Two Democratic candidates for governor wasted no time in professing solidarity with Governor Phil Bredesen with regard to his veto of legislation to permit gun-permit holders to carry their weapons into bars and restaurants.
Said former House majority leader Kim McMillan of Clarksville: "I have stood with law enforcement officials and small business owners in my community for years, opposing this legislation time and again. I applaud Governor Bredesen and our law enforcement officials who have made a stand for this small but pertinent measure."
Said Nashville businessman Ward Cammack: “I support the Second Amendment as much as anyone, but I strongly agree with Governor Bredesen and law enforcement officials from across the state that guns and alcohol do not mix. That's just common sense.”
Of the other two declared Democratic candidates, state Senator Roy Herron of Dresden was a sponsor of the gun bill, and Jackson businessman Mike McWherter has not yet issued a statement.
Among declared Republican candidates, Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons subscribes to the statement “Gus and alcohol don’t mix,” but has taken no position on the veto other than to say that as governor he would not have invoked that gubernatorial prerogative because he regarded a legislative override as certain.
Lt. Governor/state Senator Ron Ramsey of Blountville was a sponsor of the gun measure, and U.S. congressman Zach Wamp of Chattanooga and Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam have not yet issued statements.
The sexiest matter on Wednesday’s Shelby County Commission committee-day agenda was, in more ways than one, the proposal by Commissioner Steve Mulroy for an anti-discrimination resolution regarding gays, lesbians, transsexuals, and trans-gendered people.
That was the issue that generated the most heat (if not necessarily the same degree of light), that attracted the largest number of interested spectators to the fourth-floor hearing room in the county building, and drew the most media coverage.
But it wasn’t the only bone of contention on Wednesday’s agenda, discussion of which began early in the morning and ended late in the day. There was much more in the bone box, and how the attendant commissioners chose to deal with it all — or not to -- said much about the body’s internal strains and divsions, as well as some of its emerging coalitions.
As originally framed, Democrat Mulroy’s resolution would prohibit discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation against Shelby County employees, similar discrimination by companies contracting with the county, and, “subject to the limitations in state law and the Shelby County Charter," discrimination by private companies in Shelby County at large.
The last of these provisions was amended out, with Mulroy’s consent, in the course of a discussion on the proposal that was lively — and then some.
The most outspoken opponent of the resolution was Republican commissioner Wyatt Bunker, who on the day before had organized a press conference featuring several critics of the measure, both black and white, who were members of the local clergy.
Bunker: “There’s nothing wrong with discrimination”
On Wednesday, Bunker assured himself of some lasting notoriety with the line, “There’s nothing wrong with discrimination.” As he went on to elucidate on that, he engaged in a bit of verbal hair-splitting based on more innocent instances of the word “discrimination,” used in the sense of making legitimate distinctions. Bunker’s effort — depending on the observer, it was brave and, er, discriminating or foolhardy and bigoted — resembled a similar piece of rhetoric by Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964.
In his acceptance address at the GOP convention, Goldwater had said, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Goldwater never recovered, and Bunker, too, may find that he has made himself immortal — indeed, notorious — in just the wrong way.
Bunker compounded things by likening homosexuals to liars and alcoholics, among an assortment of other undesirables whom he deemed subject to an employer’s legitimate discretion. And in what surely was a misguided attempt at humor, he added “Democrats” to the list before taking it back.
In defending his proposal, Democrat Mulroy deal with actual and potential objections to it as a needed equal-protection measure. “There is no coverage for sexual orientation at the federal or state level.” Therefore, an employer could. say, “You’re a great employee. You’ve been Employee of the Year. But you’re gay, and you’re fired.”
Much of the debate concerned not only the relevancy of an employee’s homosexuality but whether it was a matter of choice or nature. The newest commission member, Democrat Matt Kuhn, who distinguished himself on the day by trying to provide reasonable alternatives to either/or discussion, made an effort to recast the issue in a question to one of the several audience members who addressed the commission either in support of the resolution or opposed to it:
Said Kuhn: “Do you believe that a straight person can be fired because of sexual orientation?”
Memory fails us as to how Kuhn’s question got answered, but the line of thought it denoted was shortly superceded again by more familiar polar attitudes.
