Friday, April 29, 2005

Change of Course

The County Commission signals a readiness to review the status quo.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 29, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Two issues before the Shelby County Commission at its regular Monday meeting indicated that the body, faced with a worsening budget crunch and other discontents, may be ready for a sea change or two.

One controversy welled up over what, in other times, would have been the routine nomination of two members to the Memphis and Shelby County Development Corporation -- Frank Ryburn, an existing member, and Tony Thompson III.

But Commissioner Julian Bolton objected to the appointments -- maintaining that the quasi-public corporation had been profligate in extending PILOT (payment-in-lieu-of-taxes) arrangements to a variety of industries and that this, at a time of severe budgetary pressures on schools, jails, and other county-funded services, was costing taxpayers "hundreds of millions of dollars" unnecessarily.

Kelly Rayne, legal adviser to Mayor A C Wharton, insisted that the mayor's office was sensitive to such concerns and was conducting a "pilot study" to review the procedures for granting PILOT arrangements -- especially with regard to shifting the emphasis from suburban sites to potential in-city businesses and industries. "We wanted to be more comprehensive and less piecemeal about it," Rayne said.

"We don't need a study to make a decision," Bolton objected. "With just a cursory review, you will see it's out of whack." In the time it took to conduct such a study, he said, another "50 or 60 million" taxpayer dollars would be expended. "That's how fast it's going."

Vice Chairman Tom Moss, acting as commission chairman in the absence of current chair Michael Hooks, expressed agreement with Bolton's concerns but suggested that holding up on the renomination of Ryburn and the nomination of Thompson would not have any effect on the process.

Ultimately, in two close votes, the commission upheld the two appointments, but the unexpectedly spirited discussion that had welled up indicated that a full review of PILOT procedures, long held out as bait to attract and keep industry, was in store.

As David Lillard, generally a supporter of PILOT arrangements and a supporter of the appointment resolution, said: "Let's roll up our sleeves and get into it."

The other issue was a vindication of sorts for John Willingham, a Republican member who, like Democrat Bolton (whose objections to the PILOT procedures he shares), has often found himself on the short end of controversial votes but keeps trying.

For some time, Willingham, whose 2002 election owed much to his opposition to the deal that brought the NBA Grizzlies to Memphis and got the FedExForum built, has been struggling to subject that contract to a full review.

On Monday, he got the commission's backing with an 11-0 vote in support of a resolution by himself and Walter Bailey, another longtime skeptic concerning the complex of arrangements surrounding the Forum and the Grizzlies.

The resolution would begin a grievance procedure, allowable under terms of the Grizzlies' contract with the city and county, by which certain issues -- financial ones and other matters, notably that of the no-compete-clause which gives the Grizzlies' management de facto control over bookings at other local arenas -- might be renegotiated.

For his pains, Willingham has drawn some add-on hurt in the form of declared opponent Mike Carpenter, governmental liaison for the Associated Builders and Contractors. In Nashville this week to promote a bill favored by his association, Carpenter was apprised of Willingham's frequently voiced -- and evidently quite sincere -- question: "Why does Mike Carpenter want to run against me?"

Asked about that, Carpenter laughed. "I want a seat on the commission," he answered. Then, more earnestly, he proceeded to spell out some other motives: "I just disagree with John about a number of things. He was elected on a no-tax platform and promptly started voting for taxes. He proposed a payroll tax, he voted for a property tax increase, and he voted to support a real-estate transfer tax."

(The latter tax -- which requires action by the General Assembly -- was endorsed by 10 other members of the commission, more or less to back up Shelby County mayor A C Wharton, its chief sponsor, and was forwarded to Nashville without a dissenting vote.)

Carpenter said he was also opposed to Willingham's ideas of turning The Pyramid into a casino.

The challenger has a fund-raiser scheduled for next month that has some name sponsors. Among them: consultant David Perdue, longtime GOP eminence Lewis Donelson, former Republican chairman David Kustoff, city councilman Brent Taylor, and legislators Paul Stanley and Bubba Pleasant.

• Presuming that Marilyn Loeffel, the soon-to-be-term-limited county commissioner, is still interested in running next year for Shelby County clerk, she won't have a free run at it.

Debbie Stamson, wife of Juvenile Court clerk Steve Stamson and a longtime employee of the county clerk's office, announced this week that she will run for the clerk's job, held by Jayne Creson, who has said she will retire.

Stamson's election next year, if it comes to pass, would create the first husband-and-wife pair of clerks to serve in Shelby County government.

• Governor Phil Bredesen last week announced the appointment of Memphis attorney Jerry Stokes to succeed the recently retired George H. Brown Jr. as Circuit Court judge in division 6. Stokes, who has practiced law since 1981 with the Stokes, Wilson and Wright law firm, has also worked since 1998 as a part-time assistant divorce referee for Shelby County. In 2003-2004, he received the highest rating among divorce referees (8.9 out of 10) in a survey commissioned by the Memphis and Shelby County Bar Association. •

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

POLITICS

Heeding discontent, the county commission signals a readiness to review the status quo.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 27, 2005 at 4:00 AM

CHANGE OF COURSE Two issues before the Shelby County Commission at its regular Monday meeting indicated that the body, faced with a worsening budget crunch and other discontents, may be ready for a sea change or two.

One controversy welled up over what, in other times, would have been the routine nomination of two members to the Memphis and Shelby County Development Corporation -- Frank Ryburn, an existing member, and Tony Thompson III.

But Commissioner Julian Bolton objected to the appointments -- maintaining that the quasi-public corporation had been profligate in extending PILOT (payment-in-lieu-of-taxes) arrangements to a variety of industries and that this, at a time of severe budgetary pressures on schools, jails, and other county-funded services, was costing taxpayers “hundreds of millions of dollars” unnecessarily.

Kelly Rayne, legal adviser to Mayor Wharton, insisted that the mayor’s office was sensitive to such concerns and was conducting a “pilot study” to review the procedures for granting PILOT arrangements -- especially with regard to shifting the emphasis from suburban sites to potential in-city businesses and industries.. “We wanted to be more comprehensive and less piecemeal about it,” Rayne said.

“We don’t need a study to make a decision,” Bolton objected. “With just a cursory review, you will see it’s out of whack.” In the time it took to conduct such a study, he said, another “50 or 60 million” taxpayer dollars would be expended. “That’s how fast it’s going.”

Vice chairman Tom Moss, acting as commission chairman in the absence of current chair Michael Hooks, expressed agreement with Bolton’s concerns but suggested out that holding up on the renomination of Ryborn and the nomination of Thompson would not have any effect on the process.

Ultimately, in two close votes, the commission upheld the two appointments, but the unexpectedly spirited discussion that had welled up indicated that a full review of PILOT procedures, long held out as bait to attract -- and keep -- industry was in store.

As David Lillard, generally a suppiorter of PILOT arrangements and and a supporter of the appointment resolution Monday said: “Let’s roll up our sleeves and get into it.”

The other issue was a vindication of sorts for John Willingham, a Republican member who, like Democrat Bolton (whose objections to the PILOT procedures he shares), has often found himself on the short end of controversial votes but keeps trying.

For some time, Willingham, whose 2002 election owed much to his opposition to the deal that brought the NBA Grizzlies to Memphis and got the FedEx Forum built, has been struggling to subject that contract to a full review.

