Thursday, May 30, 2002

Shots Across the Bow

The state's income-tax war heats up again; Democrats have their own civil skirmish.

Posted By on Thu, May 30, 2002 at 4:00 AM

State troopers ringing the Capitol grounds last week.
NASHVILLE -- In case anybody thought Phil Bredesen's "repeal-an-income-tax" pledge of three weeks ago was incidental, accidental, or a sign of political foot-in-mouth disease, they should certainly know better after last week.

Even as Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, surprise loser in a historic House flat-tax vote, was licking his wounds in a public press conference on Wednesday of last week, the ex-Nashville mayor and current Democratic gubernatorial hopeful was having copies of his latest income-tax bashing circulated in Legislative Plaza.

Although the statement contained a grace note about the "good people" who disagreed with him, Bredesen concluded by saying, "The income tax came to a vote today, and it clearly failed. Now it's time to move on. We need to focus on better managing state government, fixing the problems in TennCare, and growing the economy to address our long term budget problems." GOP candidate Van Hilleary, who had made exhortatory phone calls to anti-tax legislators and called the income-tax protest an example of "Americana," had issued a similar statement somewhat earlier.

Inasmuch as Naifeh even then was suggesting he might try and try again to get his 4.5 percent package enacted this week, Bredesen's newest statement was a clear shot across the bow, an even greater challenge to the Speaker than Bredesen's previous seconding of Hilleary's promise to repeal any such income-tax package that got passed in this session.

In the wake of that one-two punch, which had come as Naifeh first set out to build his 50-vote coalition, the Speaker had privately expressed his fury and let it be known publicly that he was not going to be taking Bredesen's phone calls.

In such a context, Bredesen's newest statement has to be read not only as a further repudiation of the income-tax concept but as a purposeful distancing of himself from Naifeh and, for that matter, from the current legislative leadership of his party.

There is already speculation that the ultimate failure of the income-tax bill in this session might mean curtains for Naifeh as House leader (as it almost certainly does for Steve McDaniel of Parker's Crossroad in West Tennessee, the Republicans' leader and a flat-tax supporter); Bredesen's posture can be interpreted as an attitude of "so be it" -- if not something stronger.

During the fallout from his "repeal" statement, Bredesen had explained himself by saying he did not intend to let Hilleary, his likely fall opponent, make the income tax a focal issue in the governor's race. He seems to be saying something stronger now -- that he does not intend to let the party which he hopes to lead into the future be tied to the carcass of a dead issue.

Three weeks ago, some high-ranking Democrats launched an anonymously attributed trial balloon, telling Bredesen, in effect, that he was weakening his credibility by seeming to be in a Pete-RePete relationship with Hilleary on the income tax and that there was a ceiling on how many times he could safely repeat that kind of misadventure.

Bredesen's statement last week can be taken as his answer to that message, as an affirmation that he knows what he's doing and the consequences be damned.

Those who have talked to Bredesen in the wake of the income-tax vote and his response to it suggest that he is indeed aware that he might be, directly or indirectly, accelerating a shakeup in the legislative hierarchy, and, although the initial reaction to his most recent statement among Democrats -- especially those in the General Assembly -- was unfavorable, already some have begun to embrace -- or at least consider -- a newer thought: Maybe, just maybe, Bredesen is right. On the political scale, anyhow.

n Nobody could have been more surprised than state House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh when the vote on his carefully shepherded 4.5 percent income-tax package was taken on Wednesday of last week.

Even as others were puzzling out the pattern of green (for aye) and red (for nay) votes on the House chamber tote board, Naifeh had gotten his answer from the special counter mounted in his Speaker's rostrum. What it said was: 45 Aye, 53 Nay. (There was no dot by the name of Nashville Democrat -- and income-tax opponent -- Sherry Jones, injured in a recent auto accident and therefore absent.)

Naifeh then said, "Does any member want to change their vote?" Most members were still counting, but the Speaker's uncharacteristically soft and lamb-like, even hurt, tone was a giveaway. And the eyes of knowledgeable legislators, media types, and gallery spectators sooner or later fell on the names of the apostates -- Buck, Windle, Fraley, Pruitt, Phillips, and one or two others -- who had promised or otherwise indicated they were on board with Naifeh, who had let it be known two weeks ago that he wouldn't bring the bill up unless he had the 50-plus votes needed for passage.

In the general milling-about that followed (which turned into a two-hour wait while the board stayed open and Naifeh and other members of the House leadership desperately pleaded and arm-twisted and looked for other ways to get some votes changed), some of the bill's supporters made it clear what they thought had happened.

One was Kathryn Bowers, the diminutive Memphis Democrat and influential Black Caucus member whose conversion to the bill's temporary-sales-tax provision on Monday had been interpreted as a sign that the votes were at hand. "Seven folks told a real big [pause] you-know-what!" she said.

Others were not so dainty. Said Carol Chumney, another Memphis Democrat, "Some people lied and left others out on a limb to get beat!" That was a thought. One such had been Zane Whitson, the soft-spoken representative from the far Republican east, who had pleaded with his colleagues to vote yes so as not to let the state's educational systems fall further into disrepair. There were others.

Democratic Rep. George Fraley, the Korean vet and Winchester farmer whose name had been on everybody's list, happened to pass by Chumney, who asked him, in so many words, whereof he tucked tail. Fraley replied sternly, "I told you this morning I wasn't going to vote for it!"

Naifeh went to his Legislative Plaza office, to which he summoned the recalcitrants one by one, while Speaker Pro Tem Lois DeBerry, Democratic Caucus chair Randy Rinks, and others were doggedly beseeching the membership.

Viewing the scene from afar were Shelby County Republicans Tre Hargett and Paul Stanley, two nay votes from the get-go. "They're working Buck and Windle and Newton pretty good," observed Stanley of the leadership's unyielding ministrations with Democrats Frank Buck (Dowellton) and John Mark Windle (Livingston) and Republican Chris Newton (Cleveland).

Hargett and Stanley joked about guarding their vote buttons to keep somebody from changing them to ayes while their backs were turned.

It never came to that, of course. As the word was passed from somewhere that Missouri's legislature had once kept a vote open for three days before certifying it, everybody settled in for a long siege of sorts, an internal one corresponding to the external one being kept by noisy anti-tax demonstrators outside the Capitol.

It never came to that either. Ultimately, Naifeh et al. persuaded Reps. Buck, Fraley, Mary Pruitt (D-Nashville), and John Tidwell (D-New Johnsonville) to "blue-light" their votes (change from nay to "present and not voting") so as to hold the negative votes under 50 and keep somebody from moving to certify the nay vote as final, making it impossible to revive the bill during the current session.

State Senator Marsha Blackburn of Williamson County, a candidate for the 7th District congressional seat, talks the East Shelby Republican Club as four local opponents listen. Left to right: Sonny Carlota, Brent Taylor, David Kustoff, and state Senator Mark Norris.
"The sun is still shining," said Rep. Don Ridgeway (D-Paris), a partisan of the bill, afterward, but there was little of that sunshine left for the bill's prospects.

"It's over" was the reported sentiment from Sen. Larry Trail, a Murfreesboro Democrat who had been counted on by some as a last-ditch prospect to become aye vote number 17 if it should reach the Senate, where 16 votes, one short, had supposedly been gathered to second a favorable House vote.

Several of the senators had lined the back wall of the House chamber before and during the voting, waiting to see if the burden of decision would come their way or not.

"There's number 17!" somebody had jokingly said to Sen. Lincoln Davis (D-Pall Mall). "No, I'm Number 235," responded Davis, a candidate for Congress from the 4th District and one who had long made it crystal-clear that he would not be found on the incriminating side of a Senate tally.

The bottom line was that, while Speaker Naifeh would probably try again, the kind of opposition that had been mounted to this bill from outside the Capitol made it likely that, for it to pass, somebody in both legislative chambers -- several somebodies, in fact -- would have to be persuaded to write a new -- and self-dooming -- chapter or two into Profiles In Courage.

It wasn't just that radio talk-show hosts Phil Valentine and Steve Gill were outside exhorting their multitudes against the "cockroaches" (Gill) and "scum" and "commies" (Valentine) inside. As free-lance broadcaster Sherman Noboson, a Capitol veteran, pointed out, running back Eddie George and other millionaire members of the Tennessee Titans had been lobbying hard against the income-tax measure too. And that's what you call resistance!

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

WOULD-BE SUCCESSOR TAYLOR BACKS BRYANT FOR SENATE

WOULD-BE SUCCESSOR TAYLOR BACKS BRYANT FOR SENATE

Posted By on Tue, May 28, 2002 at 4:00 AM

On the very day of the first joint appearance here of all would-be Republican successors to 7th District U.S. Rep. ED Bryant, one of them, Memphis city councilman, Brent Taylor, has made an outright endorsement of Bryant in his GOP primary race for the Senate against former governor Lamar Alexander.

In a statement released Tuesday, Bryant said, "I’m not just going to compare myself to Ed Bryant, I’m willing to publicly endorse his candidacy. I know [he] can’t make an endorsement in this race, and I wouldn’t ask him to do that. However, I can endorse him.”

Taylor, who will appear jointly with the other major 7th District Republican candidates before the East Shelby Republican Club at Pickering Community Center Tuesday night, said Bryant had “stood up for our values in Tennessee,” including “lower taxes less government, and a strong national defense.”

The councilman, who works as a mortuary administrator, said Alexander was “a good man,” but that district residents needed someone “from outside the establishment.”

Also scheduled to appear at Tuesday night’s Germantown forum were fellow Shelby Countians State Senator Mark Norris and lawyer David Kustoff, and state Senator Marsha Blackburn and lawyer Forrest Shoaf, both of Williamson County..

Bryant also picked up an endorsement from another key Shelby Countian, State Rep. Tre Hargett od District 97 (Bartlett, Cordova). In a statement Tuesday, Hargett endorsed Bryant as one who “has proven himself in Congress to be a consistent conservative and proven legislator...a man of the people who reflects our Tennessee values... a dedicated, intelligent legislator who has been in the trenches with President Bush...."

Sunday, May 26, 2002

BREDESEN VS. NAIFEH: METHOD OR MADNESS?

BREDESEN VS. NAIFEH: METHOD OR MADNESS?

Posted By on Sun, May 26, 2002 at 4:00 AM

In case anybody thought Phil Bredesen‘s “repeal-an-income-tax” pledge of three weeks ago was incidental, accidental, or a sign of political foot-in-mouth disease, they should certainly know better after Wednesday.

Even as Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, surprise loser in an historic House flat-tax vote, was licking his wounds in a public press conference, the ex-Nashville mayor and current Democratic gubernatorial hopeful was having copies of his latest income-tax bashing circulated in Legislative Plaza.

Although the statement contained a grace note about the “good people” who disagreed with him, Bredesen concluded by saying, “The income tax came to a vote today, and it clearly failed. Now it’s time to move on. We need to focus on better managing state government, fixing the problems in TennCare, and growing the economy to address our long term budget problems.” GOP candidate Van Hilleary, who had made exhortatory phone calls to anti-tax legislators and called the income tax protest an example of "Americana," had made a similar statement somewhat earlier.

Inasmuch as Naifeh even then was suggesting he might try and try again to get his 4.5-pecent package enacted, Bredesen's newest statement was a clear shot across the bow, an even greater challenge to the Speaker than Bredesen’s previous seconding of Hilleary’s promise to repeal any such income-tax package that got passed in this session.