Several of the black commissioners felt compelled to separate the issue of the resolution from the issues inherent in the struggle for African Americans’ rights in the civil rights era. In the end, the blacks on the commission underwent a crucial split. Henri Brooks, J.W. Gibson, and commission chair Deidre Malone, all Democrats, voted aye. Though they, too, had been generally assumed to favor the measure, two other black Democrats, Sidney Chism and James Harvey, would abstain. Joe Ford, another Democrat, voted no.
“A victory for Wyatt Bunker,” Mulroy conceded after the 5-5 vote. Those voting aye were himself, Kuhn, Brooks, Gibson, and Malone. Those voting no were Ford, Joyce Avery, Mike Carpenter, George Flinn, and Mike Ritz.
Bunker had left before the vote, explaining that his wife was having a baby. His announcement generated a surprising burst of applause and congratulations and one of the few moments of solidarity all day."
Back and forth on the budget
Shortly thereafter, following a lunch break, came another testy and protracted discussion, this one on the county budget, which, as it stands, is an austerity affair calling for truncated programs and mass layoffs. So wearing were the wrangles on it that by mid-afternoon, various commissioners’ syntax began to give way.
“We don’t want to see our future moved way down the road,” said Brooks. Granted, the qualifying word “way” gave her intended meaning some wiggle room. The fact remained that “down the road” is where the future is, was, and ever will be.
Chism would shortly top her with some creative linguistics of his own, concluding one of his patented defenses of city priorities versus those of the outer county with the exclamation “And Shelby County is in Memphis!” In the stress of the moment, the commissioner had either inadvertently reversed his terms or imagined an ontological tight squeeze that was stunningly original.
All too familiar, of course, was the budgetary squeeze being felt by agencies of local government, many of whose representatives were on hand to lobby, protest, plead, or merely testify by their presence against the pending threat of severe personnel reductions.
The budget presented by county mayor A C Wharton, assuming no additional revenues, calls for 100 employees to be lopped off the county payroll, and a full 32 of those are to come from the ranks of the Sheriff’s Department. Sheriff Mark Luttrell, who attended Wednesday’s meeting with several of his key aides, has several times characterized the prospect as a ruinous one, both to the department’s routine activities and to the ongoing Operation Safe Community being pursued in tandem with other local law-enforcement agencies.
On Wednesday, Luttrell insisted, as he has in the past, that personnel decisions must be based on demonstrated reality and need rather than on what he called “a mathematical formula.”
The mathematics of the commission’s intense, if rambling, discussion came down to two overlapping issues: (1) Could the commission risk taxpayer ire by proposing a tax increase? And (2) Would leaving the county’s annual property tax rate where it is right now — $4.04 per $100 of assessed value — actually constitute a tax increase?
Commissioner Mulroy argued eloquently that it wasn’t, that leaving the tax rate where it was could not be considered a “tax increase,” though, in light of the 2008 county-wide reappraisal carried out by the Assessor’s office (itself slated to lose employees), the $4.04 would result in most taxpayers owing more taxes.
That’s in light of the surprisingly higher values assigned to homesteads in the aggregate by that newest reappraisal, and, as opponents of maintaining the current rate pointed out, state law explicitly prohibits such a “windfall” increase in revenues.
So, technically, Mulroy would have to be accounted wrong. If the commission chose to go henceforth with the $4.04 rate, rather than with a proposed $4.00 rate that would keep revenues at their current level, it would presumably have to undergo a two-step process — first dropping the rate back to a $4.00 rate, then restoring it to $4.04 in a separate and subsequent resolution.
Mayor Wharton has indicated such a solution, if authorized by the commission, would be amenable to him.
It’s fairly complicated stuff, but the commissioners, like elected officials of any kind, know what the lay mind these days thinks of a tax increase, and majority sentiment on Wednesday was clearly for avoiding anything that looked like raising taxes.
Mulroy: “It’s not over with”
In a valiant last effort, Kuhn proposed to have it both ways with a $4.03 rate that would formally lower the rate while still advancing enough new revenue to reduce the number of personnel cuts. The commissioners present opted to go with $4.00, however, and that’s the rate that will show up on the agenda for Monday’s public meeting of the full commission, when the battle will be rejoined. The same 100 jobs that were at stake to begin with are still in jeopardy.
