Monday, February 28, 2005

CHAIRS IN TRANSIT

CHAIRS IN TRANSIT

Posted By on Mon, Feb 28, 2005 at 4:00 AM

As of the weekend, the Shelby County chairpersons of the two major political parties were both on the move: Democratic chair Kathryn Bowers opened up the headquarters of her campaign for the state Senate on Saturday; and new Republican chair Bill Giannini got himself elected and installed on Sunday at the biennial Shelby County Republican convention.

Both Bowers and Giannini served notice as to the shape of their priorities.

State Rep. Bowers, speaking to supporters at her Elvis Presley Boulevard headquarters, promised to do everything in her power to forestall the TennCare cuts (323,000 from the current rolls) announced recently by Governor Bredesen but so far held up by judicial review. Two other candidates -- Shelby County Commissioner Michael Hooks and James Harvey --are competing in the forthcoming Democratic primary for the seat recently vacated by Roscoe Dixon, now an aide to county mayor A C Wharton. Four Republicans also seek the seat.

Giannini, elected by acclamation at White Station High School, looked ahead to the 2006 countywide elections and even further -- lamenting the upward curve of latest property reassessment and thereby targeting county assessor Rita Clark, a Democrat reelected only last year and not up again until 2008.


Bowers on the stump
at her Elvis Presley Blvd. headquarters.


New GOP chair Bill Giannini with extended family
at White Station High School Sunday.

FROM MY SEAT

In a season of troubles, Tiger Nation can count its blessings for Anthony Rice.

Posted By on Mon, Feb 28, 2005 at 4:00 AM

ANTHONY'S DAY Too much ink is spilled on the worldÕs miscreants. This applies to sports, and it certainly applies to this yearÕs embattled University of Memphis menÕs basketball team. Lost in the ugly headlines, sadly, are the jewels of the program like Anthony Rice.

This Saturday at FedExForum, the U of M will say goodbye to its current senior class: Rice, Duane Erwin, and Arthur Barclay. Erwin grew into a vital member of the 2004-05 squad, representing the most consistent inside threat -- both offensively and defensively -- for a team relatively undersized. He was the TigersÕ finest player the night they beat DePaul in January, hitting five of seven shots and pulling down nine rebounds. As for Barclay, heÕll leave with mixed reviews. He was part of a Òpackage deal,Ó cynics will argue, that brought the electrifying Dajuan Wagner (a high-school chum of BarclayÕs) to Memphis. He made news this season as much for his fists as his play, drilling teammate Sean Banks after the Texas game, then drawing a one-game suspension for throwing a punch in the first TCU contest. IÕd like to remember the guy who overcame the stigma of being a partial academic qualifier and some nagging knee injuries, a player who had one of the most unique stat lines IÕve ever seen: 10 rebounds without a field-goal attempt in the win at South Florida in January.

Say what you will about Erwin and Barclay, though, Saturday should be for Rice. The Atlanta native -- on schedule to graduate with a degree in art gallery management -- is the poster child for what a Division I college basketball player can be. Few Tiger fans will remember that Rice played 20 minutes in his college debut (November 13, 2001), the same night Wagner himself took center stage at The Pyramid. Over the course of his four seasons in Memphis, Rice has yet to miss a game. (He should wind up among the programÕs alltime top 10 in games played.) No Tiger has made more three-pointers than RiceÕs 214 through SaturdayÕs game against Louisville. And heÕs been as consistent as a metronome: 266 points scored as a freshman, 264 as a sophomore, 270 as a junior, 272 this season. (RiceÕs career average: 8.7 points per game.)

RiceÕs value on the floor can be divided into three equal parts: Defense. He has consistently matched up with an opponentÕs top scoring threat, be it MarquetteÕs Travis Diener, TCUÕs Corey Santee, or HoustonÕs Andre Owens. Shooting. IÕve said it all season long: these Tigers go as far as their shooters take them. Rice was a combined 7 for 12 from beyond the arc in wins over Marquette and Louisville. He made only 2 of 11 in losses to Charlotte and the Cardinals last week. Ball-handling. Rice has essentially been coach John CalipariÕs backup point guard for three seasons, first b ehind Antonio Burks, this season behind Darius Washington. A more natural shooting guard, Rice has predictably adapted when called upon to run the show.

CalipariÕs postgame comments tend to center around the play of freshman point guard Darius Washington or the teamÕs scoring leader, Rodney Carney. But when asked about Rice, the plaudits are delivered en masse. ÒHeÕs the best,Ó says Calipari. ÒI have to talk to him about once every three weeks to tell him I appreciate him. He guards every day, he does what heÕs supposed to do, he doesnÕt try and do things he canÕt do. Every practice, every game, he gives you everything he has, which is what makes him unique.

ÒYou forget about him. He played great against Houston [a Tiger loss on February 5th]. He was the only guy that played. He held their best player [Owens] to two-for-nine from the floor, and made shots. No one else played. ThatÕs because he plays every day.Ó

As thoroughly unglamorous as RiceÕs college career has been, he will ironically serve as a recruiting prototype for Calipari. ÒHeÕs a four-year starter,Ó stresses the coach. ÒHereÕs a kid who wasnÕt highly recruited, and heÕs going to get a college degree. If you work hard and play hard, thereÕs a spot for you on this team.Ó

There have been grumblings all winter long in Tiger Nation, plenty of turn-your-head-away headlines that make you wonder about the kind of student-athlete hitting the hardwood these days for the U of M. And the criticism, frankly, has been deserved. Which makes this weekendÕs Senior Day so very necessary. For a young man like Anthony Rice, how fitting that he takes center stage just as he says goodbye.

Friday, February 25, 2005

In or Out?

Technically, Marsha could still be either.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 25, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Guess what? Contrary to most news reports, 7th District congresswoman Marsha Blackburn has not renounced the idea of running for the U.S. Senate in 2006. Nor did the statement she released back on February 11th say so.

Moreover, Blackburn -- interviewed in Memphis Saturday night at the annual Lincoln Day Dinner of the Shelby County Republican Party -- declined, when pressed on the issue, to make a categorical statement of noncandidacy. What she said instead: "Well, we'll just have to see."

The kernel of her February 11th statement, headed "Blackburn Announces Senate Decision in a Letter to the People of Tennessee," was to be found in the last two paragraphs of that lengthy document. They read as follows:

"I will remain in the House and serve the 7th Congressional District for the next two years as we fight to promote a culture of life, protect family values, and reduce government spending. I have been touched and honored by all those across the state who have asked me to consider a run for the U.S. Senate, but now is the time for my focused work in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"Tennessee and the Republican Party are fortunate to have an emerging field of talented and dedicated individuals willing to serve the state. I wish them well. And, I want to assure all those who support our ideals that, as in the past, I will be there to lend my voice and my energy to electing a strong conservative Republican senator in 2006."

It was pointed out to Rep. Blackburn Saturday night that the first of those paragraphs can be interpreted as meaning no more than that she will serve out the two-year term she won in her successful reelection campaign last year -- a fact which would not preclude a Senate campaign in 2006. She smiled and chose not to rebut such an interpretation. Instead, she said only that the statement reads "exactly the way I wanted it to."

It was also pointed out to Blackburn that the promise in the concluding paragraph of her statement to "lend my voice and my energy to electing a strong conservative Republican senator in 2006" was not inconsistent with the possibility of herself being that "strong conservative" candidate. Again, she affirmed only that the statement, as written, reflected her sentiments and declined to make a more categorical statement of noncandidacy.