In the wake of that one-two punch, which had come as Naifeh first set out to build his 50-vote coalition, the Speaker had privately expressed his fury and let it be known publicly that he was not going to be taking Bredesen’s phone calls.

In such a context, Bredesen’s newest statement has to be read not only as a further repudiation of the income-tax concept, but as a purposeful distancing of himself from Naifeh and, for that matter, from the current legislative leadership of his party.

There is already speculation that the ultimate failure of the income-tax bill in this session might mean curtains for Naifeh as House leader (as it almost certainly does for Steve McDaniel, the Republicans’ leader and a flat-tax supporter); Bredesen’s posture can be interpreted as an attitude of “So-Be-It”-- if not something stronger.

During the fallout from his “repeal” statement, Bredesen had explained himself by saying he did not intend to let Hilleary, his likely fall opponent, make the income tax a focal issue in the governor’s race. He seems to be saying something stronger now -- that he does not intend to let the party which he hopes to lead into the future be tied to the carcass of a dead issue.

Two weeks ago, some high-ranking Democrats launched an anonymously attributed trial balloon, telling Bredesen, in effect, that he was weakening his credibility by seeming to be in a Pete-RePete relationship with Hilleary on the income tax and that there was a ceiling on how many times he could safely repeat that kind of misadventure.

Bredesen’s statement Wednesday can be taken as his answer to that message, as an affirmation that he knows what he’s doing and the consequences be damned.

Those who have talked to Bredesen in the wake of the income-tax vote and his response to it suggest that he is indeed aware that he might be, directly or indirectly, accelerating a shakeup in the legislative hierarchy, and, although the initial reaction to his Wednesday statement among Democrats -- especially those in the General Assembly -- was unfavorable, already some have begun to embrace -- or at least consider -- a newer thought: Maybe, just maybe, Bredesen is right. On the political scale, anyhow.

Friday, May 24, 2002

THE SUN SHINES -- BUT NOT FOR JIMMY NAIFEH

THE SUN SHINES -- BUT NOT FOR JIMMY NAIFEH

Posted By on Fri, May 24, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Shelby County Republican state reps Tre Hargett(l) and Paul Stanley, both Nay-voters, rejoiced at the defeat of an historic income-tax bill Wednesday, as state Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Williamson County looked on.

NASHVILLE -- Nobody could have been more surprised than state House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh when the vote on his carefully shepherded 4.5 percent income-tax package was taken Wednesday.

Even as others were puzzling out the pattern of green (for Aye) and red (for Nay) votes on the House chamber toteboard, Naifeh had got his answer from the special counter mounted in his Speaker’s nostrum. What it said was: 45 Aye, 53 Nay. (There was no dot by the name of Nashville Democrat -- and income-tax opponent-- Sherry Jones , injured in a recent auto accident and therefore absent.)

Naifeh then said, “Does any member want to change their vote?” Most members were still counting, but the Speaker’s uncharacteristically soft and lamblike, even hurt, tone was a giveaway. And the eyes of knowledgeable legislators, media types, and gallery spectators sooner or later fell on the names of the apostates -- Buck, Windle, Fraley, Pruitt, Phillips, and one or two others -- who had promised or otherwise indicated they were on board with Naifeh, who had let it be known two weeks ago that he wouldn’t bring the bill up unless he had the 50-plus votes needed for passage.

In the general milling-about that followed (which turned into a two-hour wait while the board stayed open and Naifeh and other members of the House leadership desperately pleaded and arm-twisted and looked for other ways to get some votes changed), some of the bill’s supporters made it clear what they thought had happened.

One was Kathryn Bowers, the diminutive Memphis Democrat and influential Black Caucus member whose conversion to the bill’s temporary-sales-tax provision on Monday had been interpreted as a sign that the votes were at hand. “Seven folks told a real big [pause] you-know-what!” she said.

Others were not so dainty. Said Carol Chumney, another Memphis Democrat: “Some people lied and left others out on a limb to get beat!” That was a thought. One such had been Zane Whitson, the soft-spoken representative from the far Republican East, who had pleaded with his colleagues to vote Yes so as not to let the state’s educational systems fall further into disrepair. There were others.

Democratic Rep. George Fraley, the Korean vet and Winchester farmer whose name had been on everybody’s list, happened to pass by Chumney, who asked him, in so many words, whereof he tucked tail. Fraley replied sternly, “I told you this morning. I wasn’t going to vote for it!”

(So much for that turnaround prospect!)

Meanwhile, Naifeh, Speaper Pro Temp Lois DeBerry, Democratic Caucus chair Randy Rinks, and others were doggedly beseeching the membership. Viewing the scene from afar were Shelby County Republicans Tre Hargett and Paul Stanley, two Nay votes from the get-go. “They’re working Buck and Windle and Newton pretty good,” observed Stanley of the leadership’s unyielding ministrations with Democrats Frank Buck (Dowellton) and John Mark Windle (Livingston) and Republican Chris Newton (Cleveland).

Hargett and Stanley joked about guarding their vote buttons to keep somebody from changing them to Ayes while their backs were turned.

It never came to that, of course; as the word was passed from somewhere that Missouri’s legislature had once kept a vote open for three days before certifying it, everybody settled in for a long siege of sorts, an internal one corresponding to the external one being kept by noisy anti-tax demonstrators outside the Capitol.

It never came to that, either. Ultimately, Naifeh et al. persuaded Reps. Buck, Fraley, Mary Pruitt (D-Nashville), and John Tidwell (D, New Johnsonville) to “blue-light” their votes (change from Nay to “present and not voting) so as to hold the negative votes under 50 and keep somebody from moving to certify the Nay vote as final, making it impossible to revive the bill during the current session.

“The sun is still shining,” said Rep. Don Ridgeway (D-Paris), a partisan of the bill, afterward, but there was little of that sunshine left for the bill’s prospects.

“It’s over,” was the reported sentiment from Sen. Larry Trail, a Murfreesboro Democrat who had been counted by some as a last-ditch prospect to become Aye vote Number 17 for the bill if it should reach the Senate, where 16 votes, one short, had supposedly been gathered to second a favorable House vote.

Several of the senators had lined the back wall of the House chamber before and during the voting, waiting to see if the burden of decision would come their way or not.

“There’s Number 17!” somebody had jokingly said to Sen. Lincoln Davis (D-Pall Mall). “No, I’m Number 235,” responded Davis, a candidate for Congress from the 4th District and one who had long made it crystal-clear that he would not be found on the incriminating side of a Senate tally.

The bottom line was that, while Speaker Naifeh would probably try again (didn’t say he would, didn’t say he wouldn’t), the kind of opposition that had been mounted to this bill from outside the Capitol made it likely that, for it to pass, somebody in both legislative chambers -- several somebodies, in fact -- would have to be persuaded to write a new -- and self-dooming -- chapter or two into Profiles in Courage.

It wasn’t just that radio talk show hosts Phil Valentine and Steve Gill were just outside exhorting their multitudes against the “cockroaches” (Gill) and “scum” and “commies” (Valentine) inside. As free-lance broadcaster Sherman Noboson, a Capitol veteran, pointed out, running back Eddie George and other millionaire members of the NFL’s Titans had been lobbying hard against the income-tax measure, too. And that’s what you call resistance!

A glum Jimmy Naifeh and other members of the House leadership (including Speaker Pro Temp Lois DeBerry of Memphis) confront the press after defeat of income-tax bill Wednesday.

