Wednesday, March 30, 2005

CITY BEAT

Removal of life-support would still leave FedEx Forum with competition.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 30, 2005 at 4:00 AM

CLOSE THE PYRAMID It’s spring time, and the Memphis Grizzlies are entering the really tough part of the schedule.

Not just those games against other playoff contenders and all-stars such as LeBron James and Allen Iverson. Off the court, the lineup of formidable competitors includes Shelby County commissioners John ‘J-Will’ Willingham and Walter ‘Big Dog’ Bailey, the upcoming Beale Street Musicfest in April and May, promoter Beaver Productions, and the ever dangerous duo of Motley Crue and DeSoto County Civic Center.

The issue is not basketball but the non-compete contract clause that gives the Grizzlies and their operating arm, Hoops Inc., first dibs on the dwindling number of bands and artists that want to perform in Memphis in a big arena. While Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court were preoccupied last week with Terry Schiavo’s feeding tube, Willingham and others were casting the non-compete clause as a right-to-life issue for The Pyramid and Mid-South Coliseum. As Pyramid General Manager Alan Freeman told commissioners, if his employer, SMG, gets a call from a promoter wanting to play The Pyramid, he must by contract immediately refer them to the Grizzlies, and he can only book a show with their blessing.

“That’s not happening,” said Freeman, who estimated that six to eight events have bypassed Memphis due to the non-compete clause since FedEx Forum opened last September.

Questioned by Bailey, the commission’s watch dog over the Grizzlies and FedEx Forum, Freeman gave a grim report. The Pyramid lost $200,000 to $300,000 in potential revenue. Two bands, Rascal Flats and aging rockers Motley Crue, booked the 9,000-seat DeSoto County Civic Center instead. FedEx Forum has only two concerts booked for the next 90 days, and both previously played The Pyramid so they are not new business.

As facilities managers and promoters, SMG and Beaver Productions are understandably concerned. Willingham and the four commissioners voted to keep the heat on the Grizzlies and “lawyer extraordinaire” Stan Meadows, as Willingham called him in an open letter that was alternately sassy, silly, and sensible. But there is no need for a pity party for The Pyramid or the concert drought. Concerts and shows that need an arena as big as The Pyramid or FedEx Forum are only a small part of the Memphis entertainment scene. Tunica casinos, the Grizzlies, the Memphis Redbirds, AutoZone Park and the Memphis Botanic Gardens Live at the Garden concert series weren’t around when The Pyramid opened. There are more venues in the Memphis area than there are bands, teams, singers, and entertainers to fill them (see chart). Within walking distance of each other downtown, there are two arenas, one outdoor amphitheater, one music museum, one ballpark, and two auditoriums with a total of 60,000 seats. Plus Beale Street. On nights when three or four venues are booked, Memphis seems like a genuine big city. On slow nights, visitors must wonder what in the world we were thinking.

The focus on the non-compete clause misses the point. FedEx Forum wasn’t built to bring more concerts and truck shows to Memphis any more than Tunica casinos were built to revive the careers of geriatric singers or increase the consumption of shrimp cocktails. Those are extras. FedEx Forum is about professional basketball and a big-league image. Memphis made its choice and should make the best of it. There was always going to be some collateral damage. But $300,000 in revenue, which is offset by the expenses of keeping The Pyramid open, doesn’t make much of a dent in the $30 million of debt on the building. The Grizzlies are responsible for operating deficits at FedEx Forum. They --and the city and county -- need a competing arena at the other end of downtown like Sen. John Ford needs another ex-wife.

If there are six or eight fewer concerts in Memphis because of the Grizzlies, there are also 50 more NBA games per year. The Grizzlies give Memphis an answer to Tunica’s casinos and Nashville’s Tennessee Titans. Motley Crue playing The Pyramid couldn’t do that. The Grizzlies help keep FedEx and AutoZone happy. The headquarters of Fortune 500 companies are worth some perks. Would anyone trade them for HealthFirst and Worldcom, the corporate fallen angels of Birmingham, Alabama and Jackson, Mississippi?

vClosing The Pyramid won’t turn off the music in Memphis. Musicfest, according to Freeman, dries up the concert business for at least a month before and after the three-day event. Beale Street, the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, Memphis Botanic Gardens, suburban concert halls, and scores of bars and clubs listed in this newspaper offer live music. The Mud Island Amphitheater, which is not bound by the non-compete clause, will soon announce a revived summer series of at least ten concerts. Benny Lendermon, head of the Riverfront Development Corporation, said Mud Island’s 2005 bill “will far exceed the number of concerts it has had in the past.” The Orpheum, which has presented the likes of Norah Jones, Jerry Seinfeld, and Tom Petty, plans to offer more music concerts in 2005, according to Pat Halloran.

The Pyramid is simply an expensive skyline ornament. It was doomed as a basketball arena when the University of Memphis Tigers moved away. Its usefulness as an adjunct to the Memphis Cook Convention Center is limited to a handful of conventions such as the Church of God in Christ that require a large assembly hall. Pierre Landaiche, the general manager of the convention center, said “people will walk a mile indoors” if buildings are connected by interior walkways and people-movers but are reluctant to go outside to a separate building.

No one has come forward with a viable alternate use for The Pyramid that would shift the debt to a private developer without additional public investment. A casino, which is Willingham’s choice, would require enabling legislation from Nashville and face opposition (and competition, if it ever came to pass) from the Tennessee Lottery and Tunica casinos.

“There is a difference between a dreamer and a visionary,” says Beale Street developer John Elkington, who has seen his share of both in the last 25 years. “A visionary has the wherewithal to make it happen. With The Pyramid, we have a bunch of dreamers here.”

Halloran, president of the Memphis Development Foundation which runs The Orpheum, isn’t ready to quit on The Pyramid.

“They need to let them book shows,” he said. “I understand the Grizzlies’ position, but I think the city made a bad deal. It hurts the economy not to have multiple events.”

Howard Stovall of Resource Entertainment Group, which represents some 50 bands and other clients, isn’t so sure.

Given the competition from Tunica and the inherently “tricky” Memphis market, the non-compete clause in exchange for the Grizzlies picking up operating deficits at FedEx Forum is “a decent deal” for Memphis, he said.

“Four or five years ago people were talking about the fact that concerts weren’t coming to Memphis,” he said. “Memphis is finicky. The sweet spot in this market is the 5,000 to 7,000-ticket concert. Things that seem to be layups turn out to be a lot more difficult. The only way to succeed is to be cautious.”

Want to respond? Send us an email here.

Monday, March 28, 2005

POLITICS

The former 7th District congressman will try again for the Senate in 2006

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

BRYANT REDUX If he’s elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006, when he’ll be making his second try, former 7th District congressman Ed Bryant will do what he can to get named to that body’s Judiciary Committee. Why? “I want to make sure I can help President Bush. We’ve got to be careful to get the right kind of judges in there,” is how Bryant put it to members of the Southeast Shelby County Republican Club last week.

The issue is crucial, Bryant told the audience at Fox Ridge Pizza last Tuesday night, and will remain so even if, and maybe especially if, Majority Leader Bill Frist can successfully follow through on his current threat to change Senate rules so as to prevent a Democratic filibuster on judicial appointees.

That’s the so-called “nuclear option,” which, Bryant suggested, could be equally dangerous to both parties. There is the 2008 presidential election to think about, for example, and with it the specter of a certain Democratic senator from New York name of Hillary. “If there’s a second president Clinton,” Bryant warned, “then we want to make sure that we look very closely at her judges to make sure they believe in the Constitution. Don’t be thinking that we’re going to be solving this very quickly if we go nuclear.”

To distinguish himself from three other declared opponents for the Republican nomination, Bryant boasts his legal background, which includes service as a military J.A.G. officer, as a West Point instructor, and as U.S. Attorney for West Tennessee, including Memphis, during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Though he didn’t mention it last week, he was also a House “manager” for the first President Clinton’s impeachment in late 1998 and earned a certain fame -- or notoriety -- as the designated GOP interrogator for that proceeding of one Monica Lewinsky.

First elected to the House in 1992, Bryant represented Tennessee’s 7th District, which stretches from the suburbs of Memphis to those of Nashville. He hazarded his first run for the Senate in 2002, when the then Republican incumbent, Fred Thompson, made a surprise announcement of withdrawal from politics. (Thompson, a veteran of several movies, went back to acting and can be seen weekly in installments of TV’s Law and Order.)

It remains unproven, but there are many who believe that Thompson timed his announcement so that former Governor Lamar Alexander could get an early start on the race to succeed him. Bryant was reportedly one of those who thought so (his supporters certainly did), but he declared for the Senate anyway, despite further widespread reports that the Bush administration itself was promoting Alexander.

Bryant lost a hard-fought primary in 2002 but then loyally soldiered up in support of Alexander, the eventual winner over Democrat Bob Clement. He went back to his former residence in Jackson [and settled down to a law practice]. When Frist, who is expected to be a 2008 presidential candidate, confirmed that he would vacate the state’s other Senate seat and not run again in 2006, Bryant had another opportunity and was the first candidate of either party to hit the ground running.

“I apologize for spending so much time in East Tennessee,” he said to the East Shelby County club last week. “But,” he noted wryly, “that’s where the votes were down last time.”

Bryant thinks the statewide name recognition he gained in 2002 puts him on equal terms with the other announced GOP candidates -- former 4th District congressman and 2002 gubernatorial candidate Van Hilleary, now of Murfreesboro; Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker; and state Representative Beth Harwell of Nashville, the former chairperson of the Tennessee Republican Party.

“We’re not running against Lamar Alexander this year,” Bryant told the Southeast Shelby audience last week. “We’re running against mortal people, not a political superstar.”

In an interview after his public remarks, Bryant indulged himself in some speculation that runs counter to conventional wisdom. “What happens if Governor [Phil] Bredesen doesn’t run again?” he asked, noting that the governor, who has potential long-term problems with social “wedge” issues and TennCare, has been touted as presidential prospect in the national media.. “I think he might serve one term, declare victory, and try to get up in that league.”

That would open the doors for a governor’s race for his 7th District successor, Marsha Blackburn, as well as the aforesaid Hilleary, Corker, and Harwell. “I’m prepared to endorse them all, anybody that wants to run,” he said with a grin, “to get them out of the [Senate] race.”

Want to respond? Send us an email here.

Friday, March 25, 2005

BOWERS, MCNEIL WIN DISTRICT 33 PRIMARIES

BOWERS, MCNEIL WIN DISTRICT 33 PRIMARIES

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


Democratic winner Kathryn Bowers (behind desk) relaxes in her Elvis Presley Blvd. headquarters with well-wishers after her state Senate primary win -- (l to r)State Rep. Lois DeBerry (House Speaker Pro Tem); Del Gill; and state Senator Steve Cohen

Democrat Kathryn Bowers and Republican Mary Ann Chaney McNeil were easy winners Thursday in their party primaries for an open District 33 state Senate seat and won the right to oppose each other in the special general election on May 10th

The GOP's McNeil

The District 33 seat was vacated earlier this year by longtime incumbent Roscoe Dixon, who now serves as an aide to Shelby County mayor A C Wharton, and is held on an interim basis by former Teamster leader Sidney Chism, like Dixon a Democrat.

In a relatively light turnout, Bowers won with 50 percent of the vote against Michael Hooks and James M. Harvey. Political unknown Harvey, a mortgage broker and former truck-driver, campaigned steadily and surprised most observers by finishing ahead of Hooks, the Shelby County Commission chairman who had counted on high name recognition and late-breaking endorsements to give him a chance against state Representative Bowers. Harvey had some 27 percent of the primary vote against HooksÕ 23 percent.

McNeil, a retired educator, polished off three Republican opponents with relative ease, polling 63 percent of the vote against 24 percent for Jason Hernandez, 6l6 percent for Barry Sterling, and 6.5 percent for Mary Lynn Flood.

BowersÕ victory can be attributed to a number of factors, including industrious campaigning, the support of a small but dedicated corps of supporters, and a promise, which events may have overtaken, to resist Governor Phil BredesenÕs plan for pruning the stateÕs TennCare rolls. Hooks rolled the dice with last-minute literature that featured endorsements from numerous city and county office-holders, including Memphis mayor Willie Herenton and Shelby County mayor A C Wharton. He had campaigned in support of alternate revenue measures initiated by Wharton and endorsed by the county commission Ð including a controversial real estate transfer tax, one that Bowers made a point of opposing.

If elected on May 10th, Bowers could establish two precedents Ð becoming the first African American female to serve in the Senate from Shelby County and becoming the first person to be both the House and Senate sponsor of a bill to pass the General Assembly. That bill, a complex financing measure to benefit The Med, has already passed the House and would be signed ÒBowers, BowersÓ if it passed the Senate under her sponsorship.

ÓThat can happen if the legislature stays in session past May 10th, and I think it will,Ó said Bowers. ÒOh, weÕll make sure it stays in session that long!Ó jested state Senator Steve Cohen, a prospective colleague.