Was it possible that future events could still result in her becoming a Senate candidate, after all? "Well, we'll just have to see," she repeated.

The three Republican Senate candidates declared so far -- former 7th District congressman Ed Bryant, Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker, and state representative Beth Harwell -- were on hand for the Shelby County Lincoln Day dinner, as was former 4th District congressman Van Hilleary, whose announcement of candidacy is imminently expected ("I'll have something to say probably within the next 10 days," he said Saturday night). All four were present too at Thursday night's Williamson County Lincoln Day Dinner, where they each spoke briefly. They did not speak at the Memphis event, which was addressed by U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson, though Blackburn made some brief remarks.

Will she be asked for further clarification of her February 11th statement, or will the media and the field of declared Senate hopefuls just let it be? Well, that's something we'll just have to see too.

n Saturday night's GOP dinner was the swan song for outgoing Shelby County chairman Kemp Conrad. He will be succeeded at next Sunday's biennial Republican convention at White Station High School by Bill Giannini, who is unopposed.

During his term, Conrad made a point of stressing minority outreach, and Jackson's appearance Saturday night capped those efforts, in a sense. For his part, the HUD secretary, an African American, extolled what he said were the civil rights contributions of such deceased Republican luminaries as Illinois senator Everett Dirksen and President Dwight Eisenhower. Jackson also criticized two late Democratic senators -- J. William Fulbright of Arkansas (accurately) and Albert Gore Sr. of Tennessee (perhaps inaccurately) for obstructing civil rights legislation. He further said the Ku Klux Klan had originated as a "extension of the Democrats."

n Ironically, the race for the state Senate seat in predominantly Democratic District 33, vacated last month by Shelby County mayoral aide Roscoe Dixon, now has more GOP candidates than Democrats. Republicans running are Mary Lynn Flood, Jason Hernandez, Mary Ann McNeil, and Barry Sterling. Democrats remaining, pending the result of an appeal by Shelby County Commission chairman Michael Hooks, are state representative Kathryn Bowers and James Harvey. Hooks was disqualified by the state Election Registry for failure to file financial disclosures, while state representative Joe Towns withdrew after being ruled ineligible for failure to pay previous fines assessed by the registry for incomplete or absent disclosures.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

MAGNANIMOUS HOOKS: NOBODY HAD "HARD ON" FOR HIM

County Commission chairman is reinstated by Chancellor Goldin as a candidate for state Senate vacancy.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 24, 2005 at 4:00 AM

After listening to testimony from lawyers for both Michael Hooks and the state of Tennessee, Chancellor Arnold Goldin Wednesday ruled in Hooks’ favor and ordered Hooks reinstated as a candidate in a forthcoming state Senate election. Goldin thereby struck down a prior adverse ruling against Hooks by the state Election Registry and state Election Commissioner Brook Thompson, who had declared the Shelby County Commission chairman ineligible to run for the seat because Hooks had not met financial-disclosure deadlines.

Reviewing a record that showed historic inconsistency between enforcement actions and deadline requirements of state and local election officials, Goldin said it would be “fundamentally unfair” and “difficult to justify” disallowing Hooks’ candidacy for the District 33 seat, vacated recently by longtime incumbent Roscoe Dixon, now an aide to Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton..

Goldin’s action means that the Democratic primary will now be a three-way race between Hooks, state Representative Kathryn Bowers, and James Harvey. A fourth candidate, state Representative Joe Towns, had also been disallowed by the state agencies -- in his case, for failure to pay accumulated fines relating to violation of disclosure requirements -- but Towns did not appeal the finding.

Hooks’ reentry means that Bowers, who doubles as Shelby County Democratic chairman, will have another name candidate to contend with and not just the relatively unknown Harvey.

Bowers had called a press conference Monday to deny that she had used her political influence to get Hooks disqualified -- an allegation that Hooks insisted Wednesday he had never made.

“I think she’s just looking for publicity. I never once thought that or said that. That would make them [the various state officials who signed off on his disqualification] dishonorable. In fact, they’re not. I’ve worked with them for many years. They don’t have a hard on for Michael Hooks. They’re just interpreting the law and trying to do their job.” One of his first legislative missions, if elected, will be to reconcile “discrepancies” between the state and local election codes, Hooks said.

“I think the judge did the right thing to let the people decide who they want to be their state senator. It won’t be determined by nit-picking or hag-nagging. It’ll be on the issues,” said Hooks. Acknowledging that the delay caused by his litigation had inconvenienced his campaign somewhat, he said, “We kept working. Of course, we stopped spending and planning our advertising campaigns and so forth. We’ll have to catch up.”

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

POLITICS

Technically, Marsha could still be either.

Posted By on Wed, Feb 23, 2005 at 4:00 AM

IN OR OUT?Guess what? Contrary to most news reports, 7th District congressman Marsha Blackburn has not renounced the idea of running for the U.S. Senate in 2006. Nor did the statement she released back on February 11th say so.

Moreover, Blackburn -- interviewed in Memphis Saturday night at the annual Lincoln Day Dinner of the Shelby County Republican Party -- declined, when pressed on the issue, to make a categorical statement of non-candidacy. What she said instead: “Well, we’ll just have to see.”

The kernel of her February 11th statement, headed “Blackburn Announces Senate Decision in a Letter to the People of Tennessee,” was to be found in the last two paragraphs of that lengthy document. They read as follows:

“I will remain in the House and serve the 7th Congressional District for the next two years as we fight to promote a culture of life, protect family values, and reduce government spending. I have been touched and honored by all those across the state who have asked me to consider a run for the U.S. Senate, but now is the time for my focused work in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Tennessee and the Republican Party are fortunate to have an emerging field of talented and dedicated individuals willing to serve the state. I wish them well. And, I want to assure all those who support our ideals that, as in the past, I will be there to lend my voice and my energy to electing a strong conservative Republican senator in 2006.”

It was pointed out to Rep. Blackburn on Saturday night that the first of those paragraphs can be interpreted as meaning no more than that she will serve out the two-year term which she won in her successful reelection campaign last year -- a fact which would not preclude a Senate campaign in 2006. She smiled and chose not to rebut such an interpretation. Instead, she said only that the statement reads “exactly the way I wanted it to.”

It was also pointed out to Rep. Blackburn that the promise in the concluding paragraph of her statement to “lend my voice and my energy to electing a strong conservative Republican senator in 2006” was not inconsistent with the possibility of herself being that “strong conservative” candidate. Again, she affirmed only that the statement, as written, reflected her sentiments and declined to make a more categorical statement of non-candidacy.

Was it possible that future events could still result in her becoming a Senate candidate, after all? “Well, we’ll just have to see,” she repeated.

The three Republican Senate candidates declared so far -- former 7th District congressman Ed Bryant, Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker, and state Representative Beth Harwell -- were on hand for the Shelby County Lincoln Day dinner, as was former 4th District congressman Van Hilleary, whose announcement of candidacy is imminently expected (“I’ll have something to say probably within the next 10 days,” he said Saturday night). All four had been present, too, at Thursday night’s Williamson County Lincoln Day Dinner, where they each spoke briefly. They did not speak at the Memphis event, which was addressed by U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson, though Blackburn made some brief remarks.

Will she be asked for further clarification of her February 11th statement, or will the media and the field of declared Senate hopefuls just let it be? Well, thats something we’ll just have to see.