Thursday, May 23, 2002

INTERVIEW WITH GOP MAYORAL CANDIDATE GEORGE FLINN

INTERVIEW WITH GOP MAYORAL CANDIDATE GEORGE FLINN

Posted By on Thu, May 23, 2002 at 4:00 AM

THE 'ACCOUNTABILITY' MAN To start with an issue that became moot the day after the election: the new NBA arena-to-be. That figured in a lot of the election outcomes. What has been your thinking on it? I am a booster for the area and anything that improves the mood or the prospects of the area. So I’m a Grizzlies fan, I have season tickets to see the games. I take my mother there all the time. And I made a successful bid to carry the Grizzlies’ games on one of my radio stations (WHBQ, 56 A.M.) I’m a Grizzlies fan. But the fact is that I was always opposed to public funding for the arena, particularly if the public had no say in the decision. think the people who do want to support the Grizzlies, which is a great number of people, I think they should have been the ones supporting the arena, and the businesses that will be benefiting from the increased visbility of the area. That’s out of the way now, of course. Yes, it is. And you’re probably relieved. I am -- very relieved. During the campaign against [GOP rival State Rep.] Larry Scroggs, several Republicans maintained that your ads were misleading, those which made him out to be a big-time taxer. What is your attittude toward that, and what is your relationship with Scroggs today? First of all, I consider Larry Scroggs to be a fine person. I know him, I know his family, I think they’re great people, I think they’re dedicated people. My campaign emphasized holding the line on taxes, and I didn’t see it as attacking him personally. I think personally he’s a great guy., and he’s serving us well in the statehouse. But I don’t think anybody can say that we didn’t vary on how we see the issue of taxation. That was the difference, and pointing out differences -- or even dramatizing them --is nothing new in political campaigning. But personally I do not see that as an attack on him. And, as far as what some people call “negative campaigning” goes, I didn’t initiate the “attacks.” Larry did, in that press conference he called accusing me of running two-bit radio stations and trying to buy the election and not being honorable and a real Republican and all that. That was before I ran a single ad, and I hadn’t said anything unkind about him at all. I didn’t much care for all that -- Iw as kind of shocked, in fact -- and if it comes down to it, it was unfair But I just chalked it up to how the game is played, and I don’t have any hard feelings about it. I do think we ought to have a single standard about how we see such things. Well, do you have a point of view toward how the legislature solves the state tax problem? I am concerned about holding the line at the state level, too, but in such a way that we are not penalized at our own local-government level. My main concern is that Shelby County continue to receive the funding from the state that it is due, because Shelby County’s budget -- which is in a tight way itself -- is dependent on the receiving of those funds, and we should not do anything to upset the balance. Because in looking at the budget we’re dependent on those funds to hold our tax rate. Shelby County will, I think, be very well represented by its legislators, people like Paul Stanley, Larry Scroggs, Curtis Person, Mark Norris, and , really, all the rest. I think they will have Shelby County’s best interests at heart when they vote. I think they’ll look very closely at what this might do to Shelby County, and what it might do to the citizens of the state of Tennessee., and I will depend on their judgment. So you don’t want to recommend a particular solution or attitude in Nashville? When it’s outside my purview I think I want to do whatever’s best for Shelby County., I want Shelby County. to be able to maintain its funding. Whatever is best for Shelby County. is ,my concern. Once again, then, what were your differences with Larry Scroggs? LarryScroggs and I were 95 to 99 percent the same. Our few differences were the ones that were aired. That’s the reason the Republican Party is coming back together so rapidly. We in the Republican Party are 99and 44/100th percent the same. We share the same thoughts and beliefs. The differences will be somewhat larger in the general election. between A C Wharton the Democrat and George Flinn the Republican. But these differences can be articulated and debated in a friendly manner. I think we can shake hands and smile at each other, and let the voters choose. The voters need to be presented the differences in candidates’ philosophies. I think we owe it to the voters to be candid about the different approaches and philosophies we would bring to governing Shelby County. What are the basic differences between yourself and A C Wharton? I understand that his position, as a Democrat, would be weighted more heavily to government intervention and possibly more taxes, while my position would be that of doing a few things and doing them very well, and holding the line on taxes and ensuring accountability, on scrubbing the budget, looking at it, and seeing if every dollar is being spent wisely. How do you feel abut the rest of the Republican ticket you’ll be running with? I feel great about the ticket. [County trustee] Bob Patterson is a treasure. My friend [newly elected county commissioner] John Willingham is very cost-conscious and is all about accountability. Bruce Thompson [a nominee for commissioner] is all about business and accountability.. And Mark Luttrell, the nominee for sheriff, is going to be great. I’ve talked to him several times. I’m going to enjoy working with him, because he, too, is all about cost-cutting and efficient management and accountability. I think we’ve got a perfect ticket, from top to bottom, to present to the people, one that will hold the line and/or decrease taxes and make the government much more accountable. You actually think it’s possible to decrease taxes? That’s my goal. Back to the feeling that you mentioned that some people thought you “bought” the election: What’s your response to that? All I did was spend enough to make sure we got our message out, and I thnk, as we go through the general election cycle, I think it’s going to be beneficial to the entire Republican ticket to have that message -- the Republican one of accountability -- presented for a full hearing. I think, in general, my message -- which includes a good deal of skepticism about the value of countywide consolidation, at least as it’s been talked about -- is the same as the entire ticket’s. But accountability, based on fairness, that’s what the message really is. That, plus public safety, and job creation. And education. That’s what we were able to make the voters aware of in the primary. They voted for it, not especially for me -- although I’m glad to be the messenger. One more thing about this “buying an election” stuff. In radio, we say that the worst thing you can do is advertise a bad product. If you advertise something good, you win with it; if it’s a bad product, you’re going to go bust. No doubt cost-cutting and “accountability” will play well in certain areas -- the suburbs, fr example -- but your opponent is a well-regarded African American who hopes to cross political boundaries with his appeal. Meanwhile, what do you offer that’s attractive to his base? Well, I have an office in the inner city -- my main office. I’ve been there for 27 years. I talk to inner city Memphians every day. I know their deepest concerns. When someone’s sick, their deepest concerns come out. I’m very attuned to that. The main thing is that those Memphians are not abandoned, that the services they are used to continue to be offered to them. I am no less disposed to listen to them than I am to the folks in the suburbs and those out in the county. I’m balanced between everybody’s needs, the way I think government should be. But can you maintain a good level of social services and cut taxes, too? I think we can, by being accountable and making certain that the services we provide them are the ones they need. Often times we try to provide services that they don’t need. And don’t get. I know the services they need, because those are the ones they tell me about, and I’m very attuned to the inner city, as I am to the county at large. To say the least, you’ve mentioned the word “accountable” a fair number of times. What exactly do you mean by it? Exactly what it sounds like: The word means that you owe an accounting to the people who hire you to run their public affairs and spend their tax money. That means you make responsible allocations to agreed-upon purposes based on dependable revenue sources. And that you do it year after year in the most exacting way. “Accounting” contains another word: “count.” You have to be able to count accurately, and project your numbers. I’ve had a good deal of experience with that . In the primary campaign, you had to deal with a good deal of speculation that you were unfamiliar with the issues. What is the state of your familiarity with them? I have a broad experience in business and as a physician. I am a quick study.I have bee studying.[the issues], and I will continue to study. And I will know the issues better than most. As a matter of fact, I already know the issues, most of those someone might bring up, and I know them upwards and downwards.I would challenge those who want to promulgate the idea that I don’t know the issues: Try me. And the main thing is that I know the people, and I know the area. I’m one of those who grew up listening to Dewey Phillips! I went to Central High School like my father, and I know every one of our local landmarks like the back of my hand. The real issue, when you get down to it, is how the people feel about things. They’ll always tell you what the issues are. And I’d rather listen to them than second-guess them.

The "Accountability" Man, plus the State Front

An interview with George Flinn, the GOP's surprise county mayoral nominee, plus Bredesen vexes his partymates, the income tax gets close, and more.

Posted By on Thu, May 23, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Memphis Flyer: To start with an issue that became moot the day after the election: the NBA arena-to-be. That figured in a lot of the election outcomes. What has been your thinking on it?

George Flinn: I am a booster for the area and anything that improves the mood or the prospects of the area. So I'm a Grizzlies fan. I have season tickets. I take my mother there all the time. And I made a successful bid to carry the Grizzlies' games on one of my radio stations (WHBQ 56 AM). But the fact is that I was always opposed to public funding for the arena, particularly if the public had no say in the decision. I think the people who do want to support the Grizzlies, which is a great number of people, should have been the ones supporting the arena and the businesses that will be benefiting from the increased visibility of the area.

That's out of the way now, of course.

Yes, it is.

And you're probably relieved.

I am very relieved.

During the campaign against GOP rival state Rep. Larry Scroggs, several Republicans maintained that your ads were misleading those which made him out to be a big-time taxer. What is your attitude toward that and what is your relationship with Scroggs today?

First of all, I consider Larry Scroggs to be a fine person. I know him. I know his family. I think they're great people. I think they're dedicated people. My campaign emphasized holding the line on taxes, and I didn't see it as attacking him personally. I think personally he's a great guy and he's serving us well in the Statehouse. But I don't think anybody can say that we didn't vary on how we see the issue of taxation. That was the difference, and pointing out differences or even dramatizing them is nothing new in political campaigning. But, personally, I do not see that as an attack on him.

And as far as what some people call "negative campaigning" goes, I didn't initiate the "attacks." Larry did, in that press conference he called accusing me of running two-bit radio stations and trying to buy the election and not being honorable and a real Republican and all that. That was before I ran a single ad, and I hadn't said anything unkind about him at all. I didn't much care for all that. I was kind of shocked, in fact. And if it comes down to it, it was unfair. But I just chalked it up to how the game is played, and I don't have any hard feelings about it. I do think we ought to have a single standard about how we see such things.

Well, do you have a point of view toward how the legislature solves the state tax problem?

I am concerned about holding the line at the state level too but in such a way that we are not penalized at our own local government level. My main concern is that Shelby County continue to receive the funding from the state that it is due, because Shelby County's budget which is in a tight way itself is dependent on receiving those funds, and we should not do anything to upset the balance. Because, in looking at the budget, we're dependent on those funds to hold our tax rate.

Shelby County will, I think, be very well represented by its legislators, people like Paul Stanley, Larry Scroggs, Curtis Person, Mark Norris, and, really, all the rest. I think they will have Shelby County's best interests at heart when they vote. I think they'll look very closely at what this might do to Shelby County and what it might do to the citizens of the state of Tennessee, and I will depend on their judgment.

So you don't want to recommend a particular solution or attitude in Nashville?

When it's outside my purview, I think I want to do whatever's best for Shelby County. I want Shelby County to be able to maintain its funding. Whatever is best for Shelby County is my concern.

Once again, what were your differences with Larry Scroggs?

Larry Scroggs and I were 95 to 99 percent the same. Our few differences were the ones that were aired. That's the reason the Republican Party is coming back together so rapidly. We in the Republican Party are 99 and 44/100th percent the same. We share the same thoughts and beliefs.

The differences will be somewhat larger in the general election between AC Wharton the Democrat and George Flinn the Republican. But these differences can be articulated and debated in a friendly manner. I think we can shake hands and smile at each other and let the voters choose. The voters need to be presented the differences in candidates' philosophies.

I think we owe it to the voters to be candid about the different approaches and philosophies we would bring to governing Shelby County.

What are the basic differences between yourself and Wharton?

I understand that his position, as a Democrat, would be weighted more heavily to government intervention and possibly more taxes, while my position would be that of doing a few things and doing them very well and holding the line on taxes and ensuring accountability on scrubbing the budget and seeing if every dollar is being spent wisely.

How do you feel abut the rest of the Republican ticket you'll be running with?

I feel great about the ticket. [County trustee] Bob Patterson is a treasure. My friend [newly elected county commissioner] John Willingham is very cost-conscious and is all about accountability. Bruce Thompson [a nominee for commissioner] is all about business and accountability. And Mark Luttrell, the nominee for sheriff, is going to be great. I've talked to him several times. I'm going to enjoy working with him, because he too is all about cost-cutting and efficient management and accountability. I think we've got a perfect ticket from top to bottom to present to the people, one that will hold the line and/or decrease taxes and make the government much more accountable.

You actually think it's possible to decrease taxes?

That's my goal.

Back to the feeling you mentioned that some thought you "bought" the election what's your response to that?

All I did was spend enough to make sure we got our message out, and I think, as we go through the general election cycle, it's going to be beneficial to the entire Republican ticket to have that message the Republican one of accountability presented for a full hearing. I think, in general, my message which includes a good deal of skepticism about the value of countywide consolidation, at least as it's been talked about is the same as the entire ticket's. But accountability, based on fairness, that's what the message really is. That plus public safety and job creation and education.

That's what we were able to make the voters aware of in the primary. They voted for it, not especially for me although I'm glad to be the messenger.

One more thing about this "buying an election" stuff. In radio, we say that the worst thing you can do is advertise a bad product. If you advertise something good, you win with it. If it's a bad product, you're going to go bust.

No doubt cost-cutting and "accountability" will play well in certain areas the suburbs, for example but your opponent is a well-regarded African American who hopes to cross political boundaries with his appeal. Meanwhile, what do you offer that's attractive to his base?

Well, I have an office in the inner city my main office. I've been there for 27 years. I talk to inner-city Memphians every day. I know their deepest concerns. When someone's sick, their deepest concerns come out. I'm very attuned to that. The main thing is that those Memphians are not abandoned, that the services they are used to continue to be offered to them. I am no less disposed to listen to them than I am to the folks in the suburbs and those out in the county. I'm balanced between everybody's needs, the way I think government should be.

But can you maintain a good level of social services and cut taxes too?

I think we can, by being accountable and making certain that the services we provide them are the ones they need. Oftentimes, we try to provide services that they don't need. And don't get. I know the services they need, because those are the ones they tell me about, and I'm very attuned to the inner city, as I am to the county at large.

To say the least, you've mentioned the word "accountability" a fair number of times. What exactly do you mean by it?

Exactly what it sounds like: The word means that you owe an accounting to the people who hire you to run their public affairs and spend their tax money. That means you make responsible allocations to agreed-upon purposes based on dependable revenue sources. And that you do it year after year in the most exacting way. "Accounting" contains another word: "count." You have to be able to count accurately and project your numbers. I've had a good deal of experience with that.

In the primary campaign, you had to deal with a good deal of speculation that you were unfamiliar with the issues. What is the state of your familiarity with them?

I have a broad experience in business and as a physician. I am a quick study. I have been studying [the issues], and I will continue to study. And I will know the issues better than most. As a matter of fact, I already know the issues, most of those someone might bring up, and I know them upwards and downwards. I would challenge those who want to promulgate the idea that I don't know the issues: Try me.

And the main thing is that I know the people, and I know the area. I'm one of those who grew up listening to Dewey Phillips. I went to Central High School like my father, and I know every one of our local landmarks like the back of my hand. The real issue, when you get down to it, is how the people feel about things. They'll always tell you what the issues are. And I'd rather listen to them than second-guess them.