Should she prevail instead, McNeil, who received a statewide Outstanding Principal Award in 2003 , has no shot at such dual sponsorship, but she, too, would become the first African American female to serve in the state Senate from Shelby County.

Two independent candidates, Ian Randolph and Mary Taylor Shelby, will oppose Bowers and McNeil on the May 10th special general election ballot.

Final Vote Results From All 51 Precincts

DEMOCRATS

Bowers: 2,129 or 50 percent
Harvey: 1,184 or 27 percent
Hooks: 994 or 23 percent

REPUBLICANS

Flood: 79 or 6.5 percent
Hernandez: 294 or 24 percent
McNeil: 757 or 63 percent
Sterling: 81 or 6.6 percent

Thursday, March 24, 2005

FORD'S FUNDRAISER DOESN'T FAZE KURITA

FORD'S FUNDRAISER DOESN'T FAZE KURITA

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

Harold Ford Jr.’s fundraiser at the Hilton on ‘Ridgelake Boulevard Wednesday night was a big-time social event at one level and a serious real-world enterprise on another. Though the invitation (signed onto by 80 sponsors!) bore the words “Releect Harold Ford," the event was fairly universally seen as an effort to build a kitty for the 9th District congressman’s long-expected U.,S. Senate race in 2006.

That’s what all the talk has been about for months now in political circles, and that’s what the multitude of attendees who showed up Wednesday night were talking about. A word about those attendees, a truly diversified host: There were belles and bankers, architects and entrepreneurs, lawyers and legislators, judges and jukers, pols and peepers: At $1,000 a head for the top ticket, the turnout might well have been good enough to reach the designated goal of $1 million -- even making allowances for all the lesser players and outright comps on hand.

Oh, and one of the attendees -- the guest of honor, in fact -- was a governor, Tennessee’s own Democratic chief executive, Phil Bredesen, who chose to appear on Rep. Ford’s behalf despite the fact that a state senator from his party, Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, one of those whom the governor depends upon to pass his legislation, is already a declared candidate for the very U.S. Senate seat that Ford is presumed about to seek.

“I don’t have a problem with that,” Kurita said by telephone later Wednesday night “The only thing I can conclude is that the congressman really is running for reelection, and the governor is entirely within his rights to support him. He attended many a fundraiser for me when I was running for reelection to the state senate.”

Kurita refused even to countenance the idea that, with Ford conspicuously on the cusp of decision about the Senate race, Bredesen’s help with the gala big-money fundraiser might -- quite literally -- tip the scales for the mediagenic congressman.

“He’s running for reelection to Congress,” Kurita said again, with the air of one dutifully -- or wishfully -- repeating a mantra.

She elaborated: “Don’t you think it’s interesting that I’m declared, Ed Bryant is declared, Beth Harwell is declared, Bob Corker is declared, and Van Hilleary is declared, and he [Ford] isn’t declared? I take him at his word that he’s running for reelection. This is March! We’ve got the Senate field. Anybody who’s serious about running should be there by now.”

Kurita vented what sounded like competitive instincts regarding Ford only once, when she was informed that the congressman’s fundraiser had been proclaimed -- at least formally -- off limits to the media,

“But it’s a public office!” she said. “The whole point is to serve the people It’s not something you do for the elite or for those who give you money. Running for office is something that should be done in public, not behind closed doors. I can’t imagine barring the media from a fundraiser!”

Even if access to Ford’s fundraiser turned out not to be universal, advance word concerning it surely had been. For some weeks, it -- like a follow-up fundraiser coming up next week in Nashville -- had been ballyhooed far and wide in the political community of Tennessee,

That made it all the more baffling that state Senator John Ford, whose problems with the Senate Ethics Committee, the state Election Registry, and various other corners of officialdom have been even more widely publicized, professed Wednesday in Nashville not to know that his congressman nephew was having a fundraiser in Memphis that night.

“Really?” he said, looking genuinely puzzled. It was a big deal, Senator Ford was told. A thousand dollars a head. The senator smiled. “That ain’t much!” he said, probably ironically.

It is much, of course, especially when one considers the size of Rep. Ford’s crowd Wednesday night. But state Senator Ford, whose predicament is considered by many the proximate cause of his nephew’s hesitation about running, may have been preoccupied. The latest installment of his several running confrontations with authority was slated as soon as Thursday morning, when the Ethics Committee was scheduled to meet again.

“I’m about fed up with all that stuff, with people impugning my integrity,” Ford said. “I’m getting ready to drop some libel suits on ‘em!”

It’s a fair bet that his celebrated nephew, evidently still trying to make up his mind, would just as soon the fuss and bother came to an end, too.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

POLITICS

Sen. Ford's are reopened; A C Wharton gets new ones; and Willingham promises some.

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

BATTLE WOUNDS NASHVILLE-- John Ford’s case is beginning to resemble the apochryphal one about the child who murdered both parents and then asked the court for mercy on grounds that he was an orphan.

The beleagured state senator from South Memphis (and other points) sounded such a note last week when he petitioned a Shelby County court for lowered child-support payments on grounds that he has suffered the loss of a lucrative annual consulting contract worth almost $300,000.

Ford has lost that contract, of course, in the aftermath of court procedures that revealed it and other previously unknown income and in the wake of a raft of subsequent investigations into the senator’s affairs. The fact was that Ford’s decision to contest an increase in child support to one of the mothers of his several children was what led to the disclosure -- and to raised child-support payments.

Next, the consulting company that had employed Ford (and had also represented a dental provider which landed an exclusive TennCare contract with the state) dropped Ford in the wake of all the publicity.

And that, to complete the circle, made the senator unable to come up with the add-on child support just ordered by the court . If Ford had quietly agreed to the increase in the first place, he doubtless would have avoided the chain of circumstances that now has him bound up tight.

As of last week, Ford seemed to have decent chances of escaping some of his recent misery -- which, for starters, includes separate probes by the state Senate Ethics Committee, the state Election Registry, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

On Wednesday, the members of theEthics Committee sat Ford before them and did their best to give the benefit of the doubt to the senator (they basically offered their Senate colleague forgiveness for what he -- and they -- seem inclined to regard as “oversights”), it appeared that Ford was halfway out of the woods.

Events later in the week worsened the senator’s predicament, however.

The first of those was a meeting on Thursday of the six members the state Election Registry, who gave themselves every chance to be as lenient as the Ethics Committee had been.. But, almost despite themselves, they backed and filled themselves into the most decisive action against Ford so far -- a show-cause order, demanding more complete information from Ford concerning his challenged campaign expenditures.

Several early motions -- all based on a citizen complaint from one Barry Schmittou -- had failed. It was only when member Karen Dunavant made a show-cause motion which made no reference to the Schmittou complaint that the Registry formally put the onus on proof on Ford. The senator has 30 days to demonstrate why his expenditures, notably his apparent use of campaign funds to pay for a daughter’s lavish wedding, do not merit sanctions from the Registry.

The successful motion by Dunavant, a Republican appointee from Memphis, came as something of a surprise. Up to that point, she had seemed reluctant to turn the screws on Democrat Ford. During the discussion of the wedding video, she lamented, “Lovely girl! It’s too bad she has to go through all this.”

The only dissenting vote on Dunavant’s motion came, ironically, from Nashville lawyer William Long, another Republican, who had made the earlier motion throwing the ball back into complainaint Schmittou’s court.

"I've known Sen. Ford for almost 30 years,” said Long, who went on to suggest that without the senator and his records on hand it was improper to proceed. Echoing statements made by members of the Ethics Committee the day before, Long suggested that media pressure was the true cause of the various inquiries under way.

Member George Harding of Lebanon, a Democratic appointee, expostulated at one point: “You’re just trying to get this thing put off because Senator Ford is a friend of yours.” Long asked for, and at length got, an apology for those words

Schmittou, who is well-known on Capitol Hill for his protests against various governmental actions and whose formal complaints against Ford are the proximate cause of the multiple investigations of Ford now going on, professed himself satisfied after the hearing and opined that the Ethics Committee could have used somebody like Harding on Wednesday.

Ford had a real boost going into his moment of truth with the Ethics Committee. He had heard himself lionized in the Senate, just before adjournment, by soul-music legend Isaac Hayes during the course of the Memphis entertainer’s response to an official Senate resolution in his honor. John Ford is “my friend,” Hayes pronounced, and Ford, making the most of the moment, went on to claim that he, his brother Harold, and his brother (former state Representative) Emmett were all financed in their first races by Isaac Hayes. They were, Ford suggested, virtually Hays’ creations.

As preambles to what could have been an inquisition, that was about as good as it gets. The Ethics Committee hearing came in the late afternoon Wednesday, immediately after that edifying occasion in the Senate chamber. There were times during the hearing when Ford, flanked by his two lawyers at a table and facing the committee members up on the dais, seemed nervous, but as things wore on, it became obvious that the barely controlled tremor in his voice was due more to outrage at being haled before his peers.

“I have been impugned by others for reasons other than a violation,” Ford said early in his testimony. Further: “What this is all about is my integrity and the integrity of this body.”

As bizarre as that might have seemed to those whose sense of the case against Ford was based on TV teases and newspaper headlines, it conformed neatly with advance word from Senate sources that the Ford’s lodge brothers, regardless of party, would close ranks around him.

Long story short: They did. Committee chairman Ron Ramsey, who doubles as the Republicans’ majority leader, might have been expected to lead the charge against Ford, and he declined to accept the argument of Ford -- and, it seemed, Senate clerk Russell Humphrey -- that senators had liberty to offer late amendments to their financial disclosures, something Ford just did, in the wake of allegations by Schmittou.

But Ramsey seemed to speak for the body when he ended up using the word “mistake” to describe Ford’s original omission of his “consulting” arrangements in the Memphis senator’s first set of disclosures for both 2003 and 2004. Indeed, the committee’s discussion of the matter came to focus on the simple issue of whether the word “consulting” should have appeared in the list of the senator’s income sources.

“I have complied with every law,” Ford said. “I missed writing one word by error. I didn’t even realize it.” No one on the committee seriously contested that, although Nashville Senator Doug Henry probed a few other issues and came closest to a serious interrogation.

In the end, the committee decided that Ford should have come cleaner on the disclosure issue but that another issue, that of the senator’s alleged improper use of campaign funds was not the committee’s purview but the Registry’s, nor was a third matter, that of whether Ford actually lived in his district.

The committee promised to produce a formal report in something like 14 days, and Ford offered his gratitude for a “fair” hearing. And that seemed that, until the later surfacing of a letter to members of the committee before the hearing, to which Ford had appended a warning to his colleagues not to “throw stones” in a “glass house.”

The formerly compliant Ramsey responded to that sternly and indicated that the committee might ask for further information. In short, Ford might have talked himself into another jam.

.Schmittou made it clear later that, even if the Ethics Committee eventually washed its hands of the Ford matter, he hadn’t, and would be heard from again.

But regardless of that, or of further media pursuit, or of Ford’s ultimate fate with the Registry or with his newly aroused colleagues, the greater danger for the Memphis state senator lay ahead, with whatever consequence ensues from a parallel F.B.I.investigation of conflict-of-interest issues relating to the senator’s consulting activities.

“There’s nothing for a court of law to decide,” Sen. Ford had insisted at Wednesday’s hearing. But that remains to be seen -- as, for that matter, does the question of what new complications the senator can manage to get himself involved in.

Hard Sell for A C: For a while, it seemed that A C Wharton might have had a harder time on Capitol Hill last week than Ford did. The Shelby County mayor had what amounted to a showdown with members of the General Assembly and got some serious backtalk for his pains.

County mayor Wharton has made frequent pilgrimages to Nashville of late, on behalf of proposed revenue measures pushed by his administration and approved by the county commission. He was at it again Wednesday, as the featured speaker at the regularly weekly luncheon of the Shelby County legislative delegation. It was County Government day on Capitol Hill, and other Shelby County officials were on the bill, including Sheriff Mark Luttrell and District Attorney General Bill Gibbons -- all discussing their desired leislation.

Wharton’s appearance dominated both because of his rank and because of what he insisted was the urgency of devising some means other than “the everlasting escalation of the property tax” to fill Shelby County’s dangerously starved coffers. The administration, backed by an 11-0 vote of the county commission, is pushing a real estate transfer tax that would yield some $10 to $15 million in annual revenue, but, like any other tax proposal, that one has met with resistance.

With that in mind, a somewhat testy Wharton put it straight to his audience of legislators.

“If y’all come up with another bill, you’ll find me marching alongside you,” he said. “But this is the only horse I have right now. It may be a lame horse but it’s still in the race. Other horses haven’t shown up yet.”

As he goaded the delegation to action on his tax measure, the county mayor vowed, “I’ll be here by day and in your districts by night. Take the chains off the local hands and let us mold a revenue package that is close to the desires and wishes of the people of Shelby County” If the county had to pass another property-tax increase, it would, Wharton said, but he suggested that would be “driven by what happens or fails to happen here.”

