Tuesday, November 29, 2005

POLITICS: Uncertain Terms

An appeals court’s ruling confuses the outlook for next year’s elections.

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Clearly, the political waters have been roiled by last week’s state Appeals Court decision invalidating the two-term limits provision voted for by 81 percent of participating Shelby County voters in a 1994 referendum. The 2-1 decision by the three-member court, in response to a suit by three affected members of the Shelby County Commission, will alter the course of next year’s elections.

Within hours of the decision, local Republican chairman Bill Giannini was denouncing it to a meeting of the East Shelby Republican Club at the Pickering Center in Germantown. In his audience, however, was at least one loyal Republican who greeted the ruling, which overturned a previous Chancery Court decision, with satisfaction.

That was Juvenile Court clerk Steve Stamson, who privately pointed out the obvious: Two potential opponents of his – litigating commissioners Walter Bailey and Julian Bolton -- would most likely run for reelection instead.            

Not only that: Commissioner Marilyn Loeffel, also affected by the decision but not an active litigant, might be brought to rethink her commitment to run against Stamson’s wife Debbie in the GOP primary for the open Shelby County clerkship. Or so Stamson hoped. 

Watch this space for an elaboration of some of the likely consequences of the ruling, currently under likely further appeal by county government – a circumstance which makes it difficult for any number of political hopefuls to do their eeny-miney-moes

Senatorial hopeful Ed Bryant unveiled a campaign strategy Monday night that will lean heavily on West Tennessee, home base for current Jackson resident Bryant – who served both as U.S. attorney for the state’s Western district and as 7th District congressman. And Bryant left little doubt that Memphis would be the lynchpin of that strategy.          

Stressing his “electability” at a fundraiser hosted by supporter David Pickler in Collierville, Bryant noted that in his 1996 reelection bid against then Clarksville mayor  Don Trotter, his Democratic opponent, he polled enough votes in Shelby County alone to beat Trotter in the 15-county district by more than 100 votes

The former GOP congressman named John Ryder, John Bobango, and Steve West as de facto local coordinators.   

Bryant said he expected current 9th District congressman Harold Ford Jr. to be the Democratic nominee and said Ford would be a “formidable” and heavily funded opponent. Apparently discounting what some Republicans see as baggage the Memphis congressman might carry into a race, Bryant added, “I’d be running against him, not the Ford family.”
Before he gets that far, though, Bryant faces stiff Republican opposition from another former congressman, Van Hilleary, and from former Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker.

Two contenders for the 9th District congressional seat which Ford would vacate had formal coming-out affairs this week. One was Ralph White, pastor of Bloomfield Full Gospel Baptist Church and a former Democratic candidate for several offices. Another was businessman/consultant Ron Redwing, a longtime former assistant to Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and a onetime candidate for register.       

In a field which so far boasts no heavyweight names from the pool of local office-holders, White and Redwing, both well-known members of the Memphis political community, have to be reckoned as serious entries.

Last week another verse was sung in the ongoing duet – no love song, mind you -- between Memphis state Senator Steve Cohen and Governor Phil Bredesen. The two issued overlapping and basically competitive press releases, both announcing the bestowal of more than $3.8 million in unclaimed lottery prize money on state after-school programs.     

Cohen, who attributed the outcome to earlier legislative efforts by himself and former state Rep. Chris Newton (R-Cleveland), also said he was still considering a Democratic primary challenge to Bredesen. The state senator has also indicated he is looking at a race for district attorney general.

In an email to his network this week, Carl “Two Feathers” Whitaker, a leader of the state’s Minuteman movement, which makes a point of opposing illegal aliens, stressed the fact that so far he remains the only declared Republican candidate for governor. Former GOP legislator Jim Henry recently dropped out of the running, and current Nashville state representative Beth Harwell continues to hold back from announcing.  

But Ryder, a longtime GOP strategist, said he thought that someone else, probably a legislator, would be “drafted” as a candidate, probably in January. Ryder suggested Republican Senate leader Ron Ramsey of Blountville and state Senator Mark Norris of Collierville.

Want to respond? Send us an email here.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Lights, Camera, Action!

There's no business like show business? Oh yes, there is. It's called politics.

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

One of the established political clichés compares sausage-making with government and usually concludes with some suggestion that people don't want to look too close at either process -- the idea seemingly being that there's too much blood-and-guts to deal with.

This is roughly 180 degrees from the truth. Making laws and making hot dogs are messy procedures, yes, but tedious ones. All you have to do is attend a few hearings or inspect a few assembly lines to get the idea. Something that starts out living and breathing is transformed through various mechanical actions into matter that is limp, lifeless, and, quite often, indigestible. There's a reason why they refer to the "grind" of legislative business.

But luckily there is such a thing as political theater to reawaken our interest in public business and to focus our attention on the issues. Take a recent cause celebre featuring Memphis congressman Harold Ford Jr. (who, perhaps not coincidentally, is gearing up a campaign for the U.S. Senate).

As anybody who watches a cable news network knows, Ford was conspicuously involved in a fracas last week on the House floor. It came after a freshly elected member of the House, Republican Jean Schmidt of Ohio, delivered a "message" from an unidentified Marine of her acquaintance to Pennsylvania representative John Murtha, a venerable Democrat and himself a former decorated member of the Corps. The message? "Cowards cut and run, Marines never do."

That's what Murtha, the ranking member of the House Defense subcommittee, got for suggesting the time had come to consider a staged withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. A commotion ensued, in the course of which several Democrats shouted out demands for an apology, and Ford, often accused by his adversaries on the left of "crossing over" to the other side of the political aisle, did so quite literally and dramatically.

All reports had Ford shouting and storming over to the Republican side, and The Washington Post would quote Ford as "screaming, 'Say Murtha'sname!'" Various accounts went on to indicate that Ford was led back to his side of the aisle ("gently taken by the arm," as one report had it) by Representative David Obey of Wisconsin.

Only the readers of The Christian Science Monitor got the follow-up account, which detailed how Ford, after leaving the floor, was approached in the House lobby moments later by Republican congressman Patrick McHenry of North Carolina. One might suppose that fisticuffs were imminent. But no -- "both men broke into big smiles and high-fived each other."

As the Monitor goes on to explain, the two congressmen, though in opposing parties and presumably differing on both Iraq and the Murtha matter, had been teammates in a football game two nights before, one matching House members against Capitol police. (The game was a fund-raising affair to benefit the families of two officers who were slain inside the Capitol in 1998 by a gun-wielding invader.)

Debating the withdrawal issue with another Republican colleague, Arizona's J.D. Hayworth, on MSNBC's Hardball this week, Ford, who prides himself on his good relations with GOP members, was once again conciliatory.

"I was amongst a group, the first group of Democrats to pledge my support for the resolution authorizing the use of force," the Memphis congressman pointed out, going on to say, "I'm as committed as you are, J.D., to winning. I voted for this effort in Iraq; I voted for the money; I've been to Iraq several times like you, and you and I are friends."

Even more chivalrous was the praise conferred by Ford on Hayworth for his sponsorship of a resolution (defeated 403-3) calling for "immediate" withdrawal of U.S. forces for Iraq. Though many of his Democratic colleagues accused Hayworth of having distorted Murtha's position in an effort -- successful, as it turned out -- to force the issue, Ford credited him for bringing about "the first time in more than three years that we've had an open, honest and essential debate about Iraq."