The State Front

Bredesen vexes his partymates, the income tax gets close, and two GOP rivals vie.

NASHVILLE -- Politically speaking, last week was as notable for what didn't happen as much as for what did. One thing that didn't happen was a showdown in the legislature over an income-tax bill. (That's been deferred until this week or perhaps until next.) Another thing that didn't happen was that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Bredesen didn't send legislators a letter opposing a state income tax after likely Republican rival Van Hilleary did.

That was a relief to Democrats everywhere in the state, many of whom even some formerly stout supporters of the ex-Nashville mayor have been forced, uncomfortably often of late, to utter the P-word (yes, "pander," that's the one) in connection with the Democratic frontrunner.

This is not a matter of concern only to the more ideological-minded about party activists; fears are being expressed at high Democratic levels about Bredesen's propensity to play Pete-and-Repeat with Hilleary on the tax question.

Two key state Democrats stood in front of the downtown Sheraton in Nashville Thursday after the legislature had folded its hand without betting (at least for a week) and discussed the matter.

"He didn't need to go there," said one about Bredesen's readiness last month to chime in with Hilleary on a promise to try to "repeal" an income tax if one somehow got enacted into law this year. The other Democrat nodded in agreement.

The problem, the two of them agreed, was at least two-fold. First, the still-inevitable-looking Democratic nominee had alienated "the folks over there," as one of them said, indicating the state Capitol spire across War Memorial Plaza. It is a well-known fact that House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh won't return Bredesen's phone calls and that legislators deeply involved in negotiations over a tax bill not just Democrats and not just income-tax proponents have felt their efforts undermined by Bredesen.

By Hilleary, too, of course, but the 4th District GOP congressman is being cut more slack, on the dubious ground that He Knows Not What He Does as well as on the logical one that his position is not so flagrantly at odds with the assumptions of his party's spokespeople. Bredesen's hardening position against the income tax, on the other hand, puts Democrats running for the legislature on the spot.

But an even worse problem, noted the two key Democrats, was that Bredesen had raised grievous doubts concerning his ability, present- or future-tense, to take public positions good, bad, or indifferent with any risk attached to them. "He's got people worried about his character," one of them said.

Only if he takes one or two more steps of the "repeal" magnitude might he endanger the inevitability of his nomination, the two Democrats concurred, but Bredesen may have already conditioned a number of Democrats to the idea of sitting the election out or skipping the gubernatorial portion of the ballot in protest.

And such losses would not be balanced by commensurate gains, the Democrats agreed. It was notable Wednesday morning that anti-tax talk-show host Steve Gill of Nashville's WTTN mocked Bredesen's sincerity on the tax issue by pointing out his absence from the ranks of protestors outside the Capitol. (Of course, Hilleary wasn't there either a certain level of decorum being expected of mainstream candidates.)

There was one bottom-line matter the pair of Democratic party lions agreed on Phil Bredesen had lost, not gained, ground as a result of his frantic footwork on the income tax.

n Income Tax Prospects: You start with the premise, of course, that Governor Don Sundquist will sign Naifeh's 4.5 percent "flat-tax" bill as soon as it gets to his desk.

That's a slam dunk. It would be the culmination of the sorely beleaguered governor's three years of agonistic (and agonized) struggle to achieve "tax reform." (That's a euphemism for an income tax these days, of course, as is the term "flat tax," which describes one type of income tax the nongraduated kind now in play.)

And you proceed with the high likelihood that Naifeh, an adroit persuader and head-counter, will ultimately be able to distill the 50-vote majority he needs from the fluctuating number of possible House ayes that everybody agreed last Wednesday, when the Speaker chose not to bring the bill to the floor, hovered between 47 and 53.

What about the legislative Black Caucus' supposed threat to hold up the bill pending satisfaction of its demand that Naifeh arrange the appointment of a black member to the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, whose membership is up for renewal?

The general belief in the Senate, which (as we shall see) holds the balance, is that the threat is more apparent than real, that, when push comes to shove (as it may this next week, both figuratively and literally), black legislators as a bloc will not want to stand in the way of an outcome desired so intensely by the great majority of their constituents, who see the income tax as the best of all possible nonregressive revenue sources.

Certainly, Kathryn Bowers, the Memphis Democrat who is a physical bantamweight but a legislative heavyweight and can usually speak for the caucus, carefully measured her words when asked about the subject last week, avoiding words like "threat" or "deal" or any syntax, for that matter, that came within an unabridged mile of an ultimatum.

The root of the problem has been that Melvin Malone, the African-American appointee who was Lt. Governor John Wilder's choice for the TRA last time around, has been substituted on the new list by Pat Miller, the Wilder confidante who in recent years has served as his chief of staff. Any action that attempted to arm-twist Wilder out of Miller would blow sky-high the gathering income-tax consensus in the Senate, where the wizened lieutenant governor famously presides.

There were actually weekend reports that the lieutenant governor had talked with his protégé about the possibility of stepping down so as to end the impasse. But if Wilder wants Miller, Wilder gets Miller. The Senate's presiding officer, after all, remains a key member the key member, perhaps of a 16-vote Senate bloc that will vote for Naifeh's bill if and when it arrives safely from the House.

"I will be responsible" is how Wilder describes his intentions on the flat-tax bill, and this is widely taken to mean a yes vote, however tentative. As Wilder explains, such other former key Senate holdouts as Democratic Caucus chairman Joe Haynes of Goodletsville and finance chair Doug Henry of Nashville also mean to be "responsible."

Henry put it this way Wednesday night: "I've generally opposed an income tax, but we've gotten ourselves in serious trouble. We've got to do something to assure that state government has enough money to operate."

Also generally counted in this tacit list of last-ditch converts is House Republican Leader Ben Atchley of Knoxville.

But even with all these reluctant eminences accounted for, the total of Senate votes still stands at only 16 one shy of the number needed to pass the flat-tax bill. Where will it come from?

Not from the GOP's Mark Norris, the conservative Colliervillian whose current congressional bid would be compromised by an income-tax vote. And not from another Shelby County Republican, judiciary chair Curtis Person, a longtime Sundquist intimate who insists, almost in the manner of one of the current tax protesters, "No means no."

To which a Democratic senator backing the income tax says, "Damn that D'Agostino [Memphian Anthony D'Agostino, a Democrat who filed against Person this year, thereby becoming (along with independent Barbara Leding) the august GOP senator's first formal opposition of any kind since 1968]! Without him, we would have had Curtis' vote." (For the record, Person insists that this is not so; both he and Norris are backing a Constitutional Convention bill.)

Typical of several other doubtful prospects is Murfreesboro's Larry Trail, whose 2000 race against Republican Howard Wall may have come down to his pledge (against persistent badgering) that he would not, definitely would not, never ever, vote for an income tax.

As Trail said last week, in a wan parody of that ordeal, "I've hated [the income tax] since the age of 12!" When pressed for a more serious response, he keeps his own counsel amid what friends know is a troubling inner discontent.

Trail's name is invoked almost daily and sarcastically by talk-show host Gill, who sees Trail as a likely apostate and therefore is keeping the heat on.

"It's a matter of ratings," says Trail, who would just as soon not have to contemplate this flat-tax cup, much less drink it.

But contemplate it he must, as will several of the others named above, and if the Steve Gills of the world push from one direction, there is abundant pressure from the other direction as well. If something or someone gives, anywhere along the line, the income tax is law. It's that close. Or, as they say: So near yet so far.

n In what may be just another instance of making virtue of necessity (but may also be the simple truth), Tennessee's GOP Senator Bill Frist said on a recent visit to Memphis that his party's hard-fought senatorial primary between Lamar Alexander and Ed Bryant was "a good thing" for both candidates and for the Republican Party.

Since Senator Fred Thompson's surprise declaration in early March that he would not seek reelection, Alexander, a two-term former governor of Tennessee, and 7th District congressman Bryant have been locked in a primary struggle that has often been bitter.

As chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, Frist is intent upon regaining control of the Senate for his party. While acknowledging that there was "some pressure" for him to state a preference for one of the would-be successors to his retiring colleague Thompson, Frist said only someone like Democrat Bredesen, a multi-millionaire, could have forced him to make such a choice.

"It's a matter of money. If Bredesen had been the Democrats' Senate candidate, we'd have had to focus very quickly on solidarity and fund-raising, and that would have probably caused me to indicate a preference," Frist said.

Frist said he did not think the Senate candidacy of Nashville congressman Bob Clement, the Democrats' consensus choice, presented the same urgency. Nor, Frist indicated, would a senate candidacy by Memphis' Democratic congressman, Harold Ford Jr., have been a compelling reason for him to intervene in favor of one of the Republican hopefuls.

"Frankly, I think it's been good for Lamar to face some competition and sharpen his game, and it's obviously a good opportunity for Ed to indicate his ability also," Frist, the Senate's only doctor, said at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in East Memphis, where, weekend before last, he signed copies of his new volume, When Every Moment Counts (Bowman and Littlefield, $14.95, 182 pages), which deals with the threat of bio-terrorism.

From Frist's point of view, the Senate race may turn into too much of a good thing, though. Bryant and Alexander, both professing to be diehard conservatives, escalated their war of words last week, with the former governor saying his record made him better qualified and rebuking Bryant for "mean-spirited" campaign tactics.

For his part, the congressman criticized Alexander for a published statement to the effect that, his presidential hopes long gone by, "the Senate will have to do." During a visit to the Flyer office this week, Alexander acknowledged that the remark, made "at the very end of a long interview" with the Knoxville News Sentinel's Tom Humphrey, might have been better phrased.

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

INTERVIEW WITH GOP MAYORAL CANDIDATE GEORGE FLINN

George Flinn, the GOP's surprise mayoral nominee, believes he can unify his party.

