Saturday, July 30, 2005

MEET THE NEW BOSS...

Ford et al. land on their feet. Bigtime.

Posted By on Sat, Jul 30, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Doubt that Harold Ford Jr. is nimble on his feet? Disbelieve that his organization lives and breathes and still has clout? Assume, in fact, that they’re not still in charge of local Democratic Party affairs?

Don’t.

One week after suffering a defeat at the local party convention which should have been decisive – at least symbolically – Ford and the Fordites sponsored a “Unity” breakfast at Café Francisco downtown in honor of new Democratic Party chairman Matt Kuhn and his freshly elected executive committee.

Cutting to the chase, here, in part, is what Kuhn had to say on Saturday to the gathered faithful: (These included numerous members of the “Convention Coalition” and the party’s Herenton/Chism faction, whose votes, together, elected young Kuhn over a Ford-sponsored candidate, the estimable David Cocke.)

:

Kuhn: “It is so good to see everybody here together.…Last week at this time we came together as a party. And I want you to know that the first call I received was from our congressman, Harold Ford Jr (applause) Thank you. Jack Kennedy once said that a rising tide raises all boats….Now, I don’t know a whole lot about sailing, but I know something about politics, and I just want to say that the rising tide we need to understand and we need to realize this in Shelby County…the rising tide in next year’s election is sending a Democrat from Shelby County to the United State Senate….”

“So when our candidate for Senate was not there with us last week, I actually smiled and knew what he was doing and thought it was a good thing. What happened last week was about coming together. And I want to tell you a little something about why I think that and why I think it’s important. In 2000, when Al Gore needed someone to give the keynote address at the Democratic convention, Harold Ford Jr. was for us. He was there. And in the past election, when John Kerry needed someone from Shelby County to provide vision, leadership, Harold Ford Jr. was with us. This past Thursday, on the floor of the House of Representatives – you labor folks will know what I’m talking about – Harold Ford Jr. was with us. In August of 2006 and in November of 2006 we need to be there for him.”

Afterward, Kuhn seemed to be aware that he might have crossed way over a line. (There’s a primary on, after all, involving another candidate for the U.S. Senate – state Senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, who spoke at last week’s Democratic convention , which Ford, as Kuhn indicated, had been absent from -- and party officials are normally obliged to remain netural in such matters.) When asked about what he'd said, the new chairman tried to maintain that his remarks weren’t really an endorsement

Not an endorsement? That’s like saying Breyer’s Ice Cream is non-caloric. Stuff me with such a “non-endorsement,” Mr. Chairman, and I’ll turn into a pig and run for something myself!

To be sure, not all of Kuhn’s votes from last week’s convention at the University of Memphis were from Democrats miffed at the congressman’s cautious-to-conservative political posture over the last couple of years. Many were, though, and many of those who weren’t were seriously out of love with his local organization. And that’s not even to mention the Herenton/Chism organization, chief rivals to the Ford people.

The fact is, no other candidate for chairman – not even longtime loyalist Cocke himself – could have sung such an open-voweled hosanna to the congressman as did Kuhn. What does he say to Kurita the next time she comes around? What does he say when his committee meets, not many days off, to reorganize?

But give it to the congressman and give it to his people: They turned around a messy situation in record time. Besides Ford himself, Shelby County mayor A C Wharton – who had co-sponsored Cocke along with him – addressed the throng. The third member of Cocke’s triumvirate, Asssessor Rita Clark, kept her silence, though she was an elbow’s length away from the action, putting (as they say) her hands together.

Even some of the congressman’s habitual Internet scourges – like Steve Steffens of Leftwingcracker.blogspot.com – were caught up in the swoonfest (which had an abundance of blue Ford-for-Senate buttons being sported by attendees). In the first post-breakfast posting on his blog, headed “It Was a Good Morning for the SCDP,” Steffens praised Ford’s “rousing” speech and made much of the congressman’s $2500 donation to party coffers (ponied up in response to a challenge from none other than Joe Cooper, who started that game off with a $1000 gift), and pledged henceforth to keep his remarks “constructive.” (Another helping, if you will, Mr. Breyer!)

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss? Hmmmmm, we’ll see. But never again doubt that Harold Ford Jr. is one hell of a politician – perhaps one more formidable than his adversaries can hope to match.. One can sum up the last week thisaway: The King is Dead (not). Long live the King!

RUMORS & RUMBLES:

Given his proper Kudos in Matt Kuhn’s address to the troops Saturday was one Jim Strickland, a former party chairman who was probably primus inter pares among Kuhn’s early boosters for chairman. (The others, also mentioned by Kuhn, were Nancy Kuhn, the new chairman’s mother; and Randa Spears.)

Preoccupied with family and business matters, lawyer Strickland has been absent from many (perhaps most) significant party affairs of late, including Saturday’s lovefest – whose sponsors were not necessarily his cup of tea. But he does exist and indeed was an early hand in the Kuhn-for-chairman idea – maybe even the first mover.) And the 2003 city council candidate still has political ambitions of his own.

Two likely candidates for the position of Juvenile Court Judge, which longtime incumbent Kenneth Turner is said to be vacating next year, are municipal judge Earnestine Hunt Dorse, a 1998 candidate who has declared for the race, and Shelby County Commissioner Walter Bailey, who – pending the outcome of an appeal of a term-limits ruling – has not.

The question of who leads in the two legislative races on Thursday’s primary ballot depends on who’s doing the opining: Some still think that Ophelia Ford should finish ahead in the Democratic primary for the District 29 state Senate seat. Reasoning? The family name still counts for much, and the field is large and fragmented. Moreover, she is said to be on the verge of sending out an impressive campaign mailer. And, finally, the seat was held for decades by brother John, who resigned it in the wake of his many legal difficulties.

Others think the Fords as a unit either are not contributing or cannot contribute to sister Ophelia’s campaign effort, and many note her absence from candidate forums and other meet-and-greet affairs.

Meanwhile, almost everybody besides the Ophelia-boosters sees state Representative Barbara Cooper to be at or near the lead in the Democratic field, with House colleague Henri Brooks close behind. Another state rep. John DeBerry, is thought to be lagging.

Southwest Tennessee Community College prof Steve Haley soldiers on and makes converts in a campaign that is more than usually issue-conscious. Haley actually espouses an income tax – at least to the point of having it “on the table,” and he doesn’t shy away from criticizing Governor Bredesen’s TennCare cuts as unnecessary. Kevin McLellan, another white candidate and a former Southwest cadre himself, takes a contrary view that Bredesen is more sinned against than sinning.

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Friday, July 29, 2005

New Deal

Shelby County Democrats reshuffle, electing Matt Kuhn chairman.

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

It was mid-afternoon Saturday, and Harold Ford Jr., who was off somewhere else in Tennessee campaigning for a U.S. Senate seat, was getting a telephone report from his home base in Memphis about the Shelby County Democratic Party's just-concluded balloting for a new chairman and executive committee.

The Memphis congressman was informed that the vote, conducted in the University of Memphis student center, had been top-heavy against David Cocke, the longtime Ford loyalist and former two-time party head whom Ford had personally endorsed for chairman. The congressman couldn't conceal his astonishment. "I thought you said it'd be close!" he said. "What happened?"

As Ford was informed, the runaway winner in the chairman's race had been youthful activist Matt Kuhn, the beneficiary of an ad hoc alliance between a host of newly active Democrats who called themselves "the convention Coalition," and an established bloc of Democrats, alternately called the Herenton faction, after mayor Willie Herenton, or the Chism faction, after political broker and Herenton confidante Sidney Chism. The latter group had vied for power with Ford's wing of the party for more than a decade.

The former group, the self-described "Coalition," was one in fact as well as name. It was made up basically of two organizations - Mid-South Democrats in Action, a group of volunteers who'd been active for party nominee John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign and had felt short-shrifted by the established party leadership; and Democracy for Memphis, a local tributary of the reformist movement set in motion by erstwhile presidential hopeful Howard Dean, now national Democratic chairman.

Surprised as he was by the apparent dimensions of Kuhn's victory, Ford resolved instantly to accept it. "I can live with that," Ford said to his aide. "Give me Matt's number. I'll call him."

As of two hours later, when the victorious Kuhn was presiding over a Dutch Treat celebration feast with supporters at Zinnie's East, the congressman had not yet gotten through. "I was talking on the phone with some Coalition people," Kuhn explained. "And when I called back, he didn't answer."

These are a few of the factors that, by the testimony of those voting for Kuhn on Saturday, led to defeat for Representative Ford's chairmanship candidate, the mild-mannered and generally well-liked Cocke, and, indirectly, for the congressman himself:• Dissatisfaction with Ford's increasingly conservative voting record and rightward-tilting campaign strategy. The two groups making up the Coalition are, in the long-accepted vernacular, "yellow-dog" Democrats, convinced that the chief cause of the party's electoral reverses in recent years has been the accommodationist politics of over-cautious Democrats.

• Resentment of the hardball tactics alleged against Cocke's campaign team, especially on the part of chief strategist David Upton, a Ford loyalist who, rightly or wrongly, was blamed for a short-lived challenge to Coalition members' party credentials, followed by a whispering campaign directed at the group's predominantly white membership. "First, they were attacked for being possible Republicans, then they were attacked for being too white" was the scornful assessment of party veteran Calvin Anderson, an African-American member of the state Election Commission.

• A general desire to start afresh in the wake of the FBI's Tennessee Waltz sting that netted several prominent local Democrats, including state senator Kathryn Bowers, who resigned as local party chairman after being indicted with the others for extortion.

