Wednesday, July 31, 2002

HILLEARY, HENRY AT CROSSROADS

HILLEARY, HENRY AT CROSSROADS

Posted By on Wed, Jul 31, 2002 at 4:00 AM

As the penultimate -- and perhaps most meaningful --election day of 2002, neared, two statewide candidates who have received shorter shrift of late than the lofty office they seek would justify came to Memphis for final pitches. And both Van Hilleary and Jim Henry, the major Republican candidates for governor on Friday’s statewide primary ballot, were dissembling just a little. Hilleary, in proposing a debate invitation to putative Democratic nominee Phil Bredesen, was trying to convince people he was not in a primary contest. Jim Henry, in vowing to overcome against Hilleary, was trying to convince people he was in one. Henry had fresh polls -- one from a Knoxville TV station that actually showed him with a lead and another, from workhorse local pollster Steve Ethridge, showing him only 10 points behind Hilleary, with half the electorate still undecided. The TV poll, which processed electronic tallies of respondents at large, was one of those best described by the euphemism “unscientific,” and, while Ethridge’s poll gave the genial ex-state legislator from Kingston a shot, ten points is still ten points. Not that, win or lose, Henry won’t have something to show for his year-long effort to catch up with the front-running Hilleary. As Memphis businessman Bob Schroeder bustled about him at his East Memphis headquarters, planning precinct-by-precinct efforts for this last week of electioneering, Henry took a break from a round of telephone calls. “I’ve had a heck of a time,” he said. Noting that virtually every major state newspaper has endorsed his candidacy, Henry smiled and said wanly, “If nothing else, I can make a collage out of all those nice editorials.” By his own choice, Henry is socked in for the duration. Not until late Wednesday, when he returns to his East Tennessee home to wait for returns, will he leave Shelby County, which he sees as key to the outcome and to hopes which have to be rated as of the upset variety Hilleary was on hand earlier Monday afternoon for a press coverage at which, by way of responding to a debate proposal floated by Bredesen, he suggested his own -- for ten “flatbed truck debates” across the breadth of Tennesse. Oh, and he suggested a third debater, fringe candidate Edwin ‘Barefoot’ Sanders, an independent. To say the least, the gesture seemed designed to diss Henry, whom Hilleary has otherwise attended to with increasingly acerbic remarks. In his television commercials Henry is treated as some sort of appendage of Governor Don Sundquist, the lame-duck Republican incumbent. Sundquist’s standing among fellow Republicans statewide can best be gauged by the fact that, when the governor last week admitted to reporters in Nashville his preferences for Henry over Hilleary and Senatorial candidate Lamar Alexander over 7th District congressman Ed Bryant, it was Hilleary and Bryant who trumpeted the fact, not the two endorsees. A Hilleary press release, in fact, greeted the news with the classic headline, “SUNDQUIST SEEKS THIRD TERM.” It is no secret, of course, that Sundquist’s presumed low repute among Republicans stems from the governor’s openness to fundamental revisions of the state’s tax structure -- a position that had him, ultimately, leading a futile three-year crusade on behalf of a state income tax. Opposition to the income tax -- or “IT,” as it is sometimes referred to in editorial shorthand -- has been the major plank of late in Hilleary’s gubernatorial campaign, in general, and in his TV commercials, in particular. Jim Henry is well aware of what public-opinion polls show about Sundquist’s approval rating -- hovering now in the high 20’s or low 30’s, percentage wise -- and, while he has made it clear that he will be open to any means of revenue enhancement, he suggests a constitutional convention as the only viable way of reaching a solution, and his own TV commercials make the case that he, too, has opposed the income tax in the past. The issue was not intended to figure in the forefront of Jim Henry’s Shelby County campaign blitz, you may be sure.

Saturday, July 27, 2002

POLITICS: More Adversity for Flinn

POLITICS

Posted By on Sat, Jul 27, 2002 at 4:00 AM

MORE ADVERSITY FOR FLINN, WHO PULLS OFFENDING ADS Reeling from adverse public reaction to its recent TV commercials and forced to deal with new setbacks, like the disavowal of GOP nominee George Flinn’s candidacy for county mayor by Young Republican chairman Rick Rout, the Flinn campaign indicated Friday it was pulling the controversial ads directly attacking Democrat A C Wharton

The ads being pulled, which concern alleged aspects of Wharton’s record, were due to be removed from rotation anyhow, said Flinn campaign spokesperson Cary Rodgers, who acknowledged that they had failed in the intended result of building support for Flinn’s candidacy and may have backfired. She defended the accuracy of the ads, however.

Rodgers had indicated that another hard-hitting ad would be returned to the airwaves -- the one charging that the NBA arena project was conceived through “back room” politics. That ad, which was controversial in its own right, was to be accompanied by another ad, newly cut, in which Flinn addressed viewers directly, pleading his case. Both the new ad and the arena ad were scheduled to start airing on Friday afternoon and continue through the weekend; later Friday, Rodgers and Flinn both said the arena ad was indeed playing and the new ad would be starting at some point in the weekend.

The difficulty of gauging just exactly what the Flinn campaign intended was compounded by the fact that the campaign had been receiving various different kinds of input from Republican sources all day Friday, in the wake of an unusually rowdy debate at WHBQ, one in which the two major candidates interrupted each other and each tried to blame the other for the specter of negative campaigning.

Flinn, who thought that Channel 13 moderator Steve Dawson had made a point of cutting him off and blunting his points but not doing the same to Wharton, had a set-to of sorts with the moderator after the program.

Flinn said Dawson pulled him bodily into a room at the station and told him dramatically, in front of one of the station's cameras, that WHBQ would be attempting to get unsealed the suits involving Flinn and two women that have been sealed and were the subject of a Commercial Appeal article last week. (A hearing on that request will be held before Circuit Court Judge George Brown on Monday.)

At a regular weekly meeting of county Republican candidates, the mayoral candidate received some advice from worried ticket members that his ads had been hurting not only his own chances but theirs, as well.

But Flinn and Rodgers both maintained late in the day that, while the campaign's approach might be tailored somewhat to meet this concern, Flinn intended to press his case against Wharton and "the power elite" aggressively.

"There's no quit in me," Flinn said. "Hey, if Ethridge is right [Steve Ethridge, the Commercial Appeal's commissioned pollster,who said in Friday's CA the race was "over"), then I've got nothing to lose.But I don't think it is over."

The renunciation of Flinn’s candidacy by Rick Rout, son of Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout and chairman of the county Young Republicans, was communicated indirectly via an email to YR members and affirmed directly in a Friday telephone interview.

In the email, Rout advised YR board members that their July meeting was being canceled and said, “We all are going nuts trying to get 95% of the Republican ticket elected and should focus on that." He said further that his father, saying his farewells to the group as mayor, would be the speaker at the regular YR August meeting. He continued: “The SEPTEMBER meeting, we will hopefully be able to get the new Shelby County Mayor to come and speak to us. So, I will give AC a call today and ask if he will do it.”

In the interview, Rout said it was only being realistic to assume that Wharton would be the mayor in September because of his current 23 percent lead in the CA's most recently published poll. “That’s pretty impossible to overcome,” Rout said, adding, “The tactics that George Flinn is using right now are backfiring greatly. People just don’t like negative campaigning. I for one am not endorsing anyone.” Flinn, he said, was “using smear tactics.” Citing the arena ad with its allegations of back room politics and “deals,” Rout said, “My Dad is the most honest public servant anyone has ever seen, and I don’t appreciate it.” (Mayor Rout, who has kept his distance publicly from the mayor’s race, was a firm advocate of the publicly funded arena project.)

Elaborating on his view of Flinn’s candidacy, Rick Rout said, “To be honest with you, I feel that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. As a member of the Republican Party, I’m actually embarrassed. I don’t think Dr. Flinn knows anything about running county government. It’s a shame we’ve got a nominee that won’t make speaking engagements and won’t make debates. I am really disheartened at the way this election has gone.”

To those YR members who had contacted him to express their disappointment with the invitation being extended to Wharton, Rout said, “That’s a little narrow-minded. We have to work with public servants across party lines.. And we’ve had Democrats, like [Memphis] Mayor Willie Herenton, speak to us before.”

Rout said he had not known that his sister Sherry, who was in the group accompanying Wharton to the mayoral debate at WHBQ-TV Thursday night, was taking an active role in the Wharton campaign, but said, “ We disagree on many things, politics being one. But if you have to choose between two candidates, you’ve got to pick the candidate you think will do the better job.” Most people look at “the man, not the party,” Rout said.

Rodgers denied that the arena commercial had impugned Mayor Rout’s integrity or suggested he was dishonest. “The whole point is that anything the voters don’t get to vote on is perceived as a backroom deal. Nothing more, nothing less.” Rodgers said that “numerous calls” had been received at Flinn headquarters from “people who are outraged at Rick’s approach.” She said, “They disagree totally with his reasoning, his conclusions, and his future as chairman of the party.”

