Tuesday, November 28, 2000

JOHN JAY'S STOP-BUSH PLOY

This is one gadfly who remembers how to sting.

Posted By on Tue, Nov 28, 2000 at 4:00 AM

Erstwhile gubernatorial canddidate John Jay Hooker went into U. S. District Court in Nashville over the weekend and threw a temporary monkey wrench into the machinery that was to declare that Gov. George W. Bush carried Tennessee in the November presidential election. A long-shot appeal could possibly place that wrench back in the machinery later.

About sunset Friday, after the courts had closed for the week, gadfly Democrat Hooker filed a suit in the overnight depository challenging the constitutionality of the presidential election in Tennessee. Judge Robert Echols called an emergency hearing on Hooker's suit at about sunset Monday (Nov. 27).

The judge, after a thorough hearing on the matter, said he considered this a serious suit which raises serious questions. However, Echols said he felt he must deny Hooker's motion to enjoin Tennessee Attorney General Riley Darnell from certifying Bush as the winner in Tennessee. Hooker said the judge indicated to him that he was ruling from the bench so Hooker could immediately begin his appeal to the Sixth U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

Hooker's move delayed by at least a day the certification of Tennessee's 11 electoral votes for president. Unless Hooker prevails in his suit, those 11 votes go to George W. Bush, who received 1,057,586 votes to 978,189 for Vice President Al Gore in the Nov. 7 general election.

A supporter of Gore, Hooker asserts in his suit that the U. S. Constitution gives the various state legislatures, and only the state legislatures, the right to appoint presidential electors. Alleging that any certification of popularly-elected electors is null and void, Hooker asserts that a legislature cannot delegate to the people its responsibility to appoint the electors.

Although Bush carried the state in the popular vote, he would likely lose if the matter were left to the Tennessee General Assembly. Democrats control both houses in the Tennessee Legislature.

Hooker is hoping that his suit will be joined to the other presidential election suits now pending before the U. S. Supreme Court. If that were to happen, the election dispute could take on an entirely new dimension.

Across the nation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Democrats and Republicans control 17 legislatures each, and 15 legislatures are split with one party controlling the house and the other the senate. Nebraska has unicameral, non-partisan legislature.

The U. S. Constitution, in Article II, Section 1, reads: "Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of senators and representatives to which the State may be entitled in Congress. . ." Hooker argues in his suit that since the early 1800s the state legislatures, in violation of the Constitution, took it upon themselves to delegate this appointment to the people.

Hooker asserts in his suit that the Legislatures did this "in direct violation of the plain language of the Federal Constitution, above cited, which circumstance has been ignored by both the State and Federal Courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States for all these years."

In recent years, Hooker has filed and lost a number of federal and state lawsuits attacking campaign financing and the retention election of judges on the Tennessee Supreme Court. Hooker has twice won the Democratic nomination for governor in Tennessee and lost each time in the general election. This past August in the Democratic primary for U. S. Senate, Hooker lost a close election to college professor Jeff Clark, who in turn lost in the general election to incumbent U. S. Senator Bill Frist.

Monday, November 20, 2000

Memphians Involved in Florida Votecount

Both Dems and Republicans catch some sunshine as

Posted By on Mon, Nov 20, 2000 at 4:00 AM

A little known aspect of the post-election votecount battle in Florida has been the presence of Tennesseans on the front lines there.

Some of those people we see on those cable-TV long shots checking the votes or observing the process may, in fact, be home-staters, even home-towners. Both parties have seen cadres into the Sunshine State.

Among the interlopers was Memphis Democratic activist Calvin Anderson. A day or two after election day, Anderson received a call from Johnny Hays, the Gore-Lieberman finance chairman and a longtime Tennessee acquaintance of Anderson's who wanted the Memphian to round up some other Tennesseans to go to Florida to participate in the continuing post-election campaign down there.

Continue reading »