• An opportunity for the Herenton/Chism group to settle scores with the Ford faction, which had replaced former chairman Gale Jones Carson, who doubles as the mayor's press secretary, with Bowers in a bitterly contested showdown two years ago.

Carson, Chism, and various other partisans of the mayor were high-fiving each other and various Coalition members Saturday when the vote tally of the newly seated 67-member executive committee passed the halfway mark.

Heavy applause began when the number reached 38, at which point there were enough uncounted Kuhn voters still standing and uncounted to reach into the 40s. Carson would later put the actual total at 45. Both Cocke and the other nominee, Joe Young, withdrew their candidacies before a hand count could be taken - meaning that Kuhn was ultimately elected by something resembling acclamation.

The actual contest had probably not been as one-sided as the final outcome favoring Kuhn. When delegates to the convention had earlier gathered in groups corresponding to state legislative districts to select members of the new executive committee, the voting edge was razor-thin here and there. Many a race was decided by the margin of one vote. And one member elected in District 85 - Chism's home district - was actually determined by a coin toss when the vote deadlocked.

Even so, what Shelby County commissioner Deidre Malone, another observer, called a "new day" had clearly dawned - with new leaders, like the MDIA's Desi Franklin and the DFM's Brad Watkins, gaining election to a reconstituted committee that was manifestly weighted in their direction.

State senator Steve Cohen, who followed up his rousing speech at last month's party caucuses with another one to the voting delegates Saturday, pointed out the obvious about Saturday's outcome - that it was hard not to see it as a rebuff to Ford, who had not only been Cocke's chief supporter but had sponsored mailers in his favor.

Indeed, there was an undeniable contrast between the statewide and national attention fixed on Ford's Senate race and his inability to get his own man elected chairman of his home county's party. And the congressman's Democratic primary opponent in the Senate race, state senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, had been on hand Saturday to give a well-received brief speech to delegates.

In the long run, of course, some of the party divisions on display Saturday will heal over, and Cocke made haste to congratulate the winner and pledge his support. Kuhn was conciliatory in his own post-election remarks, but was reticent when asked later if he favored giving a few party offices to members of the Ford faction. "I just don't know if they'd buy it," said Kuhn, gesturing toward a group of new committee members.

The new Shelby County Democrats executive committee - probably the first in decades to have both a white chairman and a white majority - promises to be somewhat more militant on political issues than its immediate predecessors, but still might be better positioned than previous committees to challenge Republican domination of the county's suburbs.

That assumes that the oft-feuding Democrats will manage to forge a new unity. When a Coalition Democrat like Franklin made a conscious effort to avoid being photographed in the vicinity of a group including Upton, that may take some doing.

But with a long ballot coming up next year, including races for governor and U.S. senator, countywide offices, legislative seats, and judgeships, the incentives for said unity will certainly be there, and Kuhn, who plans an updated party Web site and other innovations, will have a better than even chance of achieving it.

Though they were stymied in their first attempts, Kuhn and Ford have talked since Saturday, and both seem avid to establish a show of amity. Ford, in fact, will play host to Kuhn and the newly elected Democratic committee at a "unity reception" and party fund-raiser this Saturday at Café Francisco downtown.• Though Kuhn is a relatively new face to some old-line Democrats, the new chairman has a track record in party politics. Son of party activist Nancy Kuhn and county attorney Brian Kuhn, he has served as a major campaign aide to Democrats as diverse as 8th District congressman John Tanner, South Carolina congressman John Spratt, and Nashville mayor Bill Purcell. Kuhn also served as office manager for former Juvenile Court clerk Shep Wilbun.• Financial disclosures for the last quarter show Ford and Republican Bob Corker to be well ahead of their party rivals in fund-raising. Former Chattanooga Mayor Corker raised $716,000 and reported $2.9 million in his campaign account, while former congressmen Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary each raised slightly more than $300,000 each.

Ford raised $695,000 in the quarter and boasts almost $1.8 million in his general campaign fund. Kurita raised $54,410 and has $221,134 on hand.• Kurita's appearance at the weekend Democratic convention in Memphis was not the only point of contrast with Representative Ford. As Roll Call noted, the Clarksville state senator took a more skeptical position on the issue of President Bush's new Supreme Court nominee, John Roberts, than did Ford.

Said Kurita: "John Roberts appears to be well-qualified for the Supreme Court in terms of his legal credentials. However, I am disappointed that President Bush would nominate someone whose philosophy seems so far outside the mainstream. Our country deserves a justice in the mold of Sandra Day O'Connor - a moderate who offers a voice of reason on complex judicial issues."

Ford's response was more restrained: "I am relieved that the President nominated an accomplished jurist and skilled attorney. Now it is time for the Senate to begin its advise-and-consent process to investigate his record thoroughly."• Thursday, August 5th, is primary day in the special elections for state senate, District 29, and state representative, District 87. For developments on this and other political stories, see memphisflyer.com. •

Thursday, July 28, 2005

POLITICS

Shelby County Democrats reshuffle the deck, electing Matt Kuhn chairman.

Posted By on Thu, Jul 28, 2005 at 4:00 AM

NEW DEAL

It was mid-afternoon Saturday, and Harold Ford Jr., who was off somewhere else in Tennessee campaigning for a U.S. Senate seat, was getting a telephone report from his home base in Memphis about the Shelby County Democratic Party’s just-concluded balloting for a new chairman and executive committee.

The Memphis congressman was informed that the vote, conducted in a ballroom of the University of Memphis student center, had been top-heavy against David Cocke, the longtime Ford loyalist and former two-time party head whom Ford had personally endorsed for chairman. The congressman couldn’t conceal his astonishment. “I thought you said it’d be close!” he said. “What happened?”

The trusted aide who had given Ford the bad news followed with the kind of embarrassed shrug that could almost be heard across the long-distance cell-phone-to-cell-phone connection. “A lot of different things. What can I say?,” the aide answered and promised to spell things out in detail later on.

The runaway winner in the chairman’s race had been youthful activist Matt Kuhn, the beneficiary of an ad hoc alliance between a host of newly active Democrats who called themselves “the convention Coalition,” and an established bloc of Democrats – alternately called the Herenton faction, after Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, or the Chism faction, after political broker and Herenton confidante Sidney Chism. The latter group had vied for power with Ford’s own wing of the party for more than a decade.

The former group, the self-described “Coalition,” was one in fact as well as name. It was made up basically of two organizations – Mid-South Democrats in Action, a group of volunteers who’d been active for party nominee John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign and had felt short-shrifted by the established party leadership; and Democracy for Memphis, a local tributary of the reformist movement set in motion by erstwhile presidential hopeful Howard Dean, now national Democratic chairman.

Hard as the reality of Kuhn’s victory might have been for the congressman to swallow, he resolved instantly to accept it. “I can live with that,” Ford said. “Give me Matt’s number. I’ll call him.”

As of two hours later, when the victorious Kuhn was presiding over a Dutch Treat celebration feast with supporters in a sideroom of Zinnie’s East on Madison , the congressman had not yet gotten through. “I was talking on the phone with some Coalition people,” Kuhn explained. “And when I called back, he didn’t answer.” Outfitted with another of the congressman’s numbers, Kuhn promised to keep trying.

“A LOT OF DIFFERENT THINGS,” indeed. Here are a few of the factors that, by the testimony of some of those voting for Kuhn on Saturday, led to defeat for Rep. Ford’s chairmanship candidate, the mild-mannered and generally well-liked Cocke, and, indirectly, for the congressman himself:

*Dissatisfaction with Ford’s increasingly conservative voting record and rightward-tilting campaign strategy. The two groups making up the Coalition are, in the long-accepted vernacular, “yellow-dog” Democrats, convinced that the chief cause of the party’s electoral reverses in recent years has been the accommodationist politics of over-cautious Democrats.

*Resentment of the hardball “tactics” (a word heard incessantly on Saturday) pursued by Cocke’s campaign team, especially by chief strategist David Upton, a veteran activist and Ford loyalist who, rightly or wrongly, was blamed for a short-lived challenge to Coalition members’ party credentials, followed by a whispering campaign directed at the group’s predominantly white membership. “First, they were attacked for being possible Republicans, then they were attacked for being too white” was the scornful assessment of party veteran Calvin Anderson, an African-American member of the state Election Commission and a pro-Kuhn obsever on Saturday.

*A general desire to start afresh, in the wake of the F.B.I.’s Tennessee Waltz sting that netted several prominent local Democrats, including state Senator Kathryn Bowers, who resigned as local party chairman after being indicted with the others for extortion.

*An opportunity for the Herenton/Chism group to settle scores with the Ford faction, which had replaced former chairman Gale Jones Carson with Bowers by one vote in a bitterly contested showdown two years ago.

Carson, Chism, and various other partisans of the mayor’s were high-fiving each other and various Coalition members when the vote tally of the newly seated 67-member executive committee passed the halfway mark.

Heavy applause began when the number reached 38, at which point there were enough uncounted Kuhn voters still standing and uncounted to reach into the 40s. Carson would later put the actual total at 45. Upton insisted the total for Kuhn was "only" 41. (His own tally sheet, noted one observer, who peeked at it, contained the number 13 — presumably the members committed to Cocke — circled prominently.) Both Cocke and the other nominee, Joe Young, withdrew their candidacies before a handcount could be taken — meaning that Kuhn was ultimately elected by something resembling acclamation.