Representative John DeBerry protested at that: “One thing I won’t accept is anybody saying this delegation is to blame,” he said, turning Wharton’s charge of inaction against county government itself. “Nothing is happening now that we didn’t say would happen five years ago, Things got out of hand, and now we’ve got to hold our nose.” He said, “I request and implore that his delegation be indemnified from blame.”

Things lightened up a bit later on, when state Senator Mark Norris offered what seemed like a deal. “We’re looking for a package that can be put together,” Norris said. “We need a comprehensive solution People want a [legislative] on their taxes, but they also want a vote on their schools.” Norris is a leading proponent of legislation to create a special county school district -- the “elephant in the room,” as he described it Wednesday. Responded A C: “We’ve had some talks with school officials, and you’d be surprised at the room for agreement that exists.”

That was the one note of harmony in a session that otherwise generated measurable tension -- the same sort that inures to most proceedings of the revenue-starved Shelby County Commission these days

Willingham vs. Meadows: One indication of tension to come on the Commission was in the form of a letter dispatched last week by Commissioner John Willingham to Stan Meadows, lawyer for the Memphis Grizzlies. The letter, maintaining that the NBA Grizzlies have a “strangle hold” on The Pyramid and the Coliseum through the team’s contract with the city and county, accuses the Grizzlies of “holding Memphis and Shelby County hostage.”

Willingham, who has proposed converting the taxpayer-financed Pyramid, still unpaid-for, into a potentially profitable casino, quoted Meadows as responding to a previous communication with these words: “Frankly, John, we would like to see the Pyramid shuttered If casino gambling were to come to Memphis, we would like to see it near the FedEx Forum or in the Peabody Place complex.”

The commissioner, who intends to raise the issue again at commission committee hearings on Wednesday, informed Meadows, “I will do everything in my power of influence to encourage them [members of the community] to go for your Achilles heal [sic], i.e., pocketbook. My hope is that you can reconsider your position!”

The annual Gridiron Show, the proceeds from which go to journalism scholarships, will be held Saturday, April 2, at the Al Chymia Shrine Center at 5770 Shelby Oaks Drive. “Champagne gathering” for the show, this year entitled “Where’s Willie?”, is at 6:30 p.m., dinner at 7, and curtain at 7:45. Tickets, tax-deductible, are $60.

Correction: Mike Ritz, a declared candidate for the county commission in 2006, was mis-identified last week as “Mike Rich.”

Special Senate Primary

With prospects for a low turnout making predictions uncertain, voters in state Senate District 33 will go to the polls Thursday to select the Democratic and Republican nominees to succeed Roscoe Dixon, now an aide to county mayor A C Wharton.

Democratic candidates are state Representative Kathryn Bowers, Shelby County Commissioner Michael Hooks, and James Harvey. Republicans are Mary Lynn Flood, Jason Hernandez, Mary Ann McNeil, and Barry Sterling.

General election is May 10.

Want to respond? Send us an email here.

Monday, March 21, 2005

FROM MY SEAT

A few things on my mind this week . . .

Posted By on Mon, Mar 21, 2005 at 4:00 AM

SCATTERED THOUGHTS You want to know why an entire community fell in love with Darius Washington over two missed free throws on March 12th? ItÕs the most elementary aspect of a relationship: empathy. Very few among us would have been able to equate with WashingtonÕs achievement had he made all three game-ending foul shots to beat Louisville and earn an NCAA tournament berth for his Memphis Tigers. But every last one of us shared his pain when he crumpled to the FedExForum floor after missing the last two. WeÕve all suffered crushing loss, when the tears and regret overwhelm what strength we have left.

Likewise, anyone in attendance last Wednesday night, when Washington was the first Tiger introduced before the teamÕs NIT opener at the Forum, could share the love that rode sound waves of cheer during the freshmanÕs extended standing ovation. ItÕs the only time IÕve ever experienced a game that was entirely anticlimactic to a pregame introduction. The highlight of the TigersÕ 25-point victory over Northeastern was certainly WashingtonÕs breakaway dunk seven minutes into the game, his first points since SaturdayÕs heartbreak. The crowd of 7,392 sounded twice its size. And life went on in Tiger Nation.

The TigersÕ third-round NIT game Wednesday night at FedExForum will be especially meaningful for Memphis senior Anthony Rice. In playing his 133rd career game, Rice will break a 19-year-old record held by Andre Turner and the late Baskerville Holmes. The achievement is further testament to RiceÕs durability and consistency, a fitting mark to be left by one of the most underrated Tigers in the programÕs history. But hereÕs the sad part. Only three of RiceÕs games were in the NCAA tournament. By comparison, Turner and Holmes played together in 12 games (between 1983 and Ô86) on the sportÕs brightest stage.

Say what you will about John CalipariÕs role in the disappointing 2004-05 season, but the guy is a walking 20-win season. This year marks his fifth straight 20-win campaign in Memphis (only achieved once before in the programÕs history, from 1981-82 through 1988-89) and he won at least 20 his last six seasons at UMass.

There are days when the immeasurable absurdity of professional sports makes me want to turn away from the television and sports page . . . forever. I read a hauntingly insightful excerpt from a book by Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs in the March 14th issue of Time magazine. Sachs explores the means and possibilities for helping the millions upon millions of people worldwide living in extreme poverty (measured as living on less than one dollar a day). Sachs advocates relatively simple, but to this point neglected steps that can be taken, like providing impoverished communities with fertilizer, clean water, even mosquito nets to fight malaria.

Then, last week in Sports Illustrated, I read about a couple of birthday gifts received by Shaquille OÕNeal from his wife: a $16,000 cake and a $100,000 Superman necklace. This is every bit as ugly, in my eyes, as reading of the latest big-league steroid abuse. Shame on Shaq. And shame on all of us fans for affording his ilk this kind of head-shaking, perspective-quaking luxury. Consider this the next time you pay $10 for a basket of popcorn at a Grizzlies game that cost, oh, 25 cents to make. Maybe the National Hockey League is on to something.

Mark McGwireÕs testimony before Congress on steroid abuse in baseball last Thursday was nothing short of pathetic. By now -- particularly with his dodging any and all questions about his own possible use -- itÕs clear the former Home Run King was juiced. (If Big Mac never used a steroid, I never used a pen.) But this is where McGwire -- the man, the human being -- could retain his heroic status. Remember, cheating damages his baseball credibility, his numbers . . . but it doesnÕt have to damage his role as a contributing member of society. This is a guy who has been active -- with his wallet, Shaq -- in helping abused children. He left millions on the table with an unsigned contract in St. Louis when he abruptly retired four years ago. Instead of straightening his broad shoulders before Congress, though, and taking a swing at baseballÕs most recent epidemic, McGwire leaned on the advice of attorneys, refusing to talk about Òthe pastÓ or Ònegatives.Ó The past and ÒnegativesÓ Mark, are the only reasons you were asked to Washington! The national pastimeÕs steroid mess just got messier.

Want to respond? Send us an email here.

Friday, March 18, 2005

FORD ORDERED TO SHOW CAUSE

FORD ORDERED TO SHOW CAUSE

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


Long (l) and Harding (r) disagree about John Ford
as Lee Ann Murray bides her time.

NASHVILLE -ÑThe members of the state Election Registry gave themselves every chance to be as lenient Thursday in the case of John Ford as the Senate Ethics Committee had been on Wednesday. But, whereas state Senator FordÕs Senate colleagues essentially wrote him a pass, the members of the Registry backed and filled themselves into the most decisive action against Ford so far.

It was a long time coming, though, after the failure of three early motions Ñ one directing citizen complainer Barry Schmittou to flesh out his bill of particulars against Ford and two more mandating that Ford show cause why the Registry should not regard certain of his campaign expenditures as improper.

It was only when member Karen Dunavant made a show-cause motion which made no reference to the Schmittou complaint that the Registry formally put the onus on proof on Ford. The senator has 30 days to demonstrate why his expenditures, notably his apparent use of campaign funds to pay for a daughterÕs lavish wedding, do not merit sanctions from the Registry.

The successful motion by Dunavant, a Republican appointee from Memphis, came as something of a surprise. Up to that point, she had seemed reluctant to turn the screws on Ford. During the discussion of the wedding video, she lamented, ÒLovely girl! ItÕs too bad she has to go through all this.Ó

The only dissenting vote on DunavantÕs motion came from Nashville lawyer William Long, a Republican, who had made the earlier motion throwing the ball back into complainaint SchmittouÕs court.

Ironically, given that Ford is a member of one of TennesseeÕs dominant Democratic families, it was Long who emerged as the senatorÕs chief defender Thursday, while the Registry member who seemed most aggressive in seeking further action against Ford was George Harding of Lebanon, a Democratic appointee. Harding had been the author of the two previous motions for show-cause procedures, and he and Long sparred over the propriety of seeking further action.

"I've known Sen. Ford for almost 30 years,Ó said Long, who went on to suggest that without the senator and his records on hand it was improper to proceed. Echoing statements made by members of the Ethics Committee the day before, Long suggested that media pressure was the true cause of the various inquiries under way.

Harding expostulated at one point: ÒYouÕre just trying to get this thing put off because Senator Ford is a friend of yours.Ó Long asked for, and at length got, an apology for those words.

Schmittou, who is well-known on Capitol Hill for his protests against various governmental actions, professed himself satisfied after the hearing and opined that the Ethics Committee could have used somebody like Harding on Wednesday.

The bottom line: John Ford, as of Thursday, was officially on the bubble. But regardless of his ultimate fate with the Registry, the greater danger for the Memphis state senator lay ahead, with whatever consequence ensues from a parallel F.B.I.investigation of conflict-of-interest issues relating to FordÕs consulting activities.

PREVIOUS:

Ford Gets a Pass, A C Gets an Argument

The Shelby County mayor had a showdown for real with members of the General Assembly and got some serious backtalk for his pains. The state Senator had what amounted to a mutual back-scratch session with members of the Senate Ethics Committee, who basically offered him forgiveness for what he Ð and they Ð seem inclined to regard as Òoversights.Ó

John's Reprieve

Ford, who had been summoned to testify before his colleagues on the Ethics Committee, had a real boost going into his moment of truth. He had heard himself lionized in the Senate, just before adjournment, by soul-music legend Isaac Hayes during the course of the Memphis entertainerÕs response to an official Senate resolution in his honor. John Ford is Òmy friend,Ó Hayes pronounced, and Ford, making the most of the moment, went on to claim that he, his brother Harold, and his brother (former state Representative) Emmitt were all financed in their first races by Isaac Hayes. They were, Ford suggested, virtually HaysÕ creations.

As preambles to what could have been an inquisition, that was about as good as it gets. The Ethics Committee hearing came in the late afternoon, immediately after that edifying occasion in the Senate chamber. There were times during the hearing when Ford, flanked by his two lawyers at a table and facing the committee members up on the dais, seemed nervous, but as things wore on, it became obvious that the barely controlled tremor in his voice was due more to outrage at being haled before his peers.

ÓI have been impugned by others for reasons other than a violation,Ó Ford said early in his testimony. Further: ÒWhat this is all about is my integrity and the integrity of this body.Ó

As bizarre as that might have seemed to those whose sense of the case against Ford was based on TV teases and newspaper headlines, it conformed neatly with advance word from Senate sources that the FordÕs lodge brothers, regardless of party, would close ranks around him.

Long story short: They did. Committee chairman Ron Ramsey, who doubles as the RepublicansÕ majority leader, might have been expected to lead the charge against Ford, and he declined to accept the argument of Ford Ð and, it seemed, Senate clerk Russell Humphrey Ð that senators had liberty to offer late amendments to their financial disclosures, something Ford just did, in the wake of allegations by one Barry Schmittou, the citizen whose complaint against the senator was the proximate cause of the Ethics Committee hearing.

But Ramsey seemed to speak for the body when he ended up using the word ÒmistakeÓ to describe FordÕs original omission of his ÒconsultingÓ arrangements in the Memphis senatorÕs first set of disclosures for both 2003 and 2004. Indeed, the committeeÕs discussion of the matter came to focus on the simple issue of whether the word ÒconsultingÓ should have appeared in the list of the senatorÕs income sources.

ÓI have complied with every law,Ó Ford said. ÒI missed writing one word by error. I didnÕt even realize it.Ó No one on the committee seriously contested that, although Nashville Senator Doug Henry probed a few other issues and came closest to a serious interrogation.

In the end, the committee decided that Ford shoulda come cleaner on the disclosure issue but that another issue, that of the senatorÕs alleged improper use of campaign funds (some reportedly spent on a daughterÕs lavish wedding), was not the committeeÕs purview, nor was a third matter, that of whether Ford actually lived in his district, which was treated, basically, as too complex and inscrutable to judge.

The committee will produce a formal report in something like 14 days, Ramsey said. Ford offered his gratitude for a ÒfairÓ hearing.