Which was the real Harold Ford -- the belligerent combatant of the House floor or the ingratiating colleague on MSNBC? Answer: Both or neither (the choice depending largely on the politics of the beholder). All successful politicians know when to hold up and when to fold up, and, for better and for worse, a sense of theater would seem to be a useful civic attribute, both for the public actor himself and for his audience.

Corrections: Mark White, not Mark "Wright," is the former legislative candidate who will seek the Republican nomination for Ford's 9th District congressional seat. Though former U.S. attorney Veronica Coleman proudly owns up to a Democratic background, she notes correctly that the office of Juvenile Court Judge, which she seeks, is formally nonpartisan, involving no party primaries. GOP activist Bill Wood has expressed interest in the seat now held by Memphis school board member Michael Hooks Jr., not the county commission seat occupied by Michael Hooks Sr.

We all know the familiar dictum attributed to the late Tip O'Neill, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives: "All politics is local."

I've often parroted this line myself, but not until I read Zioncheck for President: A True Story of Idealism and Madness in American Politics (Nation Books), a new work by my old Flyer colleague Phil Campbell, did I realize exactly, and in how many unexpected ways, that statement is true.

Zioncheck, which plays off the apocryphal-seeming but utterly real history of a half-mad onetime Seattle congressman who pushed all the envelopes before killing himself in 1936, is the account of a 2001 city-council campaign managed by Campbell after he got fired from his job at The Stranger, a Seattle alternative weekly where he worked after (voluntarily) leaving the Flyer in the late '90s.

That may not sound like material for a minor masterpiece, and I surely didn't expect one when, after some unconscionable procrastinating, I finally opened it up for a read. But the book -- funny, sad, serious, and illuminating -- works uncannily well on several levels, including one or two that I didn't know existed. All I can say is that now I understand that wicked but (it would seem) vulnerable gleam that played in Campbell's eyes during the few years that he occupied a cubicle next to mine at the Flyer. He sees things.

Add that to some world-class doggedness and -- in every sense of the adjective -- offbeat creativity. For example, having discovered some years ago that there was a town in Alabama called Phil Campbell, the Ohio-born writer rounded up a score of similarly named people throughout the United States and declared an annual "Phil Campbell Festival" there. For all I know, it still goes on.

Campbell understands that life is a kaleidoscope, that all the trivia of our private lives somehow connects, metaphorically and actually, to the macro-universe, and that, in a profoundly democratic sense, every part of it is equal to every other part. As our interest is being whetted concerning the issues of that faraway city-council election -- which focused on the candidates' different ideas for an urban transit system -- we are also seduced into caring about Campbell's simultaneous power struggles in the group house he lives in. Even when 9/11 occurs in mid-campaign, we see that catastrophic event -- and the principals' long-distance reaction to it -- as a part of the general cacophony. The symphony, rather.

"Grant, the Twin Towers are gone," Campbell tells his candidate, who responds: "We'll go watch the news in a minute. But right now we need to pick up some materials from a few volunteers."

In other words, everything is life-or-death all the time -- for Campbell, for his candidate, for the apparently disturbed housemate who tinkers ominously with a Glock pistol, and for the prominent Seattle personages, living and dead, whose destinies keep cropping up. Most notable of all is the case of the late crazed congressman Marion Zioncheck himself, whose compelling personal history is interspersed throughout the narrative in the manner of those historical anecdotes Hemingway used as chapter-dividers in his short-story volumes.

The book will give you goose bumps. It's a page-turner. And, oh, for those who knew Campbell and those who didn't, there are some intriguing Memphis memories here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

POLITICS: Lights, Camera, Action!

There’s no business like show business? Oh yes, there is; it’s called politics.

Posted By on Tue, Nov 22, 2005 at 4:00 AM

One of the established political clichés compares sausage-making with government and usually concludes with some suggestion that people don’t want to look too close at either process – the idea seemingly being that there’s too much blood-and-guts to deal with.
           

This is roughly 180 degrees from the truth. Making laws and making hot dogs are messy procedures, yes, but tedious ones. All you have to do is attend a few hearings or inspect a few assembly lines to get the idea.  Something that starts out living and breathing is transformed through various mechanical actions into matter that is limp, lifeless, and, quite often, indigestible. There’s a reason why they refer to the “grind” of legislative business.
           

But luckily there is such a thing as political theater to reawaken our interest in public business and to focus our attention on the issues. Take a recent cause celebre featuring Memphis congressman Harold Ford Jr. (who, perhaps not coincidentally, is gearing up a campaign for the U.S. Senate).

           

As anybody who watches a cable news network knows, Ford was conspicuously involved in a fracas last week on the House floor. It came after a freshly elected member of the House, Republican Jean Schmidt of Ohio, delivered a “message” from an unidentified Marine of her acquaintance to Rep. John Murtha, a venerable Democrat and himself a former decorated member of the Corps. The message? – “that cowards cut and run, Marines never do."
           

That’s what Murtha, the ranking member of the House Defense subcommittee, got for suggesting the time had come to consider a staged withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. A commotion ensued, in the course of which several Democrats shouted out demands for an apology, and Ford, often accused by his adversaries on the left of “crossing over” to the other side of the political aisle, did so quite literally and dramatically.
           

All reports had Ford shouting and storming over to the Republican side, and The Washington Post would quote Ford as “screaming, ‘Say Murtha's
Name!’” Various accounts went on to indicate that Ford was led back to his side of the aisle (“gently taken by the arm,” as one report had it) by Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin.
           

Only the readers of The Christian Science Monitor got the follow-up account, which detailed how Ford, after leaving the floor, was approached in the House lobby moments later by Republican congressman Patrick McHenry of North Carolina. One might suppose that fisticuffs were imminent. But no – “both men broke into big smiles and high-fived each other.”

           

As the Monitor goes on explain, the two congressman, though in opposing parties and presumably differing on both Iraq and the Murtha matter, had been teammates in a football game two nights before, one matching House members against Capitol police. (The game was a fund-raising affair to benefit the families of two officers who were slain inside the Capitol in 1998 by a gun-wielding invader.)
           

Debating the withdrawal issue with another Republican colleague, Arizona’s J.D. Hayworth, on MSNBC’s Hardball this week, Ford, who prides himself on his good relations with GOP members, was once again conciliatory.
           

“I was amongst a group, the first group of Democrats to pledge my support for the resolution authorizing the use of force,” the Memphis congressman pointed out, going on to say, “I’m as committed as you are, J.D., to winning. I voted for this effort in Iraq, I voted for the money, I’ve been to Iraq several times like you, and you and I are friends.”

           

Even more chivalrous was the praise conferred by Ford on Hayworth for his sponsorship of a resolution (defeated 403-3) calling for “immediate” withdrawal of U.S. forces for Iraq. Though many of his Democratic colleagues accused Hayworth of having distorted Murtha’s position in an effort -- successful, as it turned out -- to force the issue, Ford credited him for bringing about “the first time in more than three years that we’ve had an open, honest and essential debate about Iraq.”
           

Which was the real Harold Ford – the belligerent combatant of the House floor or the ingratiating colleague on MSNBC? Answer: Both or neither (the choice depending largely on the politics of the beholder). All successful politicians know when to hold up and when to fold up, and, for better and for worse, a sense of theater would seem to be a useful civic attribute, both for the public actor himself and for his audience.

 

greenbullet2.gif
Corrections: Mark White, not Mark “Wright,” is the former legislative candidate who will seek the Republican nomination for Ford’s 9th District congressional seat; Though former U.S. attorney Veronica Coleman proudly owns up to a Democratic background, she notes correctly that the office of Juvenile Court Judge, which she seeks, is formally non-partisan, involving no party primaries; GOP activist Bill Wood has expressed interest in the seat now held by Memphis school board member Michael Hooks Jr., not the county commission seat occupied by Michael Hooks Sr.

