Wednesday, January 30, 2002

HANGING IN THERE

HANGING IN THERE

Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2002 at 4:00 AM

God never asked us to be successful. He asked us to be faithful." Those words, part of a stirring oration by city council member TaJuan Stout-Michell Saturday to the attendees at mayoral candidate Harold Byrd's headquarters opening at 3183 Poplar Ave., were a fair statement of the campaign's root premises these days.

Whatever smoke might be blown from now on by Byrd's supporters or by his opponents, or even by the candidate himself, the Bartlett banker -- who began his quest more than a year ago and was firstest with the mostest in fundraising -- has long ceased to be the frontrunner in the current Democratic primary competition for the office of Shelby County Mayor to succeed the outgoing Jim Rout. A single Republican, State Representative Larry Scroggs, has also declared for mayor thus far.)

From the point that he signaled an interest in the mayoralty late last summer, and especially after his formal announcement of candidacy in October, the clear frontrunner -- both in a poll or two and in more anecdotal surveys -- has been Shelby County Public Defender A C Wharton, on the basis of perceived experience (he has toiled on public bodies dealing with law enforcement, mental health and education, for starters), personal likeability, and -- though Wharton is an African American and a Democrat -- his genuine ability to cross racial and political borders.

"Harold had it made until A C got in," is the phrase one hears from numerous pols sympathetic to both men, sometimes with a wistul shaking of the head on Byrd's behalf.

And, as if to rib it in, Wharton was able to flaunt a key endorsement Friday -- on the very eve of Byrd's headquarters opening.It came from State Senator Jim Kyle, who thereby got on the same bandwagon as his three Democratic colleagues in the Senate -- Steve Cohen, Roscoe Dixon, and John Ford -- at a press conference choreographed to suggest a united front and irresistible momentum for the Shelby County Public Defender, last Democrat to enter the mayor's race.

(Ford and Dixon, who had previously made their preferences known, were absent from the press conference; Cohen was present.)

Kyle, who had been the first to announce his interest in running for mayor early last year and the first (and so far the only) candidate to withdraw, had been talking privately for some time about what he saw as Wharton's good chances for election. Thursday he described Wharton as "better" than other "good" candidates.

The two recipients of this left-handed compliment were Byrd, of course, and State Representative Carol Chumney, who had not yet convinced most onlookers that she's a serious player -- even though she has quietly picked up endorsements from the Shelby County Women's Caucus and the AFL-CIO and could even be more of a sleeper than a spoiler.

Chumney also has ventured further and more explicitly into certain issues -- notably, city-county consolidation, which she favors -- though a key adviser or two are candid about her need to do so in order to overcome her better-heeled Democratic opponents' advantages.

For roughly a month, rumors have circulated to the effect that Byrd was on the verge of dropping out of the mayor's race before the final withdrawal date next month. "Not a chance," said Byrd, who insists he is in for the long haul and suggests that such reports had been planted by the Wharton campaign to try to stampede Democratic voters -- and financial supporters -- in the Public Defender's direction.

The timing of the Kyle announcement -- as much as the manner of it, overseen by a public relations firm -- was a confirmation both of Byrd's suspicions and of the confident, almost languid manner just now of the Public Defender, who also happened to be coming off a fresh (and lucrative) fundraiser or two.

Byrd had his own new endorsement Saturday -- from entertainer/entrepreneur Isaac Hayes, who gave a testimonial to Byr'd "morals, his character, his integrity." The campaign's hope clearly was that the impact of a cultural icon would prove more potent to a voting public than an endorsement by Kyle would be to political insiders.

The fact is, though, that Wharton is the clear frontrunner, and that it is no longer in Byrd's interest to pretend otherwise. What the Bartlett banker does have, to judge by the turnout Saturday, is a large and loyal commitment from a grass-roots population (heavily black, to judge by the crowd) that will stick it out with him.

His chances now are not those of a comfortable front-runner but those of a Rocky, an underdog with determination and spunk. In private, Byrd's campaign people employ the rhetoric of "the people versus the powerful" to describe their view of the race, in testament to what they see as Wharton's considerable numbers of supporters who are visibly well-off, politically established, and comfortable, but they have not yet ventured to make such rhetoric a strong and vivid part of their public appeal.

Nor do they (or can they) make much of another assumption shared by most of them -- notably the African Americans in Byrd's campaign. Namely, that a victory by Wharton in May might give the Democratic ticket in August an all-black look which, when complemented by the expected all-white roster of Republican nominees, could make the general election a de facto racial-line campaign, with resultant damage to a discussion of the issues.

Byrd himself seems to be having difficulty articulating what -- at this stage, certainly -- ought to be a populist campaign, and tends to answer almost every question put to him with variations on his stock speech, which begins with his difficult growing-up in McNairy County and trickles out somewhere around the point that the begins talking about the mounting county debt that he says propelled him into the race.

The trouble with that is that he's said that before and it sounded then, as it does now, too much like an accountant talking.

Still, the man is who he is -- well-liked, determined, and feisty if need be, as well as a sincere believer in opportunity for those who, more or less like himself back in those outdoor-privy McNairy County days, will have to come up from nothing.

It is a considerable irony that his major opponent happens to be a primary exhibit in his own person of such progress, and Byrd can only hope that Wharton's campaign style at some point begins to appear even more languid, lumbering and complacent than it already does at times -- to the point that voters might heed the strains of a candidate trying as hard as he can to come from behind.

Tuesday, January 29, 2002

HANGING IN THERE

HANGING IN THERE

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2002 at 4:00 AM

"God never asked us to be successful. He asked us to be faithful." Those words, part of a stirring oration by city council member TaJuan Stout-Michell Saturday to the attendees at mayoral candidate Harold Byrd's headquarters opening at 3183 Poplar Ave., were a fair statement of the campaign's root premises these days.

Whatever smoke might be blown from now on by Byrd's supporters or by his opponents, or even by the candidate himself, the Bartlett banker -- who began his quest more than a year ago and was firstest with the mostest in fundraising -- has long ceased to be the frontrunner in the current Democratic primary competition for the office of Shelby County Mayor to succeed the outgoing Jim Rout. A single Republican, State Representative Larry Scroggs, has also declared for mayor thus far.)

From the point that he signaled an interest in the mayoralty late last summer, and especially after his formal announcement of candidacy in October, the clear frontrunner -- both in a poll or two and in more anecdotal surveys -- has been Shelby County Public Defender A C Wharton, on the basis of perceived experience (he has toiled on public bodies dealing with law enforcement, mental health and education, for starters), personal likeability, and -- though Wharton is an African American and a Democrat -- his genuine ability to cross racial and political borders.

"Harold had it made until A C got in," is the phrase one hears from numerous pols sympathetic to both men, sometimes with a wistul shaking of the head on Byrd's behalf.

And, as if to rib it in, Wharton was able to flaunt a key endorsement Friday -- on the very eve of Byrd's headquarters opening.It came from State Senator Jim Kyle, who thereby got on the same bandwagon as his three Democratic colleagues in the Senate -- Steve Cohen, Roscoe Dixon, and John Ford -- at a press conference choreographed to suggest a united front and irresistible momentum for the Shelby County Public Defender, last Democrat to enter the mayor's race.

(Ford and Dixon, who had previously made their preferences known, were absent from the press conference; Cohen was present.)

Kyle, who had been the first to announce his interest in running for mayor early last year and the first (and so far the only) candidate to withdraw, had been talking privately for some time about what he saw as Wharton's good chances for election. Thursday he described Wharton as "better" than other "good" candidates.

The two recipients of this left-handed compliment were Byrd, of course, and State Representative Carol Chumney, who had not yet convinced most onlookers that she's a serious player -- even though she has quietly picked up endorsements from the Shelby County Women's Caucus and the AFL-CIO and could even be more of a sleeper than a spoiler.

Chumney also has ventured further and more explicitly into certain issues -- notably, city-county consolidation, which she favors -- though a key adviser or two are candid about her need to do so in order to overcome her better-heeled Democratic opponents' advantages.

For roughly a month, rumors have circulated to the effect that Byrd was on the verge of dropping out of the mayor's race before the final withdrawal date next month. "Not a chance," said Byrd, who insists he is in for the long haul and suggests that such reports had been planted by the Wharton campaign to try to stampede Democratic voters -- and financial supporters -- in the Public Defender's direction.