Posted By on Wed, May 22, 2002 at 4:00 AM

THE 'ACCOUNTABILITY' MAN To start with an issue that became moot the day after the election: the new NBA arena-to-be. That figured in a lot of the election outcomes. What has been your thinking on it? I am a booster for the area and anything that improves the mood or the prospects of the area. So I’m a Grizzlies fan, I have season tickets to see the games. I take my mother there all the time. And I made a successful bid to carry the Grizzlies’ games on one of my radio stations (WHBQ, 56 A.M.) I’m a Grizzlies fan. But the fact is that I was always opposed to public funding for the arena, particularly if the public had no say in the decision. think the people who do want to support the Grizzlies, which is a great number of people, I think they should have been the ones supporting the arena, and the businesses that will be benefiting from the increased visbility of the area. That’s out of the way now, of course. Yes, it is. And you’re probably relieved. I am -- very relieved. During the campaign against [GOP rival State Rep.] Larry Scroggs, several Republicans maintained that your ads were misleading, those which made him out to be a big-time taxer. What is your attittude toward that, and what is your relationship with Scroggs today? First of all, I consider Larry Scroggs to be a fine person. I know him, I know his family, I think they’re great people, I think they’re dedicated people. My campaign emphasized holding the line on taxes, and I didn’t see it as attacking him personally. I think personally he’s a great guy., and he’s serving us well in the statehouse. But I don’t think anybody can say that we didn’t vary on how we see the issue of taxation. That was the difference, and pointing out differences -- or even dramatizing them --is nothing new in political campaigning. But personally I do not see that as an attack on him. And, as far as what some people call “negative campaigning” goes, I didn’t initiate the “attacks.” Larry did, in that press conference he called accusing me of running two-bit radio stations and trying to buy the election and not being honorable and a real Republican and all that. That was before I ran a single ad, and I hadn’t said anything unkind about him at all. I didn’t much care for all that -- Iw as kind of shocked, in fact -- and if it comes down to it, it was unfair But I just chalked it up to how the game is played, and I don’t have any hard feelings about it. I do think we ought to have a single standard about how we see such things. Well, do you have a point of view toward how the legislature solves the state tax problem? I am concerned about holding the line at the state level, too, but in such a way that we are not penalized at our own local-government level. My main concern is that Shelby County continue to receive the funding from the state that it is due, because Shelby County’s budget -- which is in a tight way itself -- is dependent on the receiving of those funds, and we should not do anything to upset the balance. Because in looking at the budget we’re dependent on those funds to hold our tax rate. Shelby County will, I think, be very well represented by its legislators, people like Paul Stanley, Larry Scroggs, Curtis Person, Mark Norris, and , really, all the rest. I think they will have Shelby County’s best interests at heart when they vote. I think they’ll look very closely at what this might do to Shelby County, and what it might do to the citizens of the state of Tennessee., and I will depend on their judgment. So you don’t want to recommend a particular solution or attitude in Nashville? When it’s outside my purview I think I want to do whatever’s best for Shelby County., I want Shelby County. to be able to maintain its funding. Whatever is best for Shelby County. is ,my concern. Once again, then, what were your differences with Larry Scroggs? LarryScroggs and I were 95 to 99 percent the same. Our few differences were the ones that were aired. That’s the reason the Republican Party is coming back together so rapidly. We in the Republican Party are 99and 44/100th percent the same. We share the same thoughts and beliefs. The differences will be somewhat larger in the general election. between A C Wharton the Democrat and George Flinn the Republican. But these differences can be articulated and debated in a friendly manner. I think we can shake hands and smile at each other, and let the voters choose. The voters need to be presented the differences in candidates’ philosophies. I think we owe it to the voters to be candid about the different approaches and philosophies we would bring to governing Shelby County. What are the basic differences between yourself and A C Wharton? I understand that his position, as a Democrat, would be weighted more heavily to government intervention and possibly more taxes, while my position would be that of doing a few things and doing them very well, and holding the line on taxes and ensuring accountability, on scrubbing the budget, looking at it, and seeing if every dollar is being spent wisely. How do you feel abut the rest of the Republican ticket you’ll be running with? I feel great about the ticket. [County trustee] Bob Patterson is a treasure. My friend [newly elected county commissioner] John Willingham is very cost-conscious and is all about accountability. Bruce Thompson [a nominee for commissioner] is all about business and accountability.. And Mark Luttrell, the nominee for sheriff, is going to be great. I’ve talked to him several times. I’m going to enjoy working with him, because he, too, is all about cost-cutting and efficient management and accountability. I think we’ve got a perfect ticket, from top to bottom, to present to the people, one that will hold the line and/or decrease taxes and make the government much more accountable. You actually think it’s possible to decrease taxes? That’s my goal. Back to the feeling that you mentioned that some people thought you “bought” the election: What’s your response to that? All I did was spend enough to make sure we got our message out, and I thnk, as we go through the general election cycle, I think it’s going to be beneficial to the entire Republican ticket to have that message -- the Republican one of accountability -- presented for a full hearing. I think, in general, my message -- which includes a good deal of skepticism about the value of countywide consolidation, at least as it’s been talked about -- is the same as the entire ticket’s. But accountability, based on fairness, that’s what the message really is. That, plus public safety, and job creation. And education. That’s what we were able to make the voters aware of in the primary. They voted for it, not especially for me -- although I’m glad to be the messenger. One more thing about this “buying an election” stuff. In radio, we say that the worst thing you can do is advertise a bad product. If you advertise something good, you win with it; if it’s a bad product, you’re going to go bust. No doubt cost-cutting and “accountability” will play well in certain areas -- the suburbs, fr example -- but your opponent is a well-regarded African American who hopes to cross political boundaries with his appeal. Meanwhile, what do you offer that’s attractive to his base? Well, I have an office in the inner city -- my main office. I’ve been there for 27 years. I talk to inner city Memphians every day. I know their deepest concerns. When someone’s sick, their deepest concerns come out. I’m very attuned to that. The main thing is that those Memphians are not abandoned, that the services they are used to continue to be offered to them. I am no less disposed to listen to them than I am to the folks in the suburbs and those out in the county. I’m balanced between everybody’s needs, the way I think government should be. But can you maintain a good level of social services and cut taxes, too? I think we can, by being accountable and making certain that the services we provide them are the ones they need. Often times we try to provide services that they don’t need. And don’t get. I know the services they need, because those are the ones they tell me about, and I’m very attuned to the inner city, as I am to the county at large. To say the least, you’ve mentioned the word “accountable” a fair number of times. What exactly do you mean by it? Exactly what it sounds like: The word means that you owe an accounting to the people who hire you to run their public affairs and spend their tax money. That means you make responsible allocations to agreed-upon purposes based on dependable revenue sources. And that you do it year after year in the most exacting way. “Accounting” contains another word: “count.” You have to be able to count accurately, and project your numbers. I’ve had a good deal of experience with that . In the primary campaign, you had to deal with a good deal of speculation that you were unfamiliar with the issues. What is the state of your familiarity with them? I have a broad experience in business and as a physician. I am a quick study.I have bee studying.[the issues], and I will continue to study. And I will know the issues better than most. As a matter of fact, I already know the issues, most of those someone might bring up, and I know them upwards and downwards.I would challenge those who want to promulgate the idea that I don’t know the issues: Try me. And the main thing is that I know the people, and I know the area. I’m one of those who grew up listening to Dewey Phillips! I went to Central High School like my father, and I know every one of our local landmarks like the back of my hand. The real issue, when you get down to it, is how the people feel about things. They’ll always tell you what the issues are. And I’d rather listen to them than second-guess them.

Saturday, May 18, 2002

SO NEAR, YET SO FAR: ONE SENATE VOTE AWAY

SO NEAR, YET SO FAR: ONE SENATE VOTE AWAY

Posted By on Sat, May 18, 2002 at 4:00 AM

NASHVILLE -- You start with the premise, of course, that Governor Don Sundquist will sign Speaker Jimmy Naifeh‘s 4.5 percent “flat-tax” bill as soon as it gets to his desk.

That’s a slam dunk; it would be the culmination of the sorely beleagured governor’s three years of agonistic (and agonized) struggle to achieve “tax reform.” (That’s a euphemism for an income tax these days, of course, just as the term “flat tax,” which describes one type of income tax -- the non-graduated kind now in play -- also is.)

And you proceed with the assumption that Naifeh, an adroit persuader and head-counter, will ultimately (in practice, that means by next Wednesday, when the legislature reconvenes) be able to distill the 50-vote majority he needs from the fluctuating number of possible House Ayes that everybody agreed Wednesday, when the Speaker chose not to bring the bill to the floor, hovered between 47 and 53.

What about the legislative Black Caucus’ supposed threat to hold up the bill pending satisfaction of its demand that Naifeh arrange the appointment of a black member to the Tennessee Regularatory Authority, whose membership is up for renewal?

The general belief in the Senate, which (as we shall see) holds the balance, is that the threat is more apparent than real, that, when push comes to shove (as it may this next week, both figuratively and literally), black legislators as a bloc will not want to stand in the way of an outcome desired so intensely by the great majority of their constituents, who see the income tax as the best of all possible non-regressive revenue sources.

Certainly, Kathryn Bowers, the Memphis Democrat who is a physical bantamweight but a legislative heavyweight and can usually speak for the Caucus, carefully measured her words when asked about the subject Wednesday night, avoiding words like “threat” or “deal.”or any syntax, for that matter, that came within an unabridged mile of an ultimatum..

The root of the problem has been that Melvin Malone, the African-American appointee who was Lt. Governor John Wilder‘s choice for the TRA last time around, has been substituted for on the new list by Pat Miller, the Wilder confidante who in recent years has served as his Chief of Staff. Any action that attempted to arm-twist Wilder out of Miller would blow sky-high the gathering income-tax consensus in the Senate, where the wizened Lt. Governor famously presides.

So be assured that Miller stays. And Wilder remains a key member -- the key member, perhaps -- of a 16-vote Senate bloc that will vote for Naifeh’s bill if and when it arrives safely from the House. “I will be responsible,” is how Wilder describes his intentions on the flat-tax bill, and this is widely taken to mean an Aye vote, however tentative. As Wilder explains, such other former key Senate holdouts as Democratic Caucus chairman Joe Haynes of Goodletsville and Finance chair Doug Henry of Nashville also mean to be “responsible.”

Henry put it this way Wednesday night: “I’ve generally opposed an income tax, but we’ve gotten ourselves in serious trouble. We’ve got to do something to assure that state government has enough money to operate.”

Also generally counted in this tacit list of last-ditch converts is House Republican Leader Ben Atchley of Knoxville.

But even with all these reluctant eminences accounted for, the total of Senate votes still stands at only 16 -- one shy of the number needed to pass the flat-tax bill. Where will it come from?

Not, word is, from Republican Bobby Carter of Jackson, who is on some people’s list of potentials. Certainly not from the GOP’s Mark Norris, the conservative Memphian whose current congressional bid would be compromised by an income-tax vote. And not from another Memphis Republican, Judiciary chair Curtis Person, a longtime Sundquist intimate who insists nevertheless (almost in the manner of one of the current tax protesters), “No means No.” To which a Democratic senator backing the income tax says, “Damn that D’Agostino [Memphian Anthony D’Agostino, a Democrat who filed against Person this year, thereby becoming (along with independent Barbara Leding) the august GOP senator’s first formal opposition of any kind since 1968]! Without him, we would have had Curtis’ vote.” (For the record, Person insists that this is not so; both he and Norris are backing a Constitutional Convention bill.)

Not from Democrat Lincoln Davis, another congressional hopeful who knows that his 4th District bid would likely be doomed by an income-tax vote. (“That ‘Profile in Courage’ stuff works both ways,” Davis notes, a la the specter of intraparty resentment of his stand.)

There is the ever enigmatic and elusive Roy Herron, the Dresden Democrat who, on this matter as on many others, just cannot (or will not) be read.

And there is, finally, the pivotal case of Murfreesboro’s Larry Trail, whose 2000 race against Republican Howard Wall may have came down to his pledge (against persistent badgering) that he would not, definitely would not, never ever, vote for an income tax.

As Trail said Wednesday, in a wan parody of that ordeal, “I’ve hated it [the Income Tax] since the age of 12!” When pressed for a more serious response, he keeps his own counsel amid what friends know is a troubling inner discontent.

Trail’s name is invoked almost daily and sarcastically by radio talk show host Steve Gill, who was broadcasting his defiance of the income tax again Wednesday morning from Legislative Plaza. Gill sees Trail as a likely apostate and therefore is keeping the heat on.

“It’s a matter of ratings,” says Trail, who would just as soon not have to contemplate this flat-tax cup, much less drink it.

But contemplate it he must, as will several of the others named above, and if the Steve Gills of the world push from one direction, there is abundant pressure from the other direction as well.

If something or someone gives, anywhere along the line, the income tax is law. It’s that close. Or as they say: So Near, Yet So Far.