This last was a reference to Rick Rout’s active campaign to become the next Shelby County Republican chairman to succeed the outgoing Alan Crone. Other names have been mentioned as potential candidates -- including those of businessman Kemp Conrad, who Flinn said had been an active supporter, and county commission member Marilyn Loeffel. Only Rout, who has already printed up campaign material, is declared, however. He said Friday he didn’t think his campaign would suffer from the current controversy nor from his position on the mayor’s race.

Thursday, July 25, 2002

POLITICS: Candidates in Wonderland

POLITICS

Posted By on Thu, Jul 25, 2002 at 4:00 AM

CANDIDATES IN WONDERLAND “Poor Brent!” said Memphis lawyer David Kustoff on Monday, referring to fellow 7th District congressional hopeful Brent Taylor, one of his rivals in the August 1st Republican primary. The Memphis city councilman got lost in the shuffle this week (although this is decidedly not what Kustoff meant by his statement of pity) after Taylor unloosed the first blast at Kustoff for allegedly misrepresenting his score on a National Rifle Association questionnaire and for some other transgressions of equal moment.

No sooner had Taylor taken his shot at Kustoff Monday morning (through the medium of an email by campaign manager Layne Provine), than, lo and behold, so did state Senator Mark Norris, another local claimant to the 7th District nomination. Norris launched his relatively more pallid attack on Kustoff in a press-conference format, however; that, plus the fact that Kustoff decided to acknowledge Norris with his own press-conference later on Monday, got Norris all the attention and left Taylor out in the cold, publicity-wise.

But here is some of what Provine said, in Taylor’s name, in Monday morning’s emailed press release: “In a recent mailing, Kustoff claimed to have received an ‘A+ rating’ from the National Rifle Association. On Friday, Kustoff’s campaign claimed they made a ‘typographical error’ on the campaign mailing. However, an audio recording of a Nashville radio talk program reveals that this is not accurate. Five days before the claim of a ‘typographical error’ Kustoff was verbally trumpeting his ‘rating’ to voters and members of the media.”

This important bit of distinction-making (as a non-incumbent, Kustoff apparently was entitled to only an ‘A’ grade for his 100-percent NRA-friendly answers) was but one of the clarifications offered by Provine, however. The Memphis lawyer is taken to task for a “pattern of deception” that included suggesting that he got a similar perfect score from the National Right-to-Life Foundation and from that well-known political kingmaker, Savannah Mayor Bob Shutt. The piece de resistance of Kustoff’s “record of deceit,” however, was the state director of George W. Bush’s 2002 presidential campaign's shameless attempt “to link himself to President Bush…”

Hence Kustoff’s “Poor Brent” statement on Monday: Kustoff went on to comment: “I was asked at a critical time to campaign for George W. Bush in Tennessee. At that time, Lamar Alexander, a favorite son, was a candidate. I led the state organization and assisted greatly in fund-raising. Brent Taylor knows that he’s trailing. He’s a third--place candidate, and when you’re behind what you do is attack the leader. That’s what Brent is doing, and people see right through it."

From the point of view of public consciousness, the Taylor-Kustoff back-and-forth proved just a radar-screen blip, a preamble to the more widely disseminated later exchange between Kustoff and Norris, who Ð- wittingly or unwittingly -- was playing copycat to Taylor. Kustoff’s reference to Taylor’s third-place finish in a Mason-Dixon poll (behind state Senator Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood, the leader, and Kustoff) would be amended to fourth place in his response to Norris, which was a more extended version of his answer to Taylor.

There is a dizzying sense of déja vu in the Norris-Kustoff exchange, of course. The Collierville state senator expressed his sense of the dramatic in a more lawyer-like, but no less urgent, syntax than had Provine. "In thousands of color brochures mailed to thousands of unsuspecting voters,” Norris said, Kustoff had made the ignominious A+ claim. After a litigator-like recap of Kustoff’s “falsified” evidence and “coverup,” Norris sprung his trap. “I have the tape!“ he proclaimed (the bold is in the original) , i.e., a recording of that portion of the Teddy Bart Roundtable program, a Nashville radio show on which Kustoff, inadvertently or not, upped his deserved NRA grade all the way from A to A+. Question: Did Norris suppose that this matter to which he attached such high dudgeon was a replay of Watergate!?

Kustoff himself would succumb to a sense of the disproportionate. In his afternoon full-dress press-conference response to Norris (why to Norris and not Taylor? Who knows?), Kustoff included this paragraph: “To catch up, Norris is resorting to the well-worn ploy of all desperate candidates as election day nears -- tear down the leaders. Particularly in the case of Sen. Norris, it's about moving the public's attention away from the many tax increases he's supported. If anyone is guilty of dishonesty in this race, it's Sen. Norris, who in public has said he's 'never' voted to raise taxes. It's time for Mark Norris to come clean with the voters.”

What Kustoff was doing here was repeating an earlier charge made in a Taylor mailout which, it is generally acknowledged, exaggerated or misrepresented Norris’ very cautious voting record to suggest tht the Collierville senator, arguably the most conservative member of the legislature (Marsha Blackburn included), was a Mad Taxer run amuck.

(Sigh!) You see, folks, for weeks Taylor had been attacking Norris, and Norris had been responding equally immoderately (“Byron ‘Low Tax’ Looper,,” the name of the late state Sen. Tommy Burks' opponent/murderer, was one sobruiquet he laid on Taylor), both men going at it in the apparent delusion that each would discredit and inherit the Shelby County vote of the other. Instead, they ended up, well, third and fourth in the Mason-Dixon poll. Taylor, reading the results and seeing Kustoff’s name instead of Norris’ up there ahead of his own, seems to have altered the direction of his fire, that's all. Norris’ decision to join in the fusillade, and Kustoff’s resolve to complete the triad by turning Taylor’s earlier tactics back on Norris, took the whole affair in a direction that would have strained the imagination of a Lewis Carroll, whose Wonderland was never this bizarre!

The only beneficiary of all this nonsense, of course, is the aforementioned Senator Blackburn, who has campaigned with a relative moderation and sense of proportion that belie her reputation, in some quarters, as an extremist.

Early on in this campaign, Taylor, Norris, and Kustoff each separately took pen to paper and set down mathematical projections designed to convince a skeptic that their Shelby County rivalry would not, could not split up that vital 40-percent component of the Republican vote so as to make Blackburn the winner by default.

Mason-Dixon has since proved the numbers were skewed; the self-destructive antics of these Shelby County runners-up in the wake of the poll are enough to convince an observer that, in some fundamental way, they must be, also.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

POLITICS: Candidates in Wonderland

POLITICS

Posted By on Wed, Jul 24, 2002 at 4:00 AM

CANDIDATES IN WONDERLAND “Poor Brent!” said Memphis lawyer David Kustoff on Monday, referring to fellow 7th District congressional hopeful Brent Taylor, one of his rivals in the August 1st Republican primary. The Memphis city councilman got lost in the shuffle this week (although this is decidedly not what Kustoff meant by his statement of pity) after Taylor unloosed the first blast at Kustoff for allegedly misrepresenting his score on a National Rifle Association questionnaire and for some other transgressions of equal moment.

No sooner had Taylor taken his shot at Kustoff Monday morning (through the medium of an email by campaign manager Layne Provine), than, lo and behold, so did state Senator Mark Norris, another local claimant to the 7th District nomination. Norris launched his relatively more pallid attack on Kustoff in a press-conference format, however; that, plus the fact that Kustoff decided to acknowledge Norris with his own press-conference later on Monday, got Norris all the attention and left Taylor out in the cold, publicity-wise.

But here is some of what Provine said, in Taylor’s name, in Monday morning’s emailed press release: “In a recent mailing, Kustoff claimed to have received an ÔA+ rating’ from the National Rifle Association. On Friday, Kustoff’s campaign claimed they made a ‘typographical error’ on the campaign mailing. However, an audio recording of a Nashville radio talk program reveals that this is not accurate. Five days before the claim of a ‘typographical error’ Kustoff was verbally trumpeting his ‘rating’ to voters and members of the media.”

This important bit of distinction-making (as a non-incumbent, Kustoff apparently was entitled to only an ‘A’ grade for his 100-percent NRA-friendly answers) was but one of the clarifications offered by Provine, however. The Memphis lawyer is taken to task for a “pattern of deception” that included suggesting that he got a similar perfect score from the National Right-to-Life Foundation and from that well-known political kingmaker, Savannah Mayor Bob Shutt. The piece de resistance of Kustoff’s “record of deceit,” however, was the state director of George W. Bush’s 2002 presidential campaign's shameless attempt “to link himself to President Bush.”

Hence Kustoff’s “Poor Brent” statement on Monday: Kustoff went on to comment: “I was asked at a critical time to campaign for George W. Bush in Tennessee. At that time, Lamar Alexander, a favorite son, was a candidate. I led the state organization and assisted greatly in fund-raising. Brent Taylor knows that he’s trailing. He’s a third--place candidate, and when you’re behind what you do is attack the leader. That’s what Brent is doing, and people see right through it."

