Wednesday, April 25, 2001

Getting Down With Naifeh

Political wannabes were teeming at the House speaker's annual Coon Supper.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2001 at 4:00 AM

COVINGTON -- Time was when the annual Coon Supper hosted by Jimmy Naifeh and other members of the current House speaker's extended family at Covington was an end-of-legislative-session affair, a time for the hundreds of pols, junkies, and hangers-on present to take stock and let it hang.

For the last couple of years, the event, held on the grounds and in the clubhouse of Covington Country Club, has come more or less mid-session, since mid-April these days is a full month or two (or maybe even three) short of adjournment.

And letting it hang anymore coincides with a sort of gallows humor appropriate to a state fiscal crisis that is still nowhere near solution.

At this year's version, last Thursday night, state Representative Tre Hargett, a Bartlett Republican and a native of Ripley, was discussing the work-groups Naifeh has divided the House membership into, in an effort to come up with some sort of a budget solution before hell freezes over this summer.

As Hargett noted, the core groups are arranged according to party membership, but there is a periodic coming together of Republican groups with their Democratic counterparts to compare notes. "You could call it a merging of the tribes, except that nobody gets voted off the island -- not until next year anyhow," deadpanned Hargett, referring to the hit TV show Survivor.

Getting Down

Governor Don Sundquist was on the grounds, of course, wearing a patterned sport coat that was atypical for the normally blue- or gray-suited gov. Even when dressed down casually in the past, the governor has managed to look preternaturally tidy, but of late both his manner and his dress seem to have loosened up, as if suggesting that he has come to that point of his life that permits a loosening up or letting go or maybe just some out-and-out que sera sera fatalism.

Potential successors to Sundquist were on the grounds, too. A Democratic pair -- U.S. Rep. Bob Clement of Nashville and former Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen -- provided an interesting contrast, to each other as well as to Sundquist.

Both Clement and Bredesen seem (even more than the incumbent) to be restrained by a tightly wound internal leash, although the former mayor seems to have progressed more rapidly than the congressman at the art of ravelling out his personality to the end of personal contact. That's impressive, in that Clement had something of a head start at the people game.

Bredesen (clad in sport coat and open collar) acknowledged that he felt able to be more laid back than once upon a time -- say, during that first governor's race seven years ago, when you could sometimes sense that his internal cables had locked up unpredictably.

"I was raised to keep a certain reserve," said Bredesen, a Midwestern-born Scandinavian like Sundquist, "but as I've served in public life, I've really gotten to enjoy dealing with people more." Okay, so that's boilerplate, but it seems to be true in his case.

An interesting thing about Bredesen is that he's preparing to run for governor, if he does ("and it's no secret that I'm thinking about it"), as a fiscal conservative.

Just as when he played Scrooge to Sundquist's first tax-reform proposals back in 1999, Bredesen is still saying that the belts, nuts, and bolts of state government need to be tightened first and that there has been enough growth in revenue to keep the state going.

"Of course, I've always said that, as far as the type of taxes we might employ are concerned, the income tax is fairer than the sales tax. But it's still an open question as to whether we might not have enough revenues to operate on without new taxes."

Clement, who walked the grounds in a casual short-sleeve shirt, seemed -- ironically and inconveniently enough -- to be in one of his more introverted moods.

In answer to a question as to whether it was still likely that he and GOP congressman Van Hilleary would be squaring off against each other next year, the still formally undeclared Clement allowed as how he guessed that might be the case, though he seemed troubled by the act of thinking about it -- more, perhaps, out of concerns about Bredesen or his own fund-raising than about the relatively distant threat of Hilleary (who, for the record, seems to be running a model campaign so far, at least organizationally).

If the Nashville congressman ever feels dominated by the shade of his famously more charismatic and oratorical late father, former Governor Frank Clement, it didn't show in the way he beamed at being reminded of his illustrious antecedent (although it could be possible that the wide smile and the professions of being "very, very proud" to be a scion of the line had more to do with a reckoning of the Clement name's residual effect on voters; for the record, some doubt that much remains).

Note to both Clement and Bredesen: A supporter of the potential gubernatorial candidacy of former Democratic chairman Doug Horne of Knoxville was on hand to point out that Horne had an event planned for Jackson on Friday morning and confided: "Don't be surprised if he runs regardless of who else might be running." The former chairman, of course, has pledged not to be a candidate if a Democratic candidate of stature (either Clement or Bredesen would qualify) chose to formally announce by next month.

The Bill and Terry Show

Other aspirants for various position showed up at the Coon Supper -- like Terry Harris , the deserving assistant district attorney from Shelby County who thought he was going to win a Criminal Court judgeship in Memphis three years ago and discovered too late that the man he was matched against, Judge Joe Brown, was evolving into a national TV star.

