Thursday, May 31, 2001

Trial Heats

As summer beckons, so does gubernatorial fever among Democratic wannabes.

Posted By on Thu, May 31, 2001 at 4:00 AM

The 2002 Tennessee gubernatorial race is shaping up as a dead heat, according to the Mason-Dixon polling organization -- which, however, has so far only polled instances matching either of two Democratic candidates -- ex-Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen, who is already announced, and Nashville congressman Bob Clement, whose candidacy is now a moot issue -- vs. the likely Republican nominee, Rep. Van Hilleary of Tennessee's 4th District.

Clement's long-rumored announcement Tuesday afternoon that he would not be a candidate confirmed reports that the congressman had been able to recover from the announcement last month of Bredesen, who sewed up common sources of money and support.

Two other Democrats -- former state party chairman Doug Horne of Knoxville and former state senator Andy Womack of Murfreesboro -- were not included in the poll, although their candidacies seem all but certain.

A gubernatorial rundown:

The "Try-Harder" Candidate

Womack, a visitor to Memphis last week, plans to make his official announcement of candidacy for the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial nomination this week in Nashville.

The State Farm insurance agent and 12-year legislative veteran, who retired from the General Assembly just last year, can calculate the odds. He not only knows what the line is, he knows what his line is.

"I've just got to work at it a little harder," he said Friday morning at a stop at The Peabody, making only a modest variation in the vintage phrase which Avis Car Rental used in its efforts to catch up with industry leader Hertz.

In Womack's case, the presumed leaders are named Bredesen, Horne. An obvious underdog, Womack is nevertheless prepared to compete all the way to next year's primary election date against his two well-heeled opponents.

Some of Womack's backers insist their man can raise $2 million for a governor's race -- a sum that would seem both to tax the former legislator's capacity and to be only a pittance compared to what multimillionaires Bredesen and Horne can come up with.

No matter.

"I'm prepared to wear out a lot of shoe leather," Womack says. "I never have run in an election in which I wasn't outspent."

As the 55-year-old Womack discourses on such past experiences as being a platoon sergeant in Vietnam, when he not only faced enemy fire but worked closely with civilians in numerous friendly villages, it is clear he has confidence in both his leadership ability and his affinity for the grass roots.

"I'm not going to have the big lick contributors, but I'll have lots of ordinary people, and that's who I'm running for," he says. "I think Tennesseans are tired of the same old names. They want to shift gears a little bit."

Which is Womack's way of acknowledging that he isn't exactly a household name. He is well known to followers of the legislature, of course, having served for six years as chairman of the Senate Education Committee and having sponsored the 1992 Educational Improvement Act which effected the reforms called for by former Governor Ned McWherter.

Womack thinks it's time for more focused attention on education, both at the K-12 and higher-ed levels, which is one reason why he's running. He also thinks that, as someone familiar with the practices of the insurance industry, he is well equipped to pursue the overhaul which he thinks TennCare needs.

He professes concern that, in these two areas, and in that of taxation as well, state government has for too long followed a "laissez faire" logic.

"I think my experience in the legislature gives me a pretty good grounding in how to fix that," he says. Unlike many in state government, he does not shy away from the prospect of making unpopular choices. On taxes, for example, he says, "We can't afford to take anything off the table." That means looking at both the sales tax and the income tax, each of which has evoked strong opposition.

"Mainly, though, what we've got to do is establish what we're going to do in government, then determine how we're going to pay for it," says Womack, who has a good many specific proposals in mind -- involving changes in TennCare's underwriting basis, for example, or instituting "dual-institution" credit for high-schoolers taking college-level courses.

How much campaign money does the Try-Harder candidate have on hand right now?

Womack grins. "My mother told me never to tell how much money I make."

At some point in the future, when he'll have to 'fess up in the form of financial disclosure statements, we'll know, of course, and that will be some gauge of how serious Andy Womack's chances are.

There's no doubt, in the meantime, that his intentions are quite serious indeed.

Bredesen Touches All Bases

As reports first began to percolate that Clement, his presumed chief Democratic rival for the governorship, would announce his non-participation in the 2002 race, Bredesen came, saw, and conquered at a Democratic Party fund-raiser here last Tuesday night.

The fund-raiser, at the East Memphis home of former Shelby County Democratic chairman John Farris, was kept scrupulously neutral in the intra-party sense by both Farris and state Democratic chairman Bill Farmer, who also attended, but virtually everyone on hand privately professed support for Bredesen's gubernatorial bid. Included were Farris himself, Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, and former Shelby County mayor Bill Morris.

The accessions of Herenton and Morris to Bredesen's cause were especially interesting in that the Memphis mayor went through the entire 1994 gubernatorial campaign without endorsing Bredesen, then the Democratic standard-bearer, and Morris was the then Nashville mayor's chief primary opponent that year.