From the point of view of public consciousness, the Taylor-Kustoff back-and-forth proved just a radar-screen blip, a preamble to the more widely disseminated later exchange between Kustoff and Norris, who --- wittingly or unwittingly -- was playing copycat to Taylor. Kustoff’s reference to Taylor’s third-place finish in a Mason-Dixon poll (behind state Senator Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood, the leader, and Kustoff) would be amended to fourth place in his response to Norris, which was a more extended version of his answer to Taylor.

There is a dizzying sense of déja vu in the Norris-Kustoff exchange, of course. The Collierville state senator expressed his sense of the dramatic in a more lawyer-like, but no less urgent, syntax than had Provine. "In thousands of color brochures mailed to thousands of unsuspecting voters,” Norris said, Kustoff had made the ignominious A+ claim. After a litigator-like recap of Kustoff’s “falsified” evidence and “coverup,” Norris sprung his trap. “I have the tape!“ he proclaimed (the bold is in the original) , i.e., a recording of that portion of the Teddy Bart Roundtable program, a Nashville radio show on which Kustoff, inadvertently or not, upped his deserved NRA grade all the way from A to A+. Question: Did Norris suppose that this matter to which he attached such high dudgeon was a replay of Watergate!?

Kustoff himself would succumb to a sense of the disproportionate. In his afternoon full-dress press-conference response to Norris (why to Norris and not Taylor? Who knows?), Kustoff included this paragraph: “To catch up, Norris is resorting to the well-worn ploy of all desperate candidates as election day nears -- tear down the leaders. Particularly in the case of Sen. Norris, it's about moving the public's attention away from the many tax increases he's supported. If anyone is guilty of dishonesty in this race, it's Sen. Norris, who in public has said he's 'never' voted to raise taxes. It's time for Mark Norris to come clean with the voters.”

What Kustoff was doing here was repeating an earlier charge made in a Taylor mailout which, it is generally acknowledged, exaggerated or misrepresented Norris’ very cautious voting record to suggest tht the Collierville senator, arguably the most conservative member of the legislature (Marsha Blackburn included), was a Mad Taxer run amuck.

(Sigh!) You see, folks, for weeks Taylor had been attacking Norris, and Norris had been responding equally immoderately (“Byron ‘Low Tax’ Looper,,” the name of the late state Sen. Tommy Burks' opponent/murderer, was one sobruiquet he laid on Taylor), both men going at it in the apparent delusion that each would discredit and inherit the Shelby County vote of the other. Instead, they ended up, well, third and fourth in the Mason-Dixon poll. Taylor, reading the results and seeing Kustoff’s name instead of Norris’ up there ahead of his own, seems to have altered the direction of his fire, that's all. Norris’ decision to join in the fusillade, and Kustoff’s resolve to complete the triad by turning Taylor’s earlier tactics back on Norris, took the whole affair in a direction that would have strained the imagination of a Lewis Carroll, whose Wonderland was never this bizarre!

The only beneficiary of all this nonsense, of course, is the aforementioned Senator Blackburn, who has campaigned with a relative moderation and sense of proportion that belie her reputation, in some quarters, as an extremist.

Early on in this campaign, Taylor, Norris, and Kustoff each separately took pen to paper and set down mathematical projections designed to convince a skeptic that their Shelby County rivalry would not, could not split up that vital 40-percent component of the Republican vote so as to make Blackburn the winner by default.

Mason-Dixon has since proved the numbers were skewed; the self-destructive antics of these Shelby County runners-up in the wake of the poll are enough to convince an observer that, in some fundamental way, they must be, also.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

POLITICS: Flinn Camp Denounces 'Smear'

POLITICS

Posted By on Tue, Jul 23, 2002 at 4:00 AM

FLINN CAMP DENOUNCES 'SMEAR' The camp of Republican mayoral nominee George Flinn is considering a detailed response to a published report Sunday about a pair of sealed legal settlements between Flinn and two women.,

That was the word Sunday from Flinn legal adviser Gail Mathes,who meanwhile wasted no time in denouncing the rival camp of Democrat A C Wharton as the source of what she termed a “smear” campaign.

“I have it from absolutely reliable sources that representatives of the Wharton campaign were the ones who worked hard to plant the story. Not only that, they went into the courthouse and did research themselves,” said Mathes, who insisted that suits against Flinn by Mary E. Feldmann, a Minnesota woman, and former local broadcaster Mary Norman, settled in 1996 and April of this year, respectively, were essentially “business-related” and were “about money.”

Citing in particular the Norman suit, which was filed at the time Flinn's son Shea was running for the state legislature two years ago, Mathes said that Flinn had engaged in "absolutely no misconduct." The suit, which was preceded by an earlier suit against Norman by Flinn, was settled this year in the course of Flinn’s successful primary campaign against State Rep. Larry Scroggs.

Asked if the suit-and-countersuit, both of which are under seal, concerned a breach-of-promise issue involving possible nuptial arrangements of Flinn and Norman, Mathes said, “I cannot deny that, “ but would not comment further. (Flinn wed his current wife Alexandra this spring, not long before the primary.)

“It is no secret that doctors are a frequent target for lawsuits, which are often frivolous. It is also no secret that a wealthy man like Dr. Flinn, who is also a public figure, is especially vulnerable,” said Mathes, who said that political motives had injected an inappropriate aura of mystery into the matter of the suits.

A Conspiracy Against Both Candidates?

A poll of the mayoral race by Steve Ethridge, reported in The Commercial Appeal Sunday, didn’t win the endorsement of either major-party candidate.

Understandably, Flinn expressed skepticism about the results, which showed him trailing Wharton by 46 to 27 percent, with the rest of those polled undecided or split between three minor independent candidates. “We have information that shows we’re neck and neck,” Flinn said of the race between himself and Wharton.

More surprisingly, Wharton himself went out of his way to debunk the poll results when he appeared at a Get-Out-the-Vote rally for the Democratic ticket at the Overton Park Shell Sunday. “Don’t believe it,” he advised a perspiring audience of party activists concerning the poll. “That’s just sucker bait to try to keep you at home.”

Vintage Years

Among those addressing the Shell rally were Democratic U.S.Senate candidate Bob Clement, currently the congressman from Nashville, and former Vice President Al Gore, who stirred up considerable excitement when he showed up, though somewhat later than originally billed, for his second local appearance in two weeks. .

Gore attacked the current Republican administrations at both the state and national levels, and said of the economy under President Bush: “It’s like 1929 -- or getting close to it.”

Later, at a fundraiser for him at the midtown home of Dean and Lisa White, Clement observed of the current campaign year, “It’s going to be the reverse of 1994 for the Republicans.” That was the year, of course, of a GOP sweep, locally, statewide, and nationally.

You Had to Be There

What if you had a press conference and nobody came? That fate befell Ralph White, Democratic candidate for Criminal Court clerk, who called a press conference for Saturday morning at the headquarters of the Shelby County Election Commission.

Subject of the press conference, he had said in a prior announcement was a poster depicting his opponent, incumbent Republican Criminal Court clerk Bill Key,.as a Klansman and a racist.

Insisting that his purpose was to dissociate himself and his campaign from the poster, which had appeared mysteriously, and not to propagate the charges, White was frustrated by the lack of an audience. No members of the media answered the summons.