(The victor has since resigned from the bench but continues to perform in the highly successful syndicated show that bears his name. Ironically, Brown, who passes for a hard-nosed judge on television, was a relative pussycat in Shelby County Criminal Court, bending over backward to design innovative and quite often lenient sentences.)

Things may look up for Harris at any time; he is probably the ranking candidate for U.S. district attorney in the Western District. "That's my situation," he said when reminded (as if he needed it) that waiting for an appointment is more nerve-wracking than conducting an election campaign. In the latter situation, one has at least some theoretical control over events.

"When and if he's named, we're going to start having joint press conferences, like the old 'Ev and Gerry Show,' joked Harris' boss, District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, whose reference was to the weekly press briefings conducted in the '60s by the late U.S. Senate majority leader Everett Dirksen with then House majority leader (and later president) Gerald Ford.

Gibbons insisted, of course, that he was joking. (Actually, it's not a bad idea; if the appointment comes through, watch for "The Bill and Terry Show," and remember who told you.)

Harris has also received some mention for the vacant U.S. district judgeship still unfilled after the death of the late JeromeTurner. The leading candidate for that position was also on hand in Covington. This was former Sundquist legal adviser and CAO Hardy Mays of Memphis who also uses jests to fend off the tension of waiting. "Sometimes ... when I think about [the job], I think, 'Judge not, lest you be judged,'" Mays quipped.

Naifeh's Retort

Naifeh was still clearly nettled by the way he was characterized by the media in the Big Story which bubbled up mid-week -- his session-eve receipt of $26,000 for his "Speaker's PAC" from representatives of the cash-advance industry, the same cash-advance industry which profited from a bill (supported by Naifeh and a majority of other legislators) which got passed in March, allowing the collection of bad-check fees on top of towering interest rates.

The speaker repeated Thursday evening, as he had during a session with the Capitol Hill press that morning, that his PAC was meant to collect funds, not for himself, but for "pro-business" Democratic candidates.

And he reiterated as well that he would personally call in the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation if he thought that members were being improperly influenced by the cash-advance industry or any other.

But the speaker felt obliged as well to chastise individual members of the media who, he thought, had tried to show him up -- saying of one, the Nashville Tennessean's Sheila Wisner, "[S]he's somebody I don't even know, and she has to be pretty damn dumb to try to call me at my Covington office on Wednesday when the legislature is in session. She ought to at least know I'm in Nashville and try to find me there instead of calling me where I'm not going to be and then saying that I 'couldn't be reached.'"

(Wisner, who normally doesn't cover the legislature, had left her forwarding number at what she thought was Naifeh's Covington home; she had earlier tried, unsuccessfully, to locate the speaker in Nashville).

You can e-mail Jackson Baker at baker@memphisflyer.com.

The Return of Michael Hooks

Shelby County Commissioner Michael Hooks Sr. made his first public appearance in well over a month Monday, sitting in briefly at a regularly scheduled meeting of the commission, where he cast two votes (both seemingly in favor of an expedited pursuit of a National Basketball Association franchise) and seconded another key NBA-related motion.

It was the first appearance by Hooks at a commission meeting or anywhere else since March 21st, when the commissioner -- flanked by wife Janet Hooks, a member of the Memphis City Council, and his children, including Memphis school board member Michael Hooks Jr. -- confessed an addiction to crack cocaine.

Hooks had been arrested the week before by Memphis police who had arrived at his residence to serve a traffic warrant on Michael Hooks Jr. and found drug paraphernalia and crack cocaine residue in the senior Hooks' possession.

In the aftermath of his arrest, which resulted in a misdemeanor citation, Hooks volunteered for rehabilitation at Charter Lakeside Hospital, and word was passed by a family friend last week that he had served 28 days in rehab and had been discharged. (He may be continuing therapy on an out-patient basis.)

Hooks, who entered Monday's commission meeting midway during a discussion of a resolution from Commissioner Walter Bailey to sponsor a $31,000 poll of Shelby Countians about their attitudes toward the NBA matter, made no remarks but voted twice.

On a motion by Commissioner Linda Rendtorff to delay voting on Bailey's motion for three months, Hooks voted yes; it lost 4-6. On a motion by Commissioner Clair VanderSchaaf to delay implementation of the poll until May 21st (a strategem that, in effect, started the disclosure clock on NBA Now, the local pursuit team), Hooks voted no; the motion passed overwhelmingly.

It would seem that Hooks, who voted identically with Chairman James Ford, a fervid supporter of building a new NBA-worthy arena, thereby aligned himself with fast-track proponents of securing the NBA franchise.

