Friday, June 28, 2002

Rout's Advice

The outgoing Shelby County mayor has a few things to say.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 28, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Shelby County mayor Jim Rout, who has made a point of keeping his distance from the mayoral campaign of would-be successor George Flinn, the 2002 Republican nominee, unbent a little at Saturday night's Master Meal, sponsored by the East Shelby Republican Club at the Homebuilders on Germantown Parkway.

The Master Meal, which annually features political exhortations from this or that prominent speaker, had more than the usual quota in this election year, with speeches from the congressional, gubernatorial, and senatorial contestants on hand. Rout's remarks were somewhat out of sync with the standard party boilerplate that prevailed in others' remarks.

Although he promised to speak only "a very, very few seconds" when he rose, as the evening's last speaker, Rout used the occasion, as he has in most of his recent public speeches, to defend his eight-year stewardship in office. "We have not had continuous tax increases" but have "managed your budget well," Rout said. Jail expenses had been "more than I think they should have been, but that's not my job, my responsibility," said Rout, who later made a point of extolling the cost-cutting virtues of GOP sheriff's nominee Mark Luttrell.

Rout said he had kept county government "lean and mean" and touted public-private arrangements like that which resulted in the creation of the Mike Rose Soccer Complex. "Not one penny of property-tax dollars" had been committed to the building of the forthcoming new downtown arena, Rout noted, touching on a subject that had been worked over by more than one candidate in last month's Republican primary.

He pointedly referenced that controversy and the underlying political divisions which, clearly, he thought it stemmed from. "I want to say, as the mayor of the county -- Dr. Flinn, I know you're listening out there -- I think you have to understand that the mayor of the county is what it says: the mayor of the county. And the county doesn't start at the city limits and go east only. The county starts at the river and goes all the way to the Fayette County line."

A previous speaker had been Mary Taylor-Shelby, the perennial candidate who is on the GOP primary ballot just now as a candidate for the U.S. Senate. In her usual manner, Taylor-Shelby had talked emotionally about being an African American in a political environment still largely dominated by whites.

Congratulating her for her perseverance, Rout said Republicans would have to deal with "disenfranchised people" to remain relevant. "If we're going to make this party roll, we've got to reach out. We've got to figure out how to do some things." He expressed concern about the disproportionate number of prisoners in Shelby County -- more, as he indicated, than in 20 states -- and left unsaid the obvious implication: Too many of these were black.

Rout expressed concern about the state's financial crisis and, in particular, the possibility that a budget settlement could end up depriving local governments of shared tax revenues they have come to depend upon. "If they do in Nashville what they're talking about, that's going to make it tough on our nominee for county mayor and other people," he said.

Rout's use of the term "accountability" in this extended apologia and his off-handed reference to its prevalence in this year's political campaigns was no accident. Flinn has employed the term as a kind of motto, a pledge at the heart of his candidacy. Though he has been at pains to insist that he has never uttered any criticism of Rout or his administration -- and the record would seem to bear this year's nominee out on that score -- Rout has, both publicly and privately, taken umbrage at the use of the word and has chosen to see himself and his administration as, at least obliquely, under attack.

The current mayor's direct citation of his would-be GOP successor was ambiguous enough to permit of different explanations. Was he chiding Flinn or expressing solidarity with him? (Showing good political instincts, Flinn chose the latter interpretation and rose at the end of Rout's speech to say aloud, "This is a great man.") In either case, Rout was insisting that Republicans must broaden their outlook and their constituency, both for this year's sake and for time to come.

At a time when most other Republican exemplars, whether running for local, state, or federal office, focused on cost-cutting and tax relief without much reference to social themes, the outgoing Shelby County mayor's remarks pointed in a different, more inclusive direction, one often overlooked by GOP candidates in recent years.

* Every Republican candidate for major office was on hand Saturday night except for gubernatorial candidate Van Hilleary, whose wife Meredith substituted for him. Candidate Hilleary, currently the U.S. representative from Tennessee's 4th District, had been in Memphis the previous evening to throw out the first ball at a Redbirds game.

Increasingly, the congressman has decided to focus more on such photo-op events and on news releases rather than on direct contact with his opponents (former state Representative Jim Henry and Brownsville minister Bob Tripp) or with the media, which he believes (sometimes, arguably, with reason) has targeted him for ridicule.

Meredith Hilleary was the evening's penultimate speaker, coming just before Rout, and she devoted what seemed a disproportionate amount of her time to a denunciation of a proposed state income tax and a pledge that her husband would do everything he could to keep one from ever being instituted in Tennessee. (Rep. Hilleary has, in fact, promised to try to repeal such a tax if some variant of it gets enacted in the current session, as has his likely Democratic opponent, ex-Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen.)

Henry, who attended the dinner with what seemed to be his entire family, has expressed his personal disbelief in an income-tax solution too and did so again Saturday, but he refuses to rule any solution out and calls for a constitutional convention to resolve the state's tax and revenue dilemmas.

All five of the Republican 7th District congressional candidates rated as major were on hand -- Memphis lawyer David Kustoff, Memphis city councilman Brent Taylor, Shelby County state Senator Mark Norris, Williamson County state Senator Marsha Blackburn, and Nashville lawyer Forrest Shoaf -- as was Lakeland's Sonny Carlota, a candidate considered out of the mix but one making resolute efforts through mail-outs and press releases to stay in the game.

