Friday, August 31, 2001

MARSHA THE, ER, MODERATE!?

There are those, it turns out, more simon-pure than she is.

Posted By on Fri, Aug 31, 2001 at 4:00 AM

You may think that Marsha Blackburn, the arch-Republican state senator from posh Williamson County, the same Marsha whose Paul Revere-like emails from her legislative desk summoned up a host of angry protesters at the state Capitol in Nashville last July 12trh, can do no wrong with members of the anti-tax movement. Fahgitaboudit! Believe it or not, there is a group of politically active citizens so much further to the Right and so ideologically Simon-pure as to be capable of putting even Sen. Blackburn on the griddle. As witness Wednesday night, when Blackburn drove by herself all the way to Memphis at a friend’s invitation to address members of the Shelby County Libertarian Party at Pancho’s Restaurant at the Cloverleaf Shopping Center on Summer. Don’t misunderstand, she was the subject of much stroking and congratulations for her role in organizing the mass turnout at the Capitol last month, which critics maintain was a crude intimidation of the parliamentary process and which admirers contend was democracy in action. Blackburn didn’t quite get called “Joan of Arc” (local anti-NBA-Arena protester Heidi Schaefer, who was in attendance, got that honor), but Blackburn was called “heroine,” “ patriot,” all of that. She may not have been prepared, however, for two questioners who were starting from Ground Zero where she was concerned, cutting her no slack for reputation or previous service. One made it clear that, whatever else Sen. Blackburn may have done, she was still one ‘a them tax-drawing drones sitting up there in Nashville at the people’s expense.. Another questioner, dripping with skepticism, demanded to know if she would abide by the U.S. Constitution (as defined by himself, of course). She allowed as how she would. “Are you sure?” the man demanded. “We’re going to hold you to it!” The same man offered her a hoary catechism wrapped in a trick question. “Do we live in a democracy or a republic?” he demanded to know. Marsha answered quite sensibly, “A little bit of both,” thereby evading the semantic trap her questioner had set, ultimately for himself to fall into. Blackburn, it turns out, has an acute sense of the New Age politically and of her role in it. She is aware that the conventional strict-constructionist conservative may choose to insist that ours is a republic, but she knows full well that the mass callout which she helped organize on July 12th (a variant of which was hazarded here locally on Monday at a Shelby County Commission meeting considering a tax increase) was a democratic phenomenon, a throwback to the Power to the People and participatory-democracy models which today’s conservatives have inherited from yesterday’s leftists. (According to the strict-constructionist “republic” model, you see, the people’s elected deputies should have been left alone and untroubled on July 12th, to reflect at their leisure on the merits of income-tax legislation.) Blackburn said she was in no wise emulating Sen.Robert Rochelle, who is circuit-riding the state at his own expense to proselyte for tax reform (i.e., the income tax). “I just happened to get an invitation down for ths one event,” she said. As to her future political plans, the senator from Williamson County said she would have to wait for redistricting to determine whether she might contemplate a congressional run (she is just now in Democrat Bart Gordon‘s 6th Congressional district but could conceivably end up in the 7th District of Rep. Ed Bryant, who would dearly love to run for the Senate if senior Republican Fred Thompson doesn’t seek reelection. And “friends” have continued to sound her out about a gubernatorial race. (Evidently, just as she is judged less than pure by strict constructionists, so is GOP favorite Van Hilleary considered not quite ideal by some purists on the Right.) “I have learned to say, ‘Never Say Never,’” Blackburn said, “but, of course, it is getting somewhat late in the game.” Of two lodgemates among the legislature’s conservative contingent who had offered criticism of her actions last month, Blackburn was forgiving. “I think he’s a fine man who’s done many wonderful things,” she said of Sen. David Fowler (R-Signal Mountain), who said on the night of July 12th that Blackburn was “out of the loop” and had lost “all respect among the conservative, low-tax caucus.” She was equally kind toward Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville), who had said of Blackburn’s alarm-sounding emails, “She hollered fire in a crowded theater.” Norris was “a decent man” trying to do the right thing, Sen. Blackburn said.

The Play's the Thing

Might some members have pitched to the audience at Monday's commission meeting?

Posted By on Fri, Aug 31, 2001 at 4:00 AM

There is a characteristic moment in any Shelby County Commission debate of consequence when Julian Bolton, who once taught dramatics at college, seems to get a whiff of which way the wind is blowing through the audience out there in the auditorium.

He begins to lean in the direction of the onlookers, swiveling his head due left so as to be looking right into their faces, and when he talks, he appears to be addressing the folks out there, not his commission colleagues.

The predominant school of thought among principals at Monday's commission meeting seemed to be that the 75 or so people who showed up early to raise hell against a tax increase for the county schools were the fruits, as Shelby County school board member Ron Lawler put it, "of 10 days straight of Mike Fleming trying to turn a crowd out."

Indeed, there had been a dedicated attempt at conscription on the part of the popular WREC-AM 60 radio talk show host -- who generally is a gentle rain and sweet reason itself compared to his tempestuous counterparts in Nashville, Steve Gill and Phil Valentine.

In the manner, however, of Gill and Valentine, who on each occasion this year that the state legislature came close to giving serious attention to a state income tax did their shows and broadcast their exhortations from the pavement of Legislative Plaza, Fleming set up his broadcast booth Monday afternoon on the concrete patio outside the county office building where the commission was meeting.

