Thursday, September 30, 2004

GAY ACTIVIST BEGINS WRITE-IN EFFORT AGAINST FORD

GAY ACTIVIST BEGINS WRITE-IN EFFORT AGAINST FORD

Posted By on Thu, Sep 30, 2004 at 4:00 AM

Angered at what he regarded as U.S. Rep. Harold’s turnabout on the issue of a Federal Marriage Amendment, Memphis gay activist Jim Maynard announced Thursday that he intended to run as a write-in candidate against the 9th District congressman. The reasons? Maynard said Ford had “abandoned his prior commitment” to oppose the FMA, “which will write anti-gay discrimination into the U.S. Constitution.”September 30, 2004. His decision was reached, Maynard said, after he received a form-letter response over Ford’s signature to a query about the congressman’s position. Ford’s reply read as follows: “Thank you for your email. As you may know, I have always supported the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. That is why I supported the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, a federal law that contains this traditional definition of marriage and grants each state the right to not recognize gay marriages created in another state. “This law has been upheld as constitutional by a federal court. While I question whether an amendment to our sacred Constitution is needed at this time, I will carry out the wishes of citizens such as yourself who favor a constitutional amendment. I agree with you that the institution of marriage is the foundation of our society and one that we must continue to protect. As always, I appreciate hearing your views on this critical issue.” Maynard, an opponent of the proposed amendment, read this reply as a reversal of the congressman’s prior position. (Ford could not be reached for comment Thursday.) In a later communication, Maynard confessed he had “not looked into the legalities” of mounting a legal write-in campaign at this late date and expected to be sounding out election officials on that score. Maynard appealed in his announcement for the write-in votes of “those who oppose discrimination against any group, including gays and lesbians, support cutting military spending, universal health insurance for all, and the separation of church and state.”

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

POLITICS

Herenton acknowledges he has doubts about further service as mayor.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 29, 2004 at 4:00 AM

NOT QUITE A GO Yes, Willie Herenton had a fundraiser Saturday night, at $250 a head, but its purpose Ð though earmarked on the invitation as being for the honoreeÕs ÒreelectionÓ -- remains obscure, as does the political future of MemphisÕ erstwhile Òmayor for life.Ó The bottom line: He is uncertain whether he wants to continue in office. A year ago, Herenton was in the process of walking through a smashing election victory, his fourth since 1991, and there were no conceivable rivals in sight. Things have changed though, as the mayor acknowledged during his evening-long, drop-in event at Beale StreetÕs Plush Club, one that wrapped around the Johnson-Jones light heavyweight title fight at the FedEx Forum. ÒThere are a lot of names you hear,Ó said the mayor about potential aspirants for his job, Òand some of them are frightening to even think about. I mean that as a citizen. People should be frightened to think about some of these folks trying to take over.Ó But, though Herenton said he was getting active encouragement to run again in 2007, Òfrom the business community, in particular,Ó his message Saturday night Ð an unusual one for this preternaturally assertive ex-Golden Glove champion, an Alpha Male is there ever was one Ð was that he was doubtful about his future political course. ÒThere have been so many ups and downs this past year,Ó confessed a mayor who has conducted a running battle with members of his city council and of late has had to endure the specter of an FBI investigation and a whispering campaign about possible improprieties on his part or on that of his administration. ÒNone of that is what it seems to be. IÕm okay,Ó insisted Herenton. But the troubled look n his face as he dealt with the matter clearly attested to a measure of strain and anxiety. ÒYouÕre probably right,Ó the mayor said when it was suggested that he appeared dubious about seeking reelection and that such a course was chancy, repeating, ÒYouÕre probably right.Ó But he noted that, in addition to Saturday nightÕs event, he would be holding a Òmajor fundraiserÓ sometime in 1995. Asked about persistent rumors that he intends to resign shortly after the New Year, the mayor hazarded a thin smile and shook his head slowly in apparent dismissal, but his murmured denial sounded anything but firm. Instead, he looked beyond the current time frame. ÒPeople wonder what my legacy will be,Ó said the man who has never been bashful about asserting either his agenda or what he regards as his accomplishments. ÒI donÕt know. ThatÕs something that people who write the histories will have to judge.Ó That Herenton is thinking out loud about his legacy rather than about his next move in the chess game of politics is itself something of a revelation. Hours later, at the Forum, the cityÕs chief executive was at ringside when longtime boxing icon Roy Jones suffered a surprising knockout loss to International Boxing Federation light heavyweight champion Glen Johnson. ÒWhen I was with Roy last night, I could tell his heart wasnÕt in boxing,Ó the mayor said sadly. One was tempted to conclude the same thing about Herenton and politics. Command Performance: Remember when MemphisÕ Anthony ÒAmpÓElmore used to be simultaneously the holder of a championship kick-boxing belt and the promoter of various championship fights in which he would take on an opponent? You had to wonder how on-the-level such a thing could be. Similar thoughts crossed the minds of some of those invited for an Open House to the home of Shelby County Commissioner John Willingham and his wife Marge on Fairchild Cove in East Memphis Sunday night. It was billed by Commissioner Willingham as a reception for the several candidates seeking to succeed the recently vacated District #1 commission seat of Linda Rendtorff, now director of community services for county mayor A C Wharton. Since one of the aspirants for that seat is teacher Karla Templeton, daughter of Commissioner Willingham, some of the skeptics might have been forgiven for their doubts. As it turned out, however, most of the serious contenders for the vacancy were on hand, as were a fair number of WillinghamÕs commission colleagues, media people, and others. In fact, it was right smart of a party Ð with a wet bar and food furnished by Bar-b-q maven Willingham himself Ð and all of the politicking seemed to be congenial and on the up-and-up. Best yet, nobody made speeches. Among the candidates for RendtorffÕs vacancy who showed up, besides Templeton: Billy Orgel, Wyatt Bunker, Mike Carpenter, Mike Ritz, George Flinn, Jay Sparks, Mark White, Lester Lit, and Phil Kantor. The same cast of characters, plus others (one new entrant is Jeff Hynes, son of Dr. Leonard Hynes and county Election Commissioner Nancy Hynes) were invited to a specially called commission meeting Wednesday, at which all the hopefuls were extended the opportunity to state their credentials and purposes for the record. District 1 Candidates Face Off: Some, perhaps most, of the races this fall for Memphis school board positions will be dry, civil affairs conducted in dry, civil ways. The race for District 1, at large, isnÕt like that at all. Sparks Ð or, more aptly Ð mortar rounds flew Monday night at Central Library on Poplar during a League of Women Voters forum for the six District 1 contestants. Most of the action came in a three-way battle royal involving incumbent Wanda Halbert and her chief challengers, Robert Spence and Kenneth Whalum Jr. Though each of the three other contestants Ð Mary Taylor Shelby, Menelik C. Fombi, and Chuck Thompson Ð had their moments, they were largely in the position of onlookers as the fireworks flew. Former city attorney Spence, who has a current radio commercial attacking Halbert head-on for excessive travel expenses and other alleged offenses Ð took shots from the incumbent for the fact that his two school-age sons do not attend public school. ÒI am not the custodial parent,Ó was the response he gave Monday night. He defended his commercial Ð which included a dig at Halbert for purportedly disdaining a bologna-sandwich lunch once proffered to school board members Ð as being based on Òfacts.Ó Halbert also took aim at opponent Whalum, making a reference to Òsexual innuendoesÓ that would mystify some until after the forum, when sometime radio shock-jock Thaddeus Matthews made the rounds, passing out CD copies of an on-air interview heÕd done with Whalum, one in which Whalum, pastor of Olivet Baptist Church, appeared to acknowledge occasional use of profanity and other unconventional pulpit techniques. Whalum -- whose claque was somewhat more demonstrative than those of Halbert and Spence, clapping loudly whenever he spoke Ð repeated several times that he decided to make the school board race after seeing TV news broadcasts in which ÒI saw members of the school board publicly berating staff members at MCS [Memphis city schools].Ó Among candidatesÕ specific proposals: Halbert suggested more computer programs and extension of the systemÕs optional school program to every school in the district; Whalum suggested arrangements with the business community whereby parents could have paid leaves to address their childrenÕs school issues. He and Thompson both called for closing under-utilized schools, while Spence argued for a go-slow policy in school closing, in recognition that some such schools were Òintegral to the community.Ó Shelby called for ÒundercoverÓ police activity at schools to police gang activity. Among the other issues addressed were those of extra-curricular activity (everybody was for it), corporal punishment (opinions varied, with Shelby and Whalum strongly for, Fombi against, and the others qualifying their support); and construction contracting (proposals ranged from WhalumÕs call for stronger enforcement of existing standards to FombiÕs suggestion that projects be scaled down to ShelbyÕs advocacy of a crackdown on Ònepotism, favoritism, and cronyism.Ó Some proposals Ð such as ThompsonÕs suggestion for drastic revision of course offerings Ð seemed beyond the scope of Board members, a point Halbert noted when she said the Board was limited in its charge to general policies, budgetary oversight, and supervision of its Òone employee,Ó the superintendent. Left unaddressed at the forum were the question of consolidation and the issue of the federally mandated No Child Left Behind program. After the forum, one or two advocates for Halbert pointed out with evident satisfaction that candidates Spence and Whalum were likely to split up the anti-incumbent vote. Whalum, addressing that point independently, volunteered that heÕd been approached by one of SpenceÕs backers seeking his withdrawal. ÒI told him to tell Robert he could withdraw,Ó said Whalum. That was then; this is now. Whoever is in is going to stay in on the ballot, and the candidates for this position will no doubt generate a good deal more of both heat and light between now and November 2nd.