BREDESEN HAS PARTY ELDERS WORRIED

BREDESEN HAS PARTY ELDERS WORRIED

Posted By on Sat, May 18, 2002 at 4:00 AM

The political week just passed was notable as much for what didn’t happen as for what did. One thing that didn’t happen was a showdown in the legislature over an income-tax bill. (That’s been deferred.) Another thing that didn’t happen was that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Bredesen didn’t send legislators a letter opposing the IT after likely GOP rival Van Hilleary did.

That was a relief to Democrats everywhere in the state, many of whom -- even some formerly stout supporters of the ex-Nashville mayor -- have been forced, uncomfortably often of late, to utter the P-word (yes, “Pander,” that’s the one) in connection with the Democratic frontrunner.

This is not a matter of concern only to the more ideological-minded about party activists; fears are being expressed at high Democratic levels about Bredesen’s propensity to play Pete-and-Repete with Hilleary on the tax question.

Two key state Democrats stood in front of the downtown Sheraton in Nashville Thursday after the legislature had folded its hand without betting (at least for a week) and discussed the matter,

“He didn’t need to go there,” said one about Bredesen’s readiness last month to chime in with Hilleary on a promise to try to “repeal” an IT if one somehow got enacted into law this year. The other Democrat nodded in agreement.

The problem, the two of them agreed, was at least two-fold. First, the still-inevitable-looking Democratic nominee had alienated “the folks over there,” as one of them said, indicating the state Capirol spire across War Memorial Plaza. It is a well-known fact that House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh won’t return Bredesen’s phone calls and that legislators deeply involved in negotiations over a tax bill -- not just Democrats and not just IT proponents --have felt their efforts undermined by Bredesen.

By Hilleary, too, of course, but the 4th District GOP congressman is being cut more slack, on the dubious ground that he Knows Not What He Does, as well as on the logical one that his position is not so flagrantly at odds with the assumptions of his party’s spokespeople. Bredesen’s hardening position against the income tax , on the other hand, puts Democrats running for the legislature on the spot.

But an even worse problem, noted the two key Democrats with furrowed brows was that Bredesen had raised grievous doubts concerning his ability, present- or future-tense, to take public positions -- good, bad, or indifferent -- with any risk attached to them. “He’s got people worried about his character,” as one of them said.

Only if he takes one or two more steps of the “repeal” magnitude might he endanger the inevitability of his nomination, the two Democrats concurred, but Bredesen may have already conditioned a number of Democrats to the idea of sitting the election out, or of skipping the gubernatorial portion of the ballot in protest.

And such losses would not be balanced by commensurate gains, the Democrats agreed.. It was notable Wednesday morning that anti-tax talk-show host Steve Gill mocked Bredesen’s sincerity on the tax issue by pointing out his absence from the ranks of protestors outside the Capitol. (Of course, Hilleary wasn’t there, either -- a certain level of decorum being expected of mainstream candidates.)

There was one bottom-line matter the pair of Democratic Party llions agreed on -- Phil Bredesen had lost, not gained, ground as a result of his frantic footwork on the IT.

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

AC Sizes It Up

In an exclusive Flyer interview, the Democrat looks ahead to the general election race.

Posted By on Wed, May 15, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Memphis Flyer: You won the Democratic primary by more than 80 percent of the vote, and many people think you can't lose the general election. It's an odd question, but how could you lose it?

AC Wharton: If some fluke -- you're right, it's an odd question, but if something were to occur that would give somebody the impression that "that guy is a bigot," something that would just be the antithesis of everything that I believe in and represent, that could do it. But I have aired my beliefs everywhere and on my Web site [www.acwhartonformayor.com]. It would take something just weird to accomplish that.

George Flinn, the Republican winner, used advertising to score effectively against his opponent, state Representative Larry Scroggs. Could he do the same against you?

True, Flinn went after Scroggs, no holds barred, but it wasn't the effectiveness or the strength of Flinn's attack so much as it was Scroggs' inability to repel Flinn's attack. If the immune system has been compromised, the slightest bug that comes along is going to stick and penetrate. But if you build up, as I have done over 20 years, a public record that has been scrutinized at every turn of the road, it's different. It wasn't so much a personal failing on the part of Scroggs as it was a structural fault. It's an amazingly difficult job to get your issues out there. Had Larry been able to project his issues so that they were bigger than what he'd done in the past, he would probably have been able to survive that. But it's extremely difficult. He came in, he was not the first choice of his party, and that had to pose just a tremendous handicap. They [the Republican hierarchy] had left the traditional ranks and gone outside to try to pull in a baseball executive [Allie Prescott]. So I do not conclude that it was the effectiveness of Flinn's attack but the ineffectiveness of Scroggs' response that made the difference.

As the perceived front-runner, might it be in your interest to challenge Flinn, a newcomer to politics, to debate?

That's a difficult question. I don't believe in blowing smoke, so I've been reflecting carefully on that but I've not reached an answer. It's going to take me a couple of weeks to shake things down. The conventional wisdom is that the perceived front-runner does not debate his opponent. But I think what stood me well in the primary was that the public was able to see that, "Whether I like him or not, the guy knows the issues; he has some proposed solutions; he's thought things through; he's staked his positions. While some people in the print media may have said he was indefinitive, he was definitively indefinitive." [Laughter]

That's the pro and con. The conventional wisdom is, don't let people see him. The reason that argument is not as strong as it would be otherwise is that, with his [Flinn's] money, folks are going to see him anyway. If I don't debate him, he will get seen the way he wants to be seen himself. He might stage a "debate" and do something the way Eddie Murphy did in that movie where he played all those roles. He might do something which has a character in it named "AC Wharton."

The line on you is that everybody likes you on a personal level. True?

Well, you don't think about it. If you start taking things like that seriously, you start taking things for granted. You're not as circumspect in your dealings as you ought to be. It's not an awareness that I wear on my shoulder. I don't wake up in the morning saying my likability rating is at 86. I'm going to try to pump it up to 88. I told somebody yesterday that my father spoke to everybody he met. And one time my cousin asked me, "Does your daddy know all these people he speaks to?" And I asked my daddy why he spoke to all those people. He said, "If I don't speak to them, I'll never get to know them." Now there's an amazing simplicity in that, but that's how I think about it. I start with the assumption that you're a good and honest person and you want me to treat you that way. If I don't, then you probably won't respond that way. If I greet you with cynicism and mistrust, you're probably going to be that way in your dealings with me. It's hard to talk about. I mean, I didn't take a Dale Carnegie course in likability.

In fact, during some heated exchanges with Carol Chumney during the primary campaign, you seemed to get your ire up. Have you two cleared things up?

I'm glad you asked about that. Carol called about 9:30 p.m. [on election night], and we had a long conversation, and toward the end of the conversation, I said, "Carol, there were times in the campaign when I was too thin-skinned. I should have expected that. This was a political race." And I think that struck a particular chord with her. When she came close to getting my ire up, it wasn't a personal ire. It was a case of, look, I know these issues. I've studied this. I know what the public wants and this is a kind of disservice to the public for us to take this valuable time to talk about some personality failing or whatever. It wasn't a case of I'm mad at her and will stay mad forever.

And the other thing that was so frustrating: Everybody in America has the right to run, but, with all due respect to Mr. [C.C.]Buchanan and some of the others, what did the public really get out of that? Yes, they have a right, but that valuable time, the 10 minutes or so that went to somebody who wanted to jump on me, could have been 10 minutes more for Carol to talk about urban sprawl and her plans. Or I could have taken it to talk about reforming the jail, which I could have talked about in great detail. So it could have appeared that I was irked, but it was more of an institutional thing.

But, back to the premise of your question, I hope nobody will take my preference for civility and sticking to the issues to mean that I'm going to be their doormat and I'll just lay down. Now, that's not going to be the case.

During the primary campaign, your "indefinitive" position on consolidation was attacked by Chumney, who was aggressively for consolidation. How will it go if Flinn attacks you from the other, anti-consolidation flank?

If you'll remember the Rotary Club debate -- what was his answer? "I agree with Mr. Wharton about that." I don't know how much more definitive or crystallized the opposition can become. Oddly enough, I don't think consolidation is going to be the burning issue. What is still not resolved is the school finance question, which impacts the county financial situation, which impacts the county's ability to build that school out in Arlington. There's still going to be some arena questions. Obviously, that's an issue that is uppermost in the minds of some voters. Obviously, some of the defeats [on election day] had something to do with it.

The education thing, the property-tax issue We are at the tops of comparable cities with property tax. As your commercial base leaves the county, a greater proportion of the property-tax burden is shifted to residences. We're talking about an increment of 81 cents if the school package goes through. We can't say let's just keep upping the property tax and driving the business out.

This is not just hypothetical. We're driving business away from Shelby County. If you look at a warehouse -- how the property is bought and sold and resold -- the one definitive component of the formula is the property tax. It determines whether there's going to be an adequate return for investors in a given building. It's getting so high here, it makes a difference in whether something gets built here or across the line in Mississippi. That's going to be one of the most threatening issues.

Have you heard from [erstwhile opponent] Harold Byrd?

No. I called him when he withdrew. I was assured he was aware of my call. And the individual who told me that felt that as the healing process continues, he thinks Harold and I will be talking. I'm anxious to talk to him, on his terms, or my terms, or whatever.

Do you expect any Republican crossover votes for you?

I won't quantify it, but I want it. I want it because I know the positions that Larry took in the race. Larry's positions were not ideological. The people who stood by him know him. If they know Larry, then, quite frankly, they know me: Be honest, not given to flights of grandeur. Know the business of county government. Let's run it sound and honestly. Let's trust the people. I have much more extensive, hands-on knowledge. Yes, I want Republican support, and independent support.

When you go back a few years, there was no such thing as a Republican mayor or a Democratic mayor. There was Mayor [Dick] Hackett, Mayor [Bill] Morris, and so forth. By the way, all of them supported me.

A lot of Republicans told me they voted for me in the Democratic primary, and they said to me, "You know, that wasn't as bad as I thought."

If you are elected, do you think the fact that there will be two black mayors in Shelby County will increase white flight?"

We'll always have flight. The question is, will it accelerate. And the answer is no, not necessarily. It's not so much a personal thing, but it's based on institutional failures -- failure to deal with schools, failure to keep a good medical corps in the city, failure to deal with crime -- things that we take for granted. When 20 cars have their windows smashed at the Music Fest, to me that's outrageous, and if it takes putting helicopters over the city, we're going to stop it. It's quality-of-life issues like that that become a burr in the saddle and tend to develop into bigger things. The fact of my identity won't be the determinative factor if I'm mayor. What will be is whether I'm able to really reflect the sensitivity to day-to-day concerns that caused people to leave.

It's so easy to get out of touch. What makes people leave is when their second lawn mower gets stolen from their back porch. They think, Some mean rotten person came to my house last night. And they think, What if I had been out of town and my family had been at risk? It's at that point that people get in touch with their realtor. You've got to be in touch with what's driving people. You can't be aloof from that. I spent so much time out there, letting people in this county know that I know precisely how they feel. I think people will say, "I'll give him six months. I was going to move out, but I'm going to wait and see."

Next Week: Dr. George Flinn, the radiologist/broadcast mogul who upset state Rep. Larry Scroggs in the GOP primary, talks candidly about his plan to unify the Republican Party and how he intends to carry the fight to Democrat Wharton.