Many of the folks inside the often rowdy commission auditorium (some of whom proclaimed themselves to be members of the "Turnip Liberation Army," as in "Turnip Your Nose at a Tax Increase," as one sign had it) had answered Fleming's call, and, though this group included many of those who had protested both the NBA Grizzlies' cause and previous potential tax increases, there were some newcomers as well -- noticeably less interested in the niceties of public discourse than earlier protesters had been. Bolton, however, acted as though he were in the presence of Vox Populi.

And the commission's newest member, Bridget Chisholm, who -- perhaps not coincidentally -- sits to Bolton's left on the auditorium stage and frequently whispers with her neighbor, also seemed caught up in the often turbulent crowd reaction as the commission met Monday to complete action on the current fiscal year's budget so as to fund the Shelby County schools.

For reasons best known to themselves (although some clue was surely afforded by their frequent sidewise glances toward the audience, as well as to the omnipresent TV cameras from all four local news channels), both Bolton and Chisholm began professing a belief that the taxing arrangement which everyone save Bolton had signed on to at the commission's previous meeting was something other than what it was.

As had been extensively reported in both the electronic and print media, a bargain had been struck two weeks ago between key members of both the commission's white Republican and black Democratic factions whereby a majority of Republicans would accept a property tax increase in the range of 43 cents in return for a Democratic majority's approval for a doubling of the regressive wheel tax.

As outlined by GOP Commissioner Buck Wellford, who with partymate Tommy Hart had crafted the plan, there was a third component as well -- a sense-of-the-commission resolution that the county's municipal governments would be asked to forgo their share of a potential local-option sales-tax increase in the interests of the county schools. As part of the deal, county school superintendent Jim Mitchell and school board president David Pickler agreed to urge the municipal governments to accept such an arrangement.

On Monday, both Bolton and Chisholm professed for some while to believe that only a 33-cent property-tax increase had been agreed upon. Ultimately, budget chairman Cleo Kirk, in a whispered conversation, convinced Chisholm otherwise, and she reversed an earlier vote against the 43- cent figure so as to finally pass and activate the combination tax package.

Wellford -- who, with Hart, Kirk, and Commissioner Walter Bailey, was cited for positive leadership by Pickler -- said later he found it a strange reversal that two Democratic commissioners had tried to take a stand in favor of holding down the property tax. "Usually that's a Republican cause," Wellford said.

In subsequently making his case against the 43-cent increase, Bolton -- who was hooted by the audience early in the meeting when he seemed to say he would support a property-tax increase at that level -- told the crowd, "Some of them [commissioners] have not heard you. I have."

Wellford made it clear he did not regard the crowd, which frequently unloosed catcalls and interrupted commissioners' remarks, in the same positive light. "It was obvious some of them came just to put on a show and were there to humiliate the commission," he said. It was Wellford, in fact, who -- after referring to the crowd disturbances in Nashville which frustrated an effort on behalf of a state income tax at the end of the legislative session last month -- called for a five-minute recess and asked chairman James Ford to summon a complement of county police and sheriff's deputies to maintain order.

* Aside from mutual admiration and their both being the objects of speculation about the 2002 Shelby County Mayor's race, former city councilman John Bobango and current District Attorney General Bill Gibbons have something else in common -- a belief in the relative powerlessness of the county mayor's job.

"I'm not even sure you could regard it as a stepping stone up in the political world," opined Gibbons during his annual fish fry fund-raiser at the East Memphis Catholic Club Saturday. And Bobango, who introduced Gibbons to the sizeable (and somewhat bipartisan) crowd on hand, had similar sentiments. "It [the position of county mayor] is not even close to being as powerful as Mayor Herenton's job," said the ex- councilman.

Nevertheless, the two remain the favorites for the Republican nomination for county mayor. Other Republicans whose names continue to receive some play are Shelby County Commissioner Buck Wellford, city councilman Jack Sammons, Probate clerk Chris Thomas, and Circuit Court clerk Jimmy Moore. (Moore is also considering a sheriff's race, as well as one for reelection.)

* Eyebrows have been raised here and there concerning the increasingly overt support being given the possible mayoral candidacy of Democrat A C Wharton by Bobby Lanier, who is chief administrative aide to county mayor Jim Rout as he was for Rout's predecessor, Bill Morris.

The situation has caused speculation in the camp of Democratic mayoral candidate Harold Byrd that Rout is secretly pushing Wharton's candidacy. Others allege that Lanier and Rout have had a minor falling-out and that Lanier is acting as a free agent. Both explanations strain credibility, but the central fact prompting them -- Lanier's support for Wharton -- is quite real.

* In two appearances here over the weekend, U.S. Senator Fred Thompson shed no light on the question of the day in state politics: Will he or won't he run for reelection? Appearing on Saturday at the Gibbons fish fry, Thompson made only one jesting remark about the subject. Pointing to his old friend, 90-year-old John T. Williams, whose unsuccessful 1970s- vintage congressional race Thompson had managed, the senator said, "Now, John T there is gearing up for a Senate race, I hear."

However, Thompson did minimize a suggestion made earlier last week by his Tennessee GOP senatorial colleague, Bill Frist. While acknowledging that Thompson goes "up and down" on his willingness to pursue a reelection race in 2002, Frist had said in an interview here last week that there was "a 70-percent probability" that Thompson would run next year.

"I don't know where he got that. It didn't come from me," Thompson insisted during a conversation at the fish fry.

Frist had made his remarks while in Memphis as guest of honor at a fund-raiser at the downtown Plaza Club for U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant, who has senatorial ambitions that can be shelved in favor of a congressional reelection race.

In apparent response to what many took to be a senatorial-race trial ballon floated by former Governor Lamar Alexander last week, Frist said, "In the event that Senator Thompson does not run for reelection, I have no doubt that Ed Bryant has far and away more support to succeed him than anyone else."