Not only that, it is generally believed that political activists friendly to Bredesen made sure that Morris became the subject of investigative focus that year, resulting in his brief indictment on charges of improper use of county prisoners at his campaign events.

Although Morris was able to clear himself and to resume campaigning, his campaign suffered a loss of momentum which could not be recouped. Reminded of those circumstances Tuesday night, Morris said, "I'm not thinking of the past. I'm looking to the future."

Herenton's decision to back Bredesen not only contrasted with his reluctance to support his then mayoral counterpart in 1994, it was further evidence that he finds himself increasingly able to make common cause with his erstwhile political rival, former congressman Harold Ford Sr., who, in his turn, would meet with Bredesen last week and promise to support him as he had in 1994.

(Eight years ago the then congressman found Bredesen a handy medium through which to inflict some payback on Morris, who -- Ford thought -- had, early on, frozen him out of the Clinton-Gore campaign of 1992 and had shown a reluctance to give financial aid to the legal fund which helped Ford, ultimately with success, to acquit himself of federal charges of conspiracy and bank fraud.)

The Farris fund-raiser was only the latest Bredesen visit to Memphis over the past several weeks. Much of the previous weekend had been spent here as well -- the candidate schmoozing with Herenton and other local dignitaries of the political and business worlds.

Bredesen had also touched bases, not only with former congressman Ford and his son and successor, U.S. rep. Harold Ford Jr., but with members of the family political organization. Former county party chair David Cocke, a longtime Ford ally, recalled Monday that he had received a friendly telephone call prior to Bredesen's visit here last week, asking for Cocke's support.

"He was making the same call to lots of other people, too," Cocke said. "Nobody else was that active."

Clement's Departure

In the immediate wake of the Mason-Dixon poll, which showed him edging Hilleary by 38 to 37 percent -- Rep. Clement managed a statement that sounded upbeat.

"I am encouraged by such positive numbers, in both favorability and support, particularly since my name has not been on a statewide ballot in 23 years," Clement said. "These numbers are consistent with the very positive response I have received from Tennesseans from all regions and all walks of life during the past few months."

But on Tuesday, just after noon, the Nashville congressman released a statement which said in part: "Since there appears to be no shortage of quality Democratic candidates for governor, I have decided that an expensive and divisive primary is not in the best interest of the Tennessee Democratic Party. I wish the best for all Democratic candidates for governor ... I will be returning the money I raised for the Bob Clement for Governor Committee and will continue to focus my time and energy on serving the people of the 5th Congressional District and Tennessee."

For the record, the Mason-Dixon poll had Bredesen doing marginally better than Clement against Hilleary -- winning by 40 percent to 37 percent. And the poll's match-up of the two Democrats, along with former Tennessee education commissioner and Board of Regents chairman Charles Smith, came out: Bredesen, 33 percent; Clement, 28 percent; Smith, 3 percent; and the rest undecided.

· Horne, meanwhile, made it clear that only Clement's involvement in a gubernatorial race would keep him out. With the Nashville congressman now a dropout, Horne is sure to enter himself, as he insisted last week.

That set up the prospect of an inevitable Battle of Millionaires -- an intensely fought one between Bredesen, a former health-care executive, and Horne, whose various interests run from publishing to trucking, but one kept free of rancor.

Farris noted last week that it was important for Bredesen (and presumably for Horne also) to raise significant grass-roots money for the race. "People don't want to get the idea that anyone is trying to buy the office," he said.

· Bartlett alderman Mike Jewell, who is head of the sheriff's department prisoner-transfer unit, formally declared his candidacy for the Republican nomination for sheriff last Thursday night at the Bartlett Performing Arts Center on Appling Road.

Blaming the current administration for an unclear agenda and an undesirable "image" (though declining to criticize personalities by name or to cite specifics), Jewell pledged to restore public confidence if elected. ·

Breaking Out Of the Box

As the deliberations of the Tennessee General Assembly turned into what members hope is the home stretch, each of the legislature's two chambers late last week appointed a 15-member committee. The two groups together constitute a joint conference committee and will attempt to resolve a budget impasse which, unless resolved, would threaten the state with a $1 billion deficit by next year.

Several Memphians are prominent in the effort.

State senator Jim Kyle (D-Frayser, Raleigh) was named chairman of the Senate contingent, which also includes Sen. John Ford (D-South Memphis).

The House group includes both Rep. Joe Kent (R-Southeast Memphis) and Speaker Pro Tem Lois DeBerry (D-South Central Memphis). · -- JB

Monday, May 28, 2001

THE TRY-HARDER CANDIDATE GETS READY TO ANNOUNCE

THE TRY-HARDER CANDIDATE GETS READY TO ANNOUNCE

Posted By on Mon, May 28, 2001 at 4:00 AM

Andy Womack, the former state senator from Murfreesboro, plans to make his official announcement of candidacy for the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial nomination next week in Nashville.

And Womack, a State Farm insurance agent and a 12-year legislative veteran who retired from the General Assembly just last year, can calculate the odds. He not only knows what the line is, he knows what his line is.