The timing of the Kyle announcement -- as much as the manner of it, overseen by a public relations firm -- was a confirmation both of Byrd's suspicions and of the confident, almost languid manner just now of the Public Defender, who also happened to be coming off a fresh (and lucrative) fundraiser or two.

Byrd had his own new endorsement Saturday -- from entertainer/entrepreneur Isaac Hayes, who gave a testimonial to Byr'd "morals, his character, his integrity." The campaign's hope clearly was that the impact of a cultural icon would prove more potent to a voting public than an endorsement by Kyle would be to political insiders.

The fact is, though, that Wharton is the clear frontrunner, and that it is no longer in Byrd's interest to pretend otherwise. What the Bartlett banker does have, to judge by the turnout Saturday, is a large and loyal commitment from a grass-roots population (heavily black, to judge by the crowd) that will stick it out with him.

His chances now are not those of a comfortable front-runner but those of a Rocky, an underdog with determination and spunk. In private, Byrd's campaign people employ the rhetoric of "the people versus the powerful" to describe their view of the race, in testament to what they see as Wharton's considerable numbers of supporters who are visibly well-off, politically established, and comfortable, but they have not yet ventured to make such rhetoric a strong and vivid part of their public appeal.

Nor do they (or can they) make much of another assumption shared by most of them -- notably the African Americans in Byrd's campaign. Namely, that a victory by Wharton in May might give the Democratic ticket in August an all-black look which, when complemented by the expected all-white roster of Republican nominees, could make the general election a de facto racial-line campaign, with resultant damage to a discussion of the issues.

Byrd himself seems to be having difficulty articulating what -- at this stage, certainly -- ought to be a populist campaign, and tends to answer almost every question put to him with variations on his stock speech, which begins with his difficult growing-up in McNairy County and trickles out somewhere around the point that the begins talking about the mounting county debt that he says propelled him into the race.

The trouble with that is that he's said that before and it sounded then, as it does now, too much like an accountant talking.

Still, the man is who he is -- well-liked, determined, and feisty if need be, as well as a sincere believer in opportunity for those who, more or less like himself back in those outdoor-privy McNairy County days, will have to come up from nothing.

It is a considerable irony that his major opponent happens to be a primary exhibit in his own person of such progress, and Byrd can only hope that Wharton's campaign style at some point begins to appear even more languid, lumbering and complacent than it already does at times -- to the point that voters might heed the strains of a candidate trying as hard as he can to come from behind.

Saturday, January 26, 2002

ROUT BACK ON THE STUMP, FOR CANDIDATE HENRY

ROUT BACK ON THE STUMP, FOR CANDIDATE HENRY

Posted By on Sat, Jan 26, 2002 at 4:00 AM

>How're you gonna keep 'em down on the farm? In the case of Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout, who was allegedly retiring from politics after the current term to devote time to family and private pursuits (including, yes, a farm), you may not be able to.

Rout, who considered running for governor this year before opting out of both a gubernatorial race and a race for reelection as mayor, went barnstorming Thursday in a statewide fly-around on behalf of former State Representative Jim Henry of Kingston, who seeks the Republican nomination for governor. That puts Rout on the other side of the GOP primary race from 7th District U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant, who is holding a press conference this weekend to indicate his support for his congressional colleague, 4th District congressman Van Hilleary.

The Shelby County mayor and son Rick Rout, who is Henry's Shelby County field rep, accompanied the candidate all the way from the Tri-Cities in northeast Tennessee to the one-day tour's final stop in Memphis late Thursday afternoon.

"I knew I'd be working for a gubernatorial candidate named Jim. I just thought it would be a different Jim," cracked Rick Rout as he presided over the occasion at Memphis in the Signature Air terminal at the airport. (Besides his father, two other Tennessee dignitaries -- former Mayor Gene Roberts of Chattanooga and Mayor Dave Bradshaw of Oak Ridge accompanied Henry on the plane tour.)

After being introduced by Rout Sr., Henry responded angrily to his third-place position in a poll released by presumed GOP frontrunner Hilleary calling the poll "bogus" and pronouncing Hilleary unelectable.

The poll, carried out under Hilleary auspices, showed the 4th District congressman running first among Republicans, little-known Bob Tripp second, and Henry third.

Henry challenged the poll's authenticity and said, "We [Republicans[ don't need to be involved in something like that." And he responded with a firm "No!" when asked if Hilleary, who is vacating his 4th District congressional seat to run for governor, could be elected.

"With the kind of trouble the state is in, people are looking for someone with experience in local and state government. They don't want to take any chances," said Henry, who cited "the good old days" when he worked with former Governor Lamar Alexander in several capacities, including that of House Republican leader.

Declining to reveal how much money he had raised in his campaign so far, the former state representative and Kingston mayor chided Hilleary for several press releases publicizing the congressman's purported receipts, saying, "If you make this a money game, we might as well concede the election to Phil Bredesen. (Former Nashville mayor Bredesen, a Democratic candidate for governor, is independently wealthy and has also issued a press release claiming fundraising totals of $3.1 million.)

Henry said the supporters in attendance at the terminal that the election should be about "trust" and that he trusted the people to vote via referendum on whether or not the state should have an income tax.

Henry agreed with Hilleary about one matter, however -- that of declining to sign an anti-income tax pledge. "It would be irresponsible for a potential governor to take a position like that, especially if we're asking the people to vote on it," said Henry, who said he personally opposed a state income tax.

KYLE GOES FOR WHARTON

KYLE GOES FOR WHARTON

Posted By on Sat, Jan 26, 2002 at 4:00 AM

County mayoral candidate A C Wharton picked up a key endorsement Friday morning, from State Senator Jim Kyle, who got on the bandwagon with his three Democratic colleagues in the Senate -- Steve Cohen, Roscoe Dixon, and John Ford -- at a press conference choreographed to suggest a united front and irresistible momentum for the Shelby County Public Defender, last Democrat to enter the mayor's race.

(Ford and Dixon, who had previously made their preferences known, were absent from the press conference; Cohen was present.)

Kyle, who had been the first to announce his interest in running for mayor early last year and the first (and so far the only) candidate to withdraw, had been talking privately for some time about what he saw as Wharton's good chances for election. Thursday he described Wharton as "better" than other "good" candidates.

The two recipients of this left-handed compliment were State Representative Carol Chumney and Bartlett banker Harold Byrd. Byrd mused out loud Friday about what he saw as the less-than-coincidental timing of the Kyle announcement, on the eve of the opening of his campaign headquarters at 3183 Poplar Ave. (scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday).

He may have a point. For roughly a month, rumors have circulated to the effect that Byrd was on the verge of dropping out of the mayor's race before the final withdrawal date next month. "Not a chance," said Byrd, who said he was in for the long haul and suggested that the reports had been planted by the Wharton campaign to try to stampede Democratic voters -- and financial supporters -- in the Public Defender's direction.

Friday, January 25, 2002

ROUT BACK ON THE STUMP, FOR CANDIDATE HENRY

ROUT BACK ON THE STUMP, FOR CANDIDATE HENRY

Posted By on Fri, Jan 25, 2002 at 4:00 AM

How're you gonna keep 'em down on the farm? In the case of Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout, who was allegedly retiring from politics after the current term to devote time to family and private pursuits (including, yes, a farm), you may not be able to.

Rout, who considered running for governor this year before opting out of both a gubernatorial race and a race for reelection as mayor, went barnstorming Thursday in a statewide fly-around on behalf of former State Representative Jim Henry of Kingston, who seeks the Republican nomination for governor.

The Shelby County mayor and son Rick Rout, who is Henry's Shelby County field rep, accompanied the candidate all the way from the Tri-Cities in northeast Tennessee to the one-day tour's final stop in Memphis late Thursday afternoon.

"I knew I'd be working for a gubernatorial candidate named Jim. I just thought it would be a different Jim," cracked Rick Rout as he presided over the occasion at Memphis in the Signature Air terminal at the airport. (Besides his father, two other Tennessee dignitaries -- former Mayor Gene Roberts of Chattanooga and Mayor Dave Bradshaw of Oak Ridge accompanied Henry on the plane tour.)

After being introduced by Rout Sr., Henry responded angrily to his third-place position in a poll released by presumed GOP frontrunner Van Hilleary, calling the poll "bogus" and pronouncing Hilleary unelectable.

The poll, carried out under Hilleary auspices, showed the 4th District congressman running first among Republicans, little-known Bob Tripp second, and Henry third.