Monday, September 27, 2004

POLITICS (WEEKEND EDITION)

POLITICS (WEEKEND EDITION)

Posted By on Mon, Sep 27, 2004 at 4:00 AM

WILLINGHAM FETE FOR COMMISSION ASPIRANTS Remember when Memphis’ Anthony “Amp” Elmore used to be simultaneously the holder of a championship kick-boxing belt and the promoter of various championship fights in which he would take on an opponent? You had to wonder how on-the-level such a thing could be. Similar thoughts crossed the minds of some of those invited for an Open House to the home of Shelby County Commissioner John Willingham and his wife Marge on Fairchild Cove in East Memphis Sunday night. It was billed by Commissioner Willingham as a reception for the several candidates seeking to succeed the recently vacated District #1 commission seat of Linda Rendtorff, now director of community services for county mayor A C Wharton. Since one of the aspirants for that seat is teacher Karla Templeton, daughter of Commissioner Willingham, some of the skeptics might have been forgiven for their doubts. As it turned out, however, most of the serious contenders for the vacancy were on hand, as were a fair number of Willingham’s commission colleagues, media people, and others. In fact, it was right smart of a party -- with a wet bar and food furnished by Bar-b-q maven Willingham himself -- and all of the politicking seemed to be congenial and on the up-and-up. Best yet, nobody made speeches. Among the candidates for Rendtorff’s vacancy who showed up, besides Templeton: Billy Orgel, Wyatt Bunker, Mike Carpenter, Mike Ritz, George Flinn, Jay Sparks, Mark White, Lester Lit, and Phil Kantor. The same cast of characters, plus others, will be on hand for a specially called commission meeting Wednesday, at which they will have the opportunity to state their credentials and purposes for the record.

FROM MY SEAT

FROM MY SEAT

Posted By on Mon, Sep 27, 2004 at 4:00 AM

THE CENTURY CLUB For the first time since 1985, the St. Louis Cardinals have achieved the magic number of 100 wins. In 113 years of Cardinal baseball, there have been more world champions in St. Louis (9) than there have been 100-win teams (7). Seems like a golden opportunity to compare the 2004 Cards with the last team to break the century mark. (The ‘85 Cardinals are listed first in each comparison.) CATCHER -- Darrell Porter vs. Mike Matheny. Porter offered some winning intangibles (he was MVP of the 1982 World Series), but I just can’t forgive him for that passed ball in Game 6 against the Royals. Matheny and his two gold gloves are priceless behind the plate these days. Credit him with much of the alarming success of the 2004 Cardinal starters. Edge: 2004. FIRST BASE -- Jack Clark vs. Albert Pujols. Clark was the spine of that fleet-footed bunch in ‘85, and his pennant-winning home run in Game 6 of the NLCS was one of the most electric moments in Cardinal history. But then there’s Prince Albert, the second-most dangerous hitter in the game today. Edge: 2004. SECOND BASE -- Tom Herr vs. Tony Womack. This is a tough call. Herr drove in 110 runs in 1985 (with only eight homers) and played a terrific second base. Womack has been a catalyst for the 2004 run-scoring machine, playing a game that belies his 34 years of age. I’m of the school of thought that the hitter who drives in runs is slightly more valuable than the table-setter. Edge: 1985. SHORTSTOP -- Ozzie Smith vs. Edgar Renteria. Renteria remains one of the two or three best all-around shortstops in the game. Rare is the shortstop who can save runs with his glove and drive in runs with his bat with equal precision. A pending free agent, Renteria will be Priority One for general manager Walt Jocketty this winter. But you just can’t give second fiddle to a first-ballot Hall of Famer. No Cardinal fan over the age of 30 will EVER forget Game 5 of the NLCS . . . “Go Crazy, Folks!” Edge: 1985. THIRD BASE -- Terry Pendleton vs. Scott Rolen. Pendleton hadn’t yet won his first gold glove, and he wasn’t the kind of hitter he was when he earned an MVP trophy with Atlanta in 1991. As for Rolen, he’s merely the best two-way player in baseball. A shame his leg injury has cost him an outside chance at this year’s MVP. Edge: 2004. LEFTFIELD -- Vince Coleman vs. Reggie Sanders. At the tender age of 37, Sanders became only the fifth Cardinal in history to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases in the same season. And his personality has been a dynamic boost to the St. Louis clubhouse, significantly thawing the cold pockets left by J.D. Drew and Tino Martinez. But Coleman put that ‘85 bunch into a new realm of “Whiteyball.” His 110 stolen bases were a rookie record and remain the third highest single-season total in the game’s history. We’ll try and forget the man-eating tarp. Edge: 1985. CENTERFIELD -- Willie McGee vs. Jim Edmonds. Hmmm. McGee won the batting title, a gold glove, and MVP honors in ‘85. Edmonds has hit more than 40 homers, scored 100 runs, and driven in more than 110 this year. He’s a lock for his seventh gold glove. Edge: even. RIGHTFIELD -- Andy Van Slyke vs. Larry Walker. In their respective primes, these two players were surprisingly comparable, both “five-tool” talents who were as well-liked for their personality as they were their skills on the field. Alas, Van Slyke never won an MVP or batting title. Edge: 2004. ROTATION -- Tudor/Andujar/Cox/Forsch vs. Morris/Williams/Carpenter/Marquis. Another tough comparison. John Tudor was lights-out in ‘85, with an ERA under 2.00, and Joaquin Andujar was a money pitcher, notwithstanding his meltdown in Game 7 of the Series that year. As for the ‘04 bunch, they’ve “over-achieved” and will be the Cardinals’ biggest question mark entering the postseason. Edge: 1985. BULLPEN -- Jeff Lahti/Todd Worrell vs. Jason Isringhausen. The ‘85 club was Whitey Herzog’s “bullpen by committee” prototype, with Worrell’s late-season promotion helping hold off a powerful Mets team in the regular season. Izzy’s on the verge of breaking Lee Smith’s season record for saves by a Cardinal (47). I like having a workhorse in the pen, THE guy when it comes to the final three outs. Edge: 2004. Let’s see. In our fantasy matchup, this year’s team takes the prize by the slightest of margins, 5 to 4 (with one even). Keep in mind, that 1985 team lost the World Series to Kansas City (and Don Denkinger). Over the last 25 years, only three teams with 100 wins have gone on to win the Series (‘84 Tigers, ‘86 Mets, and ‘98 Yankees). But enough cynicism. As the seventh team out of 113 to win 100 games (and with a shot at the franchise record of 106 wins), the 2004 St. Louis Cardinals have been a team for the ages.