The only audible dissenter to this harmony was Schmittou, who asked in vain to be allowed to interrogate Ford and to request documents but was allowed his fifteen minutes, literally, of venting. ÒI am a party to this,Ó Schmittou insisted. ÒIÕm a citizen up here fighting for other citizens.Ó And he took personally RamseyÕs assertion, ÒWe donÕt want this to be a media circus, to be perfectly honest.Ó

Schmittou made it clear later that, even if the Ethics Committee had essentially washed its hands of the Ford matter, he hadnÕt, and would be heard from again. Perhaps more ominously for the senator, the FBI has been looking into the records of FordÕs lucrative relationship with a consulting company and the dimensions of its Ð and his Ð involvement with the awarding of TennCareÕs dental-care contract Ð the potential conflict-of-interest issue that has aroused most red-flag interest. ÒThereÕs nothing for a court of law to decide,Ó insisted Sen. Ford at WednesdayÕs hearing.

A C's Dilemma

County mayor Wharton has made frequent pilgrimages to Nashville of late, on behalf of proposed revenue measures pushed by his administration and approved by the county commission. He was at it again Wednesday, as the featured speaker at the regularly weekly luncheon of the Shelby County legislative delegation. It was County Government day on Capitol Hill, and other Shelby County officials were on the bill, including Sheriff Mark Luttrell and District Attorney General Bill Gibbons Ð all discussing their desired legislation.

WhartonÕs appearance dominated both because of his rank and because of what he insisted was the urgency of devising some means other than Òthe everlasting escalation of the property taxÓ to fill Shelby CountyÕs dangerously starved coffers. The administration, backed by an 11-0 vote of the county commission, is pushing a real estate transfer tax that would yield some $10 to $15 million in annual revenue, but, like any other tax proposal, that one has met with resistance.

With that in mind, a somewhat testy Wharton put it straight to his audience of legislators.

ÓIf yÕall come up with another bill, youÕll find me marching alongside you,Ó he said. ÒBut this is the only horse I have right now. It may be a lame horse but itÕs still in the race. Other horses havenÕt shown up yet.Ó

As he goaded the delegation to action on his tax measure, the county mayor vowed, ÒIÕll be here by day and in your districts by night. Take the chains off the local hands and let us mold a revenue package that is close to the desires and wishes of the people of Shelby CountyÓ If the county had to pass another property-tax increase, it would, Wharton said, but he suggested that would be Òdriven by what happens or fails to happen here.Ó

Representative John DeBerry protested at that: ÒOne thing I wonÕt accept is anybody saying this delegation is to blame,Ó he said, turning WhartonÕs charge of inaction against county government itself. ÒNothing is happening now that we didnÕt say would happen five years ago, Things got out of hand, and now weÕve got to hold our nose.Ó He said, ÒI request and implore that his delegation be indemnified from blame.Ó

Things lightened up a bit later on, when state Senator Mark Norris offered what seemed like a deal. ÒWeÕre looking for a package that can be put together,Ó Norris said. ÒWe need a comprehensive solutionÉPeople want a [legislative] on their taxes, but they also want a vote on their schools.Ó Norris is a leading proponent of legislation to create a special county school district Ð the Òelephant in the room,Ó as he described it Wednesday. Responded A C: ÒWeÕve had some talks with school officials, and youÕd be surprised at the room for agreement that exists.Ó

That was the one note of harmony in a session that otherwise generated measurable tension.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

FORD GETS A PASS; A C GETS AN ARGUMENT

FORD GETS A PASS; A C GETS AN ARGUMENT

Posted By on Thu, Mar 17, 2005 at 4:00 AM

NASHVILLE -- LetÕs put it this way: A C Wharton had a harder time on Capitol Hill Wednesday than John Ford did.

The Shelby County mayor had a showdown for real with members of the General Assembly and got some serious backtalk for his pains. The state Senator had what amounted to a mutual back-scratch session with members of the Senate Ethics Committee, who basically offered him forgiveness for what he Ð and they Ð seem inclined to regard as Òoversights.Ó

John's Reprieve

Ford, who had been summoned to testify before his colleagues on the Ethics Committee, had a real boost going into his moment of truth. He had heard himself lionized in the Senate, just before adjournment, by soul-music legend Isaac Hayes during the course of the Memphis entertainerÕs response to an official Senate resolution in his honor. John Ford is Òmy friend,Ó Hayes pronounced, and Ford, making the most of the moment, went on to claim that he, his brother Harold, and his brother (former state Representative) Emmitt were all financed in their first races by Isaac Hayes. They were, Ford suggested, virtually HaysÕ creations.

As preambles to what could have been an inquisition, that was about as good as it gets. The Ethics Committee hearing came in the late afternoon, immediately after that edifying occasion in the Senate chamber. There were times during the hearing when Ford, flanked by his two lawyers at a table and facing the committee members up on the dais, seemed nervous, but as things wore on, it became obvious that the barely controlled tremor in his voice was due more to outrage at being haled before his peers.

ÓI have been impugned by others for reasons other than a violation,Ó Ford said early in his testimony. Further: ÒWhat this is all about is my integrity and the integrity of this body.Ó

As bizarre as that might have seemed to those whose sense of the case against Ford was based on TV teases and newspaper headlines, it conformed neatly with advance word from Senate sources that the FordÕs lodge brothers, regardless of party, would close ranks around him.

Long story short: They did. Committee chairman Ron Ramsey, who doubles as the RepublicansÕ majority leader, might have been expected to lead the charge against Ford, and he declined to accept the argument of Ford Ð and, it seemed, Senate clerk Russell Humphrey Ð that senators had liberty to offer late amendments to their financial disclosures, something Ford just did, in the wake of allegations by one Barry Schmittou, the citizen whose complaint against the senator was the proximate cause of the Ethics Committee hearing.

But Ramsey seemed to speak for the body when he ended up using the word ÒmistakeÓ to describe FordÕs original omission of his ÒconsultingÓ arrangements in the Memphis senatorÕs first set of disclosures for both 2003 and 2004. Indeed, the committeeÕs discussion of the matter came to focus on the simple issue of whether the word ÒconsultingÓ should have appeared in the list of the senatorÕs income sources.

ÓI have complied with every law,Ó Ford said. ÒI missed writing one word by error. I didnÕt even realize it.Ó No one on the committee seriously contested that, although Nashville Senator Doug Henry probed a few other issues and came closest to a serious interrogation.

In the end, the committee decided that Ford shoulda come cleaner on the disclosure issue but that another issue, that of the senatorÕs alleged improper use of campaign funds (some reportedly spent on a daughterÕs lavish wedding), was not the committeeÕs purview, nor was a third matter, that of whether Ford actually lived in his district, which was treated, basically, as too complex and inscrutable to judge.

The committee will produce a formal report in something like 14 days, Ramsey said. Ford offered his gratitude for a ÒfairÓ hearing.

The only audible dissenter to this harmony was Schmittou, who asked in vain to be allowed to interrogate Ford and to request documents but was allowed his fifteen minutes, literally, of venting. ÒI am a party to this,Ó Schmittou insisted. ÒIÕm a citizen up here fighting for other citizens.Ó And he took personally RamseyÕs assertion, ÒWe donÕt want this to be a media circus, to be perfectly honest.Ó

Schmittou made it clear later that, even if the Ethics Committee had essentially washed its hands of the Ford matter, he hadnÕt, and would be heard from again. Perhaps more ominously for the senator, the FBI has been looking into the records of FordÕs lucrative relationship with a consulting company and the dimensions of its Ð and his Ð involvement with the awarding of TennCareÕs dental-care contract Ð the potential conflict-of-interest issue that has aroused most red-flag interest. ÒThereÕs nothing for a court of law to decide,Ó insisted Sen. Ford at WednesdayÕs hearing.

A C's Dilemma

County mayor Wharton has made frequent pilgrimages to Nashville of late, on behalf of proposed revenue measures pushed by his administration and approved by the county commission. He was at it again Wednesday, as the featured speaker at the regularly weekly luncheon of the Shelby County legislative delegation. It was County Government day on Capitol Hill, and other Shelby County officials were on the bill, including Sheriff Mark Luttrell and District Attorney General Bill Gibbons Ð all discussing their desired legislation.

WhartonÕs appearance dominated both because of his rank and because of what he insisted was the urgency of devising some means other than Òthe everlasting escalation of the property taxÓ to fill Shelby CountyÕs dangerously starved coffers. The administration, backed by an 11-0 vote of the county commission, is pushing a real estate transfer tax that would yield some $10 to $15 million in annual revenue, but, like any other tax proposal, that one has met with resistance.

With that in mind, a somewhat testy Wharton put it straight to his audience of legislators.

ÓIf yÕall come up with another bill, youÕll find me marching alongside you,Ó he said. ÒBut this is the only horse I have right now. It may be a lame horse but itÕs still in the race. Other horses havenÕt shown up yet.Ó

As he goaded the delegation to action on his tax measure, the county mayor vowed, ÒIÕll be here by day and in your districts by night. Take the chains off the local hands and let us mold a revenue package that is close to the desires and wishes of the people of Shelby CountyÓ If the county had to pass another property-tax increase, it would, Wharton said, but he suggested that would be Òdriven by what happens or fails to happen here.Ó

Representative John DeBerry protested at that: ÒOne thing I wonÕt accept is anybody saying this delegation is to blame,Ó he said, turning WhartonÕs charge of inaction against county government itself. ÒNothing is happening now that we didnÕt say would happen five years ago, Things got out of hand, and now weÕve got to hold our nose.Ó He said, ÒI request and implore that his delegation be indemnified from blame.Ó

Things lightened up a bit later on, when state Senator Mark Norris offered what seemed like a deal. ÒWeÕre looking for a package that can be put together,Ó Norris said. ÒWe need a comprehensive solutionÉPeople want a [legislative] on their taxes, but they also want a vote on their schools.Ó Norris is a leading proponent of legislation to create a special county school district Ð the Òelephant in the room,Ó as he described it Wednesday. Responded A C: ÒWeÕve had some talks with school officials, and youÕd be surprised at the room for agreement that exists.Ó

That was the one note of harmony in a session that otherwise generated measurable tension.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

POLITICS

Van Hilleary's entrance into Senate field complicates the race for others.

Posted By on Tue, Mar 15, 2005 at 4:00 AM

After much back-and-forthing and premature word-of-mouth about his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in 2006, former 4th District congressman Van Hilleary finally is officially in, having made a formal announcement of candidacy Monday via press release and having filed official papers with the Federal Election Commission and the Secretary of the Senate.

That’s bad news for another former congressman, former 7th District U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant, who represented the 7th District from 1994 to 2002, when he vacated his Seat to make a Republican primary race for the Senate seat now held by Lamar Alexander. Bryant and Hilleary, both by-the-book conservatives, are regarded as having overlapping voter and financial support and, more importantly, both gained statewide name recognition two years ago, when Hillleary was the GOP nominee for governor.

Both Bryant and Hilleary have reason to be concerned about another Republican candidate, Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker, who has so far raised upwards of $2 million for the 2006 race and reportedly has good support in the GOP establishment, both state and national.

But another likely Senate candidate, 9th District U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr, sees a rosier outlook for the two former Republican congressmen.

"I don't think he'll get the nomination," the congressman said about Corker’s prospects on Friday, after his attendance at President Bush’s Social Security forum at the Cannon Center. "I think Bryant or Van Hilleary will. It doesn't matter how much money you have if people don't know you."

Ford’s statement was an acknowledgement of the fleeting nature of name recognition in politics. The seat being vacated in 2006 is that of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is considered likely to make a presidential race in 2008.

Of the six Republican candidates who ran for that seat 1994, only Frist remains well known across the state, at least among voters at large. Corker, who later served two years as former Governor Don Sundquist’s finance director, has a more limited range of recognition so far , centered around his political base in Chattanooga.

Corker is, however, busy making up for that shortcoming. He was in Memphis Monday night for a well-attended fundraiser at the home of high-stakes entrepreneur Brad Martin. And the Chattanoogan’s supporters in Shelby County include the local GOP’s last three party chairmen, David Kustoff, Alan Crone, and Kemp Conrad.

Bryant is being backed by a number of local establishment figures as well -- notably former national Republican committeeman John Ryder. Hilleary’s local organization has yet to take shape, although Mike Carpenter, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors, had been helping Hilleary locally for some months.

Carpenter, however, is dropping out of state politics to concentrate on his own forthcoming race for the Shelby County Commission.

.Not to be ignored in all this conjuring, of course, is the only woman in the GOP primary race, state Rep. Beth Harwell of Nashville, the immediate past chairperson of the state Republican Party and no doubt the possessor of many political IOUs stemming from that service.

Harwell’s former statewide role is a reminder of an unresolved issue concerning Hilleary, who exercised some political muscle last year to get himself voted in as Ryder’s successor as national GOP committeeman from Tennessee. Does he get to keep that office, which entitles him to speak for all Tennessee Republicans, even as he vies against several others for senator?

At the very least, it’s a possible point of controversy.

Meanwhile, pending an announcement from Rep. Ford, state Representative Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville remains the only Democrat formally in the U.S. Senate race.