Henry challenged the poll's authenticity and said, "We [Republicans[ don't need to be involved in something like that." And he responded with a firm "No!" when asked if Hilleary, who is vacating his 4th District congressional seat to run for governor, could be elected.

"With the kind of trouble the state is in, people are looking for someone with experience in local and state government. They don't want to take any chances," said Henry, who cited "the good old days" when he worked with former Governor Lamar Alexander in several capacities, including that of House Republican leader.

Declining to reveal how much money he had raised in his campaign so far, the former state representative and Kingston mayor chided Hilleary for several press releases publicizing the congressman's purported receipts, saying, "If you make this a money game, we might as well concede the election to Phil Bredesen. (Former Nashville mayor Bredesen, a Democratic candidate for governor, is independently wealthy and has also issued a press release claiming fundraising totals of $3.1 million.)

Henry said the supporters in attendance at the terminal that the election should be about "trust" and that he trusted the people to vote via referendum on whether or not the state should have an income tax.

Henry agreed with Hilleary about one matter, however -- that of declining to sign an anti-income tax pledge. "It would be irresponsible for a potential governor to take a position like that, especially if we're asking the people to vote on it," said Henry, who said he personally opposed a state income tax.

Thursday, January 24, 2002

Ryder's Run?

A GOP primary contest in the commission's 5th District could echo an old war.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 24, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Not since the great showdown of 1991 -- when two almost equally matched Shelby County Republican factions battled to a virtual draw over control of the party machinery -- has the local GOP had a serious internal schism. The signs are there again, however -- in a year when the party's decade-long dominance of countywide political affairs is under serious challenge.

Eleven years ago the fight was over the party chairmanship. After an extended all-day convention of county cadres Memphis lawyer David Lillard, who represented what was then regarded as the old-line Republican establishment, was the loser, by a scant few votes, to Dr. Phillip Langsdon, the champion of a suburban-based insurgency. Langsdon -- now retired from party affairs but a possible contender for future office -- was at the helm for the institution of local party primaries and during the subsequent Republican sweep of county offices in 1994.

At some point, the two contending elements of 1991 joined forces, more or less (victory making for easy bedfellows), but today's battle, which is not yet fully under way, could be a reprise of sorts of the old war. Lawyer John Ryder, one of two Tennesseans on the GOP national committee (and a Lillard partisan back then), has reportedly begun talking up a possible run for the Shelby County Commission's 5th District seat, which is being vacated by Republican incumbent Buck Wellford.

The problem is that there is already a "mainstream" Republican candidate for the seat: financial planner Bruce Thompson, a Wellford-style opponent of urban sprawl who, up until now, had faced primary competition only from builder Jerry Cobb, a spokesperson of sorts for what has been an outnumbered -- if defiant -- group of GOP dissidents. One of Thompson's main men, coincidentally or not, is lobbyist Nathan Green, a former close aide to outgoing Shelby County mayor Jim Rout and a prime booster also of Lillard's run for yet another vacant commission seat.

(Lillard, now one of two Republican members of the county Election Commission, is focusing on his own race -- for the seat being vacated by outgoing Commissioner Tommy Hart.)

The contest for the District 5 seat, which comprises a large chunk of East and Southeast Memphis, has major implications. Of the commission's other 12 seats, six are heavily Democratic and African-American and six are predominantly white and Republican. District 5, which is the commission's only single-member district, emerged from reapportionment discussions as the body's swing seat -- that which will determine who holds the balance of power on the commission, and perhaps in county government as a whole.

The most active Democrat now seeking the seat is veteran pol Joe Cooper, although lawyer Guthrie Castle has also acknowledged an interest in running. When last contacted, Clay Perry, local office manager for U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., had not decided whether to make a race. Perry and some other Democrats -- notably including local party chairperson Gale Jones Carson -- believe that District 5 emerged from reapportionment discussions as something less than the racial and political "tossup" district it was billed as.

If Republicans do indeed hold an edge in the district, that edge could be blunted by a divisive three-way primary, which at root is a potential contest between individuals but which could inflame old wounds and become something more than that.

Ryder has been a key figure in Republican affairs, both locally and statewide, and it was largely through his efforts that the GOP was able of late to settle on a candidate for Shelby County mayor, state Representative Larry Scroggs. But Scroggs, whose ability to raise money is hampered by a state law prohibiting legislators from raising money while the General Assembly is in session, faces what already appears to be an uphill battle against the winner of the Democratic mayoral primary (whose major contestants are Public Defender A C Wharton, Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, and state Representative Carol Chumney).

Countywide, the demographic edge has turned in favor of the Democrats, and Shelby County Republicans would seem to require a united front at all costs.

Perhaps a shootout for the 5th District commission seat would leave that unity intact, and perhaps not. Perhaps the contest will not even come to pass. But if it does, Green professes confidence. "He [Ryder] may not think so, but we'll beat him. He's going to be badly surprised."

* In a burst of activity this week, Scroggs made it clear that he intends to run as hard as his involvement with legislative matters will let him. Taking advantage of a lull in floor action, the GOP's mayoral hope laid on a brisk Memphis schedule.

Beginning a weeklong round of local speeches with one to the Southeast Shelby County Republican Club at Fox Ridge Pizza Monday night, Scroggs both presented a legislative preview and outlined some of his views on county government.

Using the euphemism of "tax reform" to mean a state income tax, Scroggs indicated that such "reform" was less likely to come to pass in the current session than was a 1 percent rise in the state sales tax, which would increase it to 7 percent, with allowances for another 2.75 percent in local-option sale taxes. The combined rate would be far and away higher than any of Tennessee's neighbor states.

An increase in that amount could yield as much as $750 million, at a time when the state's looming deficit for the next fiscal year is estimated to be at least that much, Scroggs said. He underscored the relationship between the state's fiscal problems and those of Shelby County by taking note of another proposal for obtaining financial relief at the state level -- holding on to $700 million worth of tax funds ordinarily shared with local governments.

Such an action could force a 67-cent increase in the property tax rate of Germantown and one of 93 cents for residents of Memphis, said Scroggs, who warned, "The future of Shelby County is at stake."

Scroggs stated his opposition to city-county consolidation per se, on three grounds -- a personal belief in the "dispersal" of governmental power; a fear that, rather than reducing costs, consolidation would produce more "bureaucratic" expense than already exists within the separate governments of Memphis and Shelby County; and his view that the specter of duplicated services in the two governments had been overstated.

In particular, Scroggs warned against one of the advocated means for achieved city-county consolidation -- the voluntary surrender of the city of Memphis charter. "That could open up that whole 'tiny town' thing all over again," he said, referring to the conflict arising from a short-lived 1997 state law, later ruled unconstitutional, which would have permitted virtually unbridled incorporating powers by communities of almost any size.

In Scroggs' scenario, other Shelby County municipalities might get into turf battles over efforts to annex parts of Memphis.

Scroggs did suggest that various forms of "functional" city-county consolidation might be desirable, although he noted, with seeming approval, ongoing efforts of any opposite sort in public education policy -- specifically a bill co-sponsored by state Senator Mark Norris of Collierville that would establish the Shelby County school system as a special school district with its own taxing authority.

That bill has the imprimatur of David Pickler, chairman of the county school board. Pickler said this week, however, that he thought compromise was possible between that proposal and one by Memphis mayor Willie Herenton that would provide "single-source funding" for a unified district that would maintain administrative separateness for the two currently existing districts.

As Scroggs also noted Monday night, the other bone of contention besides that of administrative control is the matter of funding. Current state law, based on a classroom-attendance formula, mandates a 3:1 split, in Memphis' favor, on all capital construction expenditures in Shelby County.