Monday, November 13, 2000

And Now For Something Completely Different

And Now For Something Completely Different

Posted By on Mon, Nov 13, 2000 at 4:00 AM

"Broward County officials said 6,686 ballots were not counted because the computer did not recognize any selection in the presidential race. In some cases, Democratic Party officials said, voters may have selected a candidate without dislodging a tiny paper rectangle called a chad, which can block holes and make the choice unreadable by tabulation machines that flash a light through ballot holes." --- from MSNBC, 11/11/00 In case you haven't noticed, this is starting to get real ugly. As Sunday dawned over the hand-counters in two Florida counties -- and brought with it tales of bickering within election commissions, new evidence of uncounted and/or miscounted ballots in additional counties, and evidence of significant errors within the individual precincts being hand-counted -- the not-so-pretty picture before us for this second "Election Day Week 2000" is coming into focus. As more than one commentator has observed, we are indeed on the verge of a complete system meltdown in Florida, and on the verge of a national political crisis whose magnitude should be a source of grave concern for us all. As we drift now, there is no good outcome in sight. If the Bush partisans have their way -- as a result of their remarkable declaration-of-war decision Saturday to petition for a court injunction to stop all manual recounting -- the Texas governor will take this nation's highest office under the most impossible of circumstances, having stifled vote recounts in the state where his brother is governor, after finishing second in the national popular vote. If, on the other hand, the Gore forces prevail in Florida -- when all the counting and recounting is completed -- the Republicans seem prepared to put forward another series of legal challenges to the vote totals in other states, and to render a Gore Administration as illegitimate as the one they might claim as their own. Although this may come as a shock to both camps, there are people in this country -- at this stage, perhaps even a majority -- who care less about who wins the Presidency than they do about how we can, as a nation, get out of this mess with a few shreds of national dignity and some sense of justice having been served. For that group, of which I'm happy to claim full membership, the sensible path forward is becoming increasingly clear. We need to have another national election. Now. Try to put the dead-heat in Florida in perspective. Just how close is the current 300-vote "margin" between the candidates? Well, fill up the Pyramid for next Friday night's opening U of M basketball game against Temple. Then poll each and every attendee as to their presidential preference, and tally up the ballots. If the +19,000-seat Pyramid were a microcosm of Florida, George Bush would be the victor by a slim margin. How slim? One vote. At this stage there is one full-house-at-the-Pyramid's basketball fan's vote in the difference. Just think about that for a minute. As you do, surely you will come to understand just how absurd it is to "force-feed" an election result in Florida upon the American people. Folks, much as the Founding Fathers would be disappointed, there is no result in Florida; it is a statistical dead heat. For the Texas governor to claim victory is preposterous; for the Vice-President's partisans to hold out for "victory" is equally silly. Florida is now and forever shall be a draw, a split down the middle where the margin of error inherent in any system of counting will always exceed the actual margin between the candidates. The sooner we all recognize that fact, the better off we'll all be -- and the quicker we'll be able to move on to finding a real solution of our political dilemma. Here's what we should do. I do admit, my proposal calls for considerable amounts of statesmanship from both Republicans and Democrats, who are having a nearly impossible time right now being civil, let alone civic. That's why I'd call upon former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford to be the co-chairmen of an ad hoc Committee for Political Responsibility that would be charged with implementing the following: * In light of the fact that it is now statistically impossible to declare a winner in the Sunshine State, both parties would agree to a "draw" in Florida, with the state's 25 electors split accordingly. (Yes, I know 25 doesn't divide by two, but bear with me on this; as you'll see, the identity of these electors is largely irrelevant.) * When the Electoral College meets to vote officially for president on December 18th, Presidents Carter and Ford meet with them, along with representatives of both parties, who instruct their respective slates of electors to vote for a postponement of that vote until Tuesday January 2nd. Unprecedented? Sure, but after last week, what else is new? * On Tuesday, December 19th, an election run-off between Governor Bush and Vice-President Gore is held, nationwide, using (one would hope we've learned something from this counting debacle) standardized ballot procedures that are uniform throughout the fifty states. Sorry, Ralph; this is a simple two-candidate ballot. Call it a run-off, if you will. Call it a frog. Just get it done. * The winner of each state's votes in this run-off election gets the votes of the Electoral College representatives of that state, regardless of those electors' political affiliation, a procedure that has previously been agreed upon by both parties, and confirmed by Presidents Carter and Ford. * When the Electoral College reconvenes on January 2nd, it selects the next president of the United States, in accordance with the state-by-state popular vote. Sure, our new president has to hustle, picking a cabinet, etc., before his January 20th inauguration. But after all he will have been through by then, that process should be a piece of cake. Strange? Certainly. Unprecedented? Of course. Legal? Maybe just barely, but I think so. And, of course, as I've said, the whole scheme presumes a level of concern for the overriding national interest that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have been terribly good about manifesting the past few days. Presidents Carter and Ford will have to do some real arm-twisting. This may be our best and only chance to come out of this mess in one piece. Any other outcome risks dividing the country in a way not seen in modern times. Moreover, the formation of a Carter/Ford Committee for Political Responsibility has the advantage of being apolitical at a time when the political atmosphere is so badly poisoned that nothing productive can come from letting things proceed according to existing law. Besides having the advantage of being fair to both sides, this proposal also recognizes (to paraphrase Winston Churchill) that the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in demand extraordinary solutions. To simply throw up our hands and let "nature" take its course is irrational, irresponsible, and quite possibly a critical first step towards the destruction of our democracy. [Kenneth Neill is the founder and publisher/CEO of The Memphis Flyer.] (You can write Kenneth Neill at MEMFLYKEN2@aol.com)

Thursday, November 9, 2000

A Millennial Tremor

The closest presidential election in American history creates some real shock waves.

