On Wednesday, scant hours later, gubernatorial candidate Gibbons was the center of local attention at a widely publicized press conference at which he and other law-enforcement officials announced the indictments of eight employees of the Shelby County clerk’s office.
The contrast between a closed-door campaign event and a ballyhooed official act was dramatic enough. What made it doubly so, to the point of genuine irony, was that Gibbons has been emphasizing the just-folks aspect of an impoverished upbringing in rural Arkansas in his campaign. At every opportunity, he has been telling that up-from-nothing Horatio Alger tale, implicitly drawing a contrast between himself and the presumably more elitist circumstances of a major Republican primary opponent, Knoxville mayor and oil-empire heir Bill Haslam,
Yet a further irony is that Gibbons’ normal relation to the media is that of a pleasant, cooperative, and accessible figure. To be sure, he is famously close-mouthed abut the details of any ongoing investigation — no doubt appropriately so — but he is otherwise gregarious and transparent, even to the point of opening up a recent planning session involving his chief campaign cadres.
After his press conference Wednesday, Gibbons was asked his reasons for excluding the media from his Crescent Club fundraiser. The cloistered aspect of the event was a departure for Gibbons, a frequent candidate himself over the years and someone who has organized and hosted many such affairs for candidates he has supported.
After a spell of adopting the wry bantering tone which he sometimes employs to avoid direct answers, Gibbons finally said it had not been his decision to cordon the fundraiser off from media.
He was asked: Whose then? “I suppose it was David or Josh,” he said, referring to campaign chair David Kustoff, the former local GOP chairman and U.S. Attorney, and Josh Thomas, the newly hired campaign manager and former aide to U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander. It was Thomas who either undertook — or was assigned — the duty of interceding between the event and arriving media representatives so as to turn them away.
These days most campaign fundraisers for most candidates are open to the media in some form, and informal ground rules are in effect for their coverage. Since such events are not technically public and attendant media are, in effect, being extended a courtesy, reportage is studiously non-invasive and normally restricted to the most bland particulars — the size of the turnout, general information about the attendees, and — should the host or the candidate care to release it — totals raised.
The candidate’s remarks to the crowd of donors may also be reported — but normally not in the exacting way that remarks on the campaign stump might be. In most cases the candidate merely repeats the campaign’s standard boilerplate. As for the nature of the attendees, there are rarely any genuine surprises — especially since many on hand will be, like the media members themselves, non-paying courtesy guests — and, should there be unexpected donors of note, their identities will eventually be made known anyhow, one way or another.
In short, there is nothing in the very nature of a campaign fundraiser that explicitly requires sequestration. And the decision to impose it becomes a matter of semiotics — in Gibbons’ case, a possible sign of a shift in strategy away from transparency. As such, it bears watching.
Chip Forrester, chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, responds to a Flyer article suggesting that his recently accomplished "truce" with influential party figures represents a "surrender" on his part:
April 29, 2009
I read with deep concern Jackson Baker’s April 28th post on Political Beat, “Truce or Surrender? Democratic Establishment Grabs Power Back from Forrester.” While I have long admired Mr. Baker’s journalistic skills and appreciate his insightful reporting on politics, this time he just didn’t get it right.
First, it is no secret that my candidacy for Tennessee Democratic Party chair was not supported by key Democrats, including the Governor. But since my election January 24th I have worked hard to “circle the wagons” and unify the Party for the crucial effort of taking back the State House and Senate and winning the governor’s race in 2010.
Legal uncertainty as to the status of holdover administrators on county election commissions has complicated the plans of the suddenly majoritan Republicans.
A case in point is right here in Shelby County, where the enlarged GOP lineup was set to include Robert Meyers, already a commission member; Bill Giannini, the immediate past chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party; and community activist Brian Stephens. Republican Rich Holden, the GOP’s longest-serving member, was scheduled to depart the commission and become its administrator, replacing long-serving Democratic appointee James Johnson.
When word came down from Secretary of State Tre Hargett advising county commissions to put a hold on administrative change-overs, the GOP figures huddled (in sequential combinations of current and prospective commission members that technically avoided violations of the state’s Sunshine law).
The outcome: Stephens would come aboard, as would Giannini, as chairman. Holden would stay on. Meyers would have to depart, but will return when definitive word from Hargett or state Attorney General Robert Cooper comes down enabling an administrative shuffle. At that point Johnson would go and Holden will take his place. Got all that?
Meanwhile, returning Democrats Myra Stiles and Shep Wilbun will join Messrs. Giannini, Stephens, and Holden to make up the five-member commission. All were seated at Wednesday’s first meeting of the newly re-constituted SCEC.
In 2007, when Steve Cohen was making his daring run for Congress in the predominantly African-American 9th District, he profited greatly from having the official and unstinted endorsement of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton who, along with Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton, gave the freshly minted Democratic nominee his unqualified endorsement against independent Jake Ford.
Cohen did not reciprocate when Herenton was involved in a tight three-way reelection battle against two challengers in 2007, and there were reports at the time that the mayor was miffed. There had been no outward sign of a falling-out between the two men, although in retrospect, a remark made by Herenton intimate Sidney Chism when Herenton made his apparent retirement announcement in early 2008 was telling.
Chism opined at the time that the mayor had two possible goals in mind — to seek the city school superintendecy again and to run for Congress in the 9th District. When Herenton quickly indicated that the school option was close to his heart, the rest of Chism’s statement was largely forgotten — or regarded as merely a wrong guess by Chism.
On Saturday, Rep. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) told Dutch Treat Lumcheoners why he thinks Governor Bredesen is "fiscally irresponsible" and why he intends to keep on intervening in other people's districts.
Despite his fall from grace in Nashville, former state House of Representives Speaker Jimmy Naifeh was able to command the usual mass attendance for his annual “Coon Supper” Thursday night on the grounds of the Covington Country Club.
Janice Holder, chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court, dispensed with judicial caution Wednesday, vigorously defending the current Tennessee Plan whereby panels of legal professionals screen candidates for state appellate courts and publicly evaluate them before yes-or-no votes in retention elections.
Addressing the downtown Kiwanis Club at The Peabody, Justice Holder began her luncheon remarks with a tongue-in-cheek announcement. "I'm gong to talk about basketball," she said, presenting a facetious proposal to elect officials taking part in NCAA championship tournaments, allowing them to raise money, use attack ads against election opponents, "and show bits and pieces of video of some of these games where there were bad calls."
After asking rhetorically, "Don't you think that's a more democratic way to go about it?", she answered her own question this way: "It is ridiculous, isn't it? You wouldn't want your officials to be elected." Then came her clincher: "Judges are like those officials. You relay on them to call the game fairly."
She pointed out that the current system was due to sunset in July unless the current legislature reaffirms it and noted, too, the existence of legislative proposals for direct election as well as for modified versions of the current system.
Holder reviewed the mechanics of the Tennessee Plan, whereby a Judicial Selection Commission conducts thorough reviews of candidates for a given appellate positions and recommends lists of appointees to the governor, who can accept one of the nominees or reject the list and ask for a new one. She also explained the companion process whereby a Judicial Evaluation Committee provides advisories on whether sitting appellate judges should maintain their positions in up-or-down retention elections.
"The irony is that what we have is the envy of other states, but we are very much in danger of losing it," Holder said, going on to note several instances of million-dollar expenditures in other states' partisan judicial elections . She described instances in which some of the winners were seemingly influenced later on to make decisions on behalf of special-interest donors.
"Believe me, the entire country is watching Tennessee right now," she said.