Forrest Shoaf, a Nashville lawyer who is seeking the Republican nomination for Congress in the 7th District (the one Ed Bryant is vacating to run for the U.S. Senate), was in Memphis last week reconnoitering possible support for his race -- which pits him against three Shelby Countians (lawyer David Kustoff, state Senator Mark Norris, and Memphis city councilman Brent Taylor) as well as state Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Williamson County in his own Middle Tennessee neighborhood.
Virtually all his opponents are better known than Shoaf, who was serving as GOP gubernatorial candidate Van Hilleary's legal counsel when he discovered that congressional reapportionment had put him in the 7th District. "When I go out in the morning to get the paper, I'm in the 7th District," Shoaf noted while here last week. "When I lean over the curb to pick it up, I'm in the 5th."
Shoaf and many of his suburban neighbors are Republicans who were dumped into the 7th District on the say-so of 5th District incumbent Bob Clement, with the concurrence of his colleagues in the Tennessee delegation. Clement presumably breathed easier with a greater proportion of Democrats in his already safe Democratic district; for Clement at least, the point is now moot, since the same act which led Bryant to run for the Senate -- incumbent Republican Fred Thompson's surprise withdrawal from the race two months ago -- induced Clement to become a Senate candidate as well.
Although he is -- literally -- just within the district line, Shoaf thinks he can win his party's nomination through what he calls, unabashedly, "the air war." Shoaf, a West Point graduate and Army veteran, thinks that all his competitors will come down fairly uniformly for the Republican concepts of limited, less costly government. "What will distinguish us is my military background and pro-military outlook," says the man whose full name is Nathan Bedford Forrest Shoaf III, a family name whose passage from generation to generation signifies the fact that a male ancestor actually rode with the Confederate cavalry leader whose motto was "be the fustest with the mostest."
The way in which Shoaf intends to follow Forrest's motto is to do lots and lots of media advertising. In contemporary political parlance, that is "the air war," and it is a methodology that has increasingly been relied upon by modern candidates. "Now Marsha will be running mainly a ground war," said Shoaf of his chief regional competitor. "And so will Brent. Norris and Kustoff will be doing some of both."
"Ground war" connotes an intensive form of meet-and-greet politics done at the local voter level, and, while all candidates for office (Shoaf included) must avail themselves of it, the larger the field of action, the less important it is proportionately. Forrest Shoaf's belief is that an elongated district which stretches from metropolitan Memphis to metropolitan Nashville -- two areas intensively served by the electronic media -- is made-to-order for air-war candidacies.
He also thinks that it's the best way to play catch-up and to acquaint himself with voters who may already know something about other candidates who've been in the field longer (as, in fact, all of Shoaf's GOP rivals have).
* What is somewhat surprising -- but perhaps understandable under the circumstances -- is the emergence of a largely air-war candidacy for Shelby County mayor -- that of Memphis physician/businessman George Flinn, whose spots began running on the county's major radio and TV outlets two weeks ago.
Flinn's reliance on media is surprising, in that Shelby County is a small-enough area to permit a more variegated election strategy, including door-to-door campaigning, appearances at forums and neighborhood clubs, and phone banks and other GOTV (Get-Out-the-Vote) tactics. The radiologist and broadcast magnate has done some of all this as well, of course, but the ratio of his effort leans much more heavily to direct media appeals than most.
What is understandable and unsurprising about the Flinn air-war strategy is that: 1) as a highly successful practitioner of both his main prior callings, he can afford to splurge on his maiden political effort; and 2), as is the case with Forrest Shoaf, it may be the quickest, most direct way to acquaint himself with the voters of his would-be constituency.
Flinn's first spots concentrated on his general biography and local roots ("I went to the same school, Central High, that my father did. ... I remember when Walnut Grove ended at East High School"); a second series focused on a highly generalized approach to issues (stressing the candidate's three themes of public safety, education, and job-creation), and others in the series may branch out further, campaign sources say.
Meanwhile, Flinn's main Republican rival, state Representative Larry Scroggs, has been turning up at every available local Republican club and mayoral forum, whenever his legislative service in Nashville has permitted. Assuming a certain degree of name-familiarity, at least with the Republican regulars he assumes will make up the brunt of May 7th primary voters, Scroggs stresses themes relating to his long-term party activity and legislative record -- "performance-based budgeting," a proposal to sunset government programs that cannot pass the muster of periodic review, being typical of the latter.
For most of the campaign, Scroggs was able to attend more local meetings as such than Flinn, a circumstance which emboldened him to introduce himself at this week's Memphis Rotary Club forum as "the Republican candidate for mayor," even though Flinn, who has of late also begun to budget such appearances in his itinerary, sat down the dais from him.
An unusual feature of Scroggs' campaign, however, has been the fact that, uniquely among major local candidates for office, he has done without a campaign headquarters as such. (Shelby County mayor Jim Rout was heard to wonder out loud about this circumstance on Monday.) Scroggs explains that as a necessary consequence of husbanding his funds.
Although legislation was passed this spring allowing members of the General Assembly to raise money locally for local races (a fact which benefits Democratic candidate Carol Chumney as well), Scroggs acknowledges that he operates at a competitive disadvantage against the well-heeled Flinn -- the major reason why the legislator called a press conference two weeks ago, on the eve of his opponent's media blitz, to denounce a practice he described as "trying to buy" an office.