The six candidates differentiated themselves not so much on issues as by differing personal emphases -- or even, truth to tell, by gimmicks. One of the more entertaining approaches was that of Kustoff, who concluded his remarks by observing that underneath one chair at each table at the event could be found one of his campaign stickers. Whoever sat on that chair, he announced, would be entitled to a free American flag, the small sort normally found these days flapping from the sides of SUVs.

Kustoff's announcement, which artfully invoked the theme of patriotism, had almost everybody scrambling to see whether they were "winners." The flag gambit was consistent with a speech in which he urged continued support of the war-on-terrorism policies of President Bush -- a reminder that he had served as Bush's state campaign director in 2000.

Taylor, a funeral director who has made much of his opposition to the federal estate tax (which he and most other Republican candidates choose to call "the death tax"), made his remarks with his young son Gage by his side -- a way, of course, of calling attention to his status as a family man.

Norris' chief innovation was to conclude his remarks by segueing into the playing, from several TV sets stationed about the room, of a videotape showing his endorsement by Shelby County's six suburban mayors. The collective-endorsement strategy had been employed in the GOP mayoral primary by state Rep. Larry Scroggs, who finished second to Flinn.

Shoaf, a diminutive but ramrod-straight man, invoked his background as a former military officer to express solidarity with President Bush's current foreign-policy strategies, while Blackburn, to nobody's surprise, made much of her up-front role in the fight against the income tax. It was she, as she reminded her audience, who had circulated news via e-mail of a pending income-tax vote in the Senate last summer, one which precipitated what some call a riot and others call a patriotic demonstration against the tax.

* Former Governor Lamar Alexander, who has engaged in something of a running sniper's duel with 7th District congressman Ed Bryant, his main challenger for the GOP Senate nomination, took advantage of his opponent's absence Saturday night to express solidarity with him on most issues. "We're both good Republicans. We're both good conservatives. We both support President Bush and his policies," said Alexander, whose polls continue to show him well ahead of Bryant in most parts of the state.

* Though Republicans running for countywide offices stand to gain disproportionately on August 1st from the simultaneous statewide primary, which features many more high-profile races on their side, Democrats will get a boost this weekend from former Vice President Al Gore's presence in Memphis for three days, during which he will both address local Democratic cadres at the party's annual Kennedy Day dinner and summon his chief national supporters and fund-raisers to a three-day summit meeting at The Peabody.

The Gore summit has been acknowledged by virtually every pundit in the country as a preamble to a 2004 presidential candidacy.

* Memphis legislators distinguished themselves in the collective eulogy given in the House of Representatives chamber last Thursday for state Rep. Keith Westmoreland (R-Kingsport), who killed himself in the wake of revelations that he had been arrested recently for indecent exposure in Florida. Notable were House Speaker Pro Tem Lois DeBerry and state Reps. Joe Kent, Kathryn Bowers, and John DeBerry.

DeBerry made an emotional connection between the tragedy and the legislative pressures that may have triggered it. "The Lord hates the sin but loves the sinner," said DeBerry, a minister, who wondered aloud if "we have lost ourselves in the insanity and intoxication of this place" and urged his mates to "dig deep" to improve one another and the state. "Have we created an atmosphere so terrible, so resolute in its hypocrisy, that an individual would rather die than face us?" he asked.

With time literally running out, legislators met again this week, still torn between advocates of draconian cuts, proponents of an income tax, and some who have offered a new package calling for both an increased sales tax, "sin" taxes on tobacco and alcohol, and new levies on businesses. As before, no side seemed to have a majority in hand.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

GOING, GOING....

GOING, GOING....

Posted By on Tue, Jun 25, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Saturday night's Shelby GOP Master Meal at Homebuilders in Cordova included a fund-raising "auction" of political celebrities (here, mayoral candidate George Flinn and Senate candidate Lamar Alexander). Yes, folks, we know there are alternative possibilities for captions. You cynics out there can just provide them at will. We'll keep to the high road.

Ensembles: Congressional candidate Brent Taylor shared his rostrum time with son Gage; Towhead sons Field Norris (left) and Chad Blackburn have in common, besides the haircut, a college affiliation (Ole Miss) and the fact that a parent (State Senators Mark Norris and Marsha Blackburn, respectively) aspires to Congress.

StateSen. Blackburn watched politely as rival Norris' campaign video, featuring endorsements from Shelby County suburban mayors, rolled via VHS; meanwhile, Norris and County Register Tom Leatherwood came to an apparent meeting of minds.

Friday, June 21, 2002

Politics

Politics

Posted By on Fri, Jun 21, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Oh, Henry!

The media favorite is still playing catch-up with Van Hilleary in the GOP primary.

by JACKSON BAKER

The two Republican candidates for governor have different attitudes toward the media.

Fourth District U.S. Rep. Van Hilleary, fairly universally perceived to be the front-runner, is more than somewhat wary of the fourth estate. As the congressman, who has been relying predominantly on public events and news releases, sees it, he's been burned by nonstop and unfair criticism in the press. In some quarters, Hilleary thinks he's been subject to ridicule while his opponent, former state Rep. Jim Henry of Kingston, has become something of a media darling.