Hooks later seconded a motion to postpone naming a commission liaison person to work with NBA Now. (Chairman Ford confided that he would probably appoint himself to the post at the commission's next meeting.)

During the meeting, Hooks made one call out from a telephone adjoining the commissioners' meeting area. After the meeting, he raced backstage to an area which normally is open and where commissioners, during a meeting, are served refreshments and may avail themselves of restroom facilities.

As soon as Hooks passed through the door to the backstage area, the doors were locked from within, long enough to allow him to avoid the sizeable media on hand and vacate the building via an elevator. -- J.B.

Sunday, April 22, 2001

GETTING DOWN WITH JIMMY NAIFEH

GETTING DOWN WITH JIMMY NAIFEH

Posted By on Sun, Apr 22, 2001 at 4:00 AM

COVINGTON -- Time was, when the annual Coon Supper hosted by Jimmy Naifeh and other members of the current House Speaker's extended family was an end-of-legislative-session affair, a time for the hundreds of pols, junkies and hangers-on present to take stock and let it hang.

For the last couple of years, the event, held on the grounds and in the clubhouse of Covington Country Club, has come more or less mid-session, since mid-April these days is a full month or two (or maybe even three) short of adjournment.

And letting it hang anymore coincides with a sort of gallows humor appropriate to a state fiscal crisis that is still nowhere near solution.

State Representative Tre Hargett, a Bartlett Republican and a native of Ripley, was discussing the work-groups Naifeh has divided the House membership into, in an effort to come up with some sort of a budget solution before hell freezes over this summer.

As Hargett noted, the core groups are arranged according to party membership, but there is a periodic coming-together of Republican groups with their Democratic counterparts to compare notes. "You could call it a merging of the tribes, except that nobody gets voted off the island -- not until next year anyhow," deadpanned Hargett, referring the hit TV show Survivor.

State Rep. Mike Williams (D-Franklin) also talked about the discussion groups, and how it was inevitable that at some point, however distant, a solution to the fiscal crisis -- however temporary -- was bound to coalesce out of them.

Might that mean a sunsetted sales-tax increase, set to expire in 2003, that would generate some ad hoc revenue and force the gubernatorial candidates of next year to talk turkey about their post-election intentions?

"It could," said Williams. "That was a problem with Governor Sundquist's reelection campaign of 1998. He gave no notice of what the state's fiscal problems were or of what his solutions might be. So when his proposals came, he hadn't prepared the way. If you want a mandate, you've got to speak to it ahead of time. Just winning big by itself won't do the trick."

Getting Down

Sundquist himself was on the grounds, of course, wearing a patterned sport coat that was atypical for the normally blue- or gray-suited gov. Even when dressed down casually in the past, the governor has managed to look preternaturally tidy, but of late both his manner and his dress seem to have loosened up, as if suggesting that he has come to that point of his life that permits a letting go or maybe just some out-and-out Que Sera Sera fatalism.

Potential successors to Sundquist were on the grounds, too. A Democratic pair -- U.S. Rep. Bob Clement of Nashville and former Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen -- provided an interesting contrast, to each other as well as to Sundquist.

Both Clement and Bredesen seem (even more than the incumbent) to be restrained by a tightly wound internal leash, although the former mayor seems to have progressed more rapidly than the congressman at the art of ravelling out his personality to the end of personal contact. That's impressive, in that Clement had something of a head start at the people game.

Traveling in the company of his 1994 main man Byron Trauger (a fact which, together with his appearance at the Coon Supper at all, suggests his seriousness about hazarding another go at the Governor's Mansion), Bredesen (clad in sport coat and open collar) acknowledged that he felt able to be more laid back than once upon a time -- say, during that first governor's race seven years ago, when you could sometimes sense that his internal cables had locked up unpredictably.

"I was raised to keep a certain reserve," said Bredesen, a MidWestern-born Scandinavian like Sundquist, "but as I've served in public life, I've really gotten to enjoy dealing with people more." Okay, so that's boilerplate, but it seems to be true in his case.

An interesting thing about Bredesen is that he's preparing to run for governor, if he does ("and it's no secret that I'm thinking about it"), as a fiscal conservative.

Just as when he played Scrooge to Sundquist's first tax-reform proposals back in 1999, Bredesen is still saying that the belts, nuts, and bolts of state government need to be tightened first, and that there has been enough growth in revenue to keep the state going.

"Of course, I've always said that, as far as the type of taxes we might employ are concerned, the income tax is fairer than the sales tax. But it's still an open question as to whether we might not have enough revenues to operate on without new taxes."