Rep. Ford was in attendance at President Bush’s Social Security forum at the Cannon Center Friday and was one of several local dignitaries acknowledged by the president during his remarks. At one point, while speaking of the possibility of maintaining a Social safety net under his Social Security plan, Bush ad-libbed, “Harold understands that.”

That may be wishful thinking. The congressman has not signed on to the Bush proposal, having aligned himself, along with virtually all other Democratic members of Congress, in a solid front in opposition to the president’s plan -- or at least to that portion of it calling for private investment accounts funded by the Social Security tax.

Beyond that point, though, Ford seems willing to re-think the premises of Social Security -- a fact which continues to be highlighted by several national publications and pundits. USA Today featured Ford on its front page last week as one of six national figures whom it considered undecided on the issue of changing Social Security.

That’s probably an overstatement. But the congressman has put forward ideas of his own. He has introduced a bill -- the ASPIRE Act -- that would confer a government-funded birth grant to newborns to be used for investment purposes and suggested Friday, after Bush’s presentation, that the president might think about something similar if he wants to alter the structure of Social Security.

As Ford sees it, any investment add-on should not only be funded from sources other than the Social Security tax but should have a progressive component, like that contained in ASPIRE, whereby citizens below a defined poverty line could expect proportionately greater investment fodder.

The Memphis congressman added a new wrinkle to that concept Friday. Among the issues he raised after the forum concerning Bush’s plan was this one: “What happens if people lose? Will some kind of Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation be created?” Ford seemed to be floating the idea of a governmental machinery that would cushion against losses that might occur through bad investments in sour lemons like Enron and WorldCom. A Fail-Safe mechanism, as it were, one that would allow profit but prevent unreasonable loss.

Believe it or not, the 2006 Shelby County countywide election has already begun -- with prospective candidates detaching themselves from the woodwork and beginning to organize campaign staffs and fundraisers.

The aforesaid Mike Carpenter intends to run for the District 1 county commission seat now held by John Willingham. Carpenter, who was among the unsuccessful applicants last year seeking to fill a vacancy in another District 1 seat last year, indicated he would campaign on the need for a new school-funding formula as well as on opposition to the concept of a converting The Pyramid into a casino, a longtime project of Willingham’s.

Another applicant for that District 1 vacancy last year is Mike Rich, who intends to run for yet another district seat, the one currently held by Marilyn Loeffel, and has been attending commission meetings with some regularity of late.

The commissioner who ended up filling the District 1 vacancy last year, George Flinn, is likely to draw opposition from Karla Templeton, Willingham’s daughter and yet another former applicant for the seat. That’s if her father, who continues to have complications resulting from former heart surgery, follows through on his current intention to run again for his own seat. If he doesn’t, his daughter will likely turn her attentions to that seat.

Loeffel is known to be thinking of a race for the job of Shelby County clerk, which incumbent Jayne Creson has indicated she will retire from.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

POLITICS (WEEKEND EDITION)

Congressman Ford has a new wrinkle on Social Security -- and an opinion on his GOP opponents.

Posted By on Sat, Mar 12, 2005 at 4:00 AM

A SOCIAL SECURITY F.D.I.C? Say this about Harold Ford and pressures to conform: The 9th District congressman and prospective U.S. Senate candidate, a Democrat, is disinclined to toe the party line or to behave stereotypically.

Ford proved that as long ago as 2000 when, assigned by presidential nominee Al Gore to give the keynote address at that yearÕs Democratic convention, he declined to lip-sync the grateful Person-of-Color litany provided for him by the Gore camp. Instead he delivered a paean to centrist, yuppie values that was written in part by well-known Republican consultant Frank Luntz Ðthe same Frank Luntz who is famous (or infamous) just now as the author of the Bush administrationÕs playbook on the Social Security issue.

The congressman, a proud member of the conservative Blue Dog caucus, has based his congressional career on conspicuous triangulations of issues ranging from Iraq to tax cuts to, most recently, bankruptcy legislation Ð on all of which he has appeared to his critics to be splitting the difference with the GOP administration.

Nowhere was this more obvious than in what he has had to say over the years about Social Security. FordÕs prolonged flirtation with the idea of investment add-ons drew fire from his partyÕs traditionalists Ð so much of it that he was finally compelled to condemn privatization per se, or at least the version of it, advocated by President Bush, that would draw upon the Social Security tax.

Ford has continued to dabble with innovative formulas, however, and he elaborated on one Friday morning in the lobby of the Cannon Center after Bush, currently on an extended road show, had pitched his privatization scheme to a Memphis audience.

The congressman, who has introduced a bill Ð the ASPIRE Act -- that would confer a government-funded birth grant to newborns to be used for investment purposes, suggested that the president should think about something similar if he wants to alter the structure of Social Security.

That is, any investment add-on should not only be funded from sources other than the Social Security tax but should have a progressive component, like that contained in ASPIRE, whereby citizens below a defined poverty line could expect proportionately greater investment fodder.

Ford then made an even more striking suggestion concerning investment accounts. ÒWhat happens if people lose? Will some kind of Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation be created?Ó he asked Ð making the case for a governmental machinery that would cushion against losses occurring through bad investments in sour lemons like Enron and WorldCom. For a Fail-Safe mechanism that would allow profit but prevent unreasonable loss

Ford and Senator Joe Lieberman and a relatively few other Democrats have made their party-mates and other defenders of Social Security nervous through their professed willingness to avoid Just Saying No. The Bush administration has, after all, consistently pursued a strategy in every controversy so far of Divide and Conquer through ÒbipartisanÓ negotiations that, many Democrats believe, were more apparent than real.

It is not impossible, however, that some of the innovative notions that Ford and a few others insist on putting forth could reverse that momentum. If Wall Street saw that its stake did not depend on dismantling the New Deal, after all, maybe BushÕs coalition, not the DemocratsÕ, is the one that would weaken.

Maybe so, maybe no. But, to give Ford the benefit of the doubt, maybe itÕs worth thinking about.

----------

Corker Not the Man? Van or Ed Instead?

Not only is Rep. Ford an office-holder whose views are heeded in Washington and elsewhere, he is also a likely Democratic candidate in the high-profile U.S. Senate race to be run in Tennessee in 2006.

That seat, which will be vacated by Majority Leader Bill Frist, has attracted several other aspirants -- State Senator Rosalind Kurita, among Democrats; and, so far among Republicans, former U.S. Reps. Van Hilleary and Ed Bryant; state Representative Beth Harwell of Nashville; and Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker.

Corker, who ran for the Senate in 1994 but has maintained a relatively low statewide profile since, is rumored to have the support of the state's Republican establishment. He is said to be getting some stroking in Washington and has raised upwards of $ 2 million so far, easily tops in the field..

Ford discounts his chances, however. "I don't think he'll get the nomination," the congressman said Saturday. "I think Bryant or Van Hilleary will. It doesn't matter how much money you have if people don't know you."

Want to respond? Send us an email here.

BARNSTORMING EXCLUSIVE!

Did a federal agent ban anti-Bush signs in downtown storefronts?

Posted By on Sat, Mar 12, 2005 at 4:00 AM

SIGNING ON “The man who called was very polite and nice,” says John Gasquet, owner of Empire coffee at 2 N. Main in Downtown Memphis. “He said he was special agent Something-or-other. He said that due to the fact that in some states the President had been to, there were issues of security regarding area businesses, he was calling businesses to tell them not to put up any negative signs in their windows that were negative toward President Bush. He said there were designated areas of protest and this would cut down on the possibility of problems.”

Gasquet didn’t have any negative signs in his window, and he hadn’t been planning on posting any signs at all. As a businessman--about to pass his business off to new owners--it didn’t seem logical to post material that might antagonize half his clientele.

“I thought sure, okay. Fine. But then it started to irritate me. I’m a veteran. I’ve served my country. I was happy to do it and I would do it again. And it bugged me that someone from the Federal Government would try to tell me not to do this.”

As Gasquet understood it, his job as a soldier had been to defend the Constitution, not a pet policy of this or any administration. By his estimation the first amendment under attack. He wanted to make and post a sign that showed respect for the office of President, but still got the message across.

The sign Gasquet posted notified customers that Empire had been contacted by a federal agent and told not to display any anti-Bush signage. In smaller letters it said, “We would like to remind the agent of our first amendment rights.” No action was taken against Empire coffee for displaying the sign, and the authenticity of the caller is still in question.

Customers who saw Gasquet’s sign started telling him that other businesses in the area had been contacted and given similar instructions. No other local incidents have been confirmed at this time. After information concerning the call broke on the Internet on Saturday morning Empire received a call from another business owner in Alabama who had been contacted by "the feds."

“This was one of four things,” Gasquet says. “It was either a federal agent acting in an official capacity. It could have been an agent acting in an unofficial capacity--a cowboy. It might have been an enthusiastic Bush supporter or somebody from the right side of the political spectrum who really thought he was trying to make things better for the President. Or it could have even been someone on the Left trying to agitate.”

Gasquet and others who have received similar calls will be discussing their polite, but unnerving calls with Sam Seder (sitting in for Randi Rhodes) on Monday afternoon. Gasquet has also been interviewed by NPR, and Salon.

Want to respond? Send us an email here.

Friday, March 11, 2005

BUSH IN MEMPHIS

BUSH IN MEMPHIS

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


Several protesters attended the Bush forum; here one is being ejected.

Transcript of Friday's Social Security forum at the Cannon Center:

THE PRESIDENT: Gosh, thanks for the warm welcome. It's great to be here in Memphis, Tennessee. What a fabulous city you've got. (Applause.) One of our panelists here was saying that he got up at 4:30 a.m. this morning, trying to prepare some remarks for today, some interesting thoughts about Social Security. And I said, I'm glad it wasn't you I heard at 4:30 a.m. -- evidently there's a basketball tournament here? (Laughter.) Some of the victorious fans were pleased with the results yesterday. (Applause.)

But I'm honored to be here. Memphis is a fabulous place. I wish Laura were with me today. (Applause.) She's doing great, by the way. She's obviously a patient woman, to be married to me. (Laughter.) She's a wonderful mom, a fantastic wife and she's doing a whale of a job as our country's First Lady and I'm really proud of her. (Applause.)

We're here to talk about Social Security. And I've got some other things on my mind I want to share with you, but before we talk about anything, I do want to thank Congressman Harold Ford for being here. I'm honored you're here, Congressman. (Applause.) I appreciate your service to this great city. Just about every time I see him, he says to me, you need to get over to Memphis; we've got a great town full of fantastic people. Congressman, I'm honored you're here.

Mayor A.C. Wharton, thank you for being here, I appreciate you coming. (Applause.) Thank you, sir. Got a lot of friends -- I see the sheriff, he's here. It's always important to say hello -- hi, Sheriff. Bishop G.E. Patterson is here. I'm honored you're here, Bishop Patterson. Thank you for coming. (Applause.)

I want to thank a lot of the other friends of mine in the clergy who are here. You know, when we talk about the role of religion in society, it's always important to emphasize that one of the things makes us great is that we separate the church and the state, that you're equally American if you choose to worship or not worship. You're equally American if you're a Christian, Jew, Muslim or Sikh, whatever you choose to do. But one of the things I think is important is to include faith-based programs in the healing of hearts so that America can be a hopeful place. I do not fear the influence of faith in our society. I welcome faith. (Applause.)

And over the next four years, we'll continue to work with the generals and colonels and sergeants and privates in the army of compassion, to help change our country one heart and one soul at a time. If you want to serve America, feed the hungry, find shelter for the homeless. If you want to do something patriotic, mentor a child and teach him or her how to read. If you want to make America a better place, put your arm around somebody hurt - who hurts and says, I love you, brother; or, I love you, sister, and I'm here to help you. No, America's great strength is the hearts and soul of our citizens. And we must continue to rally that great strength to make America a better place. (Applause.)

I do want to talk a little bit about foreign policy. For the youngsters here, I hope you pay attention to what you're seeing. What you're seeing is an amazing moment in the history of freedom. (Applause.)

Because we acted to defend ourselves, we liberated Afghanistan from the Taliban. And millions of people voted -- (applause) -- voted in a presidential election. I met with one of the ministers, a female minister from Afghanistan the other day. She came into the Oval Office. She said she was looking forward to this moment to see me and Laura so that she could share with me her gr-great gratitude about the fact that she could live in a free society. And I said to her, I'm going to be traveling the country and I'm going to share your thanks with the American people.

So on behalf of this minister, this woman serving in the cabinet, this person who loves freedom, this person who has a chance to realize her dreams, she says thanks -- thanks to the millions who now live in a free society. (Applause.)

I believe there will be a Palestinian democracy living side by side with Israel in peace. I believe that the actions taken by millions of Iraqi citizens in the face of incredible terrorist threats sent a clear signal to people around the world, that freedom is a beautiful thing. (Applause-hoots hollers.) The reason I bring this up is I want everybody to understand that we'll defend our security; we'll utilize our great military and our intelligence gathering capabilities to defend our country. We're united in the United States -- with the United States Congress in this objective. All of us in Washington understand that we have a solemn duty to protect our country. But in the long run, the way to defeat the ideologues of hate is to spread freedom and democracy. Freedom is moving around the world. Deep in everybody's soul is the great desire to live in freedom, and the United States of America, working with friends and allies, must use our influence to continue the march of freedom for the sake of peace for generations to come.

