(NASHVILLE) -- Some of the most quoted lines from poetry are those from Yeats' "Second Coming," which go: "The best lack all conviction/ While the worst are full of passionate intensity." Forget, for the time being, "best" and "worst"; the jury is going to be out for a while as to which side is which in the great school-consolidation struggle, which showed up virtually out of nowhere last week.
Other than this distancing from a value judgment which we're going to permit ourselves, the Yeats lines work just fine if reconstructed to read: "The city board lacks all conviction/ While the county board is full of passionate intensity."
For, as Shelby County Schools board chairman David Pickler made plain Tuesday at the annual "Day on the Hill" of the Tennessee Schools Board Association (TSBA) in the state capital, once the state legislature let the consolidation cat out of the bag -- in the form of House Bill 273 -- the county board lost no time in uniting to go to war against the bill, which would limit all Tennessee counties to a single,unified school board and would, in effect, mandate school consolidation.
With impressive unanimity, the county board members put themselves on record as opposing the bill. And, Pickler maintains, stopped it in its tracks. "If Shelby County hadn't raised hell about this bill, it stood a good chance of going through. I think that chance is over with now, though," he says.
By "Shelby County," it turns out, he means the non-Memphis parts of the county; further, it turns out it means the county school board. Taking it a step further, it could mean Chairman Pickler himself, who took the lead in organizing opposition to HB 273 -- although his board colleagues were shoulder to shoulder with him from the very start.
By contrast, the city school board has waffled, big-time. President Barbara Prescott and board member Michael Hooks at first made bold to sponsor a resolution to support consolidation. Though the bill itself was not referenced, the timing of the effort certainly had the effect of underwriting the bill. In short order, city schools superintendent Johnnie B. Watson said Aye to the bill, and so did Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.
And then the city school board started to cave. Those members who favored consolidation in principle -- most probably a majority, though the lack of a formal vote made moot the issue of a head count -- began to back away from HB 273.
Prescott and Hooks withdrew their resolution, and Superintendent Watson agreed to a suggestion that the board "study" the idea of consolidation. That vote will come Monday night, and since it lacks utterly any controversy (not to mention any of the aforesaid conviction), it is sure to pass, probably without a Nay vote.
Watson tried his hardest not to, but he gave an ever-so-slight nod of the head when he was asked if a "study" of the school consolidation issue wasn't the same thing as an obituary for a legislative measure whose life or death will be decided, most probably, within a matter of days.
That's usually what a "study" amounts to when any authoritative body opts to do one, and studies of this particular issue date back some three decades (see City Reporter, page 6).
Prescott, Hooks, and other board members believed to favor city-county school consolidation tried to make clear their continued interest in the subject at a TSBA breakfast Tuesday morning at the Sheraton Hotel at Legislative Plaza. "It isn't that we don't favor consolidation. It's just that this particular bill isn't necessarily the way to go about it," Prescott said. She, Hooks, and board member Lora Jobe talked up a strategy whereby the city board would vote to surrender its charter -- thereby automatically falling under the purview of the county board.
The charter-surrender idea, of course, is a variant of one floated by Herenton back in the mid-1990s when -- somewhat intrepidly and prematurely -- he first raised the issue of consolidation. Herenton's balloon drew verbal shotgun blasts of the sort that have greeted the latest consolidation talk.
A point of interest in that vintage proposal was Herenton's insistence that he wanted to try to achieve governmental consolidation of city and county with minimal impact on the two existing school systems. Indeed, then and for years to come he would footnote any remarks he made about consolidation with the qualifier that the city and county schools should have common funding but independent governance.
The mayor's attempts to reassure suburban opponents on the score of school-system independence didn't convince opponents of consolidation, who suspected them of being a smoke screen. And Herenton's relatively easy abandonment of the qualifier last week, when he wholeheartedly endorsed the current school-consolidation measure, prompted many a chorus of "told-you-so" out in the skeptical suburbs.
Herenton's subsequent declaration that matters of race and class were involved in the opposition to HB 273 contributed to the hardening of opposition on the county board and in outer Shelby County at large.
Moreover, the TSBA itself -- composed of all state boards, large and small, city and county, east, middle, and west -- was able to adopt a formal resolution of opposition to the school consolidation bill without visible or audible opposition Tuesday.