"I've just got to work at it a little harder," he said Friday morning at a stop at The Peabody in Memphis, making only a modest variation in the vintage phrase which Avis Car Rental used in its efforts to catch up with industry leader Hertz.

In Womack's case, the presumed leaders are named Bredesen, Horne, and Clement, although U.S. Rep. Bob Clement may, if current rumors are to be believed, be on his way out of the governor's race.

Not Womack, however. An obvious underdog, he is nevertheless prepared to compete all the way to next year's primary election date against the well-heeled likes of ex-Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen and former state Democratic chairman Doug Horne of Knoxville, who is certain to be a candidate if Clement opts out.

Some of Womack's backers insist their man can raise $2 million for a governor's race -- a sum that would seem both to tax the former legislator's capacity and to be only a pittance compared to what multi-millionaires Bredesen and Horne can come up with.

No matter.

"I'm prepared to wear out a lot of shoe leather," Womack says. "I never have run in an election in which I wasn't outspent."

As the 55-year-old Womack discourses on such past experiences as being a platoon sergeant in Vietnam, when he not only faced enemy fire but worked closely with civilians in numerous friendly villages, it is clear he has confidence in both his leadership ability and his affinity for the grass roots.

"I'm not going to have the big lick contributors, but I'll have lots of ordinary people, and that's who I'm running for," he says. "I think Tennesseans are tired of the same old names. They want to shift gears a little bit."

Which is Womack's way of acknowledging that he isn't exactly a household name. He is well known to followers of the legislature, of course, having served for six years as chairman of the Senate Education Committee and having sponsored the 1992 Educational Improvement Act which effected the reforms called for by former Governor Ned McWherter.

Womack thinks it's time for more focused attention on education, both at the K-12 and higher-ed levels, which is one reason why he's running. He also thinks that, as someone familiar with the practices of the insurance industry, he is well equipped to pursue the overhaul which he thinks TennCare needs.

He professes concern that, in these two areas, and in that of taxation as well, state government has for too long followed a "laissez faire" logic.

"I think my experience in the legislature gives me a pretty good grounding in how to fix that," he says. Unlike many in state government, he does not shy away from the prospect of making unpopular choices. On taxes, for example, he says, "We can't afford to take anything off the table." That means looking at both the sales tax and the income tax, each of which has evoked strong opposition.

"Mainly, though, what we've got to do is establish what we're going to do in government, then determine how we're going to pay for it," says Womack, who thas a good many specific specific proposals in mind Ñ involving changes in TennCare's underwriting basis, for example, or instituting "dual-institution" credit for high-schoolers taking college-level courses.

How much campaign money does the Try-Harder candidate have on hand right now?

Womack grins. "My mother told me never to tell how much money I make."

At some point in the future, when he'll have to 'fess up in the form of financial disclosure statements, we'll know, of course, and that will be some gauge of how serious Andy Womack's chances are.

There's no doubt, in the meantime, that his intentions are quite serious indeed.

Wednesday, May 23, 2001

BREDESEN SCORES IN MEMPHIS

BREDESEN SCORES IN MEMPHIS

Posted By on Wed, May 23, 2001 at 4:00 AM

Amid rampant reports that his chief Democratic rival for the governorship, U.S. Rep. Bob Clement (D-Nashville) would, sometime this week, announce his non-participation in the 2002 race, ex-Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen came, saw, and conquered at a Democratic Party fundraiser here Tuesday night.

The fundraiser, at the East Memphis home of former Shelby County Democratic chairman John Farris, was kept scrupulously neutral in the intra-party sense by both Farris and state Democratic chairman Bill Farmer, who also attended, but virtually everyone on hand privately professed support for Bredesen's gubernatorial bid.

Included were Farris himself, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, and former Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris.

The accessions of Herenton and Morris to Bredesen's cause were especially interesting in that the Memphis mayor went through the entire 1994 gubernatorial campaign without endorsing Bredesen, then the Democratic standard-bearer, and Morris was the then Nashville mayor's chief primary opponent that year.

The Farris fundraiser was only the latest Bredesen visit to Memphis over the past several weeks. Much of the weekend was spent here as well Ñ the candidate shmoozing with Herenton and other local dignitaries of the political and business worlds. He didn't touch base with members of the Ford political organization but was scheduled for a sitdown with former congressman Harold Ford Sr. this week.

Bredesen said he had not heard directly from Clement during the past week, during which there was growing word-of-mouth concerning the congressman's imminent departure from the gubernatorial race.

An equally strong rumor, reinforced at the fundraiser by friends of former state party chairman Doug Horne of Knoxville, was that Horne intended to run if Clement declined to. That set up the prospect of an inevitable Battle of Millionaires Ñ an intensely fought one between Bredesen, a former health care executive, and Horne, whose various interests run from publishing to truckng, but one kept free of rancor.