Frist's presence, coupled with his interview statement, had to be regarded as a huge boost for Bryant, who had reacted to Alexander's collaboration with former Vice President Al Gore in a Nashville-based political seminar and a subsequent item in the Wall Street Journal on Alexander's potential Senate candidacy, "I wondered what he [Lamar] was doing giving all that free publicity to Al Gore. Now it seems obvious he had another motive."

Any statement about senatorial prospects counts especially heavy coming from Frist, who is considered as close to President George W. Bush as any member of Congress and is both the president's liaison with the Senate and chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

* In case Thompson doesn't run, there's a surprising addition to the usual laundry list of possible candidates to vie for the open seat. State Senator Steve Cohen, whose name still figures in speculation for Shelby County Mayor, said this week that he might give the race a try if the Senate seat comes open.

Since U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. is always mentioned in speculation about Democratic Senate candidates, Cohen's statement of interest is a reminder of 1996, when both men sought the 9th District congressional seat.

* In an interview before he addressed an audience of the East Shelby County Republican Party at the group's annual "Master Meal" at Woodland Hills Country Club Friday night, 4th District U.S. Rep. Van Hilleary shied away from loosing any broadsides at a possible general election opponent, Democrat Phil Bredesen, and gave the former Nashville mayor credit for sincerity in his recent espousal of a no-new-taxes policy toward state government.

Hilleary was somewhat more grudging in his attitude toward a GOP partymate, Governor Don Sundquist, declining to say that, if nominated, he expected the governor's support in a general election contest, other than to say, "I would anticipate having the support of every elected Republican in the state." Would he seek Sundquist's support? he was asked. "I seek everybody's support," the congressman replied.

Hilleary made it clear that the twain were far from meeting on the issue of tax reform.

Thursday, August 30, 2001

MARSHA THE MODERATE?!

There are those, it turns out, more simon-pure than she is.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 30, 2001 at 4:00 AM

You may think that Marsha Blackburn, the arch-Republican state senator from posh Williamson County, the same Marsha whose Paul Revere-like emails from her legislative desk summoned up a host of angry protesters at the state Capitol in Nashville last July 12trh, can do no wrong with members of the anti-tax movement. Fahgitaboudit! Believe it or not, there is a group of politically active citizens so much further to the Right and so ideologically Simon-pure as to be capable of putting even Sen. Blackburn on the griddle. As witness Wednesday night, when Blackburn drove by herself all the way to Memphis at a friendÕs invitation to address members of the Shelby County Libertarian Party at PanchoÕs Restaurant at the Cloverleaf Shopping Center on Summer. DonÕt misunderstand, she was the subject of much stroking and congratulations for her role in organizing the mass turnout at the Capitol last month, which critics maintain was a crude intimation of the parliamentary process and which admirers contend was democracy in action. Blackburn didnÕt quite get called ÒJoan of ArcÓ (local anti-NBA-Arena protester Heidi Schaefer, who was in attendance, got that honor), but Blackburn was called Òheroine,Ó Ò patriot,Ó all of that. She may not hve been prepared, however, for two questioners who were starting from Ground Zero where she was concerned, cutting her no slack for reputation or previous service. One made it clear that, whatever else Sen. Blackburn may have done, she was still one Ôa them tax-drawing drones sitting up there in Nashville at the peopleÕs expense.. Another questioner, dripping with skepticism, demanded to know if she would abide by the U.S. Constitution (as defined by himself, of course). She allowed as how she would. ÒAre you sure?Ó the man demanded. ÒWeÕre going to hold you to it!Ó The same man offered her a hoary cathecism wrapped in a trick question. ÒDo we live in a democracy or a republic?Ó he demanded to know. Marsha answered quite sensibly, ÒA little bit of both,Ó thereby evading the semantic trap her questioner had set, ultimately for himself to fall into. Blackburn, it turns out, has an acute sense of the New Age politically and of her role in it. She is aware that the conventional strict-constructionist conservative may choose to insist that ours is a republic, but she knows full well that the mass callout which she helped organized on July 12th (a variant of which was hazarded here locally on Monday at a Shelby County Commission meeting considering a tax increase) was a democratic phenomenon, a throwback to the Power to the People and participatory-democracy models which todayÕs conservatives have inherited from yesterdayÕs leftists. (According to the strict-constructionist ÒrepublicÓ model, you see, the peopleÕs elected deputies should have been left alone and untroubled on July 12th, to reflect at their leisure on the merits of income-tax legislation.) Blackburn said she was in no wise emulating Sen.Robert Rochelle, who is circuit-riding the state at his own expense to proselyte for tax reform (i.e., the income tax). ÒI just happened to get an invitation down for ths one event,Ó she said. As to her future political plans, the senator from Williamson County said she would have to wait for redistricting to determine whether she might contemplate a congressional run (she is just now in Democrat Bart GordonÕs 6th Congressional district but could conceivably end up in the 7th District of Rep. Ed Bryant, who would dearly love to run for the Senate if senior Republican Fred Thompson doesnÕt seek reelection. And ÒfriendsÓ have continued to sound her out about a gubernatorial race. (Evidently, just as she is judged less than pure by strict constructionists, so is GOP favorite Van Hilleary considered not quite ideal by some purists on the Right.) ÒI have learned to say, ÔNever Say Never,Ó Blackburn said, Òbut, of course, it is getting somewhat late in the game.Ó Of two lodgemates among the legislatureÕs conservative contingent who had offered criticism of her actions last month, Blackburn was forgiving. ÒI think heÕs a fine man whoÕs done many wonderful things,Ó she said of Sen. David Fowler (R-Signal Mountain), who said on the night of July 12th that Blackburn was Òout of the loopÓ and had lost Òall respect among the conservative, low-tax caucus.Ó She was equally kind toward Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville), who had said of BlackburnÕs alarm-sounding emails, ÒShe hollered fire in a crowded theater.Ó Norris was Òa decent manÓ trying to do the right thing, Sen. Blackburn said.

