance for 179,000 Tennesseans, with Nashville the greatest beneficiary, was defeated because it was linked to “Obamacare.”
Then came the battle over the 7-mile high-speed bus line, lyrically dubbed the “Amp,” that was supposed bring together the disparate sides of Music City. Instead, it tore Nashville apart.
Zeroing in on this sort of local battle has become a key to success for groups such as Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-backed organization that counts its Tennessee chapter among its most effective.
The billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch have received enormous publicity for their announcement that they plan to spend $900 million to influence the 2016 elections. But with far less fanfare, they are having a clearer impact on local matters, right down to a fight over a bus line.
“The return on investment in time is much greater at the state than the federal level,” said Andrew Ogles, head of Tennessee’s Americans for Prosperity chapter, which played a key role in the fight against the Amp and Medicaid expansion. “If you have a rogue mayor or governor, our greatest influence is to talk to our state representative and senator. They are much more accessible to us than, say, a governor.”