On Monday, he got the commission’s backing with an 11-0 vote in support of a resolution by himself and Walter Bailey, another longtime skeptic concerning the complex of arrangements surrounding the Forum and the Grizzlies.

The resolution would begin a grievance procedure, allowable under terms of the Grizzlies’ contract with the city and county, by which certain issues -- financial ones and other matters, notably that of the no-compete-clause which gives the Grizzlies’ management de facto control over bookings at other local arenas -- might be renegotiated.

For his pains, Willingham has drawn some add-on hurt in the form of declared opponent Mike Carpenter, governmental liaison for the Associated Builders and Contractors. In Nashville this week to promote a bill favored by his association, Carpenter was apprised of Willingham’s frequently voiced -- and evidently quite sincere -- question: “Why does Mike Carpenter want to run against me?”

Asked about that, Carpenter laughed. “I want a seat on the commission,” he answered. Then, more earnestly, he proceeded to spell out some other motives: “I just disagree with John about a number of things. He was elected on a no-tax platform and promptly started voting for taxes. He proposed a payroll tax, he voted for a property tax increase, and he voted to support a real-estate transfer tax.”

(The latter tax -- which requires action by the General Assembly -- was endorsed by ten other members of the commission, more or less to back up Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton, its chief sponsor, and was forwarded to Nashville without a No vote.)

Carpenter said he was also opposed to Willingham’s idea of turning The Pyramid into a casino.

The challenger has a fundraiser scheduled for next month that has some name sponsors. Among them: consultant David Perdue, longtime GOP eminence Lewis Donelson, former Republican chairman David Kustoff, city councilman Brent Taylor, and legislators Paul Stanley and Bubba Pleasant.

Presuming that Marilyn Loeffel, the soon-to-be-term-limited county commissioner, is still interested in running next year for Shelby County clerk, she won’t have a free run at it.

Debbie Stamson, wife of Juvenile Court clerk Steve Stamson and a longtime employee of the county clerk’s office, announced this week that she will run for the clerk’s job, at present held by Jayne Creson, who has said she will retire.

Stamson’s election next year, if it comes to pass, would create the first husband-and-wife pair of clerks to serve in Shelby County government

NASHVILLE -- State senator John Ford addressed some last-ditch questions to colleague Roy Herron before he, too, ended up voting Monday night for ethics legislation, sponsored by Herron, that swept through the legislature in the wake of Ford’s much-publicized consulting arrangements with private firms doing business with the state of Tennessee. The Senate’s 33-0 vote followed last week’s 92-3 vote in the House.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

POLITICS (WEEKEND EDITION)

POLITICS (WEEKEND EDITION)

Posted By on Sat, Apr 23, 2005 at 4:00 AM

THIS AND THAT Jerry Stokes of Memphis, a 49-year-old attorney and former divorce referee, was appointed by Governor Phil Bredesen Monday as the successor to retired Circuit Court judge George Brown. The governor's office released the following statement announcing the appointment:

NASHVILLE -- Governor Phil Bredesen today announced that Memphis attorney Jerry Stokes will fill a vacancy in division six of the 30th Judicial District’s Circuit Court, created by the retirement of George H. Brown, Jr. The 30th Judicial District Circuit Court covers Shelby County.

“Jerry Stokes has more than 20 years experience working in private practice and is highly regarded in the Shelby County legal community,” said Bredesen. “Through his years practicing law, Jerry has proven himself committed to the improvement of the legal system in Tennessee and has worked diligently to represent those who may not otherwise have had access to the courts system in Shelby County. I have great confidence that he will serve the citizens of the 30th Judicial District with fairness and integrity.”

Stokes has been practicing law since 1981, working in private practice with Stokes, Wilson and Wright Law Firm. The firm handles mostly personal injury, debtors’ bankruptcy, criminal defense and plaintiff cases. Stokes has also worked as a part-time assistant divorce referee for Shelby County since 1998, when he was appointed by then Mayor Jim Rout. He has also served more than 100 times as special judge in the General Sessions Criminal Court of Shelby County.

“I’m overwhelmed and honored that the Governor has appointed me to this position,” said Stokes. “I certainly appreciate his confidence in me, and will do all I can to serve the citizens of the 30th Judicial District to the best of my abilities.”

Stokes, 49, holds a bachelor’s degree in radio, television and filming from the University of Memphis and earned his doctor of jurisprudence degree from Southern University, Baton Rouge. He is a member of the National Bar Association’s Ben F. Jones Chapter and the Memphis and Shelby County Bar Association. In 2003-2004, Stokes received the highest rating among divorce referees (8.9 out of 10) in a survey commissioned by the Memphis and Shelby County Bar Association. From September of 2003 to February of 2005, Stokes served on the Speedy Trial Plan Committee Task Force at the request of Judge James Todd, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Western Division of Tennessee.

Stokes’ appointment is effective immediately, and he will stand for election to a full 8-year term in 2006.

Elections of 2006 (Cont’d): Presuming that Marilyn Loeffel, the soon-to-be-term-limited county commissioner, is still interested in running next year for Shelby County clerk, she won’t have a free run at it.

Debbie Stamson, wife of Juvenile Court clerk Steve Stamson, announced this week that she will run for the clerk’s job, at present held by Jayne Creson, who has said she will retire.

In a statement mailed to potential supporters, Stamson -- an employee of the clerk’s office for 25 years -- says she has “Jayne’s full support.”

“During my twenty-five years, I have worked in every department in the clerk’s officeÉ.I know the important of running an efgficient office and living within a budget as Jayne Creson has done for the past eleven years.”

Stamson’s election next yea;r, if it comes to pass, would create the first husband-and-wife pair of clerks to serve in Shelby County government.

Secret Weapon?: Local Democrats were exhorted Thursday night at a party fundraiser by veteran broadcaster Leon Gray, who will soon be an afternoon feature on the local Air America outlet, WWTQ, 680AM, dispensing "progressive talk" as an antidote to arch-conservative commentator Mike Fleming on WREC, 600AM.


Friday, April 22, 2005

Bucking the Tide

Kurita calls bankruptcy bill a "Christmas gift" to credit card companies.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 22, 2005 at 4:00 AM

State senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, as of now the only declared Democratic candidate for U.S. senator in 2006, released a statement on Friday that was highly critical of both the bankruptcy bill passed Thursday by the House of Representatives in Washington and, by implication, those members of Congress who voted for it.

One of those, of course, is her likely rival for the Democratic nomination, 9th District U.S. representative Harold Ford of Memphis. Ford, who had signed a letter asking for the bill's consideration, joined other members of the Tennessee delegation, both Democratic and Republican, in casting a vote for the measure, which passed by a margin of 302-126. It had previously passed the Senate by a 74-25 vote on March 10th, with both Tennessee senators, Bill Frist and Lamar Alexander, voting for it. President Bush is expected to sign the measure into law in short order.

The bill had been stoutly opposed by the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives. "This bill seeks to squeeze even more money for credit-card companies from the most hard-pressed Americans'' and turn bankrupt consumers into "modern-day indentured servants," said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California on Thursday.

In a statement condemning the bill as having been based on a false sense of "crisis," Kurita termed it "an early Christmas gift to big credit card companies and a lump of coal to a number of Americans who are working hard and struggle to get by." She added pointedly, "[W]e need a few more members of the U.S. Senate experienced at caring for patients and not caring about the special interests."