* Mary Taylor-Shelby, an African-American activist and perennial candidate who has run for many offices and is in the field again this year, as a Republican candidate for mayor, is not considered a realistic prospect to achieve the office. But she achieved a career peak of sorts this past week at a forum sponsored by the women's group Hadassah at the Jewish Community Center.
Taylor-Shelby, who in two forums in recent years concluded her appearances with sobbing episodes, conducted herself not only with poise at the JCC forum, she more than held her own rhetorically, and she had the best line of the evening when, in discussing the strain of multiple demands on a severely straitened county budget, she averred, "We can't afford cake and ice cream, too" -- a variation on an old cliché that not only was unexpected but had the virtue of being so simple and evocative that one could only wonder why the phrase was not already a political commonplace.
* The verbal war between Democratic mayoral candidates AC Wharton and chief challenger Carol Chumney continues unabated -- with Wharton, advised almost uniformly by his advisers not to respond, not only replying in kind to Chumney's barbs but adding some hard thrusts of his own.
At the Hadassah-sponsored forum, Wharton contrasted his experience with that of what he termed the "boutique" candidate. Since he was the last speaker of the evening, his thrust went, at least temporarily, unanswered. But Chumney was able to avenge herself somewhat the next night, when, at a reception at the Botanic Garden, she acknowledged the "boutique" reference with a smile and used the term "conflict of interest" to describe what she said was Wharton's over-involvement with developers and (in his role as an attorney) with daycare brokers.
(She also responded to a Commercial Appeal editorial characterization of her as a "purist" by saying, "Thanks for the compliment."
* Shelby County commissioner Marilyn Loeffel, who chairs the commission's education committee, single-handedly put a temporary roadblock Monday in what was expected to be the commission's approval of a reapportionment plan for the Shelby County school board.
Acting on a request by school board member Wyatt Bunker, who, like Loeffel, represents the Cordova area, Loeffel took note of the fact that Bunker had withdrawn his approval of a proposal approved earlier by the entire board and observed that "responsibility for approving" reapportionment rested with the commission, not with the school board, "especially when there is no consensus." She would define this latter term as meaning unanimity.
At issue was Bunker's discovery that the newly drawn lines, approved without demurrer by his six colleagues on the seven-member board, located a fellow social conservative, Leeann McNinch, within the same district as himself, rather than in the adjoining district of board member Joe Clayton, who is thought to be considering retirement. McNinch is the current president of FLARE, a conservative organization formerly headed by Loeffel.
Both Loeffel and Bunker acknowledged, when asked, that their hopes of giving McNinch an opportunity to join the board played a prominent role in the positions they took at Monday's commission meeting. Board president David Pickler and member Ron Lollar were on hand, pointing out that the lines of the plan under consideration had been drawn so as to assign each member a major high school and the "feeder" schools for that high school.
"That's all right if you can get it," Bunker said with a shrug about the fact that redrawing the lines to accommodate McNinch might make it impossible to apply the principle. "But it's not the only thing you need to think about." Bunker and Loeffel both defended the propriety of redrawing lines to accommodate particular candidates' future ambitions.
"They did it for me, and they've done it for lots of others," observed Bunker, who was elected to the board two years ago to succeed his father, long-term member Homer Bunker.
The commission scheduled a Thursday morning meeting to ascertain whether the school board's 6-1 approval of the plan proposed Monday could be made a 7-0 vote for a newly configured plan.
Lakeland mayor Scott Carmichael, county mayoral candidate LarryScroggs, Bartlett mayor Ken Fulmar, Scroggs aide Eliot Cohen, and Germantown mayor Sharon Goldsworthy met Wednesday morning at Bartlett City Hall.
The mayors of Shelby Countys municipalities agree on a few matters, it seems. One is the candidacy for Shelby County mayor of Germantown state Representative Larry Scroggs,who is running in the Republican primary.
Another is that they have increasing doubts about the task-force proposal on single-source funding for city and county schools which was released last week..
Their views about the latter issue are for the most part shared by Scroggs, who was formally endorsed by five of the mayors at a Wednesday morning press conference at Bartlett City Hall. Endorsements came from Bartlett mayor Ken Fulmar, Lakeland mayor Scott Carmichael, and Germantown mayor Sharon Goldsworthy, all of whom were on hand, as well as from Arlington mayor George HortonLinda Kerley, who were absent.
(Millington mayor George Harvell,whose wife is a prospective county school-board candidate, is not endorsing a candidate for mayor.)
What the mayors and Scroggs agreed on Thursday was that initial enthusiasm in the outer county for the task-force proposal should be subjected to serious second thoughts. The mayors on hand had doubts about such matters as a provision in the task-force proposal giving the county commission authority over school bonds. That in a sense makes the decision unrepresentative of the county school population, since only three commissioners directly represent the area, Goldsworthy said. She and the others also expressed concern that they were not consulted directly in the formulation of the proposals and that the task-force proposal might shift too much of the schools tax burden from business and industry to suburban homeowners.
The mayors' endorsement of Scroggs followed by two days an endorsement of the legislator's mayoral candidacy by the Republican members of the General Assembly.
COVINGTON -- Former governor Lamar Alexander said Thursday that his Republican primary opponent in the U.S. Senate race, 7th District congressman Ed Bryant, should spent more time characterizing himself and less time distorting my record and denied suggestions by Bryant and others that he had advance knowledge of Sen. Fred Thompsons plans not to seek reelection.