Wednesday, August 29, 2001

THE PLAY'S THE THING

..and the audience got in the act at Monday's commission meeting.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 29, 2001 at 4:00 AM

There is a characteristic moment in any Shelby County Commission debate of consequence when Julian Bolton, who once taught dramatics at college, seems to get a whiff of which way the wind is blowing through the audience out there in the auditorium. He begins to lean in the direction of the onlookers, swiveling his head due left so as to be looking right into their faces, and when he talks, he appears to be addressing the folks out there, not his commission colleagues. The predominant school of thought among principals at Monday’s commission meeting seemed to be that the 75 or so people who showed up early to raise hell against a tax increase for the county schools were the fruits, as Shelby County school board member Ron Lawler put it, “of ten days straight of Mike Fleming trying to turn a crowd out.” Indeed, there had been a dedicated attempt at conscription on the part of the popular WREC-AM 60 radio talk show host Ð who generally is a gentle rain and sweet reason itself compared to his tempestuous counterparts in Nashville, Steve Gill and Phil Valentine. In the manner, however, of Gill and Valentine, who on each occasion this year that the state legislature came close to giving serious attention to a state income tax did their shows and broadcast their exhortations from the pavement of Legislative Plaza, Fleming set up his broadcast booth Monday afternoon on the concrete patio outside the county office building where the commission was meeting. Many of the folks inside the often rowdy commission auditorium (some of whom proclaimed themselves to be members of the “Turnip Liberation Army,” as in “Turnip Your Nose at a Tax Increase,” as one sign had it) had answered Fleming’s call, and, though this group included many of those who had protested both the NBA Grizzlies’ cause and previous potential tax increases, there were some newcomers as well Ð noticeably less interested in the niceties of public discourse than earlier protesters had been. Bolton, however, acted as though he were in the presence of Vox Populi. And the commission’s newest member, Bridget Chisholm, who-- perhaps not coincidentally-- sits to Bolton’s left on the auditorium stage and frequently consults with her neighbor, also seemed caught up in the often turbulent crowd reaction as the commission met Monday to complete action on the current fiscal year’s budget so as to fund the Shelby County schools. For reasons best known to themselves (although some clue was surely afforded by their frequent sidewise glances toward the audience, as well as to the omnipresent TV cameras from all four local news channels), both Bolton and Chisholm began professing a belief that the taxing arrangement which everyone save Bolton had signed on to at the commission’s previous meeting was something other than what it was. As had been extensively reported in both the electronic and print media, a bargain had been struck two weeks ago between key members of both the commission’s white Republican and black Democratic factions whereby a majority of Republicans would accept a property tax increase in the range of 43 cents in return for a Democratic majority’s approval for a doubling of the regressive wheel tax. As outlined by GOP Commissioner Buck Wellford, who with partymate Tommy Hart had crafted the plan, there was a third component as well-- a sense-of-the-commission resolution that the county’s municipal governments would be asked to forgo their share of a potential local-option sales-tax increase in the interests of the county schools. As part of the deal, county school superintendent Jim Mitchell and school board president David Pickler agreed to urge the municipal governments to accept such an arrangement. On Monday, both Bolton and Chisholm professed for some while to believe that only a 33-percent property-tax increase had been agreed upon. Ultimately, budget chairman Cleo Kirk, in a whispered conversation, convinced Chisholm otherwise, and she reversed an earlier vote against the 43-cent figure so as to finally pass and activate the combination tax package. Wellford-- who, with Hart, Kirk, and Commissioner Walter Bailey, was cited for positive leadership by Pickler-- said later he found it a strange reversal that two Democratic commissioners had tried to take a stand in favor of holding down the property tax. “Usually that’s a Republican cause,” Wellford said. In subsequently making his case against the 43-cent increase, Bolton -- who was hooted by the audience early in the meeting when he seemed to say he would support a property-tax increase at that level-- told the crowd, “Some of them [commissioners] have not heard you. I have.” Wellford made it clear he did not regard the crowd, which frequently unloosed catcalls and interrupted commissioners’ remarks, in the same positive light. “It was obvious some of them came just to put on a show and were there to humiliate the commission,” he said. It was Wellford,in fact, who-- after referring to the crowd disturbances in Nashville which frustrated an effort on behalf of a state income tax at the end of the legislative session last month -- called for a five-minute recess and asked chairman James Ford to summon a complement of county police and sheriff’s deputies to maintain order.