Posted By on Thu, Nov 9, 2000 at 4:00 AM

NASHVILLE - “Mahzel!” Meaning it’s in the hands of the fates. “Or, as we say, God,” added Rabbi Israel Deren of Stamford, Connecticut, slumping on a couch in the lobby of the downtown Sheraton Hotel in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, as uncertain as any of the rest of us about what had happened in the 2000 presidential race-- which, not so coincidentally, was undeniably on the cusp of a new, and to judge by the evidence at hand , extraordinary millennium.

Rabbi Deren was in town as a friend and spiritual counselor to the family of Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, whom he expected to be spending time with later that morning. What would he say? Among other things, he would almost certainly include that once and future staple “Mahzel tov!” The Hebrew word “tov” means “good,” more or less, and the two words together are often interpreted as expressing a sentiment rather common and ordinary: “Good luck.” In reality, they signify more than that-- something like: May the Almighty lead you safely through this wilderness of doubt and uncertainty. In the case at hand, anyhow.

For wilderness it was, although the uncertainty hadn’t been apparent right away. Another Lieberman friend, Memphis’ Pace Cooper, the Connecticut senator’s cousin-in-law, was at the Vanderbilt Loew’s Plaza Hotel early Tuesday evening, attending a party for his illustrious near-relation when all the networks, hardly minutes after the East Coast precincts had closed down, declared on the basis of their projections that Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore and Lieberman were the winners of Florida’s 25 electoral votes. And, as Florida went (all the pundits had been telling us for weeks) so would go the election. (Right. Cometh the storyteller’s clichŽ: ÔLittle did they know. . . .’)

The war whoops had gone up right away. And Lieberman, his now-famous toothy grin (a warmer version of Jimmy Carter‘s) extended all the way out, shouted, “Give us Florida and we’ll take care of the rest of it!” In short order the networks gave Gore and Lieberman Michigan, Illinois . . .then Pennsylvania.

It looked like a Democratic rout. That was then. Now is now, with time and space warps, deconstructions, and various other post-modernist phenomena having come in between.

Not only do we not know who the next president of the United States is, we have no idea for certain of when we will know the identity of that worthy. For all we know, since the same rain is still coming down that began falling on Nashville and much of the rest of the country at about 2 a.m.-- when the outcome had become decidedly, er, cloudy-- we are in for 40 days and 40 nights of uncertainty.

Even after 99.9 percent of the nation’s voters had spoken for the record, the gremlins in the nation’s political machinery, which had begun doing their damage even before the Western states had finished voting, had made the 2000 presidential election moot.

What happened in Florida merely symbolized what was going on in the nation at large. First, the state’s electoral votes were taken out of the Gore column (“Computer error,” we were told); then we heard about a horrendously misleading ballot that had led an indeterminate number of senior Floridians to vote for Pat Buchanan (of all people!) when they thought they were voting for Gore. Then the absentee still needed to be counted; the military vote was yet to be heard from. Etc., etc. And the final margin for Bush, which had caused him at one point to be declared the winner, was small enough Ð even if genuine Ð to fall within a recount provision mandated by the state of Florida.

So here we are, waiting for those Florida votes to be counted. A three-member panel--including Bush’s brother, Florida governor Jeb Bush and Gore state campaign chairman Bob Butterworth - will oversee a recounting that goes even as you read these words and will continue, it seems possible, for days afterward. (Bulletin: Gov. Bush has removed himself from the supervisory body.)

Not only is the presidential election in doubt. So is the venerable institution of the electoral college, sure to be called into question (early expectations that Gore might lead in the electoral college and trail in the popular vote were stood on their head; substitute the word “Bush”); and so is the nature of third-party politics in a picture irrevocably clouded by the presence on key states’ ballots of the Green Party’s Ralph Nader. One more argument against the venerable electoral college, which ensures that only the two major parties, which depend on broadly based coalitions, can predominate in a nationalelection, while the Naders of the world (or the Perots of yore) are doomed to the role of spoiler.

(Brother Ralph, whose left-of-center appeal presumably drew off potential Gore voters in several crucial states, including Florida, might be well advised to stay away from organized bodies of Democrats. A Nader sign-bearer on the rim of Nashville’s War Memorial Plaza was harassed in mid-morning, while more vehement picketers, calling for the reign of the Ten Commandments or the ruin of plutocrats, were left pretty much alone.)