RYDER TO MAKE COMMISSION RUN

RYDER TO MAKE COMMISSION RUN

Posted By on Thu, Jan 24, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Not since the great showdown of 1991 -- when two almost equally matched Shelby County Republican factions battled to a virtual draw over control of the party machinery -- has the local GOP had a serious internal schism. The signs are there again, however -- in a year when the party's decade-long dominance of countywide political affairs is under serious challenge. The catalyst is Memphis lawyer John Ryder, a former party chairman, a GOP national committeeman from Tennessee, the local (and state) party's chief litigator (especially on redistricting issues), and a veteran kingmaker whose recruiting efforts were most recently employed in the effort to find an acceptable Republican candidate for Shelby County mayor. In a move that has surprised most of his partymates, Ryder now plans a run of his own -- for a newly vacated seat on the Shelby County Commission. He won't walk into the nomination, however. He'll have to run hard, and he'll have to do so in a way that avoids reopening old wounds from an old intra-party conflict. That fight eleven years ago was over the party chairmanship, but it had larger overtones. After an extended all-day convention of county cadres Memphis lawyer David Lillard, who represented what was then regarded as the old-line Republican establishment, was the loser in 1991, by a scant few votes, to Dr. Phillip Langsdon, the champion of a suburban-based insurgency. Langsdon, -- now retired from party affairs but a possible contender for future office -- was at the helm for the institution of local party primaries and during the subsequent Republican sweep of county offices in 1994. At some point, the two contending elements of 1991 joined forces, more or less (victory making for easy bedfellows), but another fight could be stirred up by the newly formulated plans of Ryder, a Lillard partisan back then, to run for the Shelby County Commission's 5th district seat, which is being vacated by Republican incumbent Buck Wellford. The problem is that there is already a "mainstream" Republican candidate for the seat -- financial planner Bruce Thompson, a Wellford-style opponent of urban sprawl who, up until now, had faced primary competition only from builder Jerry Cobb, a spokesperson of sorts for what has been an outnumbered -- if defiant -- group of GOP dissidents. One of Thompson's main men, coincidentally or not, is lobbyist Nathan Green, a former close aide to outgoing Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout and a prime booster also of Lillard's run for yet another vacant commission seat. (Lillard, who on Tuesday formally resigned his position as one of two Republican members of the county Election Commission, is focusing on his own race -- for the seat being vacated by outgoing Commissioner Tommy Hart.) The contest for the District 5 seat, which comprises a large chunk of East and Southeast Memphis, has major implications. Of the commission's other 12 seats, six are heavily Democratic and African-American, and six are predominantly white and Republican. District 5, which is the commission's only single-member district, emerged from reapportionment discussions as the body's swing seat -- that which will determine who holds the balance of power on the commission, and perhaps in county government as a whole The most active Democrat now seeking the seat is veteran pol Joe Cooper, although lawyer Guthrie Castle has also acknowledged an interest in running. When last contacted, Clay Perry, local office manager for U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., had not decided whether to make a race. Perry and some other Democrats -- notably including local party chairperson Gale Jones Carson-- believe that District 5 emerged from reapportionment discussions as something less than the racial and political "tossup" district it was billed as. If Republicans do indeed hold an edge in the district, that edge could be blunted by a divisive three-way primary, which at root is a potential contest between individuals but which could inflame old wounds and become something more than that. Ryder has been a key figure in Republican affairs, both locally and statewide, and it was largely through his efforts that the GOP was able of late to settle on a candidate for Shelby County Mayor, State Representative Larry Scroggs. But Scroggs, whose ability to raise money is hampered by a state law prohibiting legislators from raising money while the General Assembly is in session, faces what already appears to be an uphill battle against the winner of the Democratic mayoral primary (whose major contestants are Public Defender A C Wharton, Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, and State Representative Carol Chumney). Countywide, the demographic edge has turned in favor of the Democrats, and Shelby County Republicans would seem to require a united front at all costs. Perhaps a shootout for the 5th District commission seat would leave that unity intact, and perhaps not. Perhaps the contest will not even come to pass. But if it does, Green professes confidence. "He [Ryder] may not think so, but we'll beat him. He's going to be badly surprised." Ryder, a longtime kingmaker turned candidate, owns more IOU's than almost any other Memphis Republican. It remains to be seen whether he has rubbed a few party members' hard edges, as well, and, if so, what the ratio of the two camps is to each other.

Wednesday, January 23, 2002

RYDER TO ANNOUNCE COMMISSION RUN

The kingmaker-turned-candidate could have a fight on his hands.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 23, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Not since the great showdown of 1991 -- when two almost equally matched Shelby County Republican factions battled to a virtual draw over control of the party machinery -- has the local GOP had a serious internal schism. The signs are there again, however -- in a year when the party's decade-long dominance of countywide political affairs is under serious challenge. The catalyst is Memphis lawyer John Ryder, a former party chairman, a GOP national committeeman from Tennessee, the local (and state)party's chief litigator (especially on redistricting issues), and a veteran kingmaker whose recruiting efforts were most recently employed in the effort to find an acceptable Republican candidate for Shelby County mayor. In a move that has surprised most of his partymates, Ryder now plans a run of his own -- for a newly vacated seat on the Shelby County Commission. He plans to announce his race officially on Wednesday. He won't walk into the nomination, however. He'll have to run hard, and he'll have to do so in a way that avoids reopening old wounds from an old intra-party conflict. That fight eleven years ago was over the party chairmanship, but it had larger overtones. After an extended all-day convention of county cadres Memphis lawyer David Lillard, who represented what was then regarded as the old-line Republican establishment, was the loser in 1991, by a scant few votes, to Dr. Phillip Langsdon, the champion of a suburban-based insurgency. Langsdon, -- now retired from party affairs but a possible contender for future office -- was at the helm for the institution of local party primaries and during the subsequent Republican sweep of county offices in 1994. At some point, the two contending elements of 1991 joined forces, more or less (victory making for easy bedfellows), but another fight could be stirred up by the newly formulated plans of Ryder, a Lillard partisan back then, to run for the Shelby County Commission's 5th district seat, which is being vacated by Republican incumbent Buck Wellford. The problem is that there is already a "mainstream" Republican candidate for the seat -- financial planner Bruce Thompson, a Wellford-style opponent of urban sprawl who, up until now, had faced primary competition only from builder Jerry Cobb, a spokesperson of sorts for what has been an outnumbered -- if defiant -- group of GOP dissidents. One of Thompson's main men, coincidentally or not, is lobbyist Nathan Green, a former close aide to outgoing Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout and a prime booster also of Lillard's run for yet another vacant commission seat. (Lillard, who on Tuesday formally resigned his position as one of two Republican members of the county Election Commission, is focusing on his own race -- for the seat being vacated by outgoing Commissioner Tommy Hart.) The contest for the District 5 seat, which comprises a large chunk of East and Southeast Memphis, has major implications. Of the commission's other 12 seats, six are heavily Democratic and African-American, and six are predominantly white and Republican. District 5, which is the commission's only single-member district, emerged from reapportionment discussions as the body's swing seat -- that which will determine who holds the balance of power on the commission, and perhaps in county government as a whole The most active Democrat now seeking the seat is veteran pol Joe Cooper, although lawyer Guthrie Castle has also acknowledged an interest in running. When last contacted, Clay Perry, local office manager for U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., had not decided whether to make a race. Perry and some other Democrats -- notably including local party chairperson Gale Jones Carson-- believe that District 5 emerged from reapportionment discussions as something less than the racial and political "tossup" district it was billed as. If Republicans do indeed hold an edge in the district, that edge could be blunted by a divisive three-way primary, which at root is a potential contest between individuals but which could inflame old wounds and become something more than that. Ryder has been a key figure in Republican affairs, both locally and statewide, and it was largely through his efforts that the GOP was able of late to settle on a candidate for Shelby County Mayor, State Representative Larry Scroggs. But Scroggs, whose ability to raise money is hampered by a state law prohibiting legislators from raising money while the General Assembly is in session, faces what already appears to be an uphill battle against the winner of the Democratic mayoral primary (whose major contestants are Public Defender A C Wharton, Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, and State Representative Carol Chumney). Countywide, the demographic edge has turned in favor of the Democrats, and Shelby County Republicans would seem to require a united front at all costs. Perhaps a shootout for the 5th District commission seat would leave that unity intact, and perhaps not. Perhaps the contest will not even come to pass. But if it does, Green professes confidence. "He [Ryder] may not think so, but we'll beat him. He's going to be badly surprised." Ryder, a longtime kingmaker turned candidate, owns more IOU's than almost any other Memphis Republican. It remains to be seen whether he has rubbed a few party members' hard edges, as well, and, if so, what the ratio of the two camps is to each other.