There's something to Hilleary's notion. Henry is at ease with reporters and seeks them out in his continuing effort to play catch-up. "Free media" is one of the basic strategies used by underfunded candidacies. But in a conversation at his new East Memphis headquarters last week, Henry vowed to outspend his opponent on media advertising the rest of the way until August 1st, and, although he won't be required to file a financial disclosure until July 25th, he claims that he has out-raised Hilleary "since the first of the year."

Henry's advertising strategy includes 100 new billboards which went up on Tennessee thoroughfares this past Monday. All of them bear the candidate's likeness and the slogan "Ready for the Job." (That replaces the earlier one, "Smart, Qualified, and Electable," which, said Henry, was "just us having some fun.")

The former House Republican leader, who had close working relations with former Governor Lamar Alexander, now a candidate for the U.S. Senate, says that he "would welcome" the support of current Governor Don Sundquist, who has hinted that he might endorse Henry but hasn't done so yet. (The governor has endorsed Alexander in his Senate primary race against 7th District congressman Ed Bryant.)

Henry cited a recent electronic poll done by a Knoxville TV station showing him standing at 21 percent against Hilleary's 41 percent and maintained that those numbers put him "on course." He acknowledged that the poll was unscientific and acknowledged further that news reports over the year or so of his candidacy have tended to recycle at intervals the same theory that he was about to make a major move and threaten Hilleary's lead. It hasn't happened yet, but Henry says the new media blitz will make it happen.

On the burning issue of the day a revenue solution for Tennessee's budget crisis Henry continues to insist that he's for "tax reform." Although that term is increasingly used in political circles as a synonym for support of an income tax, Henry says he isn't recommending one. "I'm not at all sure that would be a solution to our revenue problems. It's more of a 'fairness' issue than anything else." But he won't close the door on that option, as both Hilleary and Democratic front-runner Phil Bredesen, the former mayor of Nashville, have. Both are "demagoguing," and their pledges to "manage" the state out of its fiscal dilemma run "counter to belief," says Henry, who maintains that the difference between the two is that "people expect Bredesen to know better."

What Henry is proposing is a constitutional convention to redesign the state's tax structure (this to be undertaken after some stopgap legislation in the meantime). "We can't just ram something down the people's throat," he said. "We've got to give them a voice." But one thing was certain and undeniable, he averred: "The state needs new revenue. There's no way out of that."

· Carol Chumney, runner-up in last month's Democratic primary for Shelby County mayor, has left the law firm of Glankler, Brown, where she had been for the last several years. Chumney has established her own private practice in White Station Tower, where she says she will maintain a general practice but will specialize in the areas of personal injuries, workers' compensation, divorce, criminal defense, child custody, adoption, and employment law.

· U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. will serve as moderator for a "Congressional Roundtable" featuring AmeriCorps volunteers and former President Bill Clinton on Thursday in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington.

The meeting, sure to be a high-profile one, is being held in conjunction with National Service Day and is sponsored by the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the organization of conservative-to-moderate Democrats which served as a launching pad for the presidential bid by Clinton, who had been one of the group's presidents.

Ford is now an active member of the DLC and of its related organizations, including the New Democratic Coalition in the House of Representatives. The Memphis congressman serves on the executive council of the NDC.

Watching the Rear

Both candidates for mayor have to secure their lines of support.

by JACKSON BAKER

One part of conventional wisdom has it that Democrat A C Wharton is a shoo-in for Shelby County mayor because of (a) his likeability; (b) his expertise; and (c) perhaps most importantly, his demographic edge.

A counter argument goes that Republican nominee George Flinn could end up the winner on the strength of his personal resources coupled with the huge GOP primary vote expected in two major state-ballot races -- that for U.S. senator involving Lamar Alexander and Ed Bryant and the 7th District congressional contest in which three of the five candidates have local bases.

Both of these either/or scenarios may have to be revised in accordance with circumstances that could undermine the candidates' expected party support.

In Wharton's case, the problem has a famous surname: Ford. Sir Isaac Ford, the youngest son of former 9th District congressman Harold Ford Sr. and the brother of the current congressman, is making his maiden race for public office as an independent candidate in the mayor's race, and, while no one -- perhaps not even young Ford -- can imagine him as the winner, many are wondering if he can upset Wharton's apple cart.

Flinn's concern is the tenuous state of Republican unity. Not only are some longtime Republicans close to his recent primary opponent, state Rep. Larry Scroggs, still aggrieved at what they see as having been unfair attacks upon their man, but the party's nominal leader, incumbent Shelby County mayor Jim Rout, seems to have his own reservations about Flinn.

Several Republican regulars report recent conversations in which either Rout or another member of his family has expressed sympathy for Wharton's mayoral ambitions. Asked about this on Tuesday, the mayor merely repeated what he has said for public consumption -- that he is "heavily involved" with four other races and will "play no active role" in the mayor's race.

For the record, the beneficiaries of Rout's support (and fund-raising help) are GOP gubernatorial candidate Jim Henry, senatorial candidate Alexander, 7th District congressional candidate David Kustoff, and Republican sheriff's nominee Mark Luttrell.