Saturday night’s GOP dinner was the swan song for outgoing Shelby County chairman Kemp Conrad. He will be succeeded at next Sunday’s biennial Republican convention at White Station High School by Bill Giannini, who is unopposed for election as chairman.

During his term, Conrad made a point of stressing minority outreach, and Jackson’s appearance Saturday night capped those efforts, in a sense.

For his part, the HUD secretary, an African American, extolled what he said were the civil rights contributions of such former Republican luminaries as Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen and president Dwight Eisenhower, both now deceased. Jackson also criticized two late Democratic senators -- J. William Fulbright of Arkansas (accurately) and Albert Gore Sr. of Tennessee (perhaps inaccurately) for obstructing civil rights legislation. He further said the Ku Klux Klan had originated as a “extension of the Democrats.”

Ironically, the race for the state senate seat in predominantly Democratic District 33, vacated last month by Shelby County mayoral aide Roscoe Dixon, now has more GOP candidates than Democrats. Republicans running are Mary Lynn Flood, Jason Hernandez, Mary Ann McNeil, and Barry Sterling. Democrats remaining, pending the result of an appeal by Shelby County Commission chairman Michael Hooks, are state Rep. Kathryn Bowers and James Harvey.

Hooks was disqualified by the state Election Registry for failure to file financial disclosures, while state Rep. Joe Towns withdrew after being ruled ineligible for failure to pay previous fines assessed by the Registry for incomplete or absent disclosures.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

POLITICS (WEEKEND EDITION)

Q: Did Rep. Marsha Blackburn Just Say No to a 2006 Senate race? A: No.

Posted By on Sun, Feb 20, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Guess what? Contrary to most news reports, 7th District congressman Marsha Blackburn has not renounced the idea of running for the U.S. Senate in 2006. Nor did the statement she released back on February 11th say so.

Moreover, Blackburn -- interviewed in Memphis Saturday night at the annual Lincoln Day Dinner of the Shelby County Republican Party -- declined, when pressed on the issue, to make a categorical statement of non-candidacy. What she said instead: “Well, we’ll just have to see.”

The kernel of her February 11th statement, headed “Blackburn Announces Senate Decision in a Letter to the People of Tennessee,” was to be found in the last two paragraphs of that lengthy document. They read as follows:

“I will remain in the House and serve the 7th Congressional District for the next two years as we fight to promote a culture of life, protect family values, and reduce government spending. I have been touched and honored by all those across the state who have asked me to consider a run for the U.S. Senate, but now is the time for my focused work in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Tennessee and the Republican Party are fortunate to have an emerging field of talented and dedicated individuals willing to serve the state. I wish them well. And, I want to assure all those who support our ideals that, as in the past, I will be there to lend my voice and my energy to electing a strong conservative Republican senator in 2006.”

It was pointed out to Rep. Blackburn on Saturday night that the first of those paragraphs can be interpreted as meaning no more than that she will serve out the two-year term which she won in her successful reelection campaign last year -- a fact which would not preclude a Senate campaign in 2006. She smiled and chose not to rebut such an interpretation. Instead, she said only that the statement reads “exactly the way I wanted it to.”

It was also pointed out to Rep. Blackburn that the promise in the concluding paragraph of her statement to “lend my voice and my energy to electing a strong conservative Republican senator in 2006” was not inconsistent with the possibility of herself being that “strong conservative” candidate. Again, she affirmed only that the statement, as written, reflected her sentiments and declined to make a more categorical statement of non-candidacy.

Was it possible that future events could still result in her becoming a Senate candidate, after all? “Well, we’ll just have to see,” she repeated.

The three Republican Senate candidates declared so far -- former 7th District congressman Ed Bryant, Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker, and state Representative Beth Harwell -- were on hand for the Shelby County Lincoln Day dinner, as was former 4th District congressman Van Hilleary, whose announcement of candidacy is imminently expected (“I’ll have something to say probably within the next 10 days,” he said Saturday night). All four had been present, too, at Thursday night’s Williamson County Lincoln Day Dinner, where they each spoke briefly. They did not speak at the Memphis event, which was addressed by U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson, though Blackburn made some brief remarks.

Will she be asked for further clarification of her February 11th statement, or will the media and the field of declared Senate hopefuls just let it be? Well, we’ll just have to see.

Friday, February 18, 2005

More Ford

Toting up some assets and liabilities.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 18, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Last week, we began what will be a continuing examination of the forthcoming U.S. Senate race of 9th District congressman Harold Ford.

In Ford's case, as in that of his Democratic primary opponent, state representative Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, and in those of the several Republican hopefuls now in the field, we intend to look beyond and beneath the PR statements, position papers, and stump platitudes for a nitty-gritty take on the candidates' persona and politics.

Promise: In all instances, you will get the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. No spin, no kowtowing, and no shying away from either positives or negatives.

First, the good news for Ford: Despite the widely held belief of some, mainly local, observers that Ford's race will be handicapped by 1) his race and 2) bad publicity about his uncle, state senator John Ford, my interviews and observations statewide over the years have not borne out that concern.

In 15 years of reporting state and local politics, I have yet to hear the first disparaging comment about Ford that is race-based -- even from the kind of thinly reconstructed types one might expect that from. And as Ed Cromer, the respected editor of the Nashville-based Tennessee Journal says, "I think that, even with the kind of bad publicity that John Ford is in for now, people will be able to distinguish between the nephew and the uncle." As if to make doubly sure, the congressman has repeatedly made remarks distancing himself from his uncle (something, John Ford's intimates say, that the currently beleaguered state senator isn't crazy about).

More good news: It is no secret that the congressman has proved a fascinating figure for much of the national and statewide media, and in his race he can expect the kind of lavish attention that was given the Senate races of candidates like Hillary Clinton in New York and Barack Obama in Illinois.

There's bad news that comes with this good news, however: As we have noted, and as others are likely to discover, the congressman's reactions to news coverage are sometimes impulsive and even, when he doesn't like the facts reported, characterized by kill-the-messenger tendencies.

Two years ago, when another writer for this newspaper pointed out, accurately, that Ford's local supporters were supporting state representative Kathryn Bowers, the eventual winner for local Democratic chairman, the congressman, looking ahead to his statewide race and no doubt galvanized by fear of party division, reacted swiftly and angrily. He repudiated the effort of his minions and made a point of endorsing then chairman Gale Jones Carson.

Complicating the issue was the fact that Carson doubled as press secretary for Mayor Willie Herenton, who has never been close to the Ford political clan.

Though Ford's local supporters sucked it up and kept their peace publicly, several of them simmered privately and insisted that the congressman himself had initially signed off on their pro-Bowers efforts. One or two of them had serious words with Ford over the matter.

Ford's composure under fire is sure to be tested in a Senate race. Kurita herself has a reputation for tenacious, even bare-knuckled campaigning, and, assuming Ford gets by her, he can surely expect some heavy weather from the eventual Republican nominee. As Cromer says, "No doubt about it. He's never had to endure the kind of stressful opposition he can expect in a Senate race, and that could be a problem for him."

Even Ford's well-established celebrity glow could turn into a hindrance. Two recent items in Roll Call, the widely read Capitol Hill newsletter, began to highlight Ford's private life. One called attention to his conspicuous presence at a lavish party thrown by Playboy magazine during Super Bowl week. Another made fun of his penchant for regular pedicures.