Friday, September 24, 2004

LETTER TO THE COUNCIL

Text of Mayor Willie Herenton's Tuesday letter to city council members. Provocative? You judge.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 24, 2004 at 4:00 AM

September 21, 2004 Dear Councilman X: Similar to many of the nation's cities, Memphis must face some municipal financial challenges. We have successfully managed the fiscal affairs of this city for over a decade. Now is the time to be proactive and make some leadership decisions. If we do not provide alternative sources of revenue to support needed municipal services, our reliance on the property tax will continue. The consensus of the Council and Administration was no to a tax increase for FY 2005. During my political career, I have advocated the merger of city and county governments, including both school systems. Is this a popular strategy with every stakeholder? The answer is no. I have also advocated finding solutions to the ADA issues. Further, I have been a strong advocate for casino gaming in the city of Memphis, which is not acceptable in every segment of the community. I was grossly misunderstood when I suggested we consider examining the assets of Memphis Light, Gas and Water. I still believe that there are opportunities to realize revenues at Memphis Light, Gas and Water without selling the company. In my judgment, the Commercial Appeal editorial establishment and the political leaders in Memphis and Shelby County tend to avoid addressing the flaws in our present funding paradigms. It is easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, but far more difficult to support needed changes in our government structure. Neither government can continue reducing expenditures to the levels that some of the timid politicians are advocating without imposing serious disruptions to government services. 1 am prepared to make tough decisions, are you? I've recognized that some elected officials are consumed with other political agendas and aspirations. However, the public's interest should be paramount. Getting on television grandstanding and criticizing the administration will not address the challenges. It is easy to point fingers at the Administration, but what the public needs is leadership. If there are disagreements with my strategy, please know that I welcome your ideas. The Administration and the Council should work cohesively together to solve our immediate fiscal challenge and develop a sound plan for the future. The Administration is willing to provide quarterly budget updates to the council. We are receptive to responsible input and recommendations that lead to positive results. In closing, I would welcome the Council's consideration of the Administration's proposal to transfer either partial or total responsibility for funding the City School System to Shelby County. These actions could add annually 40 to 80 million dollars to City Government's budget and reserves. Ladies and gentlemen, it's time to make some tough decisions. Respectfully, Willie Herenton

Under Challenge

Legislative behemoths Naifeh and Wilder face determined opposition.

Posted on Fri, Sep 24, 2004 at 4:00 AM

Though a legislative race or two taking place in Shelby County could have important consequences on the balance of power in Nashville, two contests happening just on the fringes of the county are drawing most attention statewide.

Those are: the race for state House District 81, which pits House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh of Covington, a Democrat, against Dr. Jesse Cannon, his Republican opponent; and the race for state Senate District 26, in which Lt. Gov. John Wilder of Somerville, the Senate speaker, is under challenge from Ron Stallings, a CPA.

An upset of either Naifeh or Wilder would have important consequences for the future political direction of state government, not just because the legislative chain of command would be drastically altered but also because the small arithmetical lead which legislative Democrats now hold over Republicans -- 18-15 in the Senate; 54-45 in the House -- could be affected.

Though early estimates by observers in both major political parties suggested victories by the two incumbents, their challengers are running hard and may be gaining some steam.

At a reception for Naifeh and Wilder in Brownsville two weekends ago, impassioned appeals were made to voters by House Speaker Pro Tem Lois DeBerry and state representative Ulysses Jones, among others, not to forsake the two speakers.

"Why would you want to get rid of the power?" asked Jones bluntly.

DeBerry agreed and elaborated: "How in the world can we give up the most powerful men, who can do virtually anything for somebody who's going to be low on the totem pole? It's not about whether you like somebody or dislike somebody. It's what they can bring to make life better for the people in Haywood County and Tipton County. Some of these issues that folks raise are not going to put food on your table."

Those issues have ranged from what Cannon, at a forum in Brownsville later that day, called "the specter of the income tax" (though neither Naifeh nor Wilder is currently advocating one) to the age-old challenger's theme of it's-time-for-a-change.

Complicating the issue for Naifeh is the fact that he and challenger Cannon were once close. "I consider Jesse a friend of mine. Obviously, he didn't consider me one," said the House Speaker in Brownsville, pointing out that Cannon had cared for both his parents and that he had nominated the physician to two state boards.

State representative Johnny Shaw of Brownsville, like Cannon an African American, struck a similar note. "I give him [Cannon] credit for saving my life, [but] he needs to remain in the doctor's office," Shaw said. "He's not just running against Speaker Naifeh, he's running against all of us."

Both Naifeh and Wilder have far larger war chests, but their opponents have upped the ante of late, with Cannon having brought on new consultants and Stallings holding high-profile fund-raisers -- like the big-ticket one in Bolivar last week presided over by former Governor Winfield Dunn.

• Who will be appointed by the Shelby County Commission to succeed Linda Rendtorff, Mayor A C Wharton's new director of community services?

It depends on whom you talk to, but the consensus is that the race is wide open.

Tom Moss, the commission's newly elected vice chairman, said last week that he expects a protracted process as the body moves to name a successor to Rendtorff, whose resignation became effective last Wednesday at a specially called meeting.

That allowed the commission to advertise the vacancy formally, and the body voted last week to hold a special meeting on October 4th to name one of the dozen or so aspirants whose names have so far surfaced.

"I keep thinking that we may not have even seen all the names," cautioned Moss, who notes that both Rendtorff herself and the late Morris Fair were originally voted onto the commission as late-ballot choices to fill vacancies.

Like most other commissioners, Moss said he wasn't yet committed to a candidate, but he acknowledged leaning to developer Billy Orgel, who by consensus is one of the two leading candidates -- the other being former county school board member Wyatt Bunker. "I think we need someone, maybe a businessman, whose experience goes beyond partisan politics," Moss said. "And, since Linda was known as a moderate, I think we'll need to appoint a moderate to succeed her."

A somewhat different view was advanced by Commissioner John Willingham, whose daughter, teacher Karla Templeton, is a professed candidate for the position. In Willingham's view, Rendtorff's constituents would prefer the continuity that would result from the appointment of another woman.

"And I'll tell you one thing, whoever is appointed, if it isn't Karla, they should get ready for the race in 2006, because she'll definitely be a candidate then. And she's a bona fide Republican," said Willingham, who noted that Templeton had run a close race against Rendtorff in 2002.

Willingham is taking the unusual step of combining a forum for would-be candidates and fellow commissioners with an open house he's holding at his new East Memphis home on Sunday. "I've sent out invitations to everybody who's been mentioned, " said the commissioner. "It wouldn't be fair just to do something like that for Karla alone."