The bill essentially closes certain long-established loopholes on individual bankruptcies and keeps filers who make more than a poverty-level income from escaping their indebtedness by requiring them to employ Chapter 13 remedies and to arrange for installment payments with creditors.

Critics of the bill have said that it would seriously jeopardize middle-income households, especially those subjected to economic stress as a result of unforeseen medical costs and unemployment. A study conducted at Harvard University of 1,771 personal bankruptcy filers in five federal courts pinpointed heavy medical costs as the factor that forced about half of the filings.

That study was introduced into congressional testimony by opponents of the bill, as was a letter from 104 bankruptcy law professors who said that hardship would be greatest in heartland states where bankruptcy filing rates are highest. The academics listed Tennessee prominently among the states cited.

Kurita's complete statement is as follows: "More leaders in Congress should have worked to improve this bankruptcy bill or stop this bill. It is an early Christmas gift to big credit card companies and a lump of coal to a number of Americans who are working hard and struggle to get by.

"While I have always been an advocate of personal responsibility and condemn anyone who manipulates the system, it is clear we do not have a crisis of people wrongly filing for bankruptcy.

"We do have thousands of families wiped out due to the skyrocketing cost of health care and we have a culture where credit card companies nearly entrap people into signing up for more cards and incurring more debt so they can profit from high interest payments. A number of reports have shown that a huge percentage of people who file for bankruptcy do so because of health care expenses that insurance companies have refused to pay.

"We have seen no proposals to reform health care, but we have seen this proposal to hurt families wiped out by the high cost of health care.

"This is why as a registered nurse I believe we need a few more members of the U.S. Senate experienced at caring for patients and not caring about the special interests."

Kurita will bring her Senate campaign to Memphis next week, appearing at a luncheon meeting of the Memphis Women's Foundation for a Greater Memphis at The Peabody on Thursday.

It is uncertain whether she will also be involved in a local Democratic Party fund-raiser, to be held Thursday evening, from 5 to 8 p.m. at party headquarters at 2400 Poplar Avenue.

Invitations for the affair, e-mailed and otherwise, were sent out under the auspices of the party and the city's local Air America outlet, WWTQ, AM-680, a financial sponsor. The invitations mention prominently Representative Ford and Shelby County mayor A C Wharton, who are expected to be on hand.

Other Democratic elected officials are invited to share in the "hors d'oeuvres, beverages, and great conversation" at costs ranging from $25 ("members") to $50 ("patrons").

State senator Steve Cohen, who is never shy about taking on potentially contentious issues nor concerned, evidently, about whom he might offend in the process (including Governor Phil Bredesen, a frequent nemesis), has two new causes on the front burner -- both involving local political figures.

One of them concerns the membership of the five-member Shelby County Election Commission -- currently up for reappointment. At issue, at least for Cohen, is whether Maura Black Sullivan, one of the commission's three Democratic members, is eligible to serve.

Sullivan is director of planning for the Shelby County school system, and there, says Cohen, is the rub. The senator says that state law clearly prohibits elected officials or governmental employees from serving on the election commission and maintains that state Election Commission director Brook Thompson has backed him up in that contention.

The issue came up last week during a meeting of the Shelby County legislative delegation's Democrats to vote on members of the county election commission. The delegation's Republicans had already renominated members Nancye Hines and Richard Holden. When the Democrats convened, several names were put in nomination, including those of Sandra Richards and Taurus Bailey, both of whom are employed by Shelby County.

It was at that point that state representative Ulysses Jones, a friend of Richards, made a disclosure to his fellow legislators about the requirements of the up-until-then obscure provisions of the statute and concluded regretfully that Richard was ineligible to serve. Further debate among the delegation suggested that Bailey was also governed by the prohibition.

After perusing a copy of the statute, Cohen then insisted that Sullivan should have been ruled ineligible for her first term, to which she was elected in 2003, and was in any case precluded from serving a second two-year term. Sullivan and various defenders emphatically disagreed, citing ambiguously worded exceptions regarding teachers and other school-system officials. The outcome of the voting put her and the commission's other Democratic holdovers, Chairman O.C. Pleasant and Greg Duckett, ahead of the other contenders.

Cohen is pressing the case and has asked for a formal opinion from the state attorney general's office -- one that presumably will come before next month's meeting of the state Election Commission, which normally ratifies the selections of the two party caucuses.

On another front, Cohen is pushing a proposal to redefine state law so as to extend pensions and other member benefits only to those legislators who have been elected to office. Cohen says his measure to that effect has won the approval of the Senate's State and Local Government committee, which he chairs, but has been bottled up in the House State and Local Government committee, chaired by Jones.

Interim state senator Sidney Chism, who earlier this year was chosen by the Shelby County Commission to succeed former Senator Roscoe Dixon, now an aide to Wharton, says the measure is aimed at him. "I don't know why he's singled me out. I haven't actively sought a pension or any benefits from being a legislator. I'm just here to serve," says Chism.

Cohen, who, along with several other legislators, had opposed Chism's appointment, insists that his bill merely concerns issues of equity, as does his position regarding the reappointment of Sullivan, whose husband Jeff Sullivan unsuccessfully opposed state representative Beverly Marrero in a special House election for District 89 last year.

In that race, Cohen maintained that Jeff Sullivan did not live in the district and sought at one point to have felony charges brought against the candidate. •

Homage in Bartlett

The overflow turnout at last Sunday's funeral services at Memphis Funeral Home for Velda "Louise" Bodiford Byrd, widow of Madison Arthur Byrd, was testament not only to the graces of the late Mrs. Byrd, who died last week at the age of 89, but a tribute as well to the extended Byrd family -- one with profound influence in Shelby County through the family-owned Bank of Bartlett and through the political and community activities of various family members.

Two of the several successful children of Louise and Madison Byrd, Harold Byrd and Dan Byrd, served as members of the state House of Representatives, representing Bartlett as Democrats -- no small accomplishment, given what in recent years has been the overwhelming domination of that sprawling community by the Republican Party. Harold Byrd also launched campaigns for Congress and for Shelby County mayor. Brother Bob Byrd served as a member of the state Board of Education, and various other family members have pulled their oar in a variety of causes, notably in advancement of the University of Memphis.

Today's Bartlett, a bustling suburb, would be unimaginable without the efforts of the Byrds and the family bank. And it remains to be seen whether the political community has seen the last run by a family member. -- J.B.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

POLITICS: Cohen Agonistes

A state Attorney General's opinion apparently sides with Steve Cohen on an election commission issue.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 20, 2005 at 4:00 AM

COHEN AGONISTES State Senator Steve Cohen, who is never shy about taking on potentially contentious issues nor concerned, evidently, about whom he might offend in the process (including Governor Phil Bredesen, a frequent nemesis), has two new causes on the front burner -- both involving local political figures.

One of them concerns the membership of the five-member Shelby County Election Commission -- currently up for reappointment. As of late Tuesday, when he was notified of a ruling by the state Attorney GenEral’s office, Cohen seemed sure to have one in the win column. At issue was whether Maura Black Sullivan, one of the commission’s three Democratic members, is eligible to serve.

Sullivan is director of planning for the Shelby County school system, and there, says Cohen, is the rub. The senator says that state law clearly prohibits elected officials or governmental employees from serving on the election commission and maintains further that state Election Commission director Brook Thompson has backed him up in that contention.