Though he was on the losing side of both of the day’s two major confrontations, Mulroy said, “It’s not over with,” and vowed to fight on.
Perhaps because emotions and energy were both spent, perhaps because the day was growing late, another potentially explosive issue, a proposal that the county take over the operation of the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center, generated little fuss and bother and received what amounted to a pro forma endorsement — pending whatever future agreement between city and county governments might be worked out enabling such a transfer.
Chism, a longtime confidante of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, who has undergone extensive criticism of late because of well-publicized shortcomings in the city’s recent operation of the center, demurred at his colleagues’ willingness to approve the change in operation and abstained.
That was the day that was, and what it revealed, among other things, was the degree to which coalitions on the commission derive from issues other than party affiliation.
Despite Bunker’s poorly aimed partisan thrust, the fact was that neither the commission’s Democrats nor its Republicans can present a united front on issues that weigh larger to them than mere party. As mentioned above, black Democrats in particular proved sensitive to two issues regarding the non-discrimination vote — efforts by proponents to tie it to the black civil rights struggle and an undeniable aversion to homosexuality on the part of religious African-Americans.
And both Ford and Gibson are prone to voting conservative on matters relating to fiscal issues or to established protocol. Nor are the Republican members as given to marching “lockstep” as Chism’s frequently uttered j’accuse would have it. Joyce Avery tends to go her own way on public health issues, often voting with the Democrats, Mike Carpenter has famously made himself persona non grata with many GOP rank-and-filers for multiple crossover votes. And for better and for worse, Mike Ritz rides hobby horses whose very existence nobody else seems to be even aware of.
Ultimately, positions are taken on this commission and sides are chosen in complex ways well beyond the simplistic attitudes of partisan ditto-heads, be they Republican or Democratic.
And Mulroy is right about one thing: There was an air of irresolution to much of what happened on Wednesday. We’ll see what happens on Monday, when the full commission meets again in regular session.
9th District congressman Steve Cohen has been named “Man of the Year: by a local group concerned with urban research and development. The award was announced Tuesday and will be presented to Cohen at an event scheduled for June 20th.
Following is a press release on the subject.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
May 26, 2009
Congressman Steve Cohen Chosen as 110 Institute’s
“2009 Man of the Year”
Award to be presented at Youth Mentoring Event June 20th
Memphis - Congressman Steve Cohen has been selected as the 2009 “Man of the Year” by the 110 Institute, a Memphis-based urban research and development organization. “Congressman Cohen was chosen based on his years of dedicated service to the urban community, his work on behalf of single-mothers raising young sons, his support for education funding, and for being an outstanding Congressman”, said Institute director Tony Nichelson.
Steve Cohen has served the Memphis community for more than three decades, first in the State Senate, and now as Congressman for the Ninth Congressional District of Tennessee. “The Congressman, along with Senator Riley Darnell, made room for, and mentored an inexperienced young Intern in their Senate office back in 1985, Nichelson said. “That young Intern was me, and Congressman Cohen’s commitment to youth leadership was evident even then. I’m happy to call him a friend, and to be able to bestow our ‘Man of the Year’ award to him.”
The 2009 “Man of the Year” award will be presented at a Father’s Day Mentoring Event called, “Becoming the Man of the House”, Saturday, June 20, 2009, at the National Civil Rights Museum. The 110 Institute, in collaboration with Citadel Broadcasting, Soul Classics 103.5, the Tri-State Defender newspaper, and the National Civil Rights Museum, are hosting 110 boys being raised in single-parent homes, for a full-day Mentoring Event.
The initiative brings together 120 men from various careers, to work directly with the invited boys, teaching hands-on skills, guiding a brief tour of the Museum, with a special focus on the “Birmingham Children’s Crusade”, and will also feature an introduction to the wisdom of Proverbs and the teachings of the Chinese philosopher, Confucius.
Uh oh, that gathering at Democratic activist Howard Richardson’s South Memphis home weekend before last may not have been such a Kumbaya affair, after all. That’s according to longtime Democratic broker Sidney Chism, who boasts that he showed up uninvited.