Several members of the Republican Party's moderate faction have talked out loud lately about forming a consensus with like-minded Democrats to endorse, or at least openly support, a tandem of Wharton and Luttrell.

Rout, however, says, "I am a Republican and plan to support the ticket." That statement echoes the one which is being urged upon other party members these days by local party chairman Alan Crone, who personally has no reservations about rendering stout and specific public support for Flinn by name. "I'm excited by George's vision," says Crone, who has cited the candidate's pledge of "accountability" as one of the reasons for that excitement.

But the same word had proved troubling to Rout, who wondered if Flinn had intended it as an ex post facto rebuke to the Republican incumbent's own administration, which has been targeted in some quarters for the county's current $1.3 billion in public debt. Flinn sat down with the mayor last week and attempted to reassure him on that score, and virtually the first words out of the Republican nominee's mouth at a subsequent Chamber of Commerce-sponsored mayoral forum were expressions of support for Rout's conduct in office.

At the same forum, Sir Isaac Ford made what was for most observers his debut in the race. In one sense, Ford formed a triad with two other candidates whom no one gives a chance -- newcomer Johnny Kelly and Libertarian Bruce Young -- while most eyes and ears were on Flinn and Wharton, both of whom, stressing education and fiscal solvency, held their own.

In another sense, though, Ford clearly set himself apart from his fellow also-rans. Some of his points seemed hazy or were set forth in rambling fashion -- maybe a good thing for this audience, since the position papers released so far by the self-declared "hip-hop" candidate contain some strikingly radical ideas. (Notable among them is a proposal to spend "billions" on reparations for slavery.)

But the young candidate obviously possesses an attitude -- compounded of self-belief, confidence, and personal assertiveness -- that runs through his highly political family and, in its fully developed form, can even be called charisma. Right now, though, most people, even Ford-family familiars, see Sir Isaac more as a case of pointless chutzpah.

But maybe, some are beginning to wonder, there's method to the madness. Despite the overt support being given Wharton's candidacy by the Fords and their allies, might not Sir Isaac's candidacy be something of a hedge? Or a reminder to Wharton about who his long-term friends are?

In any case, the name Ford commands considerable loyalty among Memphis' inner-city Democrats (a non-relative named Barry Ford upset a party regular for a position on the Democratic executive committee some years back), and all by itself could drain away enough votes from Wharton to give him serious worries.

For this reason, several Wharton supporters have begun to urge the former congressman and his son, U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., to erase all doubt by making themselves both visible and vocal for the Democratic nominee.

It remains to be seen. Indeed, as we look ahead to the traditionally volatile month of July, much still remains to be seen in the case of both major mayoral candidates.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

POLITICS: Watching the Bear

Posted By on Wed, Jun 19, 2002 at 4:00 AM

WATCHING THE REAR One part of conventional wisdom has it that Democrat A C Wharton is a shoo-in for Shelby County mayor because of (a) his likeability; (b) his expertise; and (c) perhaps most importantly, his demographic edge as an African-American.

A counter argument goes that Republican nominee George Flinn could end up the winner on the strength of his personal resources coupled with the huge GOP primary vote expected in two major state-ballot races -- that for U.S. senator involving Lamar Alexander and Ed Bryant and the 7th District congressional contest in which three of the five candidates have local bases.

Both of these either/or scenarios may have to be revised in accordance with circumstances that could undermine the candidates’ expected party support.

In Wharton’s case, the problem has a famous surname: Ford. Sir Isaac Ford, the youngest son of former 9th District congressman Harold Ford Sr. and the brother of the current congressman, is making his maiden race for public office as an independent candidate in the mayor’s race, and, while no one -- perhaps not even young Ford -- can imagine him as the winner, many are wondering if he can upset Wharton’s apple cart.

Flinn’s concern is the tenuous state of Republican unity. Not only are some longtime Republicans close to his recent primary opponent, state Rep. Larry Scroggs, still aggrieved at what they see as having been unfair attacks upon their man, but the party’s nominal leader, incumbent Shelby County mayor Jim Rout, seems to have his own reservations about Flinn.

Several Republican regulars report recent conversations in which either Rout or another member of his family has expressed sympathy for Wharton’s mayoral ambitions. Asked about this on Tuesday, the mayor merely repeated what he has said for public consumption -- that he is “heavily involved” with four other races and will “play no active role” in the mayor’s race.

For the record, the beneficiaries of Rout’s support (and fund-raising help) are GOP gubernatorial candidate Jim Henry, senatorial candidate Alexander, 7th District congressional candidate David Kustoff, and Republican sheriff’s nominee Mark Luttrell.

Several members of the Republican Party’s moderate faction have talked out loud lately about forming a consensus with like-minded Democrats to endorse, or at least openly support, a tandem of Wharton and Luttrell.

Rout, however, says, “I am a Republican and plan to support the ticket.” That statement echoes the one which is being urged upon other party members these days by local party chairman Alan Crone, who personally has no reservations about rendering stout and specific public support for Flinn by name. “I’m excited by George’s vision,” says Crone, who has cited the candidate’s pledge of “accountability” as one of the reasons for that excitement.

But the same word had proved troubling to Rout, who wondered if Flinn had intended it as an ex post facto rebuke to the Republican incumbent’s own administration, which has been targeted in some quarters for the county’s current $1.3 billion in public debt.