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

  • Tre Hargett's Power Play (January 16)
  • Tre Hargett's Power Play (January 16)
  • Posted By on Tue, Jan 22, 2002 at 4:00 AM

    (FIRST APPEARANCE ON WEB JANUARY 16) So how did it develop that -- only 24 hours after proposing a scheme of statewide reapportionment that forced 12 Republican state representatives into six districts -- the General Assembly’s Democrats agreed to another plan that freed up all those GOP incumbents to run in friendly districts by themselves? Unquestionably, one explanation is summoned up in the phrase “ol’ boys’ club,” the term used disgustedly by Nashville Tennessean columnist Larry Daughtrey, who smells an Incumbent Protection Act in the final redistricting plan adopted with virtual unanimity last week Yet another is that of fear of litigation. The redoubtable Memphis lawyer -- and Republican state committeeman -- John Ryder was ready to go with a lawsuit had the majority House Democratsâ original plan been offered up for a vote (and, in fact, Ryder still hasn’t totally renounced the idea of taking Speaker Jimmy Naifeh and company to court. But a third reason for the sea change -- largely unspoken to thus far -- concerns a crucial backroom game played by several Republican legislators from Memphis. The story begins with the question of Senate reapportionment. It is well known that State Senator Curtis Person, who has been reelected to represent District 31 (East Memphis) in the legislature without opposition since the late Ô60s, wants to preserve that admirable record (probably a nationwide one) until the day he retires -- presumably well in the future, although one hears rumors about an exit after this term. The general population shift that sees Memphis and its environs yielding influence to other parts of the state -- notably Nashville and its suburbs -- made it appear after the 2000 census that Shelby County would have to sacrifice one of its six state Senate seats. Given the reality of Democratic control of the legislature, that meant the probability that a Republican senator from Shelby would have to be sacrificed. There were only two -- Person and freshman senator Mark Norris (District 32), and the Democrats’ first plan did indeed place the two of them in the same proposed new district, forcing a showdown between an esteemed veteran and a well-regarded newcomer whose old district would have accounted for fully 65 percent of the new one, geographically. Who would have won? You pays your money, and you takes your choice. But, since Person was chairman of the GOP’s reapportionment committee and Norris was a member, and both therefore had a real chance to influence the final lines, they did their best to see that no such choice became necessary. Person in particular is given credit for working out a different arrangement with Gallatin’s Senator Jo Ann Graves, chairman of the whole Senate reapportionment committee. The new plan retained the general framework of six state Senate seats for Shelby county, though it did so by moving both Person’s and Norris’ districts eastward and extending Norris’, which already incorporated Tipton and Lauderdale counties into Dyer County as well. So far, so good. Until the House Democrats revealed their flagrantly gerrymandered plan, week before last, that would have forced the aforesaid dozen Republicans to halve themselves via mortal combat. Three of the potentially affected Republican state representatives inhabited the same reaches of Shelby County as did Norris and Person. These were Tre Hargett (District 97) and Bubba Pleasant (District 99), both of Bartlett, and Paul Stanley (District 96) of Germantown and Cordova. Because the county’s population loss, both absolute and relative to their counties, seemed to dictate the loss of a Shelby seat in the House, all these relatively junior Republicans were at risk. The decision by their colleague Larry Scroggs (District 94), also of Germantown, to forsake reelection and seek the office of county mayor instead seemed at first to provide an escape clause, in that Scroggs’ seat could be, in effect, deleted (actually, shifted to the Shelby-Tipton border), thereby taking up all the slack and leaving the incumbents safe. The initial Democratic plan was a standard that flew in the face of such logic. The first version had Hargett and Pleasant wedged in together; a revised version put Hargett in with Stanley. Both versions were in tune with the Democrats’ underlying logic -- to displace as many troublesome Republicans as possible, while leaving the clubbier, more bipartisan specimens alone. Hargett was the fly the House Democrats wanted out of the ointment in Shelby County, and both configurations of the original plan inconvenienced him accordingly. The ambitious Bartlett Republican had not become a gadfly to the majority by virtue of his passiveness, however, and once again he declined to be docile. Hargett, who thought seriously last year of challenging Rep. Steve McDaniels of Parkers Crossroads for the post of House minority leader, let it be known that, as long as he was forced to compete with a fellow Republican, he might as well try to promote himself to the other chamber. He would, in short, run for the Senate against the no longer inviolable Person -- let the chips, and the votes, fall where they way. No sooner did that prospect percolate throughout the state Capitol than Senators Person and Norris were paying a courtesy visit to House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh. No transcript of the visit exists, but not long afterward the new -- and final --House reapportionment plan emerged, with its roster of six gladiatorial combats involving 12 incumbent Republicans no longer on the bill. The legislature being what it is -- a go-along to get-along body -- Rep. Hargett may have rubbed a few in both parties the wrong way. But the legislature also respects power plays, and Hargett got away with one last week. Bigtime.

    THE 'GOOD OLE BOY' STYLE IN TENNESSEE POLITICS

    THE 'GOOD OLE BOY' STYLE IN TENNESSEE POLITICS

    Posted By on Tue, Jan 22, 2002 at 4:00 AM

    In January, it is difficult to tell what will ultimately matter in a November election. Yet, judging from the subtext of both frontrunning gubernatorial campaigns, laying claim to "legit" good ole boy status may be a fairly important battle.

    It might seem a silly argument to some, but being able to appear "down home" means votes in a state like Tennessee. Truth be known, such authenticity matters everywhere with working people who vote - not just in the still rural areas of the South.

    Running for statewide office in Tennessee requires a special blend of of country boy authenticity, and attempts by some politicians to peg it have become Tennessee political archetypes.

    Sen. Fred Thompson is of course well known for criss-crossing Tennessee in his stick-shift, full size red pickup truck. Thompson, a former Hollywood actor, would cut commercial spots while driving the truck, shifting the stick shift - an uncommon feature in most late model full size trucks these days - for emphasis as he talked about the state's future.

    Thompson's last opponent, Covington attorney and later state Democratic Party Chair Houston Gordon, had his own pickup, a mini-truck he too used to criss cross the state. The sizes of both men's pickups would later prove prophetic in terms of their respective political war chests and futures in politics.

    Other good ole boy trappings have also been employed by Tennessee politicians and in one well-known case taken to the national political stage.

    There is perhaps no other more well-known outward statement of country boy awareness than that worn by Ivy League educated Lamar Alexander - the black and red plaid flannel.

    Alexander donned his trademark plaid in his first successful run for governor, or in Alexander's case walk for governor as he walked across Tennessee in his flannel, Johnny Apple Seed style to witness and connect with the down home folks first hand. He later wore the plaid in his two failed bids for president, making it a visual mainstany of the New Hampshire primary season for two election cycles.

    There is also the example set by former Gov. Ned McWherter. McWherter's statement about politics in the state was simple - it is much easier to connect with the folks when you are actually one of them. McWherter, a rural state legislator to the bone, simply oozed countryside -from his lumbering walk to his portly build and his thick drawl. McWherter was an anomaly on the modern Tennessee landscape in that he didn't have to pretend to fit in with the courthouse crowd in any county seat.

    This brief history lesson brings us to our current gubernatorial campaign, matching a Nashville millionaire against a career Congressman.

    Of course, both former Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen and 4th District Congressman Van Hilleary will tell you differently - and the spin to the state's political writers about each man's down home "cred" has already begun.

    Bredesen has the most uphill battle in the country boy department, having already been typecast by many writers during his last run at the governor's office as a blue blood.

    Bredesen is in fact a millionaire and actually is originally from upstate New York. However, his campaign is trying to balance that information with the message that Bredesen is from a small town in upstate New York - just like many small towns in Tennessee.

    They are also quick to add in both conversation and bio material that Bredesen is an avid hunter and outdoorsman. Does this mean he likes to hunt fox and pheasant, or can he actually gut and skin a deer? We don't know yet.

    Hilleary for all the income tax squabbling in his own party, has likely found at least one early advantage over Bredesen in the good ole boy department. Four terms in Washington DC did not rob Hilleary of his Spring City twang, something that will help Hilleary more than anything else during the retail end of the campaign at fish frys and county fairs in place like Paris, Lebanon and Lenoir City.

    There is also a famous story in Middle Tennessee about Bredesen's failed 1994 campaign against now Gov. Don Sundquist. It is the painfully uncomfortable account of Bredesen in a suit attempting to campaign in the Watertown Farmer's Co-Op one weekday afternoon. It is said that Bredesen's suit, shoes and watch combined probably cost more than most of each farmers' take on that year's tobacco crop.

    So yes, for simple down-home credibility and country charm, the advantage at present probably would have to go to Hilleary, though neither campaign will stop trying to best the other in seeking out the support of Tennessee's small town voters.

    Perhaps Bredesen should learn to field-dress that prize buck if he doesn't know how already. It's probably easier than bagging campaign contributions. Dirty finger nails still win votes in some corners of this state.