That doesn't mean that all districts see eye-to-eye on this or any other issue, of course. Prescott and Hooks both made a point of stressing their opposition to another bill supported formally by the TSBA -- one which would allow for the proliferation of special school districts. The measure -- favored by the Shelby County board -- would amount to a resumption of the "toy town" struggle of 1997, Hooks said.
That battle stemmed from a bill, sneaked through that year's General Assembly without attracting attention, that would have allowed virtually any unincorporated suburb in Tennessee, regardless of size, to become an independent "city." After what Herenton described as a "life-and-death" struggle between urban and suburban forces, the state Supreme Court decided the issue in Memphis' and other cities' favor by declaring the bill unconstitutional.
As matters stand, the current city-county school consolidation bill has little or no chance. City board member Carl Johnson, who professes himself skeptical about the virtues of consolidation, referred to HB 273's unexpected emergence into the light of day as a "fluke." (It had come out of the House Education K-12 subcommittee with a 7-5 vote.) And Pickler noted with satisfaction that House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh of Covington, a nominal supporter of the bill, was now talking of the opportunity for "dialogue" which HB 273 presented.
"When a bill's backer starts talking like that, that tells you something about its chances. I don't think it's got a Chinaman's chance of getting out of full [House Education] committee," said Pickler. Even so, he said, "technically the bill is still alive, so we're going to keep fighting it until it's laid to rest."
Under the circumstances, that laying to rest may come sooner rather than later. To switch from Yeats to Shakespeare, the proponents of school consolidation may have let "the native hue of [their] resolution sickly o'er with the pale cast of thought ... and lose the name of action."
One of the guest speakers at Tuesday's breakfast of the Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA) in Nashville was state Senator Steve Cohen, the Midtown Memphis Democrat who had, as he told the assembled board members, just "graduated."
Cohen referred to the final passage two weeks ago of his perennial resolution to permit a statewide vote on a Tennessee lottery. When it passed the House easily (after making it through the Senate previously without a vote to spare), the bill -- like the November 2002 referendum which it authorizes -- had survived a long struggle.
"It took 17 years," Cohen observed to the TSBA members. "It felt like going all the way from kindergarten through college."
Cohen's lottery triumph is not the only success he's having these days. He may be on something of a roll. A current bill of his to ban cell-phone use by teenage drivers is given good chances of passage, as is a measure allowing bearers of gun permits to wear their weapons into places where package liquor is sold. -- JB
It is generally accepted these days that women, as a specific voting bloc, have a significant influence on political events -- often determining the outcomes of elections, as in 1992 and 1996, when their disproportionate preference for Bill Clinton over his Republican and independent rivals arguably accounted for the ex-president's victory in those years.
And in recent years women have increasingly run for -- and won -- political office. Both in the national Congress and in the Tennessee legislature, they play prominent roles, and when it came time recently for members of the Shelby County Commission to fill a vacancy in their ranks, there was such momentum to add a woman to the Commission that a relative newcomer and virtual unknown, Bridget Chisholm, was elected to the traditional African-American seat.
A number of recent and pending events underscore the growing prominence of women in local society and government.
Two women, Davidson County Sheriff Gayle Ray and state Representative Marsha Blackburn, have recently made a point of floating their candidacies for the office of governor.
And in the wake of U.S. Senator Fred Thompson's announcement last week that he would not seek the office, the prospective candidate list is sufficiently fluid that both Ray, a Nashville Democrat, and Blackburn, a Republican from suburban Brentwood, may have a real opportunity to impact the race.
Paula Casey, a longtime Memphis women's activist and a partisan of yet a third prospective female candidate for governor, expressed satisfaction at the gubernatorial ambitions of Ray and Blackburn. "I'm glad to see women's names finally being mentioned in this state for an executive position. Both have excellent credentials," Casey said. But she felt compelled to add, "However, neither major party is known for supporting women. I'll just be the most surprised person in the country if these women get support from either party's infrastructure."
(Casey's own choice is another Nashvillian, Tennessee Association of Business education director Sharon Bell, a Republican who made an unsuccessful race in 1994 against veteran Democratic state Senator Doug Henry.)