The issue came up last week during a meeting of the Shelby County legislative delegation’s Democrats to vote on members of the county election commission. The delegation’s Republicans had already renominated members Nancye Hines and Richard Holden. When the Democrats convened, several names were put in nomination, including those of Sandra Richards and Taurus Bailey, both of whom are employed by Shelby County.

It was at that point that state Rep. Ulysses Jones, a friend of Richards, made a disclosure to his fellow legislators about the requirements of the up-until-then obscure provisions of the statute and concluded regretfully that Richard was ineligible to serve. Further debate among the delegation suggested that, in that case, Bailey was also governed by the prohibition.

After perusing a copy of the statute, Cohen then insisted that, in that case, Sullivan should have been ruled ineligible for her first term, to which she was elected in 2003, and was in any case precluded from serving a second two-year term. Sullivan and various defenders emphatically disagreed, citing ambiguously worded exceptions regarding teachers and other school-system officials. The outcome of the voting put her and the commission’s other Democratic holdovers, chairman O.C. Pleasant and Greg Duckett, ahead of the other contenders.

Matters did not rest there, however. Cohen pressed the case and on Tuesday got the formal opinion he had sought from the state Attorney General’s office: Not only is Sullivan ineligible, but the members of the state Election Commission, should they go on to appoint her anyhow, would be subject to penalties themselves.

On another front, Cohen is pushing a proposal to redefine state law so as to extend pensions and other member benefits only to those legislators who have been elected to office. Cohen says his measure to that effect has won the approval of the Senate’s State and Local Government committee, which he chairs, but has been bottled up in the House State and Local Government committee, chaired by Rep. Jones.

Interim state senator Sidney Chism, who earlier this year was chosen by the Shelby County Commission to succeed former Senator Roscoe Dixon, now an aide to Wharton, says the measure is aimed at him. “I don’t know why he’s singled me out. I haven’t actively sought a pension or any benefits from being a legislator. I’m just here to serve,” says Chism.

Cohen -- who, along with several other legislators, had opposed Chism’s appointment -- insists that his bill merely concerns issues of equity, as does his position regarding the reappointment of Sullivan, whose husband Jeff Sullivan unsuccessfully opposed state Rep. Beverly Marrero in a special House election for District 89 last year. In that race, Cohen maintained that Jeff Sullivan did not live in the district and sought, at one point, to have felony charges brought against the candidate.

Homage in Bartlett

The overflow turnout at last Sunday’s funeral services in Memphis Funeral Home on Germantown Parkway for Velda 'Louise’ Bodiford Byrd, widow of Madison Arthur Byrd, was testament not only to the graces of the late Mrs. Byrd, who died last week at the age of 89, but a tribute as well to the extended Byrd family -- one with profound influence in Shelby County, through the family-owned Bank of Bartlett and through the political and community activities of various family members.

Two of the several successful children of Louise and Madison Byrd, Harold Byrd and Dan Byrd, had served as members of the state House of Representatives, representing Bartlett as Democrats -- no small accomplishment, given what in recent years has been the overwhelming domination of that sprawling community by the Republican Party. Harold Byrd also launched campaigns for Congress and for Shelby County mayor. Brother Bob Byrd served as a member of the state Board of Education, and various other family members have pulled their oar in a variety of causes -- notably in advancement of the University of Memphis.

Today’s Bartlett, a booming, bustling suburb, would be unimaginable without the efforts of the Byrds and the family bank. And it remains to be seen whether the political community has seen the last run by a family member.

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Friday, April 15, 2005

Van's Dual Role

U.S. Senate candidate challenges the state GOP on keeping his party function.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 15, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Former 4th District congressman Van Hilleary, one of four declared Republican candidates in next year's U.S. Senate race, responded over the weekend to a potentially vexing problem. Faced with grumbling in party ranks -- especially among supporters of his opponents -- Hilleary stood fast on the issue of retaining his current position as GOP national committeeman from Tennessee.

Hilleary continues to hold that position while preparing to run in a contested primary against former Congressman Ed Bryant; state representative Beth Harwell; and Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker.

Addressing the regular quarterly meeting of the state Republican executive committee at the Holiday Inn Select at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Hilleary said he had "heard rumors" about opposition to his dual role of candidate and committeeman and challenged the committee to pass a resolution at its next meeting against his continued service. Otherwise, he said, he intended to continue in the role of committeeman.

No action was taken on that issue Saturday by the committee, which did effect another change, however -- amending the party by-laws governing intervention in party primaries by Republican Party officials. The by-laws, which preclude such action, have up until now allowed for one exception -- allowing intervention against Republican legislative incumbents who have opposed the party's legal position or supported that of the Democrats on redistricting matters.

Mindful of the controversy concerning the speakership elections in both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly, the committee on Saturday amended the by-laws to allow public opposition by party officials to those incumbent Republican legislators who cast votes in January for either Lieutenant Governor John Wilder, reelected as Senate speaker, or state representative Jimmy Naifeh of Covington, who was renamed Speaker of the House.

Two Republicans cast votes for Wilder -- enough to ensure his election over Republican Ron Ramsey -- and 11 Republican House members voted for Naifeh.

The by-laws change in effect ratified a resolution introduced at the committee's December meeting by Memphis member Layne Provine. As it happens, Provine has an opinion about the Hilleary issue too. "I don't have a dog in the hunt," Provine, a professional political consultant, pointed out Tuesday. "I'm not representing anybody as of now in the Senate race, and I'm wide open on which candidate to support. But I think Van's a smart enough fellow, having been a congressman and a candidate for governor, to figure out the committeeman thing without needing a resolution by the party."

Provine said he agreed with those people, "including a couple of prominent supporters of Van," who find it "awkward" for the former congressman to continue in his official party role while running against other Republicans in a primary. If a resolution of the sort mentioned by Hilleary came before the committee at a future meeting, Provine said he would support it.

n Jim Balentine, former reporter for United Press International and longtime political writer for the old Memphis Press-Scimitar, was the recipient two weekends ago of a heart transplant at Baptist East Hospital. Balentine has experienced complications since the operation, but doctors are said to be "guardedly optimistic" about his prospects for a full recovery.

n The elections of 2006 are now officially upon us. Although several potential candidates have floated their intentions to compete for a county commission seat in next year's countywide elections, the first actual declaration has come from Mike Ritz of Germantown.

Ritz, who will seek the District 1, Position 1 seat now held by Marilyn Loeffel, made a formal announcement of candidacy in a release this week, stressing "a need to control rising property taxes" and emphasizing his experience in financial management.

"If elected, I'll use my financial and budget analysis experience to review the County's fiscal and debt situation and assist the Mayor and fellow Commissioners in finding solutions to the County's massive debt and over reliance on the property tax," said Ritz in the statement.

Ritz had been among several applicants seeking a commission vacancy last year that was ultimately awarded to Dr. George Flinn. Since then, Ritz has made a point of attending the commission's regular meetings and committee sessions as an observer.

For her part, Loeffel is said to be eyeing the county clerk's job now held by Jayne Creson, who is considering retirement. Like several fellow commissioners, Loeffel is term-limited as a consequence of a 2002 countywide referendum.

Commissioners Walter Bailey, Cleo Kirk, and Julian Bolton have sued to invalidate those results, and a ruling on the issue by Chancellor Tene Alissandratos has been long expected.

n The Tennessee General Assembly is not only a venue for important public business. It can also be, for all the parliamentary minutiae and dead air of its daily proceedings, an improv theater of surpassing eloquence -- one in which, every now and then, a speech can actually influence the outcome of a vote.