At the moment, Templeton is regarded as one of several potential fallback choices if neither Orgel nor Bunker amasses enough votes on an early ballot. Joining her in that category are Mike Carpenter, president of the West Tennessee chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors; retired banking executive Mike Ritz; and Dr. George Flinn, the radiologist/businessman who in recent years has made high-profile races for county mayor and the Memphis City Council.

Others whose names have been previously mentioned include lawyer and Democratic activist Jim Strickland, activist Mary Harvey Gurley, former county school board member Karen Hill, and Democratic activist Jay Sparks. Of late, two new names have surfaced -- those of former city school board member Barbara Prescott and Mike Tooley Jr., son of the late former commissioner whom Rendtorff was named to succeed 10 years ago.

Commission chairman Michael Hooks has said he will arrange commission interviews with aspirants for the Rendtorff seat on Wednesday, September 29.

• Meanwhile, Chairman Hooks has a decision to make regarding another pending vacancy -- that of state senator from District 33 to succeed Roscoe Dixon, another new Wharton appointee.

Dixon is slated to become an assistant administrative aide to the mayor in January, at which time he will resign his Senate seat. Hooks, who became chairman earlier this month, has indicated he is interested in succeeding Dixon and is reportedly mulling over the wisdom of asking his fellow commissioners to appoint him to the position in January.

In that instance, Hooks would be the odds-on favorite to be appointed by his colleagues. The downside for him would be that, as the new senator, he would be prevented by state law from doing any active fund-raising while the legislature was in session.

That would put him on even terms with three other potential candidates, Henri Brooks, Kathryn Bowers, and Joe Towns, all now House members. Governor Bredesen is expected to call for a special election to fill the seat within the first three months of next year, a time when the General Assembly will be meeting.

Alternatively, Hooks might seek to prevail on his colleagues to name an interim senator who would pledge not to run in the special election.

He would then run in the special election himself and, since he would be entitled to raise money, would possess an advantage over his potential rivals in the legislature.

Wrong Irony: Duh! While it is true that -- as was reported here last week -- it was somewhat "ironic" for Commissioner David Lillard to have nominated Moss as the commission's vice chairman last week, since Lillard's close friend Bruce Thompson had also harbored an ambition for the seat, that was the true reason why Lillard chose to use the adjective to describe his action.

What Lillard had in mind, of course, was that Moss had, back in December 2000, been the upset winner over him in a commission vote to fill a then pending vacancy. That vote involved a series of complicated trade-offs among commissioners, one of the most controversial of which was the naming of then Commissioner Shep Wilbun as juvenile court clerk. Lillard would go on to win his seat in the regularly called election of 2002.

At the time, all of that was chronicled at length and detail in this space. What is it they say? "Homer nods." •

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

PAM GAIA, LONGTIME LEGISLATOR

PAM GAIA, LONGTIME LEGISLATOR

Posted By on Tue, Sep 21, 2004 at 4:00 AM

PAM GAIA, LONGTIME LEGISLATOR Pam Gaia, a former state representative from District 89 (Midtown Memphis) and a pioneer in reform legislation, died Tuesday at the Memphis home of her brother Rick Gaia. In recent years, Gaia had experienced several bouts of ill health. At the time of her death she was suffering from a recurrence of cancer but had reportedly dined at Pete & Sam’s, a favorite restaurant, as recently as Monday night Gaia, who was known for her independence and for legislation enacting improved standards at nursing homes and for a bill to facilitate consumer access to generic drugs, served several terms in the legislature until she vacated her seat in 1990 to seek the Democratic nomination for the 9th District congressional seat then held by Harold Ford Sr. Switching parties in 1994, Gaia made an unsuccessful race as a Republican against Democratic incumbent Carol Chumney, winner of the 1990 election to succeed Gaia. State Senator Steve Cohen, who was serving in the legislature when Gaia did and worked with her on various legislation, called her a “fighter for the people.” After leaving electoral office, Gaia had held a number of positions in local county government. She maintained her interest in nursing home reform and was a frequent speaker and letter-writer on that subject. Canale Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

POLITICS

Legislative behemoths Naifeh and Wilder face determined opposition.