A Germantown woman prominent in Republican affairs, Cherrie Holden, has decided to publicly resign from the 32-member Board of Governors of the local chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Holden, who is also a member of the state Board of Education from Tennessee's 7th Congressional District and was a state coordinator of the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign, has for the last year been one of five officers in the local NARAS chapter, holding the position of secretary-treasurer. She is business manager for High Stacks Records, which specializes in gospel recordings but recently did a retro album featuring the music of former Stax artists.
Her resignation is not meant primarily as a statement directed at the local chapter or even at NARAS at large, Holden says. She intends it as a protest against what she sees as alarming tendencies in the popular music industry -- notably its acceptance of that nitty-gritty street variety known as rap.
Holden's letter of resignation from the Board of Governors goes as follows:
"Our chapter has grown so much in the past several years and our industry has greatly changed. Along with these changes has come a very different focus for our organization. We have moved from a representative organization to a membership organization. The recognition of our art has also changed. No longer is there honor in rewarding the music industry's finest for bringing the world music as a form of art. We find our industry now rewarding and lifting up the avocation of hate and violence through anger-filled lyrics of spoken-word obscenities known as Rap. We applaud beautiful young teenagers dressed up to allure, singing words that imply explicit knowledge well beyond their years. These are the role models that influence the youth of our nation.
"Thomas Carlyle once said, 'Music is well said to be the speech of angels; in fact, nothing among the utterances allowed to man is felt to be so divine.' I believe, as did Carlyle, the unique gifts we are given by God are to be used to offer this world refreshment from the daily struggles we face. So strongly do I believe that we have lost our focus that I feel I must resign from the organization that is lauding these things of which I wholeheartedly disagree. Once I believed that my service on this board could perhaps slow down or even reverse this disturbing trend by filling one position to hold an anti-vote. I was wrong and perhaps thought too highly of my personal ability to influence in this matter. I encouraged several of you serving now to join me in this effort. My apologies to you for leaving though I do encourage you to listen to your convictions.
"I hope that one day soon our country will understand the significance of rewarding that which is pure and wholesome and uplifting. I love you all and appreciate the opportunity to have worked with you."
Holden said she had been somewhat aggrieved when the Memphis rap group Three 6 Mafia won a Premier Player award from the local NARAS chapter. "They're angry and hate-filled," she said. "We should not glorify that stuff. I've mainly been on the board to represent the local gospel community and spotlight them. If that [rap] is what the people want, I can't approve it. I guess I'll just make room for somebody that agrees with the philosophy of the organization."
Holden said she had a telephone conversation Tuesday with local NARAS director Jon Hornyak, who called her from Los Angeles, site of this week's Grammy Awards celebration. "He understands my position," Holden said. "He said his position was one of free speech, that he didn't want to exclude any genre of music. I can understand that, too."
Several prominent local women will be honored at 6 p.m. Sunday, March 11th, at the 17th Annual Women of Achievement dinner at Marriott East on Thousand Oaks Boulevard.
Awards at the dinner, timed for Women's History Month, will be presented to the following: Dr. Janann Sherman (Vision); Anne W. Shafer (Courage); Cordell Jackson (Initiative); Lois A. Freeman (Steadfastness); Debbie Norton, Jalena Bowling, and Denny Glad (Determination); Jodie Gaines Johnson (Heroism); and the late Marion Keisker (Heritage).
In last week's column and in the Flyer editorial, the term "Lincoln's Birthday" appeared several times as a descriptor of this year's annual banquet of the Shelby County Republican Party.
The actual name of the affair, chief event on the local GOP's annual calendar, is the Lincoln Day Dinner, of course, and this columnist, who has attended many a Lincoln Day Dinner over the years, so described it. It came out the other way because of a proofreading error.
Like every other careful newsgathering organization, the Flyer has copy editors who check copy for misspellings, typos, and deviations from the paper's accepted style. In a "Politics" column of some two weeks back, a proofreader's alertness was able to substitute the right name ("RU486") for a wrong spelling of the now available (and controversial) abortion pill.
Every once in a while an intervention is not so lucky. As all local Republicans know, Lincoln Day is a formal occasion at which they celebrate "Honest Abe" as one of the founding eminences of their party, not a celebration of the Great Emancipator's birthday. In fact, some years Lincoln Day is not even held in February.