Tuesday, August 28, 2001

THE PLAY'S THE THING

...and the audience got in the act at Monday's commission meeting.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 28, 2001 at 4:00 AM

There is a characteristic moment in any Shelby County Commission debate of consequence when Julian Bolton, who once taught dramatics at college, seems to get a whiff of which way the wind is blowing through the audience out there in the auditorium. He begins to lean in the direction of the onlookers, swiveling his head due left so as to be looking right into their faces, and when he talks, he appears to be addressing the folks out there, not his commission colleagues. The predominant school of thought among principals at Monday’s commission meeting seemed to be that the 75 or so people who showed up early to raise hell against a tax increase for the county schools were the fruits, as Shelby County school board member Ron Lawler put it, “of ten days straight of Mike Fleming trying to turn a crowd out.” Indeed, there had been a dedicated attempt at conscription on the part of the popular WREC-AM 60 radio talk show host -- who generally is a gentle rain and sweet reason itself compared to his tempestuous counterparts in Nashville, Steve Gill and Phil Valentine. In the manner, however, of Gill and Valentine, who on each occasion this year that the state legislature came close to giving serious attention to a state income tax did their shows and broadcast their exhortations from the pavement of Legislative Plaza, Fleming set up his broadcast booth Monday afternoon on the concrete patio outside the county office building where the commission was meeting. Many of the folks inside the often rowdy commission auditorium (some of whom proclaimed themselves to be members of the “Turnip Liberation Army,” as in “Turnip Your Nose at a Tax Increase,” as one sign had it) had answered Fleming’s call, and, though this group included many of those who had protested both the NBA Grizzlies’ cause and previous potential tax increases, there were some newcomers as well -- noticeably less interested in the niceties of public discourse than earlier protesters had been. Bolton, however, acted as though he were in the presence of Vox Populi. And the commission’s newest member, Bridget Chisholm, who -- perhaps not coincidentally -- sits to Bolton’s left on the auditorium stage and frequently consults with her neighbor, also seemed caught up in the often turbulent crowd reaction as the commission met Monday to complete action on the current fiscal year’s budget so as to fund the Shelby County schools. For reasons best known to themselves (although some clue was surely afforded by their frequent sidewise glances toward the audience, as well as to the omnipresent TV cameras from all four local news channels), both Bolton and Chisholm began professing a belief that the taxing arrangement which everyone save Bolton had signed on to at the commission’s previous meeting was something other than what it was. As had been extensively reported in both the electronic and print media, a bargain had been struck two weeks ago between key members of both the commission’s white Republican and black Democratic factions whereby a majority of Republicans would accept a property tax increase in the range of 43 cents in return for a Democratic majority’s approval for a doubling of the regressive wheel tax. As outlined by GOP Commissioner Buck Wellford, who with partymate Tommy Hart had crafted the plan, there was a third component as well -- a sense-of-the-commission resolution that the county’s municipal governments would be asked to forgo their share of a potential local-option sales-tax increase in the interests of the county schools. As part of the deal, county school superintendent Jim Mitchell and school board president David Pickler agreed to urge the municipal governments to accept such an arrangement. On Monday, both Bolton and Chisholm professed for some while to believe that only a 33-percent property-tax increase had been agreed upon. Ultimately, budget chairman Cleo Kirk, in a whispered conversation, convinced Chisholm otherwise, and she reversed an earlier vote against the 43-cent figure so as to finally pass and activate the combination tax package. Wellford -- who, with Hart, Kirk, and Commissioner Walter Bailey, was cited for positive leadership by Pickler -- said later he found it a strange reversal that two Democratic commissioners had tried to take a stand in favor of holding down the property tax. “Usually that’s a Republican cause,” Wellford said. In subsequently making his case against the 43-cent increase, Bolton -- who was hooted by the audience early in the meeting when he seemed to say he would support a property-tax increase at that level -- told the crowd, “Some of them [commissioners] have not heard you. I have.” Wellford made it clear he did not regard the crowd, which frequently unloosed catcalls and interrupted commissioners’ remarks, in the same positive light. “It was obvious some of them came just to put on a show and were there to humiliate the commission,” he said. It was Wellford,in fact, who -- after referring to the crowd disturbances in Nashville which frustrated an effort on behalf of a state income tax at the end of the legislative session last month -- called for a five-minute recess and asked chairman James Ford to summon a complement of county police and sheriff’s deputies to maintain order.

Monday, August 27, 2001

HILLEARY UNDERSCORES DIFFERENCES WITH SUNDQUIST

Governor's income tax plan termed

Posted By on Mon, Aug 27, 2001 at 4:00 AM

In an interview before he addressed an audience of the East Shelby County Republican Party at the group’s annual “Master Meal” at Woodland Hills Country Club Friday night, 4th District U.S. Rep. Van Hilleary shied away from loosing any broadsides at a possible general election opponent, Democrat Phil Bredesen, and gave the former Nashville mayor credit for sincerity in his recent espousal of a no-new-taxes policy toward state government.

Hilleary was somewhat more grudging in his attitude toward a GOP partymate, Governor Don Sundquist, declining to say that, if nominated, he expected the governor’s support in a general election contest, other than to say, “I would anticipate having the support of every elected Republican in the state.” Would he seek Sundquist’s support?, he was asked. “I seek everybody’s support,” the congressman replied.

“I’ll give the governor some credit,” Hilleary said. “I think he’s working very hard to restructure TennCare right now, and I thnk a lot of the things he’s doing are thing I would do if I were in his shoes.I think we’re moving the right direction.”

But Hilleary made it clear that the twain were far from meeting on the issue of tax reform.

“I think anytime there’s an issue at the forefront that divides a party rather than serves to bind a party, it’s a problematic situation. The income tax is something the vast majority of Republicans don’t want anything to do with it. There’s a few that do.”

Hilleary, who went on to stress education as a key issue in the interview as well as in his prepared remarks, opined that he would be “extraordinarily lucky” if he didn’t have “some primary opponent” next year.

So far only former State Rep. Jim Henry of Kingston has indicated an interest in challenging Hilleary in the 2002 Republican gubernatorial primary.