Posted By on Tue, Sep 21, 2004 at 4:00 AM

UNDER CHALLENGE Though a legislative race or two taking place in Shelby County could have important consequences on the balance of power in Nashville, two contests happening just on the fringes of the county are drawing most attention statewide. Those are: the race for state House District 81, which pits House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh of Covington, a Democrat, against Dr. Jesse Cannon, his Republican opponent; and the race for state Senate District 26, in which Lt. Gov. John Wilder of Somerville, the Senate speaker, is under challenge from Ron Stallings, a CPA. An upset of either Naifeh or Wilder would have important consequences for the future political direction of state government, not just because the legislative chain of command would be drastically altered but also because the small arithmetical lead which legislative Democrats now hold over Republicans -- 18-15 in the Senate; 54-45 in the House -- could be affected. Though early estimates by observers in both major political parties suggested victories by the two incumbents, their challengers are running hard and may be gaining some steam. At a reception for Naifeh and Wilder in Brownsville two weekends ago, impassioned appeals were made to voters by House Speaker Pro Tem Lois DeBerry and state representative Ulysses Jones, among others, not to forsake the two speakers. "Why would you want to get rid of the power?" asked Jones bluntly. DeBerry agreed and elaborated: "How in the world can we give up the most powerful men, who can do virtually anything for somebody who's going to be low on the totem pole? It's not about whether you like somebody or dislike somebody. It's what they can bring to make life better for the people in Haywood County and Tipton County. Some of these issues that folks raise are not going to put food on your table." Those issues have ranged from what Cannon, at a forum in Brownsville later that day, called "the specter of the income tax" (though neither Naifeh nor Wilder is currently advocating one) to the age-old challenger's theme of it's-time-for-a-change. Complicating the issue for Naifeh is the fact that he and challenger Cannon were once close. "I consider Jesse a friend of mine. Obviously, he didn't consider me one," said the House Speaker in Brownsville, pointing out that Cannon had cared for both his parents and that he had nominated the physician to two state boards. State representative Johnny Shaw of Brownsville, like Cannon an African American, struck a similar note. "I give him [Cannon] credit for saving my life, [but] he needs to remain in the doctor's office," Shaw said. "He's not just running against Speaker Naifeh, he's running against all of us." Both Naifeh and Wilder have far larger war chests, but their opponents have upped the ante of late, with Cannon having brought on new consultants and Stallings holding high-profile fund-raisers -- like the big-ticket one in Bolivar last week presided over by former Governor Winfield Dunn. Who will be appointed by the Shelby County Commission to succeed Linda Rendtorff, Mayor A C Wharton's new director of community services? It depends on whom you talk to, but the consensus is that the race is wide open. Tom Moss, the commission's newly elected vice chairman, said last week that he expects a protracted process as the body moves to name a successor to Rendtorff, whose resignation became effective last Wednesday at a specially called meeting. That allowed the commission to advertise the vacancy formally, and the body voted last week to hold a special meeting on October 4th to name one of the dozen or so aspirants whose names have so far surfaced. "I keep thinking that we may not have even seen all the names," cautioned Moss, who notes that both Rendtorff herself and the late Morris Fair were originally voted onto the commission as late-ballot choices to fill vacancies. Like most other commissioners, Moss said he wasn't yet committed to a candidate, but he acknowledged leaning to developer Billy Orgel, who by consensus is one of the two leading candidates -- the other being former county school board member Wyatt Bunker. "I think we need someone, maybe a businessman, whose experience goes beyond partisan politics," Moss said. "And, since Linda was known as a moderate, I think we'll need to appoint a moderate to succeed her." A somewhat different view was advanced by Commissioner John Willingham, whose daughter, teacher Karla Templeton, is a professed candidate for the position. In Willingham's view, Rendtorff's constituents would prefer the continuity that would result from the appointment of another woman. "And I'll tell you one thing, whoever is appointed, if it isn't Karla, they should get ready for the race in 2006, because she'll definitely be a candidate then. And she's a bona fide Republican," said Willingham, who noted that Templeton had run a close race against Rendtorff in 2002. Willingham is taking the unusual step of combining a forum for would-be candidates and fellow commissioners with an open house he's holding at his new East Memphis home on Sunday. "I've sent out invitations to everybody who's been mentioned, " said the commissioner. "It wouldn't be fair just to do something like that for Karla alone." At the moment, Templeton is regarded as one of several potential fallback choices if neither Orgel nor Bunker amasses enough votes on an early ballot. Joining her in that category are Mike Carpenter, president of the West Tennessee chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors; retired banking executive Mike Ritz; and Dr. George Flinn, the radiologist/businessman who in recent years has made high-profile races for county mayor and the Memphis City Council. Others whose names have been previously mentioned include lawyer and Democratic activist Jim Strickland, activist Mary Harvey Gurley, former county school board member Karen Hill, and Democratic activist Jay Sparks. Of late, two new names have surfaced -- those of former city school board member Barbara Prescott and Mike Tooley Jr., son of the late former commissioner whom Rendtorff was named to succeed 10 years ago. Commission chairman Michael Hooks has said he will arrange commission interviews with aspirants for the Rendtorff seat on Wednesday, September 29. Meanwhile, Chairman Hooks has a decision to make regarding another pending vacancy -- that of state senator from District 33 to succeed Roscoe Dixon, another new Wharton appointee. Dixon is slated to become an assistant administrative aide to the mayor in January, at which time he will resign his Senate seat. Hooks, who became chairman earlier this month, has indicated he is interested in succeeding Dixon and is reportedly mulling over the wisdom of asking his fellow commissioners to appoint him to the position in January. In that instance, Hooks would be the odds-on favorite to be appointed by his colleagues. The downside for him would be that, as the new senator, he would be prevented by state law from doing any active fund-raising while the legislature was in session. That would put him on even terms with three other potential candidates, Henri Brooks, Kathryn Bowers, and Joe Towns, all now House members. Governor Bredesen is expected to call for a special election to fill the seat within the first three months of next year, a time when the General Assembly will be meeting. Alternatively, Hooks might seek to prevail on his colleagues to name an interim senator who would pledge not to run in the special election. He would then run in the special election himself and, since he would be entitled to raise money, would possess an advantage over his potential rivals in the legislature. n Wrong Irony: Duh! While it is true that -- as was reported here last week -- it was somewhat "ironic" for Commissioner David Lillard to have nominated Moss as the commission's vice chairman last week, since Lillard's close friend Bruce Thompson had also harbored an ambition for the seat, that was not the true reason why Lillard chose to use the adjective to describe his action. What Lillard had in mind, of course, was that Moss had, back in December 2000, been the upset winner over him in a commission vote to fill a then pending vacancy. That vote involved a series of complicated trade-offs among commissioners, one of the most controversial of which was the naming of then Commissioner Shep Wilbun as juvenile court clerk. Lillard would go on to win his seat in the regularly called election of 2002. At the time, all of that was chronicled at length and detail in this space. What is it they say? "Homer nods."

Friday, September 17, 2004

Acting Up

Actor David Keith may be a Democratic star of the future.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 17, 2004 at 4:00 AM

Conservative Republicans like to say that they lost elections before the advent of the late President Ronald Reagan because A) they minced words on their essential message, and B) they lacked a messenger who had enough star quality to get their point across.

Democrats too may end up looking to the ranks of current or former actors. A case in point is actor David Keith, a Knoxville native and Democrat who has been highly visible at statewide political events over the past year.

Keith, who played a memorable part in An Officer and a Gentleman a generation back and has starred in such films as the recent Daredevil, was a featured speaker this year at several of the state's official Democratic Party events, including the Kennedy Dinner held in Memphis during the summer.

At this year's Democratic convention in Boston, where he was asked about his own political plans, he allowed as how people in the state were probably talking him up for future office. Professing to have no plans, he acknowledged that he might be ready for something sometime in the next five years but opined that first he had to "read up and learn" everything there was to know about politics.

At this stage of the drama, Keith is pulling no punches. He stumped Shelby County for the Kerry/Edwards ticket last week, and this, in part, is what he sounded like last week to the Young Democrats at the University of Memphis:

On Republican Party moralists: "They have convinced us that the Christian Right is 'the right Christians,' and that's not the case. The Christian Right is a conservative, prejudiced, racist group of elitists who want to control people by legislating what they consider the Bible is. They want to take what they think God wants us to do and make it law. There's nothing worse that you can do in this society. In this country, you have the right to worship any way you choose. It's not to be legislated, how you are to worship.

"And what I would tell someone from the Christian Right is to read the New Testament about love and tolerance and accepting people for what they are. The Old Testament is about the God of war and punishment and rigorous rules. And it didn't work. So He sent Jesus to teach us the doctrine of love and acceptance. The Christian Right is not about the New Testament."

On GOP campaign advertising: "Most of what they say is just bald-faced lies -- like this Swift Boat Veterans for Bush. Most of that is just propaganda and lies, and you should go to jail for it in this country. You should also go to jail for federal election tampering, and one of these days [Florida governor] Jeb Bush will be in prison for that I hope!"

On Republican domestic policies: "They want to privatize everything, so that companies can charge what they want. It all boils down to this: The Republican dream is of no more middle class, of an aristocracy and a pure servant class, so that if you are born into servitude, you stay in servitude. You learn to eat gruel.

"They want it just like their bedfellows in Saudi Arabia: a handful of rich, a bunch of poor. And that's the downfall of every democracy. Our country will be dead if that ever happens. But that's their dream, in everything they do -- privatizing and being able to make everything expensive, so that middle-class people become poor and the people at the top of the middle class move up to the aristocracy. The people who make it to the aristocracy -- those are the people they want to survive. It goes back to the survival of the fittest. So they pass legislation causing the fit to get fitter and the weak to get weaker, causing a chasm between the two."

Keith seemed surprised when he was told that his message seemed a turn or two past the usual stopping point on the Democrats' rhetoric-meter -- especially since the demise of erstwhile presidential candidate Howard Dean's hopes. Indeed, what he says may be downright impolitic. But so did Reagan seem -- at first. •

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

POLITICS

Actor David Keith may be a Democratic star of the future.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 15, 2004 at 4:00 AM

ACTING UP Conservative Republicans like to say that they lost elections before the advent of the late President Ronald Reagan because (a) they minced words on their essential message; and (b) they lacked a messenger who had enough star quality to get their point across. Democrats, too, may end up looking to the ranks of current or former actors. A case in point is actor David Keith, a Knoxville native and Democrat who has been highly visible at statewide political events over the past year. Keith, who played a memorable part in Officer and a Gentleman a generation back and has starred since in such films as the recent Daredevil, was a featured speaker this year at several of the state’s official Democratic Party events, including the Kennedy Dinner held in Memphis during the summer. At this year’s Democratic convention in Boston, where he was asked about his own political plans, he allowed as how people in the state were probably talking him up for future office. Professing to have no plans, he acknowledged that he might be ready for something sometime in the next five years but opined that first he had to “read up and learn” everything there was to know about politics.