THE ACTUAL CONTEST HAD PROBABLY not been as one-sided as the final outcome favoring Kuhn. When delegates to the convention had earlier gathered in groups corresponding to state legislative districts to select members of the new executive committee, the voting edge was razor-thin here and there. Many a race was decided by the margin of one vote. and one member elected in District 85 – Chism’s home district – was actually determined by a coin toss.when the vote count itself deadlocked.

Even so, what Shelby County Commissioner Deidre Malone, another observer, called a “New Day” had clearly dawned – with new leaders, like the MDIA’s Desi Franklin and the DFM’s Brad Watkins, gaining election to a reconstituted committee that was manifestly weighted in their direction.

State Senator Steve Cohen, who followed up his rousing speech at last month’s party caucuses with another one to the voting delegates Saturday, pointed out the obvious about Saturday’s outcome – that it was hard not to see it as a rebuff to Rep. Ford, who had not only been Cocke’s chief supporter but had sponsored mailers in his favor.

Indeed, there was an undeniable contrast between the statewide and national attention fixed on Rep. Ford’s Senate race and his inability to get his own man elected chairman of his home county’s party. And the congressman’s Democratic primary opponent in the Senate race, state Senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, had been on hand Saturday to give a well-received brief speech to delegates.

In the long run, of course, some of the party divisions on display Saturday will heal over, and a gallant Cocke made haste to congratulate the winner and pledge his support. Kuhn was conciliatory in his own post-election remarks, but was reticent when asked later if he favored giving a few party offices to members of the Ford faction when the new executive committee next meets to complete reorganization.

“I just don’t know if they’d buy it,” said Kuhn, gesturing toward a group of new committee members.

The new Shelby County Democratic executive committee – probably the first in decades to have both a white chairman and a white majority -- promises to be somewhat more militant on political issues than its immediate predecessors, but still might be better positioned than previous committees to challenge Republican domination of the county’s suburbs.

That, of course, assumes that the oft-feuding Democrats will manage to forge a new unity. On a day when a Coalition Democrat like Franklin made a conscious effort to avoid being photographed in the vicinity of a group including Upton, it appeared that make take some doing.

But with a long ballot coming up next year, including races for governor and U.S. Senator, as well as countywide offices, legislative seats, and a lengthy list of judgeships, the incentives for said unity will certainly be there, and Kuhn, who plans to offer an updated party website and other innovations, will have a better than even chance of achieving it.

Kuhn is a relatively new face to some old-line Democrats, the new chairman has a track record in party politics. Son of party activist Nancy Kuhn and county attorney Brian Kuhn, he has served as a major campaign aide to Democrats as diverse as 8th district congressman John Tanner, South Carolina congressman John Spratt, and Nashville mayor Bill Purcell. Kuhn also served as office manager for former Juvenile Court clerk Shep Wilbun.

Financial disclosures for the last quarter show Ford and Republican Bob Corker to be well head of their party rivals in fund-raising. Former Chattanooga Mayor Corker raised $716,000 and reported $2.9 million in his campaign account, while former congressmen Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary each raised slightly more than $300,000 each.

Ford raised $695,000 in the quarter and boasts almost $1.8 million in his general campaign fund. Kurita raised $54,410 and has $221, 134 on hand. n Kurita’s appearance at the weekend Democratic convention in Memphis was not the only point of contrast with Rep. Ford. As Roll Call noted, the Clarksville state senator took a more skeptical position on the issue of President Bush’s new Supreme Court nominee, John Roberts, than did Ford.

Said Kurita: “John Roberts appears to be well-qualified for the Supreme Court in terms of his legal credentials. However, I am disappointed that President Bush would nominate someone whose philosophy seems so far outside the mainstream. Our country deserves a justice in the mold of Sandra Day O’Connor — a moderate who offers a voice of reason on complex judicial issues.”

Ford’s response was more restrained: “I am relieved that the President nominated an accomplished jurist and skilled attorney. Now it is time for the Senate to begin its advise-and-consent process to investigate his record thoroughly.” n Former state representative D Jack Smith was honored earlier this month at an 80th anniversary commemoration of the 1925 Scopes eveolution trial in Dayton. In 1967, Rep. Smith sponsored the bill which finally repealed Tennessee's law against teaching evolution in the public schools.

Next Thursday, August 5th, is primary day in the special elections for state Senate, District 29, and state Representative, District 87. For breaking-news developments on this and other political stories, keep checking this site.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

KUHN WINS DEMOCRATIC CHAIRMANSHIP

Coalition, Chism forces administer setback to party's Ford faction.

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

It was mid-afternoon Saturday, and Harold Ford Jr., who was off somewhere else in Tennessee campaigning for a U.S. Senate seat, was getting a telephone report from his home base in Memphis about the Shelby County Democratic Party’s just-concluded balloting for a new chairman and executive committee.

The Memphis congressman was informed that the vote, conducted in a ballroom of the University of Memphis student center, had been top-heavy against David Cocke, the longtime Ford loyalist and former two-time party head whom Ford had personally endorsed for chairman. The congressman couldn’t conceal his astonishment. “I thought you said it’d be close!” he said. “What happened?”

The trusted aide who had given Ford the bad news followed with the kind of embarrassed shrug that could almost be heard across the long-distance cell-phone-to-cell-phone connection. “A lot of different things. What can I say?,” the aide answered and promised to spell things out in detail later on.

The runaway winner in the chairman’s race had been youthful activist Matt Kuhn, the beneficiary of an ad hoc alliance between a host of newly active Democrats who called themselves “the convention Coalition,” and an established bloc of Democrats – alternately called the Herenton faction, after Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, or the Chism faction, after political broker and Herenton confidante Sidney Chism. The latter group had vied for power with Ford’s own wing of the party for more than a decade.

The former group, the self-described “Coalition,” was one in fact as well as name. It was made up basically of two organizations – Mid-South Democrats in Action, a group of volunteers who’d been active for party nominee John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign and had felt short-shrifted by the established party leadership; and Democracy for Memphis, a local tributary of the reformist movement set in motion by erstwhile presidential hopeful Howard Dean, now national Democratic chairman.

Hard as the reality of Kuhn’s victory might have been for the congressman to swallow, he resolved instantly to accept it. “I can live with that,” Ford said. “Give me Matt’s number. I’ll call him.”

As of two hours later, when the victorious Kuhn was presiding over a Dutch Treat celebration feast with supporters in a sideroom of Zinnie’s East on Madison , the congressman had not yet gotten through. “I was talking on the phone with some Coalition people,” Kuhn explained. “And when I called back, he didn’t answer.” Outfitted with another of the congressman’s numbers, Kuhn promised to keep trying.

“A LOT OF DIFFERENT THINGS,” indeed. Here are a few of the factors that, by the testimony of some of those voting for Kuhn on Saturday, led to defeat for Rep. Ford’s chairmanship candidate, the mild-mannered and generally well-liked Cocke, and, indirectly, for the congressman himself:

*Dissatisfaction with Ford’s increasingly conservative voting record and rightward-tilting campaign strategy. The two groups making up the Coalition are, in the long-accepted vernacular, “yellow-dog” Democrats, convinced that the chief cause of the party’s electoral reverses in recent years has been the accommodationist politics of over-cautious Democrats.

*Resentment of the hardball “tactics” (a word heard incessantly on Saturday) pursued by Cocke’s campaign team, especially by chief strategist David Upton, a veteran activist and Ford loyalist who, rightly or wrongly, was blamed for a short-lived challenge to Coalition members’ party credentials, followed by a whispering campaign directed at the group’s predominantly white membership. “First, they were attacked for being possible Republicans, then they were attacked for being too white” was the scornful assessment of party veteran Calvin Anderson, an African-American member of the state Election Commission and a pro-Kuhn obsever on Saturday.

*A general desire to start afresh, in the wake of the F.B.I.’s Tennessee Waltz sting that netted several prominent local Democrats, including state Senator Kathryn Bowers, who resigned as local party chairman after being indicted with the others for extortion.

*An opportunity for the Herenton/Chism group to settle scores with the Ford faction, which had replaced former chairman Gale Jones Carson with Bowers by one vote in a bitterly contested showdown two years ago.

Carson, Chism, and various other partisans of the mayor’s were high-fiving each other and various Coalition members when the vote tally of the newly seated 67-member executive committee passed the halfway mark.

Heavy applause began when the number reached 38, at which point there were enough uncounted Kuhn voters still standing and uncounted to reach into the 40s. Carson would later put the actual total at 45. Upton insisted the total for Kuhn was "only" 41. (His own tally sheet, noted one observer, who peeked at it, contained the number 13 — presumably the members committed to Cocke — circled prominently.) Both Cocke and the other nominee, Joe Young, withdrew their candidacies before a handcount could be taken — meaning that Kuhn was ultimately elected by something resembling acclamation.

THE ACTUAL CONTEST HAD PROBABLY not been as one-sided as the final outcome favoring Kuhn. When delegates to the convention had earlier gathered in groups corresponding to state legislative districts to select members of the new executive committee, the voting edge was razor-thin here and there. Many a race was decided by the margin of one vote. and one member elected in District 85 – Chism’s home district – was actually determined by a coin toss.when the vote count itself deadlocked.

Even so, what Shelby County Commissioner Deidre Malone, another observer, called a “New Day” had clearly dawned – with new leaders, like the MDIA’s Desi Franklin and the DFM’s Brad Watkins, gaining election to a reconstituted committee that was manifestly weighted in their direction.

State Senator Steve Cohen, who followed up his rousing speech at last month’s party caucuses with another one to the voting delegates Saturday, pointed out the obvious about Saturday’s outcome – that it was hard not to see it as a rebuff to Rep. Ford, who had not only been Cocke’s chief supporter but had sponsored mailers in his favor.