Here's a recent example: State senator Steve Cohen protested in the Senate against a measure floated by Governor Phil Bredesen (often the object of Cohen's ire) that would tap state government's Rainy Day (reserve) fund rather than resort to new taxes, like one proposed by Cohen and state representative Kathryn Bowers that would raise the state cigarette tax to help fund TennCare.

"They want to live off the taxes that Senator [Jerry] Cooper [D-Smartt] sponsors, and they want to live off the revenue the lottery created," Cohen said. "It's not a bad thing, ladies and gentlemen. Some of you voted for it, and those of you who didn't should have. It's kept the schools going, it's kept the high schools open, it's kept the prisons going, the jails.

"It's the government and taxes that educate the children, give healthcare to your people. It gives law enforcement money, gives correction, public safety, public welfare. And you can't operate without revenue. You can't do it. And if you want to live on the work of the past generation, you're poaching. You need to show some backbone and courage. Not just here, the first floor [governor's office] needs to show it!

"They're living off that billion dollars the General Assembly voted on, and they're living off that lottery money the General Assembly passed. And now they're trying to tell you, We want to spend it all. We don't want to create any of it. This General Assembly created it. This General Assembly, this Senate, needs to stand up and do a little bit on its own and realize that some of the ideas that we passed are worthwhile. And that's what this is about."

The bottom line: The Senate evidently heeded Cohen and opted to keep the Rainy Day fund at its current level.

KURITA BLASTS BANKRUPTCY VOTE

Senate candidate calls measure 'Christmas gift' for credit-card companies.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 15, 2005 at 4:00 AM

State Senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, as of now the only declared Democratic candidate for U.S. Senator in 2006, released a statement on Friday that was highly critical of both the bankruptcy bill passed Thursday by the House of Representatives in Washington and, by implication, those members of Congress who voted for it.

One of those, of course, is her likely rival for the Democratic nomination, 9th District U.S. Rep. Harold Ford of Memphis. Ford, who had signed a letter asking for the bill's consideration, joined other members of the Tennessee delegation, both Democratic and Republican, in casting a vote for the measure, which passed by a margin of 302-126. It had previously passed the Senate by a 74-25 vote on March 10, with both Tennessee senators, Bill Frist and Lamar Alexander voting Aye. President Bush is expected to sign the measure into law in short order.

The bill had been stoutly opposed by the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives. "This bill seeks to squeeze even more money for credit-card companies from the most hard-pressed Americans'' and turn bankrupt consumers into "modern-day indentured servants," said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California on Thursday.

In a statement condemning the bill as having been based on a false sense of Òcrisis,Ó Kurita termed it Òan early Christmas gift to big credit cards companies and a lump of coal to a number of Americans who are working hard and struggle to get by.Ó She added pointedly, Ò...[W]e need a few more Members of the U.S. Senate experienced as caring for patients and not caring about the special interests."

What the bill does, essentially, is close certain long-established loopholes on individual bankruptcies and prevent filers above the poverty line from escaping their indebtedness altogether, requiring them to employ Chapter 13 remedies and to arrange for installment payments with creditors.

Critics of the bill have said that it would seriously jeopardize middle-income households, especially those subjected to economic stress as a result of unforeseen medical costs and unemployment

A study conducted at Harvard University of 1.771 personal bankruptcy filers in five federal courts pinpointed heavy medical costs as the factor that forced about half of the filings.

That study was introduced into Congressional testimony by opponents of the bill, as was a letter from 104 bankruptcy law professors who said that hardship would be greatest in heartland states where bankruptcy filing rates are highest. The academics listed Tennessee prominently among the states cited.

KuritaÕs complete statement is as follows:

ROSALIND KURITA ON BANKRUPTCY

"More leaders in congress should have worked to improve this bankruptcy bill or stop this bill.

"It is an early Christmas gift to big credit cards companies and a lump of coal to a number of Americans who are working hard and struggle to get by.

"While I have always been an advocate of personal responsibility and condemn anyone who manipulates the system, it is clear we do not have a crisis of people wrongly filing for bankruptcy.

"We do have thousands of families wiped out due to the skyrocketing cost of health care and we have a culture where credit card companies nearly entrap people into signing up for more cards and incurring more debt so they can profit from high interest payments. A number of reports have shown that a huge percentage of people who file for bankruptcy do so because of health care expenses that insurance companies have refused to pay.

"We have seen no proposals to reform health care, but we have seen this proposal to hurt families wiped out by the high cost of health care.

"This is why as a registered nurse I believe we need a few more Members of the U.S. Senate experienced as caring for patients and not caring about the special interests."

Kurita will bring her Senate campaign to Memphis next week, appearing at a luncheon meeting of the Memphis Women's Foundation for a Greater Memphis at The Peabody on Thursday.

Want to respond? Send us an email here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

POLITICS: Van's Dual Role

U.S. Senate candidate challenges the state GOP on keeping his party function.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 13, 2005 at 4:00 AM

VAN'S DUAL ROLE Former 4th District congressman Van Hilleary, one of four declared Republican candidates in next year's U.S. Senate race, responded over the weekend to a potentially vexing problem. Faced with grumbling in party ranks -- especially among supporters of his opponents -- Hilleary stood fast on the issue of retaining his current position as GOP national committeeman from Tennessee.

Hilleary continues to hold that position while preparing to run in a contested primary against former Congressman Ed Bryant; state representative Beth Harwell; and Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker.

Addressing the regular quarterly meeting of the state Republican executive committee at the Holiday Inn Select at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Hilleary said he had "heard rumors" about opposition to his dual role of candidate/committeeman and challenged the committee to pass a resolution at its next meeting against his continued service. Otherwise, he said, he intended to continue in the role of committeeman.

No action was taken on that issue Saturday by the committee, which did effect another change, however -- amending the party by-laws governing intervention in party primaries by Republican Party officials. The by-laws, which preclude such action, have up until now allowed for one exception -- allowing intervention against Republican legislative incumbents who have opposed the party's legal position or supported that of the Democrats on redistricting matters.

Mindful of the controversy concerning the speakership elections in both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly, the committee on Saturday amended the by-laws to allow public opposition by party officials to those incumbent Republican legislators who cast votes in January for either Lieutenant Governor John Wilder, reelected as Senate speaker, or state representative Jimmy Naifeh of Covington, who was renamed Speaker of the House.

Two Republicans cast votes for Wilder -- enough to ensure his election over Republican Ron Ramsey -- and 11 Republican House members voted for Naifeh.

The by-laws change in effect ratified a resolution introduced at the committee's December meeting by Memphis member Layne Provine. As it happens, Provine has an opinion about the Hilleary issue too.

"I don't have a dog in the hunt," Provine, a professional political consultant, pointed out Tuesday. "I'm not representing anybody as of now in the Senate race, and I'm wide open on which candidate to support. But I think Van's a smart enough fellow, having been a congressman and a candidate for governor, to figure out the committeeman thing without needing a resolution by the party."

Provine said he agreed with those people, "including a couple of prominent supporters of Van," who find it "awkward" for the former congressman to continue in his official party role while running against other Republicans in a primary. If a resolution of the sort mentioned by Hilleary came before the committee at a future meeting, Provine said he would support it.