Talking with reporters on the grounds of Covington Country Club, where state House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh was hosting his annual Coon Supper for members of the legislature and other state politicians, Alexander discounted Bryants claims of being a more genuine conservative than himself. Hes a good conservative,and Im a good conservative, Alexander said. The issue should be, who is the most experienced and has the best record. The former governor and two-time presidential candidate said he had been a defender of such conservative causes as Right-to-Work and Right-to-Life and that former Reagan cabinet official Bill Bennett, a well-known figure on the Repubican Right, had told Nashville talk-show host Steve Gill recently, He [Alexander[ is to the right of me.
Acknowledging that Senator Bill Frist. head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, had encouraged him to run for the Senate a year ago, when Thompson had first indicated he might not seek reelection, Alexander insisted that he had no advance knowledge from Thompson, Frist, or the White House about the senators final decision this year, made after the untimely death of Thompsons daughter.
Id heard rumors like other people, saide Alexander, who said his first certain information came in a phone call from Senator Frist on the morning of the day--Friday, March 8-- on which Thompson would announce he was withdrawing from his reelec6tion campaign.
Noting that .Thompson had reacted to the events of September 11th by shelving earlier plans to withdraw, Alexander said that day of national crisis was the final catalyst that made u his own mind about running when and if the opportunity should present itself.
About frequent reports that the White House had expressed a preference for his own Senate candidacy, Alexander said, I keep reading that, but the only person who saysAlexander said he had thus far amassed a primary budget of $3 million and was organized in every Tennessee county.
A revealing exchange took place Monday night during a forum for Republican county commission candidates in Southeast Memphis.
District 4 commissioner Clair VanderSchaaf, who was already taking flak from GOP primary opponent Joyce Avery, began getting some, too, from attendees at the monthly meeting of the Southeast Shelby Republican Club at Fox Ridge Pizza.
"Now, let's all go back to some Republican principles," VanderSchaaf kept trying to say.
"No, let's go back to your being an employee of mine and not doing something when I say, 'No!'" interrupted a persistent heckler.
The issue was the still controversial (and still unresolved) one of the proposed NBA arena, scheduled to be paid for at least partly by public funds. VanderSchaaf's position was that his ultimate vote for the arena last year was contingent upon ad valorem (i.e., property) taxes having been taken out of the funding mix, thanks in some measure to his own insistence when the project was being voted on by the commission.
His position was being treated, however, as little more than a quibble to cover what Avery and other arena opponents regard as a trade-off that enabled private interests (the Grizzlies, local investors, the umbrella organization HOOPS, et al.) to aggrandize themselves at public expense.
What they wanted was at the very least a referendum on the public component of arena financing, and, when VanderSchaaf finally overcame the interruptions to get his point across about what "Republican principles" were, he tried to distinguish between representative government -- i.e., the machinery created by the Founding Fathers that, in effect, established layers of deputies at the local, state, and federal levels of government -- and direct democratic action, whereby "we have a referendum on everything that comes along and we ignore the people we elect."
Time was -- say, back during the Power-to-the-People movements of the 1960s -- when the civics-book concept of government advanced by VanderSchaaf was the stuff of conservative rhetoric. The war cry was "We are a republic, not a democracy," and one would hear from the right side of the aisle fervent denunciations of the various demonstrations and other mass outpourings that were going down back then as a means of influencing national policy.
The fact is that the wheel has turned 180 degrees since then, as was recognized during the last year by no less a personage than state Senator Marsha Blackburn, the archconservative legislator from the archconservative Nashville suburb of Williamson County. It was Blackburn who fired off the e-mails from the Senate floor last summer that sparked the climactic anti-tax protests of July 12th at the Capitol in Nashville.
And it was Blackburn who, as a guest of the Shelby County Libertarians here last August, corrected one of her hosts who was quoting from the old "republic-not-a-democracy" gospel, informing him in as mild-mannered a way as possible that such talk had gone the way of eight-track tapes, that it was now the self-appointed guardians of liberty -- right-wing populists, as others might call them -- who had the duty and the mission to oppose channeled public policy by means of mass defiance and direct action.
In matters of state government, that took the form of the horn-honking cavalcades and picketers who surrounded the Capitol whenever a state income tax (or "tax reform," as those who favor it have learned to say, somewhat over-daintily) happened to be under consideration. The riotous circumstances of last July 12th whetted by radio talk-show hosts whom Blackburn had alerted, were the ultimate manifestation of this anti-tax intifada.
Windows were broken, legislators entering the Capitol were roughed up (ironically, the affected lawmakers, seemingly selected at random, tended to be Republicans opposed to the income tax), doors were battered, and constant shouting drowned out attempts to deliberate policy. Though there were face-saving explanations later on about how legislative negotiations to produce a compromise bill had broken down on their own, no one who was inside the state Senate chamber at the time can truthfully say that they had a fair chance of succeeding under such circumstances.
For the record, state Senator Mark Norris of Collierville would call the protesters a "mob" and would contend that they had, ironically, panicked the senate into voting more in the way of stopgap, one-time-only funding than he, as a conservative, felt was wonted. (Norris, incidentally, is now one of three Shelby Countians seeking the Republican nomination for the 7th District congressional seat vacated by U.S. Senate candidate Ed Bryant; Blackburn, less encumbered by rivals from her part of the elongated district, is also running for the seat.)
Though last year's county commission deliberations on the NBA arena and, later, on school funding attracted some overt protesters of the Nashville sort (who were, here as in Nashville, summoned to some degree by talk radio), much of the local antigovernment protest has been internalized within the election process.