Monday, May 13, 2002

LAMAR-BRYANT STRUGGLE 'GOOD FOR GOP,' FRIST SAYS

LAMAR-BRYANT STRUGGLE 'GOOD FOR GOP,' FRIST SAYS

Posted By on Mon, May 13, 2002 at 4:00 AM

In what may be just another instance of making virtue of necessity (but may also be the simple truth), Tennessee's GOP Senator Bill Frist said Saturday that his party's hard-fought senatorial primary between Lamar Alexander and Ed Bryant was "a good thing" for both candidates -- and for the Republican Party.

Since Senator Fred Thompson's surprise declaration in early March that he would not seek reelection, Alexander, a two-term former governor of Tennessee, and 7th District congressman Bryant have been locked in a primary struggle that has often been bitter.

As chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, Frist is intent upon regaining control of the Senate for his party. While acknowledging that there was "some pressure" for him to state a preference for one of the two would-be successors to his retiring colleague Thompson, Frist,Tennessee's junior senator said only someone like Democrat Phil Bredesen could have forced him to make such a choice.

"It's a matter of money. If Bredesen had been the Democrats' Senate candidate, we'd have had to focus very quickly on solidarity and fund-raising, and that would have probably caused me to indicate a preference," Frist said.

But multi-millionaire Bredesen,the former mayor of Nashville, is a candidate for the governorship, not the Senate, and Frist said he did not regard the Senate candidacy of Nashville congressman Bob Clement, the Democrats' consensus choice, presented the same urgency.

Nor, Frist indicated, would a senate candidacy by Memphis' Democratic congressman, Harold Ford Jr., have been a compelling reason for him to intervene in favor of one of the Republican hopefuls.

"Frankly, I think it's been good for Lamar to face some competition and sharpen his game, and it's obviously a good opportunity for Ed to indicate his ability, also," Frist,the Senate's only doctor, said at the Davis and Kidd bookstore in East Memphis, where he signed copies of his new volume, When Every Moment Counts (Bowman and Littlefield, $14.95, 182 pages), which deals with the threat of bio-terrorism.

"Let's face it. Nobody even knows Clement is running, and the primary contest is a good way for both of our guys to get their message out and build up their momentum," said Frist, widely regarded as a likely ultimate successor to Vice President Dick Cheney and, beyond that, as a future candidate for the presidency.

Frist's new book is the third he has authored; the others were chronicles of his experience as a a transplant surgeon and of the historical line of Tennessee's senators, respectively.

The new volume reprises the bio-terrorist threat to the United States in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks of last year and Frist's own emergence as an authority on preventive measures.

The book also contains information on the nature of the most deadly bacilli -- plague, anthrax, smallpox, etc. --which may confront us in the future.

Friday, May 10, 2002

TAKEN AT THE FLOOD: SHELBY COUNTY'S NEW WAVE

TAKEN AT THE FLOOD: SHELBY COUNTY'S NEW WAVE

Posted By on Fri, May 10, 2002 at 4:00 AM

“There is a tide in the affairs of men, “ said Shakespeare (and surely we can update the Bard by including within his scope today’s Shelby County politicians, regardless of gender), “which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune…” Well, there was certainly some right smart surf-riding in Tuesday’s primaries for county wide offices. In fact, if the two remaining election days in Shelby County in August and November measure up to the year’s first one, which saw Democrat A C Wharton and Republican George Flinn nominated for county mayor, the record books may have to be rewritten. A number of precedents were established Tuesday. Among them:
  • the closest County Commission race ever run, in which veteran pol Joe Cooper defeated fellow Democrat Guthrie Castle by one vote (count ‘em, er, it, 1). Cooper, who defeated Castle by 1313 to 1312, will square off in the August general election against Republican Bruce Thompson, who defeated GOP mainstay John Ryder, by a shocking two-to-one margin. Whichever party wins the pivotal 5th District (East Memphis) seat will control the commission, also by one vote;
  • the most expensive countywide primary race to date, one in which radiologist/broadcast mogul Flinn spent nearly half a million dollars of his own money to overpower State Rep. Larry Scroggs. Flinn will try his tested air-war tactics in August against Shelby County Public Defender A C Wharton, who kept runnerup State Rep. Carol Chumney under 20 percentage points;
  • the greatest wipeout of incumbents in the history of the Commission, one in which chairman Morris Fair and long-serving member Clair VanderSchaaf both went down -- to insurgent Republicans John Willingham and Joyce Avery, respectively -- and two other incumbents, Republicans Linda Rendtorff and Tom Moss, survived without much to spare. At issue in all four races was the incumbents’ support for public funding of the proposed NBA arena downtown, a final vote on which was scheduled for early Wednesday, in the wake of the election. Another outcome of consequence:
  • Republican Mark Luttrell and Democrat Randy Wade easily won their parties’ nomination for Sheriff to succeed the outgoing A C Gilless. Ranking officer Wade's three-to-one win was exepcted over the well-credentialed (ex-Marine, Secret Service) if almost apolitical Henry Hooper, but Luttrell coasted much more easily than was generally anticipated against Chief Deputy Don Wright and Commander Bobby Simmons. In retropect, the outcome of the Republican sheriff’s primary should have been obvious --though observers of the race fell into the habit of regarding it as a three-way contest and kept up the habit right until the end. Some of the other races -- Flinn vs. Scroggs; Thompson vs. Ryder (and third candidate Jerry Cobb); the two commission races in which incumbents were dumped -- evolved from their original assumptions in the same way. Many of the primary races had a fool-the-eye aspect to them in which the main threads didn’t get tied (or untied) until late. Other scenarios, of course, were obvious from the word Go. Cases in Point: MAYOR’S RACE (DEMOCRATIC):It’s hard to see how Chumney could have run Wharton close, but the problem was not that she didn’t handle her issues well. She had several, which she was able to express succinctly and sometimes used to keep Wharton off balance during their frequent encounters at candidate forums. She stressed her foursquare support of city-county consolidation versus Wharton’s ambivalent (if erudite) discussions of the issue; her utter spurning of developer support and developer money; a promise to seek a moratrium on property tax increases; and her personal history as a legislative reformer of the daycare industry. None of it seemed to matter, least of all to the women whom Chumney counted on as a major source of her support. Though it will be a while before proper soundings can be made about gender voting in Tuesday’s election, it would seem from the results, which saw Chumney come in at only 17 percent of the total, that women probably were as inclined as men were to give their trust to the affable and competent presence known far and wide as A C. (Wharton’s use of his initials in his campaign paraperhanlia was no accident.) Chumney repeatedly underscored the fact that Wharton’s political identity, though nominally Democratic, was ambiguous at best. Voters seemed to see his apolitical patina as a plus, not a minus (and may continue to through the general election campaign -- a concern, surely, to Flinn as he tries to rally Republican cadres in the wake of a primary battle that, from time to time, took on bitter overtones). One reason why Chumney’s focus on perfectly legitimate issues failed to net palpable results was the often overlooked fact that voters tend to choose candidates as much by the cut of their jib as by the heft and purity of their position papers. Despite the now fashionable criticism of “horse race coverage” of political races, voters use some such standard themselves in deciding whom to vote for. They know instintctively that the “issues” of a campaign may turn out to have little if any relation to the actual problems of governing and they focus most of their own attention on how the horse bears up under the stress and drama of a race and much less to whatever kind of ideological saddle is along for the ride. MAYOR’S RACE (REPUBLICAN): The other side of that coin turned up in the Republican race, however. Flinn’s huge differential in financial resources (one, it should be said, that, in its five-to-one ratio, reflected the disproportion existing between Wharton and Chumney, as well); allowed him to highlight in mailouts and TV commercials a bareboned image of himself as a fiscal conservative interested in education, economic development and public safety while representing Scroggs, generally known as a cautious, even parsimonious legislator, as some kind of Mad Taxer. Flinn’s approach even involved the ruse, late in the game, of suggesting that a $1,000 personal contribution to Scrogg’s campaign by Governor Don Sundquist, a longtime friend, meant ipso facto that Scroggs was a co-conspirator with the governor in backing a state income tax that Scroggs has, in fact, made a point of opposing. A striking thing about Flinn’s victory is that it was achieved almost entirely by means of paid broadcast media -- most of the nearly half million dollars of his own money that went to his election effort was earmarked for that sort of “air war,” and he did almost no public campaigning beyond a headquarters opening and a couple of forums. Scroggs, on the other hand, was forced to fight a relentless ground war, pressing the flesh as he could between obligatory trips to Nashville for legislative service and trying to get as much free media as possible to counter Flinn’s charges. Though Flinn in post-election interviews characterized his Democratic opponent, Whartion, as “a friend,” and predicted they would campaign against each other in sweet harmony, it would surprise no one if he did not continue with the same kind of air war as before, dropping high-megaton bombs at frequent intervals. Wharton will have much more of a wherewithal to respond, of course, but not even he can match what could turn out to be a personal warchest of two or three million dollars. “We weren’t able to counter Flinn’s charges,” was the post-election lament of Scroggs’ media adviser Harlan Judkins, echoing a lament made often during the race by Scroggs himself. Judkins predicted that the decidedly middle-of-the-road Wharton might attract a number of disaffected Republicans in the general election, but this, of course, presumes that the Public Defender’s moderate, unthreatening image withstands the bombardment of the general election campaign and emerges intact. Outlook for August: The same demographics which favored Wharton, an African-American with proven crossover potential, would suggest an easy victory, but we have learned too much about the effects of unrestrained big-bucks campaigning in recent years to write off Flinn -- who will have the HOP'd statewide-primary bonus vote working for him but who must somehow find a way to reconcile the estranged segment of his would-be constituency. COMMISSION RACES (REPUBLICAN): The election results would seem to indicate that there is an aroused electorate in the suburbs, one deeply suspicious of incumbents and of what is imagined to be their free and unilateral use of the taxing power for questionable public purposes. This belief, expressed in some unexpectedly well-produced mailouts by restaurateur Willingham, who in previous losing races, had not used such sophisticated materials, resulted in bad news for District 1, Position 3’s mild-mannered Fair, who campaigned minimally and was a known supporter of the NBA arena and the use of public bonds to finance it. (Both Fair and the other commission casualty, VanderSchaaf, routed in District 4, Positon 1, by the dedicated Avery as much for his freewheeling personal past and for collaborations with the commission’s Democrats as for his arena decisions,voted with the majority to approve the issuance of revenue bonds in a surprisingly anti-climactic morning-after commission meeting, thus completing the final step necessary to begin actual construction of the arena.) Willingham’s daughter, Karla Templeton, came close to upsetting commission incumbent Linda Rendtorff, in Distict 1, Position 2, and Tom Moss in District 4, Positon 2 escaped the purge largely through the good fortune that his chief opponent, ex-Lakeland Mayor Jim Bomprezzi, had to deal with a vendetta of his own in the race, from estranged home-town alderman Mark Hartz. Although winner Thompson, a financial planner with good support from key Memphis business executives, had enough pure presence and natural political instinct to win on his own recognizance, so to speak, his victory over Ryder and Cobb owed something, too, to the voter discontent over a burgeoning county debt which Thompson, in his mailouts and TV spots, was able to link, fairly or not, with Ryder, a longtime force in county politics and a veteran assistant county attorney. (Ryder could console himself with a cast of well-wishers at his election-night venue, the home of Jesse and Annabel Woodall, that arguably contained the cream of Shelby County Republican society.) The other winner in District 5, Democrat Cooper, was the most atypical of all candidates. While Castle’s campaign availed himself of some astute mailouts and some active phone banks, all targeting key Democratic voters, Cooper almost single-handedly hauled his simple red-lettered yard signs (left over from previous campaigns) all over Shelby county and even on the approaches in from Tunica, Mississippi. As always, Cooper’s signs read, “It’s Time-- Now.” Maybe it is time, but, as the redoubtable Ryder found out, Thompson is no slouch. One way or another, however, the 5th District commissioner of the future will probably line up with both Democrats and Republicans, depending on the nature of the vote. So will winner David Lillard, who beat David Shirley, Stuart Acree, and Mundy Quinn in Distrixct 4, Positon 3. Other winners Tuesday, especially in the predominantly African-American Democratic districts, were decided not so much by policy considerations or by voter reactions to this or that recent development. All the Democratic incumbents were returned, and, in open seats, Joe Ford beat sister Opehlia Ford, as expected, in District 3, Position 3.while Deidre Malone won handily in District 2, Positon 3. Outlook for August: Regardless of what happens in the 5th district or of which party numerically controls the commission, it will almost certainly prove harder to get spending measures and bond issues through the body than has proved the case over the last few years. SHERIFF’S RACE (REPUBLICAN): Luttrell had sole possession of what might have been the winning issue all by itself -- his expertise in incarceration, as director of the county’s Corrections Institute, at a time when both the media and the public imagination had been repeatedly snagged by the county jail, its cost overruns, and the seemingly endless record of court judgments against it . On top of that, Luttrell was supported by members of the Republican establishment, notably outgoing Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout, and assisted by capable handlers (his say-it-all slogan, “Change for the Better,” was recognizably out of seasoned consultant John Bakke’s bag of tricks). By the end of the race, Luttrell, whose fundraising had trailed the others’ early on, surpassed that of Simmons and was approaching the level of Wright’s, which was up around the $200 thousand level. In an election year that, as often as not, treated experience in office as a character flaw instead of as a credential, career Sheriff’s Department employees Wright and Simmons came off as stereotypical Good Ole Boys, while the tall, rawboned Luttrell was not only a new face, he looked more like someone who had walked off a movie lot and not out of one of the Department’s back rooms. His media availed itself of that same no-nonsense look-’em-in-the-eye image, while Wright presented himself in a montage of bland family--style tableaus and Simmons tried for an older-fashioned use of actual news clips and vintage photographs to chronicle his own career and, later, the presumed failings of his opponents. One of his latter ads may have done him in -- and simultaneously boosted Luttrell. It savaged Wright for purportedly cutting County Commissioner Michael Hooks (who was handily reelected Tuesday) too much slack in the course of the commissioner’s arrest for crack possession two years ago. Even some of those closest to Simmons thought the ad made him look like a slasher, especially to those who saw the repentant Hooks as a poster person for rehabilitation. (Ironically, Simmons, wearing a blue blazer and looking relaxed, came off very well in a non-political ad which, appearing in the week before the election, did not present him as a lawman but as a pitchman for Lucky Motor Sports.) SHERIFF’S RACE (DEMOCRATIC): Wade’s victory over Hooper, even more lopsided than Luttrell’s over the Republican field, was, on the other hand, a case whereby virtual incumbency (a lifetime’s work in the Department), good political connections (with, for example, the “North Memphis Mafia,” an established group of political figures whose ad hoc leader is Memphis city councilman Rickey Peete) overpowered an opponent almost without real connections or professional backup to match his undeniably impressive resume. Hooper, whose admirable military and law-enforcement background could be learned about only in some homemade-looking leaflets which the candidate generally passed out himself, didn’t have the money to get his message out even if he’d known how. His slogan, “The Candidate of Change,” came off as nondescript -- a contrast in every way to the somewhat similar one of Luttrell. Outlook for August: Luttrell should be able to profit from the boost given Repuiblican candidates by the simultaneous GOP Senate and 7th District primaries, both hotly contested. He will continue to stress jail improvements and cost control, while Wade will also campaign as a reformer -- for streamlined booking procedures and humane treatment of the mentallY ill, among other issues. ON THE CLERKS’ FRONT: The Republican incumbents, Trustee Bob Patterson, Circuit Court Clerk Jimmy Moore, Criminal Court Clerk Bill Key, Probate Court Clerk Chris Thomas, County Clerk Jayne Creson, and Register Tom Leatherwood all won easily over minimal or non-existent opposition, as did Juvenile Court Clerk Shep Wilbun, a Democrat. Challengers in August will be Democrats E.C.Jones, for Patterson; Del Gill, for Moore; Ralph White, for Key; Steve Stamson, for Wilbun, Sondra Becton, for Thomas; Janis Fullilove, for Creson; and Otis Jackson for Leatherwood. Outlook for August: Here at least, there will be little change in the conduct of affairs, and probably little change in the composition of office-holders. It is otherwise ot the commission, where some new and potentially turbulent waters will shortly start to swell and which the new mayor, whoever he be, will be forced to heed and learn to navigate. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies -- Jerry west, Pau Gasol, et al. -- have safely made the cut. Some key issues of the past are now moot.