Though he was briefly engaged some years ago, Ford does not have the kind of visible ties to a Significant Other that Tennesseans will see in the case of his various opponents. This fact might even help him with some younger voters, however.

One other potential obstacle for Ford: A number of state Democrats were unsettled by Ford's protracted dawdling over a potential 2000 campaign for the Senate seat of Bill Frist -- the same one that Frist will vacate and Ford intends to seek next year.

Still other Democrats were miffed by what they saw as the inattention of Ford, a national co-chair of John Kerry's campaign, to the Democratic nominee's race in Tennessee. One major-county liaison official communicated misgivings about Ford to the Kerry campaign at the highest level.

For all that, no one doubts that Representative Ford, an undeniably dynamic figure, is likely to energize the Tennessee Democratic base in ways beyond the ability of the party's Senate nominees of the past decade or more. And this too will be spoken to here. Stay tuned.

Bowers Gets Feisty

Alternating between irony and promises of sustained direct action, state representative. Kathryn Bowers, chairman of the legislative TennCare Oversight Committee, vowed Sunday to continue resisting Governor Phil Bredesen's recently announced TennCare cuts and to try to maintain the state-run insurance system as close to its current level of enrollees as possible.

Bowers appeared, along with Nell Levin of the Tennessee Alliance for Progress and Beverly Owens of Tennesseans for Fair Taxation, at the monthly meeting of the Public Issues Forum at the Central Library.

Maintaining that Bredesen's reforms amounted to "telling people to jump before they've got a safety net set up," Bowers concurred with attendees who said the proposed Bredesen cuts threatened their very lives. Paying homage to Judge William J. Haynes Jr., the Middle Tennessee federal jurist who last month issued an order delaying the cuts, Bowers said, "Thank God for Judge Haynes. We're not going to sit on our hands and let them take 323,000 people off the rolls."

Attributing to the governor and his aides variations on the mockingly enunciated refrain "We don't know yet," the diminutive state representative said Bredesen had acted before possessing reliable estimates of the economic and health costs to Tennesseans. She said she would organize groups of citizens to come to the General Assembly and lobby legislators against the Bredesen reforms.

Judge Haynes has meanwhile set a March 28th hearing to determine whether the governor's plan is in compliance with federal consent decrees. And the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has scheduled an April 26th hearing to review the matter. Some news reports indicate that key legislators are considering seeking a monthlong recess, pending the outcome of the two hearings.

Levin said she thought public reaction to the governor's proposals would be bad politically for Bredesen, who has recently been mentioned by national magazines as a potential 2008 presidential contender. Owens said she thought the TennCare issue might once again revive prospects for a state income tax, but Bowers, who intends to run for the state Senate seat vacated recently by Roscoe Dixon, now a Shelby County governmental aide, said she thought the income tax was a dead issue.

She touted instead a measure introduced jointly by herself and state senator Steve Cohen that would raise cigarette taxes enough to pay for maintaining the current level of TennCare enrollment.

n Bowers v. Hooks v. Chism v. Herenton? The feisty Bowers has more than Bredesen on her plate. As she prepares to run against current Shelby County Commission chairman Michael Hooks for Dixon's old state Senate seat, she confronts the reality of a political adversary serving as interim senator. This is former Teamster leader Sidney Chism, a longtime confidante of Mayor Herenton and a de facto Hooks ally, who got seven commission votes Monday -- just enough to turn back two other aspirants, former Dixon aide Barry Myers and former state representative Alvin King.

"I'm not comfortable with Sidney in there," Bowers confided Saturday after presiding over a special meeting of the Shelby County Democratic Committee in her role as local Democratic chairman. Bowers is one of several legislators who believe that Chism went out of his way to recruit primary opponents for them in the last election.

Chism, who has denied doing such recruitment, said Monday that some of the offended legislators had lobbied against him with Shelby County mayor A C Wharton. After the vote, Chism was given a formal welcome by state senator Jim Kyle, a close Bredesen ally and the current Senate minority leader.

The state Senate primary race has settled into a one-on-one affair, Hooks v. Bowers, after the withdrawal of state representative Joe Towns, who confronted unpaid fines for longstanding failures to file financial disclosure in previous races.

n Saturday's special Democratic meeting had dealt with another thorny issue -- the question of whether Shelby County Democrats would hold their biennial nominating convention in July this year, as Bowers and her supporters wished, or in April, along with the rest of the state's Democratic county committees.

Bowers had requested the change, and the state Democratic committee had voted last month to permit it, so long as the local committee approved the request. The bottom line: Chairman Bowers' contingent had the numbers, winning by voice vote.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

POLITICS

Touting up some assets and liabilities

Posted By on Wed, Feb 16, 2005 at 4:00 AM

MORE FORD

Last week we began what will be a continuing examination of the forthcoming U.S. Senate race of 9th District congressman Harold Ford.

In Ford’s case, as in that of his Democratic primary opponent, state Rep. Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, and in those of the several Republican hopefuls now in the field, we intend to look beyond and beneath the P.R. statements, position papers, and stump platitudes for a nitty-gritty look at the candidate’s persona and politics.

Promise: In all instances, you will get the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. No spin, no kowtowing, and no shying away from either positives or negatives.

First, the good news for Ford: Despite the widely held belief of some, mainly local, observers that Ford’s race will be handicapped by (1) his race; and (2) bad publicity about his uncle, state Senator John Ford, my interviews and observations statewide over the years have not borne out that concern.

In 15 years of reporting state and local politics, I have yet to hear the first disparaging comment about Ford that is race-based -- even from the kind of thinly reconstructed types one might expect that from. And as Ed Cromer, the respected editor of the Nashville-based Tennessee Journal says, “I think that, even with the kind of bad publicity that John Ford is in for now, people will be able to distinguish between the nephew and the uncle.” As if to make doubly sure, the congressman has repeatedly made remarks distancing himself from his uncle (something, John Ford’s intimates say, that the currently beleaguered state senator isn’t crazy about.)

More good news: It is no secret that the congressman has proved a fascinating figure for much of the national and statewide media, and in his race he can expect the kind of lavish attention that was given the Senate races of candidates like Hillary Clinton in New York and Barack Obama in Illinois.

There’s bad news that comes with this good news, however: As we have noted, and as others are likely to discover, the congressman’s reactions to news coverage are sometimes impulsive and even, when he doesn’t like the facts reported, characterized by Kill-the-Messenger tendencies.

Two years ago, when another writer for this newspaper pointed out, accurately, that Ford’s local supporters were supporting state Rep. Kathryn Bowers, the eventual winner, for local Democratic chairman in a contested race, the congressman, looking ahead to his statewide race and no doubt galvanized by fear of party division, reacted swiftly and angrily. He repudiated the effort of his minions and made a point of endorsing then chairman Gal Jones Carson.

Complicating the issue was the fact that Carson doubled as press secretary for Mayor Willie Herenton, who has never been close to the Ford political clan.

Though Ford’s local supporters sucked it up and kept their peace publicly, several of them simmered privately and insisted that the congressman himself had initially signed off on their pro-Bowers efforts. One or two of them had serious words with Ford over the matter.

Ford’s composure under fire is sure to be tested in a Senate race. Rep. Kurita herself has a reputation for tenacious, even bare-knuckled campaigning, and, assuming Ford gets by her, he can surely expect some heavy weather from the eventual Republican nominee. As Cromer says, “No doubt about it. He’s never had to endure the kind of stressful opposition he can expect in a Senate race, and that could be a problem for him.”

