The calls from reporters and pundits just kept rolling in on election day and later that night after the polls closed. Someone asked what Park Overall had learned during her bid for the Democratic nomination for a US Senate seat. She answered in her trademark Southern deadpan, “I learned that politics is a lot crazier than Hollywood. It’s a lot more ruthless, I think.” Tennessee voters not only helped incumbent Bob Corker roll easily into the Republican nomination, but they managed to get an unknown, self-described “Proud Patriot” named Mark Clayton on the ballot for November as the Democratic nominee, (although the Tennessee Democratic Party has publicly disavowed him) keeping Overall off the general election ballot.
Overall’s brand of patriotism is one of relentless watchdog for the Tennessee people and the places they call home. The whole story about her run for office at the nod of some Democratic party leadership can’t be seen in the overall vote totals. You have to break down the votesto see that Overall carried Unicoi County, where Nuclear Fuel Services quietly received a 25 year extension of its operating license, announced publicly August 2nd by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. You have to look at how Overall won the Democrat vote in much of East Tennessee that lives downstream of the Nolichucky River. Overall won the Democratic vote by a landslide in Knox County, where she had the endorsement of the Knoxville News Sentinel. She even won her party’s vote respectably in her home Greene County, where she joked that she must have been about the third lonely Democrat to vote yesterday.
The actress and environmental activist, who owns farmland along the Nolichucky River, has been an outspoken supporter of citizens who filed a class action lawsuit last year in US District Court in Greeneville, alleging years of pollution and airing health concerns. NFS, which produces fuel for the US Navy’s nuclear fleet, has maintained its safety record, with the extension reflecting a stamp of approval from the federal government about environmental safety.
“The people vote against their own self-interests,” lamented Overall. She grew up in Greeneville and decided to settle there after New York and Hollywood lured her away in earlier years. In the 90s, she added her voice to many others to stop Champion from polluting Tennessee’s Pigeon River. Overall has a reputation for speaking up when some of her neighbors won’t, frustrated with what she sees as a government that’s not working for ordinary people and concerned about poverty, health and environmental struggles in her own backyard.
Raised by parents to be politically active, Overall is unapologetically a “yellow-dog Democrat,” and she feels a deep urge to seek the truth in matters that affect her Tennessee neighbors. Waiting for results at the local election office, Greene County Democratic Chair Barbara Britton said, “She tells it like it is, which is what I like…I like some of her ideas, we just have a lot of work to do.” The markedly reserved Britton said she and Overall both attended Greeneville High School just a few years apart. Overall candidly shared that she thinks most Democrats suffer from an identity crisis, “I don’t think Democrats know what they are anymore.”
While realistic about the insurmountable odds against a Republican incumbent, many Tennessee Democrats had pinned their hopes on Overall at least bringing attention to issues of the day by opposing Corker in the general election. Despite yesterday’s disappointment at the polls, support for Overall still runs deep, largely because of her willingness to question officials like the NRC in the matter of why so many of her East Tennessee neighbors have suffered from cancer. “I’m just a wildcard that upsets the hell out of ‘em.”