Technically a birthday party for two close friends of Richardson, the well-attended party had a guest list deep in prominent local Democrats and had been billed by the host and other attendees as an all-party mixer of sorts and was reported as such in the Flyer.
Instead, says Chism, the affair was lopsided in favor of those Democrats who had favored the candidacy of lawyer Van Turner, who was elected party chairman at the local Democratic convention in March. Chism himself had been among those who supported Turner’s opponent Jay Bailey, another lawyer.
“There wasn’t anybody there who supported Jay Bailey except me, and I wasn’t supposed to be there,” said Chism. “I just found out about it and decided to go on my own.” Chism, currently a member of the Shelby County Commission, also alerted two other people not on the original guest list — Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, who has indicated he will be a candidate for county mayor next year, and realtor Steve Webster, a Chism friend and sometime candidate for local office.
“They were surprised to see us,” Chism says. “I came in, and right behind me came Harold Byrd, and right behind him came Steve Webster.” Byrd’s attendance, in particular, had been urged by Chism, who maintains that an ancillary purpose of the gathering had been to organize a push among Democrats for his commission colleague, Deidre Malone, a declared candidate for county mayor.
“If they did something like that, they couldn’t do it until after we left,” Chism declared.
At another gathering deep in Democrats this past Sunday, blogger Steve Steffens’ annual “Bratfest,” an attendee was Van Turner, who pooh-poohed Chism’s theory of the Richardson event. “There were several people there who had been for Jay Bailey in the chairman’s race,” he insisted.
One promising sign, for those Democrats still looking for party unity: Turner and Bailey partisan David Upton, another well-known political broker, spent much time at the Steffens affair in friendly, animated conversation, as they had done at the state Democratic summit in Monteagle earlier this month.
Chism himself will have an opportunity to gather all the Democratic faithful into the same fold when he holds his 9th Annual Community Picnic on Saturday, June 20, from 5 to 7 at 3657 Horn Lake Road. Even Republicans come to that one.
Call me an old fogie, a troglodyte, stuck in the mud or any other term you care to use to describe my resistance to the ever-increasing impingement of technology on our daily lives, but I still won't succumb to the most recent incarnation of communication known, euphemistically, as social networking. I won't “tweet” on Twitter, link to LinkedIn, show my face on Facebook, or share my space with MySpace, and I'll give you fair warning: don't try to make me. I don't have, and don't want, 200 friends. I have a hard enough time keeping up with the handful I already have.
As it is, I do everything in my power to avoid unwanted contact with the outside world. What can I say: I'm a big believer in privacy, something which, in the era of government eavesdropping and multi-million name databases, is all but gone. I have an unpublished phone number (the only effective way to avoid bill collectors, stockbrokers, and the occasional nostalgic ex-girlfriend), and an e-mail address that's guarded by so many layers of spam protection it sometimes blocks the messages I actually want to receive.
I assume that most of my friends would, as they should, be just as uninterested in the minutiae of my mundane daily life as I am in theirs. So, why, for heaven's sake, would I subscribe to a service that would enable me, as was reported of one recent “tweet,” to hear from a friend while she was undergoing her gynecological examination? I certainly wouldn't pain her with the details of my prostate exam (not that I could do it from that position even if I wanted to). Some experiences, I assure you, are not meant to be shared.
And, if you think broadcasting while your nether regions are being palpated is weird, then how about broadcasting those nether regions themselves. Yes, according to an article in the New York Times, one of our local hospitals, right here in River City, is actually “tweeting” (via YouTube) brain operations.
And why are they doing that? Why, for marketing purposes, of course. They're not getting enough of our overstretched healthcare dollar, apparently, and billboards stopped being graphic enough to gin up a sufficient amount of the cash cow neurosurgery business. What next: breast augmentations (bigger “tweets,” perhaps) and vasectomies? Please, if these procedures are already on YouTube, I don't want to know about it.
The lie these sites propagate is that, by using them, you are somehow promoting communication, keeping in touch, not being a stranger, etc. The phone company used to have a promotion that encouraged subscribers to “reach out and touch someone.” Well, in the age when the most innocuous or best-intended of comments can find you on the wrong end of a sexual harassment complaint, that may not be such a good idea anymore.