Clement, who walked the grounds in a casual short-sleeve shirt, seemed -- ironically and inconveniently enough -- to be in one of his more introverted moods. In answer to a question as to whether it was still likely that he and GOP congressman Van Hilleary would be squaring off against each other next year, the still formally undeclared Clement allowed as how he guessed that might be the case, though he seemed troubled by the act of thinking about it -- more, perhaps, out of concerns about Bredesen or his own fundraising than about the relatively distant threat of Hilleary (who, for the record, seems to be running a model campaign so far, at least organizationally).

If the Nashville congressman ever feels dominated by the shade of his famously more charismatic and oratorical late father, former Governor Frank Clement, it didn't show in the way he beamed and at being reminded of his illustrious antecedent (although it could be possible that the wide smile and the professions of being "very, very proud" to be a scion of the line had more to do with a reckoning of the Clement name's residual effect on voters; for the record, some doubt that much remains).

Note to both Clement and Bredesen: A supporter of the potential gubernatorial candidacy of former Democratic chairman Doug Horne of Knoxville was on hand to point out that Horne had an event planned for Jackson on Thursday morning and confided: "Don't be surprised if he runs regardless of who else might be running." The former chairman, of course, has pledged not to be a candidate if a Democratic candidate of stature (either Clement or Bredesen would qualify) chose to formally announce by next month.

'The Bill-and-Terry Show'

Other aspirants for various position showed up at the Coon Supper -- like Terry Harris, the deserving assistant District Attorney from Shelby County who thought he was going to win a Criminal Court Judgeship in Memphis three years ago and discovered too late that the man he was matched against TV star, Judge Joe Brown, who has since resigned from the bench but continues to perform in the highly successful syndicated show that bears his name. (Ironically, Brown, who passes for a hardnosed judge on television, was a relative pussycat in Shelby County Criminal Court.)

Ever since, a resigned, hurt look -- almost like a permanent picket sign saying "UNFAIR" -- seems to have settled into the facial features of Harris, who was at the Coon Supper with his boss, current District Attorney General Bill Gibbons. Things may look up for Harris at any time; he is probably the ranking candidate for U.S. District Attorney in the Western District. "That's my situation," he said when reminded (as if he needed it) that waiting for an appointment is more nerve-wracking than conducting an election campaign. In the latter situation, one has at least some theoretical control over events.

"When he's named, we're going to start having joint press conferences, like the old 'Ev and Gerry Show,' joked Gibbons. His reference was to the weekly press briefings conducted in the '60s by the late U.S. Senate Majority Leader Everett Dirksen with then House Majority Leader (and later President) Gerald Ford.

Upon reflection, Gibbons reiterated that he was joking. (Actually, he probably isn't; if the appointment comes through, watch for the Bill-and-Terry Show, and remember who told you.)

Harris has also received some mention for the vacant U.S. district judgeship still unfilled after the death of the late Jerome Turner. The leading candidate was that position was also on hand at Covington. This was former Sundquist legal adviser and CAO Hardy Mays of Memphis, who also uses jests to fend off the tension of waiting. "Sometimes. . . when I think about [the job], I think, 'Judge not, lest you be judged,'" Mays quipped.

Naifeh's Retort

Ah, judgement! It was pronounced, in quite determined form by the host, Speaker Naifeh, who was still clearly nettled by the way he was characterized by the media in the Big Story were bubbled up mid-week -- his session-eve receipt of $26,000 for his "Speaker's PAC" from representatives of the cash-advance industry, the same cash-advance industry which profited from a bill (supported by Naifeh and a majority of other legislators) which got passed in March, allowing the collection of bad-check fees on top of towering interest rates.

The Speaker repeated Thursday evening, as he had during a session with the Capitol Hill press that morning, that his PAC was meant to collect funds, not for himself, but for "pro-business" Democratic candidates.

And he reiterated as well that he would personally call in the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation if he thought that members were being improperly influenced by the cash-advance industry or any other.

But the Speaker felt obliged as well to chastise individual members of the media, two in particular who he thought had tried to show him up.

Of The Tennessean's Thursday morning coverage, Naifeh said, "That reporter . . . Sheila Wisner, she's somebody I don't even know, and she has to be pretty damn dumb to try to call me at my Covington office on Wednesday when the legislature is in sesssion. She ought to at least know I'm in Nashville and try to find me there instead of calling me where I'm not going to be and then saying that I 'couldn't be reached.'

And Naifeh had harsh words, too, for the News-Sentinel's Tom Humphrey, a manstay also of the Scripps-Howard News Service and a frequent contributor to Tennessee Politics. The Speaker acknowledged that Humphrey was a seasoned, respected reporter but complained of the way he had been approached, as Naifeh chracterized it, in the middle of his supervision of the budget work groups Wednesday.