Oh, there are some things that we can count on as definite-- nationally, that the victory of Hillary Clinton in New York’s Senate race ensures the continuance of the Age of Clinton (if Gore goes out of the picture, the president’s wife is sure to be a presidential candidate in 2004; that the Senate and the House are virtually balanced between the Republicans and the somewhat renascent Democrats; that a dead man (Missouri Governor and Senate candidate Mel Carnahan) can win an election in Missouri; that, regardless of the final vote tally, there ain’t gonna be no $1.3 trillion tax cut nor any extensive revamping of Social Security or Medicare.

Locally and statewide, some sure things occurred as predicted,: the easy victory of U.S Senator Bill Frist over Democratic challenger Jeff Clark; the return to office of all the state’s incumbent Members of Congress; the easy win of state Senator Jim Kyle (District 28, Frayser-Raleigh) over perennial candidate Rod DeBerry; the equally expected triumph of the GOP’s Paul Stanley over Democrat Shea Flinn in the heavily Republican state House District 96 (East Memphis, Germantown, Cordova).

Somewhat surprising results: the utter wipeout of the state Republican Party’s heavily financed assault on eight incumbent Democratic Senate seats ( besides Kyle’s victory, there was Lt. Gov. John Wilder‘s romp over Savannah Mayor Bob Shutt); the defeat of two-term Memphis School Board incumbent Bill Todd by hard-working Wanda Halbert , one of a five-member field of challengers in the At-Large race; the rejection of incumbent Edward Vaughan in a district board race (the simultaneous turning-out of Frayser/Raleigh’s controversial Jim Brown was expected); the strong (33 percent) showing by doughty Democrat Flinn in a district that is Republican to the core.

One local race actually paralleled the national results: the defeat of Democratic nominee John Freeman by Republican Tom Leatherwood in the race for county register. Just as their national counterparts were-- but to a more substantial degree-- local Democrats were divided; a sizeable faction went to independent Otis Jackson, enough so that Leatherwood was able to squeeze through to victory. The background of that factionalism was two-fold; anti-Ford Democrats resented the nominee’s ties to the long dominant party clan, while partisans of former University of Memphis basketball coach Larry Finch remained unplacated after their man’s defeat by Freeman in a local party conclave (Jackson was, perhaps not coincidentally, a former U of M cage star.)

Another certainty confirmed by this election: As a political bloc, Tennessee now seems irrevocably anchored to the Republican cause. The state-- which already possesses a Republican governor, two GOP senators, and a majority of the Tennessee congressional delegation - went for Bush in this election by almost 80,000 votes. Surely a feather in the cap of 7th District congressonal wannabe David Kustoff, the Memphis lawyer who ran the Texas governor’s statewide campaign. And a potential obstacle to the ambitions of state Democratic chairman Doug Horne, who wants to run for governor in 2002 but confided to a friend during the evening that the loss of Tennessee to the Bush column might “reflect” on him.

A West Tennessee mayor who was rubbernecking in Nashville had commented bitterly during the period between Bush’s apparent victory and the invoking of Florida’s recount provision that Gore had brought the statewide debacle on himself by failing to maintain contact with state party cadres. Maybe so, maybe no. (If anything is clear about the vice president and Democratic standard-bearer, it is that he has, and no doubt will forever have, a deficit in what is often called “people skills.”) But Gore probably should not be blamed for a result which is so clearly part of a long-term statewide tendency. Even the legislature of Tennessee, still under the nominal control of the Democrats but stiff-neckedly resistent to the current Republican governor’s call for tax reform , is conservative enough to pass for Republican by the standards of almost any other state.

Another sign of the gap between the parochial concerns of Tennessee Democrats and those of their partymates elsewhere: Troy Colbert, director of the Democrats’ state Senate campaign committee, was asked for his reaction in the interval when Bush appeared a sure winner nationally. “We didn’t lose a single Senate seat. I feel great!”he answered.

In Shelby County, where Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and former U.S. Representative Harold Ford Sr. made a point of suspending their legendary rivalry to work in apparently unfeigned harmony on behalf of the national ticket, Gore-Lieberman prevailed by some 50,000 votes over the Republican ticket of Bush and Dick Cheney. That was the same margin that carried Shelby for Bill Clinton and Gore in 1996 and a a majority identical to that which won Tennessee that year for the Democratic ticket. (Clearly, the Middle Tennessee bailiwick of the state Democratic Party-- last bastion of the old post-Civil War “Solid South”-- is not what it once was.)

The Shelby County Democrats’ concerted activity was successful and sustained enough to have accounted at last partly for the School Board victory of Halbert, technically an independent but one who campaigned side-by-side with the party’s nominees. And it would have doomed Leatherwood countywide had not the aforementioned schism between Democratic voters undermined Freeman’schances.

As Democrats look ahead to their next major contests with Republicans, in 2002, they are likely to do so with some measure of true optimism.