Flinn sat down with the mayor last week and attempted to reassure him on that score, and virtually the first words out of the Republican nominee’s mouth at a subsequent Chamber of Commerce-sponsored mayoral forum were expressions of support for Rout’s conduct in office.

At the same forum, Sir Isaac Ford made what was for most observers his debut in the race. In one sense, Ford formed a triad with two other candidates whom no one gives a chance -- newcomer Johnny Kelly and Libertarian Bruce Young -- while most eyes and ears were on Flinn and Wharton, both of whom, stressing education and fiscal solvency, held their own.

In another sense, though, Ford clearly set himself apart from his fellow also-rans. Some of his points seemed hazy or were set forth in rambling fashion -- maybe a good thing for this audience, since the position papers released so far by the self-declared “hip-hop” candidate contain some strikingly radical ideas. (Notable among them is a proposal to spend “billions” on reparations for slavery.)

But the young candidate obviously possesses an attitude -- compounded of self-belief, confidence, and personal assertiveness -- that runs through his highly political family and, in its fully developed form, can even be called charisma. Right now, though, most people, even Ford-family familiars, see Sir Isaac more as a case of pointless chutzpah.

But maybe, some are beginning to wonder, there’s method to the madness. Despite the overt support being given Wharton’s candidacy by the Fords and their allies, might not Sir Isaac’s candidacy be something of a hedge? Or a reminder to Wharton about who his long-term friends are (or should be)?

In any case, the name Ford commands considerable loyalty among Memphis’ inner-city Democrats (a non-relative named Barry Ford upset a party regular for a position on the Democratic executive committee some years back), and all by itself could drain away enough votes from Wharton to give him serious worries.

For this reason, several Wharton supporters have begun to urge the former congressman and his son, U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., to erase all doubt by making themselves both visible and vocal for the Democratic nominee.

It remains to be seen. Indeed, as we look ahead to the traditionally volatile month of July, much still remains to be seen in the case of both major mayoral candidates.

Thursday, June 6, 2002

Politics

Politics

Posted By on Thu, Jun 6, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Fathers and Sons

As the twigs are bent, so will they grow -- sometimes in unexpected directions.

by JACKSON BAKER

The sons of some famous political fathers are making news -- or attempting to -- in their own right. Rick Rout, the son of outgoing Shelby County mayor Jim Rout, is, as of now, the only candidate who has declared for the chairmanship of the county Republican Party to succeed current chairman Alan Crone in intraparty balloting next year. Rout has had business cards printed proclaiming his interest.

And Sir Isaac Ford, the youngest son of former 9th District congressman Harold Ford Sr. and brother of current U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., seems determined to remind voters of his presence on the August 1st countywide ballot as an independent candidate for Shelby County mayor.

On his own initiative, said a spokesman, young Ford recently solicited posters on the theme of how to improve education from students at the 64 city schools found to be substandard in recent state testing. And, the spokesman said, he was scheduled to honor some 85 entrants at a banquet at Jillian's.

Other members of the Ford family, including the former congressman, are still presumed to be backing the mayoral candidacy of Democratic nominee AC Wharton, who faces a well-financed challenge from Republican nominee George Flinn, an independently wealthy doctor and broadcast magnate whose main concern right now is bringing aboard the partisans of defeated mayoral rival Larry Scroggs.

If Isaac Ford's independent candidacy, which has attracted minimal attention so far, gets any traction, it may have to be factored into the total picture too.

Young Ford has set forth his mayoral program in a series of position papers, some of which espouse ideas that are, to say the least, potentially controversial. One such proposes that African Americans in the county should receive "billions of dollars worth of local bonds, federal money, state money, and local big businesses' money" as "reparations" for slavery.

· Meanwhile, state Senator John Ford (D-District 29, Memphis) professes to be unconcerned about his Democratic primary challenger, civil rights attorney Richard Fields, who has indicated he will confront Ford rigorously on several alleged breaches of propriety in office.

"Nobody's going to be paying any attention to that guy. He's got no standing at all," said Ford, a long-term senator and member of an established Memphis political family.

The senator, who chairs the Senate General Welfare, Health and Human Resources Committee and belongs to a number of other influential legislative panels, says he plans to do no active campaigning. "I don't need to. The people are already coming to me on their own," he said.

Ford and his brother Joe Ford, an interim Shelby County commissioner who has been newly nominated by Shelby County Democrats to continue in that role, were conspicuous Thursday in their attendance at a fund-raiser for Shelby County Circuit Court clerk Jimmy Moore, who runs on the Republican label and is being opposed this year by Democratic nominee Dell Gill, a frequent candidate.

Moore, a onetime member of the local Democrats' Finance Committee, has generally enjoyed backing across party lines and has been especially favored by members of the Ford family.

· 7th District congressman Ed Bryant (R-Henderson), now opposing former Governor Lamar Alexander in the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Fred Thompson, is boasting his showing in a straw poll conducted in Nashville this week by a would-be successor, state senator Mark Norris of Collierville.