Even Ford’s well-established celebrity glow could turn into a hindrance. Two recent items in Roll Call, the widely read Capitol Hill newsletter, began to highlight Ford’s private life. One called attention to his conspicuous presence at a lavish party thrown by Playboy Magazine during Super Bowl week. Another made fun of his penchant for regular pedicures.

Though he was briefly engaged some years ago, Ford does not have the kind of visible ties to a Significant Other that Tennesseans will see in the case of his various opponents. This fact might even help him with some younger voters, however.

One other potential obstacle for Ford: A number of state Democrats were unsettled by Ford’s protracted dawdling over a potential 2000 campaign for the Senate seat of Bill Frist -- the same one that Frist will vacate and Ford intends to seek next year. Still other Democrats were miffed by what they saw as the inattention of Ford, a national co-chair of John Kerry’s campaign, to the Democratic nominee’s race in Tennessee. One major-county liaison official communicated misgivings about Ford to the Kerry campaign at the highest level.

For all that, no one doubts that Rep. Ford, an undeniably dynamic figure, is likely to energize the Tennessee Democratic base in ways beyond the ability of the party’s Senate nominees for well more than a decade. And this, too, will be spoken to here. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 14, 2005

BOWERS VOWS TO RESIST BREDESEN ON TENNCARE

BOWERS VOWS TO RESIST BREDESEN ON TENNCARE

Posted By on Mon, Feb 14, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Rep. Bowers addresses TennCare forum with Owens (l) and Levin.

Alternating between irony and promises of sustained direct action, state Rep. Kathryn Bowers, chairman of the legislative TennCare Oversight Committee, vowed Sunday to continue resisting Governor Phil Bredesen’s recently announced TennCare cuts and to try to maintain the state-run insurance system as close to its current level of enrollees as possible.

Bowers appeared, along with Nell Levin of the Tennessee Alliance for Progress, and Bevery Owens of Tennesseans for Fair Taxation, at the monthly meeting of the Public Issues Forum at the Central Library.

Maintaining that Bredesen’s reforms amounted to “telling people to jump before they’ve got a safety net set up,” Bowers concurred with attendees who said the proposed Bredesen cuts threatened their very lives. Paying homage to Judge William J. Haynes Jr., the Middle Tennessee federal jurist who last month issued an order delaying the cuts, Bowers said, “Thank God for Judge Haynes. We’re not going to sit on our hands and let them take 323,000 people off the rolls.”

Attributing to the governor and his aides variations on the mockingly enunciated refrain, “We don’t know yet,” Bowers said Bredesen had acted before possessing reliable estimates of the economic and health costs to Tennesseans. She said she would organize groups of citizens to come to the General Assembly and lobby legislators against the Bredesen reforms.

Judge Haynes has meanwhile set a March 28th hearing to determine whether the governor’s plan is in compliance with federal consent decrees. And the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has scheduled an April 26th hearing to review the matter. Some news reports indicate that key legislators are considering seeking a month-long recess, pending the outcome the two hearings.

Levin said she thought public reaction to the governor’s proposals would be bad politically for Bredesen, who has recently been mentioned by national magazines as a potential 2008 presidential contender. Owens said she thought the TennCare issue might once again revive prospects for a state income tax, but Bowers, who intends to run for the state Senate seat vacated recently by Roscoe Dixon, now a Shelby County governmental aide, said she thought the income tax was a dead issue.

She touted instead a measure introduced jointly by herself and state Senator Steve Cohen that would raise cigarette taxes enough to pay for maintaining the current level of TennCare enrollment.

Bowers v. Hooks, v. Chism, v. Herenton?: The feisty Bowers has got more than Bredesen on her plate. As she prepares to run against current Shelby County Commission chairman Michael Hooks for Dixon's old state Senate seat, she faces the imminent likelihood of a seat-warmer for Hooks in the Senate, as former Teamster leader Sidney Chism, a longtime confidante of Mayor Willie Herenton and a de facto Hooks ally, seems to have the votes to be appointed by the commission Monday as an interim senator.

"I'm not comfortable with Sidney in there," Bowers had confided Saturday after presiding over a special meeting of the Shelby County Democratic Committee in her role as local Democratic chairman.

Saturday's special meeting had dealt with another thorny issue -- the question of whether Shelby County Democrats would hold their biennial nominating convention in July this year, or in April, along with the rest of the state's Democratic county committees.

Bowers had requested the change, and,the state Democratic committee had voted last month to permit it, so long as the local committee approved the request by formal vote.

There had been a stormy confrontation in Nashville between Bowers associate David Upton and other Bowers supporters, on one hand, and Chism, Gale Jones Carson, and Mal Hooker, all members of a party faction close to Mayor Herenton, on the other.

The Herenton faction contended last month that Bowers and Upton, who formally sought the July date in Nashville, had short-cut the local committee, and that argument continued Saturday, with Hooker charging that Upton had been guilty of "lying" about the matter to both the state and local committees.

Whatever the merits of the two positions, chairman Bowers' group had the votes Saturday. By voice vote, the local committee approved the July date -- sought by Bowers, according to herself and Upton, so that Shelby's legislative delegation, who will be in session through the spring, might participate in the local convention process more actively.

Hooker and others who had vocally protested the change left the meeting shortly after the vote was taken.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Starting the Clock

As Harold Ford prepares his race, we begin our scrutiny.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 11, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Representative Harold Ford Jr. is, as I write, on the cusp of formally announcing his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2006.

The congressman paired up with Governor Phil Bredesen in Memphis last week for a well-publicized forum on "faith-based" approaches to health care -- a joint appearance that was, depending on one's perspective, either a dog-and-pony show or a useful and innovative discussion with local clergy.

Afterward, he abruptly terminated a press availability in the middle of a serious -- and neutrally posed -- question to him about the outlook for Social Security legislation in the current session of Congress. Then he threw some needlessly spiteful remarks in my direction. To be honest, I found myself torn between forgiving his sins, as the Savior hath commanded, and momentary contemplation of several less charitable scenarios.

In the end, I just decided it was time to dilate briefly on an essential dilemma presented by this rising young politician, who is both gifted, as the existence of an impressive number of largely uncritical political and media supporters would indicate, and flawed, as many who know him best also realize.

The proximate reason for Ford's petulant behavior last week was his lingering resentment of a recent Flyer cover story, "Tilting Right?" -- which appeared in our January 13th issue and chronicled a rising tide of criticism of the congressman from prominent members of the blogosphere who were angered at what they saw as Ford's openness to various proposals for Social Security privatization. We sought a perspective from the congressman early on, when there was a good chance of constructing the article around his own point of view. He responded reluctantly, it seemed, and so late in the game that his position, though given prominence and length, had basically to be appended in a separate section.

Trust me: It was hard to pin Ford down on the matter. This is clearly a politician who enjoys being enjoyed, and he greatly prizes keeping his avenues open to the folks across the aisle. On the day in late 1998 that Bill Clinton was being impeached in the House of Representatives, Ford wandered over to the Republican side and spent much time in friendly, arm-squeezing conversation with his GOP colleagues. His own vote on Clinton's behalf had been tempered by remarks on the floor that were critical of the president's philandering. Ford is a master of the kind of ambiguous phrasing that, said on the stump, sounds impassioned to fellow Democrats but, couched in congressional-speak in the House itself, appears conciliatory -- and sometimes more -- to Republicans, many of whom continue to solicit the congressman for a switch of his allegiance.