Some good news in the economy last week. We added 262,000 new jobs last month. There are more people working in America than ever before in our nation's history. (Applause.)

But there's more work to do. I gave a speech in Columbus, Ohio, on Wednesday. I said, I reminded the folks that when I first got into office I sent an energy plan to the United States Congress. I was concerned then, like I am concerned now, about high gasoline prices; about our dependency upon foreign sources of energy. Congress has been debating this issue now for four years. It's time to stop the rhetoric and stop the debate and get an energy plan to my desk that will encourage conservation, that will encourage renewable sources of energy, that will modernize the electricity grid, that will allow us to explore for oil and gas in environmentally friendly ways in the United States, that will make us less dependant on foreign sources of energy. (Applause.)


Bush sat on stage with kindred souls. (photo: Larry Kuzniewski)

But the main reason I've asked you to come and asked our panelists to appear with me is because I want to talk about Social Security. First of all, let me tell you, I understand that for years Social Security was the third rail of American politics. That meant if you grabbed a hold of it, you weren't going to do well politically. If you talked about it, people would then say, well, really, what he's going to do, he's going to take away the checks of our seniors. But you'll hear me describe the fact that I believe the system needs to be reformed, and I'll tell you why. And I believe political people, when they see a problem, have a duty to address that problem and not to pass that problem on to future Presidents and future Congress. I ran for office to solve problems. (Applause.)

Some in Congress say, I wish you hadn't have brought up the issue, it may cause us to make a tough vote. Others in Congress have said, well, we really don't have any problem. That's how democracy works. There is difference of opinion. And I've got mine, and I'm going to continue traveling our country until it becomes abundantly clear to the American people we have a problem and it's abundantly clear to those who will receive Social Security checks that nothing is going to change. So I want to start by saying to the seniors here in Tennessee and folks listening on your television set that for you -- for those of you receiving a check today, and for those of you, like me, near retirement, nothing is going to change for you. You will get your check. I don't care what the TV ads say. I don't care what the propaganda say. You're going to get your check. (Applause.)

It's important for people to understand that, because I fully understand a lot of people depend solely on their Social Security check for retirement. I know that. When I was the governor of Texas I knew that. And I know that as the President of the United States. A lot of people are depending upon the check, and the Social Security system is working for them. There is a safety net. The problem is the safety has got a hole in it for younger Americans. The safety net is secure for older Americans. (moderate Applause.)

Franklin Roosevelt did a good thing when he set up Social Security. It has worked. And so the discussion today is not to get rid of Social Security; the discussion today is to build on what Franklin Roosevelt put in place, to understand that things have changed since his presidency.

You see, Social Security worked for years because there were a lot of workers putting money into the system through their payroll taxes to pay for a limited number of beneficiaries. Matter of fact, in 1950, there were 16 workers per beneficiary. And the system works when it's that way. For example, you'll see on that chart, for somebody who is making $14,200 in benefits on an annual basis that means the worker will pay $900 to help that one person. Today, there is only 3.3 workers putting into the system. We got fewer workers paying per beneficiary. That obviously means costs are going up -- and, particularly given this fact, baby boomers like me are getting ready to retire. Mine happens to be -- my retirement age comes up in 2008, which is quite convenient. (Laughter and applause.)


The president used several charts in his presentation. (photo, Larry Kuzniewski)

I'll be 62 years old in 2008. And there's a lot like me. And there's more coming. And we're living longer than people during Franklin Roosevelt's time and during the '50s. And we've been promised greater benefits than the previous generations. So think about this: fewer workers paying into the system -- 3.3 per beneficiary now, soon to be 2 workers per beneficiary -- paying for a lot of baby boomers, like me, who have been promised greater benefits and we're living longer. And that's the math.

That's why I say there's a hole in the safety net. And that hole exists for the people coming up, because that system can't sustain itself. It you look at this chart over here, you'll see that in 2018, more money is coming -- going out of the system than coming in.

PROTESTER: NO!

THE PRESIDENT: More money in 2020, 2029, $200 billion a year will be going out of the system than coming in.

PROTESTER: All due respect Mr. President thatÕs notÉ [minor hubbub] THE PRESIDENT: More money in '37 will be coming out of the system, coming every year, it gets worse and worse and worse because there are baby boomers like me, more of us than ever before, drawing benefit -- larger benefits and living longer.

So we have a problem for a younger generation. Imagine somebody who's looking at this chart. They're going to say, what are you going to do about it, Mr. President? What are you going to do about it? And so I stood up in front of the Congress and said, we have a problem. And I think I was the first President ever to say, all options are on the table. I said there's been some interesting ideas. Congressman Tim Penny, when he was a Democrat Congressman from Minnesota, put some interesting ideas on the table. President Clinton, my predecessor, put some interesting ideas on the table. Democrat Govern-uh-Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan from New York put some interesting ideas on the table.

I have an obligation to say to people from both parties, let's fix this permanently. Let's don't slap a band-aid on the problem. Let us fix it permanently and all ideas, bring them forward -- and I'm interested in listening. There will be no political retribution when you put an idea on the table. As a matter of fact, you will get kudos. In Washington, D.C., there's still partisan talk. There is still people saying, well, I'm not so sure I want to get involved. My call to people from both political parties is now is the time to put aside our political differences and focus on solving this problem for generations of Americans to come. (Heavy Applause.)

I do want to talk about an interesting idea that I have discussed with others. Now, I have an obligation to participate in the dialogue. I don't get to write the legislation, by the way. Members of the Senate and the House will write the legislation. But I have an Ð I-I-I-I've got some ideas that I-I'd like for people to consider, and one of them is to allow younger workers to take some of their own money and set it aside in a personal retirement account, [hubbub as protester is hauled out] a savings account. (Applause.)

And let me tell you why I like the idea. Here's why I like the idea. First of all, we'll discuss -- and Congressman Penny will discuss this -- about the notion of compounding rate of interest. That means if you're able to get a reasonable rate of return on your money, then over time, it grows exponentially. In other words, if you're able to set aside some of your own money in a conservative mix of stocks and bonds, you'll get a better rate of return on that money than you would on the rate of return that the government gets for you. And it's that difference that, over time, compounds.

So take, for example, a person making $35,000 a year over his or her lifetime, and if he or she were allowed to set aside 4 percent of the payroll tax in a personal savings account, by the time he or she retired, there will be $250,000 as a part of the retirement system. That's what compounding rate of interest does. (Applause.)

People say, well, I'm not so sure I know how to invest. You know, there's kind of this notion that there is an investor class in America. That sounds a little limited to me, that only a certain number -- certain type of person can invest. I don't subscribe to that notion. I believe everybody has got -- should have the opportunity to invest, and I believe everybody can invest. (Applause.)

Now, when you say personal account, you can't take the money and put it in the lottery. (Laughter.) You've got a lottery in Tennessee? Right down the road. Well, you can't do that. There would be a prescribed set of types of stocks and bonds. Obviously, we're not going to let people take their money and gamble it out. And we've done this before. See, this isn't new ground. After all, a lot of people invest their own money in 401(k)s. There's an investor class growing way beyond the concepts of the investor class. In other words, Defined Contributions Plans are spreading out all over America. People are used to this concept. Federal employees get to do this through the Federal Employee Thrift Savings Plan. In other words, the federal government has said to employees, hey, you get to invest some of your own money, if you choose, in a conservative mix of stocks and bonds.

So this concept has been around. We're not -- this is an interesting -- this isn't something brand new. This is an idea that ought to happen for Social Security, as well as other retirement -- as it happened in other retirement funds.

PROTESTER: NOÉ you canÕt!

THE PRESIDENT: Thirdly, we want people owning something. I love the fact that more people now own their home than ever before in our nation's history. (Applause.) I like the fact when there are more entrepreneurs from all walks of life; people saying, I own my own business. That's the important part. How about letting people own a stake of the future of the country by having the ownership in their own retirement plan? And that's what we're talking about: ownership. (Applause.)

Finally, I like the idea of being -- somebody being able to accumulate assets and pass it on to their heirs. Provides for stability in society. Now, ownership ought not to be limited. It ought to be spread around in our society.

And, finally, there's a macroeconomic benefit when more people save, like they would be doing through their personal accounts. It provides more capital for investment. And capital is necessary for the expansion of small business. Capital helps fuelsÑhelps fuel the entrepreneurial spirit of America. The more savings, the more capital, the more jobs.

So this is an idea that I want Congress to take a look at, in the spirit of all ideas ought to be put on the table. I'm looking forward to the discussions with members of both political parties. I've got a lot of work to do in the meantime. I'm going to Louisiana after this. Next week, I'll be traveling down to Florida, checking on the brother. (Laughter.) And then I'm going to be going out -- then I'll be going out west. And I'm going to campaign for Social Security, because I told you earlier, we have a duty in Congress to do something about this before it becomes too late, before we saddle an entire generation with a problem we cannot solve. (Applause.)

Ready to go? I want to thank Tim Penny for being here. Elected to the United States from Minnesota. Knows the subject really well. Congressman, thanks for coming. I'm proud you're here. Thanks for joining us. (Applause.)

EX-CONGRESSMAN PENNY: Mr. President, thank you, first, for putting this issue on top of the agenda because it is an urgent issue, and it's one that needs to be addressed sooner than later. Doing nothing is not an option. An economic advisor to a previous president once said Òsomething that is unsustainable eventually will stop. Something that is unsustainable will eventually will stop. And as youÕve shown with this chart over here the trend we are on really is unsustainable. Now hereÕs my concern: I voted for some social security tax increases back in 1983 as a 3o year old congressman in his first year in Congress. And that;s the way weÕve addressed it the issue in the past. WeÕve raised payroll taxes 24 times since this program was created. When it was first created it was 2% od payroll (unintel)É now its almost almost...[UNINTELLIGIBLE PORTION OF TAPE)

THE PRESIDENT: I And I really want to thank Tim. He's been very active in this issue for a long period of time. Occasionally he's able to make time to join the presidential road show to take this issue to the people, and he adds a lot of class to the road show .

(Laughter.) He's going to down to Louisiana with me a little later on today. So thanks for being here, Tim.

We're going to start with Mary Hines from -- where you live, Mary?

MS. HINES: I live in Hickory Withe, Tennessee.

THE PRESIDENT: Hickory Withe, that's interesting.

MS. HINES: A very small community. We're unincorporated. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Sounds like the town came. (Laughter.) How many people live there?

MS. HINES: About two or three thousand.

THE PRESIDENT: Four times bigger than Crawford. (Laughter.) Thanks for joining us.

MS. HINES: Thank you, I'm glad to be here.

THE PRESIDENT: Are you receiving any Social Security?

MS. HINES: Yes, I am. I've worked for 40 years as a secretary. My husband worked 40 years for DuPont. And we're both drawing Social Security.

THE PRESIDENT: And is it important to you?

MS. HINES: It is very important. It is part of our retirement plan.

THE PRESIDENT:Okay. Are you worried about the reforms taking it away from you?

MS. HINES: No, in fact, we -- as we understand it, this is -- the reforms will not affect us. However, my children -- like you -- are in the baby boomer era when they retire. So this will affect them somewhat. But, basically, it will affect my grandchildren and my great grandchildren. So it's some --

THE PRESIDENT: No, I appreciate -- sorry to interrupt. Now that I have, I better say something. (Laughter.) She has a vital point. There are a lot of grandmothers who are justifiably concerned about what Social Security means to their grandchildren. This is a generation where Social Security has worked. She and her husband are getting help from the Social Security system. After all, it's their money coming back to them.

And I can't tell you how many times I've heard from people once we have assured citizens that nothing changes for them, that, what are you going to do about my grandchildren. This is a generational issue. It is an issue that is very important for members of Congress to understand that a lot of grand-folk-parents care deeply about not only their own security, but once they're -- once they're assured, they care deeply about the security of their grandchildren. I want to thank you for sharing that with us. (Applause.) Anything else you want to -- MS. HINES: Well, I look at your chart over here, and I would like to thank those workers who are helping pay my Social Security right now.

THE PRESIDENT: That's right. (Laughter.) That would be me and a lot of other people. (Applause.) Good news is, they're going to keep paying, and you'll keep getting your check. Let me introÉ Beverly Peterson is with us. She's got a very interesting story. Ready to go? You look like you're ready to go. (Laughter.)