    Friday, January 18, 2002

    Legislative Hardball

    Rep. Tre Hargett's version of it may have led to the final reapportionment plan.

    Posted By on Fri, Jan 18, 2002 at 4:00 AM

    So how did it develop that the General Assembly's Democrats had an overnight sea change? Only 24 hours after proposed a scheme of statewide reapportionment that forced 12 Republican state representatives into six districts, the Dems agreed to another plan that freed up all those GOP incumbents to run in friendly districts -- by themselves.

    Unquestionably, one explanation is summoned up in the phrase "ol' boys' club," the term used disgustedly by Nashville Tennessean columnist Larry Daughtrey, who smells an Incumbent Protection Act in the final redistricting plan adopted with virtual unanimity last week.

    Yet another is that of fear of litigation. The redoubtable Memphis lawyer -- and Republican state committeeman -- John Ryder was ready to go with a lawsuit had the majority House Democrats' original plan been offered up for a vote (and, in fact, Ryder still hasn't totally renounced the idea of taking Speaker Jimmy Naifeh and company to court.

    But a third reason for the sea change -- largely unspoken to thus far -- concerns a crucial backroom game played by several Republican legislators from Memphis.

    The story begins with the question of Senate reapportionment.

    It is well known that state Senator Curtis Person, who has been reelected to represent District 31 (East Memphis) in the legislature without opposition since the late '60s, wants to preserve that admirable record (probably a nationwide one) until the day he retires -- presumably well in the future, although one hears rumors about an exit after this term.

    The general population shift that sees Memphis and its environs yielding influence to other parts of the state -- notably Nashville and its suburbs -- made it appear after the 2000 census that Shelby County would have to sacrifice one of its six state Senate seats. Given the reality of Democratic control of the legislature, that meant the probability that a Republican senator from Shelby would have to be sacrificed.

    There were only two -- Person and freshman senator Mark Norris (District 32), and the Democrats' first plan did indeed place the two of them in the same proposed new district, forcing a showdown between an esteemed veteran and a well-regarded newcomer whose old district would have accounted for fully 65 percent of the new one, geographically.

    Who would have won? You pays your money, and you takes your choice.

    But since Person was chairman of the GOP's reapportionment committee and Norris was a member and both therefore had a real chance to influence the final lines, they did their best to see that no such choice became necessary.

    Person in particular is given credit for working out a different arrangement with Gallatin's Senator Jo Ann Graves, chairman of the whole Senate reapportionment committee.

    The new plan retained the general framework of six state Senate seats for Shelby County, though it did so by moving both Person's and Norris' districts eastward and extending Norris', which already incorporated Tipton and Lauderdale counties, into Dyer County as well.

    So far, so good.

    Until the House Democrats revealed their flagrantly gerrymandered plan, week before last, that would have forced the aforesaid dozen Republicans to halve themselves via mortal combat.

    Three of the potentially affected Republican state representatives inhabited the same reaches of Shelby County as did Norris and Person. These were Tre Hargett (District 97) and Bubba Pleasant (District 99), both of Bartlett, and Paul Stanley (District 96) of Germantown and Cordova.

    Because the county's population loss, both absolute and relative to their counties, seemed to dictate the loss of a Shelby seat in the House, all these relatively junior Republicans were at risk.

    The decision by their colleague Larry Scroggs (District 94), also of Germantown, to foresake reelection and seek the office of county mayor instead seemed at first to provide an escape clause, in that Scroggs' seat could be, in effect, deleted (actually, shifted to the Shelby-Tipton border), thereby taking up all the slack and leaving the incumbents safe.

    The initial Democratic plan was a standard that flew in the face of such logic. The first version had Hargett and Pleasant wedged in together; a revised version put Hargett in with Stanley. Both versions were in tune with the Democrats' underlying logic -- to displace as many troublesome Republicans as possible, while leaving the clubbier, more bipartisan specimens alone.

    Hargett was the fly the House Democrats wanted out of the ointment in Shelby County, and both configurations of the original plan inconvenienced him accordingly.

    The ambitious Bartlett Republican had not become a gadfly to the majority by virtue of his passiveness, however, and once again he declined to be docile. Hargett, who thought seriously last year of challenging Rep. Steve McDaniels of Parkers Crossroads for the post of House minority leader, let it be known that, as long as he was forced to compete with a fellow Republican, he might as well try to promote himself to the other chamber.

    He would, in short, run for the Senate against the no longer inviolable Person -- let the chips, and the votes, fall where they may.

    No sooner did that prospect percolate throughout the state Capitol than Senators Person and Norris were paying a courtesy visit to House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh of Covington. No transcript of the visit exists, but not long afterward the new -- and final -- House reapportionment plan emerged, with its roster of six gladiatorial combats involving 12 incumbent Republicans no longer on the bill.

    The legislature being what it is -- a go-along to get-along body -- Rep. Hargett may have rubbed a few in both parties the wrong way. But the legislature also respects power plays, and Hargett got away with one last week. Big-time.

    • Norris hasn't skipped a beat in shaping his rhetoric to accommodate his newly configured district. He has always spoken of the increasingly dilapidated condition of the University of Memphis and of a professorial "brain drain" there when talking of legislative priorities. In speaking to the Dutch Treat Luncheon at the Audubon Cafe last Saturday he added Dyersburg Community College.

    The senator also pumped for his legislative proposal to enable special school districts with their own taxing power -- including one that would encompass the present borders of the Shelby County school district. David Pickler, president of the county school board, had urged legislative attention to Norris' bill at a special committee hearing last month.

    The proposal is sure to run afoul of Shelby County's urban representatives, however, as it already has of Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, who has made his own proposal for a "single-sourced" funding formula that would roughly equalize expenditures between districts while leaving them administratively separate.

    Speaking in the City Hall auditorium Tuesday to a specially assembled meeting of the Memphis Rotary Club, Herenton repeated his already-stated opposition to the Norris-Pickler plan, contending that it would be financially "ruinous" to county taxpayers and in violation of what the mayor sees as the urgent need for city and county governments to consolidate.

    Herenton, who has argued for consolidation for years and made a much- noticed appeal for it on a New Year's Day speech, announced to the Rotarians that he would reveal his blueprint for consolidation to the City Council at its regular meeting next Tuesday.

    • Another education-minded political figure was in Memphis last week, making the case for his own proposals. Former state senator Andy Womack of Murfreesboro, now a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor, said he would stand by the principle of "Gateway testing" in the schools which has recently become controversial in Memphis.

    Womack also declared in favor of charter schools -- with a difference. Calling his version "volunteer" schools, the former Senate Education Committee chairman added a level of qualification, proposing to clear such newly created public institutions through local school boards before the state Education Department or state Board of Education would be asked to approve them.

