Sunday, September 15, 2002

POLITICS (WEEKEND EDITION)

POLITICS (WEEKEND EDITION)

Posted By on Sun, Sep 15, 2002 at 4:00 AM

WHITHER THE ROUTS? Whether by coincidence or through some pattern or synchronicity, the destinies of former Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout and his son, beleaguered Young Republican chairman Rick Rout, seemed uncannily intertwined as each encountered a milestone of sorts this week.

First, as the Flyer first reported Thursday, the senior Rout was named by Jack Morris, the founder and owner of Jack Morris Auto Glass Company, to head his company as president starting Monday.

Then, on Thursday night, the younger Rout was given something less than a vote of confidence as his colleagues on the Shelby County Republican steering committee voted by an 18 to 8 margin to ask him to resign from the committee Ð the reason being a series of indiscreet emails by YR president Rout, all of which had to do with RoutÕs reluctance (shared with his father but made more public) to support the candidacy of the GOPÕs county mayor nominee in the August 1st election, George Flinn.

The first email, written shortly before the election to the 11 YR board members, seemed to stress RoutÕs commitment to elect Ò95 percentÓ of the GOP ticket and contained his promise to solicit the appearance at the next YR meeting of the presumed (and, as it turned out, actual) winner of the mayoral race, Democrat A C Wharton.

Although Rick Rout has since attempted to explain that email as a ÒjokeÓ based on a poll showing Wharton to have a commanding lead, his remarks at the time, both to the Flyer in an interview and to the YR board member suspected of leaking his first email, emphasized his belief that Flinn, a radiologist/businessman and political novice, was ÒunfitÓ to serve as mayor, at least partly because of alleged insults during the campaign to RoutÕs father, the then mayor. (Some observers Ðnotably including Flinn, who tried in vain to cozy up to the senior Rout, the titular head of Shelby County Republicans Ð see the insults as more apparent than real, to say the least.)

Clearly, a majority of the steering committee members disbelieved young RoutÕs explanation for his statements and declined to accept his somewhat hedged apology for the errant emails. As the discussion on motion to seek his resignation ensued, a game Rick Rout, standing in the back of the meeting area at the GOPÕs Victory 2002 headquarters pointedly looked at his watch and said, ÒIÕm missing Big Brother.Ó That, of course, was the ÒrealityÓ TV show on which a contestant is voted out of a group house each week, and, no, Rout wasnÕt missing it, he was just living another version of it.

.The bringer of the motion at Thursday nightÕs steering committee meeting was newly installed county commissioner John Willingham, one of several hard-core conservative populists to have achieved party prominence in the last year or two.

The intra-party revolt symbolized by WillinghamÕs advent is in part a reaction to what the conservatives believe is the Rout administrationÕs lack of party purity and willingness to back public spending projects Ð notably the new NBA arena Ð without properly sounding public opinion.

Ironically enough, another young Republican and steering committee member, businessman Kemp Conrad, who was considered by the conservative insurgents to be a kindred spirit on the Rick Rout issue and, indeed, has been one of young RoutÕs rivals for the coming party chairmanship election, has fallen under suspicion himself among the more purist of Republicans.

ConradÕs sin? Snaring Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton as a collaborator of sorts in the Senate campaign of Republican Lamar Alexander. To the private consternation of Democrats, who are heroically attempting to look the other way, the mayor will share the dais with the former governor Monday night at an official campaign youth event arranged by Conrad.

That Herenton is an African American may or may not be germane to the critics; that he is a Democrat is a red flag to them.

Luckily for Conrad Ð and perhaps for his party Ð most Republicans understand that his outreach efforts tend in the direction of party-building, not of disloyalty.

Perhaps the Routs, father and son, should be similarly pardoned, but right now the family sun seems to be setting, as far as many of the faithful are concerned, in the same direction as that of lame-duck Governor Don Sundquist, another misunderstood (or misguided, as the more critical see it) deviant from the party line, and it is another part of the synchronicity Ð or coincidence Ð that Jack Morris, he of the auto glass company, was finance chairman of the mayoral effort of A C Wharton.

It is rumored in some circles that Jim Rout shot for higher than he got to begin the post-mayoral part of his life, and Rick RoutÕs chances of being elected party chairman, arguably possible six months ago, are remote now and wholly subordinate to the simple task of hanging on as a card-carrying Republican, amenable to the party rank and file.

The Routs of Shelby County are an attractive extended family with a great deal of grace and public spirit and an admirable sense of loyalty to each other. But their days of hegemony -- nay prominence, nay acceptance -- among Shelby County Republicans may have passed away cleanly with the calendar date of the last countywide election.

This may or may not be fair, but, as students of love and war -- and politics -- have long understood, fairness may not be the point of it all.

In any case, Jim Rout seems at peace with himself and with what he is doing, and the same can be said of son Rick, who, for the record, had this to say of the GOP steering committee's request that he resign: "Thanks, but no thanks." (Wonder if that works on Big Brother?)

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