Saturday, July 20, 2002

AD WATCH: FLINN GOES FOR BROKE

AD WATCH: FLINN GOES FOR BROKE

Posted By on Sat, Jul 20, 2002 at 4:00 AM

The fat, as they say, is in the fire. The race for Shelby County Mayor, which had settled into a sort of mid-summer torpor, has heated up so much -- virtually overnight -- as to kindle political explosions that make the recent 4th of July fireworks demonstrations look like a few harmless sparklers. George Flinn has found -- or, more accurately, restated -- his major campaign theme: “Accountability,” his initial slogan, has now metamorphosized -- or broadened -- into an insistence on what could be stated as the consent of the governed in major public decisions. In reviving the issue of the publicly built NBA arena through a suddenly controversial TV commercial which characterizes it as the product of "a $240 million backroom deal," Flinn has set himself at the head of what may or may not be (we will shortly find out) an army of the alienated. At one end of the current political spectrum, there are those who, like newly elected County Commissioner John Willingham, a dedicated Flinn supporter, see conspiracy in last year’s arrangement for public financing of an NBA arena. Willingham, who upset commission chairman Morris Fair in the May GOP primary, refers to himself, accurately, as an outsider who, by virtue of being elected, has managed to get himself on the inside. Willingham imagines there to be a nexus of Connected Ones, both in and out of government, who have been collaborating , lo these many years, toward the ends of political control and private enrichment. Vowing to stop the rascals in their tracks, the commissioner-elect cites several recent instances of infamy: the wheel tax increase, the raise which commissioners gave themselves, and, most notably, the NBA arena The arena deal has, in fact, been a lightning rod of discontent. It gathered together several different kinds of opponents: those who were indifferent to the Grizzlies’ coming in every sense; those who favored the Grizzlies but saw no need for a new arena; those who accepted the idea of an arena but thought it should be privately financed; those who welcomed both the Grizzlies and the arena, but thought a publicly financed arena should have been subjected to a referendum. It was people from all these groups who signed the referendum petitions collected last year by homemaker-turned-activist Heidi Shafer but subsequently deflected by the powers-that-be.. Some of the critics are Republican dissidents like Willingham, but others are veteran liberals like that gentle-lady, Happy Jones, who have found themselves siding with Democrat A C Wharton in the mayoral campaign. And there is a galaxy of different sorts in between. Flinn, too, straddles various lines. He was -- and is -- a Grizzlies fan who, in his role of radio-station-owner, successfully bid for the right to broadcast the team’s games. He frequently escorts his mother to the games. Though he was not involved in last year's petition movement, Flinn said early on in his campaign that he didn’t favor a publicly built arena for the team, and certainly not one built without voter approval. His new ad, in other words, is not a new thought on his part. And, despite some of the invective now being hurled at him, there is no discernible inconsistency on his part. Wharton seems to acknowledge the fact, and his initial response to the arena-ad brouhaha contained a statement that he, too, thought a referendum on the arena would have been in order. Let’s move on, he says. In various follow-ups to the arena ad, which used the image of a private handshake in a darkened room, the Flinn camp has suggested it is premature to do so. How much of A C’s support, they want to know, can be located, in the support group for the arena deal? In one sense, it is guilt by association; in another, it is a perfectly logical question. Is there an unelected leadership axis in Shelby County? And are its actions, even if blameless in intent, subversive of the rights of citizens who, newly galvanized by the Internet and talk radio, want to be in on the process of deciding public matters? Flinn’s new ad -- whatever the degree of political calculation that went into it -- raises a question that needs to be put. Clearly, he is hoping that it gains him more votes among the public at large than it loses for him in a Republican establishment whose loyalty, as the party’s nominee, he thinks he has a right to count on. As Flinn well knows, there is a general sense that Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout,the Republican incumbent who has given lip service to the concept of supporting “the ticket” may be privately friendly to Wharton’s cause. Flinn has attempted to be complimentary of Rout, his titular party leader, and has yet to utter anything directly critical of him (though his forbearance has hardly been reciprocated by Rout, whose high-intensity reaction to Flinn’s arena ad reflects a general edigness toward his would-be successor.) Flinn’s new ad, with the populist red flag it waves, runs the risk of pushing Rout and his allies further in the direction of the Democratic nominee. (This, of course, would be problematic for the campaign son Rick Rout is waging to be chairman of the Republican Party!) But it is a risk Flinn has now taken, in the hope that those voters who felt themselves cheated of a referendum last year will see on the August 1st ballot an opportunity to hold one ex post facto. It is not just the arena deal that troubles critics of things as they are; the recent reaction, both on and off the County Commission, to the proposal for a private conservancy for Shelby Farms suggests that public resistance to covenants not openly arrived at may be growing. A private note: interviewed Thursday by a local TV station about a Flinn ad concerning crime and education, I observed that these are subjects hard for a county mayor to affect directly and that the ad was, in that sense, misleading. But, I added, in two provisos that were not broadcast but I would just as soon had been, Flinn is not alone in making such claims, and, in fact, a county mayor --whose control over crime and education is subordinate in a sense to that of the sheriff and the school board, respectively - can influence both areas by means of his bully pulpit. With his arena ad, mayoral candidate Flinn has exposed himself to a great deal of flak, some of it sensible, some of it self-serving. But a campaign which had of late been floating on those platitudes about crime and education may have found a target worth the trouble of the current bombing run. Again, it remains to be seen.

Friday, July 19, 2002

Not a Laugher

The county commission's 5th District race could be crucial in a number of ways.

Posted By on Fri, Jul 19, 2002 at 4:00 AM

No one has ever accused Joe Cooper, an off-and-on restaurateur/businessman, of bashfulness -- either in courting publicity or in hazarding risks. As an elected Squire in the '70s of the old Shelby County Court (the body which preceded the current Shelby County Commission), Cooper was a ubiquitous presence -- on TV, in the papers, on radio.

Most of this exposure was wholly voluntary on the part of Cooper, who on a slow news day could be counted on to ring up journalists with an idea worth at least a brief sound bite or quotation. Some of the attention Cooper got, however, was unsought; a host of personal problems, the most fateful of which was a 1976 conviction in federal court for bank fraud, kept the "Marrying Squire" (he got that name for officiating over a record series of nuptials) in the news.

Cooper and his friends (of whom he has always had many, including people prominent in government, business, and the media) regard that conviction -- which resulted in a brief amount of time served as a dormitory mate of Watergate figure John Mitchell -- as wholly political, the payback for Cooper's decision to challenge an incumbent congressman in the Republican primary.

Yes, folks, Joe Cooper, the current Democratic nominee for the pivotal 5th District Shelby County Commission seat, used to be a Republican. Ironically enough, he still figures large in the affairs of the GOP. A box on the home page of the official Shelby County Republican Party Web site memorializes him as a "Dem Wit" and shows a cartoon bulldozer bearing his name about to raze a natural habitat.

More or less in Cooper's honor, the local GOP's steering committee, which normally meets at party headquarters on Poplar Avenue, held its July monthly meeting last week in the lakefront clubhouse at Shelby Farms, the 4,000-acre undeveloped property which Cooper, as much as anyone else, has brought to the forefront of public awareness.

At that meeting, Shelby County Republican chairman Alan Crone made frequent reference to the expansive, publicly owned property as being one of the major issues of the 2002 general election and introduced the GOP nominee for the 5th District commission seat, Bruce Thompson, as "the only thing standing between Shelby Farms and Joe Cooper."

What Crone referenced, of course, was Cooper's recent suggestion to sell off roughly three-fourths of the Shelby Farms acreage to private developers in order to retire a substantial portion of the current $1.4 billion county debt. The proposal, made more or less in tandem with another one by current Shelby Farms board chairman Ron Terry to turn the property over to the care of a privately run conservancy, roused the ire of Cooper's usual detractors (of whom he also has many, including people prominent in government, business, and the media), as well as of conservationists in general.

Cooper claims victory in the only showdown held so far in the contest of rival concepts. He figured prominently in behind-the-scene maneuvers, both locally and in Nashville, that stymied the Terry plan, which was narrowly defeated in two commission votes and would anyhow, Cooper contends, have been blocked by his allies in Shelby County's legislative delegation had the matter proceeded to the General Assembly for approval.

Upping the ante, no doubt for electioneering purposes as much as anything else, Cooper held a press conference Monday to outline his ideas on how to proceed. He proposed three alternatives: 1) leaving Shelby Farms "as it is"; 2) approving "the conservatory plan presented by Ron Terry under a management agreement with Shelby County Government"; or 3) reducing the proposed conservancy area to a core of 843 acres (the same site, more or less, as Central Park in New York) and selling the surrounding 3,000 acres "to the highest bidder for construction of very upscale residential development."

It was the last alternative that Cooper pumped for, insisting that such an outcome would result in $750 million in proceeds, which, coupled with another $300 million or so for the sale of "naming rights" to the reduced conservancy area, would go far toward the retiring of the county debt.

The plan is far in excess of anything yet proposed by Cooper's allies on the commission (of whom Michael Hooks, Walter Bailey, and Julian Bolton, all Democrats, are the most prominent). And it poses the issue of development vs. conservation about as starkly as could be imagined.

Not all Democrats by any means favor Cooper's ideas (some are frankly appalled). Nor is Republican opposition to it uniform, despite the GOP's official emphasis on Shelby Farms of late and the fact that the administration of Shelby County mayor Jim Rout, the outgoing Republican incumbent, was thoroughly committed to Terry's conservancy plan.

But the central controversy evokes enough ancillary themes -- the polarity of private vs. public, the issue of elitist planning, the question of urban sprawl, and the pervasive problem of public debt -- as to make the race for the 5th District commission seat even more of a watershed for the countywide general election than it already was.

The root political consideration is this: If Cooper wins, Democrats will hold the balance of power by an expected majority of 7-6 ; if Thompson wins, Republicans would prevail, by the same probable ratio.

Entrepreneur/financial manager Thompson, a political newcomer who upset party eminence John Ryder in the Republican primary, saw his political coffers swell in the last couple of weeks, and not just from GOP sources. He has called the hard-working, self-starting Cooper's ideas both "comical" and dangerous and has made the future of Shelby Farms the centerpice of his campaign.

"In my race with Prince Mongo, er, Joe Cooper " began Thompson in a brief address to members of the East Shelby County Republican Club Monday night. That tongue-in-cheek simulation of a Freudian slip drew the expected amused reaction, but it remains to be seen who will have the last laugh in a race which may be the most serious, in every sense of the term, on the August 1st ballot.