This year's commission election has brought to the fore several exponents of the theory -- not uncommon these days -- that the best way to shut down government (or to keep it under control) is to run for a position in it and become a part of it. Fox running for the hen house, you might say, although candidates of this sort would tend to reverse the terms of the metaphor and say that the predators are the ones already inside.
A specimen is former Marine and Secret Service agent Mundy Quinn, a candidate for another District 4 position, who, at the same meeting where VanderSchaaf was taking his lumps, implied that his two primary opponents -- David Lillard and David Shirley -- were not to be trusted because one of them (Lillard) was a lawyer and the other (Shirley) was an ex-legislator. "Lawyers and doctors" were a class already over-represented on the commission and in government at large, said Quinn, who suggested that prior government experience was more a hindrance than a help in that it seemed to water down principle.
"No compromise!" thundered Quinn (who, in private conversation, is amiable and a good, apparently evenhanded listener). Both he and members of the audience at Fox Ridge expressed disgust at the way in which, they believed, "conservative" incumbents had learned to conceal their tacit collaboration with big-spending colleagues through trade-offs and misleading votes for the record.
(Even so impeccably credentialed a conservative as Commissioner Marilyn Loeffel of Cordova was hoist on this petard at a recent forum, where she came under hostile questioning for her vote on behalf of the latest pay raise for commissioners. Somewhat awkwardly, she tried to explain how her vote was linked to commission Democrats' approval of a reapportionment formula favored by Republicans. "It was a 'deal,' pure and simple," one of her colleagues would later say.)
As Quinn himself marveled out loud Monday night, he, a political newcomer, is finding his voice and may be finding an audience at large (although most observers still see the race for the position he seeks as being essentially between the better-known -- and better-financed -- Lillard and Shirley).
Quinn even improvised a de facto endorsement of other candidates whom he saw as pursuing the same purist mission as himself -- Avery, former Lakeland mayor Jim Bomprezzi (seeking to unseat Tom Moss, whom Bomprezzi accuses of cutting a deal with the Democrats whereby Moss was appointed to a commission vacancy and voted with them to appoint then-Commissioner Shep Wilbun to the position of Juvenile Court clerk) and Karla Templeton, who opposes incumbent Linda Rendtorff for a District 1 position.
He probably also would approve of Templeton's father, John Willingham, who filed against incumbent Morris Fair for another District 1 position the day after having a pacemaker implanted in his chest and whose condemnation at a recent forum of "taxes we don't want, development we don't want, an arena we don't want, and a fight we don't want" (the latter a reference to the pending Tyson-Lewis combat at The Pyramid) synopsized in its own way the nature of the present rebellion.
(The fight's increasing inclusion in the boo-boo lists of candidates may in some cases, however, arise from pro forma causes, rather than deeply held conviction. A recent forum of District 5 commission hopefuls saw all the candidates -- Democratic, Republican, and independent, all save would-be fight promoter Joe Cooper -- denounce the iniquities of Mike Tyson with such fervent uniformity as to make the occasion resemble a prayer meeting in Pilgrim times.)
Developers, wheelers, dealers, spenders, sports, and politicians -- these are all variants of the common enemy, an Establishment that acts on its own tack without regard to the folks out there on the (generally suburban) homestead. Increasingly, such disaffected candidates -- and their constituents -- are estranged from the idea of a common weal, one uniting city and county.
Theirs is a settler's perspective. Consolidation is anathema to these Republican rebels, since separation from the main is -- notwithstanding John Donne's admonition that "No Man Is an Island" -- precisely what they seek, and they are as distrustful of government as any of King George's minions ever were. (Even their own erstwhile leaders, Governor Don Sundquist and, increasingly, Shelby County mayor Jim Rout, are regarded as "moderates" and, therefore, apostates. "The trouble with Don," mused a seasoned GOP political handler recently, is that he" -- the governor, mind you -- "has started to believe in government.")
The new breed of rebel never quite believes that the officials of government have made a genuine effort to squeeze waste out of the system. They tend to believe that people inside the citadel are merely trying to maintain their own positions, and all analyses that argue for "tax reform" are seen as new excuses to shake spare change out of taxpayers' pockets. They are oblivious to arguments that, just as inflation raises the cost of things elsewhere, revenue levels must be raised to pay for government services too.
A heroine of the moment -- whose decision not to seek office herself disappointed many in the burgeoning new movement -- is Heidi Shafer, the Memphis homemaker who did her best last year to organize public sentiment for the unrealized referendum on funding the NBA arena. This year, she has released a "Pick List," much in the manner of the old Ford Ballots put out by former congressman and power broker Harold Ford Sr. Her endorsements are in all commission races, and they cross party lines. In addition to several of the aforementioned candidates, Democrat Walter Bailey makes the list (District 2, Position 1), as does independent Claiborne Ferguson (District 2, Position 3). The usual determinant is listed as "Correct stance on Arena Issue" (or "Right vote on Arena" if an incumbent).
The extent to which Shafer's influence has grown -- along with that of the still not quite defined movement to which she plays Joan of Arc -- may be gathered from the fact that, when her list was first disseminated, several of the people omitted from it -- ranging from the Green Party's Scott Banbury to the well-established Republican John Ryder -- petitioned for inclusion on it. (Ryder, who thereby joined opponent Jerry Cobb on the list, saw his wish granted; Banbury so far has not been similarly favored.)