    Thursday, May 9, 2002

    LAMAR'S TEAM CLAIMS SHELBY LEAD

    LAMAR'S TEAM CLAIMS SHELBY LEAD

    Posted By on Thu, May 9, 2002 at 4:00 AM

    The following is the text of a memo from the consultant/polling firm representing senatorial candidate Lamar Alexander, showing the former governor's purported strength in Shelby County. From: Whit Ayres, President Ayres, McHenry and Associates, Inc. Date: May 8, 2002 Subject: Highlights of Shelby County Republican Primary Poll for U.S. Senate As part of our survey of likely Republican primary voters throughout Tennessee, we over-sampled Republican primary voters in Shelby County to assess support for the candidates for U.S. Senate just in that county. Highlights of the Shelby County survey, with a total of 253 likely Republican primary voters and a margin of error of plus or minus 6.29 percent, are:
  • Even though Shelby County produced almost half of Ed Bryant's votes in his last congressional election, Governor Alexander leads Bryant in Shelby County on the Senate primary ballot test. Alexander leads Bryant by 45 to 40 percent among likely Shelby County Republican primary voters, with the remainder undecided. Alexander's advantage includes leads among those who say they are absolutely certain to vote and those who consider themselves strong Republicans. Alexander leads Bryant by 44 to 40 percent among likely primary voters who say they are "absolutely certain" to vote, and by 50 to 36 percent among strong Republicans.
  • Alexander has both a higher favorable rating and better name recognition in Shelby County than does Bryant. Alexander's favorable to unfavorable rating among these Shelby County Republican primary voters is 74 to 15 percent, with 96 percent name recognition. Bryant's favorable to unfavorable rating is 69 to 4 percent, with 88 percent name recognition. Lamar Alexander shows remarkable strength in Ed Bryant's political base, and he is well positioned to defeat Bryant in Shelby County. Should he do so, it will be very difficult for Bryant to win statewide.

    Wednesday, May 8, 2002

    WHARTON, FLINN HEAD TICKETS AFTER TUESDAY'S VOTE

    Cooper bests Castle by one vote in commission race; Luttrell, Wade win primaries for sheriff.

    Posted By on Wed, May 8, 2002 at 4:00 AM

    If the two remaining election days in Shelby County in August and November measure up to the year’s first one, -- Tuesday’s party primaries for countywide offices, which saw Democrat A C Wharton and Republican George Flinn nominated for county mayor -- the record books may have to be rewritten.

    A number of precedents were established Tuesday. Among them:

  • the closest County Commission race ever run, in which veteran pol Joe Cooper defeated fellow Democrat Guthrie Castle by one vote (count ‘em, er, it, 1). Cooper, who defeated Castle by 1313 to 1312, will square off in the August general election against Republican Bruce Thompson, who defeated GOP mainstay John Ryder, by a shocking two-to-one margin. Whichever party wins the pivotal 5th District (East Memphis) seat will control the commission, also by one vote;

  • the most expensive countywide primary race to date, one in which radiologist/broadcast mogul Flinn spent nearly half a million dollars of his own money to overpower State Rep. Larry Scroggs. Flinn will try his tested air-war tactics in August against Shelby County Public Defender Wharton, who kept runnerup State Rep. Carol Chumney under 20 percentage points;

  • the greatest wipeout of incumbents in the history of the Commission, one in which chairman Morris Fair and longest-serving member Clair VanderSchaaf both went down -- to insurgent Republicans John Willingham and Joyce Avery, respectively -- and two other incumbents, Republicans Linda Rendtorff and Tom Moss, survived without much to spare. At issue in all four races was the incumbents’ support for public funding of the proposed NBA arena downtown, a final vote on which was scheduled for early Wednesday, in the wake of the election.

    Another outcome of consequence:

  • Republican Mark Luttrell and Democrat Randy Wade easily won their parties’ nomination for Sheriff to succeed the outgoing A C Gilless. Ranking officer Wade's three-to-one win was exepcted over the well-credentialed (ex-Marine, Secret Service) if almost apolitical Henry Hooper, but Luttrell coasted much more easily than expected against Chief Deputy Don Wright and Commander Bobby Simmons.

    LAMAR'S TEAM CLAIMS SHELBY LEAD

    LAMAR'S TEAM CLAIMS SHELBY LEAD

    Posted By on Wed, May 8, 2002 at 4:00 AM

    The following is the text of a memo from the consultant/polling firm representing senatorial candidate Lamar Alexander, showing the former governor's purported strength in Shelby County. From: Whit Ayres, President Ayres, McHenry and Associates, Inc. Date: May 8, 2002 Subject: Highlights of Shelby County Republican Primary Poll for U.S. Senate As part of our survey of likely Republican primary voters throughout Tennessee, we over-sampled Republican primary voters in Shelby County to assess support for the candidates for U.S. Senate just in that county. Highlights of the Shelby County survey, with a total of 253 likely Republican primary voters and a margin of error of plus or minus 6.29 percent, are:
  • Even though Shelby County produced almost half of Ed Bryant's votes in his last congressional election, Governor Alexander leads Bryant in Shelby County on the Senate primary ballot test. Alexander leads Bryant by 45 to 40 percent among likely Shelby County Republican primary voters, with the remainder undecided. Alexander's advantage includes leads among those who say they are absolutely certain to vote and those who consider themselves strong Republicans. Alexander leads Bryant by 44 to 40 percent among likely primary voters who say they are "absolutely certain" to vote, and by 50 to 36 percent among strong Republicans.
  • Alexander has both a higher favorable rating and better name recognition in Shelby County than does Bryant. Alexander's favorable to unfavorable rating among these Shelby County Republican primary voters is 74 to 15 percent, with 96 percent name recognition. Bryant's favorable to unfavorable rating is 69 to 4 percent, with 88 percent name recognition. Lamar Alexander shows remarkable strength in Ed Bryant's political base, and he is well positioned to defeat Bryant in Shelby County. Should he do so, it will be very difficult for Bryant to win statewide.
    ADVERTISEMENT
    ADVERTISEMENT

    Speaking of School Consolidation

    ADVERTISEMENT

    Most Commented On

    Top Viewed Stories

    ADVERTISEMENT
    © 1996-2016

    Contemporary Media
    460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
    Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
    Powered by Foundation