But, more importantly, as we increasingly substitute electronic communication for live, in-person, face-to-face (or telephonic—-remember that quaint technology) conversation, we also increasingly promote a kind of remoteness and disconnectedness that can give rise to many misunderstandings. Who among us hasn't had the experience of having an e-mail message badly misunderstood simply because we could not, instantaneously, prevent the message's unintended interpretation?
If I want you to reach me, I'll give you my phone number, or my triple-Spam-protected e-mail address, and I assume, if you feel the same way, you'll reciprocate that privilege. And, in so doing, we'll gladly forego the ability to use those methods to communicate 24/7, as the social networking sites promote. Who needs to communicate 24/7, anyway?
And if you want me to know who your friends are, what music you like to hear, or food you like to eat, I assume you'll invite me to a party (the original, and still best, form of social networking) where I can meet those friends, listen to some of your favorite music and eat some of your favorite food.
What started out as a mechanism to increase our intimacy has, instead, resulted in increasing our detachment. It's no accident that the dictionary definition for the term used for a Twitter communication, the “tweet,” is “a weak chirping sound.” See, even the dictionary knows what, apparently, the technology-addicted don't: tweeting is a weak substitute for meaningful communication.
Robert Mueller, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, never looked wearier or more at a loss than when he tangled last week with 9th District congressman Steve Cohen of Memphis on the issue of whether marijuana can be considered a "gateway" drug, leading to experimentation with harder drugs like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamnes.
In this CNN video (below) of a Judiciary Committee hearing last week, Cohen presses his interrogation of Mueller on the issue of whether use of marijuana — the legalized medical use of which Cohen is a proponent of — leads to dependence on the more dangerous drugs. Mueller fumbled with the question, acknowledging at one point that he could cite no death attributable to marijuana use.
In the end, Cohen hazarded an answer in the negative to his own question, suggesting ironically that milk leads to beer which in turn leads to the use of bourbon.
Here's part of how it went:
Even as the ashes are cooling from the protracted intra-party conflict that followed the victory last January of Nashville’s Chip Forrester as chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, the state Republicans are now engaged in a similar dustup — also involving a race for the chairmanship.
The GOP’s race is a three-way affair to succeed outgoing chair Robin Smith, who resigned this past week to run for the 3rd District congressional seat being vacated by gubernatorial candidate Zach Wamp. Smith’s would-be successors include former state GOP director Chris Devaney, state Republican treasurer Oscar Brock, and state Rep. Eric Swafford of Pikesville.
Weighing in on the contest this week have been two Republicans with Memphis connections — former Governor Winfield Dunn, who now lives in Nashville; and Memphian Frank Colvett Jr., state Republican Finance Committee chairman. Dunn endorsed the candidacy of Devaney, who has been serving as state director for U.S. Senator Bob Corker, while Colvett, in an email circulated to fellow GOP executive committee members, publicly took issue with charges he attributed to Devaney supporters.
In essence, Colvett defended Smith’s oversight of the state party’s finances and found fault with that of Devaney, one of Smith’s immediate predecessors. “…Mr. Devaney
dropped the ball,” concluded Colvett. “I wish we weren’t forced to deal with this during an important debate over the future of the party, but I can’t stand by and see a good chairman’s integrity questioned in the name of winning a campaign. We’re better than that.”
For his part, Devaney denied having anything to do with questioning Smith’s financial oversight and claimed to have “nothing but respect” for her.
The state Republican executive committee will convene on May 30 to select its new chairman.
Quietly, several of the public officials indicted and convicted as a result of the FBI’s “Tennessee Waltz” sting are back in circulation — some of them picking up their social and public connections where they left off.
The latest to do so is former state Representative Kathryn Bowers, who is finishing up her federal term in a Memphis halfway house. This week she alerted the people on her once thriving email network that she’s helping the Memphis Center for Independent Living raise money by selling $10 tickets to an MCIL fundraising spaghetti supper in June.