· When Memphis city councilman Brent Taylor addressed the Southeast Shelby County Republican Club, he made a point of being lavishly complimentary and courteous to Chris Norris, the wife of state Senator Mark Norris, one of his opponents in the hotly contested Republican primary for the 7th District congressional seat. And Norris, substituting for her husband at the event, returned the compliments.

It was not ever thus. Only a week earlier the two had appeared, along with other 7th District GOP candidates, at the monthly luncheon of the Shelby County Republican Women, and, at that event, Chris Norris had been speaking her husband's name as well -- but none too flatteringly of Taylor.

Though she did not identify the councilman by name, she referred with obvious intensity to a candidate who had been circulating "lies" about Sen. Norris during the current campaign. That, as everyone knew, was Taylor, who, as reported in the Flyer last week, had circulated a mailout making some highly tendentious and somewhat questionable comparisons between his own anti-tax voting record as a councilman and Norris' as a county commissioner and state senator.

As recently as Monday morning, Sen. Norris himself was referring to Taylor's "lies" on "Teddy Bart's Roundtable," a Nashville-area radio broadcast, and calling his opponent a "character."

The different tone struck by Taylor and Chris Norris Monday night was befitting a new turn in the campaign, which could make moot Taylor's calculated PR assault on Norris, one of two major rivals for the Shelby County component of the 7th District vote.

As reported in the Nashville Tennessean and elsewhere Monday, a new poll by the respected Mason-Dixon organization showed the leader of the Republican field to be state Senator Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood, a posh Nashville suburb, with 25 percent of the vote. In second place, with 17 percent, was Memphis lawyer David Kustoff, who ran -- and pulled off a win for -- George W. Bush's campaign in Tennessee two years ago.

Taylor was in third place with 14 percent, with Norris following at 11 percent, and several others, including lawyer Forrest Shoaf of Nashville, who has spent much on media of late and impressed many, bringing up the rear with single-digit totals.

Only the Shelby Countians in the race, each of whom has been at pains to demonstrate mathematically that Blackburn cannot win (in the same way, presumably, that a bumblebee cannot fly), should have been surprised by the Williamson County archconservative senator's showing. But Kustoff's second-place percentage was an eye-opener to everyone and a shot in the arm to the Memphian's campaign.

Said campaign manager Stephanie Shackleford in a series of press releases Monday: "The results show this race is between David Kustoff and Marsha Blackburn to win the Republican nomination. The Mason-Dixon poll matches our own survey information and confirms that David's support in Shelby County and West Tennessee is strong and growing. [S]upport for his campaign [is] growing while the other candidates have remained flat."

In a press release of its own, Taylor's campaign immediately disputed the Mason-Dixon poll's accuracy. Said Taylor's campaign manager, Lane Provine: "The Mason-Dixon poll does not match the results found in the Taylor campaign's recent poll of Republican voters in the 7th District [which] shows Brent Taylor and Marsha Blackburn in a statistical dead-heat for the lead. In Shelby County, the poll shows Taylor and David Kustoff in a dead-heat. In the 13 counties outside of Shelby and Williamson, Taylor's poll shows a 10-point lead for him over his nearest competitor, Blackburn."

Chimed in Taylor's pollster, the well-regarded Steve Etheridge: "Since at least as far back as 1986, when the Mason-Dixon poll showed Winfield Dunn leading Ned McWherter by five points one week before McWherter won the election by eight, national political consultants have generally had no interest whatsoever in the Mason-Dixon poll as an instrument of knowing anything about what's really going on in a campaign."

Whatever the facts are, both Kustoff and Taylor were revealed to be stronger players than some observers had imagined, while Norris, who began the race as many people's odd-son pick, seemed to be straggling.

All that could change, since the number of undecided voters remained high and much campaign money remained unspent -- particularly by Norris, who had not yet committed some $350,000 in newly raised funds. Meanwhile, the results were enough to prompt Taylor to suggest Monday night that his future mailouts and press releases may focus less on Norris, his presumed main local opponent, and aim in other directions.

· Succeeding the departing Alexia Levison as Governor Don Sundquist's press secretary is former Memphian Kristi Goad, who has been the governor's main speechwriter for the last two and a half years.

Goad, who had also logged time with the now defunct Nashville Banner, was The Commercial Appeal's main political writer for several years in the late '90s. Levison is moving to Washington to become spokesperson for first lady Laura Bush. ·

Thursday, July 18, 2002

POLLING THE 7TH

POLLING THE 7TH

Posted By on Thu, Jul 18, 2002 at 4:00 AM

When Memphis city councilman Brent Taylor addressed the Southeast Shelby County Republican Club Monday night, he made a point of being lavishly complimentary and courteous to Chris Norris, the wife of state senator Mark Norris, one of his opponents in the hotly contested Republican primary for the 7th District congressional seat. And Norris, substituting for her husband at the event, returned the compliments. It was not ever thus. Only a week earlier the two had appeared, along with other 7th District GOP candidates, at the monthly luncheon of the Shelby County Republican Women, and, at that prior event, Chris Norris had been speaking her husband’s name as well -- but none too flatteringly of Taylor. Though she did not identify the councilman by name, she referred with obvious intensity to a candidate who had been circulating “lies” about Sen. Norris during the current campaign. That, as everyone knew, had to refer to Taylor -- who, as reported in the Flyer last week, had circulated a mailout making some highly tendentious and somewhat questionable comparisons between his own anti-tax voting record as a councilman and Norris’ as a county commissioner and state senator. As recently as Monday morning, Sen. Norris himself was referring to Taylor’s “lies” on Teddy Bart’s Roundtable, a Nashville-area radio broadcast, and calling his opponent a “character.” The different tone struck by Taylor and Chris Norris Monday night was befitting a new turn in the campaign, which could make moot Taylor’s calculated P.R. assault on Norris, one of two major rivals for the Shelby County component of the 7th District vote. As reported in The Nashville Tennessean and elsewhere Monday, a new poll by the respected Mason-Dixon organization showed the leader of the Republican field to be state Senator Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood, a posh Nashville suburb, with 25 percent of the vote. In second place, with 17 percent, was Memphis lawyer David Kustoff, who ran -- and pulled off a win for -- George W. Bush‘s campaign in Tennessee two years ago. Taylor was in third place with 14 percent, with Norris following at 11 percent, and several others, including lawyer Forrest Shoaf of Nashville, who has spent much on media of late and impressed many, bringing up the rear with single-digit totals. Only the Shelby Countians in the race, each of whom has been at pains to demonstrate mathematically that Blackburn cannot win (in the same way, presumably, that a bumblebee cannot fly), should have been surprised by the Williamson County arch-conservative senator’s showing. But Kustoff’s second-place percentage was an eye-opener to everyone, and a shot in the arm to the Memphian’s campaign. Said campaign manager Stephanie Shackleford in a series of press releases Monday: "The results show this race is between David Kustoff and Marsha Blackburn to win the Republican nomination. The Mason-Dixon poll matches our own survey information and confirms that David's support in Shelby and West Tennessee is strong and growing…[S]upport for his campaign [is]growing while the other candidates have remained flat.” I n a press release of its own, Taylor’s campaign immediately disputed the Mason-Dixon poll’s accuracy. Said Taylor’s campaign manager, Lane Provine: "The Mason-Dixon poll does not match the results found in the Taylor campaign’s recent poll of Republican voters in the Seventh District… [which] shows Brent Taylor and Marsha Blackburn in a statistical dead heat for the lead. In Shelby County, the poll shows Taylor and David Kustoff in a dead heat. In the 13 counties outside of Shelby and Williamson, Taylor’s poll shows a 10-point lead for him over his nearest competitor, Blackburn.” Chimed in Taylor’s pollster himself, the well-regarded Steve Etheridge: "Since at least as far back as 1986, when the Mason-Dixon poll showed Winfield Dunn leading Ned McWherter by 5 points one week before McWherter won the election by 8, national political consultants have generally had no interest whatsoever in the Mason-Dixon poll as an instrument of knowing anything about what’s really going on in a campaign." Whatever the facts are, both Kustoff and Taylor were revealed to be stronger players that some observers had imagined, while Norris, who began the race as many people’s odd-son pick, seemed to be straggling. All that could change, since the number of undecided remained high and much campaign money remained unspent -- particularly by Norris, who had not yet committed some $200,000 in newly raised funds. Meanwhile, the results were enough to prompt Taylor to suggest Monday night that his future mailouts and press releases may focus less on Norris, his presumed main local opponent, and aim in other directions.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

THE ROCK ISLAND LINE ON HENRY TURLEY

THE ROCK ISLAND LINE ON HENRY TURLEY

Posted By on Tue, Jul 16, 2002 at 4:00 AM

The Rock Island Dispatch-Argus:

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Standing in a street in Harbor Town, Henry Turley points to the development he envisioned for Mud Island, once a silt pile off the Memphis shoreline. The real-estate developer's vision has changed and grown since he first dreamed of building a housing development on the island. The ''new urbanism'' development offers various types of housing, from luxury homes and townhouses to condominiums and apartments. As he takes a group of officials from Rock Island to another development, he passes through a poorer downtown neighborhood that's on his ''to-do'' list and points out where a pond will be someday -- still just a vision. The Rock Island group, including Mayor Mark Schwiebert and Ald. John Bauersfeld, city staffers and representatives of Renaissance Rock Island, Rock Island Economic Growth Corp. and The District, saw how a vision can come to life and felt reassured that what they envision can work in the Quad-Cities. ''This is a particular niche that the city of Rock Island is well-poised to develop,'' Mayor Schwiebert said of a ''new urbanism'' development like Mr. Turley's. ''We are well-positioned to make that happen.'' Mr. Turley, a native Memphian, had a new vision for his city while others still were doing the same old thing. As suburban growth slowed on the outskirts of Memphis, he looked toward the city's decaying downtown, and Mud Island. ''With Henry Turley, you have vision meeting passion meeting deep pockets, and there is the ability to execute a vision that we may struggle with at times,'' said Dan Carmody, executive director of Renaissance Rock Island. When he proposed a planned, mixed-income housing development for Mud Island, the city didn't get in his way but it didn't offer much help either. (To read entire story, click here. Or go to http://www.qconline.com/more/main.html)

Friday, July 12, 2002

Figuring the Angles

Norris vies with Senate colleague Blackburn for ultraright honors in 7th race.

Posted By on Fri, Jul 12, 2002 at 4:00 AM

On the last day of the 2002 regular session of the Tennessee General Assembly, first-term state Senator Mark Norris of Collierville made a decision that confounded some observers but made perfect sense to the senator himself.

Having struggled in vain for several weeks to get floor consideration in either the Senate or the House for his bill calling for a constitutional convention on taxation, he was surprised at what he was hearing late on the morning of the 4th of July from his House co-sponsor, Rep. Dewayne Bunch, a Cleveland Republican.

Bunch explained that their convention bill had been approved overwhelmingly in the House that morning and that the opportunity existed to pass the measure if Norris, who had given up and already taken the bill off notice, could find some last-minute parliamentary means to reactivate it in the Senate. It was not impossible.

Almost as soon as his initial surprise wore off, however, Norris thought he saw what was up and told Bunch he had no intention of arranging a Senate vote on the measure. "It's an income-tax bill now," he told his co-sponsor, and he would explain that to anyone else who asked about the seemingly revived convention call.

The two representatives who had pushed the bill on the House floor that morning, neither of whom was running for reelection to the House, were Germantown Republican Larry Scroggs and Democrat Bobby Sands of Columbia. Scroggs, who had been defeated by Dr. George Flinn in the GOP primary for Shelby County mayor, had no discernible ulterior motives; frustrated by the long legislative impasse over tax questions, he simply argued it was time for the state to rethink the matter. Sands, however, had been an income-tax supporter -- courageously so in that his current state Senate bid would probably suffer as a result -- and his advocacy of the convention call was interpreted by others besides Norris as an effort to revive the prospects of an income tax by another means.

Speaker Jimmy Naifeh would acknowledge later on in his post-session press conference that a constitutional-convention call was probably the best remaining hope for supporters of an income tax, since for a variety of reasons, mainly those of foreseeable turnover, the next General Assembly would be disinclined to confront the volatile issue again.

The sudden turnabout was not without irony, since it was clear that Norris and other original supporters of the convention-call bill had intended it as a way of staving off income-tax legislation, not of enabling it.

In any case, though a convention call was approved in the House by a 75-11 vote, it became the proverbial sleeping dog in the Senate, where its tender, Norris, resolved firmly to let it lie as a permanently tabled measure not to be recalled.

Thus did Norris avoid what he saw as a trap and maintain his preferred antitax posture as one of the prime contenders in the Republican primary for the 7th District congressional seat being vacated by U.S. Senate candidate Ed Bryant.

In particular, Norris would be able to stay even on the legislative scoreboard with the candidate whom many now see as his most formidable opponent, fellow state Senator Marsha Blackburn, an archconservative from the posh Nashville suburb of Brentwood.

Blackburn is famous as the legislator who fired off emergency e-mails from the Senate floor a year ago to Nashville radio talk-show hosts Steve Gill and Phil Valentine, which worthies promptly incited crowds of protesters to come to the state Capitol grounds, where they became unruly and thwarted consideration of an income-tax bill.

To Capitol insiders, Blackburn is also well known as a dependable "no" vote on any measure having to do with taxes or expenditures. What is not so well known is that Norris, who publicly deplored what he called the "mob" of a year ago and accused Blackburn of "yelling fire in a crowded theater," has a voting record which matches his rival's in almost every particular.

In point of fact, if there is any legislator who can be said to be to the right of Blackburn on tax-and-spending measures, it is Norris and Norris alone. Though he voted against the final bare-bones appropriations bill of a year ago (along with such eminent income-tax advocates as Lebanon Democrat Bob Rochelle), Norris proclaimed that he did so because too much money (especially in one-time-only tobacco-settlement funds) had been appropriated, not too little! It was a singular position; Blackburn, like most of the Assembly's income-tax opponents, had voted to approve the no-new-taxes budget.

The essential difference between Norris and Blackburn as politicians, however, is to be found not so much in policy differences, which are minimal, but in their radically different styles. Blackburn is proud of her reputation as an uncomplicated obstructionist and dedicated foe of liberalism; in the state Senate, as on the Shelby County Commission before that, Norris prefers to be seen as a studious sort who is both accommodating and reasonable -- even, or perhaps especially, with colleagues of the other party or the opposite persuasion. He rarely, however, deviates from his highly conservative base positions.

Of course, Norris and Blackburn are by no means alone among the 7th District Republican candidates in their advocacy of a tightly restricted, minimally funded and empowered government. The rest of the field -- which includes Memphis lawyer David Kustoff, who directed George Bush's successful campaign in Tennessee in 2000, and Nashville lawyer Forrest Shoaf -- is more or less like-minded.

None is more so than another candidate, Memphis city councilman Brent Taylor, who seems to have determined that Norris is a major obstacle to his own election hopes and, accordingly, has unloosed a series of blasts at the Collierville senator in recent weeks.

Most recent was a Taylor mailout last week which virtually depicted Norris as a mad taxer. Alongside a column which uses Taylor's council voting record and quotes from him to establish a rigidly antitax posture, the mailout juxtaposes apparent facts and quotes that suggest the opposite about Norris.

It is a tactic much like that which Flinn used against Scroggs so successfully in the GOP mayoral primary of two months ago; what makes Taylor's mailout especially interesting is that the "evidence" he amasses against Norris can just as easily be seen as making a case for Norris' cleverness in concealing his real, quite conservative motives.

As two examples, Taylor cites a Norris vote for a property-tax increase while on the commission; Norris maintains that his vote was for the lesser of two proposed increases and that he jumped off the bus in any case before the third reading of the ordinance; Taylor notes Norris' "pairing" with tax proponent Rochelle in last year's eleventh-hour legislative negotiations but does not explore the very real possibility that Norris was there to block the Lebanon Democrat's designs.

Those familiar with Norris' methods recognize in these and the other examples cited in Taylor's mailout an artful dissembler and tactician, not the unwitting dupe or guileful hypocrite he is portrayed as. n

But Taylor's mailout is shrewd in the same way that Flinn's was, and Norris knows how that story came out. If any of Taylor's case against Norris should end up sticking, it will underline the essential irony of the Collierville senator's predicament.

Considering how skillful this artful diplomat is in seeming to his actual ideological opponents be one thing while actually being another, it would be a weird kind of poetic justice if an ideological first cousin like Taylor could manage to seal him up in his own disguise.


Doubting A C

Herenton takes an unenthusiastic view of candidate Wharton's campaign strategy.

The new A C Wharton commercials are up, and so far, the Shelby County Public Defender seems to be making the pitch for his mayoral campaign mainly to suburban voters -- or at least to white ones.

One ad shows the candidate making nice to the county's outlying municipalities, uttering dithyrambs on the order of "getting it together/to get the best out of all of us ." Another has Bill Morris, a former county mayor who always played well in the outlying areas, offering his personal testimonial to Wharton.

This approach leaves current Memphis mayor Willie Herenton cold, it is quite reliably reported, and His Honor also is said to be convinced that white suburban voters won't be moved this way or that by it, that the number of potential white voters for the African-American Democratic nominee is the same as the number of actual white voters, regardless of the advertising approach taken by Wharton.

On the other hand -- or so the mayor's thinking is summarized -- African-American voters themselves are being taken for granted by the Democratic candidate, and this at a time when the August 1st ballot provides no race beyond the one for mayor itself that might drive a large county vote among blacks or Democrats. Herenton, a Wharton supporter, is said to regard the inner-city electorate's mood as "flat" and likely to stay that way so long as Wharton declines to attempt to arouse what should be his natural base and maintains an all-things-to-all-people posture.