 

 

Zioncheck for President      

Nation Books, 290 pp. (paper), $15.95

 

greenbullet2.gif
We all know the familiar dictum attributed to the late Tip O’Neill, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives: “All politics is local.” I’ve often parroted this line myself, but not until I read Zioncheck for President, a seminal new work by my old Flyer colleague Phil Campbell, did I realize exactly, and in how many unexpected ways, that statement is true.

           

zioncheck2.jpg
Zioncheck, which plays off the apocryphal-seeming but utterly real history of a half-mad onetime Seattle congressman who pushed all the envelopes before killing himself in 1936, is the account of a 2001 city-council campaign managed by Campbell after he got fired from his job at The Stranger, a Seattle alternative weekly that he went to after (voluntarily) leaving the Flyer in the late ‘90s.

           

That may not sound like material for a minor little masterpiece, and I surely didn’t expect one when, after some unconscionable procrastinating, I finally opened it up for a read. But the book – funny, sad, serious, and illuminating - works uncannily well on several levels, including one or two that I didn’t know existed. All I can say is that now I understand that wicked but (it would seem) vulnerable gleam that played in Campbell’s eyes during the few years that he occupied a cubicle next to mine at the Flyer. He sees things.

           

Add that to some world-class doggedness and – in every sense of the adjective – offbeat creativity. Having discovered some years ago that there was a town in Alabama called Phil Campbell, the Ohio-born writer rounded up a score of similarly named people through the United States and declared an annual “Phil Campbell Festival” there. For all I know, it still goes on.

           

Campbell understands that life is a kaleidoscope, that all the trivia of our private lives somehow connects, metaphorically and actually, to the large macro-universe and that, in a profoundly democratic sense, every part of it is equal to every other part. Even as our interest is being whetted concerning the issues of that faraway city-council election – which focused on the candidates’ different ideas for an urban transit system! – we are also seduced into caring about Campbell’s simultaneous power struggles in the group house he lives in. Even when 9/11 occurs in mid-campaign, we see that catastrophic event – and the principals’ long-distance reaction to it – as a part of the general cacophony. The symphony, rather.

           

“Grant, the Twin Towers are gone,” Campbell tells his candidate, who responds, “We’ll go watch the news in a minute. But right now we need to pick up some materials from a few volunteers.”

           

In other words, everything is life-or-death all the time – for Campbell, for his candidate, for the apparently disturbed housemate who tinkers ominously with a Glock pistol, and for the prominent Seattle personages, living and dead, whose destinies keep cropping in.  Most notable of all is the case of the late crazed congressman Marion Zioncheck himself, whose compelling personal history – tragic, madcap, and intensely relevant -- is interspersed throughout the narrative in the manner of those historical anecdotes Hemingway used as chapter-dividers in his short-story volumes.

           

The book will give you goose bumps. It’s a page-turner. And, oh, for those who knew Campbell and those who didn’t, there are some intriguing Memphis memories here.

           

           

Friday, November 18, 2005

Bryant Gets a Life

The state's anti-abortion lobby lines up behind the former 7th District congressman in the Senate race.

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

The abortion issue, which dominates discussion of President Bush's latest Supreme Court nominee, federal appeals judge Samuel Alito, may come to be a major factor in next year's Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. Or so hopes Senate hopeful Ed Bryant, who announced in a conference call Tuesday that he was the official endorsee of Tennessee Right to Life for the seat being vacated by Majority Leader Bill Frist.

Bryant, a former congressman from Tennessee's 7th District, is opposed in the Republican Senate primary by former 4th District U.S. representative Van Hilleary and by ex-Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker.

The two ex-congressmen are generally considered more conservative than Corker and are thought to be mining the same voter base -- a circumstance that has prompted partisans of either candidate to call for the other to leave the field, thereby creating a clear one-on-one race against presumed moderate Corker.

While insisting, "I could win a three-man race," Bryant said he regarded Tuesday's endorsement as "the first step" in persuading Hilleary to step aside. "It would certainly make things easier, and he would live to fight another day."

Brian Harris, the president of Tennessee Right to Life, indicated to reporters that he too had urged a "deeply disappointed" Hilleary to allow the state's pro-life movement to unify behind a single candidate in the Republican primary. Harris stopped just short of saying he had directly asked Hilleary, whom he pronounced "acceptable" on the abortion issue, to step aside.

But, even though Corker has recently made a point of proclaiming himself to be formally pro-life, Harris said he did not regard the former mayor as worthy of support. "That's absolutely correct," he said when pressed on whether Corker was considered unacceptable by the pro-life movement. He said Tennessee Right to Life expected candidates to demonstrate a "history" of continued support for anti-abortion initiatives.

Harris said his organization had already been disillusioned after having given tacit support in the past to "one member of the U.S. Senate" who, he said, "can't seem to decide whether he's for or against human cloning." Harris was speaking of Senator Lamar Alexander, who defeated Bryant in the 2002 Senate GOP primary and went on to defeat Democrat Bob Clement in that year's general election.

Ninth District U.S. representativeHarold Ford Jr., one of two Democratic candidates for the Senate, threw down the gauntlet this week to "all" his opponents, challenging them to "declare publicly how they would vote on the federal budget bill before Congress."

Ford's challenge stands in some contrast to his position last spring when his only declared Democratic rival, state senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, sharply criticized the congressman for not being on hand to vote on a prior budget measure favored by the Bush administration.

At the time of that budget vote, Representative Ford was on a campaign swing through Tennessee and was attending state House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh's annual "Coon Supper" in Covington.

In the news release that conveyed his current challenge, the congressman took the administration's latest budget proposal to task on several grounds -- including cuts in Medicaid, in educational support funds, and in food stamps.

Meanwhile, there's a potential Republican aspirant for Rep. Ford's congressional seat: businessman Mark Wright, who ran a spirited race last year in the crowded Republican primary for the District 83 seat in the state House of Representatives, eventually losing to fellow Republican Brian Kelsey. Undeterred by that loss, Wright said last week he is inclined to raise the bar, degree-of-difficulty-wise, by going for the 9th District congressional seat.

Though it was in Republican hands before being captured by Democrat Harold Ford Sr. in 1974, what is now the 9th District is largely African-American and overwhelmingly Democratic, and Wright, if nominated, will not enjoy the conditions which allowed Republican Terry Roland to do well two months ago against Democrat Ophelia Ford in a special state Senate election.

In that race, to fill the vacancy left by the indicted John Ford's resignation from his longtime District 29 seat, turnout was low, and Roland -- who continues to contest the results -- was able to come within 13 votes of victory.

Even if the state Senate should do the unlikely, voiding that election and calling for a new one when it meets in January, most observers see the chances of ultimate success for Roland or any other Republican as remote.

Even so, he is aware of the degree to which Roland, who had been a relative outsider in the local Republican establishment, has become a figure of consequence in the party, at least in the short haul. And he thinks that he too can rise in the consciousness of his partymates by making a strong effort.

"Somebody has to deliver the message, and I have one to bring," Wright says.

It's official: U.S. attorney Veronica Coleman announced last week that she will seek the Democratic nomination for Juvenile Court judge next year. "This is not a race against anybody. It's a position I'm qualified for and will seek for its own sake," Coleman said.

If national Republican strategists are counting on party solidarity to minimize the dimensions of the ongoing Plamegate scandal and, in particular, of vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby's indictment, they could be in for a rude surprise.