Indeed, there was an undeniable contrast between the statewide and national attention fixed on Rep. Ford’s Senate race and his inability to get his own man elected chairman of his home county’s party. And the congressman’s Democratic primary opponent in the Senate race, state Senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, had been on hand Saturday to give a well-received brief speech to delegates.

In the long run, of course, some of the party divisions on display Saturday will heal over, and a gallant Cocke made haste to congratulate the winner and pledge his support. Kuhn was conciliatory in his own post-election remarks, but was reticent when asked later if he favored giving a few party offices to members of the Ford faction when the new executive committee next meets to complete reorganization.

“I just don’t know if they’d buy it,” said Kuhn, gesturing toward a group of new committee members.

The new Shelby County Democratic executive committee – probably the first in decades to have both a white chairman and a white majority -- promises to be somewhat more militant on political issues than its immediate predecessors, but still might be better positioned than previous committees to challenge Republican domination of the county’s suburbs.

That, of course, assumes that the oft-feuding Democrats will manage to forge a new unity. On a day when a Coalition Democrat like Franklin made a conscious effort to avoid being photographed in the vicinity of a group including Upton, it appeared that make take some doing.

But with a long ballot coming up next year, including races for governor and U.S. Senator, as well as countywide offices, legislative seats, and a lengthy list of judgeships, the incentives for said unity will certainly be there, and Kuhn, who plans to offer an updated party website and other innovations, will have a better than even chance of achieving it.

Friday, July 22, 2005

On the Brink

Last-minute Democratic maneuvering; plus other notes.

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

While most attention in local Democratic Party circles remains focused on a five-cornered contest for the party chairmanship, Bradley Watkins, who has achieved a measure of prominence as an organizer for Democracy for Memphis, has thrown his hat in the ring to become the party's first vice-chair at Saturday's long-awaited Democratic convention at the University of Memphis.

Democracy for Memphis is affiliated with the national Democracy for America movement that grew out of Howard Dean's presidential candidacy. The organization is associated with another newly active local group, Mid-South Democrats in Action, which had its roots in the Women for Kerry organization of 2004. The two groups together are loosely allied as the "Convention Coalition" and constitute a bona fide bloc of sorts.

Watkins appeared at a meeting of Mid-South Democrats last week, making an impassioned appeal for the future use of the party's current Poplar Avenue headquarters as a regular meeting place for various non-party groups on the progressive or left-liberal side of the political spectrum. (Among them: Mid-South Peace and Justice, Mid-South Interfaith, Tennesseans For Fair Taxation, Initiative Fairness, Memphis Now, and Stonewall Democrats.)

And he made an effort to collect funds on the spot for the continuation and maintenance of the headquarters - though he was ultimately asked by Libby de Caetani, who was presiding over the MSDIA meeting, to do his soliciting after the meeting.

Though the intensity of Watkins' appeal drew some raised-eyebrow reactions from several of those present, he got public backing afterward from David Upton, generally regarded as the major strategist for one of the traditional local Democratic factions - one, in fact, that is increasingly referred to by opponents as the "Ford-Uptonite" faction, in recognition of the fact that many of its members consider themselves loyal to U.S. Representative Harold Ford Jr.

In fairness, there is little or no evidence that Ford, currently a U.S. Senate candidate, is taking a hands-on part in the local party's reorganization - though he has publicly endorsed the chairmanship candidacy of lawyer David Cocke, a two-time former chairman.

In any case, Upton said of Watkins' proposal: "He did exactly the right thing. Everybody's fixated on who gets to be chairman, and we ought to be thinking of what happens after the convention, on what we do with things like the headquarters."

Meanwhile, maintains Upton (fixated or otherwise), the chairmanship race is being fairly evenly contested between his man Cocke and current executive committee member Cherry Davis. "She's got the Chism vote," Upton says, referring to what is also called the Herenton faction. Former chairman Sidney Chism, a close political ally of Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, is regarded as its de facto head. The mayor himself, like the congressman, is taking no active role in the proceedings.

Besides Cocke and Davis, the other announced or presumed candidates are current acting chairman Talut El-Amin, Joe Young, and Matt Kuhn. All three are regarded as fallback choices if neither Cocke nor Davis can prevail on a early balloting, once the party's new executive committee is elected Saturday.

Both the Ford and the Herenton factions have charged the other with various forms of improper meddling in an effort to influence the votes of whatever committee members end up being elected from the ranks of DFA and MSDIA. Though prominent personalities in both new groups are widely presumed to be leaning toward candidates other than Cocke, Upton sent out an e-mail this week containing endorsements of Cocke from two board members of Mid-South Democrats, Lea Ester Redmund and Bob Hatton.

Also endorsing Cocke were various labor leaders - Ruth Davis of AFSCME; Fred Ashwell, president of the AFL-CIO Labor Council; Paul Shafer of IBEW, and Howard Richardson of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees union.

But what first became evident after the party's June 25th caucuses remains the case on the eve of the convention: The balance of power lies with the two new groups, the self-styled "Convention Coalition," not with the old, pre-existing factions.n U.S. Representative Ford, who has been under attack from Republicans for a recent vote he cast on the subject of eminent-domain appropriations of private property, released a statement this week to clarify his position.  The statement reads in part: "As a member of Congress, I recently voted for a resolution expressing the Congress' disapproval of the Supreme Court's recent decision in the Kelo v. New London case and our firm support of the rights of property owners. Our nation was founded in part on the fundamental right to own property, and government cannot take that right away arbitrarily. I support the rights of homeowners and business owners... "However, the importance of economic rehabilitation in many of our urban and rural communities cannot and should not be ignored. It is critical for the democratically elected officials in our communities to have the ability to seek, with support of property owners, the revitalization of local economies, the creation of much-needed jobs and the reversal of blight, crime or poverty in that community." Accordingly, said Ford, he voted against a Republican-sponsored measure - the Garrett Amendment - because, he said, it, "like the Supreme Court decision, went too far." He said he opposed the Garrett Amendment "because if it were to become law, any initiative of the Department of Housing and Urban Development that involves private development or investment, like Hope VI, could be put in jeopardy." n The absence of Shelby County Commissioner Bruce Thompson from the commission's third and final reading of the county's tax rate at a specially called meeting last Wednesday has drawn some attention - most recently from Thompson's colleague John Willingham, who wondered out loud about it at a meeting of the Southeast Shelby Republican Club Monday night.

Thompson's decision to recuse himself from last week's controversial vote on city-county school funding at the commission's regular meeting had also piqued the curiosity of some attendees - notably members of the county school board, who had counted on his vote for a proposal, backed by the county and city school boards, that was ultimately tabled.

The 5th District commissioner dealt with both matters this week. He had recused himself on the funding vote, Thompson said, because a business partner of his had a stake in the construction issue. As for his absence from the special meeting, he explained that this, too, was related to business - the consequence of a long-standing appointment set for last Wednesday.

Thompson said he had been assured by both commission chairman Hooks and county mayor A C Wharton of the strong likelihood that the special meeting would be reset for Thursday and accordingly did not attempt to reschedule his business appointment.

"But you could certainly interpret my absence as a no vote on the tax rate," Thompson said. The $4.09 county property tax rate - technically the same as last year's but a de facto increase of some $20 million countywide - was passed despite opposition from commissioners Willingham, George Flinn, and chairman Michael Hooks.

n Almost lost in the ruckus over school funding and the county's tax rate at last week's regular commission meeting was an announcement by chairman Hooks concerning a novel proposal to give property tax relief to senior citizens.

The proposal, brainchild of veteran tax-appeals representative Jerry Carruthers, was scheduled for discussion by the commission's general-government committee at noon on Wednesday, with the evident endorsement of chairman Hooks.

Differing from a pending constitutional-amendment measure sponsored by state senator Mark Norris of Collierville and applying statewide, the proposal before the commission is Shelby County-specific and is the aftermath of legislation already passed in last year's session of the General Assembly. To become effective, however, it requires a two-thirds majority vote of the commission. What the proposal would do is permit senior homeowners to apply for property tax freezes lasting for the life of the homeowner or for a maximum duration of 20 years. To be eligible, a homeowner would have to be at least 70 years old with either an annual household income of less than $25,000 or a record of having paid property taxes for at least 20 of the last 30 years on the affected property.

Technically, says Carruthers, the tax freezes would operate in a manner similar to the freezes granted to various business and industrial taxpayers under the PILOT (Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes) program. Title to the property would be transferred to the county, which would lease it back to the homeowner at a dollar a year. Like the PILOT recipients, the homeowner would make an annual lump-sum payment in the amount of the tax owed when the freeze took place.n Terry Roland, a Millington businessman and Republican candidate for the District 29 state Senate seat vacated by Tennessee Waltz indictee John Ford, apparently has decided he's running against State Representative Henri Brooks, one of several Democrats seeking their party's nomination on the primary election date of August 4th.

Addressing the Southeast Shelby Republican Club at Fox Ridge Pizza Monday night, Roland cited a recent ad by longtime legislator Brooks asserting that she needs no "learning curve" and chose, perhaps a bit arbitrarily, to interpret the remark as being aimed at himself.

"I don't need a learning curve to know I should pledge allegiance to the flag," Roland said. This referred to an incident several years ago when Brooks conspicuously remained seated as the pledge was administered to open a session of the state House. n

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

POLITICS

Last-minute Democratic maneuvering; plus other political notes.