Preview

Preview

Posted By on Mon, Aug 27, 2001 at 4:00 AM

Watch this space for coverage of Monday's pivotal Shelby County Commission meeting.

Sunday, August 26, 2001

HILLEARY UNDERSCORES DIFFERENCES WITH SUNDQUIST

Governor's income tax plan termed "divisive."

Posted By on Sun, Aug 26, 2001 at 4:00 AM

In an interview before he addressed an audience of the East Shelby County Republican Party at the group’s annual “Master Meal” at Woodland Hills Country Club Friday night, 4th District U.S. Rep. Van Hilleary shied away from loosing any broadsides at a possible general election opponent, Democrat Phil Bredesen, and gave the former Nashville mayor credit for sincerity in his recent espousal of a no-new-taxes policy toward state government.

Hilleary was somewhat more grudging in his attitude toward a GOP partymate, Governor Don Sundquist, declining to say that, if nominated, he expected the governor’s support in a general election contest, other than to say, “I would anticipate having the support of every elected Republican in the state.” Would he seek Sundquist’s support?, he was asked. “I seek everybody’s support,” the congressman replied.

“I’ll give the governor some credit,” Hilleary said. “I think he’s working very hard to restructure TennCare right now, and I thnk a lot of the things he’s doing are thing I would do if I were in his shoesÉ.I think we’re moving the right direction.”

But Hilleary made it clear that the twain were far from meeting on the issue of tax reform.

“I think anytime there’s an issue at the forefront that divides a party rather than serves to bind a party, it’s a problematic situation. The income tax is sometjing the vast majority of Republicans don’t want anything to do with it. There’s a few that do.”

Hilleary, who went on to stress education as a key issue in the interview as well as in his prepared remarks, opined that he would be “extraordinarily lucky” if he didn’t have “some primary opponent” next year.

So far only former State Rep. Jim Henry of Kingston has indicated an interest in challenging Hilleary in the 2002 Republican gubernatorial primary.

Friday, August 24, 2001

FRIST: FRED'S RUN '70 PERCENT' CERTAIN

GOP campaign chief also strokes Bryant, Liddy Dole.

Posted By on Fri, Aug 24, 2001 at 4:00 AM

U.S. Senator Bill Frist, who acknowledges that his Tennessee Republican colleague, Senator Fred Thompson goes "up and down" on his willingness to pursue a reelection race in 2002, said in an interview Thursday that there is "a 70 percent probability" that Thompson will run next year.

Frist was in Memphis as guest of honor at a fund-raiser at the downtown Plaza Club for U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant, who has senatorial ambitions that can be shelved in favor of a congressional reelection race.

In apparent response to what many took to be a senatorial-race trial ballon floated by former Governor Lamar Alexander last week, Frist said, "In the event that Senator Thompson does not run for reelection, I have no doubt that Ed Bryant has far and away more support to succeed him than anyone else."

Frist's presence, coupled with his interview statement, had to be regarded as a huge boost for Bryant, who expressed some annoyance last week with Alexander's collaboration with former Vice President Al Gore in a Nashville-based political seminar and said of an item in the Wall Street Journal on Alexander's potential Senate candidacy, "I wondered what he [Lamar] was doing giving all that free publicity to Al Gore. Now it seems obvious he had another motive."

Any statement about senatorial prospects counts especially heavy coming from Frist, who is considered as close to President George W. Bush as any member of Congress and is both the president's liaison with the Senate and chairman of the Natinal Republican Senatorial Committee.

Another prospective Senate candidate who could take heart from Frist's remarks is Elizabeth Dole, who is the subject of a boom in North Carolina now that incumbent Sen. Jesse Helms has announced retirement plans. Other Republicans have expressed interest in Helms' seat, including former U.S. Senator Lauch Faircloth, U.S. Rep. Richard Burr, ex-Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, and attorney Jim Snyder.

Frist confirmed that "serious" conversations have begun between Dole and the president's inner circle, a fact which is bound to be galling to the other hopefuls.. "These [the talks] didn't happen as early as some reports indicated, " Frist said, "but for the last day or so, they've been going on in earnest."

Thursday, August 23, 2001

FRIST: FRED'S RUN '70 PERCENT' CERTAIN

GOP campaign chief strokes Bryant, Liddy Dole.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 23, 2001 at 4:00 AM

U.S. Senator Bill Frist, who acknowledges that his Tennessee Republican colleague, Senator Fred Thompson goes "up and down" on his willingness to pursue a reelection race in 2002, said in an interview Thursday that there is "a 70 percent probability" that Thompson will run next year.

Frist was in Memphis as guest of honor at a fund-raiser at the downtown Plaza Club for U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant, who has senatorial ambitions that can be shelved in favor of a congressional reelection race.

In apparent response to what many took to be a senatorial-race trial ballon floated by former Governor Lamar Alexander last week, Frist said, "In the event that Senator Thompson does not run for reelection, I have no doubt that Ed Bryant has far and away more support to succeed him than anyone else."

Frist's presence, coupled with his interview statement, had to be regarded as a huge boost for Bryant, who expressed some annoyance last week with Alexander's collaboration with former Vice President Al Gore in a Nashville-based political seminar and said of an item in the Wall Street Journal on Alexander's potential Senate candidacy, "I wondered what he [Lamar] was doing giving all that free publicity to Al Gore. Now it seems obvious he had another motive."

Any statement about senatorial prospects counts especially heavy coming from Frist, who is considered as close to President George W. Bush as any member of Congress and is both the president's liaison with the Senate and chairman of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee.