Where all this is going is hard to foresee, but one is put in mind of the late Arnold Toynbee's pronouncement at the time of Woodstock in 1969. Fear not, said Lord Toynbee of those in society who professed alarm: "If this is of God, it cannot be resisted; if it is not of God, it will perish of itself."
The plan would allow for the creation of a special school district in Shelby County, single-source funding for both the county and city systems and the abandonment of the average-daily-attendance formula (much deplored by county commission candidates in suburban districts this year) that mandates three dollars to the city schools for every dollar spent in the county on school construction.
Under the proposal, city schools would get new funding for at-risk students and a lower property-tax rate (the countys would rise)
The proposal by the task force, organized by Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton with membership from both the private and public sectors, is regarded as preparing the way for a possible general consolidation of city and county governments later on.
The plan received guarded statements of approval Thursday night from candidates for county mayor at a forum at the Jewish Community Center.
Jim Henry admits hes playing catch-up in his race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination versus Van Hilleary, but he says, If we do in the next six weeks what weve done n the last six weeks, this race will be even.
What hes done is raised a little money here and there Ð an estimated $75,000 from a visit to Memphis on Thursday, and similar amounts maybe in Nashville and Chattanooga Ð but he still wont say what hes raised overall and wont until hes required to. About Hilleary, who had to disclose year-end receipts at the end of January and did so, to the tune of some $2 million, Henry says, You know how he was doing voluntary disclosures all the way through the end of last year? Well, he hasnt done any since then. Ð the clear implication being that he (Henry) is moving and Hilleary isnt.
The former House Republican leader and state GOP chairman from Kingston had the first billboards up in the middle of last year, and now, says Henry, hes first out of the box with TV and radio media, too.
Before a group of contributors in Memphis Henry unveiled his new ads, which will run statewide starting on Monday and, in an echo of his earlier slogan Smart,Qualified, Electable, stress the themes of conciliation , know-how, and of being ready from Day one -- clear shots at Hilleary, the five-term 4th district congressman who in recent weeks has twisted his tongue and gotten frustrated a time or two, most recently in Blountville over the issue of whether he owed the public or the media an explanation of how hed handle the continuing state revenue crisis.
Henry makes a pass at sounding gracious about Hillearys discomfiture, saying, Well, Im sure he didnt meant that. He was tired, or maybe he was reacting to the tone of the media person questioning him.
The erstwhile Lamar Alexander protégé concedes privately that theres a little bit of dovetailing between his support and that of Senate candidate Alexander, though he claims to have the backing of some of 7th District congressman Ed Bryants people, too.
What he doesnt claim is what many people -- specifically including Hilleary -- believe, that he has Governor Don Sundquists de facto support. We havent asked the governor for an endorsement, Henry says, and then makes the startling declaration that Hilleary has. Hes gone to see him three times in the last year asking for an endorsement, Henry asserts confidently, not saying where he gets his information, though, from the sound of it, it would almost have to come from Sundquist himself.
The claim, which Henry had made a point of vending in a Thursday afternoon visit to Legislative Plaza, is almost certain to draw a rejoinder fromHilleary-- the same Hilleary who always spends much of his time on the stump dissing the governor with the Income tax albatross around his neck (though not by name).
What Henry clearly wants to avoid is being bracketed too publicly with Sundquist and Alexander, but he plainly wouldnt mind reaping the benefits of the association. Henry expresses confidence that the extra turnout that will happen on August 1st because of the heated Senate race will benefit him and not Hilleary, but he has to be wondering, which way the Young Turk volatility of the Bryant rebellion will boil.
For better or for worse, there will be some kind of linkage between the recently dormant gubernatorial race and the newly explosive one for the Senate. He-- and we-- will likely find out what it is soon enough-- over the next six weeks, say..
With less than a month to go before the May 7th primary date and with early voting only days away, candidates for countywide offices seem impatient for the warm weather; they're turning up the heat on their own.
Both parties have some intense and even bitter intramural contests going, and the last few days have made it clear that neither the county's Democrats nor its Republicans will nominate a candidate for Shelby County mayor without a full measure of fratricidal strife.
The Democrats, first: Although their chances in this year's major statewide races for governor and U.S. senator are arguably improving all the time, they have plainly run into snags at the local level.
Part of the problem is a spillover from the relative good fortune that finds the Democrats with virtual nominees in place statewide. Fifth District U.S. Rep. Bob Clement of Nashville is a bona fide consensus candidate for the Senate seat being vacated by the GOP's Fred Thompson, and ex-Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen's two Democratic primary opponents for the governorship -- veteran educational administrator Charles Smith and Knoxville district attorney Randy Nichols -- are so far just blips on his radar screen, both revenue-wise and poll-wise.
The Republicans, meanwhile, increasingly have what looks like a governor's race -- with challenger Jim Henry of Kingston running hard enough to cast doubt on the ultimate suitability of 4th District U.S. Rep. Van Hilleary, if not yet on his likely victory in the GOP primary. And unless President Bush explicitly insists on 7th District U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant's withdrawal during his visit to East Tennessee this week (and maybe not even then), Bryant seems likely to take former Governor Lamar Alexander down to the wire in the Republicans' Senate primary.
There is also a spirited contest for the GOP nomination to succeed Bryant in the 7th District, with Shelby Countians Mark Norris, David Kustoff, and Brent Taylor vying with the likes of Middle Tennessee conservative firebrand Marsha Blackburn (who paid an extended visit to the county last week).