Posted By on Tue, Jul 19, 2005 at 4:00 AM

ON THE BRINK

While most attention in local Democratic Party circles remains focused on a five-cornered contest for the party chairmanship, Bradley Watkins, who has achieved a measure of prominence as an organizer for Democracy for Memphis, has thrown his hat in the ring to become to become the party’s first vice-chair at Saturday’s long-awaited Democratic convention at the University of Memphis.

Democracy for Memphis is affiliated with the national Democracy for America movement that grew out of Howard Dean’s presidential candidacy. The organization is associated with another newly active local group, Mid-South Democrats in Action, which had its roots in the Women for Kerry organization of 2004. The two groups together are loosely allied as the “Convention Coalition” and constitute a bona fide bloc of sorts.

Watkins appeared at a meeting of Mid-South Democrats last week, making an impassioned appeal for the future use of the party’s current Poplar Avenue headquarters as a regular meeting place for various non-party groups on the progressive or left-liberal side of the political spectrum. (Among them: Mid South Peace and Justice, Mid-South Interfaith, Tennesseans For Fair Taxation, Initiative Fairness, Memphis Now, and Stonewall Democrats.)

And he made an effort to collect funds on the spot for the continuation and maintenance of the headquarters – though he was ultimately asked by Libby de Caetani, who was presiding over the MSDIA meeting, to do his soliciting after the meeting.

Through the intensity of Watkins’ appeal drew some raised-eyebrow reactions from several of those present, he got public backing afterward from David Upton, generally regarded as the major strategist for one of the traditional local Democratic factions – one, in fact, that is increasingly referred to by opponents as the “Ford-Uptonite” faction, in recognition of the fact that many of its members consider themselves loyal to U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr.

In fairness, there is little or no evidence that Rep. Ford, currently a U.S. Senate candidate, is taking a hands-on part in the local party’s reorganization – though he has publicly endorsed the chairmanship candidacy of lawyer David Cocke, a two-time former chairman.

In any case, Upton said of Watkins’ proposal, “He did exactly the right thing. Everybody’s fixated on who gets to be chairman, and we ought to be thinking of what happens after the convention, on what we do with things like the headquarters.”

Meanwhile, maintains Upton (fixated or otherwise), the chairmanship race is being fairly evenly contested between his man Cocke and current executive committee member Cherry Davis. “She’s got the Chism vote,” Upton says, referring to what is also referred to as the Herenton faction. Former chairman Sidney Chism, a close political ally of Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, is regarded as its de facto head. The mayor himself, like the congressman, is taking no active role in proceedings.

Besides Cocke and Davis, the other announced or presumed candidates are current acting chairman Talut El-Amin, Joe Young, and Matt Kuhn. All three are regarded as fallback choices if neither Cocke nor Davis can prevail on an early balloting, once the party’s new executive committee is elected Saturday.

Both the Ford and the Herenton factions have charged the other with various forms of improper meddling in an effort to influence the votes of whatever committee members end up being elected from the ranks of DFA and MSDIA. Though prominent personalities in both new groups are widely presumed to be leaning toward candidates other than Cocke, Upton sent out an email this week containing endorsements of Cocke from two board members of Mid-South Democrats, Lea Ester Redmund and Bob Hatton.

Also endorsing Cocke were various labor leaders – Ruth Davis of AFSCME; Fred Ashwell, president of the AFL-CIO Labor Council; Paul Shafer of IBEW, and Howard Richardson of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees union.

But what first became evident after the party’s June 25th caucuses remains the case on the eve of the convention: The balance of power lies with the two new groups – the self-styled “Convention Coalition” – not with the old, pre-existing factions.

U.S. Rep. Ford, who has been under attack from Republicans for a recent vote he cast on the subject of eminent-domain appropriations of private property, released a statement this week meant to clarify his position.

The statement reads in part: “As a Member of Congress, I recently voted for a resolution expressing the Congress’ disapproval of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Kelo v. New London case and our firm support of the rights of property owners. Our nation was founded in part on the fundamental right to own property and government cannot take that right away arbitrarily. I support the rights of homeowners and business owners….

“However, the importance of economic rehabilitation in many of our urban and rural communities cannot and should not be ignored. It is critical for the democratically elected officials in our communities to have the ability to seek, with support of property owners, the revitalization of local economies, the creation of much-needed jobs and the reversal of blight, crime or poverty in that community.”

Accordingly, said Ford, he voted against a Republican-sponsored measure – the Garrett Amendment – because, he said, it “like the Supreme Court decision, went too far.” He said he opposed the Garrett Amendment “because if were it to become law, any initiative of the Department of Housing and Urban Development that involves private development or investment, like Hope VI, could be put in jeopardy.”

The absence of Shelby County Commissioner Bruce Thompson from the commission’s third and final reading of the county’s tax rate at a specially called meeting last Wednesday has drawn some attention – most recently from Thompson’s colleague John Willingham, who wondered out loud about it at a meeting of the Southeast Shelby Republican Club Monday night.

Thompson’s decision to recuse himself from last week’s controversial vote on city-county school funding at the commission’s regular meeting had also piqued the curiosity of some attendees – notably members of the county school board, who had counted on his vote for a proposal, backed by the county and city school boards, that was ultimately tabled.

The 5th District commissioner dealt with both matters this week. He had recused himself on the funding vote, Thompson said, because a business partner of his had a stake in the construction issue. As for his absence from the special meeting, he explained that this, too, was related to business – the consequence of a long-standing appointment set for last Wednesday.

Thompson said he had been assured by both Commission chairman Hooks and county mayor A C Wharton of the strong likelihood that the special meeting would be reset for Thursday and accordingly did not attempt to reschedule his business appointment.

“But you could certainly interpret my absence as a no vote on the tax rate,” Thompson said. The $4.09 county property tax rate – technically the same as last year’s but a de facto increase of some $20 million countywide -- was passed despite opposition from Commissioners Willingham, George Flinn, and chairman Michael Hooks.

Almost lost in the ruckus over school funding and the county’s tax rate at last week’s regular commission meeting was an announcement by chairman Hooks concerning a novel proposal to give property tax relief to senior citizens.

The proposal, brainchild of veteran tax-appeals representative Jerry Carruthers, was scheduled for discussion by the commission’s general-government committee at noon on Wednesday – with the evident endorsement of chairman Hooks.

Differing from a pending constitutional-amendment measure sponsored by state Senator Mark Norris of Collierville and applying statewide, the proposal before the commission is Shelby County-specific and is the aftermath of legislation already passed in last year’s session of the General Assembly. To become effective, however, it requires a two-thirds majority vote of the commission.

What the proposal would do is permit senior homeowners to apply for property tax freezes lasting for the life of the homeowner or for a maximum duration of 20 years. To be eligible, a homeowner would have to be at least 70 years old with either an annual household income of less than $25,000 or a record of having paid property taxes for at least 20 of the last 30 years on the affected property.

Technically, says Carruthers, the tax freezes would operate in a manner similar to the freezes granted to various business and industrial taxpayers under the PILOT (Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes) program. Title to the property would be transferred to the county, which would lease it back to the homeowner at a dollar a year. Like the PILOT recipients, the homeowner would make an annual lump-sum payment in the amount of the tax owed when the freeze took place.

Terry Roland, a Millington businessman and Republican candidate for the District 29 state Senate seat vacated by Tennessee Waltz indictee John Ford, apparently has decided he’s running against State Representative Henri Brooks, one of several Democrats seeking their party’s nomination on the primary election date of August 4th.

Addressing the Southeast Shelby Republican Club at Fox Ridge Pizza Monday night, Roland cited a recent ad by longtime legislator Brooks asserting that she needs no “learning curve” and chose – perhaps a bit arbitrarily – to interpret the remark as being aimed at himself.

“I don’t need a learning curve to know I should pledge allegiance to the flag,” Roland said, among other things. This was a reference to a celebrated incident several years ago when Brooks conspicuously remained seated as the pledge was administered to open a session of the state House.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Down 'n' Dirty

Local Democrats trade punches and split hairs as the chairmanship contest heats up.

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

Whether TV reality shows fade away or continue to proliferate, they have clearly left their mark on - well, reality. In that curious way in which life imitates art, any number of local political, governmental, or community scenarios have begun, for better or for worse, to show strong resemblance to what's on the tube.

Take, for example, the way in which the cadres of the Shelby County Democratic Party are going about selecting someone to, er, lead them. The drama has overtones of Big Brother, American Idol, and - perhaps most obviously - Survivor.

The field of contestants now stands at five, though a number of spectators believe that last-minute dark horses have yet to show themselves. The competition is, in any case, scheduled to end on July 23rd, when delegates elected at last month's party caucuses gather to name a successor to state senator Kathryn Bowers, who resigned her chairmanship after being indicted in the F.B.I.'s Tennessee Waltz sting.

Bowers' two-year term would have been up anyhow. The burgeoning scandal just hastened her departure. It had other consequences as well.

For one thing, it elevated to the role of acting chairman one Talut El-Amin, a previously somewhat obscure figure (at least to the public) who had been serving as Bowers' vice chair.

For another, the scandal was one of the factors (the Dean movement and last year's presidential race were others) that swelled the turnout at the party's June 25th caucuses, bringing in a flock of newly active Democrats. This group - actually an overlap of two groups, Democracy for Memphis and Mid-South Democrats in Action - constituted somewhere between a quarter and a third of the elected delegates.

Both factors count for something:

Win or lose, El-Amin has become a major factor in the drama. On the debit side, his mode of expression leaves something to be desired. At the two candidate forums held so far, he has tended to talk too much, and he has authored some online self-advertisements that push grammar and syntax to the breaking point.