Herenton has made no secret either of his disdain for this approach or of his disappointment that his standing offers to become an active presence in the Wharton campaign have so far been ignored. "A C's keeping his distance from me and from the Democrats" is a statement the mayor has made several times of late to intimates.

Contrasting Wharton's election strategy with his own of 1991, when inner-city voters were disproportionately cultivated, the Memphis mayor has predicted a neck-and-neck outcome in the current race between Wharton and Republican nominee George Flinn.

And he further prophesies that connections will be made between himself and Wharton, his former two-time campaign manager, whether the Democratic nominee likes it or not, and that they will be made by the Republican opposition, which Herenton thinks will do what it can in the last week or two to link the would-be black mayor of the whole county with the existing one of the city.

* GOP mayoral nominee Flinn meanwhile has his own problems. Rumors persist that various ranking Republicans intend to line up with Wharton, and at least one -- former state representative and county road supervisor Ed Haley -- has already done so, hosting a fish fry in Millington for the Democratic nominee over the weekend.

Moreover, Wharton and his supporters are doing their best, both publicly and privately, to maximize concerns about Flinn's seeming reluctance to engage Wharton in prolonged debates without fixed ground rules. But Flinn spokesperson Cary Rodgers maintains that her candidate's highly publicized absence from a forthcoming League of Voters debate is due solely to a long-scheduled Flinn fund-raising affair, and the campaign made a point on Monday of putting out a press release beating the drums for a televised debate, on Fox Channel 13, which Flinn will participate in on July 25th.

* 7th District congressman Ed Bryant is making the most out of a bump in his poll ratings against former governor Lamar Alexander in their GOP primary contest for the U.S. Senate. Bryant, who admittedly started the race some 40 points behind Alexander, who was much better known statewide, cites a considerably closed gap in several current press releases and in recent remarks on the stump.

"The numbers are changing now," the congressman told supporters at a luncheon in his honor Monday at the Holiday Inn on Central Avenue. Bryant then related figures from a new poll his campaign had commissioned from Public Opinion Strategies of Alexandria,Virginia, showing Alexander at 49 percent and himself at 37 percent.

The point was reinforced by U.S. Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), a former Bryant roommate in the mid-1990s when they were both freshman congressmen in Washington. Brownback warmed up the crowd with stories of how he had come from 28 points behind in his 1996 Senate primary race against a favored and better-known candidate.

* Expect a major announcement this week or next from state Representative Tre Hargett, who has been considering both a contest for the position of House Republican Leader in the next session of the General Assembly or a race for mayor of Bartlett. Friends suggest the latter is most probable.

FLINN, WHARTON TRADE JABS-- AT A DISTANCE

FLINN, WHARTON TRADE JABS-- AT A DISTANCE

Posted By on Fri, Jul 12, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Democratic county-mayor candidate A C Wharton, who, along with all his surrogates and supporters, has been baiting opponent George Flinn about skipping debate venues, got an answer of sorts from the Republican nominee Wednesday night. But to get it he first had to respond to a Flinn charge that he was a big spender.

In a fund-raising letter that went out to potential donors last month, Flinn had stressed his campaign themes of fiscal solvency and accountability and suggested that “my opponent in the August 1st election has proposed new government spending that will cost you millions and result in additional tax increases [bold in the original].”

Wharton was at first moved to call a press conference for Tuesday morning to deal with “distortions” in the letter but later canceled it. After appearing at a forum in Southeast Memphis Tuesday night, however Ð without Flinn but with Libertarian candidate Bruce Young serving as something of a foil Ð Wharton said he intended to reschedule the press conference and promised a “rapid response strategy” henceforth to any and all charges made by Flinn “a la Larry Scroggs.”

(This last phrase was a reference to some mailouts, sent out by the Flinn campaign during the Republican primary, that characterized the voting record of state Rep. Scroggs, Flinn’s primary opponent, as being too friendly to tax increases.)

Wharton , who at one point in Tuesday night’s forum said he could achieve his governmental aims “without hiring a single new employee,” denied having proposed any new spending for Shelby County government.

Apprised of this later, Flinn responded, “I based my statement on all the concepts and programs and strategies and what-have-you that I’ve heard him talk up during the many times we’ve appeared together during this campaign, which has been something like eight to ten times.”

That was two-responses-in-one from Flinn, who was also indirectly addressing the Wharton camp’s accusations that he’s been ducking debates with the Democratic nominee.

Wharton made repeated references Tuesday night to Flinn’s absence from a number of possible joint appearances, including a forthcoming one sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

After arriving at Asbury United Methodist Church on Mendenhall, site of Tuesday night’s debate, Wharton was told by the debate moderator that the program would be delayed somewhat so that Flinn, who had a prior engagement, could appear.

“Don’t hold your breath,” Wharton responded. “I don’t think the good doctor is going to show. Flinn is not in. The doctor is out.” And he made repeated references during the evening to the importance of “give-and-take” between candidates and audiences at such forums, challenging “my opponent to show up in public and take his chances with real people.”

The two are scheduled to appear together at a televised debate on Fox Channel 13 later this month.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

DOUBTING A C

DOUBTING A C

Posted By on Thu, Jul 11, 2002 at 4:00 AM

The new AC Wharton commercials are up, and so far the Shelby County Public Defender seems to be making the pitch for his mayoral campaign mainly to suburban voters -- or at least to white ones. One ad shows the candidate himself making nice to the county’s outlying municipalities, uttering dithyrambs on the order of, “Getting It Together/To Get the Best Out of All of UsÉ.” Another has Bill Morris, a former county mayor who always played well in the outlying areas, offering his personal testimonial to Wharton. This approach leaves the current Memphis mayor, Willie Herenton, cold, it is quite reliably reported, and His Honor also is said to be convinced that white suburban voters won’t be moved this way or that by it., that the number of potential white voters for the African-American Democratic nominee is the same as the number of actual white voters, regardless of the advertising approach taken by Wharton. On the other hand -- or so the mayor’s thinking is summarized, -- African-American voters themselves are being taken for granted by the Democratic candidate, and this at a time when the August 1st ballot provides no race beyond the one for mayor itself that might drive a large county vote among blacks or Democrats. Herenton, a Wharton supporter, is said to regard the inner city electorate’s mood as “flat,” and likely to stay that way so long as Wharton declines to attempt to arouse what should be his natural base and maintains an “all-things-to-all-people” posture. Herenton has made no secret either of his disdain for this approach or of his disappointment that his standing offers to become an active presence in the Wharton campaign have so far been ignored. “A C’s keeping his distance from me and from the Democrats,” is a statement the mayor has made several times of late to intimates. Contrasting Wharton’s election strategy with his own of 1991, when inner-city voters were disproportionately cultivated, the Memphis mayor has predicted a neck-and-neck outcome in the current race between Wharton and Republican nominee George Flinn. And he further prophesies that connections will be made between himself and Wharton, his former two-time campaign manager, whether the Democratic nominee likes it or not, and that they will be made by the Republican opposition, which Herenton thinks will do what it can in the last week or two to link the would-be black mayor of the whole county with the existing one of the city.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

DOUBTING A C

Herenton takes a dim view of candidate Wharton's strategy.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 10, 2002 at 4:00 AM

The new AC Wharton commercials are up, and so far the Shelby County Public Defender seems to be making the pitch for his mayoral campaign mainly to suburban voters -- or at least to white ones. One ad shows the candidate himself making nice to the county’s outlying municipalities, uttering dithyrambs on the order of, “Getting It Together/To Get the Best Out of All of Us.” Another has Bill Morris, a former county mayor who always played well in the outlying areas, offering his personal testimonial to Wharton. This approach leaves the current Memphis mayor, Willie Herenton, cold, it is quite reliably reported, and His Honor also is said to be convinced that white suburban voters won’t be moved this way or that by it., that the number of potential white voters for the African-American Democratic nominee is the same as the number of actual white voters, regardless of the advertising approach taken by Wharton. On the other hand -- or so the mayor’s thinking is summarized, -- African-American voters themselves are being taken for granted by the Democratic candidate, and this at a time when the August 1st ballot provides no race beyond the one for mayor itself that might drive a large county vote among blacks or Democrats. Herenton, a Wharton supporter, is said to regard the inner city electorate’s mood as “flat,” and likely to stay that way so long as Wharton declines to attempt to arouse what should be his natural base and maintains an “all-things-to-all-people” posture. Herenton has made no secret either of his disdain for this approach or of his disappointment that his standing offers to become an active presence in the Wharton campaign have so far been ignored. “A C’s keeping his distance from me and from the Democrats,” is a statement the mayor has made several times of late to intimates. Contrasting Wharton’s election strategy with his own of 1991, when inner-city voters were disproportionately cultivated, the Memphis mayor has predicted a neck-and-neck outcome in the current race between Wharton and Republican nominee George Flinn. And he further prophesies that connections will be made between himself and Wharton, his former two-time campaign manager, whether the Democratic nominee likes it or not, and that they will be made by the Republican opposition, which Herenton thinks will do what it can in the last week or two to link the would-be black mayor of the whole county with the existing one of the city.