    Wednesday, January 16, 2002

    TRE HARGETT'S POWER PLAY

    TRE HARGETT'S POWER PLAY

    Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2002 at 4:00 AM

    So how did it develop that -- only 24 hours after proposing a scheme of statewide reapportionment that forced 12 Republican state representatives into six districts -- the General Assembly’s Democrats agreed to another plan that freed up all those GOP incumbents to run in friendly districts by themselves? Unquestionably, one explanation is summoned up in the phrase “ol’ boys’ club,” the term used disgustedly by Nashville Tennessean columnist Larry Daughtrey, who smells an Incumbent Protection Act in the final redistricting plan adopted with virtual unanimity last week Yet another is that of fear of litigation. The redoubtable Memphis lawyer -- and Republican state committeeman -- John Ryder was ready to go with a lawsuit had the majority House Democrats’ original plan been offered up for a vote (and, in fact, Ryder still hasn’t totally renounced the idea of taking Speaker Jimmy Naifeh and company to court. But a third reason for the sea change -- largely unspoken to thus far -- concerns a crucial backroom game played by several Republican legislators from Memphis. The story begins with the question of Senate reapportionment. It is well known that State Senator Curtis Person, who has been reelected to represent District 31 (East Memphis) in the legislature without opposition since the late Ô60s, wants to preserve that admirable record (probably a nationwide one) until the day he retires -- presumably well in the future, although one hears rumors about an exit after this term. The general population shift that sees Memphis and its environs yielding influence to other parts of the state -- notably Nashville and its suburbs -- made it appear after the 2000 census that Shelby County would have to sacrifice one of its six state Senate seats. Given the reality of Democratic control of the legislature, that meant the probability that a Republican senator from Shelby would have to be sacrificed. There were only two -- Person and freshman senator Mark Norris (District 32), and the Democrats’ first plan did indeed place the two of them in the same proposed new district, forcing a showdown between an esteemed veteran and a well-regarded newcomer whose old district would have accounted for fully 65 percent of the new one, geographically. Who would have won? You pays your money, and you takes your choice. But, since Person was chairman of the GOP’s reapportionment committee and Norris was a member, and both therefore had a real chance to influence the final lines, they did their best to see that no such choice became necessary. Person in particular is given credit for working out a different arrangement with Gallatin’s Senator Jo Ann Graves, chairman of the whole Senate reaaportionment committee. The new plan retained the general framework of six state Senate seats for Shelby county, though it did so by moving both Person’s and Norris’ districts eastward and extending Norris’, which already incorporated Tipton and Lauderdale counties into Dyer County as well. So far, so good. Until the House Democrats revealed their flagrantly gerrymandered plan, week before last, that would have forced the aforesaid dozen Republicans to halve themselves via mortal combat. Three of the potentially affected Republican state representatives inhabited the same reaches of Shelby County as did Norris and Person. These were Tre Hargett (District 97) and Bubba Pleasant (District 99), both of Bartlett, and Paul Stanley (District 96) of Germantown and Cordova. Because the county’s population loss, both absolute and relative to their counties, seemed to dictate the loss of a Shelby seat in the House, all these relatively junior Republicans were at risk. The decision by their colleague Larry Scroggs (District 94), also of Germantown, to forsake reelection and seek the office of county mayor instead seemed at first to provide an escape clause, in that Scroggs’ seat could be, in effect, deleted (actually, shifted to the Shelby-Tipton border), thereby taking up all the slack and leaving the incumbents safe. The initial Democratic plan was a standard that flew in the face of such logic. The first version had Hargett and Pleasant wedged in together; a revised version put Hargett in with Stanley. Both versions were in tune with the Democrats’ underlying logic -- to displace as many troublesome Republicans as possible, while leaving the clubbier, more bipartisan specimens alone. Hargett was the fly the House Democrats wanted out of the ointment in Shelby County, and both configurations of the original plan inconvenienced him accordingly. The ambitious Bartlett Republican had not become a gadfly to the majority by virtue of his passiveness, however, and once again he declined to be docile. Hargett, who thought seriously last year of challenging Rep. Steve McDaniels of Parkers Crossroads for the post of House minority leader, let it be known that, as long as he was forced to compete with a fellow Republican, he might as well try to promote himself to the other chamber. He would, in short, run for the Senate against the no longer inviolable Person -- let the chips, and the votes, fall where they way. No sooner did that prospect percolate throughout the state Capitol than Senators Person and Norris were paying a courtesy visit to House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh. No transcript of the visit exists, but not long afterward the new -- and final --House reapportionment plan emerged, with its roster of six gladiatorial combats involving 12 incumbent Republicans no longer on the bill. The legislature being what it is -- a go-along to get-along body -- Rep. Hargett may have rubbed a few in both parties the wrong way. But the legislature also respects power plays, and Hargett got away with one last week. Bigtime.

    Friday, January 11, 2002

    Itineraries 2002

    Ophelia may come, Bridget may go, Bakke polls on, and Willie may last forever.

    Posted By on Fri, Jan 11, 2002 at 4:00 AM

    "I loved Ophelia forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, make up thy sum." -- Hamlet

    There once was a popular superstition that the Ford family of Memphis had a monolithic hold on Democratic politics in the inner city.

    Despite some isolated election results that might have disproved this, some Memphians still believe it. The fact is, as the recent mayoral filing by 27-year-old Isaac Ford suggested, there is not even a single party line within the family itself. That fact was newly demonstrated at the Election Commission Wednesday by the picking up of a petition for the County Commission by Ophelia Ford.

    Ophelia Ford is the sister of Harold Ford Sr., the family patriarch, and of several other Ford brothers who have been active politically -- including former city councilman Joe Ford and current Councilman Edmund Ford. In 1999, she was beat to the punch by brother Edmund, who filed to succeed brother Joe, who would run an unsuccessful race for mayor. For a while, they were both candidates, but eventually Ophelia yielded to her brother and withdrew.

    Not this trip. Since the death last month of Dr. James Ford, a member of the Shelby County Commission, the supposition in the family -- and in the political community at large -- has been that Joe Ford would run to succeed his brother. Indeed, Commissioner Michael Hooks Sr. made a moving speech at the next commission meeting in which he said in effect that it had been one of Dr. Ford's dying wishes that brother Joe Ford succeed him on the commission.

    Sister Ophelia scoffs at that. "It was extremely poor judgment for Michael to go public talking about our deceased brother's wishes. We don't need Michael to tell our family what our wishes are." So she picked up a petition to run for brother James' District 3, Position 1 seat as soon as the commission had resolved all district boundaries and it was legal to do so. She thereby beat brother Joe to the punch this time, and that was no accident.

    "I'm borrowing the style of my younger brothers," explained the 51-year-old Ophelia, who said she had been trying to get into government since at least 1984 but had found herself -- a jilted soul like her namesake in Shakespeare's Hamlet -- in the position of deferring to one brother after another, sometimes being taken by surprise after she had confided her ambitions. Brother Joe, for example, had picked up and filed his council petition in 1995 after she had first expressed interest, she said.

    "This time they can read in the paper," said Ophelia, who quoted Joe as having informed her of his unexpected filing back then by saying, "Oh, you must not have read the paper!"

    Reasoning that it was better to sandbag a sibling than to be sandbagged, Ophelia explained Wednesday, "I didn't tell any of my family members I was going to pick up a petition." She maintained, however, that "I had told most of my family members that I was going to go for the next thing available, especially after [Joe] messed up his stuff with the mayor's situation. I'll be interested to see what reaction is."

    (Joe Ford might indeed have been taken by surprise; he was doubtless looking in the other direction, for a threatened primary challenge from family political rival Sidney Chism.)

    Ophelia Ford's decision to go for the commission seat followed several months of waiting for another brother, state Senator John Ford, to abandon his own seat. Ophelia maintains that brother John had expressed a sense of weariness with continued service in the state Senate.

    "If I don't get in this time, I'll probably relocate," said Ophelia, who -- ironically or not -- had expressed chagrin at the recent decision of nephew Isaac, a son of Harold Ford Sr. and brother of U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., to run as an independent for mayor, thereby breaking an emerging family consensus for Democratic mayoral candidate A C Wharton.

    Ophelia Ford has worked in the fields of public relations, communications, and product development with a variety of enterprises. She is a veteran of service with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, radio station WLOK, the Memphis Board of Education, Memphis Area Legal Services (where she was an aide to Wharton); and the family business, N.J. Ford Funeral Parlor, where she is an accredited undertaker and recently developed a company-related insurance plan.

    • District 2 Shelby County Commissioner Bridget Chisholm, who was named to fill a commission vacancy roughly a year ago and served during a stormy period of debate on the NBA Grizzlies and other volatile issues, may be ready to take her leave without seeking reelection.

    "I've thought about it, but I haven't concluded anything definite," Chisholm said last week.

    Elected by the commission in early 2000 to fill the position vacated by Shep Wilbun, who, in a close and contentious vote, had been named by his mates to the position of Juvenile Court Clerk, Chisholm ran afoul of controversy herself, being charged in a Chancery Court suit (later dismissed) with conflict of interest after a business partner had sought the transplanted Grizzlies' broadcasting rights.

    Chisholm is a co-founder and partner of Mosaic Group, which helps develop business franchises in the Memphis area for such enterprises as Church's Fried Chicken and Applebee's Grill & Bar.

    A relative unknown to the public at large, Chisholm enjoyed a sudden burst of favorable publicity in late 1999 and was boosted for the Wilbun seat by an ad hoc coalition including the Ford political organization and influential members of the development community.

    Deidre Malone, a longtime political activist who heads up public relations for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and is close to Democratic political broker Sidney Chism, is determinedly seeking election to Chisholm's Division 2, Position 3 seat. Already running with a head of steam, she will be an overwhelming favorite if Chisholm drops out.

    • A mid-December poll taken under the supervision of veteran political consultant John Bakke shows that Public Defender Wharton, with whom Bakke is working, commanded a majority of the likely Democratic primary voters asked for a preference among party candidates for Shelby County mayor.

    Wharton's standing in the poll of 606 voters, surveyed between December 10th and 14th, was at 51 percent, as against 13 percent for Bartlett banker Harold Byrd and 11 percent for Midtown state Representative Carol Chumney.