Even so, what the congressman said in our pages last month, including a repudiation of President Bush's proposal for diverting portions of the Social Security tax into private-investment accounts, was enough to get him off the hook with several of his critics, including the noted columnist/blogger Joshua Micah Marshall, who thereby removed Ford's name from his "Fainthearted Faction" list of Democrats presumed to be backing Bush's privatization scheme. There's little doubt that the clarification of his views which we published, and which the aspiring senator has amplified on since, will serve him well indeed in his forthcoming Democratic primary campaign.

But the congressman was, to put it politely, aggrieved, and in a subsequent phone call allowed as how a couple of us at the Flyer had proved to be sorry excuses for "friends." (Intimates of Ford's have since revealed that the congressman, who was once picked by People magazine as one of its 50 Most Beautiful, was particularly irked over how he was portrayed in the cover illustration.) Now, we have often been favorably disposed to the congressman, and Ford has from time to time manifested smoothness in our personal relations, even charm. But he has never been what you would call "friendly."

And, of course, friendship is somewhat beside the point of the kind of fair-minded journalistic scrutiny we owe our readers and even public officials like the congressman himself. There is more to be said about this up-and-coming public figure whose forthcoming race for the Senate we intend to cover in comprehensive, fair-minded, and -- fear not, revealing --detail. To be continued in our next issue.

n Political developments to watch: The Shelby County Commission may cross the Rubicon Monday on picking a successor to state Senator Roscoe Dixon, now an aide to county mayor A C Wharton; the county's Republicans are holding preliminary caucuses this week in preparation for their biennial convention later this month. Bill Giannini seems the next likely chairman, as his only declared opponent, Terry Rowland, has back-and-forthed on a candidacy; county Democrats square off this weekend to vote on whether their own convention will occur in April, along with other state parties, or in July, as chairman Kathryn Bowers has requested.

Wednesday, February 9, 2005

POLITICS

POLITICS

Posted By on Wed, Feb 9, 2005 at 4:00 AM

STARTING THE CLOCK Part One of Two: U.S. Representative Harold Ford Jr. is, as I write, on the cusp of formally announcing his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2006.

The congressman paired up with Governor Phil Bredesen in Memphis last week for a well-publicized forum on “faith-based” approaches to health care -- a joint appearance that was, depending on one’s perspective, either a dog-and-pony show or a useful and innovative discussion with local clergy.

Afterward, he abruptly terminated a press availability in the middle of a serious -- and neutrally posed -- question to him about the outlook for Social Security legislation in the current session of Congress. Then he threw some needlessly spiteful remarks in my direction. To be honest, I found myself torn between forgiving his sins, as the Savior hath commanded, and momentary contemplation of several less charitable scenarios.

In the end, I just decided it was time to dilate briefly on an essential dilemma presented by this rising young politician, who is both gifted, as the existence of an impressive number of largely uncritical political and media supporters would indicate, and flawed, as many who know him best also realize.

The proximate reason for Ford’s petulant behavior last week was his lingering resentment of a recent Flyer cover story, “Tilting Right?” -- which appeared in our January 13th issue and chronicled a rising tide of criticism of the Congressman from prominent members of the blogosphere who were angered at what they saw as Ford’s openness to this or that proposal for Social Security privatization. We sought a perspective from the congressman early on, when there was a good chance of constructing the article around his own point of view. He responded reluctantly, it seemed, and so late in the game that his position, though given prominence and length, had basically to be appended in a separate section.

Trust me: It was hard to pin down Ford on the matter. This is clearly a politician who enjoys being enjoyed, and he greatly prizes keeping his avenues open to the folks across the aisle. On the day in late 1998 that Bill Clinton was being impeached in the House of Representatives, Ford wandered over to the Republican side and spent much time in friendly, arm-squeezing conversation with his GOP colleagues. His own vote on Clinton’s behalf had been tempered by (perhaps justifiable) remarks on the floor that were critical of the then president’s highly publicized philandering. Ford is a master of the kind of ambiguous phrasing that, said on the stump, sounds impassioned -- if vague -- to fellow Democrats but, couched in Congressional-Speak in the House itself, appears conciliatory -- and sometimes more -- to Republicans, many of whom continue to solicit the congressman for a switch of his allegiance.

Even so, what the congressman said in our pages last month, including a repudiation of President Bush’s proposal for diverting portions of the Social Security tax into private investment accounts, was enough to get him off the hook with several of his critics, including the noted columnist/blogger Joshua Micah Marshall, who thereby removed Ford’s name from his “Fainthearted Faction” list of Democrats presumed to be backing Bush’s privatization scheme. There would seem to be little doubt that the clarification of his views which we published, and which the aspiring senator has amplified on since, will serve him well indeed in his forthcoming Democratic primary campaign.

But the congressman was, to put it politely, aggrieved, and in a subsequent phone call allowed as how a couple of us at the Flyer had proved to be sorry excuses for “friends.” (Intimates of Ford’s have since revealed that the congressman, who was once picked by People Magazine as one of its 50 Most Beautiful, was particularly irked over how he was portrayed in an independently prepared cover illustration.) Now, we have often been favorably disposed to the congressman, and Ford has from time to time manifested smoothness in our personal relations, even charm. But he has never been what you would call “friendly.”

And, of course, friendship is somewhat beside the point of the kind of fair-minded journalistic scrutiny we owe our readers and even public officials like the congressman himself. There is more to be said about this up-and-coming public figure whose forthcoming race for the Senate we intend to cover in comprehensive, fair-minded, and -- fear not, revealing -- detail. To be continued.

Political developments to watch: The Shelby County Commission may cross the Rubicon Monday on picking a successor to state Senator Roscoe Dixon, now an aide to county mayor A C Wharton; the county’s Republicans are holding their preliminary caucuses this week in preparation for their biennial convention later this month. Bill Giannini seems the next likely chairman, as his only declared opponent, Terry Rowland, has back-and-forthed on a candidacy; county Democrats square off this weekend to vote on whether their own convention will occur in April, along with other state parties, or in July, as chairman Kathryn Bowers has requested. State Senator Steve Cohen continues his own square-off with Gov. Phil Bredesen in proposing a cigarette tax that would allow the current roster of Tenn-Care enrollees to be maintained.

Friday, February 4, 2005

A Second Front

Governor Bredesen, though basking in praise, has new trouble on his hands.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 4, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Do not imagine that state senator Steve Cohen is ready to hang up the gloves just because he has shed a few hairs, gained a few pounds, and notched a few years. The 56-year-old Cohen, who began his career as a public official while a brash 20-something in the 1970s, is still nobody to mess with. Just ask Governor Phil Bredesen, he of the sky-high popularity figures and the latest Democrat from these parts to be lauded by the national media as a rising star and future-tense luminary.

The ink isn't quite dry on the copies of last week's New Republic, which featured Bredesen on its cover as quite possibly "the Future of the Democratic Party." Nor has the standing ovation which the governor received from a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly on Monday night yet subsided.

Even so, the combative Cohen has just presented the putatively triumphant governor with a bona fide second front. Bredesen is already involved in a give-no-quarter struggle over TennCare, which currently pits him against Gordon Bonnyman of the Tennessee Justice Center and a member of the federal judiciary who last week imposed a stay on the governor's planned reductions in the program. Now the governor can look forward to resumed warfare with Cohen over how to proceed with the Tennessee state lottery.