Former congressman Asa Hutchison, the current bearer of Republican hopes as a declared candidate for governor of Arkansas next year, will have none of it. "I will say this about the lessons to be learned about the Scooter Libby indictment," Hutchison said after appearing at an East Memphis fund-raiser in his honor. "That's something that Republicans should not diminish in terms of the seriousness of the charges. There was some reference in talking points about this being a mere technicality, but we should not diminish the seriousness of the charge, because it goes to the heart of our system of justice in this country."

Hutchison, who in recent years has served as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and as under-secretary of Homeland Security, added that "Mr. Libby should have a fair trail with all due process."

Hutchison, whose likely Democratic opponent next year in the race to succeed GOP incumbent governor Mike Huckabee will be Arkansas attorney general Mike Beebe, drew a parallel between the seriousness of the current scandal and that of the one which resulted in an impeachment trial for former President Bill Clinton in 1998. In that crisis, then-Representative Hutchison served as one of the Republican "managers" of the impeachment case when it went to the U.S. Senate, where President Clinton was acquitted.

"There's a consistency there," he said.

The former congressman downplayed the significance of his impeachment role in next year's election, however. "It was a very difficult time for our country, and my role was simply to help my country through that very challenging time. I think history's going to continue to look at it, but I think that both sides were operating under a conviction that represented a strong difference in viewpoints in their approach to the Constitution."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

POLITICS: Bryant Gets a Life

The anti-abortion lobby lines up behind the former 7th District congressman in the Senate race.

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

Erratum: The item regarding Mark White, potential Republican candidate for the 9th District congressional seat, originally misidentified him as "Mark Wright."

The abortion issue, which dominates discussion of President Bush’s latest Supreme Court nominee, federal appeals judge Samuel Alito, may come to be a major factor in next year’s  Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. Or so hopes Senate hopeful Ed Bryant, who announced in a conference call Tuesday that he was the official endorsee of Tennessee Right to Life for the seat being vacated by Majority Leader Bill Frist..
           
Bryant, a former congressman from Tennessee’s 7th District, is opposed in the Republican Senate primary by former 4th District U.S. Rep. Van Hilleary, and by ex-Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker.
           
The two ex-congressmen are generally considered more conservative than Corker, and are thought to be mining the same voter base – a circumstance that has prompted partisans of either candidate to call for the other to leave the field, thereby creating a clear one-on-one race against presumed moderate Corker.
           
While insisting, “I could win a three-man race,” Bryant said he regarded Tuesday’s endorsement as “the first step” in persuading Hilleary to step aside. “It would certainly make things easier, and he would live to fight another day.”
           
Brian Harris, the president of Tennessee Right to Life, indicated to reporters that  he, too, had urged a “deeply disappointed” Hilleary to allow the state’s pro-life movement to unify behind a single candidate in the Republican primary. Harris stopped just short of saying he had directly asked Hilleary, whom he pronounced “acceptable” on the abortion issue, to step aside.
           
But, even though Corker has recently made a point of proclaiming himself to be formally pro-life, Harris said he did not regard the former mayor as worthy of support. “That’s absolutely correct,” he said when pressed on whether Corker was considered unacceptable by the pro-life movement. He said Tennessee Right to Life expected candidates to demonstrate a “history” of continued support for anti-abortion initiatives.
           
Harris said his organization had already been disillusioned after having given tacit support in the past to  “one member of the U.S. Senate” who, he said, “can’t seem to decide whether he’s for or against human cloning.” That, he said when pressed, was U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, who defeated Bryant in the 2002 Senate GOP primary and went on to defeat Democrat Bob Clement in that year’s general election.

9th District U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., one of two Democratic candidates for the Senate, threw down the gauntlet this week to “all” his opponents, challenging them  to “declare publicly how they would vote on the federal budget bill before Congress.”
           
Ford’s challenge stands in some contrast to his position last spring when his only declared Democratic rival, state Senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville,  sharply criticized the congressman for not being on hand to vote on a prior  budget measure favored  by the Bush administration.
           
At the time of that budget vote, Rep. Ford was on a campaign swing through Tennessee and was attending state House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh’s annual “Coon Supper” in Covington.
           
In the news release which conveyed his current challenge, the congressman took the administration’s latest budget proposal to task on several grounds
– including cuts in Medicaid, in educational support funds, and in food stamps

Meanwhile, there’s a potential Republican aspirant for Rep. Ford’s congressional seat -- businessman Mark White, who  ran a spirited race last year in the crowded Republican primary  for the District 83 seat in the state House of Representatives, eventually losing to fellow Republican Brian Kelsey. Undeterred by that loss, White said last week he is inclined to raise the bar, degree-of-difficulty-wise, by.going for the 9th District congressional seat.
           
Though it was in Republican hands before being captured by Democrat Harold Ford Sr. in 1974, what is now the 9th district is largely African-American and overwhelmingly Democratic, and White, if nominated, will not enjoy the conditions which allowed Republican Terry Roland to do well two months ago against Democrat Ophelia Ford in a special state Senate election.
           
In that race, to fill the vacancy left by the indicted John Ford’s resignation from his longtime District 29 seat, turnout was low, and Roland – who continues to contest the results – was able to come within 13 votes of victory.
           
Even if the state Senate should do the unlikely, voiding that election and calling for a new one when it meets in January, most observers see the chances of ultimate success for Roland or any other Republican to be remote.  “A lot of people were looking the other way for a special election,” as White acknowledges.
           
Even so, he is aware of the degree to which Roland, who had been a relative outsider in the local Republican establishment, has become a figure of consequence in the party, at least in the short haul. And he thinks that he, too, can rise in the consciousness of his party-mates by making a strong effort.
           
“Somebody has to deliver the message, and I have one to bring,” White says.

It’s official: Former U.S. attorney Veronica Coleman announced last week that she will seek the Democratic nomination for Juvenile Court Judge next year. “This is not a race against anybody. It’s a position I’m qualified for and will seek for its own sake,” said Coleman, noting that the current longtime incumbent, Kenneth Turner, has not yet announced whether he will seek reelection. In recent years, Turner has run as a Republican.

If national Republican strategists are counting on party solidarity to minimize the dimensions of the ongoing Plamegate scandal and, in particular, of vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby's indictment, they could be in for a rude surprise.
           
Former congressman Asa Hutchison, the current bearer of Republican hopes as a declared candidate for governor of Arkansas next year, will have none of it. “I will say this about the lessons to be learned about the Scooter Libby indictment,” Hutchison said after appearing at an East Memphis fundraiser in his honor. “That’s something that Republicans should not diminish in terms of the seriousness of the charges. There was some reference in talking points about this being a mere technicality.  The charges are very serious because they go to the heart of our criminal justice system.”
           
Therefore, said Hutchison, who in recent years has served as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and as under-secretary of Homeland Security, “Mr. Libby should have a fair trail with all due process, but we should not in the course of this diminish the seriousness of the charge because it goes to the heart of our system of justice in this country.”

Hutchison, whose likely Democratic opponent next year in the race to succeed GOP incumbent Gov. Mike Huckabee will be Arkansas attorney general Mike Beebe, drew a parallel between the seriousness of the current scandal and that of the one which resulted in an impeachment trial for former President Bill Clinton in 1998. In that crisis, then Rep. Hutchinson served as one of the Republican “managers” of the impeachment case when it went to the U.S. Senate, where President Clinton was acquitted.

