What a shocker! Those of us who keep up with the sport of politics were still receiving freshly minted faxes last Friday from the gubernatorial camp of Knoxville businessman Doug Horne, all touting his scheduled appearance the next day at several Memphis venues and exhorting our presence.
Indeed, Horne's campaign people -- like campaign manager Matt Kuhn of Memphis and his deputy, Greg Wanderman of Nashville -- had delightedly anticipated the gains their man could make in the wake of presumed Democratic front-runner Phil Bredesen's adoption, the week before, of a seemingly rigid anti-tax campaign posture.
Democratic activist Steve Steffens of Memphis circulated an angry e-mail response to Bredesen along his network of party activists. It began with a lament ("I passed out stickers for this fool") and concluded with a question directed at Kuhn ("[W]here is Doug Horne on the income tax?").
There was a certifiable window of opportunity for Horne, the well-heeled former state Democratic chairman, whose support for "tax reform" (so often a euphemism for the income tax) was incontrovertible and on the record.
Then came Horne's surprise Friday afternoon announcement of withdrawal. It was short on specifics, but Horne would say -- both in an interview or two of his own and in explanations dutifully given by his two clearly crestfallen junior aides -- that he had succeeded in his earlier aim of making sure credible Democrats ran for the office and that he feared the divisiveness of a contested primary, so forth and so on.
None of it rang true. It was as stupefyingly puzzling a moment as had been the news, in 1990, of then Shelby County sheriff Jack Owen's suicide. Like the earlier event -- a far more serious one, of course -- Horne's actions defied explanation.
One of Horne's scheduled engagements on Saturday morning was an address to the Germantown Democratic Club. Like the others, it was canceled, and club president Guthrie Castle arranged a makeshift itinerary that included several speakers.
One of them was Kuhn, who began his remarks by saying wryly, "What a week!" Several days earlier, he had lost his home to a fire, then came the loss of his job. One thing he hadn't lost was his focus.
Outlining the results of a poll taken by the Horne organization which showed a majority of Tennesseans opposing an income tax, Kuhn said that his candidate believed deeply in the need for "tax reform" and had pledged to make the case for it across the length and breadth of Tennessee.
That was then, of course. Now was suddenly different. Even so, said Kuhn, any candidate for governor who denied the need for immediate tax reform (as Bredesen had explicitly done) was "irresponsible."
Three other speakers at the Germantown club meeting were Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, state Representative Carol Chumney, and state Senator Jim Kyle -- the party's declared candidates for the office of Shelby County mayor, so far.
If this amounted to an ad hoc contest between the three, all held up their ends. Byrd gave a crisp, evocative rundown of what he saw as lack of public progress in Shelby County, coupled with an ominous proliferation of governmental debt. "What we're doing is eating our seed corn," he said, likening the current county crisis over school funding to the state government's budget problems in Nashville.
Chumney followed with an energetic statement of her intentions with regard to the reconvening of the legislature this week to deal with Governor Don Sundquist's veto of the no-new-taxes budget passed last month amid crowd disturbances in and around the state capitol.
In an oblique swipe at opponent Kyle, whose duties as House-Senate conference chairman had required him to make the technical motion on behalf of that budget, Chumney said that to accept it was indefensible and vowed to stay in Nashville as long as it took ("even if I have to get a part-time job there") to get a better budget that included "tax reform."
As the third candidate to speak, Kyle had to match the performances of the other two and did so -- holding the audience of Democrats rapt as he described the fiscal emergency the state faced, one which was reciprocated at the county level, he said.
And the senator got off two zingers. Chumney had pointed out that in recent years she had worked hard for other Democrats' campaigns, including Kyle's last one for the Senate. "I thank you for helping me last time, Carol," said Kyle, "and, you know, it's not too late for you to help me this time!"
Speaking of the need he saw to take the state sales tax off food, shelter, and clothing, Kyle pointed at the always well-dressed Byrd and said, "Why, taking the sales tax off clothing would allow Harold Byrd to save half of his campaign fund!"
Shelby County Commissioner Buck Wellford, who will not run for reelection next year, made it clear last week that he might still become a candidate for county mayor -- but only if both District Attorney General Bill Gibbons or former Memphis City Council member John Bobango decided not to run.
Former Germantown resident Dennis Berwyn, a Web master/activist who designed Internet sites for such GOP clients as 7th U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant, state Senator Mark Norris, state Reps. Tre Hargett, Paul Stanley, and Larry Scroggs, as well as the Shelby County Republican Party itself, has been named special projects manager for the National Republican Senatorial Committee in Washington, now chaired by U.S. Senator Bill Frist.