Keith (l) with House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh and Tennessee First Lady Andrea Conte during last week's walk against child sexual abuse.
At this stage of the drama, actor Keith is pulling no punches. He stumped Shelby County for the Kerry/Edwards ticket last week, and this, in part, is what he sounded like last week to the Young Democrats at the University of Memphis: On Republican Party moralists: “They have convinced us that the Christian Right is ‘the right Christians,’ and that’s not the case. The Christian Right is a conservative, prejudiced, racist group of elitists who want to control people by legislating what they consider the Bible is. They want to take what they think God wants us to do and make it law. There’s nothing worse that you can do in this society. In this country you have the right to worship any way you choose. It’s not to be legislated, how you are to worship. “And what I would tell someone from the Christian Right is to read the New Testament about love and tolerance and accepting people for what they are. The Old Testament is about the God of war and punishment and rigorous rules. And it didn’t work. So He sent Jesus to teach us the doctrine of love and acceptance. The Christian Right is not about the New Testament...." On GOP campaign advertising: “Most of what they say is just bald-faced lies -- like this Swift Boat Veterans for Bush. Most of that is just propaganda and lies, and you should go to jail for it in this country. You should also go to jail fo federal election tampering, and one of these days [Florida governor] Jeb Bush will be in prison for thatÉI hope!” On Republican domestic policies: “They want to privatize everything, so that companies can charge what they want. It all boils down to this: The Republican dream is of no more middle class, of an aristocracy and a pure servant class, so that if you are born into servitude, you stay in servitude. You learn to eat gruel. “They want it just like their bedfellows in Saudi Arabia: A handful of rich, a bunch of poor. And that’s the downfall of every democracy. Our country will be dead if that ever happens. But that’s their dream, in everything they do -- privatizing and being able to make everything expensive, so that middle class people become poor and the people at the top of the middle class move up to the aristocracy. The people who make it to the aristocracy -- those are the people they want to survive. It goes back to the survival of the fittest. So they pass legislation causing the fit to get fitter and the weak to get weaker, causing a chasm between the two.” Keith seemed surprised when he was told that his message seemed a turn or two past the usual stopping point on the Democrats’ rhetoric-meter -- especially since the demise of erstwhile presidential candidate Howard Dean‘s hopes. Indeed, what he says may be downright impolitic. But so did Reagan seem -- at first.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

POLITICS (WEEKEND EDITION)

POLITICS (WEEKEND EDITION)

Posted By on Sun, Sep 12, 2004 at 4:00 AM

THOMPSON OR MOSS? Much of the public’s attention -- or the attention of that part of it that actually follows county government and politics -- is focused on the question of who’s going to get the Shelby County Commission seat of Linda Rendtorff. Rendtroff, of course, has been designated by county mayor A C Wharton as his director of community services, and she will shortly be leaving the commission to take that position -- leaving her seat vacant for a list of aspirants that numbers now about a dozen and is still growing. When Rendtorff does leave -- at some point within the next month -- the commission will choose from that list. Before that happens, however, the commission must make another choice -- of its own officers for the coming year. That will happen on Monday, and, while there’s no mystery as to who the new chairman will be -- that’s Democratic commissioner Michael Hooks, who has been serving this year as vice chairman under chair Marilyn Loeffel -- there is considerable doubt as to the identify of Hooks’ own successor as chairman-in-waiting. In the alternating formula by which the commission traditionally selects its officers, Democrat Hooks followed Republican Loeffel, and he will be followed in turn next year by another Republican, the new vice-chairman. But who? Tom Moss or Bruce Thompson? “It’ll be a donnybrook,” predicted another GOP commissioner, John Willingham, who indicated he hadn’t yet made up his own mind. The contest has overtones beyond the personal. Thompson is a financial manager/entrepreneur who was elected in 2002 to represent District 5, a relatively compact one ranging from Midtown to Southeast Memphis and -- roughly balanced politically and racially -- is regarded as the commission’s swing district. A fiscal conservative and environmentalist, Thompson seeks to overhaul long-established procedures and made an abortive try for the chairmanship in 2003, his first year on the commission. Moss, a homebuilder/developer, was appointed to the commission in late 2000 and was reelected in 2002. He is one of three representatives from District 1, the sprawling outlying district which includes Shelby County’s rural areas and outer suburbs. He is a stout defender of commission traditions -- including that of seniority -- and is not averse to the kind of hard bargaining and coalition building across party lines that led to his surprise selection in 2000. The two have frequently disagreed -- particularly on the issue of new housing developments in Shelby County, which Moss usually looks upon with more favor than does Thompson. Each man has made it clear he has no interest in backing down in favor of the other. Thompson claims commitments from David Lillard and Joyce Avery, two fellow members of the Class of ‘02, and hopes to get at least one other Republican vote from a group including Rendtorff, Willingham, and chairman Loeffel. He insists that his eleventh-hour decision to leave the chairmanship race last year involved a commitment from winner Loeffel to support him as the next Republican chairman. His chances for getting Loeffel’s vote are, however, doubtful at best, since the two, who disagree even more profoundly than he does with Willingham, have been locked in a mutual vendetta for most of Thompson’s time on the commission. “Whoever gets a majority of the Republicans will probably be approved by the Democrats, too, as a courtesy,” ventures Thompson. Moss, who emphasizes his seniority over Thompson and said he was prepared to back Rendtorff for the vice-chairmanship before her status changed, disagrees. “That’s wrong. All commissioners have a mind of their own, and they have every right to make their own choice,” he says.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Hatful of Names

There is no shortage of wannabes to take the place of Commissioner Rendtorff.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 10, 2004 at 4:00 AM

The decision by Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton to fill a staff vacancy with county commissioner Linda Rendtorff has set off abundant speculation as to who might be appointed by her colleagues to fill her seat when she leaves the commission to become Wharton's director of community services, probably next month.

In the next several days, there are quite likely to be both adds and drops to the current list of those thinking about the Rendtorff seat (or being thought about by others).

But, for the record, here -- in no particular order -- are some of the names:

George Flinn, the politically active doctor who ran unsuccessfully for county mayor in 2002 and for the District 5 city council seat last year;

Billy Orgel, a well-known developer and communications entrepreneur;

Mike Carpenter, president of the West Tennessee chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors and a sometime Republican campaign professional;

Wyatt Bunker, former member of the Shelby County school board and a recently unsuccessful candidate for City Council;

Jim Strickland, a lawyer, Democratic activist, and another recently unsuccessful City Council candidate;

Mary Harvey Gurley, widow of the late Paul Gurley, a top aide to former city mayor Dick Hackett, and a respected political activist in her own right;

Karla Templeton, an unsuccessful candidate for Rendtroff's seat in the 2002 election and the daughter of current commissioner John Willingham;

Karen Hill, former Shelby County school board member.

Joe Cooper, veteran pol, former county office-holder in various capacities, and frequent candidate for political office;

Mike Ritz, real estate developer;

Jay Sparks, pharmacist's aide and Democratic activist.

All except Strickland, Cooper, and Sparks are established or presumed Republicans. District 1, which contains the inner ring of county suburban areas as well as outlying city areas, is considered a heavily Republican district. Besides Rendtorff, it is currently served by Willingham and current chairman Marilyn Loeffel.

As of now, no one candidate is thought to have a lock on enough commission votes to guarantee appointment. Whoever gets the nod will ultimately have to stand in a special election, the date of which remains highly uncertain. One variable is the fate of a proposed referendum on a county charter commission -- which, if called by enough qualified signatories and deemed to be both constitutional and legal, could happen as early as December. Other scenarios call for an election next year or even the year after.