One of the rituals of the Lincoln Day Dinner is that each year two prominent local Republicans, a man and a woman, dress as Abe and Mary Lincoln. This year's "Lincolns" were former Shelby County Commissioner Ed Williams and his wife Sue.
Williams is now the official county historian and can probably tell anyone who is interested the details of each and every local Lincoln Day Dinner. In fact, he'll do it at the drop of a top hat. -- JB
Although there was no particular reason for it to be so, the word had got out in advance of last Saturday's keynote speech by U.S. Senator Fred Thompson at the Shelby County Republicans' Lincoln Day Dinner that he might 'fess up as to his plans for 2002.
A good deal of suspense has been invested in the question of how Thompson will resolve his options, which are: 1) to stay where he is and run for reelection to the Senate; 2) to cut loose from the Senate and run for governor; 3) to return to Hollywood (where he filmed 18 movies) as the successor to Motion Picture Association president Jack Valenti; 4) none of the above.
Even the last option is considered possible (though unlikely), since Thompson has always had an air of listening to those proverbial inner drums and traveling at his own pace to his own destination. He is, quite literally, not to be rushed -- as his nervous would-be handlers in the 1994 Senate race, which he started slow and finished fast, found out, and as all those who urged him in vain to run for president after 1996 also discovered.
In any case, Thompson's much-ballyhooed visit to Memphis on Saturday attracted not only the usual thousand-or-so Lincoln Day banqueteers but a largish corps of GOP politicians whose own plans for 2002 depend on his.
Among them were U.S. Representatives Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary, of Tennessee's 7th and 4th congressional districts, respectively; State Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Franklin); Memphis lawyer David Kustoff; Memphis city councilman Brent Taylor; State Rep. Larry Scroggs (R-Germantown); and Dr. Philip Langsdon, a Germantown/Memphis plastic surgeon who was Shelby County GOP chairman for two terms in the 1990s.
Until recently, Bryant and Hilleary were virtually interchangeable as potential successors to Thompson or, alternatively, as rival claimants to the governorship should Big Fred decide to stay put in the Senate. A few weeks back, however, Bryant hazarded the intriguing ploy of opting out of the governor's race, come what may, and either running for the Senate, if that race opened up, or running for re-election to the House.
The latter prospect quite naturally dismays the last several persons on the aforementioned list. Messrs. Kustoff, Taylor, Scroggs, and Langsdon all aspire to Bryant's congressional seat and would like nothing better than to see their congressman move up and out.
It was with that in mind that Bryant, one of the preliminary speakers at Saturday night's banquet, tucked his tongue in cheek and said from the dais, "When it was time for me to come up here, I looked around and saw David Kustoff and Brent Taylor and Larry Scroggs and Phil Langsdon out there, and I was almost afraid to get up and leave my seat!"
He might have added the name of Blackburn, who was there with her personal guru and adviser Raymond Baker. Blackburn was asked: Why had she come? "For America," she said. (She actually said that.) Another Middle Tennessee pol in attendance put it otherwise: "She thinks that in congressional redistricting, she'll get put in the 7th, and she's ready to go, too, if Bryant tries to go up."
Blackburn, it will be remembered, took a run at Bart Gordon's 6th District congressional seat in 1992 before doing a stint as head of the state's film commission and then running successfully for the state Senate in 1998. But he still has congressional ambitions, it seems clear.
But Blackburn and company will have to wait just a bit longer to see where their destinies lie. As he indicated Saturday, Fred Thompson is not ready to tip his hand. "I've got a few months to decide," he opined before his speech, which consisted mainly of Republican boilerplate and contained nary a hint as to his political intentions.
If Thompson does eventually decide to run for the governorship, he will almost certainly have the Republican nomination for the asking, and Rep. Hilleary will be up against it. He continues to indicate that he remains in the running for the Senate, and chief aide Jim Burnette, a former state GOP chairman, promises that a race between Hilleary and Bryant would be "one of the most polite races in history."
But there are some who have concluded -- on what evidence, it's hard to say -- that an unspoken arrangement exists between Bryant and Thompson, whereby the latter will indeed go on to run for governor, leaving the way open for Bryant to succeed him.