The poll, conducted by Norris in a hospitality suite at the Renaissance Hotel after the annual Statesmen's Dinner last week, showed Bryant the primary winner over Alexander by a margin of 296 votes to Alexander's 163. Though acknowledging the sampling is "not scientific," Bryant has mentioned it in a news release and in several public appearances, including one Friday at Memphis' downtown Plaza Club.

For his part, the usually unflappable Alexander has fairly sputtered with contempt about the announced strawpoll results, saying at the formal opening of his Memphis headquarters on Poplar Avenue Saturday that Bryant's claim didn't "even deserve a comment." Aides took a lighter approach, with both Kevin Phillips and Josh Holley, his press liaisons, saying the straw poll wasn't "worth the [figurative] straw" in it.

Both the former governor and Holley defended as accurate their own home-grown poll results from Whit Ayes and Associates, which show, among other things, that Alexander leads Bryant everywhere, even in the congressman's 7th District bailiwick -- attributing such results to "name recognition."

Alexander, whose basic contention is that he would make a stronger opponent for Democrat Bob Clement in a fall race, said not even a Bryant victory in the primary would disprove such a thesis. "I am better able to attract independents and Democratic voters," he said flatly.

Norris' straw poll showed him as the winner over his several rivals for the GOP 7th District congressional nomination, with 145 votes, 36 percent of the total. A spokesman for second-place finisher Marsha Blackburn of Williamson County dismissed the poll as meaningless and cited the results of Blackburn's own straw poll, taken at her headquarters and showing her to be the unanimous winner. ·


A Game Of Chicken

The GOP contestants for Congress in the 7th District scrap at their first forum.

by JACKSON BAKER

Last week saw the first major gathering involving all major aspirants for the Republican nomination for Congress in the 7th District, and the candidates' strengths and weaknesses and idiosyncrasies were on abundant display.

The forum, which took place at Pickering Community Center in Germantown, featured Marsha Blackburn of Williamson County, Forrest Shoaf of Davidson County, and Sonny Carlota, Brent Taylor, David Kustoff, and Mark Norris, all of Shelby County.

All except Carlota, a mild-mannered Philippines-born physician and frequent candidate in Lakeland elections, can be said to have serious designs on the seat, which is being vacated by incumbent Ed Bryant, now seeking the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate.

Shoaf may be regarded as a bit more of a long shot than the others, each of whom has some degree of established name ID, but the diminutive Nashville barrister and military veteran is playing catch-up with a series of radio ads which promise, among other things, that he'll go to court to try to block any income-tax legislation passed by the General Assembly.

State senator Blackburn's appearance in Shelby County was by no means an unusual event; she's spending what aides describe as "a couple of days" in the Memphis area every week, knowing that, while the 7th sprawls all the way from the eastern edge of Memphis into the periphery of Nashville, big Shelby can account for as much as 40 percent of the total Republican vote.

Her statewide fame as an archfoe of higher taxation and big government is not quite as well established in the Memphis area as elsewhere, but she's doing her best to update Shelby Countians, preaching the gospel of across-the-board spending cuts, selective deregulation, cracking down on driver's licenses for aliens, and, most of all, diehard opposition to a state income tax.

She has her work cut out for her in Shelby inasmuch as it is home for lawyers Kustoff, who ran the crucially successful Bush campaign in Tennessee in 2000 and Norris, her state Senate colleague who represents the county and parts of two adjoining ones, as well as Taylor, a Memphis city councilman who has assiduously worked the district's rural stretches.

All the candidates professed themselves opposed to what some (funeral director Taylor, especially) call the "death" tax and some refer to as the "inheritance" tax; all professed alarm about government spending and the threat of more taxes; and all toed the line as opponents of abortion. Needless to say, they all favored job development.

The differences were mainly those of style: Each of the male candidates delivered his remarks while standing behind the table at which they all were seated. Blackburn opted, Liddy Dole-style, to walk back and forth between the table and the overflow audience.

Kustoff, riding a wave of brand-new and well-received TV commercials, emphasized his key role in winning Tennessee for the Bush ticket; Norris played up his service as a county commissioner and legislator; and Taylor, in general, sounded a populist note on behalf of the hinterlands he has cultivated (sometimes by donating leftover council-reelection money to local parties in the district).

All was not mere boilerplate and politics as usual, however. An encounter between Taylor and Norris, one which could reverberate quite late into the primary campaign, drew the most attention.

Norris, an inventive politician who has mastered the art of holding his ideological ground while making personal connections across various lines, had readied a gimmick for the evening.

In part designed to establish contact with the audience, in part designed to counter what he would later term "a whispering campaign," it began with the affable state senator's toting up to the front of the room several paper bags. Norris, best known as a lawyer, announced (with a slight but meaningful glance in Taylor's direction) that he wanted to set to rest a "rumor going around" expressing doubts about the legitimacy of his simultaneous identity as a farmer.

Reaching into one sack and pulling out a half-carton of eggs bearing his name and campaign logo, Norris said he wanted to give away egg cartons, as long as they held out, to each person present, "and I can guarantee you," he said, they were all laid on his Collierville farm and personally harvested by himself.

As the crowd murmured in appreciation of the ploy, Taylor suddenly interjected, "You know, when he put his hand in that sack, I didn't know whether he was going to come back with something from the back end of a chicken or from the back end of a horse." To which Norris shot back, "You probably wouldn't know the difference."