Jim Balentine, former reporter for United Press International and longtime political writer for the old Memphis Press-Scimitar, was the recipient two weekends ago of a heart transplant at Baptist East Hospital. Balentine has experienced complications since the operation, but doctors are said to be "guardedly optimistic" about his prospects for a full recovery.

The elections of 2006 are now officially upon us. Although several potential candidates have floated their intentions to compete for a county commission seat in next year's countywide elections, the first actual declaration has come from Mike Ritz of Germantown.

Ritz, who will seek the District 1, Position 1 seat now held by Marilyn Loeffel, made a formal announcement of candidacy in a release this week, stressing "a need to control rising property taxes" and emphasizing his experience in financial management.

"If elected, I'll use my financial and budget analysis experience to review the County's fiscal and debt situation and assist the Mayor and fellow Commissioners in finding solutions to the County's massive debt and over reliance on the property tax," said Ritz.

Ritz had been among several applicants seeking a commission vacancy last year that was ultimately awarded to Dr. George Flinn. Since then, Ritz has made a point of attending the commission's regular meetings and committee sessions as an observer.

For her part, Loeffel is said to be eyeing the county clerk's job now held by Jayne Creson, who is considering retirement. Like several fellow commissioners, Loeffel is term-limited as a consequence of a 2002 countywide referendum.

Commissioners Walter Bailey, Cleo Kirk, and Julian Bolton have sued to invalidate those results, and a ruling on the issue by Chancellor Tene Alissandratos has been long expected.

The Tennessee General Assembly is not only a venue for important public business. It can also be, for all the parliamentary minutiae and dead air of its daily proceedings, an improv theater of surpassing eloquence -- one in which, every now and then, a speech can actually influence the outcome of a vote.

Here's a recent example: State senator Steve Cohen protested in the Senate against a measure floated by Governor Phil Bredesen (often the object of Cohen's ire) that would tap state government's Rainy Day (reserve) fund rather than resort to new taxes, like one proposed by Cohen and state representative Kathryn Bowers that would raise the state cigarette tax to help fund TennCare.

"They want to live off the taxes that Senator [Jerry] Cooper [D-Smartt] sponsors, and they want to live off the revenue the lottery created," Cohen said. "It's not a bad thing, ladies and gentlemen. Some of you voted for it, and those of you who didn't should have. It's kept the schools going, it's kept the high schools open, it's kept the prisons going, the jails.

"It's the government and taxes that educate the children, give healthcare to your people. It gives law enforcement money, gives correction, public safety, public welfare. And you can't operate without revenue. You can't do it. And if you want to live on the work of the past generation, you're poaching. You need to show some backbone and courage. Not just here, the first floor [governor's office] needs to show it!

"They're living off that billion dollars the General Assembly voted on, and they're living off that lottery money the General Assembly passed. And now they're trying to tell you, We want to spend it all. We don't want to create any of it. This General Assembly created it. This General Assembly, this Senate, needs to stand up and do a little bit on its own and realize that some of the ideas that we passed are worthwhile. And that's what this is about."

The bottom line: The Senate evidently heeded Cohen and opted to keep the Rainy Day fund at its current level.

Friday, April 8, 2005

Making Believe

Chumney's mayoral campaign was presented as a virtual reality in the Gridiron Show.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 8, 2005 at 4:00 AM

One of the clichés of our time is that life imitates art -- a variation on the even older cliché that art imitates life. Whatever the order of precedence, the two realms certainly are related symbiotically -- a fact indicated rather glaringly in last weekend's annual Gridiron Show at the Al Chymia Shrine Temple in East Memphis.

Time was when the Gridiron Show was an unending five- or six-hour affair, put on at The Peabody and attracting a Who's Who of political attendees. Various circumstances -- including the audience's patience and capacity for attention -- have caused the show to be contracted in recent years, and the change has been, for the most part, welcomed.

One of the consequences of the shorter format is that the multiplicity of subjects covered satirically in the show's song-and-dance routines has been largely reduced to a single dominating theme, focused on through several changes of scene.

This year's theme was "Where's Willie?" -- but the subtext, which was major enough to figure in a majority of the skits, was the burgeoning mayoral candidacy of City Council member Carol Chumney.

Chief writer Blake Fontenay was reportedly concerned that Chumney might take offense at some of the references. In one of the skits, an actor playing District Attorney Bill Gibbons (represented as coveting the office of governor) suggested that he and Chumney, as partners in "political ambition," should run away together. She was portrayed as replying, "Aw heck, let's go somewhere big enough for both of our egos." To which "Gibbons" replied: "I hear Jupiter is nice this time of year!"

Chumney's love of the camera and of headlines, as well as the possibility that she just might be, in one unadmiring character's estimation, a "nerd," were all duly noted. But still, she was portrayed -- no small compliment! -- by the admirably talented and presentable Dare Pugh. And Chumney's more or less omnipresent character was sung to -- or, as the ancients would have said, sung -- by mass choruses via show-stopping melodies such as "Nothing Like a Dame" and "Hello, Dolly."

Most significantly, Chumney was represented in just the way she no doubt sees herself -- not just as a persistent scold to Mayor Willie Herenton, but as his most likely challenger and even as the heir apparent to his office.

All in all, the show had the effect of being Chumney's unofficial campaign launch.

Ironically, her stage foil, singer-actor James Harvey, who portrayed Herenton, is ambitious in his own right. Harvey, a mortgage broker, recently finished a surprising second, ahead of Shelby County Commission chairman Michael Hooks, in the special Democratic primary for state Senate District 33, won by state representative Kathryn Bowers.

Harvey said after the show that he intends to follow through on that moral victory by running for the County Commission's District 5 seat next year. That race, in the Democratic primary, would no doubt pit Harvey against veteran pol Joe Cooper, who has served notice that he intends to run again for the seat, as he did in 2002. The winner would go on to oppose Republican incumbent Bruce Thompson.

And, after the commission race, win or lose, "I might be interested in running for city mayor myself," Harvey declared.

One other mayoral wannabe, city councilman Rickey Peete, was the featured luncheon speaker of the downtown Rotary Club last week and, in the judgment of many of those who attended, came off as a solid probability to make a race in 2007.

n Playing himself in the Gridiron Show, incidentally, was Commissioner John Willingham, who faces a challenge in 2002, from fellow Republican Mike Carpenter.

But first things first: Willingham, who has long been at odds with Kemp Conrad, the immediate past chairman of the local Republican Party, had the pleasure of telling off a Conrad surrogate on stage with the line, "Why don't you just get your sorry butt out of here!"

Willingham then nuzzled up with an actor playing new GOP chairman Bill Giannini -- something of an irony in that Giannini was Conrad's designated choice to succeed him.

n The Ford Watch: The "will-he-or-won't-he?" saga of Harold Ford Jr. as a potential U.S. Senate candidate wends its way on, in ways suggestive of one of those endlessly deferred outcomes on a daytime television drama -- or of the running watch kept in 1975 by Saturday Night Live over Generalissimo Francisco Franco's ever-diminishing mortality.

Even those with shorter memories can recall Representative Ford's prolonged and highly public indecision in 1999/2000 concerning a possible run against incumbent Senator Bill Frist.

Family matters -- in that case the 9th District congressman's loyal participation in Uncle Joe Ford's losing 1999 race against Mayor Willie Herenton -- helped put a crimp in that prospect, just as the current one may have been undermined by Uncle John Ford's imperiled circumstances in the state Senate and various other arenas.