Farris said it was important for Bredesen (and presumably for Horne also) to raise significant grass-roots money for the race. "People don't want to get the idea that anyone is trying to buy the office," he said.

Unblocking the Way

Local politicians wait for Senator Thompson to decide on his re-election bid.

Posted By on Wed, May 23, 2001 at 4:00 AM

Careful observers of the whereabouts these days of 7th District U.S. representative Ed Bryant and Memphis lawyer David Kustoff will note that both men are hitting the after-dinner circuit with an unusual regularity -- unusual, that is, for political hopefuls whose paths to political promotion are presumably blocked.

That block was supposed to have occurred a few months back when U.S. senator Fred Thompson decided to resist the pleadings of his Republican brethren in Tennessee to run for governor next year -- in a race that most observers think would have been a shoo-in against whatever Democrat.

The senator's decision, like a sudden stop in traffic, caused others to slam on their brakes: Bryant, who was looking to run in the 2002 GOP primary to fill what would have been a vacant Senate seat; Kustoff, who had been prepping hard for a run at Bryant's seat, which in turn would have been up for grabs; and several others -- Memphis city councilman Brent Taylor, former Shelby County Republican chairman Phil Langsdon, and state rep. Larry Scroggs among them -- interested in the congressional seat.

So why are Bryant and Kustoff showing up, either as featured speakers or as prominent guests, at Republican dinner after Republican dinner all over Tennessee (most recently at Clarksville last weekend)?

"There's a good chance that Thompson won't run for the Senate even though he's given up on the governorship," said Kustoff matter-of-factly Friday as he stopped by the tent of Governor Don Sundquist on the riverside midway of the Memphis in May barbecue festival.

Which would mean that the Senate seat would come vacant, after all. And Kustoff, who has been raising money and making contacts relentlessly since last year's presidential campaign, when he ran the Bush effort in Tennessee, doesn't plan to be hanging around copping a snooze.

Neither does Councilman Taylor, who has raised a stout war-chest through innumerable fund-raisers and has made a point of cultivating Republican clubs (even to the point of making his own "grants" to them) all over West Tennessee.

Langsdon has also kept his hand in. The only casualty in the original field -- if you can call him that -- is Scroggs, who has not so much dropped as refocused his attention on the governor's race, where the Germantown legislator is a long-shot alternative to 4th District congressman Van Hilleary.

"Lots of Different Things "

And what is the evidence that Thompson might exit from his Senate re-election bid as he did from the governor's race? He was quoted last week in the authoritative national Web site The Hotline (www.nationaljournal.com/pubs/hotline) as saying, "I still haven't decided ... I'm still weighing lots of different things, lots of different things."

His Republican sidekick from Tennessee, Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Bill Frist, swears Thompson will run. But that could be wishful thinking. Thompson, noted The Hotline, has let his fund-raising fall off in recent months (although his last financial-disclosure report still showed more than half a million dollars on hand).

The Memphis Democrat who is as sought-after among state Democrats as Thompson is among Republicans, 9th District congressman Harold Ford Jr., has said he doesn't expect Thompson to run again and promises to "consider" a race for an open Senate seat.

Ford's near-neighbor, 8th District Democratic U.S. rep. John Tanner of Union City, a leader of the conservative congressional "blue dogs" who earlier this year opted out of a governor's race, is another possibility. Either would be considered a godsend by Tennessee Democrats, winless in a statewide political race since Al Gore won a second Senate term more than a decade ago.

There is a feeling among partisans of both major parties that 2002 could be a Democratic year, although Bryant's low-key style could serve him well against either of the two star Democrats.

· Rep. Ford continues to be regarded as a major player by the Beltway media and by other prominent national politicians. A sign of that is the planned joint town meeting of Ford and U.S. senator John McCain, set for mid-June at a Memphis venue not yet chosen at press time.

The joint appearance, which might also include U.S. rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), is designed to promote support for the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform bill, which has passed the Senate but is being held up on its way to House of Representatives consideration by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.).

Nothing if not a realist, Rep. Ford -- who two years ago thought long and hard about a challenge to Sen. Frist in 2000 -- has set aside for the moment his sometime feud with Frist over patients' rights legislation.

The senator -- whose approach to such legislation has always been viewed by the congressman as insufficiently solicitous toward patients and too protective of HMOs -- is the chief sponsor of a new patients' rights bill that has the imprimatur of President Bush.

· At least one of Ford's kinsmen is of the opinion that the congressman might consider a change of party if he wants to move ahead in politics.

Lewie Ford, a retired Los Angeles businessman and the Memphis congressman's uncle, was in town for last week's barbecue festival and discoursed on Rep. Ford's future while relaxing in the congressman's tent down on the river.

"I'm a Republican myself, and I can tell you, there'd be nothing stopping him if he decided to change over," said the California uncle, who went on to acknowledge that the prospect for that happening was fairly remote.