The "Purge" Gets Purged

On the plus side, El-Amin has managed to impress neutral observers with a certain openness of outlook and clarity of vision. Here is how one of the newly active party cadres saw it in an e-mail commentary of the sort that, along with postings on a variety of hothouse Web logs, have become a staple of the intramural Democratic debate: "Despite the malapropisms, misstatements, provincialism, and rampant egotism ... you've got to give Mr. El-Amin some credit. He's been talking about the party being top-heavy and the need to rebuild it from the bottom up. He's been talking about financial accountability, getting precinct captains active, encouraging the establishment of Democratic clubs, and setting up think-tanks. All this sounds familiar. And while the [local Democratic] Web site does nothing positive for the party's image due to its lack of professionalism, at least he's made an effort to get one going."

El-Amin also came off well last week at a meeting of the party's executive committee in his defense against what would seem, in retrospect, to have been a misfired purge attempt.

Various members of one of the party's two preexisting factions had begun to talk about challenging the credentials of the newly involved Democrats on grounds that several of them - Desi Franklin, a leader of Mid-South Democracts in Action, was mentioned in particular - might have previously voted in Republican primaries.

Here is where matters get tricky, and even a scorecard is of little use to the observer. Franklin herself would pinpoint the origin of the purge effort in what she called the "Ford-Uptonite" faction of the party - after U.S. representative Harold Ford Jr., to whom many members of a major party faction are loyal, and longtime activist David Upton, a party mover and shaker both within and without that group.

It is simple common sense to conclude that Ford, whose chief political concern these days is with his ongoing race for the U.S. Senate, had no direct involvement in floating the purge idea. It is also simple common sense - augmented by ample evidence - to conclude that Upton, who can no more do without controversy than a fish can do without water, did.

In fairness, Upton, a member of the state Democratic committee but not the county committee, has since made an effort to dissociate himself from the concept of a purge per se. He did maintain this week that long-standing state-party bylaws prohibit Democrats whose last primary vote was Republican from becoming party officers. "But I have no idea who that might describe," he insisted.

In any case, the party's steering committee briefly discussed the credentials issue last Thursday night before El-Amin convened the full executive committee for its regular monthly meeting. That meeting turned out to be unofficial for lack of a quorum, but it did allow members to vent in one direction or another.

The upshot finally was that the purge fizzled. With a sizable corps of the new Democrats sitting by, looking and - according to the later testimony of several of them - feeling uneasy, El-Amin ended up expressing the obvious: It made little sense, he pointed out, for a party struggling to attract new adherents in time for next year's elections to start excluding potential members, isolated former votes notwithstanding. "Welcome," he said to the "newbies" with an expansive gesture.

Involvement in the purge effort had also made little sense for members of the faction backing the chairmanship effort of David Cocke, a distinguished and widely (though not universally) admired former chairman who has the on-the-record support of Representative Ford, Shelby County mayor A C Wharton, and county assessor Rita Clark, three of the county's ranking Democrats.

Cocke was plainly uncomfortable with the brewing credentials controversy, especially since he believed, with some reason, that he had done well enough in the two candidate forums held so far to win the support of many of the newly involved Democrats. Accordingly, he let it be known that he favored waiving the state bylaw mentioned by Upton - a position ultimately taken by Upton himself.

Dimes to Dollars

So what's over is over - or is it? To judge solely by the tenor and volume of e-mails now in circulation, many members of the Democracy for Memphis and Mid-South Democrats in Action remain offended by the events of last week - which included one effort at borderline press-bashing, when an outgoing member of the local committee took issue with part of a line in the Flyer's July 7th Politics column.

A portion of one sentence in that column suggested that some attendees at a candidate forum held by the Germantown Democratic Club two weekends ago wondered aloud "why the party was behind on the rent for the local Democratic headquarters." The word "why" might better have been rendered as "if," but there was no doubting the tone of challenge mounted by questioners.

At the Germantown forum, the issue of rent possibly being in arrears on the party's Poplar Avenue headquarters was first raised by longtime party member Nancy Kuhn, mother of activist Matt Kuhn, another current candidate for the chairmanship.

She was followed by Ann Sandberg, who said, "My question is: Why do we not have the money to pay the rent next month? Why are we facing as a party no money to pay the rent next month?" Shortly thereafter, Cherry Davis, a current Democratic committee member and yet another candidate for the chairmanship, discussed some of the party's past financial difficulties, and said, "Right now we're looking at if we've got enough money to pay for July and the campaign office. In August we don't."

At last week's informal committee meeting, party treasurer Myra Styles, one of the few party members approved of by virtually all Democrats, produced financial records demonstrating conclusively that the party had never been in default on headquarters rent or even late in making a payment.

Yet her report also made it clear - as for that matter all the chairmanship candidates, including her own endorsee, Joe Young, have - that the local Democratic Party, with a balance on hand of $1,737.52, has a heap of fund-raising to do to catch up with the local Republicans.

And the balance sheet does nothing to resolve the still-simmering question, raised by many of the newly involved Democrats, as to whether the funds they contributed to last year's Kerry presidential campaign had been spent in exactly the way they preferred.

Oh, and don't get the idea, just because the party's (broadly described) Ford faction and the two groups of newly involved Democrats figured most prominently in last week's dustup(s), that the other main group of Democrats, described (also broadly) as the Herenton faction, didn't get their licks in.

In response to the party-loyalty issue, Gale Jones Carson, Mayor Willie Herenton's press secretary and a former chairman, sent out an e-mail citing Election Commission records that showed party secretary Jody Hurt Patterson to have voted in two Republican primaries over the years.

And Carson sent another e-mail asserting that her boss was not acquainted with candidate Cherry Davis, who has been widely regarded as representing the Herenton wing of the party. That might be of some concern to Davis, though it bolsters her several public statements that her race for the chairmanship is independent of all existing factional disputes. n

Friday, July 8, 2005

Fair Sailing

That’s what the ill wind of political scandal may offer state Republicans.

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

Speaking to the East Shelby Republican Club Tuesday, June 28th, two local GOP legislators made clear what the state Republican Party would make official a day later: The Tennessee Waltz scandal, along with all the publicity attendant to it over the next few months, will be a constant party talking point for the indefinite future.

“The fallout has been both good and bad,” said Representative Paul Stanley of Germantown, the GOP’s floor leader in the state House.

What’s bad (besides the corruption itself) is that, as both he and Representative Brian Kelsey of East Memphis pointed out, all legislators may have been tainted in the public’s eye. What’s good, as both legislators agreed, is that the scandal improves the climate for more and better ethics bills.

Governor Phil Bredesen has indicated he will call a special session this fall to deal with ethics legislation, and Stanley, while welcoming the opportunity, noted the controversy over the Democratic governor’s proposed reductions in TennCare rolls and suggested the special session might be a device to “ take attention away from it.”

Even so, said Stanley, “We need to be prepared.”

What’s also good about the ongoing scandal from the GOP point of view is that it gives Republicans a new opportunity to take the partisan gloves off, rhetorically. Example: In identifying the House State and Local Government Committee as a burial ground for ethics legislation, Stanley took aim at two committee members in particular. “Ulysses Jones and Larry Miller, two Shelby County Democrats, are infamous for killing these bills,” he said. (Jones is committee chairman.)

And freshman member Kelsey cast himself as an innocent in a Democratically controlled House that he made sound like a wicked place indeed. “It’s difficult to know what’s gong on in Nashville,” said Kelsey. “There’s a whole atmosphere of corruption that I didn’t know about personally.” He cited a time when he and numerous other Republicans offered a show of hands against a motion, only to hear House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh of Covington pronounce “no objection” and declare the motion passed.

Resignation asked of Newton; “no-shows” for Bowers

Miscreant Republicans did not escape the two legislators’ ire, though. Noting that nominal Democrat John Wilder had been reelected Senate speaker despite a technical Republican majority in that body, Stanley said, “We’re weak in the Senate,” and called East Tennessee Republican senators Tim Burchett and Mike Williams a “big embarrassment” for giving Wilder their votes, the decisive ones, over Republican Senate leader Ron Ramsey.

That was mild, however, compared to Kelsey’s condemnation of fellow GOP House member Chris Newton of Cleveland, one of the four legislators arrested in the Tennessee Waltz sting -- and the only Republican.

Following up on Stanley’s criticism of Newton for having been one of nine House Republicans to vote for Democrat Naifeh as speaker, Kelsey said, “I’m not saying that that vote leads to accepting bribes. But I am saying that the type of mentality in which you’re willing to get something in exchange -- which would be a subcommittee chairmanship on his part -- for a vote is the type of atmosphere of corruption that has taken place up there.”

Perhaps not coincidentally, the next day would see the public release of a letter to Newton from state Republican chairman Bob Davis asking the beleaguered Cleveland legislator -- considered in conservative circles to be a “RINO” (Republican in Name Only) -- to resign.

In apparent anticipation of that, Stanley had similar advice Tuesday night for the accused four legislators (besides Newton, they include state senator John Ford of Memphis, who has resigned, and two senators, Ward Crutchfield of Chattanooga and Kathryn Bowers of Memphis, who have not).

“I would hope they would resign,” Stanley said. “It would do the body [the General Assembly] a great favor.”

Both Stanley and Kelsey professed to be offended by Bowers’ efforts last week to solicit funds from lobbyists and others -- ostensibly to defray her campaign debt from this year’s special Senate election.

As it turned out, Bowers had little luck with her two scheduled fund-raising affairs, in Nashville on Wednesday night and at the Embassy Suites in East Memphis on Thursday night.