On Wednesday afternoon, Gore-- understandably fatigued-looking but clearly composed and even hopeful - appeared before the media hordes lingering in Nashville to make a brief statement. After thanking the 50 million Americans who had voted for himself and running mate Lieberman and congratulating Americans for turning out in such significant numbers to vote, the vice president said, “We now need to resolve this election in a way . . . .consistent with our Constitution and our laws.”. The recount and other issues “must be resolved expeditiously” but, he noted pointedly, with all due deliberation and “without any rush to judgment,”

With obvious satisfaction, the vice president noted that he had prevailed in the popular vote but called for Americans to respect the electoral-college results as the key to who would be the next president.

As it happened, any number of schemes were being floated calling for the abolition of the electoral college or the tampering with it or the renunciation of its verdict by Bush, who remained the putative ultimate winner.

It would take a while for Americans, deprived of sleep and an immediate resolution, to decide how they felt about the arcane system by which they had chosen a president-- or, more properly speaking, had so far failed to choose one But for all the problems with the nation’s political system which were highlighted by this freak millennial election, all one had to do was look around at the teeming tribes of foreign journalists gathered in Nashville to see traces of admiration in their faces for so fair and uncompromising a process-- still the envy of the world.

Meanwhile, the recount.

Meanwhile, mahzel tov.

How It Looked in Austin

'Too close to call' was too close for comfort.

Posted By on Thu, Nov 9, 2000 at 4:00 AM

AUSTIN - I'm out of the closet. I can't report objectively anymore. I was a Gore girl, albeit by default, and even here, in the middle of this state fair-like brouhaha in the Texas capitol, I have yet to catch Bush fever. More and more votes are pouring in for the Texas governor. States are falling all over the electoral map. The television pundits are declaring George W. Bush a winner.

Eardrum rattling techno music angrily competes for my ear drums with aspirited mariachi band. I am sitting on a curb, my butt half on a pile of cables that allows reporters to file their stories and, according to Southwestern Bell flacks, could “wrap around the state capital building 200 times!”

Well, of course they could. It costs $270 to plug in my laptop to file this story, not including the $12-a-minute phone line connection. Take your connection and shove it, Telephone Man. It1s cold and rainy and grey. Bring on the blues, Jimmy Vaughn. Play on, sir, no matter how much you're banking for this gig. I'm tired of writing down how much it costs to get a coffee inside the event tent ($4.50).

Images form on a Bush/Cheney jumbotron screen directly in front of me. There are probably more than a thousand people turned toward the screen. They are packed shoulder to shoulder, in poof-balled winter hats and scarves, pawing steaming cups of whatever will keep their faces from freezing in the unusually frigid night. Ah, the communal American experience -- watching on big television what is being televised on smaller televisions. The theme to Rocky is loud enough to vibrate teeth. It's background

soundtrack for the governor of Texas on videotape, kissing babies from New York state to the Golden Gate. He's reading-- oops, showing pictures—to school kids in North Dakota, shaking hands with an elderly man in a diner, talking to undecided Floridians, pecking at corn on the cob in Iowa. And then, the weirdness.

“That's one small step for Bush, one gi-unt leap for Ameracuns!” booms the voiceover. The sound of a space rocket firing up thunders from the Jumbotron’s speakers. “This is Cap’n Bush. Git ridda fur the ride of yur lahf! We will be pros-pers and go forth with ger-rate expectations! We have ger-rate expectations!”

The crowd cheers, taking in this gimmicky SNL-like skit. Following the Starship muzac was a zippadee-doodah Texas cheerleading techno version of “Who Let the Dogs Out?” People snapped pictures of the Jumbotron. Others laughed and gnawed on their sausage-on-a-stick or funnel cakes. Two elderly women wearing matching nylon jogging suits, Reebok tennis shoes, and glittering "Bush 2000" glasses, embraced and then took pictures of each other taking pictures. A supernova flash of light erupted near the high bleachers reserved for broadcast journalists. A Texas A & M student who had volunteered, along with hundreds of his buddies, to work security bragged to me that they had assembled the pyramid-like structure. I hoped they hadn't modeled it after the college's infamous log bonfire.

A note about security numbers:

Number of checkpoints around the state capitol, according to Austin police: 73 .

Number of times I had to turn on my laptop at checkpoints to perform an “electronics monitor” 7

Patdowns: 2

Times asked to show picture ID, media credentials, plus other form of ID: 4

Number of minutes it took me to convince a security guard that my bottle opener keychain is not a Ninja weapon: 2 minutes

Number of jokes it’s smart to tell about having a bomb: zero

Body cavity searches: None, but it might have been too cold for that.

The security hold-ups and Russian bread-line waits did not slow down the Bush supporters. They had one objective -- to get close to the capitol building, swathed for some unknown reason in a heinous green light, where Bush was scheduled to make a speech sometime, well, tonight.