"I don't ever talk politics with him or with any of my brothers," shrugged Lewie Ford, who is older brother to both state senator John Ford and former congressman Harold Ford Sr. "We don't agree, and I doubt there'd ever be any changing of minds. So why bother?"

· Gov. Sundquist indicated he may try to be a factor in next year's politics, despite his lame-duck status (after two terms, he cannot succeed himself, and he has indicated he will retire from active politics after 2002) and his current unpopularity with some of his partymates over the issue of tax reform.

He made it clear that he was less than enthusiastic about the gubernatorial candidacy of U.S. rep. Van Hilleary (R-4th District), who has taken stands directly counter to the governor on such issues as TennCare (Hilleary would limit it) and tax reform (the Middle Tennessee congressman is energetic in his opposition to a state income tax of the sort Sundquist has twice proposed).

"I'm not really crazy about it," Sundquist conceded on the subject of some of the rhetoric issuing from Hilleary, and he seemed eager to heal whatever rupture might have occurred between himself and state rep. Larry Scroggs (R-Germantown), a one-time protege who had distanced himself somewhat from the governor on the tax issue.

"I could support him," said Sundquist of Scroggs, who advocates some of the same austerity measures proposed by Sundquist's chief critics but does so in a non-abrasive, thoughtful style and keeps his lines of communication open, even to key legislative Democrats.

"There are some wild ones, some really irresponsible ones, in there," said Sundquist of the legislature's archconservatives, some of whom opposed his reading plan and other education initiatives in debate last week on the grounds that they represented an intrusion into family values.

The governor's education plan passed the House, though, and will be signed into law, although, as Sundquist pointed out, "We can't effect it until we have funding for it."

Having seen various tax-reform proposals, his own and others', rejected by now, Sundquist won't hazard a guess as to whether anything substantially will get passed by the current General Assembly, but he does say, "It's got a better chance of happening now and next year, when there's a general election."

· Both Memphis in May festival weekends so far have been good occasions for next year's candidates to get in some free advertising. Sheriff's candidate Bobby Simmons had the process down to an art for the barbecue festival, gathering a large crowd of supporters down on the riverfront each morning, all of them wearing T-shirts boosting his candidacy, and sending pairs of them around the grounds at carefully timed intervals.

Arena Developments

The "NBA Now" organization, which is trying to organize support for building a new NBA-worthy arena to house the Grizzlies, currently of Vancouver, organized a pilgrimage to Nashville last Wednesday, getting some 150 people into three buses to make the trip.

Success of a sort crowned their effort, in the sense that all members of the Shelby County legislative delegation signed on to get floor consideration for enabling legislation, including a bill allowing Shelby County to levy and collect an ad hoc rental-car tax to help defray the costs of arena construction.

"Not everybody said they would support the arena," conceded NBA Now spokesperson Tim Willis, "but they all want it to come to a vote, and that's a real plus."

Supporters and opponents of the proposed new publicly funded arena say that the climate of opinion in Nashville is more favorable to the arena concept now that members of the proposed ownership group have publicly accepted the idea of adding private money to the kitty for arena construction.

· Meanwhile, the Shelby County Libertarian Party, in a press release stating that "this arena charade is a conduit for taking citizens' unfair taxes and passing them to the politically connected," will host a forum on the subject at 7 p.m. next Wednesday at Pancho's Restaurant in the Cloverleaf Shopping Center at Summer and White Station.

The billed speakers are Duncan Ragsdale, a leader of the anti-arena movement, Heidi Shafer, who is circulating petitions to hold a referendum on the matter of arena funding, and Shelby County Commissioner Tommy Hart, who is officially undecided on the arena issue but has professed skepticism about aspects of the arena proposal.

· One member of the commission who made an unexpected endorsement of the arena project was Marilyn Loeffel, whose letter of support to the Shelby County legislative delegation was read aloud by state senator Steve Cohen on his Library Channel program, "Legislative Report," this week.

Cohen, successful earlier in the session in getting his lottery-referendum proposal passed, is currently active on behalf of animal rights and electoral-reform bills. The senator, who turns 52 this Thursday, told his television audience, "I'm growing old with you." ·

Bredesen, Agriculture Secretary Drop In

At press time, two mid-week visitors were slated for Memphis, each raising political consciousness but in a different direction. Ex-Nashville mayor and current gubernatorial candidate Phil Bredesen was to be a last-minute add-on at a Democratic Party fund-raiser Tuesday at the East Memphis home of John and Amy Farris, and U.S. agriculture secretary Ann M. Veneman was scheduled to hold a “town meeting” at Agricenter International at 6 p.m. Wednesday, with a free barbecue dinner to be served up to attendees. • -- JB

Thursday, May 17, 2001

The Jury Is Out

The city council tips its hand on an NBA arena, but not the county commission.