“There’s a consistency there,” he said

The former congressman downplayed the significance of his impeachment role in next year’s election, however.  “It was a very difficult time for our country, and my role was simply to help my country through that very challenging time. I think history’s going to continue to look at it, but I think that both sides were operating under a conviction that represented a strong difference in viewpoints in their approach to the constitution. So I did my responsibility, I turned that chapter, I moved on, and, as any trial lawyer does, you accept the jury verdict.”

The Hutchison reception, which drew supporters from both Memphis and Arkansas, was held at the local Regions Bank headquarters on Poplar Avenue.

 

 

 

Friday, November 11, 2005

Staying Busy

Keeping up with the sports page, the political and public calendars begin to fill up too.

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

Much has been made -- and rightly so -- about the sports opportunities that presented themselves to Memphians this past week. There was the nationally televised football game between the University of Memphis and UAB, two Grizzlies games (including the home opener with the vaunted Miami Heat), the basketball Tigers' home opener against LeMoyne Owen -- to mention a few significant scratches of the surface.

Things weren't exactly lagging in the rest of the public sphere, either. Consider what was going on just last Thursday evening during the UM-LeMoyne-Owen game, while (you can be sure) an ample number of pols and officeholders were in the crowd:

The local executive committees of the two major political parties held their regular monthly meetings -- the Democrats wandering far from their usual Midtown meeting site to huddle in Millington, home base (coincidentally or not) of Terry Roland, the Republican who racked up an unexpectedly large vote in his near-miss loss to Democrat Ophelia Ford in a special state Senate election. Millington is also the bailiwick of longtime Democratic patron Babe Howard.

The idea, as party chairman Matt Kuhn announced it, was to initiate a series of such outreach meetings, bringing the party message to places in the hinterland. Last week's meeting, which doubled as a fund-raiser, was addressed by state insurance commissioner Paula Flowers.

On the same night, the Rev. Dwight Montgomery convened what he called part one of a "health-care summit" at his Annesdale Cherokee Missionary Baptist Church on Kimball Avenue.

Three legislators -- state representatives Barbara Cooper and Mike Kernell and state senator Kathryn Bowers -- were on hand to hear Montgomery and other panelists, including Dr. Sandra L. Gadson, president of the National Medical Association (a majority-black group) lambaste Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen for his paring of the TennCare rolls and to pledge continued opposition to Bredesen's cuts which, all the speakers said bluntly, would result in numerous deaths.

While he was receiving all this attention in absentia, the governor was downtown at the Cannon Center, attending the National Civil Rights Museum's Freedom Awards ceremony.

Bowers, one of those indicted in this year's Tennessee Waltz scandal, had a further vow, relevant to her uncertain legislative future. "I'm not going anywhere!" she proclaimed, to spirited applause.

Finally on Thursday night, this year's impressive list of Freedom Award honorees were taking their bows at the Cannon Center -- each of them, actress Ruby Dee, Rwandan hero/survivor Paul Rusesabagina (whose lifesaving courage was the subject of last year's film Hotel Rwanda), and all-purpose celebrity Oprah Winfrey evincing enough of themselves onstage to confirm the good judgment of the National Civil Rights Museum board in conferring the awards.

Actress Angela Bassett, emcee for the ceremony, capably handled introductions of honorees and corporate sponsors.

In good form too was the Rev. Ben Hooks, president of the museum board, whose continued recovery from a disabling stroke that for some time confined him to a wheel chair seemed virtually complete. Hooks presided over the presentations and delivered a moving benediction to close the proceedings.

Judgment Calls: Candidates for the numerous judicial positions on next year's ballot are beginning to start their campaigns. Among those who are having fund-raisers in the next few days are Jim Lammey, an assistant D.A. who is seeking the Division 5 Criminal Court seat being vacated by outgoing Judge Joe Dailey; Chancellor Arnold Golden, who seeks reelection to his Chancery, Part Two seat; and Mark Ward, candidate for reelection as Criminal Court judge in Division 9.

Other recent fund-raisers for next year's candidates included two at the new riverbluff home of businessman Karl Schledwitz, one for Shelby County mayor A C Wharton two weeks ago and another this week for 9th District congressman Harold Ford, a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Continuing his reemergence as a mover in Shelby County politics is Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, who hosted a well-attended fund-raiser for County Commission candidate Sidney Chism recently at the Poplar Avenue branch of the Bank of Bartlett.

Ironically enough, this was on the same night as the Schledwitz affair for Wharton, whose entrance into the 2002 Shelby County mayor's race would cause Byrd, an early declared candidate, to drop out. At the time, Byrd made no secret of his displeasure with Wharton for, as Byrd saw it, going back on a prior commitment not to enter the race.

Byrd stayed out of the public eye for some time thereafter, but, as he confided recently, he has decided to leave the bitterness behind him. A well-receiving commercial for the Bank of Bartlett featuring Byrd, a former legislator, has spurred recent speculation that he might seek public office again.

"No plans," said the banker.

New Senate Poll: A Zogby-Wall Street Journal poll this week matches likely Democratic Senate nominee Harold Ford Jr. against two potential Republican opponents -- former congressman Van Hilleary and Ed Bryant. For whatever reason, a third major Republican, ex-Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker, was not included in the poll.

Ford -- whose Democratic opponent, state senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, was also omitted from poll results -- trailed both Bryant and Hilleary by roughly the same margin. Hilleary led Ford 48.4 to 40.8, while Bryant's margin was slightly smaller, 47.5 to 41.2.

Ford had made a point recently of issuing his own poll, showing himself running more or less even with his potential Republican opponents. His fund-raising, reportedly totaling some $3 million and including funds in his preexisting House campaign chest, is competitive with Corker's reported totals of $3.2 million. Both Bryant and Hilleary are still looking for their first $1 million.

County Commission notes: Just as maverick Shelby County commissioner John Willingham predicted last week after a committee meeting seemed to clear the way for sending contingency funds to the Public Building Authority for settlement of various legal claims, the commission chose on Monday to postpone that reckoning one more time.

Willingham and Walter Bailey have led the fight to get more up-to-date accounting from the PBA. Both opposed the building of the FedExForum and have consistently questioned terms of the deal that created it. But even they seem to be softening their resistance somewhat.

"We have the Grizzlies now," Willingham said. "I still want to get all these answers, but like everybody else, I want to see them move ahead and win a playoff game."

Two other controversial matters dominated the commission's attention at its regular monthly meeting. One was a proposed development, Gardens of Gray's Hollow, which was widely praised by virtually all commissioners, who agreed with Ron Harkavy, a spokesman for the project, that it was a "model" of its kind.

But after some heated discussion, during which Harkavy complained that his client was being made the scapegoat for other, less worthy proposals approved previously, the commission deferred judgment on the project for 60 days. Though the Gray's Hollow project was already in the pipeline before the commission's recent passage of a yearlong moratorium on new development proposals in the outer county, it clearly fell victim to the spirit of that resolution.

The other point of contention, a resolution urging the state legislature to impose caps on medical malpractice claims, drew fire from commissioners Bailey and Julian Bolton, both lawyers, but received a positive vote from everybody else. Bailey maintained that the commission should not even take a position on what was essentially a legislative matter -- and, if it did, should favor the other side.

"We represent the people here," said Bolton, who said the measure unduly favored a medical establishment that was in no need of special help. That point was contested by Commissioner George Flinn, a physician, who said at one point, "Johnnie Cochran is dead, I believe, and he's still talking on TV about how you should sue your doctor."

Monday, November 7, 2005

POLITICS: Staying Busy

Keeping up with the sports page, the political and public calendars begin to fill up, too.