Another prospective Senate candidate who could take heart from Frist's remarks is Elizabeth Dole, who is the subject of a boom in North Carolina now that incumbent Sen. Jesse Helms has announced retirement plans. Other Republicans have expressed interest in Helms' seat, including former U.S. Senator Lauch Faircloth, U.S. Rep. Richard Burr, ex-Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, and attorney Jim Snyder.

Frist confirmed that "serious" conversations have begun between Dole and the president's inner circle, a fact which is bound to be galling to the other hopefuls.. "These [the talks] didn't happen as early as some reports indicated, " Frist said, "but for the last day or so, they've been going on in earnest."

Poll Tacks

The mayoral candidates have different ways of finding out what they need to know.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 23, 2001 at 4:00 AM

It's a year away from the August 2002 general election, and do you know where you pollster is? If you're a candidate -- actual or potential -- for Shelby County mayor, chances are that you do.

Among those who've decided to hire a practiced pulse-taker of the public mood are Democrats A C Wharton, Jim Kyle, and Carol Chumney. As for the Republicans, mega-developer Jackie Welch, who is not a wannabe himself, has hired the well-known pollster Berge Jacoubian to check out the prospects for a mayoral race by Welch's longtime friend, Circuit Court Clerk Jimmy Moore.

Moore, as was first noted on the Flyer Web site (www.memphisflyer.com) last month, is still looking at three races -- one for reelection, one for the office of sheriff, and one for county mayor. Though Moore is considered unlikely to reach for the top ring on the pole, he has not yet ruled a mayoral race out. Hence Jacoubian.

Kyle, a onetime campaign aide himself, has a professional's attitude toward running for office, one which his opponents would be wise not to underestimate. The state senator for the Raleigh/Frayser area has signed on with Decision Research, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm which he used for his reelection race last year. Kyle's short-term intent is to devise strategy for the Democratic primary component of the mayoral race, which will be decided on May 7th of next year.

Wharton, who increasingly has handicappers talking him up as the favorite, not only for the Democratic primary but for the general election, has asked former University of Memphis professor John Bakke to run a preliminary poll for him.

Bakke, who has handled campaigns for clients as diverse as Harold Ford Sr. and Governor Don Sundquist, has racked up an impressive success record. His employment by Wharton is some measure of how seriously the Shelby County public defender is taking the race.

"I think he's a class guy, someone who has a strong identification with the important issue of education," said Bakke. (Wharton is a member and former chairman of the influential Tennessee High Education Commission.) Bakke said he had his pick of several potential candidates to work for. "They're all my friends. But besides thinking A C is the kind of person I'd like to see serve as county mayor, the race would be kind that requires some work, that I could make a real contribution to."

Since making an unsuccessful run for district attorney general several years ago, Wharton has often been talked up as a candidate for this or that office, but a number of factors -- definitely including the high fees he commands for his private practice -- have so far kept him from running.

The case for his winning the Democratic primary, aside from resting on his likeable personality and impressive achievements, is that he would be a name-brand black candidate running in a predominantly white field. In the general election, Wharton has enough crossover appeal to vie with any white Republican for the middle-of-the-road vote.

Indeed, Wharton, who managed two of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's election races, is that rare public figure who has a definite partisan identity -- in his case, as a Democrat -- without being confined by it. When he was Shelby County chairman for the U.S. Senate campaign of then-congressman Jim Cooper in 1994, his involvement did not keep him from offering the following wry observation on the then closely watched WKNO-TV program Informed Sources: "You know, [Cooper] is not a very exciting fellow. It's kind of like watching a man eat a mashed-potato sandwich."

Another Democratic candidate, State Representative Carol Chumney, was probably the first to hire a pollster, but she prefers for now to keep the identity of hers to herself. "We have a professional relationship, and I haven't yet got clearance from him," she says. "I will say that my poll showed that I had very high positives among the people who answered 'Yes' to name recognition questions."

Not everybody has tied up with a pollster just yet. A major contender for the Democratic nomination for county mayor, Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, says that it's premature to be doing any serious polling.

"There are basically two kinds of things you find out from a poll -- what the issues are and how well you're doing," said Byrd this week. "At this stage of the race, a candidate ought to have at least a fair knowledge of both subjects without having to ask somebody."

Though he probably will do some polling down the line, Byrd is concentrating right now on what he calls "meet-the-people" events -- like the three-mile run he and a group of supporters took through the Binghamton neighborhood Saturday morning.

"We're going to do 20 of those runs altogether, and we will have traversed the whole of Shelby County before it's over," vows Byrd.

· The 90th birthday celebration last week for well-loved local Republican patriarch John T. Williams at the home of Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout was a nice break in what was a depressing week otherwise in the life-passages department. Paul Gurley, who was a respected aide to two-term Memphis Mayor Dick Hackett, died, as did broadcaster Dave Black (see Viewpoint).

It was also the second anniversary week of the death of Ann Rickey, who was one of the more redoubtable local activists and political hostesses.

· Word comes from the camp of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Womack, the former state senator from Murfreesboro, that favorite Phil Bredesen better watch out, that Womack's money-raising has gone up dramatically after the surprise withdrawal of former party chairman Doug Horne.

It will take many a fund-raiser, however, for Womack to catch up with the former Nashville mayor, who made a fortune as a health-care entrepreneur. ·

Tuesday, August 21, 2001

LAMAR'S TRIAL BALLOON BUGS BRYANT

The 7th District congressman reacts to an unsuspected rival.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 21, 2001 at 4:00 AM

As Tennessee's senior senator Fred Thompson continues to signal that he may not choose to run for reelection in 2002, former Governor Lamar Alexander had sent up a trial balloon for a Senate race.