The show of combat between Norris and Taylor indicates not only differences in style, of course, but also the degree to which they, along with Kustoff, whose style is more above-the-bar, will be competing intensely for the common Shelby County base.

Each of the three can demonstrate mathematically that, even with votes split between them, Blackburn's Williamson County vote would not be enough for her to win. What each of them may not realize as fully as do observers at the Nashville end of the district is that Blackburn -- who must, of course, cope with Shoaf's competition on her home ground -- may not be so easily confined to her base constituency. (Her Senate colleagues, especially, regard her -- for better or worse -- as a statewide force.

To judge from this first encounter, the battle for the 7th in Republican ranks can be expected to be intense, colorful, and perhaps even bruising. ·

Wednesday, June 5, 2002

FATHERS AND SONS

FATHERS AND SONS

Posted By on Wed, Jun 5, 2002 at 4:00 AM

The sons of some famous political fathers are making news-- or attempting to-- in their own right. Rick Rout, the son of outgoing Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout, is, of now, the only candidate who has declared for the chairmanship of the county Republican Party to succeed current chairman Alan Crone in intra-party balloting next year.

Rout has had business cards printed out proclaiming his interest.

And Sir Isaac Ford , the youngest son of former 9th District congressman Harold Ford Sr., and brother of current U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. seems determined to remind voters of his often overlooked independent candidacy for Shelby County mayor. On his own initiative, says a spokesman, young Ford solicited posters boosting education from students at the 64 Memphis schools recently found substandard in state testing. He is hosting a banquet this week for some 85 entrants at the downtown eatery Jillian’s.

Other members of the Ford family, including the former congressman, are still presumed to be backing the mayoral candidacy of Democratic nominee A C Wharton, who faces a well-financed challenge from Republican nominee George Flinn, an independently wealthy doctor and broadcast magnate whose main concern right now is bringing aboard the partisans of his defeated mayoral rival, State Rep. Larry Scroggs of Germantown.

If Isaac Ford’s independent candidacy, which has attracted minimal attention so far, gets any traction, it may have to be factored into the total picture, too. Young Ford has set forth his mayoral program in a series of position papers, some of which espouse ideas that are, to say the least, potentially controversial.

One such proposes that African Americans in the county should receive “billions of dollars worth of local bonds, federal money, state money, and local big businesses’ money” as “reparations” for slavery.

Sunday, June 2, 2002

THREE DEGREES OF CONFIDENCE

THREE DEGREES OF CONFIDENCE

Posted By on Sun, Jun 2, 2002 at 4:00 AM

  • State Senator John Ford (D-District 29, Memphis) professes to be unconcerned about his Democratic primary challenger, civil rights attorney Richard Fields, who has indicated he will confront Ford rigorously on several alleged breaches of propriety in office.

    “Nobody’s going to be paying any attention to that guy. He’s got no standing at all,” said Ford, a long-term senator and member of an established Memphis political family.

    The senator, who chairs the Senate General Welfare, Health and Human Resources Committee and belongs to a number of other influential legislative panels, says he plans to do no active campaigning. “I don’t need to. The people are already coming to me on their own,” he said.

    Ford and his brother Joe Ford, an interim Shelby County commissioner who has been newly nominated by Shelby County Democrats to continue in that role, were conspicuous Thursday in their attendance at a fundraiser for Shelby County Circuit Court Clerk Jimmy Moore, who runs on the Republican label and is being opposed this year by Democratic nominee Dell Gill, a frequent candidate.

    Moore, a onetime member of the local Democrats’ Finance Committee, has generally enjoyed backing across party lines and has been especially favored by members of the Ford family.

  • 7thDistrict congressman Ed Bryant (R-Henderson), now opposing former Governor Lamar Alexander in the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Fred Thompson, is boasting his showing in a straw poll conducted in Nashville this week by a would-be successor, State Senator Mark Norris of Collierville.

    The poll, conducted by Norris in a hospitality suite at the Renaissance Hotel after the annual Statesmen’s Dinner Wednesday night, showed Bryant the primary winner over Alexander by a margin of 296 votes to Alexander’s 163. Though acknowledging the sampling is “not scientific,” Bryant has mentioned it in a news release and in several public appearances, including one Friday at Memphis’ downtown Plaza Club.

    For his part, Alexander fairly sputtered with contempt about the announced straw poll results, saying at the formal opening of his Memphis headquarters on Poplar Avenue Saturday that Bryant’s claim didn’t “even deserve a comment.” Aides took a lighter approach, with both Kevin Phillips and Josh Holley, his press liaisons, saying the straw poll wasn’t “worth the [figurative[ straw” in it.

    Both the former governor and Holley defended as accurate their own home-grown poll results from Whit Ayes and Associates, which show, among other things, that Alexander leads Bryant everywhere, even in the congressman’s 7th District bailiwick - attributing such results to “name recognition.”

    Alexander, whose basic contention is that he would make a stronger opponent for Democrat Bob Clement in a fall race, said not even a Bryant victory in the primary would disprove such a thesis. “I am better able to attract independents and Democratic voters,” he said flatly.