Posted By on Thu, May 17, 2001 at 4:00 AM

Although the Memphis city council, by means of a letter to the Shelby County legislative delegation signed by all 13 of its members, more or less put itself on record last week as favoring the construction of a new local arena for the would-be itinerant Vancouver Grizzlies, some doubt remains about how the Shelby County Commission will come down on the issue.

The council members' letter seems straightforward enough, concluding, "In addition to communicating our support, we want to extend our commitment to work with you in every way to seize the tremendous opportunity standing before our community."

However, key members of the commission -- Commissioner Walter Bailey among Democrats and Commissioner Tommy Hart among Republicans being typical -- are still playing their hands close to the vest, citing concerns about the use of public money for building the arena. (Each local body is being asked to pledge roughly $12 million toward the end.)

Two speakers before the commission on Monday presented differently shaped appeals as a symbolic debate erupted over the issue of appointing six nominees by Memphis mayor Willie Herenton and Shelby County mayor Jim Rout to the Memphis and Shelby County Public Building Authority.

The six are: Willard Sparks, Luke Yancy, Carol Crawley, Henry Evans, Kevin Kane, and Kevin Roper. (A seventh nominee, Elijah Noel, withdrew his candidacy on grounds of a possible conflict of interest; he is a part-time tax attorney with the county Trustee's office.)

Rout was on hand to ask for an immediate resolution of the nominations, reassuring Commissioners Bailey, Hart, and Bridget Chisholm that the newly reconstituted body would A)be dealing in the short run only with the matter of getting The Pyramid up to snuff for potential short-term use by the Grizzlies, beginning this fall; and B) be reporting back to the commission in advance concerning any commitment of public resources.

The mayor insisted that "we can't afford to wait ... to put The Pyramid in good enough shape to serve the NBA's purposes." If the Pyramid were not fitted to the league's specifications, Rout said, "they're going back to Vancouver." (The statement drew ironic cheers from opponents of the arena, who were on hand for the meeting in some numbers.)

If the arena issue were not quickly resolved, Rout said, "My personal opinion is that it's going to be 30 or 40 years before we have another shot at this."

In the follow-up to the mayor's statements, Hart noted that the NBA had already ruled that it didn't "have enough time to decide whether to change the colors or not" on the Grizzlies' uniforms. More cheering erupted when Hart asked rhetorically why the commission was expected to act so much more promptly.

Duncan Ragsdale, who has filed a suit in Chancery Court challenging the use of public money, spoke at some length against the arena project, explaining the main premises of his suit, which alleges, among other things:

· that Article II, Section 29 of the state Constitution, prohibited the "issuing of credit" (as in a bond issue) without a vote by the residents of affected jurisdiction;

· that Section 835 of the Memphis City Charter prohibits the arena constructions on the grounds that the Grizzlies' lease "will not be a 'profitable' use in that the lease will result in a loss of revenues of the City of Memphis ... and will result in injuries and damages to Plaintiffs and the Taxpayers of the city of Memphis;"

· that Article 1, Section 212, of the Tennessee Constitution provides "that perpetuities and monopolies are contrary to the genius of a free state, and shall not be allowed," whereas the proposed stadium lease would create such a monopoly.

One member of the commission, asking not to be quoted, said he thought Ragsdale's legal case was "pretty shaky," in that, "if what he says about the Constitution is true, then we would never be able to issue bonds for any purpose, and we do it all the time."

In the end, the six proposed PBA members were approved. Three more will be named in the next few days by the mayors.

Meanwhile, Ragsdale and other opponents of the arena -- some circulating petitions for a referendum -- will rally at Overton Park Shell this Sunday at noon.

· An interesting sidelight to the main debate at the County Commission meeting Monday was the final resolution of a matter that had been hanging fire for a couple of months -- ever since the Sports Authority, at the beginning of the current cycle, first played host to visiting principals of the NBA and the Vancouver Grizzlies at the Memphis Country Club.

That fact had raised the ire of Commissioner Walter Bailey, who has done his best over the years to keep the issue of racial exclusivity in private organizations on the front burner of public consciousness. Bailey sounded off on the matter and became even more offended when he thought Sports Authority executive director Reggie Barnes had attempted to publicly minimize his concerns.

One result of that was the postponement, meeting after meeting, of what normally would have been the routine appointment of three new members to the Shelby Farms Board by county mayor Jim Rout.

Of the three, no potential controversy attached to nominees Lee Winchester and Dr. Theron Northcross. But former First Tennessee Bank president Ron Terry happened to be a member of the stoutly private (and exclusively WASPish) Memphis Country Club, and that made him a suspect nominee in Bailey's eyes.

Accordingly, the pending nomination was kept on deep freeze for several weeks. On one occasion, back in early April, the three Shelby Farms nominees were sitting together at a commission meeting preparatory to the scheduled vote on their nominations. Rout went over, whispered to them, and then the three left. The same ritual was repeated at several successive meetings. As one commission member noted after this week's meeting, "It was just a matter of allowing a decent interval to intervene between the Sports Authority's meeting and the vote."

