As if being listed (Politics, April 1st issue) as a signer with prominent neocons on a 2001 letter calling for pre-emptive action against Saddam Hussein weren't controversial enough, 9th District U.S. Rep. Harold Ford of Memphis has been identified in the conservative Washington Times -- owned by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church -- and in other media outlets as the recipient of a "Crown of Peace" award at a Moonie-sponsored event in Washington.
At the same event, held in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, the Rev. Moon proclaimed himself a messiah and spoke of his role in the posthumous reformation of Hitler and Stalin. (No, we're not making this up!) Only problem: Ford -- one of eight congressmen supposedly honored at the event as an "Ambassador of Peace" -- said categorically he wasn't there, never heard of it, never got any such award, and has never met the Reverend Moon.
Unfortunately, said Ford, public officials' names often get used without their permission.
Not every moment in the Tennessee General Assembly is devoted to matters of high dudgeon. Every now and then lawmakers have been known to indulge in pranks -- especially as a session heads to a close (as the 2004 version of the legislature is scheduled to next week). A case in point was an official-looking "news release" issued Thursday on the floor of the state House of Representatives by Republican members of the Shelby County delegation, anxious to rib their GOP colleague, Curry Todd of Collierville.
Todd has acquired a primary opponent this year, one Dan Dickerson, about whom little is known but whose principal campaign plank so far has been a pledge -- in the manner of Governor Phil Bredesen, a wealthy former health-care entrepreneur -- to renounce his annual salary if elected.
That circumstance provided an irresisitble opening to Todd's Shelby County partymates, who put out the spoof release, one which seemed to identify them with the same kind of pledge. Under the heading "House of Representatives, State of Tennessee," it read:
Shelby County Lawmakers Announce Pledge to Return Legislative Salaries
For Immediate Release: May 10, 2004
Nashville -- Following the lead of Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen, a group of Republican legislators announced today if reelected they would refuse their legislative salary during the 104th General Assembly. After being sworn in for his first term, Governor Bredesen immediately announced he would forgo his state salary of $85,000.
Senate and House members are paid $16,500 annually for their service. Most Shelby County legislators surveyed said that although they appreciated what they received in compensation, they too agreed it would benefit the state if those precious dollars were returned to state coffers. "Serving the public is a unique honor," said retiring Representative Joe Kent of Memphis. "I've been in the legislature for 26 years. My only regret is not returning my legislative salary several years ago." Rep. Bubba Pleasant of Arlington stated he just wanted to serve the working people of his district. In lieu of accepting his salary, Rep. Pleasant plans to donate the money to Bellevue Baptist Church and St. Jude in Memphis. Rep. Tre Hargett, Rep. Paul Stanley, Sen. Curtis Person, and Sen. Mark Norris are among the group signing this new pledge. Rep. Curry Todd was unavailable for comment and refused to participate in this pledge of fiscal restraint.
Todd's response to all this? "Listen, my constituents are getting their money's worth." And he waxed philosophical: "You get what you pay for."
Yes, he was smiling. So were the pranksters. Kent, who is retiring, noted, "It would be hard for me to return my salary next year, since I won't be getting any!"
And, no, the others -- who presumably will be returning -- aren't giving their salaries back either. Er, just kidding, folks. n