Rendtorff had long been restless in her commission seat and had sounded out her fellow commissioners last year about a possible interim appointment to the legislature when District 89 state representative Carol Chumney was elected to the council. That plan ran afoul of a legal ruling that she would have to resign her commission seat in order to serve the two or three months remaining in Chumney's term until the newly elected Beverly Marrero could be installed.

Rendtorff, who once served as state human resources director in the administration of former governor Lamar Alexander, is chairman of the commission's community services committee. Ironically, she assumed office a decade ago as an appointee, following the death of then commissioner Mike Tooley.

She has indicated she will remain in office long enough to vote on the commission's next chairman, who is expected to be current vice chair Michael Hooks.

" The other surprise Wharton appointment last week, that of state Senator Roscoe Dixon to become assistant chief administrative officer, hasn't yet encouraged the same degree of speculation. Dixon will succeed the retiring Earnest Gunn, who will temporarily serve as Wharton's executive assistant, a position held until recently by veteran mayoral aide Bobby Lanier.

Lanier, who had served each of the last several Shelby County mayors, was forced to resign following disclosures that he had intervened to secure an enhanced pension arrangement for former mayoral aide Tom Jones, now doing a one-year term in federal prison in Arkansas after pleading guilty to improper use of county credit cards.

Dixon has indicated he will resign his senate seat in January. Governor Phil Bredesen will then have 90 days to order a special election to determine his successor.

" Isaac Hayes and David Porter should be proud. The two vintage Memphis tunesmiths have set many a rocker in motion, but one of their compositions last week exceeded even its previous lofty heights.

Janice Bowling, the arch-conservative candidate for Congress in Tennessee's 4th District and avid spokesperson for traditional morality, was conspicuous improvising a hard-rocking boogie from her delegates' row during one of the musical interludes played by a band on the floor of the Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York. The song that had her moving and shaking? "Soul Man."

Wednesday, September 8, 2004

POLITICS: Hatful of Names

There is no shortage of wannabes to take the place of Commissioner Rendtorff.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 8, 2004 at 4:00 AM

HATFUL OF NAMES The decision by Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton to fill a staff vacancy with county commissioner Linda Rendtorff has set off abundant speculation as to who might be appointed by her colleagues to fill her seat when she leaves the commission to become , Wharton’s director of community services, probably next month. In the next several days, there are quite likely to be both adds and drops to the current list of those thinking about the Rendtorff seat (or being thought about by others). But, for the record, here -- in no particular order -- are some of the names:
George Flinn, the politically active doctor who ran unsuccessfully for county mayor in 2002 and for the District 5 city council seat last year; Billy Orgel, a well-known developer and communications entrepreneur; Mike Carpenter, president of the West Tennessee chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors and a sometime Republican campaign professional; Wyatt Bunker, former member of the county school board and recently unsuccessful candidate for a city council seat; Jim Strickland, a lawyer, Democratic activist, and another recently unsuccessful city council candidate; Mary Harvey Gurley, widow of the late Paul Gurley, a top aide to former city mayor Dick Hackett, and a respected political activist in her own right; Karla Templeton, an unsuccessful candidate for Rendtroff’s seat in the 2002 election and the daughter of current commissioner John Willingham; Karen Hill, former Shelby County school board member. Joe Cooper, veteran pol, former county office-holder in various capacities, and frequent candidate for political office; Mike Ritz, real estate developer. Jay Sparks, pharmacist’s aide and Democratic activist.
All except Strickland, Cooper, and Sparks are established or presumed Republicans. District 1, which contains the inner ring of county suburban areas as well as outlying city areas, is considered a heavily Republican district. Besides Rendtorff, it is currently served by Willingham and current chairman Marilyn Loeffel. As of now, no one candidate is thought to have a lock on enough commission votes to guarantee appointment. Whoever gets the nod will ultimately have to stand in a special election, the date of which remains highly uncertain. One variable is the fate of a proposed referendum on a city charter commission -- which, if called by enough qualified signatories and deemed to be both constitutional and legal, could happen as early as December. Other scenarios call for an election next year or even the year after. Rendtorff had long been restless in her commission seat and had sounded out her fellow commissioners last year about a possible interim appointment to the legislature when District 89 state representative Carol Chumney was elected to the council. That plan ran afoul of a legal ruling that she would have to resign her commission seat in order to serve the two or three months remaining in Chumney’s term until the newly elected Beverly Marrero could be installed. Rendtorff, who once served as state human resources director in the administration of former governor Lamar Alexander, is chairman of the commission's community services committee. Ironically, she assumed office a decade ago as an appointee, following the death of then commissioner Mike Tooley. She has indicated she will remain in office long enough to vote on the commission’s next chairman -- who is expected to be current vice chair Michael Hooks. The other surprise Wharton appointment last week, that of state Senator Roscoe Dixon to become assistant chief administrative officer, hasn’t yet encouraged the same degree of speculation. Dixon will succeed the retiring Earnest Gunn, who will temporarily serve as Wharton’s executive assistant, a position held until recently by veteran mayoral aide Bobby Lanier. Lanier , who had served each of the last several Shelby County mayors, was forced to resign following disclosures that he had intervened to secure an enhanced pension arrangement for former mayoral aide Tom Jones, now doing a one-year term in federal prison in Arkansas after pleading guilty to improper use of county credit cards. Dixon has indicated he will resign his senate seat in January. Governor Phil Bredesen will then have 90 days to order a special election to determine his successor. Isaac Hayes and David Porter should be proud. The two vintage Memphis tunesmiths have set many a rocker in motion, but one of their compositions last week exceeded even its previous lofty heights. Janice Bowling, the arch-conservative candidate for Congress in Tennessee’s 4th District and avid spokesperson for traditional morality, was conspicuous improvising a hard-rocking boogie from her delegates’ row during one of the musical interludes played by a band on the floor of the Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York. The song that had her moving and shaking? “Soul Man.”

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Busy Bodies

A full house of Senate candidates in New York augurs for a crowded 2006 field.

Posted By on Tue, Sep 7, 2004 at 4:00 AM

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were not the only Republicans running for office in New York this week. Several more were on hand in the Tennessee contingent at the party's national convention, the great majority of them thinking long and hard about running for the U.S. Senate in 2006.

In no particular order, they were:

Former 7th District congressman Ed Bryant, who was one of the first to declare for the office that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist now holds. Frist has indicated he will vacate his Senate seat in order to prepare a presidential run in 2008.

Current 7th District congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, who has not yet tipped her hand but would be regarded as a formidable competitor if she made the run.

Current 3rd District congressman Zach Wamp of Chattanooga, who may have been in and out of Memphis were you read this. Wamp was also scheduled to hit Nashville and other points in a statewide tour designed to underscore his seriousness.

Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker, who ran for the seat in 1994 and later served as former Governor Don Sundquist's first finance director.

Nashville state representative Beth Harwell, who doubles as state Republican chairman.

Former 4th District congressman Van Hilleary, now of Nashville, who will succeed Memphis lawyer John Ryder as the GOP's national committeeman from Tennessee after the convention.

Not all are likely to run at the same time, of course. As fellow Chattanoogans, for example, Wamp and Corker would be direct rivals. "We share the same constituency and the same financial base," Wamp said frankly this week. "But I'm going after it very seriously right now, and I'm not going to be turned away by thoughts of Bob Corker or anybody else."

The conventional wisdom is that if Corker, a self-made multimillionaire who has deeper pockets, gets in, Wamp would have no choice but to get out. Corker is less definite than Wamp about running, but people who know him well say to count him in and that that was the meaning of his recent decision not to run for reelection as mayor.