"Now, Humphrey usually does okay by me, " Naifeh said, "but I don't know what the hell he thought he was doing tracking me down when I was on my way to the men's room. He knows how consuming those budget sessions are, and how heavy we get into it, and how important that work we're doing is, and I told him I didn't have time to talk about anything else just then, and I was just taking enough time off to go to the men's room, that I would talk to him later, and then he says that I 'declined' to answer him."

Following that up with what may have been a grin or may have been a glower, or may have been a combination of both, Naifeh added, "He'll get his payback."

Thursday, April 19, 2001

Gabrielle's Tale

Is she white? Black? Baptist? Jewish? None of the above? All of the above?

Posted By on Thu, Apr 19, 2001 at 4:00 AM

When the U.S. census of 2000 was taken stock of recently, it turned out to be considerably more than a numbers game. For the first time, people interviewed by the head-counters were allowed wide liberty in how they chose to identify themselves ethnically.

Unlike the census of 10 years earlier or of any previous time, one could slip the narrow boundaries of racial classification and claim to be a member of more than one race and, for that matter, of more than one ethnic group.

This was more than an exercise in P.C. In a time of increased intermarriage and disaffection with old hand-me-down identities, it is simply becoming less and less realistic to confine Americans to the simple categories of the past.

Take, for example, the case of Gabrielle Elise Buring. She is a pert 12-year-old who has done all her growing up so far in Memphis -- which, almost by definition (and certainly by reputation), is as racially polarized a place as you can find in North America -- or anywhere else, for that matter. Memphis is also one of the better-known capitals of the Bible Belt.

The city has its share of aspiring young thespians, of course, and though Gabrielle wants to join their ranks someday, she shares with most other citizens of Greater Memphis a preference for some of the verbal distinctions now under challenge. She shuns the unisex word "actor," for example, preferring to be known as a future "actress." Why? She shrugs. "It's more feminine. It just sounds better. It conveys the right image."

Typically Southern and conservative, she is. And an object lesson of a new way the 21st century may come to regard the question of ethnic origin.

For Gabrielle doesn't see anything especially needful in other familiar ways of categorizing people. When asked on the occasional form to designate herself by race, for instance, this child of the 21st century avoids the two main and accustomed possibilities and opts for the category "Other."

In that, she is like a growing number of other children of the middle class, restless with labels that are, both literally and symbolically, black and white. When the categories are broader or less fixed, she inclines toward the designation "racially mixed."

After all, Gabrielle has a mother who is, by the old vocabulary, "white." She has a stepfather who would still be considered by most people to be "black." As it happens, her birth father was also of African-American descent. Being a child of divorce who hasn't seen her father since the age of 2 is a more important fact to her, though, than anybody's racial identity.

She has searched her memory for any incident that might be considered racially troubling, for any slighting treatment, for any overheard insensitive remark directed at either her or her mother and stepfather (an LPN and a restaurant supervisor, respectively) and can't find one.

"It's never been a problem for me at all," she says. In Memphis, Tennessee? "Oh, I know there are supposed to be problems. I've seen it on TV and read about it in magazines and the papers. But I've never experienced any of it. I honestly can't recall a single thing."

All that comes to her mind are the advantages of having had mixed parentage. She attends Campus School, a laboratory facility attached to the Education Department of the University of Memphis. The school accepts only a limited number of applicants, and she knows that she got in because she was considered "biracial," a category -- considered a necessary component of the school's goal of diversity -- that was in short supply at Campus.

She reflects. "And another nice thing about being racially mixed is that nobody would ever possibly consider me a racist." (One must bear in mind that the term itself is one she knows only as an abstraction.)

As if having had two black fathers and a white mother weren't enough potential complication, Gabrielle also considers herself -- without ever having been to a temple or synagogue -- Jewish. She knows that her mother (the daughter of a Jewish father and a mother converted from Christianity) was Jewish and grasps the tradition that in Judaism one's maternal line is the determining factor.

But this, too, is of no great moment. She has been to her stepfather's Baptist church many times but, unlike her mother, who is on the verge of accepting Baptism (in both the upper-case and lower-case sense of the word), will keep to the Old Testament faith.

It is only, oddly enough, in matters pertaining to race that Gabrielle sees no reason for accepting brackets or categories or delimiting terminologies. "I fit in anywhere I am, basically," she says. "When I'm around blacks, I probably act 'black.' When I'm with whites, I probably do 'white' things. That's what my friends tell me, anyhow. I'd never noticed it myself."

"Plain" With Blacks, "Preppy" With Whites

How would she describe the difference between acting black and acting white? "Well, I think I act plainer around black people, and more 'preppy' around whites. I know that's true because a black friend and a white friend both told me something like that. Independently of each other." She tries to avoid thinking in stereotypes, though, pointing out that "some blacks act like whites, some whites act like blacks."