In that scenario, or even in a less conspiratorial one that has Thompson in a gubernatorial race, Bryant's potentially win-win ploy is invoked -- one of appearing to have deferred graciously to Hilleary for one office while relegating the other to himself.
In the event, of course, Hilleary -- who recently took some Tennesseans on a tour which included the Senate cloakroom and experimentally sat in a lounge chair there which he declared "fits my fanny" -- is prepared to contest the senatorial issue with Bryant, and it remains to be seen just how polite that turns out to be.
After all, nominal Republican Moss had defeated mainstream Republican David Lillard and was named to his post basically by a Democratic-dominated coalition (the same one that at the selfsame meeting boosted lodge brother Shep Wilbun into the vacant Juvenile Court clerkship), and Moss, along with veteran Republican Clair VanderSchaaf (who voted with the Democrats both times), was supposed to be dog meat for righteously vengeful Republicans to gnaw on at reelection time in 2002.
So builder Moss, whose ascension to the commission may have been more a developers' coup than anything expressly political, has tried to accommodate himself to his fellow Republicans.
But things have become almost surreal: There was Moss after Monday's commission meeting complaining, "I don't think we're a solid enough bloc. I don't think we're exacting enough in return for what we give up." We? Why, the Republican majority, of course!
"For example, we should have demanded a quid pro quo from the Democrats when Brigget [Chisholm] came on," Moss continued, referring to the young African-American woman, thitherto a political unknown like himself, who was elected to the commission two weeks later to replace Wilbun (Moss's seat was the one formerly held by the GOP's Mark Norris, who left for the state senate.)
In other words, Tom Moss -- who achieved office under the cloud of Democratic sponsorship -- has now become the most zealous of GOP partisans: No more deals with the Democrats unless something of solid value to the Republican coaliation comes from it!
It's really quite remarkable, this turnaround saga of Moss the hardnose.Though there are those who maintain that Chisholm is in the same developers' camp as Moss, she herself boasts State Senator John Ford and U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. as her chief supporters.
And in a key vote Monday on a Southeast Shelby County development resisted by its projected residential neighbors, she voted one way (against), Moss voted another (for), and VanderSchaaf voted yet a third way, proposing an amendment that would have split the difference.
(The project deadlocked at six-and-six and thereby died, although it can -- and probably will -- be brought up again for reconsideration.)
But the interesting fact about the vote was that none of the three supposed New Bloc members were together on the deal.
It may be easier than one would have thought for Tom Moss to take on protective coloration he'll need for next year's election season. At last Saturday's annual Shelby County Republican Lincoln Day banquet at the Adam's Mark, Moss was observed having a chummy conversation with Chris Norris, the ex-commissioner's wife and a bedrock Republican in her own right.
That was followed by an even chummier conversation with county GOP chairman Alan Crone, who was overheard to be asking the new commissioner out to lunch.
After Moss's appointment, Commissioner Michael Hooks was recommending a wait-and-see attitude to his fellow Democrats. He reminded them that they had played a large role four years ago in the appointment to the body of Morris Fair, but, said Hooks, "he voted with us once or twice, and then he turned into just another Republican."
Whether that's totally accurate or not, it describes a conversion process that Tom Moss, in his turn, may have already begun.
That was State Senator Steve Cohen on the comfortable predicament he is now in, with the state Senate having finally bought the lottery-referendum resolution he's been vending in one form or another for 16 years, and with the state House poised to give an almost certain Yes next week.
The self-same House wasted no time Thursday in setting up for action. The body suspended its rules to read the lottery resolution for the first time Thursday, putting the decisive third reading and the final vote -- when the measure needs a two-thirds majority for passage -- on the calendar for next Wednesday.
Speaker Jimmy Naifeh said, "From a preliminary count it looks like there should be sufficient votes for the lottery resolution to pass the House."
Chris Newton (R-Cleveland) said he is confident the House will have the 66 votes. "We want more than that,Ó he said. ÒWe want a resounding voice from the peopleÕs House. Then we can go on with the other issues without this lingering over everything else."
Lottery opponents, meanwhile, have all but given up the ghost. "The momentum is with them right now. I don't think there is any doubt that the votes are there," said Rep. Bobby Wood (R-Harrison).