With TV cameras on hand and ready to shoot in both places, only one visitor came to Bowers’ well-catered Nashville event, while an uncounted handful at best may have showed up at the Embassy Suites, skirting around the cameras and heading to an upstairs hotel room for a private rendezvous with Bowers.

 When Germantown Democrats gathered back in early June for their monthly meeting, there were two candidates on hand to offer themselves as successors to Bowers (who did resign that post) as local party chairman. By Saturday, when the club met again, the number of would-be chairmen had grown to five.

Or maybe just four. It depends on how you look at it. In addition to Joe Young and Cherry Davis, the original two wannabes, there were now David Cocke, a two-time former chairman, and Talut El-Amin, the current acting chairman.

The fifth prospect was Matt Kuhn, a seasoned -- if youngish -- party activist who introduced himself to the Germantown group as a willing draftee should factionalism prevent the consensus choice of one of the other four at the local party’s convention later this month. Kuhn declined, however, to join the others in a Q & A session following initial presentations by all five.

Anticipating a ritual protestation from other candidates that they did not themselves belong to factions, Young began his remarks with an acknowledgement that party factionalism did indeed exist.

Cocke, whom many think of as representing a “Ford” faction, and Davis, considered by several to belong to a “Herenton” faction, deplored both the rumor and the fact of factionalism in eloquent, seemingly sincere speeches that surely did them no harm. So did Talut El-Amin, who has been less often pinpointed as belonging to this or that group.

None of that prevented bitterness from welling up in the Q & A -- in which a number of audience members raised questions about the party’s use of local financial contributions during the 2004 election cycle and wondered aloud why the party was behind on the rent for the local Democratic headquarters.

Notable in the animated debate that followed was Cocke’s assertion that, as vice chairman last year, he did not “call the shots,” as well as Davis’ acknowledgement that “there was always this force pulling people one way or the other” during the last two years on a party executive committee that was evenly divided by what could only be called factions.

At press time, more ruckus seemed to be in store for the candidates at a candidate forum scheduled for this Tuesday night. Members of a group of newly participating Democrats now calling themselves “the Convention Coalition” posed most of the tough questions on Saturday.

 Steve Haley, a first-time political candidate running in next month’s Democratic primary election for the District 29 state Senate seat vacated by John Ford, was better able after Thursday night to put his money where his mouth is.

This was following a well-attended fund-raiser for Haley at Kudzu’s restaurant, bringing the kind of voter outreach the fledgling politician needs within his financial reach.

But Haley, a professor of political science at Southwest Tennessee Community College, may have a problem on his hands beyond the fact of being an underdog in a race dominated by three sitting state representatives -- Henri Brooks, Barbara Cooper, and John DeBerry -- and Ophelia Ford, the former senator’s sister and a member of the well-known local political clan.

Among the attendees at Saturday’s meeting of Germantown Democrats was one Kevin McLellan, a former SWTN teacher himself and, like Haley, a white Democrat in a field dominated by African Americans.

It remains to be seen how strong a campaign McLellan can make, but he made an effective presentation on Saturday and might conceivably compete for votes in Haley’s base. (And, yes, folks, demographic blocs are as much an elephant in the room of local Democratic politics as is political factionalism.)

Word from avowed members of the local Ford organization, by the way, is that family members may put aside some past difficulties with Ophelia Ford (who some years back unsuccessfully opposed brother Joe Ford when the Shelby County Commission voted to fill the commission seat of their deceased brother, Dr. James Ford).

The fact of Ford solidarity alone, if true, should entitle Ophelia Ford to be considered the favorite in the Democratic race. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

POLITICS

The ill wind of political scandal may offer momentum to state Republicans.

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

FAIR SAILING

Reps. Stanley (left) and Kelsey

Speaking to the East Shelby Republican Club last Tuesday night, two local GOP legislators made clear what the state Republican party would make official a day later: The Tennessee Waltz scandal, along with all the publicity attendant to it over the next few months, will be a constant party talking point for the indefinite future.

“The fallout has been both good and bad,” said Representative Paul Stanley) of Germantown, the GOP’s floor leader in the state House.

What’s bad (besides the corruption itself) is that, as both he and Representative Brian Kelsey) of East Memphis pointed out, all legislators may have been tainted in the public’s eye. What’s good, as both legislators agreed, is that the scandal improves the climate for more and better ethics bills.

Governor Phil Bredesen has indicated he will call a special session this fall to deal with ethics legislation, and Stanley, while welcoming the opportunity, noted the controversy over the Democratic governor’s proposed reductions in TennCare rolls and suggested the special session might be a device to “ take attention away from it.”

Even so, said Stanley, “We need to be prepared.”

What’s also good about the ongoing scandal from the GOP point of view is that it gives Republicans a new opportunity to take the partisan gloves off, rhetorically. Example: In identifying the House State and Local Government committee as a burial ground for ethics legislation, Stanley took aim at two committee members in particular. “Ulysses Jones) and Larry Miller), who are two Shelby County Democrats, are infamous for killing these bills,” he said. (Jones is committee chairman.)

And freshman member Kelsey cast himself as an innocent in a Democratically controlled House that he made sound like a wicked place indeed. “It’s difficult to know what’s gong on in Nashville,” said Kelsey. “There’s a whole atmosphere of corruption that I didn’t know about personally.” He cited a time when he and numerous other Republicans offered a show of hands against a motion, only to hear House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh) of Covington pronounce “no objection” and declare the motion passed.

Resignation Asked of Newton; “no-shows” for Bowers)

Miscreant Republicans did not escape the two legislators’ ire, though. Noting that nominal Democrat John Wilder) had been re-elected Senate speaker despite a technical Republican majority in that body, Stanley said, “We’re weak in the Senate,” and called East Tennessee Republican senators Tim Burchett) and Mike Williams) a “big embarrassment” for giving Wilder their votes, the decisive ones, over Republican Senate leader Ron Ramsey).

That was mild, however, compared to Kelsey’s condemnation of fellow GOP House member Chris Newton) of Cleveland, one of the four legislators arrested in the Tennessee Waltz sting — and the only Republican.

Following up on Stanley’s criticism of Newton for having been one of nine House Republicans to vote for Democrat Naifeh as Speaker, Kelsey said, “I’m not saying that that vote leads to accepting bribes. But I am saying that the type of mentality in which you’re willing to get something in exchange -- which would be a subcommittee chairmanship on his part -- in exchange for a vote is the type of atmosphere of corruption that has taken place up there.”

Perhaps not coincidentally, the next day would see the public release of a letter to Newton from state Republican chairman Bob Davis) asking the beleaguered Cleveland legislator — considered in conservative circles to be a “RINO” (Republican in Name Only) — to resign.

In apparent anticipation of that, Stanley had similar advice Tuesday night for the accused four legislators (besides Newton, they include state senator John Ford) of Memphis, who has resigned, and two senators, Ward Crutchfield) of Chattanooga and Kathryn Bowers) of Memphis, who have not).

“I would hope they would resign,” Stanley said. “It would do the body [the General Assembly] a great favor.”

Both Stanley and Kelsey professed to be offended by Bowers’ efforts last week to solicit funds from lobbyists and others — ostensibly to defray her campaign debt from this year’s special Senate election.

As it turned out, Bowers had little luck with her two scheduled fund-raising affairs, in Nashville on Wednesday night and in Memphis, at the Embassy Suites in East Memphis, on Thursday night.

With TV cameras on hand and ready to shoot in both places, only one visitor came to Bowers’ well-catered Nashville event, while an uncounted handful at best may have showed up at the Embassy Suites, skirting around the cameras and heading to an upstairs hotel room for a private rendezvous with Bowers.

When Germantown Democrats gathered back in early June for their monthly meeting, there were two candidates on hand to offer themselves as successors to Bowers (who did resign that post) as local party chairman. By Saturday, when the club met again, the number of would-be chairmen had grown to five.

Or maybe just four. It depends on how you look at it. In addition to Joe Young) and Cherry Davis), the original two wannabes, there were now David Cocke), a two-time former chairman, and Talut El-Amin), the current acting chairman.

The fifth prospect was Matt Kuhn), a seasoned — if youngish — part-activist who introduced himself to the Germantown group as a willing draftee should factionalism prevent the consensus choice of one of the other four at the local party’s convention later this month. Kuhn declined, however, to join the others in a Q & A session following initial presentations by all five.

Anticipating a ritual protestation from other candidates that they did not themselves belong to factions, Young began his remarks with an acknowledgement that party factionalism did indeed exist.

Cocke, whom many think of as representing a “Ford” faction and Davis, considered by several to belong to a “Herenton” faction, deplored both the rumor and the fact of factionalism in eloquent, seemingly sincere speeches that surely did them no harm. So did Talut El-Amin, who has been less often pinpointed as belonging to this or that group.

None of that prevented bitterness from welling up in the Q & A — in which a number of audience members raised questions about the party’s use of local financial contributions during the 2004 election cycle and wondered aloud why the party was behind on the rent for the local Democratic headquarters.

Notable in the animated debate that followed was Cocke’s assertion that, as vice chairman last year, he did not “call the shots,” as well as Davis’ acknowledgement that “there was always this force pulling people one way or the other” during the last two years on a party executive committee that was evenly divided by what could only be called factions.

At press time, more ruckus seemed to be in store for the candidates at a candidate forum scheduled for this Tuesday night. Members of a group of newly participating Democrats now calling themselves “the Convention Coalition” posed most of the tough questions on Saturday.

