Friday, August 6, 2004

Heady Matters

Concerning a veep prospect, a governor, a congressman, and a mayor.

Posted By on Fri, Aug 6, 2004 at 4:00 AM

Newly nominated Democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards was scheduled for a Beale Street stop on Wednesday afternoon of this week, as down payment on the special attention promised Tennessee Democrats at last week's party convention in Boston.

n Governor Phil Bredesen got an unexpected compliment last week in Boston. Introducing Bredesen to a delegation luncheon sponsored by Corrections Corporation of America, CCA president John Ferguson introduced the governor thusly: "Tennessee was fortunate to have the right person elected at the right time."

Reminding delegates that he, as former Gov. Don Sundquist's finance director, had been immersed in Sundquist's ultimately futile efforts on behalf of a state income tax, Ferguson added, "He [Bredesen] put the income tax on the shelf, and that was the right thing to do."

In response, the governor, not especially known for waxing witty, made an effort to do so. He advised Ferguson, a Republican, to come board the Democratic bandwagon. "You're still a young man, and there's time to find religion," he said, to appreciative laughter.

Feeling evidently that he was on a roll, Bredesen sallied forth somewhat later with this observation about U.S. representative Lincoln Davis, the one Democratic congressman in the state who has substantial Republican opposition this year and is campaigning hard as a result.

Said Bredesen of Davis' efforts: "Lincoln is getting really good in the congressional campaign. He grips you with one hand, then he grips you with the other, and he may actually put his leg around you before it's over."

Really. He said that.

n The governor's appearance on Sunday at two Memphis churches along with state senator Roscoe Dixon, candidate in this week's election for the office of General Sessions clerk, was a grateful payback for Dixon's crucial support in late April for the governor's controversial workers'-compensation reform package, one that incurred opposition from organized labor and trial lawyers, as well as several key legislators responsive to both groups.

Dixon, who has good support in such quarters, was the deciding vote in clearing Bredesen's package through the last Senate oversight committee that could have been an obstacle to it.

n Does the explosion on the political scene of Barack Obama, the Illinois U.S. Senate candidate who gave the Democrats' keynote address in Boston, have an impact on the future of 9th District U.S. representative Harold Ford Jr.? It is a question that cropped up in the Tennessee delegation in Boston and one that will necessarily be the subtext of all future conversations about the state's once and future political prodigy.

Looking at the clean-cut young Illinois Senate candidate up on the dais Tuesday night as keynoter, watching his vibes catch on in the FleetCenter, seeing an image that was unmistakably both ethnic and middle-American (father: Kenyan; mother: white Kansan), listening to a rhetoric that hit the political middle but was edgy enough to be forward-looking, one had to wonder: If he succeeds, does that create room for another like him (i.e., Tennessee senator Harold Ford Jr., circa 2006), or does it fill a key role and round out the Democrats' cast of characters for the next several versions of the drama?

Don't imagine that question wasn't on the minds of people both in the Tennessee delegation and elsewhere.

For the record, here was the response of David Marannis, the peerless Washington Post political writer and author of definitive biographies of Al Gore, Bill Clinton, and Vince Lombardi. Said Marannis: "He [Obama] won't displace Harold Ford Jr. as a future political star. He may have set a standard [in Tuesday night's keynote address] that could diminish, say, Jesse Jackson Jr. as someone to look to in future years, but Ford is similar enough in his appeal that Obama may have simply enlarged the appetite for such figures."

For the record too, Ford didn't go unnoticed in Boston. His name and image got prominent treatment in such media venues as NBC, USA Today, The New York Times, and The Washington Post -- the last of which singled out the Memphis congressman for post-convention mention as a future presidential prospect.

Incidentally, The Commercial Appeal's Bart Sullivan attributes to me a bon mot about some hypothetical future presidential year -- "Obama and Harold Ford will not run together" -- that I remember Bart saying. Ah, such are the pitfalls when journalists quote each other! (It's a good line, anyway. And certainly true.)

n Joyce Kelly, the Memphis schoolteacher who was billed as Mayor Willie Herenton's fiancée during his 1991 campaign and for years afterward, is no longer such. That fact surfaced in connection with a suit filed in General Sessions Court this month on behalf of Banneker Estates, the posh South Memphis subdivision of which Herenton is both co-founder and its most famous resident.

Though Kelly's current address, as given in the suit, is in nearby Whitehaven, the Banneker Estates Homeowners Association is seeking to recover some $1,880 in membership fees for the years 2000-2003, plus court costs. Mayoral spokesperson Gale Jones Carson points out that Mayor Herenton is not a member of the association's board. Herenton, incidentally, did not attend the Democratic convention, though his Shelby County mayoral counterpart, A C Wharton, did.

Correction: It was incorrectly written here last week that the crowded Republican primary for District 83 state representative could result in a runoff. Actually, state law does not allow for legislative runoffs. It's winner-take-all.

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