Bowers’ email — sent from the same email address which, in shorthand, once identified her as a member of the state legislature — includes the following update: “I am presently during volunteer work with the center. This fundraiser is one of many ways we raise money to continue efforts in areas of housing, transportation, community access and assisting people to regain or retain their lives in the community. We offer peer counseling, help others with disabilities learn new ways to do daily activities such as cooking, using a computer, budgeting or advocating for changes in our community. We need your help to achieve these needed activities.”
Among the other released Tennessee Waltz convictees are former Shelby County Commissioner Michael Hooks Sr. and former Memphis School Board member Michael Hooks Jr. Both have completed their federal sentences.
The senior Hooks has resumed his work as a real estate appraiser. The younger Hooks has done part-time work with Shelby County Government, counseling prisoners at the county Corrections Center, and is currently involved with the NAACP’s Hip Hop Caucus, which oversees a variety of public-service activities.
The Tennessee Waltz sting, which employed FBI agents masquerading as computer entrepreneurs and passing cash to gain favors with public officials, was the precursor to a series of other such locally originated federal operations.
It took a while and got a bit complicated, but, as first prophesied by the Flyer some weeks back, Rich Holden, a Republican holdover member of the Shelby County Election Commission, has transitioned off the board into the role of commission administrator, succeeding longtime CAO James Johnson.
The move was accomplished by virtue of a 3-2 party-line vote of the commission Wednesday, later made unanimous by acclamation. Voting for Holden were commission chairman Bill Giannini, Brian Stephens, and Robert Meyers, all Republicans. Opposed were Democrats Myra Stiles and Shep Wilbun.
Meyers, another GOP holdover member, had temporarily left the commission when the local GOP’s original post-election plan to replace Johnson with Holden was shelved in deference to a preliminary caution from state Attorney General Robert Cooper regarding partisan changes on administrative staffs.
Ultimately, though, Holden stepped aside as first planned, and Meyers was renamed to the commission and was able to vote with the other GOP members to install Holden in his new role.
Memphis lawyer John Ryder, who has served as Republican National Committeeman from Tennessee for most of the last two decades, has been named by RNC chairman Michael Steele to chair the party’s national redistricting committee.
Ryder has been the lynchpin of the state Republicans’ redistricting efforts after each of the last two census revisions — in the periods 1989-1994 and 1999-2003 and was instrumental in the party’s deliberatons as far back as 1976.
More than a decade ago, then state Republican chairman Randle Richardson bragged on Ryder’s redistricting expertise during an address to the Shelby County Republican Party steering committee and quipped, “That’s his idea of good sex!” (The modest and somewhat embarrassed Ryder would later contradict that metaphor, claiming propensities that were normal and red-blooded, but Richardson’s remark did summarize the Memphian’s zeal for a subject that many others considered esoteric and difficult.)
Said Steele in announcing the appointment: “I am proud to announce the appointment of John Ryder to this Republican National Committee leadership post. John has been a tireless advocate of Republican principles both in the state of Tennessee and across the country and I look forward to working with him to prepare state parties for redistricting efforts following the 2010 national census.”
Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey of Blountville has achieved a significant measure of notoriety this legislative session for his initiatives on judicial selection (he wants changes but not a total overhaul), guns (yep, he’s for toting ‘em in all those new places), and ethics (he’s dubious about retaining the Tennessee Ethics Commission.
Another hobby horse of Ramsey’s has received less attention, but that’s surely about to change. With Ramsey and Democratic caucus chair Roy Herron of Dresden already declared gubernatorial candidates, and with his opposite number, Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle of Memphis a likely add-on after the session concludes, many have wondered: How can they compete with self-funding opponents like Bill Haslam (Republican) and Ward Cammack (Democratic) if they can’t raise money during legislative sessions?
Current state law prohibits in-session fundraising by sitting legislators, and, while the current session probably wont’ extend beyond the month of May, there’s next year to think about, when from January to some point between April and June would be a Dead Zone for the three state senators, fundraising-wise.
So why won’t these three powerful senators do something about it? Well, they have. As Ramsey explained Saturday night at the Hamilton County Lincoln Day Dinner, “we got the bill out of committee this week.” The bill in question, sponsored by Senator Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), did indeed issue forth this past week, from the Senate State and Local Government Committee. It would allow fundraising by legislators running for some office other than the one they currently possess.