Not to worry, says the congressman, who appeared Tuesday morning on Teddy Bart's Roundtable, a much-listened-to Nashville talk show. Ford told that politically oriented audience that he will so be a candidate. "I'll run on my terms. I won't let others dictate," he insisted.

The congressman had been reported by various media sources as having been active in Middle and East Tennessee last week, appearing on Knoxville talk radio, touring Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and chatting up in a Middle Tennessee State University political science class, along with other appearances. Ford told the Associated Press after last week's tour that no one had mentioned state senator Ford's predicament to him.

Representative Ford also announced the results of a poll done on his behalf which shows him, as the prospective Democratic nominee, with a five-point lead over Republican candidate Bob Corker, the mayor of Chattanooga, and in a dead heat with two former GOP congressmen, Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary.

Ford recently declared in Memphis that he believed both Bryant and Hilleary were more likely Republican nominees than Corker. (Yet another declared Republican candidate is Nashville state representative Beth Harwell.)

The Memphis congressman's declarations on Tuesday were made amidst a growing crescendo of doubt in party circles as to his intentions and resolve. Only the day before, on the same radio program, veteran lobbyist and former Democratic legislator Tommy Burnett, told the Teddy Bart audience: "The tag-along game doesn't work forever . At some point he [Ford] has got to put the hammer down and run."

Meanwhile, the only declared Democratic candidate remains state senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville. Her finance director, Kimberly Wood, said last week that it was "irresponsible" of Ford to delay making a formal announcement. "It's going to be a very big race. We cannot afford for a Democratic candidate to wait so long to get in."

If Ford happens not to run, other Democrats who have expressed interest include Nashville attorney and party activist Bob Tuke, state senator Doug Jackson of Dickson, and former Nashville congressman Bob Clement, who made an unsuccessful Senate run against Republican Lamar Alexander in 2002.

n Like Ford, another area congressman, John Tanner of West Tennessee's 8th District, has long been regarded as potentially open to President Bush's proposals to privatize Social Security.

Until last week, Tanner had been one of three Democratic congressmen remaining on the "Faint-hearted Faction" list posted by influential blogger Joshua Mica Marshall. This is the same list from which Ford was purged some weeks ago, largely on the strength of his explicit statements to the Flyer opposing the president's plan.

And the morning after Tanner's appearance at a Social Security forum in Jackson last week, he too was off the list.

"I don't know how he got that idea," Tanner said, after taking the stage and stating his categorical opposition to privatization in general and to Bush's plans for private investment accounts in particular. Tanner further proclaimed support of the traditional function of Social Security as an insurance program -- a "floor," as he put it -- for the American populace.

Like various other Democrats, Tanner professed himself open to the concept of "add-on" private accounts, not financed by the Social Security tax. But, even on that point, he issued a caveat: "Don't play the stock market with money you can't afford to lose."

The only point on which Tanner might be said to have parted company with the staunchest defenders of traditional Social Security was his relatively pessimistic projection that the system, due to the progressive weakening of the dollar vis-à-vis other international currencies, could face a true fiscal crisis later in the century.

"This country's budget deficit is the big burden," Tanner said. "You can't have a good Social Security dollar and a bad Treasury dollar.'' n

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

POLITICS

Chumney's mayoral campaign was presented as a virtual reality in the Gridiron Show.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 6, 2005 at 4:00 AM

MAKING BELIEVE One of the clichés of our time is that life imitates art -- a variation on the even older cliché that art imitates life. Whatever the order of precedence, the two realms certainly are related symbiotically -- a fact indicated rather glaringly in last weekend’s annual Gridiron Show at the Al Chymia Shrine Temple in East Memphis.

Time was when the Gridiron Show was an unending five- or six-hour affair, put on at The Peabody and attracting a Who’s Who of political attendees. Various circumstances -- including attrition in the audience’s patience and capacity for attention -- have caused the show to be contracted in recent years, and the change has been, for the most part, welcomed.

One of the consequences of the shorter format is that the multiplicity of subjects covered satirically in the show’s song-and-dance routines has been largely reduced to a single dominating theme, focused on through several changes of scene.

This year’s theme was “Where’s Willie?” -- but the sub-text, which was major enough to figure in a majority of the skits, was the burgeoning mayoral candidacy of city council member Carol Chumney.

Chief writer Blake Fontenay was reportedly concerned that Chumney might take offense at some of the references, In one of the skits, an actor playing District Attorney Bill Gibbons (represented as coveting the office of governor) suggests that he and Chumney, as partners in “political ambition,” should run away together. She is portrayed as replying, “Aw heck, let’s go somewhere big enough for both of our egoes.” To which "Gibbons" replies: “I hear Jupiter is nice this time of year!”

And elsewhere Chumney’s love of the camera and of headlines, as well as the possibility that she just might be, in one unadmiring character’s estimation, a “nerd,” are all duly noted. But still: She is portrayed -- no small compliement! -- by the admirably talented and presentable Dare Pugh, and her more or less omnipresent character is sung to -- or, as the ancients would have said, sung -- by mass choruses via show-stopping melodies like “Nothing Like a Dame” and “Hello, Dolly” (““Hello, Carol, It’s so nice to have you back where you belong”

Most significantly, Chumney is represented in just the way she no doubt sees herself -- not just as a persistent scold to Mayor Willie Herenton but as his most likely challenger and even as the heir apparent to his office.

All in all, the show had the effect of being Chumney’s unofficial campaign launch.

Ironically, her stage foil, singer-actor James Harvey, who portrayed Herenton, is ambitious in his own right. Harvey, a mortgage broker in real life, recently finished a surprising second, ahead of Shelby County Commission chairman Michael Hooks, in the special Democratic primary for state Senate District 33, won by state Representative Kathryn Bowers.

Harvey said after the show that he intends to follow through on that moral victory by running for the county commission’s District 5 seat next year. That race, in the Democratic primary, would no doubt pit Harvey against veteran pol Joe Cooper, who has served notice that he intends to run again for the seat, as he did in 2002. The winner would go on to oppose Repoublican incumbent Bruce Thompson.

And, after the commission race, win or lose, “I might be interested in running for city mayor myself,” Harvey declared.

One other mayoral wannabe, city councilman Rickey Peete, was the featured luncheon speaker of the downtown Rotary Club last week, and, in the judgment of many of those who attended, came off as a solid probability to make a race in 2007.

Playing himself in the Gridiron Show, incidentally, was commissioner John Willingham, who faces a challenge himself in 2002, from fellow Republican Mike Carpenter.

But first things first: Willingham, who has long been at odds with Kemp Conrad, the immediate past chairman of the local Republican Party, had the pleasure of telling off a Conrad surrogate on stage with the line “Why don’t you just get your sorry butt out of here!”

Willingham then nuzzled up with an actor playing new GOP chairman Bill Giannini -- something of an irony in that Giannini was Conrad’s designated choice to succeed him.

The Ford Watch -- The will he-or-won’t-he saga of Harold Ford Jr. as a potential U.S. Senate candidate wends its way on, in ways suggestive of one of those endlessly deferred outcomes on a daytime television drama, or (for those with longer memories) of the running watch kept in 1975 by Saturday Night Live over Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s ever-diminishing mortality.