Posted By on Mon, Nov 7, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Much has been made – and rightly so – about the sports opportunities that presented themselves to Memphians this past week. There was the nationally televised football game between the University of Memphis and UAB, two Grizzlies games (including the home opener with the vaunted Miami Heat), the basketball Tigers’ home opener against LeMoyne Owen – to mention a few significant scratches of the surface.

Things weren’t exactly lagging in the rest of the public sphere, either. Consider what was going on just one night last week -- last Thursday evening, when the UM-LeMoyne game was going on, with (you can be sure) an ample number of pols and office-holders in the crowd:  

greenbullet2.gif
The local executive committees of the two major political parties held their regular monthly meetings – the Democrats wandering far from their usual Midtown meeting site to huddle in Millington, home base (coincidentally or not) of Terry Roland, the Republican who racked up an unexpectedly large vote in his near-miss loss to Democrat Ophelia Ford in a special state Senate election. Millington is also the bailiwick of longtime Democratic patron Babe Howard.

The idea, as party chairman Matt Kuhn had announced it, was to initiate a whole series of such outreach meetings, bringing the party message to unaccustomed places in the hinterland. Last week’s meeting, which doubled as a fundraiser, was addressed by state Insurance Commissioner Paula Flowers.

greenbullet2.gif
On the same night, the Rev. Dwight Montgomery convened what he called Part One of a “Health Care Summit” at his Annesdale Cherokee Missionary Baptist Church on Kimball Avenue

Three legislators – state Representatives Barbara Cooper and Mike Kernell and state Senator Kathryn Bowers – were on hand to hear Montgomery and other panelists, including Dr. Sandra L. Gadson, president of the National Medical Association (a majority-black group) lambaste Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen for his paring of the TennCare rolls and to pledge continued opposition to Bredesen’s cuts – which, all the speakers said bluntly, would result in numerous deaths.

(While he was receiving all this attention in absentia, the governor was downtown at the Cannon Center, attending the National Civil Rights Museum’s Freedom Awards ceremony.)

Bowers, one of those indicted in this year’s Tennessee Waltz scandal, had a further vow, relevant to her uncertain legislative future. “I’m not going anywhere!” she proclaimed, to spirited applause.

greenbullet2.gif
Finally on Thursday night, this year’s impressive list of Freedom Award honorees were taking their bows at the Cannon Center – each of them, actress Ruby Dee, Rwandan hero/survivor Paul Rusesabagina (whose lifesaving courage was the subject of last year’s film Hotel Rwanda), and all-purpose celebrity Oprah Winfrey evincing enough of themselves onstage to confirm the good judgment of the National Civil Rights Museum board in conferring the awards.

Actress Angela Bassett, emcee for the ceremony, capably handled introductions honorees and corporate sponsors alike.

In good form, too, was the Rev. Ben Hooks, president of the Museum board, whose continued recovery from a disabling stroke that for some time confined him to a wheel chair seemed virtually complete. Hooks presided over the presentations and delivered a moving benediction to close the proceedings.

greenbullet2.gif
Judgment Calls: Candidates for the numerous judicial positions on next year’s ballot are beginning to start their campaigns. Among those who are having fundraisers in the next few days are Jim Lammey, an assistant D.A. who is seeking the Division 5 Criminal Court seat being vacated by outgoing Judge Joe Dailey; Chancellor Arnold Golden, who seeks reelection to his Chancery, Part Two seat; and Mark Ward, candidate for reelection as Criminal Court Judge in Davison 9.

n Other recent fundraisers for next year’s candidates included two at the new riverbluff home of businessman Karl Schledwitz, one for Shelby County mayor A C Wharton two weeks ago and another this week for 9th District congressman Harold Ford, a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Continuing his re-emergence as a mover in Shelby County politics is Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, who hosted a well-attended fundraiser for county commission candidate Sidney Chism recently at the Poplar Avenue branch of the Bank of Bartlett.

Ironically enough, this was on the same night as the Schledwitz affair for Wharton, whose entrance into the 2002 Shelby County mayor’s race would in the long run cause Byrd, an early declared candidate, to drop out.

At the time Byrd made no secret of his displeasure with Wharton for, as Byrd saw it, going back on a prior commitment not to enter the race.

Byrd stayed out of the public eye for some time thereafter, but, as he confided recently, he has decided to leave the bitterness behind him. A well-received commercial for the Bank of Bartlett featuring Byrd, a former legislator, has spurred recent speculation that he might seek public office again.

“No plans,” said the banker.

The name of Byrd’s brother, former state Representative Dan Byrd, was floated by hopeful Democrats some weeks back when it appeared that current state Representative Tre Hargett, a Republican, might vacate his seat. But Hargett, who recently gave up his post as House Republican leader, apparently intends to serve out his term.

Like his brother, Dan Byrd has indicated no intention of seeking public office again.

greenbullet2.gif
New Senate Poll: A Zogby-Wall Street Journal poll this week matches likely Democratic Senate nominee Harold Ford Jr. against two potential Republican opponents – former congressman Van Hilleary and Ed Bryant. For whatever reason, a third major Republican, ex-Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker, was not included in the poll.

Ford, -- whose Democratic opponent, state Senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, was also omitted from poll results – trailed both Bryant and Hilleary by roughly the same margin. Hilleary led Ford 48.4 to 40.8, while Bryant’s margin was slightly smaller, 47.5 to 41.2.

Ford had made a point recent of issuing his own poll, showing himself running more or less even with his potential Republican opponents. His fundraising, reportedly totaling some $3 million and including funds in his pre-existing House campaign chest, is competitive with Corker’s reported totals of $3.2 million. Both Bryant and Hilleary are still looking for their first  $1 million.

greenbullet2.gif
County Commission notes: Just as maverick Shelby County Commissioner John Willingham predicted last week after a committee meeting seemed to clear the way for settling contingency funds to the Public Building Authority for settlement of various legal claims, the commission chose on Monday to postpone that reckoning one more time.

Willingham and Walter Bailey have led the fight to get more up-to-date accounting from the PBA. Both opposed the building of the FedEx Forum early on and have consistently questioned terms of the deal which created it and brought the NBA’s Grizzlies to town. But even they seem to be softening their resistance somewhat.

“We have the Grizzlies now,” Willingham said. “I still want to get all these answers, but like everybody else I want to see them move head and win a playoff game.”

Two other controversial matters dominated the commission’s attention at its regular monthly meeting. One was a proposed development, Gardens of Gray’s Hollow, which was widely praised by virtually all commissioners, who agreed with Ron Harkavy, a spokesman for the project, that it was a “model” of its kind.

But after some heated discussion, during which Harkavy complained that his client was being made the scapegoat for other, less worthy proposals approved previously, the commission deferred judgment on the project for 60 days. Though the Gray’s Hollow project was already in the pipeline before the commission’s recent passage of a yearlong moratorium on new development proposals in the outer county, it clearly fell victim to the new cost-conscious spirit of that resolution.

The other point of contention, a resolution urging the state legislature to impose caps on medical malpractice claims, drew fire from commissioners Bailey and Julian Bolton, both lawyers, but received a positive vote from everybody else. Bailey maintained that the commission should not even take a position on what was essentially a legislative matter  -- and, if it did, should favor the other side.

“We represent the people here,” said Bolton, who said the measure unduly favored a medical establishment that was in no need of special help.

That point was contested was commissioner George Flinn, a physician, who said at one point, “Johnny Cochran’s dead, I believe, and he’s still talking on TV about how you should sue your doctor.”

