Friday, June 24, 2005

D-Days

The coming week will be a time of decision in local politics.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 24, 2005 at 4:00 AM

At Thursday noon of this week, the Election Commission's door was scheduled to shut to those wanting to file for the now-open state Senate District 29 and state House District 87. At Thursday noon of next week, another door will close with the passing of the withdrawal deadline for the forthcoming special elections called by Governor Phil Bredesen.

Primary date for both races will be August 4th, followed by a general election on September 15th.

The Senate seat came open after the recent resignation of longtime state senator John Ford, perhaps the best-known target of the FBI's Tennessee Waltz sting, while the District 87 seat was vacated by Kathryn Bowers, who ran for and won the state Senate District 33 seat held by Roscoe Dixon before he became an aide to Shelby County mayor A C Wharton.

Ironically, both Bowers and Dixon (who is now unemployed), were arrested and charged in the sting as well.

Although the list was sure to proliferate, those who had filed as of press time were:

State Senate District 29: Henri Brooks and Barbara Cooper (both now state representatives), LauraDavis, and Ophelia Ford (sister of former Senator Ford), Democrats; and John Farmer and Terry Roland, Republicans.

State House District 87: Omari Faulkner and Alonzo Grant, Democrats; (no Republicans as of yet).

n The other looming political choice is that of a Democratic chairman to replace Bowers. Democrats will caucus this Saturday at the University of Memphis to select delegates who will in turn gather at the same location on July 23rd to elect a new chairman and a new executive committee.

Candidates for the chairmanship so far include David Cocke, Cherry Davis, Joe Young, and (possibly) Talut Al-Amin, the current vice chair and acting chairman.

Cocke's candidacy -- reportedly made at the urging of 9th District U.S. representative Harold Ford Jr., now a U.S. Senate candidate -- has drawn the ire of Sidney Chism, a political broker who recently served as interim state senator for District 33 and is, like Cocke, a former party chairman.

"They've got a lot of nerve trying to shove David Cocke on us, when there are three other candidates, all African Americans, ready and willing to serve," said Chism last week. "David Cocke will never be chairman. I guarantee it! If it comes down to it, I'll put myself in the running rather than let him be elected."

That promptly drew criticism from party activist David Upton, a Cocke supporter, who accused Chism of "playing the race card" and of having run a poor chairmanship during his 1994-95 term.

n Okay, so Thaddeus Matthews can't spell, doesn't know what a paragraph is, and lets his pet conspiracy theories cloud his mind on occasion. But the former radio talk-show host is a damn good political gossip, though sometimes what he has to say on his blog, thaddeusmatthews.com, is old fish in new wrappers -- as when he suggests this week that Sheriff Mark Luttrell is mulling over a race for county mayor.

Luttrell's interest in such a race has been well known, assuming that a vacancy opens up. Matthews goes on to suggest that indeed it will, and that incumbent mayor Wharton is thinking of running for the 9th District congressional seat that Ford will be vacating. Other congressional possibilities mentioned by Matthews are the Rev. Ralph White and Joseph Kyles.

n Now that she would seem to be term-limited out of another term on the county commission, Marilyn Loeffel will have to decide whether she wants to confront Debbie Stamson in next year's Republican primary for county clerk.

If so, Loeffel will have her work cut out for her. Stamson, whose husband is Juvenile Court clerk Steve Stamson, was the beneficiary of a massive fund-raiser last week at the Germantown home of her brother, Wayne Mashburn. The several hundred attendees included a virtual Who's Who of local Republicans and a generous smattering of Democrats and independents as well.

"She was invited to come," said Debbie Stamson of potential opponent Loeffel, a no-show at the fund-raiser.

Not only is Debbie Stamson an employee of current clerk Jayne Creson, who is retiring and has endorsed her, she is the daughter of the late, longtime clerk, Richard C. "Sonny" Mashburn.

That would seem to give her an edge, but Democratic activist Upton cautioned not to sell Loeffel short, noting that an "army" of supporters had helped elect the former president of FLARE, a social-conservative activist group, to the commission. "And they'll be at her disposal again," said Upton.

n U.S. senator Lamar Alexander hasn't yet satisfied a variety of critics for his failure to co-sponsor a recent Senate resolution apologizing for filibusters in the '30s and '40s that obstructed anti-lynching legislation. (See Viewpoint, page 13, for more on that measure.)

Basically, the senator has said that he supports instead another Senate resolution that would "condemn" the practice of lynching along with other aspects of racism. 


Terry Harris on the Big Dance

Such is the level of public interest in the federal Tennessee Waltz sting that the very term has become a catchall. At Monday's meeting of the Shelby County Commission, county jailer Warren Cole, one of several opponents of privatizing the county's correction system, approached the dock toward the end of the meeting to address the commission, as is his wont.

After his usual anti-privatization speech, Cole weighed in on budgetary matters too -- targeting the expense of "private contracts" as a leading cause of the county's current fiscal woes. Then he uttered what seemed to be something of a non sequitur -- one, however, that was not only received well in the commission auditorium but would travel elsewhere by word of mouth.

"The Tennessee Waltz was something else," Cole said. "The Shelby County Shuffle's going to be …" And the rest of what he had in mind to say was drowned out by enthusiastic audience response.

Incomplete and cryptic as the statement was, it would be publicly cited at least twice later on Monday. First, Memphis school board member Patrice Robinson would reference it at the board auditorium during a discussion of maintenance contracts. And Shelby County commissioner John Willingham brought it up at a meeting of the Southeast Shelby Republican Club that was being addressed by U.S. attorney Terry Harris. Harris responded that he had nothing to say concerning any additional sting arrests that might focus on Shelby County government.

After his fashion, Harris did have something to say about the Tennessee Waltz, however.

After establishing that, in order to ensure a "fair trial" for the several defendants caught in the sting, he would have to defer most comment, Harris offered a word about allegations, circulating on weblogs and elsewhere, that political motives were responsible for the fact that most of the defendants netted in the sting were Democrats.

"I can assure all the citizens of West Tennessee that political party affiliation was not and is not relevant to anything that has to do with the Tennessee Waltz, the indictments, or the investigation," Harris said.

Harris was asked why the Western District of Tennessee, his own jurisdiction, had become the venue for prosecuting East Tennesseans like state senator Ward Crutchfield and alleged "bagman" Charles Love, both Chattanoogans who were arraigned in federal court here last week.

He responded that he couldn't give specifics but noted that legal venue has to be relevant to the cause. "There has to be a connection to the crimes that were committed in the district where the case is brought," Harris said, adding, "I have no reason to believe that we can't have a fair trial in this district."

Harris also offered his endorsement of the Patriot Act, the controversial post-9/11 measure that afforded more latitude to law-enforcement agencies in apprehending terror suspects and, some alleged, curbed citizens' rights. "Where's the victim?" he asked. "We don't have one. The Patriot Act doesn't harm anybody's rights." It's subject, he maintained, to the Fourth Amendment, which already prohibits unlawful search and seizure. Some of the criticism of the measure was politically motivated, he said, coming "from some of those who opposed the president."

Recalling his unsuccessful 1998 race for a Criminal Court judgeship against Joe Brown, who went on to become a syndicated television "judge," Harris said, "I think I have the better job. I have no complaints about how things have worked out. I would rather be doing this job than the one I ran for." He allowed as how he was not a fan of Brown's TV show.

Asked if he intended to run for a position next year, when most judgeships will come open again, Harris smiled and said no. n

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