Most of the reporters-- and there seemed to be at least two for every citizen-- appeared stoned from fatigue, particularly one I spoke to who hadn't been home in a year. She'd been traveling with Gore and was telling me in a crazy, quadruple-espresso tone that playing checkers with the Veep was the highlight of her journey. You laugh, but it would inspire any young journalist, wouldn't it? I was reminded of the night before, which I had spent with several prominent national pundits, getting sloggered and pulling the rip-cords on our mouths.

I mentioned to them that I was staying with a student at University of Texas and that she was considering not voting at all, that she was disgusted with the two party candidates padding their pockets with corporate bribes. To her, the defining slivers of distinction were entrenched in social issues, particularly the conventional wisdom that a Gore ticket would better safeguard legalized abortion, affirmative action, and the environment. Those who did vote this election -- as Gore and Bush apparently have given us a cliffhanger for the ages -- might feel for the first time Wednesday morning that their vote did indeed count.

Earlier, boos had erupted from the crowd -- which ballooned to nearly 25,000-- when the networks prematurely announced that Gore had captured Florida. But the networks back off of that call and it becomes apparent as the night wears on that the final results are anything but final. Florida remains "too close to call" into the wee hours, and into the next day. Irony of ironies, the Sunshine State becomes the focus of the nation, a prom date tease for Dubya from his brother Jeb. Could one governor/brother deliver for another? On this night the answer never came.

Seer-in-Chief

Gore's 'bleak, rainy day' comes through in spades.

Posted By on Thu, Nov 9, 2000 at 4:00 AM

NASHVILLE -- Al Gore must hate being right.

Surely the vice president did not realize that he was predicting the future when, on his last visit to Nashville prior to election night, he joked that should George W. Bush win the presidency Americans would awaken to a bleak, rainy day.

The early hours of November 8th , in both Nashville and Austin, were just that.

For the first time since the campaign’s start, both Democrats and Republicans found themselves in the same boat - tired, cold, wet, huddling together and anxiously clinging to Bernard Shaw’s every word on CNN, cheering and groaning, hoping against hope that the night would just end.

Perhaps it was a sign that at around midnight the election, which had seemed to favor the vice president earlier in the evening, began to take a turn for the worst. Rain polluted the skies that had been so clear and brought with it a cold front that starkly contrasted with the early evening’s perfect, warm, weather. If supporters had looked with keen and critical eyes, perhaps they would have seen that Gore’s prophecy was beginning to come true - or at the very least, that the vice president’s luck was washing away.

Shortly after 1:00 a.m. central time the announcement came that Bush had won Florida and thus the election. Dejected and despondent, the crowd began to clear. People by the hundreds filtered to the parking lots and hotels surrounding Nashville’s Legislative Plaza. But the die-hard democrats remained, cuddling under umbrellas and tucking their cold arms inside short sleeved shirts, waiting to hear Gore’s concession speech and refusing to acknowledge aloud that America would have it’s second George Bush in the Oval Office.

These same democrats that hours earlier had crowded not only on Legislative Plaza but in the neighboring bars and at private parties, all cheering the announcement of each democrat-won electoral vote with a vigor typically reserved for the Super Bowl, now trudged through downtown Nashville, dreading the moment that reality would set in.

Perhaps the signs had been there all along. Perhaps the democratic faithful had been warned by some of the other things that went wrong. Regardless, as the evening progressed, Gore’s luck began to dwindle and bit by bit everyone’s spirits began to fall, eventually drowning and dropping into the bog of let downs and false hopes, the political and emotional roller coaster, that characterized Election Night 2000.

Collectively, the signs were there. Too many things were going wrong. From the obvious disappointments to the random annoyances, tides were turning against the Gore camp. All present knew things were bad when Florida was first being chalked up as a Gore win only to later be snatched back. But there were other, seemingly insignificant problems, too. The brand new walkie-talkie system purchased by the Metro Nashville Police Department with this event in mind malfunctioned and all of the extra officers brought in from across the city had to work in silence.

Many supporters left the plaza because the public address system was not loud enough nor the giant television screens visible enough for all present to stay abreast of the returns. The 2,000 members of the media on hand, arrived from all over the globe, grew angry when they learned that press would be quarantined to a pen off to the far right of the stage with an obscured view of the evenings festivities and absolutely prohibited from entering the main public area. (This created an interesting dilemma: assigned to gather the "human element" of the event but restricted from access to the citizens present, many reporters took to interviewing each other in the lobby bar of the Sheraton Hotel across the street from the plaza.

The opinions of journalists from Tennessee organizations were held in especially high regard by members of the European and Japanese press.)