Tuesday, July 9, 2002

NORRIS READS THE ANGLES

NORRIS READS THE ANGLES

Posted By on Tue, Jul 9, 2002 at 4:00 AM

On the last day of the 2002 regular session of the Tennessee General Assembly, first-term state Senator Mark Norris of Collierville made a decision that confounded some observers but made perfect sense to the senator himself.

Having struggled in vain for several weeks to get floor consideration in either the Senate or the House for his bill calling a constitutional convention on taxation, he was surprised at what he was hearing late on the morning of the 4th of July from his House co-sponsor, Rep. Dewayne Bunch, a Cleveland Republican.

Bunch explained that their convention bill had been approved overwhelmingly in the House that morning and that the opportunity existed to pass the measure if Norris, who had given up and already taken the bill off notice, could find some last-minute parliamentary means to reactivite it in the Senate. It was not impossible.

Almost as soon as his initial surprise wore off, however, Norris thought he saw what was up and told Bunch he had no intention of arranging a Senate vote on the measure. “It’s an income tax bill now,” he told his co-sponsor, and he would explain that to anyone else who asked about the seemingly revived convention call.

The two representatives who had pushed the bill on the House floor that morning, neither of whom was running for reelection to the House, were Germantown Republican Larry Scroggs and Democrat Bobby Sands of Columbia. Scroggs, who had been defeated by Dr. George Flinn in the GOP primary for Shelby County mayor, had no discernible ulterior motives; frustrated by the long legislative impasse over tax questions, he simply argued it was time for the state to rethink the matter. Sands, however, had been an income-tax supporter -- courageously so in that his current state Senate bid would probably suffer as a result -- and his advocacy of the convention call was interpreted by others besides Norris as an effort to revive the prospects of an income tax by another means.

Speaker Naifeh would acknowledge later on in his post-session press conference that a constitutional-convention call was probably the best remaining hope for supporters of an income tax, since for a variety of reasons, mainly those of foreseeable turnover, the next General Assembly would be disinclined to confront the volatile issue again.

The sudden turnabout was not without irony, since it was clear that Norris and other original supporters of the convention-call bill had intended it as a way of staving off income-tax legislation, not of enabling it.

In any case, though a convention call was approved in the House by a 75-11 vote, it became the proverbial sleeping dog in the Senate, where its tender, Norris, resolved firmly to let it lie as a permanently tabled measure, not to be recalled.

Thus did Mark Norris avoid what he saw as a trap and maintain his preferred anti-tax posture as one of the prime contenders in the Republican primary for the 7th District congressional seat being vacated by U.S. Senate candidate Ed Bryant.

In particular, Norris would be able to stay even on the legislative scoreboard with the candidate whom many now see as his most formidable opponent, fellow state Senator Marsha Blackburn, an arch-conservative from the posh Nashville suburb of Brentwood.

Blackburn is famous as the legislator who fired off emergency emails from the Senate floor a year ago to Nashville radio talk-show hosts Steve Gill and Phil Valentine, which worthies promptly incited crowds of protesters to come to the state Capitol grounds, where they became unruly and thrwarted consideration of an income-tax bill.

To Capitol insiders, Blackburn is also well known as a dependable No vote on any measure having to do with taxes or expenditures. What is not so well known is that Norris, who publicly deplored what he called the “mob” of a year ago and accused Blackburn of “yelling fire in a crowded theater,” has a voting record which matches his rival’s in almost every particular.

In point of fact, if there is any legislator who can be said to be to the right of Marsha Blackburn on tax-and-spending measures, it is Mark Norris and Mark Norris alone. Though he voted against the final bare-bones appropriations bill of a year ago (along with such eminent income-tax advocates as Lebanon Democrat Bob Rochelle), Norris proclaimed that he did so because too much money (especially in one-time-only tobacco-settlement funds) had been appropriated, not too little! It was a singular position; Blackburn, like most of the Assembly’s income-tax opponents, had voted to approve the no-new-taxes budget.

The essential difference between Norris and Blackburn as politicians, however, is to be found not so much in policy differences, which are minimal, but in their radically different styles. Blackburn is proud of her reputation as an uncomplicated obstructionist and dedicated foe of liberalism; in the state Senate, as on the Shelby County Commission before that, Norris prefers to be seen as a studious sort who is both accommodating and reasonable -- even, or perhaps especially, with colleagues of the other party or the opposite persuasion. He rarely, however, deviates from his highly conservative base positions.

Of course, Norris and Blackburn are by no means alone among the 7th District Republican candidates in their advocacy of a tightly restricted, minimally funded and empowered government. The rest of the field -- which includes Memphis lawyer David Kustoff, who directed George Bush‘s successful campaign in Tennessee in 2000 and Nashville laywer Forrest Shoaf -- is more or less like-minded.

None is more so than another candidate, Memphis city councilman Brent Taylor, who seems to have determined that Norris is a major obstacle to his own election hopes and accordingly has unloosed a series of blasts at the Collierville senator in recent weeks.

Most recent was a Taylor mailout last week which virtually depicted Norris as a Mad Taxer. Alongside a column which uses Taylor’s council voting record and quotes from him to establish a rigidly anti-tax posture, the mailout juxtaposes apparent facts and quotes which suggest the opposite about Norris.

It is a tactic much like that which Flinn used against Scroggs so successfully in the GOP mayor primary of two months ago; what makes Taylor’s mailout especially interesting is that the “evidence” he amasses against Norris can just as easily be seen as making a case for Norris’ cleverness in concealing his real, quite conservative motives.

As two examples, Taylor cites a Norris vote for a property tax increase while on the commission; Norris maintains that his vote was for the lesser of two proposed increases and that he jumped off the bus in any case before the third reading of the ordinance; Taylor notes Norris’ “pairing”with tax proponent Rochelle in last year’s eleventh-hour legislative negotiations but does not explore the very real possibility that Norris was there to block the Lebanon Democrat’s designs.

Those familiar with Norris’ M.O. recognize in these and the other examples cited in Taylor’s mailout an artful dissembler and tactician, not the unwitting dupe or guileful hypocrite he is portrayed as.

But Taylor’s mailout is shrewd in the same way that Flinn’s was, and Norris knows how that story came out. If any of Taylor’s case against Norris should end up sticking, it will underline the essential irony of the Collierville senator’s predicament.

Considering how skillful this artful diplomat is in seeming to his actual ideological opponents be one thing while actually being another, it would be a weird kind of poetic justice if an ideological first cousin like Taylor could manage to seal him up in his own disguise.

Saturday, July 6, 2002

TAX-REFORM LEADER SUSPENDS REELECTION EFFORT

TAX-REFORM LEADER SUSPENDS REELECTION EFFORT

Posted By on Sat, Jul 6, 2002 at 4:00 AM

As the Tennessee legislature adjourned this week , after passing a sales-tax extension of almost one billion dollars and forsaking a state income tax, the three leaders of the tax reform effort were all visibly chastened.

Governor Don Sundquist spoke glumly of having taken "my best shot" in acknowledging the failure of his tax-reform effort, and state House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, though vowing to keep up the fight, acknowledged to reporters that it seemed further away than ever.

The third member of that leadership trio, state Sen. Robert Rochelle (D-Lebanon), may be the latest casualty of the tax-reform defeat and of the legislative tensions and disappointments that have characterized the last four years of the General Assembly in Nashville.

Not long after the legislature adjourned on the afternoon of July 4th, the eminent Democratic senator, who became the most forthright and determined legislative advocate of a state income tax, spoke with the Flyer about his forebodings concerning his reelection campaign, which matches him against Republican state representative Mae Beavers, a foe of the income tax (and most other varieties, as well). Rochelle, a Vietnam combat veteran, seemed depressed about the end of his immediate tax-reform hopes and talked of "rowdy" opposition to his election efforts. Not long afterward, he released this statement:

"With the close of the General Assembly, I am going to take a break, get some rest and think about what I want to do next. I am very disappointed that we were unable to stop a sales tax increase that unfairly burdens working families of Tennessee.

"All Tennesseans are going to feel the crush of this increased tax. As these working families learn to deal with the stress of having to make ends meet while others get away without paying their fair share, my family is learning to cope with the stress of having people threaten my wife and my children. As recently as this week, my wife received another violent, threatening phone call. It is hard to describe the emotions felt when your family is harassed.

"I have chosen to suspend my re-election campaign to reflect with family and friends. I would like to have this opportunity to think through whether or not I wish to continue my service in the Senate.

My concern is that the people's only choice will be a "do-nothing" legislator, a person who is championed by such a cruel supporter. All of these factors will weigh on my decision.

"I have informed the Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman of my actions. After talking with my family, I will decide whether to continue to pursue my service to the State of Tennessee. Until I announce my future intentions I'm asking people not to send contributions to my campaign."

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