Bryant has an equivalent concern with Blackburn. "That would be hard," he admits, if both he and she were forced to compete for votes in the 7th District. But he is confident that the statewide name recognition he earned in his 2002 Senate primary contest with Lamar Alexander would stand him in good stead against Blackburn or any other competition.

Meanwhile, the other major factor in the Senate equation, Frist himself, made it plain in a chat with Tennessee reporters that he does in fact intend to make the seat available. "Nothing has changed," he said when asked about the declaration he made when first elected in 1994 that he would serve two terms and two only.

In a wide-ranging conversation, Frist also expressed pride, as chairman of the RNC platform ,committee this year, in having overseen what he described as an "Open Road" platform. "Ours is a party with many different views on abortion, on taxes, on Iraq, and every other subject. Nobody has to believe any one thing."

The senator dismissed the prospect, raised in a recent syndicated column by Robert Novak, that he had suffered some erosion of support among rank-and-file Republicans. And he said that relations with his predecessor as majority leader, Mississippi senator Trent Lott, were "good." Said Frist: "We're close personal friends." The Tennessee senator was among the first influential Republicans to conclude that Lott's usefulness as leader might be ended because of an impolitic statement in late 2002 seeming to praise the late SenatorStrom Thurmond's segregationist views.

Friday, September 3, 2004

Second Front

It was the Republicans' time to celebrate, and they fired some heavy guns indeed.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 3, 2004 at 4:00 AM

NEW YORK -- Look at it this way: There are surely 16-year-olds, smart kids of the present and community leaders-to-be, who will read this and other accounts of the great Watershed Election of 2004 and who know, vaguely or even with some precise detail, that there are resemblances between this year's presidential election and the one that occurred in 1988, the year of their birth.

They will know the saga of Michael Dukakis, a Democratic son of Massachusetts, who tried to run for president on competence and ended up being tagged with the opposite of that, who was opposed by a Republican named George Bush, a man so bumbling that a national magazine slugged one of its cover stories about him with the line "Fighting the Wimp Factor" but who somehow became endowed with credible heroic swagger while the Democrat experienced the erosion of his own. These precocious readers will know that the Democratic candidate of their birth year got slammed, like the party standard-bearer of 2004, by an outlaw smear campaign -- the infamous Willie Horton ads in Dukakis' case, the swift-boat calumnies in John Kerry's -- and they will mutter, like so many of their elders, imprecations against these malefactors of great wealth who would do something so dire against a man so pure and deserving.

And, if Democratic partisans they are, they may read these resemblances to the past as auguries of the future, signs of a defeat to come, and curse the fates. But the more discerning among them may say, "Hey, they did it to themselves!"

And these will be your valedictorians.

For, like Michael Dukakis, who in a debate with the elder George Bush, answered too placidly a question about the hypothetical rape of his own wife, Senator Kerry has let some questions go begging too.

Could he really have been so foolish, as former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani claimed in his Monday-night speech to the Republican convention crowd at Madison Square Garden, as to have called the Israeli wall now under construction on the West Bank a "barrier to peace" while later approving it as a legitimate act of self-defense? If so, then he thereby stepped unsuspectingly into the pair of flip-flops which the opposition had obligingly set aside for him. (A pair of bona fide "Kerry flip-flops," bearing the candidate's face on the heel, was included in the goodie kit handed out to GOP delegates arriving here on the weekend.)

In this case, Kerry's apparent waffling, no doubt designed to cover both bases, may have ended by covering none. It did not prevent actor Ron Silver, reportedly motivated in large part by his concern for Israel, from serving as leadoff man Monday night in the series of high-profile extollers of Bush the wise warrior and statesman. The attack of September 11th, said Silver, was an infamy "we cannot forget, we cannot forgive, we cannot excuse," and like the president, he embraced the concept of a greater War on Terror expanded to include the war in Iraq. Said Silver, to thunderous applause: "The president is doing exactly the right thing!"

And Silver, the same Ron Silver who was last seen carrying a torch for Democrat Bill Bradley in the early primaries of 2000, went on to intone the name of his endorsee, "George W. Bush," to an even greater ovation.

He was followed by Arizona senator John McCain, who had so recently been the subject of Kerry's public courtship as a potential running mate and bridge to the opposition. He who seemed more than willing of a sudden to put aside his differences with Bush -- including whatever resentment remained from a slander campaign directed against McCain by Bush supporters during the 2000 South Carolina primary. The president's goals in Iraq were "necessary, achievable, and noble," said McCain, who scored rhetorical points against the attending Michael Moore, a "disingenuous filmmaker" whose hugely successful Fahrenheit 9/11, a cinematic philippic against the war, is now beginning to seem as dated as the celebrity of erstwhile national-security whistleblower Richard Clarke.

Much of the reason for that change in the political weather -- a minute but growing one that polls were beginning to chart even before the convention started -- could be attributed not to the meretricious contentions of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth about Kerry's war record but to the Democratic nominee's own caution two weeks ago, when he fell into a trap set by Bush and defended his 2002 vote for the Iraq war. He would do it again, Kerry had said, even if he had known there were no weapons of mass destruction (WMD, in the now clich«½d acronym) or any evidence of collaboration between Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

With that, Democrats all over America surely bit their lips to keep from uttering Dick Cheney's favorite action verb/expletive. Some half a million people snaked through the streets of Manhattan on Sunday to indicate their dissatisfaction with the Bush administration, and an enormous percentage of them were motivated by their hatred of the Bush policy in Iraq. As was true of Vietnam more than a generation ago, a military conflict was both a red flag in itself and a convenient symbol of other discontents.

And now Kerry had basically eighty-sixed the whole controversy to -- what? Avoid controversy? If so, he had failed. And his decision to drape last month's Democratic convention in Boston in Vietnam-shaded mufti while surrounding himself with ex-Navy crewmates as a trope for his candidacy had backfired. For most of the time since, the decorated veteran had been on the defensive about his military service, and, at best, it had been neutralized as an issue that could work for him.

So much had it been done away with that former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani in his overlong but effective oration now felt entitled, in an otherwise scornful series of references to Kerry, to damn the Democrat with faint praise. "I respect him for his service to the nation," Giuliani said, and Kerry actually got a round of the kind of polite applause that runners-up -- in a word, losers -- get at post-election affairs conducted by the winners. As much as anything critical that was said of him -- and there was much of that -- the condescension toward Kerry was devastating.

It may also be premature, of course. Kerry is no flash in the pan, and he didn't get where he is today without experiencing some cliffhanging moments, times when he was left for dead politically. He survived a couple of close elections, closing fast to win them, and surely no one needs to be reminded of what happened in Iowa back in January when the senator actually managed to come from back in the pack to victory with a few weeks' worth of intensified campaigning.

He is, after all, a genuine military hero, not a funny little man posing atop a tank or a reservist mugging in a flight suit aboard a warship. Those who doubt his valor may end up being disabused of their complacency. And, for all the glow of their opening night in New York, which borrowed something (as was surely the plan) from the still unspeakable grief of 9/11 and focused on the achievements of the nation's military, the Republicans might still have a chore on their hands cleaning up the president's latest verbal upchucks -- his description of the outcome in Iraq as a "catastrophic victory" and his declaration to an interviewer that the United States could not "win" the War on Terror.

It would surely be an irony in this nip-and-tuck presidential race if the incumbent should now have to do what his challenger did: spend a month or so explaining himself to voters who would seem to have more than a normal share of skepticism toward both contenders.

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