    The poll also showed that, when matched in the general election against Republican Larry Scroggs, the only Republican to have announced for county mayor so far, Wharton would enjoy a ratio in his favor of two to one, Bakke said. Scroggs, a state representative from Germantown, is the only Republican to have announced for county mayor so far and the only one tested.

    Bakke added that county commissioner Clair VanderSchaaf, who talked about running as a Republican but decided this week that the press of business prevented that, would have been a figure to reckon with also. Isaac Ford was not included in the survey, nor was radiologist/radio-station owner George Flinn, who filed as a Republican then withdrew his petition and is considering re-filing as an independent.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, Wharton's Democratic opponents were skeptical of Bakke's results. Chumney called the poll "an attempt to trick the voters into believing that a winner has been anointed" and said her own soundings, done by pollster Berge Yacoubian, have yielded "very different" results.

    • Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, who many suggest could be Mayor for Life, indicated on New Year's Day that he might harbor some such notion as well, unveiling the general outlines of a "five-year plan," adding as a sort of modest footnote, "If I am reelected in 2003 -- I don't want to be presumptuous."

    The de facto announcement of reelection plans was but one highlight of Herenton's annual speech at The Peabody to participants at city councilman Myron Lowery's New Year's Prayer Breakfast. The mayor also hinted that he might choose to intervene in the forthcoming Shelby County mayor's race and reiterated his determination to push for city-county consolidation, with the important exception of city and county schools.

    Consolidation was, in fact, the key component of the five-year plan (along with a stated intent to shore up education and the criminal justice system) and, Herenton seemed to suggest, the possible determinant in deciding whom he might support for county mayor.

    The mayor proposed to begin immediate -- but unspecified -- measures to bring about consolidation in the realm of law enforcement but said he intended to "say no to the consolidation of city and county schools." He proposed instead to "freeze school system boundaries" for the existing Memphis and Shelby County systems and to institute "single-source" funding for the two systems.

    As an apparent response to continued complaints from county officials and suburbanites about the current method of routing state funding to the two systems through an average-daily-attendance (ADA) formula favoring the city schools by a three to one ratio, Herenton proposed "equalized expenditures," so long as special provision was made for "at-risk youngsters."

    After his public remarks, the mayor would condemn as "divisive" a recent proposal for separate special school districts made to a state legislative committee in Nashville recently by county school board chairman David Pickler.

    Though he did not target specific individuals in his speech, Herenton also professed to be outraged by the inability of officials at the state and county levels to solve looming financial problems and at the weaknesses in the Memphis school system revealed by the city system's disproportionately poor showing in recent state testing.

    After the mayor's speech, various members of his audience, ranging from members of his own circle to participants in this or that mayoral campaign, indicated they thought Herenton's prospective intervention in the 2002 county mayor's race would not occur before the end of the primary process.

    Herenton said he would make no endorsement "at this time," adding that, aside from his judging candidates on their integrity, experience, and ability -- and on their commitment to consolidation -- he would not be bound, in deciding on an ultimate endorsement, by restrictions of gender, race, or party.

    • Insisting that, a recent news report to the contrary notwithstanding, he was aware of a looming state budget crisis and had no intention of denying it, U.S. Rep. Van Hilleary (R-4th) said in Memphis last week that TennCare was the major cause of the shortfall, and, without naming incumbent Governor Don Sundquist directly, indicated strongly that the current administration was also to blame.

    Addressing a small group of supporters at a meet-and-greet at the Lulu Grille in East Memphis, GOP gubernatorial candidate Hilleary said that state revenues had run ahead of inflation every year except the last one and that a "restructuring" of TennCare, the state-run insurance system for the indigent and uninsured, would do much to fix the problem.

    "With TennCare, the state has been offering open-ended supply to go with open-ended demand. We can't raise enough in taxes to keep up with that," Hilleary said. He promised, if elected, to institute "two-way dialogue" and go beyond the "my way or the highway attitude" which he said had prevailed in recent years. Hilleary said the state had been hurt by the unchanging focus on an income tax during the last three years and added, "There's been a certain amount of disgruntlement across the state in the last few years." He said that he and the Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner, former Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen, had run "neck-and-neck" in polls "even after I've absorbed the disgruntlement."

    Wednesday, January 9, 2002

    PORTRAIT OF A FRIEND

    PORTRAIT OF A FRIEND

    Posted By on Wed, Jan 9, 2002 at 4:00 AM

    "Friend" is one of those words that falls legions short of its intent. When you say friend, what you really mean is something more along the lines of "really super person who makes me feel better about myself" or "encourager, laugher, smiler, and advice giver." For lack of a better word, Dennis Freeland was my friend. When I was down on my luck, panicked and depressed, Dennis gave me a job and then helped me do that job. When I had doubts about my abilities or questioned my judgment, Dennis reassured and reinforced me. He was my editor and my boss and he filled those roles superbly - but he did it all with a wry smile and a sense of humor - traits most writers can only dream their editors will have. He'd offer up some wry observation, a quippy remark, or a knowing smirk. Dennis was the person I could always count on to get my jokes and laugh at them - even when we both knew they weren't funny. Even when he was mad, he was pleasant. His face would get red, he'd vent for a second and then, invariably, that smile would break out again. His anger would pass and he'd figure out a way to fix whatever the current problem was. In fact, all of the words that come to mind when I think of Dennis seem insufficient to describe him. Pleasant, nice, kind, warm, funny - these are simple words, no triple word scores here. But they're words that can only honestly describe a few in our midst. Dennis was one of those few. And while I'm happy that I was able to know him, I'm sad that I didn't know him longer and I'm sadder still for those who never knew him at all. Pleasant, nice, kind, warm, funny - I'm really going to miss my friend.

    Sunday, January 6, 2002

    DRUE SMITH REMEMBERED

    DRUE SMITH REMEMBERED

    Posted By on Sun, Jan 6, 2002 at 4:00 AM

    Editor's Note: State Sen. Cohen, D-Memphis, had known the late broadcaster Drue Smith for almost a generation by the time of her death last week. He was the author of the resolution renaming the Legislative Plaza press room in Nashville in honor of journalist Smith. We asked him for a reminiscence to coincide with a memorial for her on Saturday at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. This is it.)

    The death of Drue Smith leaves a void in Tennessee political journalism and a chasm in the hearts of the multitude of friends she leaves behind.

    Webster's Dictionary defines "unique" as "one and only, having no like or equal, and highly unusual, extraordinary." Drue was all these things and many more for she was both a true southern lady and a dedicated journalist. Drue's work ethic existed comfortably alongside her generosity of spirit. Drue's dedication to journalistic integrity will live on through her work on behalf of the Society of Professional Journalists scholarship fund.

    Drue was a person of whom there are too few left--she knew and liked herself and everyone who met her concurred. In her reporting as in her dress, she expressed herself boldly and eloquently. Drue was always the first with a question at any news conference and her sense of whimsy and fun, while providing a human touch, never compromised her dogged persistence in getting answers to her pointed and informed queries.

    The old press conference room, contained in what is now the Drue Smith Press Suite, will surely always echo with her distinctive, lilting voice. Hers was a career marked by grace, professionalism and longevity. Drue probably reported more news stories than any other journalist in the history of Tennessee and had greater institutional knowledge than any member of the fourth estate (or any estate for that matter).

    She knew where the bodies were buried, how they got there, and the implement with which the deed was done. Nevertheless, Drue's questions were answered and her calls returned as she dealt fairly with her subjects while never flinching from her journalistic responsibilities. Drue had no hidden agenda. You knew Drue and Drue knew you.

    Drue was beloved and respected by legislators, state employees, lobbyists, political activists, and her fellow journalists. She lived her life with zest and vigor, without complaint or acrimony. Drue was a trouper. The halls of the Legislative Plaza and the State Capitol will be drearier without her color and wit. There will never be another Drue Smith and we'll never be the same without her.

    (During her lengthy career, Drue Smith provided broadcast coverage of the Tennessee legislature for United Press International, radio station WLAC-AM, and the Tennessee Radio Network , among others.

    Smith was named National Broadcaster of the Year by American Women in Radio and TV and Woman of the Year by the Business and Professional Women's Club, the Tennessee Press Women, the Pilot Club and the Altrusa Club.

    By resolution of the General Assembly, the press room at Legislative Plaza was renamed last year in her honor. Sen. Cohen authored the resolution.)

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