(GAP IN TAPE)

PETERSON: I wrote a letter to President Bush. I was concerned about the Social Security Benefit. I had an incident that happened 18 years ago. My husband passed away at the age of 49. I went to the Social Security office and was told that I would receive ONE benefit and that was the death benefit of $250. I would receive no other benefit and my two other children who were in college at the time would not receive one. I was told that I was Òin a gray area.Ó I was too young. Well, my husband paid into Social Security from the time he was 16 years old. I work full time and part time and also put into the Social Security system When it comes time for me to retire I will receive one or the other, whichever is greater of the two. The other is absorbed back into the system. We will never see it.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, let me -- thank you for sharing that with us. What Beverly is saying is, is that she was too young for the survivor benefits and therefore the money that he put into the system -- "he" being the husband -- there was nothing there. And because she has contributed to the Social Security system, when she retires, you'll get the benefits because of your check, because of not or because of your contributions, not because of your husband's contributions. Personal accounts -- think about what personal accounts would have done for Beverly: the husband works, puts money aside since 16 years old. What age was he when he passed away?

MS. PETERSON: Forty-nine.

THE PRESIDENT: Forty-nine years old, so that's 33 years of compounding rate of interest, 33 years of that money set aside would grow. And when he passed away, there is an asset base for Beverly that she gets, and she can live on it, it'll help her transition to her days of retirement. In other words, that's one of the benefits of being able to accumulate your own assets that, as Tim said, you call your own. And when it's your own asset, you can pass it on to whomever you choose.

PROTESTER: NO, NO!

THE PRESIDENT: The system is an important system today, but it has got holes in the safety net. And one of the holes in the safety net is a widow like Beverly did not have any assets when her husband passed away.

Thank you for sharing that story with us.(Applause.)

Pastor Andrew Jackson. Welcome, Pastor Jackson.

PASTOR JACKSON: Thank you, Mr. President. I'm delighted to be here. Thanks for the invitation.


One of President Bush's guests was Rev. Jackson of Faith Temple Church. (photo, Larry Kuzniewski)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we're glad you're here. You pastor what church, sir?

PASTOR JACKSON: Faith Temple Church of God and Christ. My bishop is Bishop G.E. Patterson and --

THE PRESIDENT: Bishop Patterson, a fine man. (Applause.) Good. How's the congregation doing?

PASTOR JACKSON: Doing quite well. It's kind of like the city bus -- we have some getting on and some getting off. (Laughter and applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: The difference in your case is, the fare is free. (Laughter.)

PASTOR JACKSON: True.

THE PRESIDENT: Tell me why you're here. Thanks for coming, I'm honored. I want to hear your views on Social Security.(GAP IN TAPE)

Thank yo for coming up with this idea. I only wish 50 years ago when I started paying Social Security that this concept had been available. Of course I would be able to draw a little more money than IÕm drawing now. IÕve been drawing Social Security for the last four years. But IÕm not retired. I have 18 grandchildren. This morning coming hear I heard on the news that President Bush is trying to take away most of our Social Security. Of course I know thatÕs not what youÕre trying to do but thatÕs the myth that has been circulating around.

THE PRESIDENT: That's called political propaganda.

PASTOR JACKSON: Oh, political -- okay,propaganda. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: That's what they said when I ran for President in 2000. I actually brought the issue up. They said, if he gets elected, he's going to take away your check. It didn't happen. Everybody got their checks. That's why propaganda -- that's empty. That means --

PASTOR JACKSON: It's empty.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, there's no truth to it. Go ahead.

PASTOR JACKSON: IÕm concerned about my grandchildren and great grandchildren though I know this wonÕt effect me I will still draw my social Security until I die. Of course as my wife go with me thatÕs the end of it. Unlike this plan. If my grandchildren come along and they buy into this set aside a small percentage of their Social Security which they are paying anyway will go into a persomal private account. When they cease to exist here that private account will be passed on down to their children. So I think itÕs a great plan. IÕm for it. IÕm pushing it everywhere I go. IÕm talking about it in my church.

THE PRESIDENT: See, here's what I like. I like the idea that the Pastor is thinking about generations to come. And he said, I'm worried about my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren, and I hope there's a system that develops that encourages asset accumulation so generation-to-generation assets can be passed on. That hasn't happened for many in our history. No, that hasn't been the case throughout the history of the United States. We haven't encouraged asset formulation. There hasn't been wealth passed from one generation to the next in certain parts of our society. That's just the truth. And it seems like to me that it makes sense for us to come together and encourage a plan that does just that, that provides continuity from one generation to the next when it comes to assets. We want people owning something. I don't care where they're from, what political party they associate with, what neighborhood they live in. The more people own something, the better off America is, and the ability to pass assets from one generation to the next is an important part of our legacy. (Applause.)

Let me tell you one other thing, and then we've got two other panelists here. This system -- and I want to work with members of both parties to make sure this system takes care of our poorer workers. We can design the benefit structure for that which exists in a way that recognizes some people work all their life and will have to live below the poverty level upon retirement. And we don't want that in America. There are ways to make sure this system provides a solid safety net.

Tim [Penney]understands that. Harold [Ford] understands that. All of us can work on this system. So I want to assure you, Pastor, that not only will the system encourage asset accumulation, but we want to make sure that whatever Social Security system exists, that when we permanently fix it, that people are given a true safety net,the whole is fixed in the safety net, and that there is a safety net for retirees. (Applause.)

Harry Summer. Harry, thanks for coming.

MR. SUMMER: Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: I understand you were a professor at one time. (LONG GAP IN TAPE)

HE PRESIDENT: You know, somebody told me one time -- they took a poll amongst 20-year-olders, and 20-year-old people said they thought it was more likely they'd see a UFO than get a Social Security check. (Laughter.) Interesting dynamic, isn't it? A lot of people say 20-year-olds don't care about the issues. And part of my job is to make sure that they understand the facts, because once people realize -- once the seniors realize nothing is going to change, once Congress realizes there are a lot of grandfathers wondering about their granddaughters and their future, once 20-year-olders and 30-year-olders start to say, wait a minute, now this is a problem, what are you going to do about it? Those are the dynamics to get something done.

I presume you expect Congress to get something done now, before it's too late.

MS. SIEGFRIED [SUMMERÕs granddaughter]: Yes.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, listen, I want to thank our panelists for coming. I thought this was an interesting dialogue. (Applause.) I want to thank you all for giving us a chance to come report about this important issue. I'm looking forward to working with Congress. I expect there to be a civil dialogue and honest debate. All ideas should be on the table. The American people are going to influence the outcome of this debate.

I want to thank the good people of Memphis for letting me come by and visit with you about it. I want to assure you, I will continue traveling our country, asking people to be involved, getting people to write their congressmen and senators to say, get rid of the partisanship, sit down at the table and modernize this system for generations to come.

God bless, and thanks for coming. (Heavy Applause.)

Want to respond? Send us an email here.

Scenes From President Bush's Thursday-Night Arrival


Local GOP group awaits the president, here for forum on Social Security Friday. Group includes District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, 2000 and 2004 Bush Tennessee chair David Kustoff, State House minority leader Tre Hargett, Sheriff Mark Luttrell.


Air Force One heads for a landing.


Air Force One at rest.


The president deplanes.


Bush is greeted by the local GOP luminaries, preparatory to heading to overnight lodging at The Peabody.

Want to respond? Send us an email here.

Tales of Two Women

Representative Bowers responds to a daughter's tell-all; Senator Kurita guns for the U.S. race.

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

It is well established, via a famous cliché, that politics ain't beanbag.

The latest evidence of that was delivered last Friday night on WMC-TV Channel 5, when reporter Darrell Phillips reported on, of all things, a memoir written by the daughter of an active local political candidate.

The book, entitled The Prodigal Daughter and published locally by Reginald Martin Books, is by Desiree Bowers, whose mother, state representative Kathryn Bowers, is a candidate for the District 33 state Senate seat recently vacated by Roscoe Dixon, now an aide to Shelby County mayor A C Wharton.

Stated simply, the book, which purports to be the author's account of her spiritual regeneration, presents Representative Bowers as a negligent mother preoccupied with "saving the world." The book asserts that the senior Bowers, though a Catholic, arranged for the author to have at least one abortion, which came when the younger Bowers was only 13 and already embarked on a career of prostitution. Her mother was heavily engaged in civil and community affairs at the time.

Bowers has several opponents in the March 24th Democratic primary, which is very probably going to be the decisive vote, rather than the special general election on May 10th. District 33, spreading across the southern edge of Shelby County, is predominantly black and overwhelmingly Democratic. That fact creates a steep climb indeed for the four Republicans and two independents also running.

Practically speaking, the Democratic primary race is considered as being between Shelby County Commission chairman Michael Hooks and Bowers, who made it clear Saturday, after she had spoken briefly before the Germantown Democratic Club, that she suspected foul play on the part of her major opponent.

Pleading another commitment, Bowers had not been present Friday night for a candidate forum at Methodist Hospital South -- one that got started less than an hour after Phillips told his tale on the 6 p.m. news.

One of the questions fielded by the four candidates at that forum was whether the details of a candidate's private life should have a bearing on their fitness for office or should figure in election campaigns. The four candidates on hand -- Republicans Barry Sterling and Jason Hernandez, independent Ian Randolph, and Hooks -- all answered in the affirmative on both counts. (Absent were Bowers, Republicans Mary Ann Chaney McNeil and Mary Lynn Flood, and independent Mary Taylor Shelby.)

The public had a "right to know," said Sterling. Hernandez said a candidate was obliged to be a "role model" and added that private behavior was an indicator of public performance. Randolph said office-holders should reflect the values of their community.

For his part, Hooks, who made an indirect reference to his conviction some years ago on a drug charge and subsequent rehabilitation, proclaimed his life "an open book" and said every candidate's should be.

After the Channel 5 newscast, which was followed by a posting on Phillips' personal blog, Bowers evidently made the judgment that, now that her daughter's book and her own life had been opened to public scrutiny, she needed to hit the issue head on.

Accordingly, she brought the matter up when she was asked to say a few words at a Saturday morning meeting of the Germantown Democrats. Asking for members' prayers in a difficult time, Bowers said she intended to handle the issue of the book with "love and forgiveness" and said her chief concerns were with the "children" -- meaning her own, including Desiree, and several grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Acknowledging that at various times she may in fact have appeared to be "trying to save the world," Bowers then segued into some of her legislative concerns -- notably her determination to resist Governor Phil Bredesen's proposed eliminations of some 323,000 Tennesseans from the TennCare rolls. "Health care and economic development: That's what I do," she concluded.

Asked about her daughter's book afterward, Bowers said she hadn't read it but had owned a copy since its publication, roughly a year ago. "Of course," she answered, when asked if she thought the surfacing of the issue now was politically inspired.

Without specifying what parts of the book she might mean, Bowers said it was "not necessarily all nonfiction," though she did acknowledge that she had arranged an abortion when Desiree Bowers had become pregnant at the age of 13 and "didn't know who the father was."

No reconciliation was necessary with her daughter, said Bowers, because "we never fell out" in the first place. "But she has made her choices, and I have made mine."

Representative Bowers said she had been up "all night long" following Friday night's telecast, receiving phone calls from well-wishers. Certainly, there was nothing stinted about the hand she got from the Germantown members, who roundly applauded her remarks.

Madame Senator?

It's no secret that 9th District U.S. representative Harold Ford is the odds-on favorite to be the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in 2006 -- should he choose to run. But it won't be a free ride. He can expect determined opposition from a Nashville-area legislator and self-styled "straight shooter" who proudly says she is used to running hard in contested elections and modestly avers, "I've won a few."

This is state senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, the Middle Tennessee city, just north of Nashville, which includes a portion of the Fort Campbell (Ky.) military complex and numerous military personnel among its residents. She has just begun her third term as senator from District 22 (Cheatham, Houston, and Montgomery counties). Says the 57-year-old Kurita: "It's a conservative district that Bush won. I keep turning away Republican challengers, and I beat a Republican incumbent eight years ago to get in." She adds: "Tennessee Democrats are Bubbas. I'm a Bubba!"

As one proof of that, Kurita cites her prowess in skeet-shooting, a pastime in which she competes and has won several awards. Several years ago she accepted a challenge to a one-on-one match from the chief state lobbyist of the National Rifle Association. She won -- a fact that didn't keep her from getting the NRA's endorsement at election time.

She expects to have it in the future too, and that's one of the facts that she says will make her candidacy amenable to Tennesseans at large. In her reelection campaign last year, she used a TV ad that showed her firing her modified Browning shotgun on the skeet range and featured her stands in opposition to a state income tax, partial birth abortion, and gay marriage. She also supports the Bush administration's policy on Iraq. On Social Security, though, she thinks the president has created an artificial crisis and finds his proposals for privatization "frightening."

"The Republicans have thrown everything at me that they could, and I've always been able to raise enough money to take 'em on," says Kurita, a former Montgomery County commissioner who vows to have enough on hand to handle both the primary race and, if successful, the general election contest.

Kurita, a former nurse and mother of three whose husband is a pediatrician, grew up in Midland, Texas, where she was a schoolmate of Laura Bush and her father was the local Republican chairman. Why did she change parties? "Republicans have to be of one mind and walk with one step. Democrats let you be who you want to be," she says.

Though the senator is a slightly built woman, she is a figure to be reckoned with in legislative councils. After a single-handed struggle of some years, she managed last year to get smoking banned outright in the state Capitol, including the smokers' last bastions of the House and Senate chambers.