However, at 2:30 a.m. the remaining Democrats caught a glimmer of the silver lining on the storm cloud that had parked itself over the War Memorial Building. As everyone awaited Gore’s concession speech, news of his first call to the Texas governor had already been heralded, reports came in that the fat lady had not yet sung. Florida had been taken from Bush and placed once again in the "too close to call" column - all was not lost. People began to reappear, members of the press left their barstools and once again reclaimed space in the media risers, the hearing impaired interpreter waited on-stage, not knowing whose speech she would interpret.

The crowd erupted in chants of "recount," thrusting posters in the air and hugging each other in expressions of jubilation and hope. The evening takes on a minute-by-minute tone. At 2:45 a.m. it is reported that Gore has made a second call to Governor Bush, this time taking back his concession. Anyone officially associated with the Democratic party, either on a national or state level, is mobbed by reporters, all shoving microphones and tape recorders in the officials faces looking for comments.

At 3:00 a.m. Florida is said to be undecided and the announcement is made that regardless of the outcome there will be a vote recount in that state because the votes are so close. Everyone hangs on everyone else’s every word, afraid to move for fear of missing something. All present are soaked to the bone, shivering and physically miserably but too wound up to seek shelter from the rain and cold.

At 3:10 a.m. it is announced that one hundred percent of the Florida precincts have been reported and that Bush now leads by only 1,210 votes - an audible gasp sweeps the crowd, followed by a gaggle of murmurs, everyone is astonished. Bob Butterworth, the attorney general of Florida, makes the announcement that Florida is officially undecided. There are 5,000 votes left in, reportedly from Dade and Broward counties, it looks as if these 5,000 votes will decide our next president.

Bill Daley, the mayor of Chicago and Gore’s campaign manager takes the stage, saying with eerie resonance, "Our campaign continues." People in Nashville, seeing that Gore will not take the stage to deliver a speech on that night, leave the plaza, some going home, some crowding around television sets in hotel lobbies. Everyone is exhausted but afraid to go to sleep.

At 3:30 a.m. there is another announcement from Butterworth, this time saying, "We do not even know how close the vote is.

At 3:40 a.m.CNN posts it’s most up to date poll. In Florida Bush holds 2,902,733 votes; Gore holds 2,902,509 votes. It is reported that only 220 votes separate the two. The word "momentous," "legendary," "historical," and "unbelievable" are bandied about like ping pong balls.

In its tally of the total popular vote, CNN reports that Gore leads, taking 47,123,818 votes to Bush’s 47,063,088 votes. One can since that in bedrooms and living rooms across Nashville and elsewhere, democrats are cheering.

At 4:10 a.m. all the networks report that nothing will change until mid-morning. People began tucking themselves in, the blue glare of a television tuned to CNN fills bedrooms across the nation as we all sleep no knowing who our next president will.

Daylight on November 8th illuminates a gray, rainy, day in Nashville as Bush is still favored the winner. Gore may not have thought himself a fortuneteller, but his position as Seer in Chief seems secure.

Tuesday, November 7, 2000

A Last Weekend in Memphis

Candidate Gore implores a home-state crowd to 'breathe life' into his campaign.

Posted By on Tue, Nov 7, 2000 at 4:00 AM

Hilary J.D. MacKenzie is the Washington bureau chief of the Southam News, a news service for Canadian and British newspapers. Her mission to Memphis this past weekend was simple: make a decision about where to be on Tuesday -- election night and the final act of the 2000 presidential race.

With 11 electoral votes and the political bragging rights to Tennessee, Vice President Al Gore's home state, at stake, the winsome, thoughtful MacKenzie, a Jane Wyman lookalike, wanted to give Gore one last look.

For the last several months she had been following the presidential campaigns of both Democrat Gore and Republican George W. Bush. She had already made hotel and reservations for both Tennessee's capital city of Nashville, where Democrat Gore maintains headquarters, and Austin, Texas, where Republican rival George W. Bush has his.

MacKenzie would have some help covering election night, but she preferred to be in the city of the winner herself-- which meant that she had to make up her mind which way to go -- West or East. Gore's two weekend events in Memphis -- a Friday night rally in Court Square and a Saturday morning prayer breakfast at The Peabody would, in effect, decide the issue.

Friday night: Though some would appreciate outdoors evening rally and the dedication of the thousand or so souls who attended it in an intermittent rain, MacKenzie and others would judge it in retrospect to be a "disaster" or, at the very least, a disappointment.

Strange in a way: Any public occasion which has Al Green doing "Let's Stay Together" (an almost overtly symbolic song which rocked and, swear to God!, temporarily stopped the rain) ought not be discounted overmuch.