Want to respond? Send us an email here.

Friday, November 4, 2005

Unusual Suspects

With skeptics still holding back, political unknowns vie for Ford's congressional seat.

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

Although the U.S. Senate campaign of U.S. representative Harold Ford Jr. moves on apace (the congressman was the beneficiary of yet another local fund-raiser Sunday, a small-ticket "young professionals" affair at Felicia Suzanne's restaurant), skepticism still endures as to whether Ford is in the Senate race for the long haul.

The surest evidence for that is the lack so far of big-name declarations for the 9th District congressional seat -- a Ford-family preserve since 1974 when the current congressman's father first won it. The theory among local pols seems to be that Representative Ford is still holding on to all of his options -- including a possible 11th-hour decision to seek reelection to his congressional seat.

This is unlikely for several reasons -- foremost among them being the fact that a Senate race by Ford is essentially a no-lose situation. Already a media personage of sorts -- most recently, MSNBC's Don Imus delivered a televised dithyramb to Ford on his morning talk show -- the congressman clearly is in search of a national platform.

Victory in a Senate race would give him that, but so would the kind of full-scale attention that even a losing race would garner from the commercial and cable networks and the big-time national print media. In a worst-case scenario, Ford might emerge from defeat with an opportunity for a cable show himself -- or some other high-profile position in government or media or elsewhere in the private sector.

Ford's office released the results of a new poll this week purporting to show the Democratic congressman leading each of his prospective Republican opponents for the Senate seat: 38 to 37 percent over Ed Bryant; 40 to 38 percent over Van Hilleary; and 39 to 36 percent over Bob Corker. The Ford news release claims a "5 to 1" edge for the congressman over Democratic rival Rosalind Kurita.

Still, the usual suspects for a congressional race to succeed Ford are so far hedging their bets, leaving the field to the unusual ones. One of these, Northwest Airlines attorney Nikki Tinker, a former Ford staffer, has been pursuing what might be called a Milton Berle strategy, after one of the late iconic comic's patented stage devices.

Whenever something he did or said got a more-than-typical burst of applause from his audience, Berle would purse his lips in a modest frown and extend his left arm, palm outward, in a gesture of suppression. Meanwhile, the right hand, with rapid fingers going "gimme, gimme," was held conspicuously close to his chest.

So hath it been with Tinker, previously more or less unknown on the local political scene (though she was titular director of one of Representative Ford's unopposed reelection races). On one hand, she has disclaimed interest in being publicized as a candidate; on the other, she has pursued an ambitious game plan to advance her identity and prospects.

Beginning some months ago with a puff piece in the Washington insider publication The Hill, which pronounced her the "frontrunner" in the 9th District race, Tinker has since scheduled a series of one-on-one meetings with local movers and shakers.

And a fund-raiser held for her in late September by her local NWA boss, Phil Trenary, netted some $50,000 -- including decent contributions from several of the invited blue-ribbon luminaries (among them, Convention and Visitors Bureau director Kevin Kane, Plough Foundation executive director Rick Masson, megabusinessmen Jim McGhee and Henry Turley, and activist par excellence Gayle Rose. Tinker even reported a hefty donation from movie star Morgan Freeman).

Tinker may soon have real competition from another previous unknown, however. One Tyson Pratcher, deputy state director in the New York office of U.S. senator Hillary Clinton, has made several recent appearances at local political gatherings to publicize a possible run for the 9th District congressional seat.

At last weekend's picnic for county commission candidate Sidney Chism on the New Horn Lake Road parkgrounds, Pratcher was very much in evidence, as he had been the previous week at a meeting of the University of Memphis College Democrats.

Pratcher, a native of Memphis, described his mission as one of scouting the terrain for a race. "I'm thinking very seriously about it," he said.

Although so far only lawyer Ed Stanton and Ron Redwing, a former aide to Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, have made serious open declarations of interest in the congressional seat, other names being talked about include those of Circuit Court judge D'Army Bailey, former MLGW head Herman Morris, Blue Cross/Blue Shield executive Calvin Anderson, city councilman Myron Lowery, state senator Steve Cohen, and Shelby County commissioner Joe Ford, the current congressman's brother.

Return of the Don: Don Sund-quist was back on the reservation this past weekend -- literally. The former governor (1995-2003), who ran afoul of his Republican party-mates during his dedicated pursuit of a state income tax during his second term, was at the Ridgeway Country Club Friday night and was warmly welcomed as one of the speakers in a well-attended tribute to retiring Shelby County clerk Jayne Creson.

Sundquist, who retired with wife Martha to a home in Townsend in East Tennessee after leaving office, now serves as co-chairman, with former Governor Angus King of Maine, of the federal Medicaid Commission, charged with making proposals for Medicaid reform.

Friday night's affair, sponsored by the Shelby County Republican Women and organized by SCRW president Jeanette Watkins, also brought out another recent GOP luminary, former Shelby County mayor Jim Rout, who served as emcee for the ceremony.

Attendance, which was generous and across the board politically, included both the previously declared Republican candidates for clerk in next year's election -- current Creson aide Debbie Stamson and Shelby County commissioner Marilyn Loeffel.

"Say It Ain't So, Leon!": Few issues have generated as much heat among local Democrats of late as what can be called the Great Leon Gray Controversy. There's a fairly humongous amount of fuming and snorting in party circles over the local Air America radio host's apostasy on certain matters -- most relating to the faith and morals side of the political dividing line.

What Gray has done in recent weeks has challenged both the party orthodoxy and the progressive consensus on all of the following: intelligent design (he's an advocate for it); gay rights (he has proclaimed, essentially, that gays have "forced" the rest of society to tolerate an equality that he sees as relating to lifestyle choice rather than a biological predisposition); and faith-based prerogatives in general.

For all this, Gray has been under steady attack by bloggers and callers -- many of whom have demanded that WTTQ AM-680 discontinue his services. He has his defenders, as well, though. One of them is David Cocke, the former local Democratic Party chairman, who puts it this way: "There's nothing Leon is saying that shouldn't be thought about seriously and be part of the dialogue." Are Gray's views, generally populist on economic questions but right of center on social issues, consistent with membership in the larger fraternity of the local Democratic Party? "Sure they are," insists Cocke, who has maintained for years that a major reason for the Democratic Party's loss of power and relevance has been its unwillingness to compromise with social conservatives.

A case in point cited by Cocke (and one that Gray would presumably concur with): The abortion controversy has proved unnecessarily intractable, says Cocke (a firm supporter of Roe v. Wade) because "both right and left have been unwilling to compromise and have adopted instead the 'slippery slope' philosophy." The parties could -- and should -- have found common ground, say, Cocke suggests, on curbing the incidence of partial-birth abortion.

Meanwhile, Gray reports that feedback at AM-680 has been voluminous both ways and has been "positive" on the whole. "What people have to understand is that, like it or not, there is such a thing as the Christian left," he says.

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

POLITICS: Unusual Suspects

With skeptics still holding back, political unknowns vie for Ford’s congressional seat

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

Although the U.S. Senate campaign of U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. moves on apace (the congressman was the beneficiary of yet another local fundraiser Sunday, a small-ticket “young professionals” affair at Felicia Suzanne’s restaurant), skepticism still endures as to whether Ford is in the Senate race for the long haul.
           
The surest evidence for that is the lack so far of big-name declarations for the 9th district congressional seat – a Ford-family preserve since 1974, when the current congressman’s father first won it. The theory among local pols seems to be that Rep. Ford is still holding on to all of his options – including a possible eleventh-hour decision to seek reelection to his congressional seat.

