Note: The Tennessee Voter’s Confidence Act, passed in 2008 and requiring the use of optical-scan voting — a process whereby marks made on paper ballots are scanned electronically, with a resultant “paper trail” — survived a last-minute legislative attempt this year to delay its scheduled 2010 implementation.
There remains the issue of implementing the act locally — a point discussed at the June 25 meeting of the Shelby County Election Commission. What follows is a report on that meeting from Dee Nollner, a former president of the League of Women Voters and Shelby County who was acting entirely as a private citizen, addressed to her email network, interspersed with later written responses from Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy. Both Nollner and Mulroy were in attendance at the SCEC meeting.
…Clarification - re Commissioner Mulroy's visit to SCEC [Shelby County Election Commission] on June 25, 2009:
Replacing the voting machines in Shelby County with paper ballots to be counted by optical scan will depend upon a ruling of the law by the State Coordinator of Elections and the State Election Commission. There are two major hurdles remaining:
1.The law passed in 2008 stipulates that optical scan machines must meet 2005 standards. Currently there are no machines meeting those standards….
Actually, that supposed "stipulation" is a matter of interpretation. The law actually says "applicable voluntary voting system guidelines," a term of art which might mean several things,
I am not so sure that a "ruling" by the state coordinator of elections would be the final word here, since the statutory language makes crystal clear that "in-precinct optical scan" systems of some form or other must be in place by November 2010.
Hopefully, we will not need to split hairs on this, and the Coordinator of Elections will make prompt and diligent efforts to get Optiscan in place by 2010 as the law requires.
…Machines used in Pittman and Hamilton Counties in Tennessee are certified to 2002 standards.
It was reported on the Senate floor on June 18,2009 that the EAC is not accepting certification applications for 2002 standards.
2. Both commissioners quoted in the CA article today, said the commission would follow the law, whatever that turns out to be….
The problem is one of timing. If the local Election Commission were to do no preparations for implementation until all legal uncertainties were resolved, and wait until the state division of elections, which fought 2010 implementation, did everything it needed to do, we might find that implementation by the state legislature's deadline is imperiled.
My argument was that the local election commission should do all it can now to be ready, and not put implementation preparations on hold, as they decided to do this past year.
All Shelby election commissioners publicly pledged to do this, which is welcome.
…3. Commissioner Mulroy indicated that he was not familiar with the final arguments on the Senate floor June 18, regarding the referenced bill, but seemed to be advising upon his own interpretations of that law….
Commissioner Mulroy most certainly did not so indicate. In a rushed private conversation between Nollner and Mulroy occurring while I was trying to pay attention to the ongoing Election Commission proceedings, Ms. Nollner showed me a url for the video feed of that floor debate, a url with which I was unfamiliar.
However, I have had extensive conversations with multiple individuals who were present at and/or directly involved in that day's floor debate. As for "advising on my own interpretations of that law"—as I indicated to the election commission, I have done significant legal research on this issue, and am advising based on that.
Ms.Nollner in her email… is giving her own interpretation of the law, which she is free to do, as long as she acknowledges it as such (as I have).
…Another commissioner asked Commissioner. Mulroy if he was "suggesting that the SCEC spend the public's money on non-certified machines?" Upon which Commissioner Mulroy pledged to work 150% for the procurement of needed monies to cover the switch to paper ballots.
It would probably be helpful to you all in evaluating all of this to know that Ms. Nollner from day one has been a vociferous opponent of the switch to optical scan with a paper trail. This may potentially color her judgment in reporting events like this, as my own passionate advocacy for a paper trail may admittedly color mine. Make sure you know where each of us is coming from as you evaluate these reports.
Also, Ms. Nollner did not consult with me about her intention to report that I was unfamiliar with the floor debate, or to imply that I was advising based on a
possibly incorrect interpretation of the law If so I would have been able to clarify some things for her As it is, I frankly feel a little blindsided by this report, which did not go to me. I am grateful to those who passed it along to me, and grateful for a chance to correct the record.
If the SSDC [Shelby County Democratic Committee] has any questions on this, they can of course speak to me or Ms. Nollner. Better yet, you can bypass the advocates on both sides and talk to democratic election commissioner Shep Wilbun, who is very knowledgeable on this issue, or Myra Stiles.
As if some evil kaleidoscopic genie were at work scrambling political stereotypes, a disturbing development occurred in Tennessee government this week that reversed the rhetorical clichés of three weeks ago, when legislative defenders of the Second Amendment seemed ready to storm the citadels of power over Governor Phil Bredesen’s veto of the guns-in-bars bill.
Secretary of State Tre Hargett, until recently a resident of Bartlett and a former state representative for that community, asked agents of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to investigate what he considered a “terrorist threat” against —well, it isn’t exactly clear whether Hargett felt himself threatened or was acting on behalf of Mark Goins, the new Republican-appointed state Election Commissioner.