Though he is proud to be called "the father of the lottery" in Tennessee -- and has been honored as such by no less than Bredesen himself -- the senator, who labored for 19 years to get the lottery established via constitutional amendment, is hardly content to rest on that laurel.

Even as Bredesen was preparing to ask the Legislature to divert some of the year-old lottery's windfall proceeds to pre-school education, as he formally did in his State of the State address Monday night, Cohen and Representative Chris Newton, the Memphis Democrat's co-sponsor on lottery legislation in the recent past, proposed using the same better-than-expected swag to up the value of Hope scholarships for the state's college students.

In a Flyer op-ed column ("Keep the Faith," page 13), Cohen makes the case for his and Newton's proposal -- casting it as an instance of "a fiduciary duty based on a contract with the voters in the 2002 election" and contrasting the two legislators' position with that of "some officials" (read: Bredesen) who, Cohen alleges, erred on the side of caution and, influenced by negative revenue predictions, insisted last year on reducing the scale of the scholarships.

Largely as a result of Bredesen's insistence, the scholarships were capped in 2004 at $3,000. It was but one aspect of a power struggle between the senator and the state's chief executive over the shaping of the lottery. Cohen and Bredesen also sparred for most of last year over the composition of the state lottery board's directors. That outcome was in Bredesen's favor too, though Cohen managed some face-saving last-minute changes.

Early in his State of the State address, Bredesen proposed to establish a "voluntary pre-K program for every 4-year-old in Tennessee" and served notice to the assembled legislators that he would ask "for an additional $25 million, in this first year from the lottery excess funds, to take the first steps."

It is these "excess funds" that Cohen insists should go to raising the scholarship limits, and, in the wake of the governor's speech, the senator was widely quoted as comparing Bredesen to a cuckoo bird raiding the lottery nest in a less than "moral" manner.

n For the time being, the dustup with Cohen is likely to take second place to the governor's showdown with U.S. district judge William Haynes over TennCare. The state has indicated it will appeal last week's surprise decision by Haynes to stay Bredesen's plan to purge some 132,000 TennCare recipients from the program's rolls, pending a judicial review.

Bredesen got a standing ovation and his most sustained applause late in his address Monday night when he said, in an unmistakable reference both to TennCare advocates like Bonnyman and the federal judiciary: "There are many people who claim to represent the 'public interest' in this, but not one of them has ever stood before the voters. The people in this room tonight have earned a vastly stronger claim to represent the public interest than anyone else involved."

It is, of course, Bredesen's business-like, arguably conservative attitudes toward government -- evidenced, most notably, in his willingness to consider serious tax cuts to balance the budget without new taxes -- that has won him the kind of bipartisan support demonstrated in the House chamber Monday night. It is the same qualities, plus the mere fact that he is a ranking Democratic officeholder in a "red" (Bush-leaning) state that has some in the national media singing his praises.

Though it was once considered to occupy the same corner of the political left as The Nation did (and still does), The New Republic has been heavily influenced by neoconservative attitudes in recent years, both in foreign and in economic policy, and is "liberal" in the same carefully circumscribed sense as, say, TV pundits Mort Kondracke and Alan Colmes. Even so, the periodical's conspicuous boosting of Bredesen's stock, coupled with similar coverage from major national newspapers after last year's election, is bound to enhance his status among Democrats nationally.

Though he hasn't begun to catch up with the national media attention accorded 9th District U.S. representative Harold Ford, the governor is certainly on his way there, and, as a statewide officeholder, he outranks Ford (who hopes in his turn to win a U.S. Senate seat in 2006). Either appropriately or ironically, both Bredesen and the congressman were to share a platform in Memphis this week at the Hope & Healing Center, on behalf of faith-based approaches to health care.

n Ford, by the way, has been formally excised from the "Fainthearted Faction" list of noted blogger Joshua Micah Marshall, whose talkingpointsmemo.com has kept running tabs on those congressional Democrats who are known or suspected supporters of President Bush's push to create private investment accounts, to be financed by a portion of the Social Security tax.

Marshall took his cue from comments made by Ford in the Flyer's cover story of January 13th -- "Tilting Right?" In that article, the congressman, who was pressed on the issue of such accounts, issued what seemed to be a categorical disavowal of them -- at least, of the sort that would be financed by the payroll tax itself. Ford has proposed add-on private accounts of some sort in order to create "wealth" for Social Security recipients.

In a Monday posting, Marshall began: "It's almost like the end of an era. Representative Harold Ford (D) of Tennessee, former Dean of the Fainthearted Faction, now out of the Fainthearted Faction. Yes, I'm still trying to get my head around it too ... ."

Marshall went on to quote portions of the Flyer story, including these statements from Ford: "I do not favor privatizing Social Security. I am opposed to President Bush's attempt to do so. Categorically . The president's plan to privatize Social Security will not accomplish what he says he wants to accomplish. It will add too much debt and it will offset any gains that people would make from their accounts because interest rates would skyrocket and benefits would be reduced and the program would run out of money."

The blogger concluded his posting thusly: "So there you have it. Rep. Harold Ford (D) of Tennessee, fainthearted no more."

n Another Ford, state senator John Ford, was accorded the honor, if that's the word, of a tongue-in-cheek mention by The Tonight Show's Jay Leno, who joked about Ford's child-support obligations, active and pending, in at least three households. That was followed by a somewhat more arch reference to Ford by right-wing radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh.

If Ford was embarrassed by such attention, you couldn't tell it by his demeanor Monday night. In the role of an official "escort" to Bredesen as the governor entered the House chamber to make his address, Ford sauntered down the aisle with a faintly discernible smile.

Perhaps the senator's good humor was owing to another matter -- the issue of his legitimacy as a representative of his South Memphis Senate district. Ford was challenged on the point by various members of the state Republican establishment last week after it was confirmed (as has long been known informally) that Ford maintains a residence -- or residences -- several miles further east than the limits of his district.

As Ford well knew, the law would seem -- for better or for worse -- to be on his side. In an opinion issued last year, state attorney general Paul Summers updated a 1990 finding by the attorney general's office, concurring with its judgment that "in a senate district which is part of a multi-district county, a candidate for the office of state senator need only be a resident of the county for more than one year prior to election as qualification for any one of the state senatorial districts which are part of that county."

As the court proceedings involving Ford would indicate, he may be a travelin' man, but, so far as is known, he hasn't yet pitched his tent outside the confines of multi-districted Shelby County.

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

POLITICS

POLITICS

Posted By on Tue, Feb 1, 2005 at 4:00 AM

SECOND FRONT Do not imagine that state Senator Steve Cohen is ready to hang up the gloves just because he has shed a few hairs, gained a few pounds, and notched a few years. The 56-year-old Cohen, who began his career as a public official while a brash 20-something in the ‘70s, is still nobody to mess with. Just ask Governor Phil Bredesen, he of the sky-high popularity figures and the latest Democrat from these parts to be lauded by the national media as a rising star and future-tense luminary.

The ink isn’t yet dry on the copies of last week’s New Republic, which featured Bredesen on its cover as quite possibly “..the Future of the Democratic Party...” Nor has the standing ovation which the governor received from a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly on Monday night begun to subside.