Even those with shorter memories can recall Rep. Ford’s prolonged and highly public indecision in 1999/2000 concerning a possible run then against incumbent Senator Bill Frist.

Family matters -- in that case the 9th District congressman’s loyal participation in Uncle Joe Ford’s losing 1999 race against Mayor Willie Herenton -- helped put a crimp in that prospect, just as the current one may have been undermined by Uncle John Ford’s imperiled circumstances in the state Senate and various other arenas.

Not to worry, says the congressman, who appeared Tuesday morning on Teddy Bart’s Roundtable, a much-listened-to Nashville talk show, and told that politically oriented radio audience that he will so be a candidate. “I’ll run on my terms. I won’t let others dictate,” he insisted.

The congressman had been reported by various media sources as having been active in Middle and East Tennessee last week, appearing on Knoxville talk radio, touring Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and chatting up a Middle Tennessee State University political science class, along with other appearances.

Ford told the Associated Press after last week’s tour that no one had mentioned state Senator Ford’s predicament to him.

Rep. Ford also announced the results of a poll done on his behalf which shows him, as the prospective Democratic nominee, with a five-point lead over Republican candidate Bob Corker, the mayor of Chattanooga, and in a dead heat with two former GOP congressmen, Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary.

Ford recently said in Memphis that he believed both Bryant and Hilleary were more likely Republican nominees than Corker. (Yet another declared Republican candidate is Nashville state Representative Beth Harwell.)

The Memphis congressman’s statements on Tuesday were made amidst a growing crescendo of doubt in party circles as to his intentions and resolve. Only the day before, on the very same radio program, veteran lobbyist and former Democratic legislator Tommy Burnett, told the Teddy Bart audience: “The tag-along game doesn’t work forever. At some point he [Ford] has got to put the hammer down and run.”

Meanwhile, the only declared Democratic candidate remains state Sen. Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville. Her finance director, Kimberly Wood, said last week that it was “irresponsible” of Ford to delay making a formal announcement. "It's going to be a very big race. We cannot afford for a Democratic candidate to wait so long to get in.”

If Ford happens not to run, other Democrats who have expressed interest include Nashville attorney and party activist Bob Tuke, state Senator Doug Jackson of Dickson, and former Nashville congressman Bob Clement, who made an unsuccessful Senate run against Republican Lamar Alexander in 2002.

Like Ford, another area congressman, John Tanner of West Tennessee’s 8th District, has long been regarded as potentially open to President Bush’s proposals to privatize Social Security.

Until last week, Tanner had been one of three Democratic congressman remaining on the “Fainthearted Faction” list posted by influential blogger Joshual Micah Marshall (www.talkingpointsmemo.com). This is the same list from which Rep. Ford was purged some weeks ago, largely on the strength of his explicit statements to the Flyer opposing the president’s plan.

And the morning after Tanner’s appearance at a Social Security forum in Jackson last week, he, too, was off the list.

“I don’t know how he got that idea,” Tanner said, after taking the stage and stating his categorical opposition to privatization in general and to Bush’s plans for private investment accounts in particular, and in support of the traditional function of Social Security as an insurance program -- a “floor,” as Tanner put it -- for the American population at large.

Like various other Democrats, Tanner professed himself open to the concept of “add-on” private accounts, not financed by the Social Security tax. But, even on that score, he issued a caveat: "Don't play the stock market with money you can't afford to lose."

The only point on which Tanner might be said to have parted company with the staunchest defenders of traditional Social Security was his relatively pessimistic projection that the system, due to the progressive weakening of the dollar vis-ˆ-vis other international currencies, could face a true fiscal crisis later in the century.

''This country's budget deficit is the big burden,” Tanner said. “You can't have a good Social Security dollar and a bad Treasury dollar.''

Want to respond? Send us an email here.

Friday, April 1, 2005

Bowers, Bowers?

Precedent awaits whoever gets elected to state Senate District 33.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 1, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Whatever the outcome on May 10th, when the voters of state Senate District 33 go to the polls to fill a vacancy, the winner will be the first African-American woman to serve in the Senate from Shelby County.

Both Democrat Kathryn Bowers -- the current Shelby County Democratic chairperson, who, because of her party's historical predominance in the district, is heavily favored -- and Republican Mary Ann Chaney McNeil answer to that description, and they both were easy winners over multiple opponents in last week's special primary elections.

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

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, may have gained himself a political future by his surprising second-place finish. A disappointed Hooks, the current Shelby County Commission chairman, had counted on high name recognition and late-breaking endorsements to give him a chance against Bowers, a high-profile state representative.

Harvey had some 27 percent of the primary vote against Hooks' 23 percent.

McNeil, a retired educator who received a statewide Outstanding Principal award in 2003, polished off three Republican opponents with relative ease, polling 63 percent of the vote against 24 percent for Jason Hernandez, 6.6 percent for Barry Sterling, and 6.5 percent for Mary Lynn Flood.

Bowers' victory can be attributed to a number of factors, including industrious campaigning, the support of a small but dedicated corps of supporters, and her oft-repeated promise, which events may have overtaken, to resist Governor Phil Bredesen's plan for pruning the state's 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 Wharton. He had campaigned in support of alternate revenue measures initiated by Wharton and endorsed by the county commission -- including a controversial real estate transfer tax, one that Bowers made a point of opposing.

If elected, Bowers could establish another precedent -- as 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 "Bowers, Bowers" if it passes the Senate under her sponsorship.

"That can happen if the legislature stays in session past May 10th, and I think it will," said Bowers. "Oh, we'll make sure it stays in session that long!" jested state senator Steve Cohen, a prospective colleague, who was present at her celebration.

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

n Harold Ford Jr.'s fund-raiser at the Hilton on Ridgelake Boulevard last week 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 "Re-elect 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 at the Hilton last Wednesday night was 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 Bredesen, who chose to appear on 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 last week. "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 fund-raiser 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 fund-raiser might 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. 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." (Bryant, Harwell, Corker, and Hilleary are Republican entries.)

Kurita vented what sounded like competitive instincts regarding Ford only once, when she was informed that the congressman's fund-raiser 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 fund-raiser!"

Even if access to Ford's fund-raiser turned out not to be universal, advance word concerning it surely had been. For some weeks, it -- like a follow-up fund-raiser 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 -- including, reportedly, the FBI -- have been even more widely publicized, professed last Wednesday in Nashville not to know that his congressman nephew was having a fund-raiser in Memphis that night.

"Really?" he said, looking genuinely puzzled. It was a big deal, Senator Ford was told. A thousand bucks 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 Representative 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. His situation went from bad to worse the very next morning, with the Ethics Committee's decision to broaden its inquiry and involve the state attorney general's office. He had that to contend with, along with a host of new disclosures concerning his involvements with firms doing business with state government.

"I'm about fed up with all that stuff, with people impugning my integrity," Senator 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 in Nashville came to an end too. It's not as if the congressman didn't have his own new problems. The left-of-center Black Commentator, a Web site which virtually has him under siege, fronted a new lead story last week: "Why We Can't Trust Harold Ford, Jr."

And the Capitol Hill publication Roll Call reported that the Congressional Black Caucus members were miffed at Ford for not supporting their independent budget initiative.

Those salvoes will have little effect in Tennessee, however, and if -- after last week's Memphis fund-raiser and the upcoming one scheduled for this week in Nashville -- Representative Ford has any tears to shed about them, it will definitely be on his way to the bank. n

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