Enough of the edge had clearly worn off the issue to permit a vote on the nominations this week. Nor that Bailey didn't seize the opportunity to state his objections. When the matter came up, the commissioner delivered himself of some brief remarks, the kernel of which went this way: "I feel pretty strongly that people who are members of organizations and clubs that don't have diversity, such as, primarily, Memphis Country Club ... it seems to me we ought not appoint those people to boards and commissions."

Bailey then suggested voting on each of the three names separately, a suggestion adopted by chairman James Ford. Terry was asked if he wanted to say anything, and he came to the podium to make this statement: "I'll only say that I have great admiration for the service Mr. Bailey has given our community for many years, and I respect his right to an opinion. I have a passion for Shelby Farms, and I'll do my best to fulfill your needs. Thank you."

When the vote came, Northcross and Winchester received unanimous approval. Terry's name drew a pass from Commissioners Marilyn Loeffel and Bridget Chisholm. And at his point of the roll call Bailey answered, "Regretfully, no." The rest voted yes.

Thus was the issue -- which once was feared as the possible igniter of racial division on the commission -- resolved in a reasonably pro forma manner.

· U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. celebrated his 31st birthday at The Peabody's Skyway last Friday night. Well-wishers, who included a cross-section of party cadres and most Democratic candidates for election in 2002 -- including those for Shelby County mayor -- paid $50 a head for the privilege. It was suggested to the congressman that many a profitable birthday loomed ahead should he continue the practice every year he serves in public office. He grinned.

· Local political frontiers have expanded to include the open skies. Wearing her bright-yellow campaign T-shirt and accompanied by a companion similarly dressed, state Rep. Carol Chumney, a Democratic hopeful for county mayor, campaigned among the spectators at the weekend Mid-South Air Show at Millington, featuring the Thunderbirds flying team. And Republican activist John Willingham played host to the Thunderbirds at his East Memphis restaurant Monday night, inviting a number of his political friends over to help keep them company.

"Yell Louder"

Periodically, we promised a few weeks back, we would afford our readers a selection of what former Commercial Appeal political writer Terry Keeter -- now retired after surviving a serious bout of emphysema-cum-pneumonia -- was up to.

Keeter's first contribution was a tribute -- straightforward but not without its flourishes -- to a late friend, flood-control engineer Pete Houston, putting him in the right time-and-place context of Memphis history. It seemed clear from the piece that the longtime dean of Mid-South political writers still has a hand for the public use of the word.

For years, of course, Keeter has also kept his other hand involved in the form of commentary -- ranging from acidic to slapsticky -- characterized by the annual Gridiron Shows, which use musical skits and comic routines to roast local politicians. (The shows, whose audience normally includes many of the victims themselves, raise scholarship money for journalism students.)

And for some months Keeter has kept a growing network of friends hooked in to his sarcastic vein via an e-mail feature called "Yell Louder," which employs, a la the Gridiron Shows, a cast of cartoonish characters in place of their real-life counterparts.

Even in our broad-minded times, some of these entries would not pass muster with the most liberal censor, but, in tune with the topic of the day and (upon reflection) unabridged, here are two recent selections. Some of the identities are those of Keeter's running mates (former CA writer Larry Williams and lawyer Murray Card can be deduced); others are patently local politicians and public figures. And "Yell County" (interestingly enough the name of a bona fide Arkansas county) is clearly our own Shelby County.

The envelope, please:

"Signs reading NBA-NOT (Not Our Taxes) are beginning to show up across Yell County, in response to the NBA-NOW signs, which are, not surprisingly in the Fed-Hex color-blind shades of Purple, Orange and White. 'I think it's the sign of the times,' said Cousin D. Ragshead Clyde, lawyer, veteran freedom fighter and opponent of public money for a $250 million arena for the rich and famous.

"Cousin Ragshead, author of No Taxes-NBA, said that NBA NOT joins the original sign protest along with NBA SHAFTS (Send Hide and Fredrich To a Star). 'Hell, for that much money, we could buy Cousin Fredrich $ Clyde and Cousin Snake Pitt Hide Clyde their own space station,' said Dr. Drummond Clyde, Mexican gynecologist and expert on heavenly bodies.

'I might be rushin' things, but these guys already have their head in the clouds. And their hands in our pockets,' said Yell resident liberal Cousin Larry W. Clyde. 'They've already done their share to finger us.'

'Oh, my,' said Cousin Dorothy Clyde, crossing Gayoso. 'Ragshead, fingers, and shares! Oh, my! I'm keeping my fingers crossed, along with my legs!' Aunt Nellie Belle, Iuka queen, said, 'It's like the old days, shooting pocket pool in Tishomingo County. One minute your pockets are empty, and the next minute they're full of balls. Then, the next thing you know, your balls are getting racked! But Cousin $ and Cousin Pitt's NBA-sized balls are bigger than those usually found on the table!' ·

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

Friday, May 11, 2001

Passing the Plate

There may not be an election on this year, but fund-raisers are much in evidence.