Steve Haley), a first-time political candidate running for in next month’s Democratic primary election for the District 29 state Senate seat vacated by John Ford), was better able after Thursday night to put his money where his mouth is.

This was following a well-attended fund-raiser for Haley at Kudzu’s restaurant, bringing the kind of voter outreach the fledgling politician needs.

But Haley, a professor of political science at Southwest Tennessee Community College, may have a problem on his hands beyond the fact of being an underdog in a race dominated by three sitting state representatives — Henri Brooks, ) Barbara Cooper), and John DeBerry) — and Ophelia Ford), the former senator’s sister and a member of the well-known local political clan.

Among the attendees at Saturday’s meeting of Germantown Democrats was one Kevin McLellan), a former SWTN teacher himself and, like Haley, a white Democrat in a field largely populated by African Americans.

It remains to be seen how strong a campaign McLellan can make, but he made an effective presentation on Saturday and might conceivably compete for votes in Haley’s base. (And, yes, folks, demographic blocs are as much an elephant in the room of local Democratic politics as is political factionalism.)

Word from avowed members of the local Ford organization, by the way, is that family members may put aside some past difficulties with Ophelia Ford (who some years back unsuccessfully opposed brother Joe Ford) when the Shelby County Commission vote to fill the commission seat of their deceased brother, Dr. James Ford.)

The fact of Ford solidarity alone, if true, should entitle Ophelia Ford to be considered the favorite in the Democratic race. n

Friday, July 1, 2005

Enter "The Force"

Newly energized cadres seem ready to transform the Shelby County Democratic Party.

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

The first stage of the local Democrats' reorganization is over, and after Saturday's party caucuses at the University of Memphis, it is no easier than it was beforehand to predict who will be the next party chairman.

But one thing was obvious: The affair was not dominated by either of the party's traditional blocs (usually referred to as the Ford faction and the Herenton faction in rough but accurate shorthand).

No, the leading influence on Saturday was —how to say it? — the Third Force, the New Force, or maybe just The Force.

In any case, as many as 150 new Democrats (new to party processes, anyhow) were on hand — largely at the behest of such freshly organized groups as Democracy in Memphis and Mid-South Democrats in Action and by activist leaders like Bradley Watkins and David Holt and, most notably, Desi Franklin.

Estimates varied as to just how many delegates these groups managed to elect to next month's party convention — maybe 30, maybe more. Enough, anyhow, to become the likely balance of power on July 23rd, when a successor will be elected to state senator Kathryn Bowers, who resigned the chairmanship in the wake of her arrest last month in the F.B.I.'s Tennessee Waltz sting.

A new executive committee will also be elected on July 23rd, and this one is unlikely to be riven into two feuding halves, as was the one elected just two years ago, when Bowers, supported by most Fordites, eked out a one-vote victory over Gale Jones Carson, Mayor Willie Herenton's press secretary.

And where did these new Democrats come from? Some of them were "Deaniacs," who entered the political process with near-revivalist fervor to support the reform efforts of Howard Dean, a presidential candidate in 2004 and now the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Others got involved to support the 2004 Democratic nominee, John Kerry, against President Bush. And still others materialized in response to the Tennessee Waltz scandal itself or to Governor Phil Bredesen's TennCare reductions or to a myriad of other signs that the process, in their eyes and for their purposes, had ceased to function.

Whatever brought them, they were there on Saturday, and their energy, quite as much as their numbers, seemed to carry the day.

The usual political brokers were there too, of course: Sidney Chism, chief tactician of the Herenton cause, was on hand, and longtime Ford loyalists David Upton and John Freeman were there to hold the fort for Congressman Harold Ford, who was reportedly elsewhere in Tennessee campaigning for the U.S. Senate seat he hopes to win in next year's election.

But David Cocke, the worthy longtime Democrat who is the congressman's designate for chairman (and the choice as well of Shelby County mayor A C Wharton and assessor Rita Clark) was unable even to win a delegate's seat, much less to organize a clear majority for next month's election. (Full disclosure: Flyer publisher Kenneth Neill defeated Cocke in the would-be chairman's District 92 precinct.)

Other chairmanship wannabes were present Saturday — Cherry Davis, Joe Young, and current vice chair (and acting chairman) Talut Al-Amin. But all of them must have been as uncertain as Cocke about their prospects next month. (There was even a little brushfire chairmanship talk in favor of Franklin, who planned to take off for a vacation in Italy the day after the caucuses.)

A Compromise Candidate?

For the record, Cocke professed continued optimism about his candidacy and said he'd been assured that Representative Ford was still behind him. And the Ford organization's spin machine, spearheaded by Upton, wasted no time this week in suggesting that the newly activated Democrats would end up on its side of the ledger.

Chism, who claimed victory for his side after Saturday, would have none of that. "I doubt that he [Cocke] will end up with five delegates when it's all over," he said, maintaining that two areas the Ford organization had counted on in recent years — predominantly white Midtown and East Memphis — had gone over to the insurgency.

After Saturday, there were two Democratic factions, just as there were before, Chism said, but he identified these as "my side and the new people" and suggested that these two groups could fairly easily be reconciled around common goals. As for the slate backed by Ford, Wharton, and Clark — "they're dead in the water."

Chism, who had vowed last week to block Cocke's election at all costs, called the two-time chairman "a rubber stamp for Ford" and said that the congressman and Wharton "had no business" trying to dictate a chairmanship candidate.

There were some reports that Davis — whom Chism praised without expressly backing — might be within a few votes of victory once the dust settled, but there was also talk of a compromise candidate, and the name of Matt Kuhn, a party activist who has served as a chief campaign aide for several Democrats, was being suggested on various sides of the factional line.

"I'm considering my options," Kuhn, who now works as a sales marketing representative, said this week. "If I can help bring a consensus to the party, I'd certainly be interested." Kuhn said he felt closest of all to the newly engaged Democratic groups.

To the naked eye on Saturday, these new party cadres were overwhelmingly white, though some of their key figures (Watkins, for example) were African-American. But race was not the factor that bound them together. Most of them, when asked, professed to be motivated by a desire to throw off the perceived timidity and uncertainty that have accompanied Democratic defeats in recent years.

A spirited pre-caucus speech by state senator Steve Cohen on Saturday denouncing "Republican-lite" attitudes was met with thunderous applause, and the same kind of intensity was evident in the caucus proceedings themselves.

Maybe one of the party's traditional factions will still end up in control at next month's convention, and maybe not. But it is unlikely that any of the same-old/same-old attitudes will persist in the usual form.

Saturday's caucuses made it clear that something new was under way, and the increased turnout, especially in predominantly white precincts, was surely enough to pique the curiosity not just of traditional Democrats but of the county's Republicans as well.

 Meanwhile, the qualifying deadline passed last week for candidates running in the special elections for state Senate District 29 and state House District 87 (vacated, respectively, by John Ford and Kathryn Bowers, now a senator).

A few names might sift out on Thursday of this week, the withdrawal deadline, but as of press time, these were the candidates' names certified by the Election Commission:

State Senate District 29 (Democrats): Jennings Bernard, Henri E. Brooks, John A. Brown, Barbara Cooper, Laura Davis, John DeBerry Jr., Ophelia E. Ford, Stephen Haley, Kevin McLellan.

State Senate District 29 (Republicans): John Farmer, Terry Roland.

State Senate District 29 (Independants): Robert "Prince Mongo" Hodges.

State House District 87 (Democrats): Omari Faulkner, Alonzo Grant, Gary L. Rowe, Andrew "Rome" Withers.

There were no Republican or Independent candidates qualifying for the House seat. Primary elections will take place on August 4th, with the general election for these seats occurring on September 15th.

Though hope springs eternal for long-shot candidates, perennials, and unknowns, the Senate candidates whose chances have been most touted in political circles are Brooks, Cooper, and DeBerry, all now serving as state representatives, and Ford, whose family name should count for something.

Among the relative newcomers, Haley, a Southwest Tennessee Community College professor, has indicated he intends to run an energetic campaign on the Democratic side, and Roland, a Millington businessman, will command some stout support among the district's Republicans, a distinct minority of the whole.

Candidates appearing at a forum held Sunday at Mt. Olive C.M.E. Church were Brooks, Cooper, Davis, Roland, Faulkner, Grant, and Withers.

 Mike Ritz, who is seeking the County Commission seat now held by Marilyn Loeffel, was the beneficiary of a well-attended fund-raiser last week at Homebuilders on Germantown Parkway. Other possible entries in that predominantly Republican district are Karla Templeton, daughter of Commissioner John Willingham, and Mark Loeffel, husband of the incumbent, who is prevented from running for reelection by term-limits restrictions recently upheld by Chancellor Tene Alissandratos.

 Businessman Bob Hatton this week tossed his name into the hat for another term-limited seat — that of Commission budget chairman Cleo Kirk. Political broker Chism, who also has several business interests, had previously announced as a candidate for the seat.

 Correction: Debbie Stamson, a candidate for Shelby County clerk and a current employee of that office, is not related to the family of the late former clerk, Richard "Sonny" Mashburn, as was reported last week.

 Daily sit-ins at Governor Bredesen's Nashville office protesting his TennCare cuts are now in their second week. The Rev. Dwight Montgomery was among the Memphians joining in the demonstrations.

Though the governor began the year looking like a shoo-in for reelection, with portions of the national media touting him as a possible presidential or vice-presidential candidate in 2008, his poll standings have declined somewhat, and Republicans statewide have been correspondingly encouraged.

State representative Beth Harwell of Nashville is reportedly giving strong consideration to leaving the U.S. Senate race she has announced for and taking on Bredesen instead. 

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