How is that bad news for Shelby County Democrats? It ensures that the county's Republicans will be out in force on August 1st for the simultaneous statewide primary and local general election. Meanwhile, the Democrats, lacking dramatic statewide contests, will have to work harder to get voters to turn out for the nominees they will have selected in next month's primary for countywide offices.
The situation is complicated for the Democrats by the bad feeling being generated in party ranks during the increasingly acrimonious race for Shelby County mayor. At Sunday's third of four officially scheduled Democratic forums for mayor, only one of the three candidates present -- presumed favorite AC Wharton -- answered enthusiastically in the positive when each was asked by an audience member for a pledge of support to the party's eventual nominee.
Rev. C.C. Buchanan, whose curious campaign -- invisible everywhere else but at the forums -- has so far alternated between jokes at his own expense and attacks upon Wharton, said he could not support the Shelby County public defender because of Wharton's alleged Republican ties and lack of identification with "working people." And state Representative Carol Chumney, a more credible adversary, managed to sound as perfunctory as humanly possible while uttering the words, "I will support the Democratic nominee."
The thermostat is being turned up by the candidates' rank-and-file supporters, too. Two women partial to Wharton's campaign complained about Chumney to audience members in the aftermath of Sunday's debate in the Botanic Garden auditorium in Audubon Park.
One, activist Sue Jackson, amplified on a question she had asked during the forum, the thrust of which was to allege that Rep. Chumney had legislated to give private developers exploitation rights on public property. Chumney would say later that Jackson had misrepresented a bill co-sponsored by herself and state Senator Steve Cohen years ago that enabled new residences -- most of them "affordable housing," said Chumney -- to be constructed on the cleared land appropriated for a reconstructed portion of Sam Cooper Boulevard.
The other interlocutor, teacher Jerry Cocke, escalated from a supercharged defense of a Wharton remark concerning Chumney's law firm to a heated claim that Chumney had gone so far as to undermine American principles of legal representation.
Chumney, who sponsored reform legislation on daycare, had criticized Wharton, without naming him, for representing daycare brokers accused of violations; Wharton had rejoindered -- merely to show that all law firms had presumptively imperfect clients, said Cocke -- that Chumney's firm represented persons charged with Medicare fraud. Chumney had the last thrust, an ironically two-edged one: "If my firm [Glankler, Brown] is so bad," she asked, why had two of the partners contributed to Wharton's campaign? And she continued to insist that Wharton's experience "on one side" of the daycare issue ill-suited him for office.
More or less from the time that Bartlett banker Harold Byrd withdrew from the mayor's race and she became the last obstacle to what most observers considered an inevitable Wharton victory, Chumney has been hitting her opponent hard at every opportunity -- for taking developers' money, for enjoying too much Republican support, and for not taking stands on hot-button issues like consolidation (which she favors).
Increasingly, Wharton has been hitting back, and -- rhetorically, at least -- the Democratic race for mayor has become a real contest.
The Republicans, meanwhile, had been spared anything so personal or potentially divisive until Monday, when State Rep. Larry Scroggs -- in anticipation of an advertising blitz by well-heeled opponent George Flinn, scheduled to begin this week -- called a press conference at the Holiday Inn on I-240 to attack Flinn on several grounds: his motives, his preparation for office, his party affiliation, and a "conflict of interest" stemming from physician/broadcasting magnate Flinn's ownership of the local radio station that carries the Memphis Grizzlies' games.
Noting that the question of financing a new arena for the Grizzlies is still an issue in county government, Scroggs said that Flinn "makes money" every time the Grizzlies play and contended, "He has a financial interest in keeping them here. And that means it serves his own interests to make sure the arena gets built ... no matter what the cost."
Scroggs also said that, unlike himself, a lifelong "committed" Republican, Flinn had not "paid his dues" and had adopted the GOP label for purposes of running for office despite having "voted as a Democrat in 1990, 1992, 1996, and 2000." Nor, Scroggs insisted, did Flinn's broadcast management of "mostly low-budget" stations prepare him for running Shelby County government. "You can't wake up in the morning as mayor, look at the ratings, and suddenly decide to change the format."
Predicting that Flinn's TV commercials would contain "plenty of flash, but you won't see any substance," Scroggs said that the office of mayor "should not be bought by the candidate with the deepest pockets."
The salvo surprised some observers in that party veteran Scroggs is still regarded as the favorite in a primary race in which political newcomer Flinn has not yet made his presence felt. In a response released through campaign spokesperson Cary Rodgers, Flinn called the attack "negative, Nashville-style rhetoric" and a "desperate and negative campaign tactic," adding, "This is what you'd expect from a career politician who thinks the voters owe him this office." According to the Flinn statement: "Our positive issue-based campaign is about getting Shelby County back on track. The issue in this race is who is best qualified to bring back leadership and accountability to Shelby County government."
And the mayor's race is not the only Republican contest in which bad blood has begun to flow.
Commission challengers John Willingham, Jim Bomprezzi, and Joyce Avery are all mounting vigorous and, at times, hostile campaigns against incumbents Morris Fair, Tom Moss, and Clair Vander Schaaf, respectively, while Willingham's daughter Karla Templeton is pursuing a less confrontational challenge to another incumbent, Linda Rendtorff. And a grudge match of sorts exists in a contest for an open seat in which lawyer David Lillard and real estate broker David Shirley have exchanged insults while a third candidate, ex-Secret Service man Mundy Quinn, proclaims, "It's time for a change."
The sense of a generalized challenge to a perceived long-term controlling element in the Republican Party is what unifies these challenges, though each has separate roots as well. Avery and Bomprezzi allege that opponents Vander Schaaf and Moss conspired with commission Democrats two years in a "vote-swapping" incident which resulted in, among other consequences, Moss' appointment to the commission and the naming of then Commissioner Shep Wilbun, a Democrat, as Juvenile Court clerk.
For all the obvious animosity in some of the Republican contests, however, there is a mounting hope among the party faithful -- based largely on interest in the statewide and 7th District races -- that voter sentiment might gravitate again to the GOP, as it did in 1994, when there was a virtual Republican sweep in county and statewide races, as well as nationally. n
One feature of the current county election which has so far gone unreported and almost unnoticed (though, like the "Purloined Letter" in the Poe tale, it is right before the eye) is this: Whichever major party holds dominance on the Shelby County Commission after the August 1st general election, one fact will not change: Whites will hold a 7-6 majority of the membership.
This is despite the demographic changes which, as reflected in the 2000 census and subsequent population estimates, suggest that African Americans have become a majority of county residents.
As several candidates have noted and as John Ryder, a Republican candidate to represent the 5th commission district (East Memphis), keeps pointing out: Districts 1 through 4 are certain to produce an even balance of Democrats (black) and Republicans (white), six of each. The 5th District, which is unique in that it contains only one position, will break the party stalemate, depending on whether a Democrat or a Republican wins it.
But, although the ballot contains the names of an obscure black candidate or two, the only fully active contestants with realistic chances of winning the seat are white, whether Democratic or Republican in their party affiliation. For the GOP, there are Ryder, Bruce Thompson, and Jerry Cobb. The two major Democratic candidates are Guthrie Castle and Joe Cooper. Both nominees and the eventual winner are sure to come from this list of five men, all white.
Only if one of the Democrats wins, however, will the virtually synonymous nature of the terms black and Democratic, on the one hand, and white and Republican, on the other, be suspended as descriptors for commission members and, for that matter, for Shelby County officeholders in general.-- J.B.
County Commissioner Marilyn Loeffel, the only commission incumbent to be unopposed on the 2002 county ballot: "My daughter and I prayed that, with her wedding coming up this year, I wouldn't have an opponent. The Lord granted our wish."
District 4 (Outer Shelby) county commission candidate D'Andre Forney, one of only two African Americans to seek the Republican nomination this year, as he faced an overwhelmingly white audience at a Shelby County Republican Women's luncheon Monday: "I know what you're thinking. [Pause] 'He's so young -- and good-looking!'" -- J.B.
If Ed Bryant believes he is an underdog to Lamar Alexander in the current Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, he did not betray that sense of things to the crowd of several score that welcomed him at the Shelby Farms recreational area here Monday afternoon for the last stop of Bryant's statewide announcement tour.
Neither did the crowd, a keyed-up group of local GOP celebrities and other backers who seemed to share the 7th District congressman's sense that "something was going on" in Tennessee -- that "something" being a grassroots rebellion against Alexander or, more precisely, against the Republican establishment figures that have been backing the former Tennessee governor and twice-failed presidential candidate as a successor to outgoing GOP Senator Fred Thompson.
"It's happening from the bottom up," declared Bryant. "This isn't going to be a from-the-top-down election." Alexander was the candidate of some people in Washington, D.C., and some people in Nashville, but Bryant said on a tour of East Tennessee, a supposed Alexander stronghold, "I didn't see any support for Lamar. I had been thinking that maybe we could hold our own up there. Now I think we can carry it."
Bryant said he had commitments of support from 30 of the 42 Republican members of the state House of Representatives and nine of the 15 members of his party in the state Senate. And most of the others were uncommitted rather than leaning to Alexander, he said.
The congressman was unsparing in his criticism of his Republican opponent who, he said, had not won an election in 20 years, had "a national reputation of not being conservative," and who was "indecisive." Implicitly comparing the moderate Alexander to former Vice President Al Gore, Bryant said "this state did not vote for such a person as president" in 2000. By his own prior admission, Bryant alleged, Alexander was "not suited" for legislative service and was on the wrong side of several contemporary issues.
In 1985, while governor, Alexander "advocated a state income tax," Bryant said, reminding the crowd that "Don Sundquist has endorsed him" (but not reminding them that current Governor Sundquist, whose support for income-tax legislation has soured his name with many Tennessee Republicans, had plucked Bryant himself out of relative obscurity by recommending him to the first President Bush for district attorney general in 1993).
"Now he says he 'didn't mean it,'" said Bryant scornfully of Alexander's recent attempts to distance himself from that early flirtation with a state income tax. The congressman also reminded the crowd that, while running for president in 1999, Alexander had dismissed then-opponent George W. Bush's phrase "compassionate conservatism" as "weasel words."
Describing himself as a known conservative, Bryant said Alexander was currently engaged in an effort to remake himself ideologically, "to jump on my back, but I'm trying to toss him off, trying to get away from him." It was "time for a change," Bryant said, time "to permit the old political guard to gracefully retire."
As a local show of strength, Bryant's climactic announcement-tour appearance in Shelby County was convincing. Though outgoing Shelby County mayor Jim Rout, District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, and several other local GOP officials have endorsed former Governor Alexander, the turnout of Bryant supporters Monday was impressive. Shelby County commissioner Morris Fair, known as a moderate, introduced him, and numerous other local officials (e.g., County Trustee Bob Patterson, Probate Court Clerk Chris Thomas, Register Tom Leatherwood) and candidates for office were on hand.
Republican candidate for Shelby County mayor George Flinn was moved to recall that he and Bryant had been members of the same social fraternity (Sigma Nu) at Ole Miss -- as had GOP Senate leader Trent Lott, who has expressed reservations about President Bush's reported preference for Alexander. Flinn's Republican opponent in the mayor's race, state Representative Larry Scroggs, was even more firmly attached to Bryant; his son, Kenny Scroggs, is the congressman's Memphis-area field representative.
And the statewide grassroots sentiment of which Bryant spoke was visible enough that several national reporters and columnists had thought to point out over the weekend or on Monday that Alexander might be in for a serious battle in Tennessee.
In the last several weeks a series of increasingly blunt signals has come out of Washington to the effect that Alexander's candidacy, just as Lott had indicated, enjoyed the backing of the White House and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), headed by Tennessee senator Bill Frist.
While acknowledging Monday that "some elements" of the NRSC were pushing hard for Alexander, Bryant maintained steadfastly that Frist himself had not expressed a preference. As for speculation that, between now and Thursday's filing deadline for statewide candidates, President Bush might make a point of stating a preference for Alexander, perhaps even in Tennessee, Bryant said, "That's not going to happen."
And the congressman's campaign manager, Justin Hunter, was blunt on the subject. "Even if the president should do that, Ed Bryant is going to continue to be a candidate."
One of the more impressive turnouts of the political season was the announcement, at Isaac Hayes' in Peabody Place last Friday noon, of a reelection bid from 9thDistrict U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. It looked like the much-anticipated Senate announcement from Ford that never took place. (One of the cheerleaders on hand was sometime Ford-family nemesis Mayor Willie Herenton.)
Asked where he had been the previous week when other prominent Tennessee Democrats were onstage in Nashville with Senate nominee-presumptive Bob Clement, Ford deadpanned, "I was on the road from Nashville to Memphis." But he'd released an enthusiastic statement of support for Clement.
Theres nothing conventional, though, about Fields, a prominent civil rights attorney for several decades, and theres certainly nothing conventional about his chosen quarry in this year's Democratic primary, State Senator John Ford.
Fields has other reasons for challenging the powerful state senator in District 29 than to generate interest, of course. He regards Ford as an embarrassment to Memphis and the state of Tennessee.
Says Fields, The thing that really did it was his vote on the Senate Finance committee against the tobacco tax a couple of weeks ago. That killed a bill that would have raised $160 million, strictly for education. How could you vote for tobacco and against education?"
Fields cites also Fords controversial role as a Day Care proprietor and as a figure in the industry scandals that brought about corrective legislation (legislation that faces various ex post facto perils and obstructions even now). He was just horrendous, he was right in the middle of it [the scandal], and in my estimation was the cause of it, Fields says.
There are other issues Fields intends to raise against Ford, including the way in which he believes the senator pulled strings and twisted arms to get himself appointed to the Public Building Authority, but one case hell make has to do with the simple fact of residence.
He doesnt live n the district, and he doesnt know whats going on in his district, Fields says. As far as we know, he lives in Collierville. Fields himself lives downtown, square in the middle of the 29th District. And he thinks his familiarity with the districts concerns, as well as his record of civil rights litigation, will stand him in good stead with the districts majority-black population.
The California native, whose treasurer is Sidney Chism, wont be the only opponent for Ford, who, like Fields, filed with the Election Commission on Wednesday (thereby gainsaying some recent musing out loud about retiring from the Senate). Another filee is-- Prince Mongo, the barefoot restaurateur who is generally regarded these days as an idea whose time has come and long gone.
On the very eve of Thursdays filing deadline, one other prospect, plastic surgeon Phil Langsdon, the former chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party, decided Wednesday -- albeit reluctantly -- not to add his hat to the max.
Taylor, who conducted a two-day bus tour of the district last week, had been the first to announce. He was followed by the others in rapid succession. Kustoffs announcement said in part: "President Bush needs a congressman from the seventh district he can count on to support his efforts to fight terrorism, reduce the tax burden on working families, create jobs and improve the quality of public education.
As the Memphis lawyers release noted, Kustoff headed up the 2000 Bush campaign in Tennessee and is largely credited for the current presidents victory here -- one which propelled him into office.
Norris announcement said in part: "I believe my experience in state and local government, as a community volunteer, and the fact that my family and I actively farm in Shelby County, equips me to represent the people of the 7th District well. Congressman [Ed] Bryants successor must be able to represent our President and the people of Tennessee in a meaningful way. It would be my honor to do so.
Norris, a former Shelby County Commissioner, has been a member of the state Senate from outer Shelby County (and portions of Lauderdale, Tipton, and Fayette counties) since his election in 2000.
Langson, who chaired the local party during its years of greatest dominance in the late 90s, said in part: After a careful review of my support, fundraising commitments, and recent poll results it appears that I am well positioned to win the 7th District US House of Representative seat. However, because of my young family, my wife and I don1t believe this is the time for me to leave home to serve in elective office.
Each of the Shelby Countians must reckon with candidates from elsewhere in the newly configured 7th district, notably state Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Williamson County in Nashvilles environs.
At least one Shelby County Democrat, Drew Pritt, has said he will file to run for the seat which incumbent Bryant is vacating to run for the U.S. Senate. Pritt has worked in several local campaigns and recently was part of a winning effort in a lieutenant governors race in Illinois.