Posted By on Fri, May 11, 2001 at 4:00 AM

We have not yet reached the halfway point of 2001, a specimen of the one year in every four that is politics-free in the election calendar of these parts.

But merely ask the deep-pocketed ones among us whether politics is at a standstill. Fund-raisers abound for the political hopefuls of Campaign Season 2002.

Among the notables who've had them around town of late are: U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (beneficiary of a $500-a-head version at the Plaza Club at AutoZone park, an increasingly sought-after venue); U.S. Rep. Van Hilleary, Republican of Tennessee's 4th Congressional District, who's slipped in once or twice for big-ticket affairs; Shelby County Trustee Bob Patterson, who engaged a prize-winning barbecue team to cater his, at Kirby Farms; Circuit Court Clerk Jimmy Moore, at the Collierville home of developer Jackie Welch; and county Probate Clerk Chris Thomas, who had his affair at another increasingly popular venue, the Union Planters Bank building on Poplar Avenue.

(For the record, Moore is still considering a run for sheriff next year instead of one for re-election.)

State Rep. Carol Chumney, who's gotten off to an early organizational head start on her Democratic rivals for next year's nomination for Shelby County mayor, is unable to hold a fund-raiser by virtue of a state law forbidding same for legislators while the General Assembly is in session.

But she did the next best thing -- holding a reception last month at a Germantown supporter's residence. She, like state Senator Jim Kyle, a declared party rival for the mayoral post, have to be yearning a little bit more than the rest of their colleagues for an end to what may turn out to be another marathon session, like last year's. (What's holding things up, of course, is the legislature's continued failure to find a solution to a threatened budget deficit whose dimensions could reach as much as $1 billion by next year.)

Kyle, by the way, is secretly thankful for Governor Don Sundquist's recent veto of a Kyle-sponsored bill to place a lower limit on retail gasoline sales. The measure, passed several weeks ago before the latest dramatic price hikes, is at least off the table now -- although the senator knows to expect gigs from his mayoral rivals.

Down the line

n The Shelby County Democrats don't have a date fixed yet, but Chairman Gale Jones Carson announced that the keynote speaker for the party's forthcoming Kennedy Dinner will be former Atlanta mayor and noted civil rights activist Maynard Jackson.

At its last steering committee meeting, the party also formally voted to petition the Election Commission for a countywide primary next year.

n Mississippi Governor Ronnie Musgrove told Memphis Rotarians Tuesday that the NFL's New Orleans Saints are flirting with a move to his state's Gulf coast.

Outside the Box

As no one needs to be reminded, much attention of late has been focused on the hows and whys and whethers of building an NBA-worthy arena to house the putatively transplant Grizzlies of Vancouver.

John Q. Public has weighed in on the subject with us, as with the other paper in town. Following are two excerpts from two unusually pointed responses to the issue:

"Whenever the subject of securing a professional sports franchise in Memphis arises, I am reminded of the expression 'if you can't run with the big dogs, stay on the porch.' In matters urban, the acquisition of a pro sports team confers 'big dog' status like few other things, and Memphis seems to be a Chihuahua that spends a lot of time barking from behind the screen door ...

"As the ex-wife of an All-American in football and the mother of two teenage sons who were swinging a baseball bat before they could read, I understand the importance of sports. As an alumnus of the University of Memphis, I can attest to the tremendous sense of pride that comes with having a team bring national attention to our city.

"And I am as weary as anyone else of hearing people complain that Memphis would be great if only we had a professional team. But if Memphis is not a viable venue for pro sports profits without taking all the financial risk, could it be because the economic underpinnings of this city are fragile?

"Might we be better off trying to solve the problem of an undereducated work force that depresses our per capita income, which in turn keeps commerce and pro sports from chasing us? If we improved the economic foundation of Shelby County first, maybe we could become big dogs without ever leaving the porch ... ." -- Ruth Ogles (free-lance writer and 2000 candidate for the Memphis School Board)

"At some point Memphis is going to build a stadium, a structure budgeted at 250 million dollars, which means that it will probably cost upwards of $275 to 300 million dollars. With such an expenditure of money, we might ask how the citizens of Shelby County can best be served this appropriation, and how we can get the most bang for the buck. Considering the fact that major league sports teams have become Gypsies, and an NBA team could well move out of town within a half-dozen years, the new stadium should be something that will continue to serve even if the NBA team decides to move on.

"With all of these factors in mind, there really is only one logical building option: a retrofitted and domed Liberty Bowl. This would be a multi-sports arena which would also benefit the University of Memphis, the Liberty Bowl, and the Southern Heritage Classic, all of whom play their football games there.

"Today all it takes is a threat of rain, or a temperature drop of 10 degrees to cut attendance by as much as 50 percent, which is a small fortune at $20 per ticket or more ... ." -- Larry Moore (University of Memphis law professor)

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