"She doesn't take no for an answer very easily," notes Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle of Memphis.

"I don't expect to have to," she says about the 2006 election.

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

POLITICS

Representative Bowers responds to a daughter's tell-all; Senator Kurita guns for the U.S. race.

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

TALES OF TWO WOMEN It is well established, via a famous cliché, that politics ain't beanbag.

The latest evidence of that was delivered last Friday night on WMC-TV Channel 5, when reporter Darrell Phillips reported on, of all things, a memoir written by the daughter of an active local political candidate.

The book, entitled The Prodigal Daughter and published locally by Reginald Martin Books, is by Desiree Bowers, whose mother, state representative Kathryn Bowers, is a candidate for the District 33 state Senate seat recently vacated by Roscoe Dixon, now an aide to Shelby County mayor A C Wharton.

Stated simply, the book, which purports to be the author's account of her spiritual regeneration, presents Representative Bowers as a negligent mother preoccupied with "saving the world." The book asserts that the senior Bowers, though a Catholic, arranged for the author to have at least one abortion, which came when the younger Bowers was only 13 and already embarked on a career of prostitution. Her mother was heavily engaged in civil and community affairs at the time.

Bowers has several opponents in the March 24th Democratic primary, which is very probably going to be the decisive vote, rather than the special general election on May 10th. District 33, spreading across the southern edge of Shelby County, is predominantly black and overwhelmingly Democratic. That fact creates a steep climb indeed for the four Republicans and two independents also running.

Practically speaking, the Democratic primary race is considered as being between Shelby County Commission chairman Michael Hooks and Bowers, who made it clear Saturday, after she had spoken briefly before the Germantown Democratic Club, that she suspected foul play on the part of her major opponent.

Pleading another commitment, Bowers had not been present Friday night for a candidate forum at Methodist Hospital South one that got started less than an hour after Phillips told his tale on the 6 p.m. news.

One of the questions fielded by the four candidates at that forum was whether the details of a candidate's private life should have a bearing on their fitness for office or should figure in election campaigns. The four candidates on hand -- Republicans Barry Sterling and Jason Hernandez, independent Ian Randolph, and Hooks -- all answered in the affirmative on both counts. (Absent were Bowers, Republicans Mary Ann Chaney McNeil and Mary Lynn Flood, and independent Mary Taylor Shelby.)

The public had a "right to know," said Sterling. Hernandez said a candidate was obliged to be a "role model" and added that private behavior was an indicator of public performance. Randolph said office-holders should reflect the values of their community.

For his part, Hooks, who made an indirect reference to his conviction some years ago on a drug charge and subsequent rehabilitation, proclaimed his life "an open book" and said every candidate's should be.

After the Channel 5 newscast, which was followed by a posting on Phillips' personal blog, Bowers evidently made the judgment that, now that her daughter's book and her own life had been opened to public scrutiny, she needed to hit the issue head on.

Accordingly, she brought the matter up when she was asked to say a few words at a Saturday morning meeting of the Germantown Democrats. Asking for members' prayers in a difficult time, Bowers said she intended to handle the issue of the book with "love and forgiveness" and said her chief concerns were with the "children" -- meaning her own, including Desiree, and several grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Acknowledging that at various times she may in fact have appeared to be "trying to save the world," Bowers then segued into some of her legislative concerns --notably her determination to resist Governor Phil Bredesen's proposed eliminations of some 323,000 Tennesseans from the TennCare rolls. "Health care and economic development: That's what I do," she concluded.

Asked about her daughter's book afterward, Bowers said she hadn't read it but had owned a copy since its publication, roughly a year ago. "Of course," she answered, when asked if she thought the surfacing of the issue now was politically inspired.

Without specifying what parts of the book she might mean, Bowers said it was "not necessarily all nonfiction," though she did acknowledge that she had arranged an abortion when Desiree Bowers had become pregnant at the age of 13 and "didn't know who the father was."

No reconciliation was necessary with her daughter, said Bowers, because "we never fell out" in the first place. "But she has made her choices, and I have made mine."

Representative Bowers said she had been up "all night long" following Friday night's telecast, receiving phone calls from well-wishers. Certainly, there was nothing stinted about the hand she got from the Germantown members, who roundly applauded her remarks.

Madame Senator?

It's no secret that 9th District U.S. representative Harold Ford is the odds-on favorite to be the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in 2006 should he choose to run. But it won't be a free ride. He can expect determined opposition from a Nashville-area legislator and self-styled "straight shooter" who proudly says she is used to running hard in contested elections and modestly avers, "I've won a few."

This is state senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, the Middle Tennessee city, just north of Nashville, which includes a portion of the Fort Campbell (Ky.) military complex and numerous military personnel among its residents. She has just begun her third term as senator from District 22 (Cheatham, Houston, and Montgomery counties). Says the 57-year-old Kurita: "It's a conservative district that Bush won. I keep turning away Republican challengers, and I beat a Republican incumbent eight years ago to get in." She adds: "Tennessee Democrats are Bubbas. I'm a Bubba!"

As one proof of that, Kurita cites her prowess in skeet-shooting, a pastime in which she competes and has won several awards. Several years ago she accepted a challenge to a one-on-one match from the chief state lobbyist of the National Rifle Association. She won -- a fact that didn't keep her from getting the NRA's endorsement at election time.

She expects to have it in the future too, and that's one of the facts that she says will make her candidacy amenable to Tennesseans at large. In her reelection campaign last year, she used a TV ad that showed her firing her modified Browning shotgun on the skeet range and featured her stands in opposition to a state income tax, partial birth abortion, and gay marriage. She also supports the Bush administration's policy on Iraq. On Social Security, though, she thinks the president has created an artificial crisis and finds his proposals for privatization "frightening."

"The Republicans have thrown everything at me that they could, and I've always been able to raise enough money to take 'em on," says Kurita, a former Montgomery County commissioner who vows to have enough on hand to handle both the primary race and, if successful, the general election contest.

Kurita, a former nurse and mother of three whose husband is a pediatrician, grew up in Midland, Texas, where she was a schoolmate of Laura Bush and her father was the local Republican chairman. Why did she change parties? "Republicans have to be of one mind and walk with one step. Democrats let you be who you want to be," she says.

Though the senator is a slightly built woman, she is a figure to be reckoned with in legislative councils. After a single-handed struggle of some years, she managed last year to get smoking banned outright in the state Capitol, including the smokers' last bastions of the House and Senate chambers.

"She doesn't take no for an answer very easily," notes Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle of Memphis.

"I don't expect to have to," she says about the 2006 election.

Thursday, March 3, 2005

Ford Stalled

The congressman marks time on a Senate race as his uncle's difficulties raise doubts.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 3, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Will he or won't he? Up until the last week or so, the question of a 2006 U.S. Senate race by 9th District U.S. representative Harold Ford Jr. had seemed a done deal, and a formal announcement had been expected by the end of February. But the ever-fermenting controversy involving the congressman's uncle, state senator John Ford, has put the whole matter on hold, and pressures -- some subtle, some not so subtle -- have begun to mount against Ford's making the race.

For one thing, sentiment has begun to change within the close-knit group of Ford family members and advisers. "They've gone from 60-40 in favor a month ago to 60-40 against," said a source familiar with behind-the-scenes developments. In particular, former congressman Harold Ford Sr., now living in Florida and working as a business/government consultant, is said to have developed serious doubts about the wisdom of his son's running -- at least in the current environment. Strategy talks among family members have focused on possible spillover from problems now swirling around John Ford.

The state senator's difficulties originally stemmed from embarrassing disclosures about his multiple households in child-support hearings. These got national media attention and were joked about by Tonight Show host Jay Leno. Subsequently, questions were raised about the legitimacy of John Ford's legal address. But the state senator's situation became most grave when IRS filings in the child-support matter became public and revealed that a major component of his unexpectedly high income came from a financial relationship with a TennCare provider. The facts that Ford is a member of the General Assembly's TennCare oversight committee and chairman of another committee which handles TennCare legislation quickly raised conflict-of-interest issues.

The Senate Ethics Committee, chaired by majority leader Ron Ramsey, a Republican, has stepped up its investigation of the various Ford matters -- though public and media attention have figured larger than partisan motives. If anything, Ford's senate colleagues, Democratic and Republican, have signaled that they will not be rushed to judgment and intend to give their colleague every due consideration. Legislative leaders in both parties confide that talk of criminal prosecution may be off the mark, considering that the statutes governing the TennCare matter are more likely to provide penalties for the company which hired Ford than for the senator himself.

None of that serves to reassure the camp of Representative Ford, which foresees the John Ford controversy as likely to garner serious media attention for some time to come. Accordingly, members of the congressman's political circle -- possibly without Representative Ford's direct knowledge -- have sounded out John Ford about the prospect of his cutting bait, even to the point of his resigning from the Senate or, if necessary, pursuing plea-bargaining arrangements with legal authorities. By nature, the independent-minded senator is inclined to resist such counsel -- especially if he feels fortified by his Senate colleagues.

Hence, the nightmare prospect for Representative Ford that his potential Senate race would be endlessly connected in the public mind to open-ended media attention concerning his uncle's notoriety.

The same thought has occurred to other Tennessee Democrats -- notably Governor Phil Bredesen, who was quoted over the weekend as saying the publicity given John Ford's problems "can't possibly be helping" the congressman's Senate ambitions. Said Bredesen, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press: "I feel very sorry for him, because it is something that is beyond his control and not something he has had a part in. ... I think the publicity against John Ford is hurting Harold and frankly that bothers me."

What may bother the governor, in particular, is the fact that, as a Democratic candidate for reelection, he will share the state ballot with his party's Senate nominee. The only other declared Democratic candidate for the Senate is state senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville. Nashville mayor Bill Purcell had at one time considered a race and, some say, may again.

Even those corners of the media that have thus far taken a Ford Senate candidacy for granted are suddenly expressing doubts. The Lebanon Democrat's Clint Brewer, something of a Ford confidante, noted this week that "rank and file" Democrats had begun to wonder about a Ford candidacy and added, "Of course, Ford has never actually solidified his intentions to run." And the Washington insiders' publication The Hill recently wondered if "the growing controversy" over John Ford may have affected "the resonance of the Ford name statewide."

The congressman himself was elaborating to the media on previous affirmations distinguishing (and distancing) himself from his uncle and insisting that he still intended to run. But Representative Ford told The Jackson Sun over the weekend that the race was "still a year away" and that, prior indications notwithstanding, he was in no hurry to announce.

n Successorss-in-waiting: Meanwhile, if Representative Ford does in fact make the Senate race, who's in line to succeed him as the 9th District's congressman?

Two potential candidates have recently expressed interest: Shelby County commissioner Joe Ford, the incumbent congressman's uncle, and public relations man Ron Redwing, a former aide to Mayor Willie Herenton.

Commissioner Ford said Monday, "I'd be very interested in doing that. I'm [51], the right age to be considering it, and my experience as both city councilman and commissioner has prepared me for it."

Redwing is being seriously touted by a number of friends in local Democratic and government circles. "I think I've shown a serious commitment to the community and want to use my skills and talent to extend my commitment to the people of the 9th District." These two are but the harbingers of what could be quite a long list.

n Chairs in transit: 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 representative Bowers, speaking to supporters at her Elvis Presley Boulevard headquarters, promised to do everything in her power to forestall the TennCare cuts 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 -- Mary Lynn Flood, Jason Hernandez, Mary Ann McNeil, and Barry Sterling -- 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.

n The GOP backstory: Though the new Republican chairman, unlike his last several predecessors, avoided a direct challenge, it was a near thing. Giannini, a relative unknown in local Republican ranks, had opposition from GOP conservatives -- whose candidate, Terry Roland, finally accepted a place on Giannini's ticket -- and the party establishment, which tried unsuccessfully to recruit Germantown lawyer Kevin Snider to run against him.

n Hooks back in: Though Bowers escaped one potential opponent when House colleague Joe Towns was declared ineligible for failure to pay past fines assessed by the state Election Registry, she saw another one, Shelby County Commission chairman Michael Hooks, reinstated.

After listening to testimony from lawyers for both Hooks and the state of Tennessee, Chancellor Arnold Goldin ruled in Hooks' favor and ordered Hooks reinstated as a candidate. 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 Senate 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.

Expressing gratitude at the decision, Hooks said of the state officials who originally ruled against him: "They don't have a hard-on for Michael Hooks. They're just interpreting the law and trying to do their job. 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."

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Speaking of School Consolidation

ADVERTISEMENT

Most Commented On

  • In Huge Upset, Trump Defeats Clinton

    Victory involves apparent sweep of "battleground" states and tier of Midwestern rust-belt states that had been regarded as safely Democratic; Republicans will also keep control of both houses of Congress.
    • Nov 9, 2016
  • Cohen Introduces Amendment to Scrap Electoral College

    Memphis Congressman and ranking member of key House subcommittee, proposes action to allow direct election of the President.
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • More »

Top Viewed Stories

ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2016

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation