U.S. Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, a close ally of President Bush, said Thursday he will probably seek to supplant Trent Lott as Senate Republican leader if he determines that most of his colleagues will support him. In a statement, Frist said several senators had approached him Thursday and asked him to seek the job. He said he agreed to let them gauge support from all 51 GOP senators who will serve in the new Congress that convenes next month. "I indicated to them that if it is clear that a majority of the Republican caucus believes a change in leadership would benefit the institution of the United States Senate, I will likely step forward for that role," said Frist, who is riding high in his colleaguesÕ estimation after overseeing the GOPÕs recapture of the Senate as head of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2002 Frist has been frequently rumored as a likely successor to Vice President Dick Cheney if Cheney for any reason did not serve further. The Tennessee senator is also known to be interested in a presidential race of his own in 2008. Lott, 61, has said he believes he has enough support from his colleagues to retain his job and has vowed to fight for it. The Mississippian has been under fire since Dec. 5, when he expressed regret that segregationist presidential candidate Strom Thurmond was defeated in 1948. Lott has delivered a series of apologies for his comments. Frist, 50 and in his second Senate term, had spent the last several days making noncommittal statements about Lott. But he had been identified as one who was unusually critical of Lott during a conference call of Republican senators focusing on the Lott crisis late last week. Earlier Thursday, GOP aides speaking on condition of anonymity said Frist was sounding out senators by telephone and was considering making the race. GOP senators plan to meet Jan. 6 to decide who will lead them in the new Congress, which convenes the next day. "Bill didn't tell me he was in this thing yet," said one senator who recently has spoken to Frist. "He's explaining what's out there, and I'm glad he is. We need to have an internal discussion among our colleagues about our options," the senator said, speaking on condition of anonymity. One aide had said that Frist would consider running for the leadership post if colleagues asked him to do so "for the sake of the Senate as an institution or the long-term agenda of the Republican Party." In a sign that Frist might be building momentum, a Republican aide close to No. 2 Senate Republican Don Nickles of Oklahoma said Nickles, previously reported as interested in succeeding Lott, would likely support a race by Frist. It was Nickles who last weekend became the first Senate Republican to call for a new leadership by GOD senators. Since then, the Republican Senate caucus has arranged to meet on the leadership issue in Washington on January 6th.
Despite gathering disaffection on the part of both political opponents and erstwhile political supporters, U.S. Senate Majority Leader-designate Trent Lott of Mississippi held a press conference on home-state turf Friday on which he apologized for controversial remarks for the third time in a week but vowed not to call it quits as his party's leader in the Senate.
Shelby Countyâs two African-American mayors split the difference on how Lott should respond to the growing flap over his remarks extolling Strom Thurmondâs 1948 âDixiecratâ presidential campaign.
âHeâs a disgrace to the Senate, and he should resign from his leadership role,â insisted Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton at his annual Christmas party at The Peabody Thursday night.
Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton had a different take. âIt would be misleading for Lott to resign. It would be a way of pretending that racism had been purged from the nationâs political affairs. It would be symbolic in a wrong sense,â said Wharton, who argued that it would be better for Lott to remain in power and publicly redeem himself through his actions..
And Memphis lawyer John Ryder, a GOP national committeeman, called upon Lott to resign. "He'll have to go," Ryder said. No matter how fine a man or dedicated Republican he may have been, he cannot represent our party in a leadership role. The kind of thing he said and will continue to represent to people is a taint upon the Republican Party and its legitimate objectives."
Lottâs positon has grown increasingly precarious since his off-the-cuff remarks at retiring South Carolina Senator Thurmondâs 100th birthday celebration in Washington earlier this week. The Mississippi senator suggested that if Thurmond had been elected in 1948, when the South Carolinian ran for president on an unabashedly segregationist platform, âwe wouldnât have all these problems today.â The storm over those remarks has built steadily since, with President Bush himself calling them âoffensiveâ and increasing numbers of senators and congressman from both parties calling on Lott to step down as GOP leader.
And a more local controversy involving racial sensibilities continued to simmer, as Shelby County Commission chairman Walter Bailey suggested that the grave of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Thomas should be transplanted, with Forrest Park, where the generalâs remains currently lie underneath a statue commemorating him, undergoing a conversion to other uses, sans any reference to Forrest or the Confederate cause.
âHis remains were in Elmwood Cemetery before they were moved to their current location, and they should go right back to where they first lay in peace,â Bailey said. The commission chairman dismissed Forrestâs recognized military brilliance as a reason for a continued public commemoration of him. âYou can go to Berlin, and you wonât see any memorials to Rommel or to Hitler,â he said.
In a reference to yet another brewing controversy -- one without racial significance, however Ã Memphis schools superintendent Johnnie B. Watson reported getting âoverwhelming favorable reactionâ to his highly publicized letter this week complaining of âharassmentâ from school board member Sara Lewis.
Hes a disgrace to the Senate, and he should resign from his leadership role, insisted Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton at his annual Christmas party at The Peabody Thursday night.
Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton had a different take. It would be misleading for Lott to resign. It would be a way of pretending that racism had been purged from the nations political affairs. It would be symbolic in a wrong sense, said Wharton, who argued that it would be better for Lott to remain in power and publicly redeem himself through his actions.
Lotts positon has grown increasingly precarious since his off-the-cuff remarks at retiring South Carolina Senator Thurmonds 100th birthday celebration in Washington earlier this week. The Mississippi senator suggested that if Thurmond had been elected in 1948, when the South Carolinian ran for president on an unabashedly segregationist platform, we wouldnt have all these problems today. The storm over those remarks has built steadily since, with President Bush himself calling them offensive and increasing numbers of senators and congressman from both parties calling on Lott to step down as GOP leader.
And a more local controversy involving racial sensibilities continued to simmer, as Shelby County Commission chairman Walter Bailey suggested that the grave of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Thomas should be transplanted, with Forrest Park, where the generals remains currently lie underneath a statue commemorating him, undergoing a conversion to other uses, sans any reference to Forrest or the Confederate cause.
His remains were in Elmwood Cemetery before they were moved to their current location, and they should go right back to where they first lay in peace, Bailey said. The commission chairman dismissed Forrests recognized military brilliance as a reason for a continued public commemoration of him. You can go to Berlin, and you wont see any memorials to Rommel or to Hitler, he said.
In a reference to yet another brewing controversy -- one without racial significance, however Ð Memphis schools superintendent reported getting overwhelming favorable reaction to his highly publicized letter this week complaining of being harassment from school board member Sara Lewis.
|Thomas "Hitman" Hearns|
NASHVILLE -- Lt. Gov. John Wilder, who usually refers to himself in the third person, says he is in touch with the cosmos and all is well.
State House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, whether he admits it or not, must borrow a page from Wilderâs book -- except for the cosmos chapter -- if he plans to keep his job and control the lower chamber of Tennesseeâs General Assembly.
Wilder, the longest serving head of a legislative body in the United States, has maintained his control of the Senate since 1987 through a coalition of Democrats and like-minded Republicans.
Naifeh, a Covington Democrat, presides over the 99-member House of Representatives largely by controlling his 53 fellow Democrats
For the 103rd General Assembly that convenes Jan. 14, Naifeh is going to need more than Democrats to prop him up. Heâs going to need Republicans, plenty of them.
Some House Democrats are grumbling loudly that Naifeh cedes too much control to certain colleagues whom critics call the âWest Tennessee Mafia.â Indeed, the No. 2 House leader, Speaker Pro Tem Lois DeBerry, is from Memphis. The Democratic Caucus chairman is Randy Rinks of Savannah. Former Finance Committee chairman Matt Kisber, who did not seek re-election, is from Jackson.
Between them, they have controlled the House. That will change somewhat in the coming legislative session.
This time around, there is talk of dissident Democrats joining with Republicans, who have 45 members in the House, to form a coalition that would oust Naifeh.
Naifeh is working to head that off.
His best bet is handing out a few committee offices, maybe a chairmanship or two, to Republicans, giving them a seat at the table they had previously been denied.
Wilder has less of a grip on the Senate, but then itâs not his nature to rule with an iron fist.
In Wilderese, âthe Senate is the Senate.â That means each of the 33 senators has a voice that can be heard long before legislation reaches the Senate floor, where its fate has already been decided.
One complaint about the House is that power is wielded by only a few. The House Finance Committee has 30 members, and nine of those serve on the budget subcommittee, the dreaded âblack holeâ where legislation can live, die or languish until it is blessed by Democratic leadership.
Legislation with a yearly cost of $100,000 or more -- that applies to most major bills -- automatically is assigned to the Democratic-dominated Finance Committee. Most of those bills, in turn, wind up in the âblack hole.â
The âblack holeâ is supposed to determine the budgetary impact of legislation, but some lawmakers say the subcommittee has actually changed the intent of legislation.
Veteran Rep. Frank Buck of Dowelltown, made that complaint in an emotional speech to fellow House Democrats during their caucus meeting two weeks ago. Buck, a small-town lawyer who speaks his mind, received nothing but silence after his speech.
Buck also warned about the need for bipartisanship, noting that House Republicans gained three House seats this year and Democrats must recognize the GOPâs growing influence.
Later, Naifeh said Buckâs comments were inappropriate, especially given that the gathering was the first for freshmen legislators.
Whether he likes it or not, the time has come for Naifeh to reach out to Republicans. He should appoint Republicans to committee offices and give them more of a voice in the General Assembly.
That approach has worked well for Wilder, who can count on Republicans when he needs them.
It can work well for Naifeh, too.
All he has to do is give it a try.
"Silly" is how outgoing Governor Don Sundquist this week characterized the negative use of his name and image by the competing candidates in the gubernatorial election which was concluded last month, with Democrat Phil Bredesen defeating Republican Van Hilleary.
In one of his TV commercials, Bredesen featured a still photo of Sundquist with his erstwhile U.S. House colleague Hilleary, suggesting in the voice-over that voters shouldn't once more elect an untested congressman as governor. One of Hilleary's commercials coined the term "Bredesundquist" to imply that both the current governor and the former Nashville mayor (who struggled hard to deny such a suggestion) were income tax partisans.
"That's the single most obvious thing that contributed to his defeat," the governor said about the Hilleary commercial in particular and the Republican candidate's efforts to distance himself from Sundquist in general.
The governor levied his judgment about the tone of the campaign on Tuesday, after he had addressed the members of the Memphis Rotary Club at The Peabody. The speech, which was something of a valedictory for the outgoing governor, saw Sundquist back up not an inch from his controversial -- and ultimately unsuccessful -- espousal of a state income tax.
Acknowledging that the controversy over his "flat tax" proposal had tended to obscure the rest of his gubernatorial tenure, Sundquist told the Rotarians that he had "no regrets." Afterward he predicted that the one-cent sales-tax increase enacted in the 2002 General Assembly "might not last even a year" as a stopgap against Tennessee's fiscal needs.
In any case, he said, Gov.-elect Bredesen will almost certainly have to reevaluate tax policy before the end of his first four-year term.
Tre Hargett of Bartlett, the newly elected leader of the Republicans in the state House of Representatives, eschewed crowing in favor of humility Monday night as he reflected on his victory over former minority leader Steve McDaniel of Parker's Crossroads and another challenger, Bobby Wood of Harrison. "When you run against a friend, whether you win or lose, it's never easy," Hargett said, and he was hesitant about an observation from a fellow Shelby Countian, GOP national committeeman John Ryder, who compared Hargett's victory to the ascension of Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the U.S. House after the 1994 election.
"To tell you the truth, I don't like the analogy. I was never a Newt Gingrich kind of Republican. I consider myself more of a centrist, and I'm not about divisiveness," said the plainspoken Hargett, who loosened up and gratefully accepted the compliment when assured that Ryder was not commenting on what he perceived as similar political philosophies but on the likelihood that Hargett, like Gingrich, would refuse to accept the long-term inevitability of minority-party status for Republicans.
"It's an honor that the public granted us its trust by awarding us three more seats," said the man who succeeds McDaniel as the guide for a body of Republicans enlarged to 45 by last month's election.
Hargett, who won a second-ballot runoff against McDaniel, acknowledged that shifts brought about by the election may have aided his victory but deemphasized his differences with the former leader over a state income tax, which McDaniel supported and Hargett (like Wood) rejected.
"I think we'll have to concentrate in this next session on issues and not personalities," said Hargett, who named "the continuing fiscal strain" and implementation of a state lottery as two matters the legislature will need to address.
Also elected to significant positions in the Republican House leadership were two other Memphians -- Paul Stanley of Germantown, who became the treasurer of the GOP caucus, and Curry Todd of Collierville, who was named to the key Fiscal Review committee to replace Memphian Joe Kent.
However much Hargett chose to underplay the symbolic aspects of the caucus vote, it was clear that something of a sea change had occurred. The new leadership is conspicuously to the right of the old one. McDaniel was not only a supporter of Sundquist's flat tax, he was known as a moderate in general. As Ryder put it, "Steve seemed comfortable with the role of minority leader. It wasn't so much a matter of policy or even personal style. He just seemed content with his place in a known scheme of things."
By contrast, Hargett was a volunteer member of a House group that was formed two years ago in response to an exasperated House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh's insistence that members uncomfortable with the flat income tax he and Governor Sundquist supported come up with something else or outline the drastic cuts that would be called for if no solution were in view.
Hargett did not blink at the demand; he proposed a series of far-ranging cuts -- few of which would be reflected in subsequent legislation, however. Still, he had made his mark as a budget hard-liner in a time of legislative conflict that would end up favoring the anti-income-tax hard-liners.
Although the two books on the family recently published under the names of former Vice President Al Gore and his wife Tipper Gore have had disappointing sales nationwide, a decent-sized crowd turned out Saturday at Davis-Kidd Booksellers for the right to have their copies of the books signed.
In a conversation after the signing, Gore conceded that he had been too "scripted" in his 2002 presidential campaign and appeared to bask in a suggestion that his recent remarks on national policy seemed to have his "heart and mind in sync."