In any case, Gabrielle feels at home, as she says, in virtually any kind of company. She divides her time, on an almost 50-50 basis, between her own home and a nearby one occupied by maternal grandmother Jerry Cocke, a fifth-grade schoolteacher and a convert to Judaism who still keeps kosher and whom Gabrielle calls "Bubby."

Bubby's husband, David -- "Day-Day" to Gabrielle -- is a lawyer, an Episcopalian, and the recent past chairman of the local Democratic Party. He dotes on his step-granddaughter. It is an open secret that one reason for Gabrielle's spending as much time as she does at the Cockes' home is that it is, unlike her own, a smoke-free environment.

Again, she is not without firm preferences and strong convictions on some matters. It is just that race in the familiar black-and-white sense is not one of them.

An all-A student and member of one of the city school system's CLUE classes for the academically gifted, Gabrielle, whose life has clearly given her broad chameleon-like experience, expects to do well at her chosen career of acting.

"My teacher thinks I have a lot of potential. He thinks I could be a writer, too." The one thing she has little experience at, racial distinctiveness, is something she has to try to understand intuitively. "I sort of understand what life must have been like for my parents. Even after Civil Rights, I'm told, everything didn't work just right.They were able to be together, but they were around some people who were still ..." She looks for the right word. "... headstrong."

The only racial profiling Gabrielle countenances is one that she and her peers at school, the racially mixed and the racially unmixed alike, indulge in. "Whenever one of us is telling the others about a new friend they've met, the rest of us want to know, 'Are they black or white?' You know, just so we can form the image."

It is something of an irony, of course, that Gabrielle may typify a new kind of future American, who -- both by example and by stated preference -- makes the task of forming a defining "image" more and more difficult. And perhaps beside the point.

· More info on the developing race for Shelby County sheriff in 2002:

A candidate who promises to be a formidable competitor for Republican votes in the suburban heartland of Shelby County is longtime Bartlett alderman Mike Jewell, who is also a veteran member of the Sheriff's Department, serving currently as a field commander in the department's fugitive-transport unit. Jewell, a former vice chair of the Shelby County GOP, plans a formal announcement sometime in May.

Another rumored candidate is former Memphis police director James Ivey. (One of his successors in that job, former director Melvin Burgess, now director of security at Horseshoe Casino in Tunica, is still being talked up for a race, too.) Also still thinking about it is Memphis city council chairman E.C. Jones.

· The gubernatorial trial balloon sent up recently by state Rep. Larry Scroggs, R-Germantown, took a hit of sorts last week when U.S. Representative Van Hilleary of Tennessee's 4th District, generally considered the Republican front-runner for his party's 2002 nomination for governor, released a list showing him to own endorsements from a majority of the state's Republican legislators.

Of the 33 signatories from both chambers, four were Shelby Countians. They were state Senator Mark Norris of Collierville and state Representatives Tre Hargett, Bubba Pleasant, and Paul Stanley. Hargett and Pleasant are from Bartlett; Stanley is from Germantown.

In a release sent out by Hilleary, it is noted that Norris was elected a county commissioner in 1994, the same year Hilleary was first elected to Congress. "We were elected to public office at the same time, so we have that in common," the freshman senator is quoted. "But our friendship grew when I became a Senator and saw Van in action. He has momentum because he understands Tennessee."

Standard endorsement boilerplate, but it still translates into the fact that Norris, who has been handed several significant tasks by his party, including the office of caucus parliamentarian, had been sewed up quickly and firmly by the fast-moving Hilleary, who followed up the release of his endorsement list with a fiery speech attacking a state income tax, teachers' unions, and TennCare and with yet another release this week, claiming to have raised half a million dollars for his campaign.

Scroggs, who hopes to appeal to the same ideological base of conservatives as does Hilleary (and who broke publicly and somewhat bluntly with his early patron, Governor Don Sundquist, on the issue of the governor's tax-reform proposals), will be hard put to catch up.

Said Stanley, one of Hilleary's sign-ups: "This has got nothing to do with Larry. Van, whom I've known for a while, just asked me for a commitment way back when it first looked like he was running." ·

Memphis, Nashville Rank High in Governmental Efficiency

It is no secret that Memphis and Nashville engage in a rivalry that often reflects credit on neither city. And the question of which one is up and which one is down can be argued either way, depending on the yardstick used.

The newest measure, performed by the Reason Public Policy Institute, in conjunction with the Nashville-based Tennessee Institute for Public Policy (TIPP), shows both cities ranking high in a study of (are you sitting down?) efficient use of government services.

And, for the record, Memphis is a notch ahead of Nashville, standing fourth among the nation's 50 largest cities with the state capital coming in a step behind, at fifth.

TIPP is the think tank -- alternately considered libertarian or conservative in its sympathies -- whose heavily researched rankings of Tennessee's school systems recently made so many waves. And the Reason Institute is indisputably libertarian in its orientation.

TIPP president Michael Gilstrap hopes in the near future to arrange an appropriate ceremony in Memphis commemorating the new rankings and involving principals in the Herenton administration. · -- JB

Thursday, April 12, 2001

A Pax Herentonia

Master of the Democratic landscape, the mayor plans to field a ticket in 2002.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 12, 2001 at 4:00 AM

The cadres of the Ford political organization, once upon a time the diehard Democratic adversaries of the now-dominant Herenton-Chism camp, remain in the conciliatory mode with which they had awaited Saturday's inevitable coronation at East High School of the mayor's press secretary, Gale Jones Carson, as new chair of the Shelby County Democratic Party.

Ever since the mayor's race of 1999 in which Herenton won a third term resoundingly against city council member Joe Ford and several other opponents, these Democrats -- most of them loyal to the Ford family political organization or at least close to it -- have backed away from the sort of direct contest with the Herenton camp that they were long-used to winning.

After all, the 2000 political season, a presidential one, demanded Democratic unity -- meaning that the Fordites and the Herentonites were constrained to work in harmony, as for the most part they did. Sidney Chism, the former Teamster leader and onetime Democratic chairman who had been a chief aide to Willie Herenton since the then-challenger's first run for the mayoralty, cooperated with the get-out-the-vote efforts of former congressman Harold Ford Sr., with the result that the Gore-Lieberman national ticket carried Shelby County with a handy 40,000-vote majority.

If Democrats in the rest of the state had done as well, Al Gore would have won Tennessee and the nation's pundits would probably be pondering the prospects of some Gore-backed environmental-protection measure just now instead of wondering how much of George W. Bush's tax-cut legislation will make it through Congress.

Except for the bizarre scare whipped up by some of the mayor's cadres concerning an alleged plot by outgoing chairman David Cocke, a Ford ally, to stack the party caucuses and convention with a horde of teenage voters, there was little friction between the two camps in advance of this year's selection of a new executive committee and new chairman.

"We're tired of trying to keep Gale Jones Carson from being chairman," said one Ford cadre, a veteran of at least three prior (successful) efforts to do just that. "We don't have a candidate of our own," said another Fordite (a fact which, when communicated to City Court Clerk Thomas Long, who had hoped for the Ford camp's endorsement, meant the end of Long's candidacy).

The current star of the Ford dynasty -- U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., who has national ambitions and considerable clout with the Democratic Party brass and the media within the Washington beltway -- had long been distancing himself from the trench warfare of local politics and let it be known that he had no interest in the outcome of Saturday's convention.

As if to provide a symmetry of sorts, Mayor Herenton said at a Democratic meeting or two that he, too, would stay out of the convention picture.

Right, and Don Corleone was an above-the-battle olive-oil importer with no connection whatsoever to the nitty-gritty operations carried out by his soldiers.

The Herenton-Chism Game Plan

The fact is that there was no contest last Saturday because the outcome was certain. Last month's caucuses had elected a majority of convention delegates in some measure hand-picked by Chism and certainly responsive to his wishes.

The Fords and their supporters, rather than risking their still-formidable political clout in pointless resistance, will live to fight another day. For the time being, they have had to yield the field to the mayor's men (and women), and they're making the best of that bargain.

But make no mistake about it. Willie Herenton, about to embark on a fourth-term re-election effort which looks like the proverbial lead-pipe cinch, is not only the chief political figure of Memphis politics, he and his cadres dominate the Democratic Party as well. Consider:

(a) The delegation sent to last year's National Democratic Convention was almost exclusively composed of Herenton allies. Selected in a steamroller convention overseen by the indefatigable Chism, it included, besides the ex-party chief himself, mayoral spokesperson Carson, mayoral bodyguard Mike Graves, and a plethora of others whose only -- or primary -- political loyalty was to the mayor.

(b) In the aftermath of that process, Herenton made it clear what his next move would be -- the domination of this year's caucuses and convention and the installation of spokesperson Carson as party chair. None of this was a matter of conjecture; it was attested to by the mayor himself, in a taped interview.

(c) Then there was the fourth-term announcement, made at least a year early so as to be "pre-emptive," as Herenton put it. The mayor cited "unfinished" business -- as if anything in government or politics is ever "finished" -- and, at Herenton's formal announcement ceremony at the Adam's Mark last week, there was no shortage of talk amongst the Who's-Who types on hand about the possibility of the city's having a mayor-for-life.