“That could be county mayor or congressman or governor. It could be anything else,” Ramsey noted. Moreover, although the limits apparently aren’t set yet, the bill would raise contribution limits, as well.
Good chance for passage by both houses? Ramsey nodded vigorously. “Oh, yes.”
“Well, that should be helpful against some of your opponents,” someone said, nodding in the direction of Knoxville mayor and Pilot Oil scion Haslam, who was being chatted up by a nearby reporter.
Still nodding, Ramsey cracked a wry smile. “You got that right,” he said.
Seasoned students of Harold Ford Jr. know that it's often difficult to discern a specific theme from the public rhetoric of the current head of the right-center Democratic Leadership Council. A classic instance was the then Memphis congressman's speech to attendees at the 2005 banquet of the University of Memphis Law Alumni, when Ford seemed both to embrace and distance himself from the Iraq War strategy of George W. Bush.
Another example came this past week when Ford and MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews tangled over whether Ford was in fact aligning himself with former Vice President Dick Cheney's permissive attitude toward torture of "War on Terror" detainees. Matthews became irate as he perceived DLC head Ford to be justifying the Cheney policy, while Ford has since tried to explain he meant nothing of the kind.
Judge for yourself:
If video does not show, here is a relevant part of transcript of the Matthews-Ford encounter; it also features Chris Cillizza:
Chris Cillizza: There was a poll a week or two ago, an independent poll, a media poll that asked people whether what had gone on a Gitmo was torture and by a large majority people said yes. The next question was did they think that those techniques would be necessary in certain circumstances and a slimmer, but still more people said yes than no so you have this weird disconnect. People do think it is torture, but they feel like if it yeilds results that it's the right thing to do, so this is tough especially as it relates to the Democratic Party base which clearly believes that this is something that is wrong, wrong, wrong.
Matthews: (to Harold Ford) ... You seem to be suggesting you can't be both tough as nails and at the same time looks as if you worry about human rights violations. Is that a problem or not?
Harold Ford: No I ... Eric Holder said this best when referring to the Ted Stevens case in the aftermath when they said they wouldn't move forward when they said the United States would not move forward. He said the most important thing in the justice department is not winning, it is justice.
So, in this sense, I think having the conversation about what happened at Guantanamo Bay, and I'm not as outraged as some about it, because I think some of those techniques were enhanced and might have risen to a level of torture, you have to remember when this was occurring, this was 2002 and 2003. The country was in a different place and a different space and if you were to say to me as an American, put aside my partisanship, that we have an opportunity to gain information that would prevent the destruction of an American city to prevent killings in an American city, and we have to use certain techniques, I'm one of those Americans who would have voted acertain way Chris in that polling that said it might have been torture, but I'm not as outraged.
Matthews: wait, wait. You are veering into Cheney country here.
Ford: no, no, no
Matthews: ... the destruction of an American city? What evidence did you ever have that the enemy had a nuclear weapon that could blow up an American city? That's Cheney talk. That's what he uses to justify torture. We have no evidence that any enemy of ours had a nuclear weapon.
Ford: No, no. I said if thousands of people in America ... we can play the game of associating me with one person or another. I'm just saying ..
Matthews: No but you said blow up an American city. What are you talking about?
Ford: In 2002, 2003, remember where America was. You remember our mindset. If the American people were told that there were those that might have been held at Guantanamo Bay that might have had information, after our country was attacked on 9/11, I'm certain that people would have wanted them to take those, take certain steps. I'm not arguing at all that there was evidence that that would have happened, yet Cheney has said that he hopes that all the data is released and then maybe we'll have an opportunity to see that.
During Day One of a planned two-day excursion to Shelby County, Republicaan gubernatorial candidate Zach Wamp of Chattanooga made it clear he intends to campaign in all corners of Tennessee. Wamp, at present the congressman from the state's 3rd District, spoke respectfully of all three of his declared Republican primary opponents, including District Attorney Bill Gibbons of Memphis, but described himself as the man to beat.
At Collierville on Monday night, Wamp outlined his reasons why.
Shelby County Commissioner Wyatt Bunker thought he was getting off a little levity when he defended his opposition to a resolution calling for funding of the Southeast Shelby County library. But some passionate defenders of the library were not amused, and something rare indeed happened during Monday's consideration of possible budget cuts: boos from the audience.