Gov. Don Sundquist has said he will sign the lottery resolution as soon as it passed and gets to his desk. Upon the expected House approval next week and the governor's signature, there would be set in course a statewide vote on the lottery to be held at the same time as the November 2002 governor's race.
A majority of people voting in the governor's race would be required to approve the measure, which, in simplest terms, amends the constitution, removing the ban on holding lotteries. The resolution specifies that revenue from the lottery would go toward educational purposes.
The proceeds, which could run as much as $200 million annually, would go first to college scholarships for Tennessee youths to attend Tennessee schools. Any money left over would be used for school construction and early childhood learning programs.
Senate Was Big Hurdle
The big obstacle, of course, was overcome on Wednesday, when the Senate approved the referendum by the bare-minimum vote of 22-11 -- getting the requisite two-thirds needed to get the referendum on the November 2002 ballot.
Wednesday's Senate vote saw the lottery withstand some furious last-minute lobbing against it by both gambling forces based in Tunica, Mississippi, and conservative religious groups -- an indication of what to expect when the statewide vote occurs next year. But Cohen was content just now to bask in the present. "This is a victory for the people of Tennessee. I guess time is on my side," said the euphoric senator after the Senate vote.
The lottery resolution was passed by a majority vote of both houses last year, and this year needed a two-thirds vote in the Senate and House.
Ironically enough, given the number of years it has taken for the lottery resolution to get to this point, actual debate Wednesday lasted only about an hour. Opponents focused on the dangers of gambling and warned that the resolution, if approved, cou ld lead to a return of corrupt bingo games of the sort that were banned after the Rocky Top scandals a decade ago.
Sen. Douglas Henry (D-Nashville) said the lottery would be "injurious to the people." He said for the state to use lottery proceeds for education, "We would have to prostitute the state of Tennessee. We would have to drag our skirts in the dirt. . . .[W]e would have to say to children . . .'When you get old enough, you should buy a ticket. It will get you a fortune for nothing overnight.'"
And Sen. Roy Herron (D-Dresden) suggested during debate that an Attorney General's opinion lef it unclear whether the Cohen resolution would permit casinos.
Cohen and his supporters warned against fear tactics and stressed that Tennesseans were mature enough to make a decision on the measure. "I ask 21 others to join me and cast the most important vote of your life to give the people of Tennessee the right to vote to help our schools and help our children.," Cohen said before the Sernate vote.
And Sen. Ward Crutchfield (D-Chattanooga) asked, "In the final analysis, if your constituents are smart enough to elect you, why aren't they smart enough to vote for this?"
In the wake of his triumph, Cohen said that he had resisted the temptation to roll the bill until next week, as a sometimes wavering supporter, Sen. Doug Jackson (D-Dickson), had suggested. "I knew that Lincoln Davis [D-Pall Mall] would be gone on Thursday, and I didn't want to let things hang over the weekend," said Cohen, noting that he had asked that the rules be suspended to permit both a second and third reading this week.
Cohen said the 22 Yes votes were exactly the ones he expected, and so were the 11 No votes. "Really, the vote total was decided in last year's electons, and really on filing deadline. I knew that [new Shelby County Republican senator] Mark Norris would vote for it, and I knew that either [Democratic winner] Larry Trailor [Republican loser] Howard Wall in their [Murfreesboro-area] race would be for it. So it was set back then, with those two seats."
Cohen professed disappointment in the resistance to his resolution by Senator Herron. who was one of the leaders of the opposition to the bill but, Cohen said, had consistently supported a virtually identifical measure while a member of the House several years ago.
In the end, the lottery may have benefitted from the intense debate caused by Gov. Sundquist's call over the last two years for a state income tax. Opponents insisted that any new tax required a vote by the people, and they fell to looking for an alternative. Both circumstances helped the lottery proposal .
As State Senator Marsha Blackburn of Williamson County, perhaps the most arch of the Senate's arch conservatives and a bitter foe of the income tax, said in Memphis this weekend, where she attended the annual Shelby County Republican Lincoln Day dinner: "In American you let the people vote. That works for the income tax, and it works for the lottery."
Cohen could count on several such Republican votes to go with those from his Democratic base.