(d) There remained only one area of political possibility which Herenton had not yet proved his prowess at -- the ability to elect other public officials who were bona fide members of a slate backed by -- and loyal to -- him. Citing failed former campaigns by such Herentonians as Harold Collins and Rickey Wilkins, and the third-place finish of the Herenton-backed Rufus Jones in the 1996 9th District congressional race, members of the Ford faction would often say, "Herenton has no coattails."

A Test of "Coattails" in 2002

That thesis is about to be tested, big-time, in the forthcoming 2002 election cycle.

The mayor himself will profess once again to be neutral in Democratic primary situations, as will (for the most obvious of reasons) new party chairperson Carson. Chism, who is Herenton's chief strategist and who makes, you may be sure, no political move that has not been squared with the mayor, is crystal-clear about his two major choices for 2002.

PHOTO BY JOHN LANDRIGAN
Harold Byrd
They are:

* FOR COUNTY MAYOR: Harold Byrd, the Bartlett banker and two-time Democratic congressional candidate in the Republican-dominated 7th District. Byrd and members of his extended family and work force were prominent in the now-concluded Democratic caucuses and convention, as they had been in the Gore-Lieberman campaign of 2000.

Opposing Byrd in next year's Democratic primary will be state Representative Carol Chumney, who is affiliated with neither of the party's major factions but has her own constituency of Midtown residents and Democratic women; state Senator Jim Kyle, who owns a blue-collar constituency in the Frayser-Raleigh area and has proposed a controversial referendum on public financing of a proposed new arena for a transplanted National Basketball Association team; and possibly also state Senator Steve Cohen, who made an appearance on stage at Saturday's convention, during which he indirectly tweaked longtime rival Kyle, citing his own quite different positions on such issues as the referendum and a Kyle-sponsored bill that would penalize vendors of discount gasoline.

* FOR SHERIFF: Randy Wade, currently a deputy administrator in the Sheriff's Department and an outspoken antagonist of Chief Deputy Don Wright (who will seek the Republican nomination for sheriff along with several others, including deputy administrator Bobby Simmons and possibly including current Circuit Court Clerk Jimmy Moore). Wade has no declared Democratic opposition at present, although there continues to be talk about (and from) former Memphis police director Melvin Burgess, currently chief of security at Horseshoe Casino in Tunica.

Beyond Burgess, Wade may have another major problem in former Secret Service agent Henry Hooper, who is talking up an independent candidacy. As an African American with some name recognition, Hooper could drain votes from Wade in a general election race.

Other races there will be, for this or that clerk's position, and do not be surprised if the Herenton-Chism forces field a full slate. If they do, and they are successful in a goodly portion of them, Willie Herenton will be master of the Memphis political battlefield in ways that only people with names like Crump and Ford have been before.

No matter how many times he solemnly swears he's above the battle.

* Outgoing state Republican chairman John "Chip" Saltsman, who last weekend yielded the party reins to State Rep. Beth Halteman Harwell of Nashville and is expected to take a job with the Bush administration soon, marked his leavetaking with a missive sent this week to Tennessee political reporters, which said in part:

"You are the champions of the people, waging battle against wrong. Your sword of truth conquers injustice from Mountain City to Memphis. Your pens bring peace. Your cameras bring prosperity. Your words inspire hope and admiration. I write you, Tennessean sentinels of free press and commercial appeal, to bid farewell ... I am sure you will grieve my absence... ."

* The Memphis "NBA Now" team's financial proposal, announced with much fanfare at a press conference/luncheon last week, is in trouble on almost all political fronts.

City councilman Myron Lowery insisted that the bonding obligations of city and county governments, ostensibly equal, be adjusted to ease the burden on doubly taxed Memphis residents; Pat VanderSchaaf and Brent Taylor argued, respectively, for more private money and more funding alternatives as part of the arena-construction package. Tom Marshall pointedly (and skeptically) requested of "NBA Now" spokesperson Gayle Rose a cost-accounting for retrofitting The Pyramid.

County commission members, especially those representing suburban districts, have been, by and large, non-committal.

And in Nashville, where fully half of the bonding liability for the proposed $250 million NBA-worthy arena lies, members of the Shelby County delegation have been put on notice by both the administration of Governor Don Sundquist and House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh that they have little to no chance for approval of the proposed state funding package (which is considerably in excess of that granted Nashville to construct Adelphia Coliseum for the NFL Titans) unless they toe the line for significant broad-based tax reform.

That could mean, of course, a state income tax, anathema to suburban Republican legislators. It is in the suburbs, too, that enthusiasm for the NBA and an expensive new arena is most lacking. Not a good recipe for unanimity.

You can e-mail Jackson Baker at baker@memphisflyer.com.

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