It was an impressive fact, too, that staying together for this occasion -- as for events over the last several weeks -- were U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr.; his father, former congressman Harold Ford Sr.; Mayor Willie Herenton; Assessor Rita Clark; Shelby County Commissioner Shep Wilbun; state House Speaker Lois DeBerry; register candidate John Freeman; and a number of other potentially disparate types.

Clark, who has proved herself one of Shelby County's most accomplished politicians, came up with one of the evening's best lines. "You pray for George Bush," she urged. "You vote for Al Gore!"

And Gore, when he came out, preceded by wife Tipper and daughter Kristin played a fair game of politiccs, too, adding the phrase ". . .like Willie Herenton" to a reprise of his convention line, "I know I won't always be the most exciting politician. . . ." and boosting the mayor's chief rival, young Ford, by intoning the date "2008!" meaningfully.

But when it was all over, almost nobody could remember much else of what Gore had said beyond his standard talking points ("prescription-drug benefits for seniors," "Social Security-plus, not Social Security-minus," unjust HMOs, the iniquity of a big tax cut for the "wealthiest one percent," etc., etc.)

And the crowd, in retrospect, was seen as being too small, rain or no rain.

As a homecoming to the place where, as Gore noted, he and Tipper had summered for a Memphis State session in the dismal watershed year of 1968, it may indeed have been more dampened than fiery.

Saturday morning: All this while, the news of opponent Bush's 1976 DUI arrest had been given a chance to play, and the next morning, as a sizeable crowd gathered in the Peabody's Memphis Ballroom for the prayer breakfast, such backers as Shelby County Democratic chairman David Cocke and former U.S. Senator and Ambassador Jim Sasser were hopefully talking up the possibility of further November surprises, more skeletons.

This was a true prayer breakfast, and as the crowd waited for Al and Tipper to appear, Rev. Bill Adkins, the host, and a series of other African-American ministers prayed for victory -- or perhaps it was for deliverance -- with intensity, proclaiming, in the words of one, that "the vice president must win here," and in the words of another, reminding the crowd (and the Lord) that Gore had been "called upon to save the Clinton ticket in 1992."

When the candidate himself came on, he begin with a false start, mistaking Aurelia Kyles, wife of Rev. Billy Kyles, for the wife of Mayor Herenton. But this mistake was indulged with good humor on all sides, and Gore was encouraged by the warmth of his reception.

Indeed, he quickly segued into one of his stump gimmicks of the last few days, whereby he said, "I’m getting warmer" and stripped himself of suit coat.

Soon, this was matched by the phrase, "I believe that we are getting warmer" and followed up with, "I believe that America has a rendezvous with redemption."

Gore sprinkled some of his usual talking points into the occasion (although "a woman's right to choose," among several others, made no appearance at this breakfast, so well attended by black fundamentalists).

But he himself was into what sounded vaguely like preaching, the real kind, and did not obscure his message by the shouting he sometimes affected to simulate a passion that might not actually have been there.

Gore didn't seem to be faking it this time when he told this group, "I am taught that good overcomes evil" and asked for its help in overcoming the last obstacles to victory in this campaign.

"I have a feeling," he said, prophesying victory. "I feel it coming."

This was a group, he said, which surely had not cared that he might of an occasion have sighed overmuch (and, to laughter, he demonstrated the breathy sound that millions of Americans had heard --and been disturbed by -- during the televised first debate with Bush. "You have known what is in my heart," he declared with confidence.

Gore exhorted the crowd to go with him into "the valley of the dry bones," where the Lord Himself breathed life into that which had been thought dead. "I need your help to breathe life into this campaign. I need to you to lift me up. And Tuesday night I'll say, 'Thank you, Memphis!'"

There was real emotion in this (as there had been when Gore preached a secular homage to the principle of the Good Samaritan at Mason Temple a year earlier), but there was a kind of pathos, too, one that the closing, arms-linked mass rendition of "We Shall Overcome" could not altogether efface.

Having lunch in the Peabody later in the morning, Hilary J.D. MacKenzie mused on the "presumptuous" pattern she had discerned of "Number Twos" in America trying to become "Number Ones," and how it didn't usually work out. Yet she had been moved by the solidarity of the prayer breakfast, (if not by the Court Square rally of Friday night), and she thought out loud about staying over another night in Memphis while she decided whether she was Nashville- or Austin-bound.

She was still undecided when she went up to her room to write an evening dispatch. When, later on, she read her account over the phone to a newly made Memphis friend, even she was surprised at how fatalistic the events she described had been made to seem.

An hour later, Hilary MacKenzie said her farewells. She had a 9 o'clock flight to Austin.

If Al Gore were to end up, as promised, saying "Thank you, Memphis," from his Nashville election headquarters on Tuesday night, she would have to catch it remotely, on television, the way the rest of the nation would.

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