Even so, the combative Cohen has just presented the putatively triumphant governor with a bona fide second front. Bredesen is already involved in a give-no-quarter struggle over TennCare, which currently pits him against Gordon Bonnyman of the Tennessee Justice Center and a member of the federal judiciary who last week imposed a stay on the governor’s planned reductions in the program. Now the governor can look forward to resumed warfare with Cohen over how to proceed with the still-young Tennessee state lottery.

Though he is proud to be called “the father of the lottery” in Tennessee -- and has been honored as such by no less than Bredesen himself -- the senator who labored for 19 years to get the lottery established via constitutional amendment is hardly content to rest on that laurel.

Even as Bredesen was preparing to to ask the legislature to divert some of the year-old lottery’s windfall proceeds to pre-school education, as the governor formally did in his State of the State address Monday night, Cohen and Rep. Chris Newton (R-Turtletown), the Memphis Democrat’s co-sponsor on lottery legislation in the recent past, proposed using the same better-than-expected swag to up the value of Hope scholarships for the state’s college students.

In an op-ed,”Keep the Faith”, which appears in the current Flyer issue, Cohen makes the case for his and Newton’s proposal -- casting it as an instance of “a fiduciary duty based on a contract with the voters in the 2002 election” and contrasting the two legislators’ position with that of “[s]ome officials” (read: Bredesen) who, Cohen alleges, erred on the side of caution and, influenced by negative revenue predictions, insisted last year on reducing the scale of the scholarships.

In his op-ed, Cohen insists, “The intent of the law, the ballot language, the electoral debate, and the constitutional amendment itself all direct lottery revenues to scholarships first..” And he says the $4,000 figure which “education experts recommended” as the right maximum figure for lottery-funded scholarships should now be instituted in the wake of lottery proceeds that have exceeded the forecasts accepted last year.

Largely as a result of Governor Bredesen’s insistence, the scholarships were capped in 2004 at $3,000. It was but one aspect of a power struggle between the senator and the state’s chief executive over the shaping of the lottery, which had been approved in a ballot referendum in 2002. Cohen and Bredesen also sparred for most of last year over the composition of the state Lottery Board’s directors. That outcome was in Bredesen’s favor, too, though Cohen managed some face-saving last-minute changes.

Early in his State of the State address, Bredesen proposed to establish a “voluntary pre-K program for every 4-year-old in Tennessee” and served notice to the assembled legislators that he would ask “for an additional $25 million, in this first year from the lottery excess funds, to take the first steps.”

It is these “excess funds” that Cohen insists should go to raising the scholarship limits, and, in the wake of the governor’s speech, the senator was widely quoted as comparing Bredesen to a cuckoo bird raiding the lottery nest in a less than “moral” manner.

For the time being, the dustup with Cohen is likely to take second place to the governor’s showdown with U.S. District Judge William Haynes over TennCare. The state has indicated it will appeal last week’s surprise decision by Haynees to stay Bredesen’s plan to purge some 132,000 TennCare recipients from the program’s rolls, pending a judicial review.

Bredesen got a standing ovation and his most sustained applause late in his address Monday night when he said, in an unmistakeable reference both to TennCare advocates like Bonnyman and the federal judiciary: “There are many people who claim to represent the ‘public interest’ in this, but not a one of them has ever stood before the voters. The people in this room tonight have earned a vastly stronger claim to represent the public interest than anyone else involved.”

It is, of course, Bredesen’s business-like, arguably conservative attitudes toward government -- evidenced, most notably, in his willingness to consider serious tax cuts to balance the budget without new taxes -- that has won him the kind of bi-partisan support demonstrated in the House chamber Monday night. It is the same qualities, plus the mere fact that he is a ranking Democratic office-holder in a “red” (Bush-leaning) state that has so much of the national media singing his praises.

Though it was once considered to occupy the same corner of the political left as The Nation did (and still does), The New Republic has been heavily influenced by neo-conservative attitudes in recent years, both in foreign and in economic policy, and is “liberal” in the same carefully circumscribed sense as, say, TV pundits Mort Kondracke and Alan Colmes. Even so, the periodical’s conspicuous boosting of Bredesen’s stock, coupled with similar coverage from major national newspapers after last year’s election, is bound to enhance his status among Democrats nationally.

Though he hasn’t begun to catch up with the national media attention accorded 9th District U.S. Rep. Harold Ford of Memphis, the governor is certainly on his way there, and, as a statewide office-holder, he outranks Ford (who hopes in his turn to win a U.S. Senate seat in 2006) . Either appropriately or ironically, both Bredesen and the congressman were to share a platform in Memphis this week at the Hope and Healing Center, on behalf of faith-based approaches to health care.

Ford, by the way, has been formally excised from the “Fainthearted Faction” list of noted blogger Joshua Micah Marshall, whose talkingpointsmemo.com has kept running tabs on those congressional Democrats who are known or suspected supporters of President Bush’s push to create private investment accounts, to be financed by a portion of the Social Security tax.

Marshall took his cue from comments made by Ford in the Flyer’s cover story of January 13, “Tilting Right?” In that article, the congressman, who was pressed on the issue of such accounts, issued what seemed to be a categorical disavowal of them -- at least, of the sort that would be financed by the payroll tax itself. Ford has proposed add-on private accounts of some sort in order to create “wealth” for Social Security recipients.

In a Monday posting, Marshall began: “It’s almost like the end of an era. Rep. Harold Ford (D) of Tennessee, former Dean of the Fainthearted Faction, now out of the Fainthearted Faction. Yes, I'm still trying to get my head around it too ...”

Marshall went on to quote portions of the Flyer story, including these statements from Ford: “I do not favor privatizing Social Security. I am opposed to President Bush's attempt to do so. CategoricallyÉ.The president's plan to privatize Social Security will not accomplish what he says he wants to accomplish. It will add too much debt and it will offset any gains that people would make from their accounts because interest rates would skyrocket and benefits would be reduced and the program would run out of money."

The blogger concluded his posting thusly: “So there you have it. Rep. Harold Ford (D) of Tennessee, fainthearted no more.”

Another Ford, state Senator John Ford, has made his share of news lately -- local, statewide, and national. Sen. Ford was accorded the honor, if that’s the word, of a tongue-in-cheek mention by late-night TV comic Jay Leno, who, in a monologue for The Tonight Show, joked about Ford’s child-support obligations, active and pending, in at least three households. That was followed by a somewhat more arch reference to Ford by right-wing radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh.

If Ford was embarrassed by such attention, you couldn’t tell it by his demeanor Monday night, as, in the role of an official “escort” to Bredesen as the governor entered the House chamber to make his address, Ford sauntered down the aisle with a faintly discernible smile.

Perhaps the senator’s good humor was owing to another matter, the issue of his legitimacy as a representive of his South Memphis Senate district. Ford was challenged on the point by various members of the state Repubican establishment last week after it was confirmed (as has long been known informally) that Ford maintains a residence -- or residences -- several miles further east than the limits of his district.

As Ford well knew, the law would seem -- for better or for worse -- to be on his side. In an opinion issued last year, state Attorney General Paul Summers updated a a 1990 finding by the Attorney General’s office, concurring with its judgment that “in a senate district which is part of a multi-district county, a candidate for the office of state senator need only be a resident of the county for more than one year prior to election as qualification for any one of the state senatorial districts which are part of that county.”

As the court proceedings involving Ford would indicate, he may be a travelin’ man, but, so far as is known, he hasn’t yet pitched his tent outside the confines of multi-districted Shelby County.

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