  • State Representative Steve McDaniel of Parker’s Crossroads said after the Statesmen’s Dinner in Nashville Wednesday night that reports of his fatalism concerning reelection to the post of House Republican Leader are, in effect, greatly exaggerated. “I will seek the office again, and I expect to be reelected to it,” he said, countering published suggestions that he was resigned to the loss of the position after casting his lot with House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh‘s 4.5 -percent flat-tax bill in recent weeks>

    At one point in post-dinner proceedings at the Renaissance, State Representative Tre Hargett of Bartlett, widely considered a potential seeker of the House GOP leadership position , approached McDaniel in a hallway and playfully pinned his arms from behind.

    Saturday, June 1, 2002

    A GAME OF CHICKEN IN THE 7TH

    A GAME OF CHICKEN IN THE 7TH

    Posted By on Sat, Jun 1, 2002 at 4:00 AM

    This past week saw the first major gathering involving all major aspirants for the Republican nomination for Congress in the 7th District, and the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses and idiosyncrasies were on abundant display.

    The forum, which took place Tuesday night at Pickering Community Center at Germantown, featured Marsha Blackburn of Williamson County,Forrest Shoaf of Davidson County; and Sonny Carlota, Brent Taylor, David Kustoff, and Mark Norris, all of Shelby County.

    All except Carlota, a mild-mannered Philippine-born physician and frequent candidate in Lakeland elections, can be said to have serious designs on the seat, which is being vacated by incumbent Ed Bryant, now seeking the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate.

    Shoaf may be regarded as a bit more of a long shot than the others, each of whom has some degree of established name ID, but the diminutive Nashville barrister and military veteran is playing catchup with a series of radio ads which promise, among other things, that he’ll go to court to try to block any income-tax legislation passed by the General Assembly.

    State Senator Blackburn’s appearance in Shelby County was by no means an unusual event; she’s spending what aides describe as “a couple of days” in the Memphis area every week, knowing that, while the 7th sprawls all the way from the eastern edge of Memphis into the periphery of Nashville, Big Shelby can account for as much as 40 percent of the total Republican vote.

    Her statewide fame as an arch-foe of higher taxation and big government is not quire as well established in the Memphis area as elsewhere, but she’s doing her best to update Shelby Countians, preaching the gospel of across-the-board spending cuts, selective deregulation, cracking down on driver’s licenses for aliens, and, most of all, diehard opposition to a state income tax.

    She has her work cut out for her in Shelby inasmuch as it is home for Kustoff, who ran the crucially successful Bush campaign in Tennessee in 2000; Taylor, a Memphis city councilman who has assiduously worked the district’s hinterland; and Norris, her state Senate colleague who represents the county and parts of two adjoining ones.

    All the candidates professed themselves opposed to what some (funeral director Taylor, especially) call the “death” tax and some refer to as the “inheritance” tax; all professed alarm about government spending and the threat of more taxes, and all toed the line as opponents of abortion. Needless to say, they all favored job development, too.

    The differences were mainly those of style: Each of the male candidates delivered his remarks while standing behind the table at which they all had seats. Blackburn opted, Liddy Dole-style, to walk back and forth between the table and the overflow audience.

    Kustoff, riding a wave of brand-new and well-received TV commercials, emphasized his key role in winning Tennessee for the Bush ticket; Norris played up his service as a county commissioner and legislator; and Taylor, in general, sounded a populist note on behalf of the hinterlands he has cultivated (sometimes by donating leftover council-reelection money to local parties in the district).

    All was not mere boilerplate and politics as usual, however. An encounter between Taylor and Norris, one which could reverberate quite late into the primary campaign, drew most attention.

    Norris, an inventive politician who has mastered the art of holding his ideological ground while making personal connections across various lines, had readied a gimmick for the evening.

    In part designed to establish contact with the audience, in part designed to counter what he would later term “a whispering campaign,” it began with the affable state senator’s toting up to the front of the room several paper bags. Norris, best known as a lawyer, announced (with a slight but meaningful glance in Taylor’s direction) that he wanted to set to rest a “rumor going around” expressing doubts about the legitimacy of his simultaneous identity as a farmer.

    Reaching into one sack and pulling out a half-carton of eggs, bearing his name and campaign logo, Norris said he wanted to give away egg cartons, as long as they held out, to each person present, “and I can guarantee you,” he said, they were all laid on his Collierville farm and personally harvested by himself.

    As the crowd murmured in appreciation of the ploy, Taylor suddenly interjected, “You know, when he put his hand in that sack, I didn’t know whether he was going to come back with something from the back end of a chicken or from the back end of a horse.” To which Norris shot back, “You probably wouldn’t know the difference.”

    The show of combat between Norris and Taylor indicates not only differences in style, of course, but also the degree to which they, along with the more above-the-battle-styled Kustoff, will be competing intensely for the common Shelby County base as well as the vote in immediately outlying rural areas.

    Each of the three can demonstrate mathematically that, even with the most even split between them, Blackburn’s Williamson County vote would not be enough for her to win. What each of them may not realize as fully as do observers at the Nashville end of the district is that Blackburn -- who must, of course, cope with Shoaf’s competition on her home ground -- may not be so easily confined to her base constituency.

    To judge from this first encounter, the battle for the 7th in Republican ranks can be expected to be intense, colorful, and perhaps even bruising.

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