And that tentative launching strikes U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant as something of a red flag.

The prospect of an Alexander race -- almost certainly vented by the two-time governor (and two-time presidential loser) himself -- was indicated in a Wall St. Journal brief on Friday and was picked up by the influential political website The Hotline.

The WSJ item reads in its entirety: "TENNESSEE WALTZ: Former governor and GOP presidential candidate Lamar Alexander ponders a 2002 Senate race if Fred Thompson retires. Continuing efforts to keep in touch with supporters for a possible 2004 rematch with Bush, Al Gore meets with fund-raisers and activists in San Francisco next week."

The item came in the immediate aftermath of Alexander's appearance last week, with former Vice President Al Gore, at a political seminar in Nashville.

At Friday night's local reception for nonagenerian John T. Williams at the home of Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout, Bryant referred to the matter.

"I wondered what he [Lamar] was doing giving all that free publicity to Al Gore. Now it seems obvious he had another motive," Bryant commented wryly.

The congressman has said a number of times that he will run for the Senate if Thompson, who seems increasingly reluctant to make another race, opts out. The WSJ item was the first indication that Alexander's thinking was moving in the same direction.

If the former governor turns out to be serious and is given the opportunity to run by means of a Thompson withdrawal, it will constitute something of an irony, in that Bryant was once thought to be pitted against his Tennessee colleague, 4th District Rep. Van Hilleary for either a Senate or a gubernatorial race.

Bryant defused that showdown in February with a statement that he would not run for governor. That, coupled with Thompson's renunciation of his own gubernatorial ambitions, in effect divided the stateside electoral turf between Bryant and Hilleary, with Bryant gaining de facto squatter's rights on a Senate bid.

Alexander's hint now complicates that scenario.

Monday, August 20, 2001

LAMAR'S TRIAL BALLOON BUGS BRYANT

The 7th District congressman reacts to an unsuspected rival.

Posted By on Mon, Aug 20, 2001 at 4:00 AM

As Tennessee's senior senator Fred Thompson continues to signal that he may not choose to run for reelection in 2002, former Governor Lamar Alexander had sent up a trial balloon for a Senate race.

And that tentative launching strikes U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant as something of a red flag.

The prospect of an Alexander race -- almost certainly vented by the two-time governor (and two-time presidential loser) himself -- was indicated in a Wall St. Journal brief on Friday and was picked up by the influential political website The Hotline.

The WSJ item reads in its entirety: "TENNESSEE WALTZ: Former governor and GOP presidential candidate Lamar Alexander ponders a 2002 Senate race if Fred Thompson retires. Continuing efforts to keep in touch with supporters for a possible 2004 rematch with Bush, Al Gore meets with fund-raisers and activists in San Francisco next week."

The item came in the immediate aftermath of Alexander's appearance last week, with former Vice President Al Gore, at a political seminar in Nashville.

At Friday night's local reception for nonagenerian John T. Williams at the home of Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout, Bryant referred to the matter.

"I wondered what he [Lamar] was doing giving all that free publicity to Al Gore. Now it seems obvious he had another motive," Bryant commented wryly.

The congressman has said a number of times that he will run for the Senate if Thompson, who seems increasingly reluctant to make another race, opts out. The WSJ item was the first indication that Alexander's thinking was moving in the same direction.

If the former governor turns out to be serious and is given the opportunity to run by means of a Thompson withdrawal, it will constitute something of an irony, in that Bryant was once thought to be pitted against his Tennessee colleague, 4th District Rep. Van Hilleary for either a Senate or a gubernatorial race.

Bryant defused that showdown in February with a statement that he would not run for governor. That, coupled with Thompson's renunciation of his own gubernatorial ambitions, in effect divided the stateside electoral turf between Bryant and Hilleary, with Bryant gaining de facto squatter's rights on a Senate bid.

Alexander's hint now complicates that scenario.

Sunday, August 19, 2001

JOHN T. WILLIAMS

90 Candles for the Grand Old Party's Grand Old Man

Posted By on Sun, Aug 19, 2001 at 4:00 AM


John T. Williams, who claims numerous friendships across party lines, got birthday greetings Friday night from (left) Sandy Rout (wife of Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout and Cyndi Bryant, wife of 7th District U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant.

Among those paying tribute at a packed birthday celebration at the Routs' home was Governor Don Sundquist, who quipped, "This is easier than passing tax reform!."

President Bush sent greetings, as did U.S. Senators Fred Thompson and Bill Frist.

Williams, who once ran for Congress unsuccessfully against Ray Blanton (later governor of Tennessee and still later an indicted felon), likes to remind people that he was an early suitor of Pauline LaFon, who later became the wife of Albert Gore Sr. and still later the mother of former Vice President Al Gore.

-- JACKSON BAKER

WHY IS THIS MAN RUNNING?

A would-be frontrunner puts his best foot forward.

Posted By on Sun, Aug 19, 2001 at 4:00 AM


The Shelby County mayoral candidate whom most observers see as the frontrunner in the Democratic field so far, Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, led a group of supporters on a run through Binghampton Saturday morning.

The run started at Lester Community Center and made stops at the neighborhood's Habitat for Humanity houses and at East High School. Among the Byrd supporters on hand were ex-University of Memphis basketballer Billy Smith and Memphis school board member Sara Lewis.

Byrd's two declared Democratic opponents so far are State Senator Jim Kyle and State Representative Carol Chumney. Shelby County Public Defender A C Wharton could also enter the race, altering the picture significantly. -- JACKSON BAKER

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