Bunker's position was that he didn't oppose funding the library, just that he didn't think to do so required a special resolution. Rather than quitting while he was ahead, however, the conservative Republican member hazarded an ill-fated joke to the effect that library lovers might prefer that tax money went to restore threatened cuts in the Sheriff's budget, so as to avoid getting "mugged" at the library.
Not long after that piece of political theater (the resolution passed handily), the grim business of vetting 100 proposed employee layoffs — 31 of those in the selfsame Sheriff's Department — got under way. In the end the commission deferred action on the cuts, but there was more Sturm und Drang on the way to that result.
One of the highlights of the day was the lengthy, impassioned testimony of Sheriff Mark Luttrell against the prospect of losing 31 positions in planned employee layoffs:
The upshot of it all, after Luttrell and numerous other department heads had testified about the adverse effects of the planned layoffs? Commissioners ultimately deferred action, pending further review by the commission's budget committee.
In the meantime, county mayor A C Wharton had promised that, if it was "the will of the body," he would come up with a proposal for a tax increase instead. In the context of the day, that was less an offer than a calling of the commission's bluff.
Everybody who was at last weekend's state Democratic Party summit at Monteagle seems to have regarded 4th District congressman Lincoln Davis’ Saturday night speech to attendees as a legitimate Kumbaya moment.
And, moreover, many of the self-professed progressives who have distrusted Davis the most for his conservatism are now singing the praises of a politician who, as they see it, has miraculously morphed from Blue Dog to just plain blue.
Even the lingo adopted by Davis for the occasion for his Saturday night keynote address had to be gratifying for the summit attendees, many of whom represented what might be called the “progressive” or Obama wing of the party. Davis made a point of complaining about right-wing Republicans who, as he saw it, dominate the airwaves, for example. “They talk about liberal media. If you find it, tell me where it is. I want to watch it some day. It doesn’t exist!”
He did acknowledge the presence of such countervailing pundits as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. “I don’t go to bed at night until I’ve heard her,” he said. “She can sure twist [the right-wingers’] heads.”
Davis talked up credit card reform, national health care, President Obama’s stimulus bill in general, and extended unemployment benefits in particular. He defended the president’s meeting with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and called for “a new Latin American policy.”
Most important, from the point of view of party chairman Chip Forrester’s supporters, Davis made a point of embracing Forrester onstage, praising the chairman for his grass-roots organizational efforts, and likening him in that respect to Obama.
The impact of Davis’s remarks — and of his very appearance, for that matter — was captured by two highly impressed Memphis bloggers.
Steve Steffens, better known to many Tennesseans as the Left Wing Cracker blogger, was quick to pronounce the Davis address as “a great Democratic speech.”
And there’s this from a blog entry by Vibinc (Steve Ross, who doubled as sound engineer for the weekend): “…[I]f there was ever any doubt that Lincoln Davis is a Democrat, it was dispelled on Saturday night. Davis, who didn’t attend the events earlier in the day (to the best of my knowledge) delivered a barn burner of a speech that further highlighted the “85% of issues”, as Rep. Mike Turner later stated (I would put it closer to 90%) that unite us a Democrats…..”
The Davis-Forrester hug moment, Davis’ speech itself, and the very fact of his being there signaled to many in the crowd the pending resolution of a schism between Forrester and the party’s liberal wing, on the one hand, and, on the other, the party’s conservative establishment, represented by Davis, the state’s other congressmen (except for Memphis’ Steve Cohen, who stayed out of the factional dispute), and Governor Bredesen. (None of those present even seemed to notice — or mind — that Davis still employs the word "Democrat" as an adjective, as in "Let's elect more Democrat congressmen;" the truncated form of "Democratic" is one that Republican rhetoricians favor .)
That much healing remains was indicated by the fact that the only congressman attending was Davis,who happens also to represent Monteagle in Congress. Conspicuously absent were representatives of the governor’s office.
As a result of a recent working compact between the party’s two wings, Forrester and his team will focus on party organization and grass-roots efforts, while candidate recruitment and fund-raising will be the province of the establishment, with Bredesen and the congressional representatives having direct oversight.