           
This is unlikely for several reasons – foremost among them being the fact that a Senate race by Ford is essentially a no-lose situation. Already a media personage of sorts -- most recently, MSNBC’s Don Imus delivered a televised dithyramb to Ford on his morning talk show -- the congressman clearly is in search of a national platform.

           
Victory in a Senate race would give him that, but so would the kind of full-scale attention that even a losing race would garner from the commercial and cable networks and the big-time national print media. In a worst-case scenario, Ford might emerge from defeat with an opportunity for a cable show himself – or some other high-profile position in government or media or elsewhere in the private sector.

           
Ford’s office released the results of a new poll this week purporting to show the Democratic congressman leading each of his prospective Republican opponents for the Senate seat – 38 to 37 percent over Ed Bryant; 40-38 percent over Van Hilleary, and 39-36 percent over Bob Corker. The Ford news release claims a “5 to 1” edge for the congressman over Democratic rival Rosalind Kurita.

           
Still and all, the usual suspects for a congressional race to succeed Ford are so far hedging their bets, leaving the field to the unusual ones. One of these, Northwest Airlines attorney Nikki Tinker, a former Ford staffer, has been pursuing what might be called a Milton Berle strategy, after one of the late iconic comic’s patented stage devices.

           

Whenever something he did or said got a more-than-typical burst of applause from his audience, Berle would purse his lips in a modest frown and extend his left arm, palm outward, in a gesture of suppression. Meanwhile, the right hand, with rapid fingers going “gimme, gimme,” was held conspicuously close to his chest.

           
So hath it been with Tinker, previously more or less unknown on the local political scene (though she was titular director of one of Rep. Ford’s unopposed reelection races). On one hand, she has publicly disclaimed interest in being publicized as a candidate; on the other, she has pursued an ambitious game plan to advance her identity and prospects.

           

Tinker
  • Tinker
Beginning some months ago with a puff piece in the Washington insider publication “The Hill” which pronounced her the “frontrunner” in the 9th district race, Tinker has since scheduled a series of one-on-one meetings with local movers and shakers.
           
And a fundraiser held for her in late September by her local NWA boss, Phil Trenary, netted some $50,000 – including decent contributions from several of the invited blue-ribbon luminaries (among them, Convention and Visitors bureau director Kevin Kane, Plough Foundation executive director Rick Masson, megabusinessmen Jim McGhee and Henry Turley, and activist par excellence Gayle Rose. Tinker even reported a hefty donation from movie star Morgan Freeman.
           
Tinker may soon have real competition from another previous unknown, however. One Tyson Pratcher, deputy state director in the New York office of U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton, has made several recent local appearances at local political gatherings to publicize a possible run for the 9th District congressional seat.

           

Pratcher
  • Pratcher
At last weekend’s picnic for county commission candidate Sidney Chism on the New Horn Lake Road parkgrounds, Pratcher was very much in evidence, as he had been the previous week at a meeting of the University of Memphis College Democrats.

           
Pratcher, a native of Memphis, described his mission as one of scouting the terrain for a race. “I’m thinking very seriously about it,” he said.

           
Although so far only lawyer Ed Stanton and Ron Redwing, a former aide to Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, have made serious open declarations of interest in the congressional seat, other names being talked about include those of Circuit Court Judge D’Army Bailey, former MLGW head Herman Morris, Blue Cross/Blue Shield executive Calvin Anderson.   city councilman Myron Lowery, state Senator Steve Cohen, and Shelby County Commissioner Joe Ford, the current congressman’s brother. 

 

greenbullet2.gif
Return of the Don: Don Sundquist was back on the reservation this past weekend  – literally. The former governor (1995-2003), who ran afoul of his Republican party-mates during his dedicated pursuit of a state income tax during his second term, was in Memphis Friday night at the Ridgeway Country Club and was warmly welcomed as one of the speakers in a well-attended tribute to retiring Shelby County Clerk Jayne Creson.
           
Sundquist, who retired with wife Martha to a home in Townsend in East Tennessee after leaving office, now serves as co-chairman, with former governor Angus King of Maine, of the federal Medicaid Commission, charged with making proposals for Medicaid reform.
           
Friday night’s affair, sponsored by the Shelby County Republican Women and organized by SCRW president Jeanette Watkins, also brought out another recent GOP luminary, former Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout, who served as emcee for the ceremony.
           
Attendance, which was generous and across the board politically, included both the previously declared Republican candidates for clerk in next year’s election  – current Creson aide Debbie Stamson and Shelby County Commissioner Marilyn Loeffel.
           
On Saturday morning, Sundquist returned to East Tennessee to witness the Tennessee Volunteers’ losing effort in Saturday’s football game at Knoxville with the Steve Spurrier-led South Carolina Gamecocks.

 

greenbullet2.gif
Say It Ain’t So, Leon!’: Few issues have generated as much heat among local Democrats of late as what can be called The Great Leon Gray Controversy. There’s a fairly humongous amount of fuming and snorting in party circles over the local Air American radio host’s apostasy on certain matters – most relating to the Faith and Morals side of the political dividing line.
           
What Gray has done in recent weeks has challenged both the party orthodoxy and the progressive consensus on all of the following: Intelligent Design (he’s an advocate for it); gay rights (he has proclaimed, essentially, that gays have “forced” the rest of society to tolerate an equality that he sees as relating to lifestyle choice rather than irreversible being), and faith-based prerogatives in general, including publicly licensed prayer and doctrinal religious activity.
           
For all this Gray has been under steady attack by bloggers and callers – many of whom demand that AM680 discontinue his services. He has his defenders, as well, though. One of them is David Cocke, the former local Democratic Party chairman, who puts it this way: “There’s nothing Leon is saying that shouldn’t be thought about seriously and be part of the dialogue.” Are Gray’s views, generally populist on economic questions but right of center on social issues, consistent with membership in the larger fraternity of the local Democratic Party? “Sure they are,” insists Cocke, who has maintained for years that a major reason for the Democratic Party’s loss of power and relevance has been its official unwillingness to compromise with social conservatives and its indifference to compromise with them.
           
A case in point cited by Cocke (and one that Leon Gray would presumably concur with him on).  The abortion controversy has proved unnecessarily intractable, says Cocke (a firm supporter of Roe v. Wade) because “both right and left have been unwilling to compromise and have adopted instead the ‘slippery slope’ philosophy.” The parties could – and should – have found common ground – say, Cocke suggests, on curbing the incidence of partial birth abortion.
           
Do sentiments like those expressed by Gray and Cocke represent outright heresy? Or are they legitimate efforts to redefine the political middle ground? And, if the latter, what kind of base exists to support such a redefinition? It’s more than just a controversy over a talk-show host, I suspect. Where Democrats are concerned, there’s a racial dividing line somewhere in there, and perhaps a class line, as well.

           
Meanwhile, Gray reports that feedback at AM680 has been voluminous both ways and has been “positive” on the whole. “What people have to understand is that, like it or not, there is such a thing as the Christian Left,” he said at Saturday’s Chism affair, where he served as emcee/deejay.

          
(The controversy over talk-show host Gray is one of several current subjects that readers have a chance to comment on at the Flyer’s new weblog, “Let It Fly,” at www.memphisflyer.com.)

Want to respond? Send us an email here.

 

 

 

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Speaking of School Consolidation

ADVERTISEMENT

Most Commented On

  • In Huge Upset, Trump Defeats Clinton

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

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

Top Viewed Stories

ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2016

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