In any case, the tables were turned, with the citadels of power suddenly arrayed, in the most concrete manner imaginable, against a citizen who apparently had done nothing more than make a literary allusion to something called the Battle of Athens. This was a McMinn County event of 1946 in which some World War II veterans took up arms against a corrupt local government and forced the honest counting of ballots in an election that was about to be stolen.
What happened was that activist Bernie Ellis, founder of the group Gathering to Save Our Democracy had written an extensive comment on the blog of Knoxville News-Sentinel Capitol Hill reporter Tom Humphrey. The comment concerned Humphrey’s coverage of legislative maneuvering that would ultimately fail (by a single vote) to postpone the implementation of the previously enacted Voter Confidence Act. That act mandates optical-scan voting in Tennessee elections next year in the interests of accuracy. Commissioner Goins had resisted the change-over, long sought by individuals and groups concerned about past irregularities in reporting vote counts.
This was the concluding paragraph of Ellis’s comment: “Thanks for continuing to cover this story. If your readers will email me (email@example.com), I will send them several handouts that document the misinformation campaign that is attempting to keep our elections unsafe and tamper-prone. We need to nip this nonsense in the bud, or we need another Battle of Athens (TN) — sooner rather than later.”
The next thing Ellis knew, he was visited at his Middle Tennessee farm by two agents of the TBI, who said they were there to investigate an emailed “terrorist threat’ made by Ellis against unnamed state officials. (A TBI spokesperson would later confirm the request for an investigation was made by Secretary of State Hargett.)
Ellis apparently had little difficulty convincing the TBI agents that (a) he had made no threat against anyone; and that (b) he had sent no email to Hargett’s office or any other organ of state government. The agents pronounced themselves satisfied and left the Ellis farm, but not without taking with them a written message for the complaining state official from Ellis.
The message read: "Mr. Ellis would like whoever issued the complaint against him to grow a pair of balls, 'man up' … and call him at any time to discuss any concerns they may have with him or with anything Mr. Ellis has ever said."
Thereupon the Battle of Ellis’ Farm ended without the firing of a single shot — a victory over state power, it would seem, in defense of the First Amendment which, in this case, had been exercised, in the most innocuous possible way, to refer to a long-ago circumstance involving the Second Amendment.
You just can’t make up stuff this good.
Does Steve Cohen have the Shelby County Republican chairman's vote?
August is the new due date for Jim Kyle’s decision about running for governor. Or so confided the Memphis state senator on Saturday after he delivered a brief pep talk to a still teeming (and sweltering) late-afternoon crowd, mainly comprised of fellow Democrats, at Sidney Chism’s “9th Annual Community Picnic” on park grounds off Horn Lake Road.
For some time, Kyle had been indicating he’d make a decision about a gubernatorial race after the just concluded legislative session. Whatever the reason, the leader of the state Senate’s Democratic minority seems to have extended that timetable by a good two months.
“We can be proud,” Kyle had told the crowd about his party colleagues in the legislature, and, while he didn’t spell out what he meant in any great detail, he may have been referring to the mere fact that he and his fellow Democrats had survived a session in which the majority Republicans had most things their way.
But optimism — or at least outward good spirits — ruled the day among the Democratic office-holders and candidates who spoke, not from the grounds’ hilltop pavilion, as in years past, but in an open grassy area down the hill. One of the speakers on Saturday was Kim McMillan of Clarksville, the former state House majority leader who, roughly a year ago, had been the first candidate in either party to announce that she was running for governor.
McMillan had not been able to attend a Friday night Meet & Greet sponsored by local Democrats, as had fellow gubernatorial candidates Ward Cammack and Roy Herron. Her unforgiving schedule had her booked up all that day elsewhere, and she had campaign stops to make later Saturday in West Tennessee, she explained — cheery as always, despite the heat.
Other gubernatorial aspirants on hand Saturday and making brief remarks were Jackson Democrat Mike McWherter, who wants to serve in the office his father Ned Ray used to occupy, and District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, a Republican hopeful.
Weaving in and out of the crowd, looking pleased at the turnout, was Chism himself, the former Teamster leader, longtime power broker, onetime interim state senator, and these days Shelby County commissioner. Candidate speeches alternated with numbers from a band and recorded music. As always, former media personality Leon Gray served as combination deejay and emcee.
Volunteers served up hot dogs, hamburgers, and chips, and libations were available, ranging from canned sodas to cold beer on tap. There was a “petting farm” for children.
Chism’s event has largely superceded the old Fourth of July picnic at St. Peter’s Home on Poplar as an annual affair for politicians on the prowl and political junkies.
As always, a cynosure on the grounds was Mayor Willie Herenton, Chism’s close friend and now a declared candidate for the 9th District congressional seat of Steve Cohen. The mayor spoke to the ground in the broad burlesque manner he adopts for such occasions, talking up “real Democrats” and wishing all candidates well “except the one running against me.”
Meanwhile, many of those in the gathering were wondering: Where was that one? Surely Cohen, no shrinking violet he and no one to sidestep an event so high-profile in his district, would be there eventually. Meanwhile, Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton was sighted, as was county commissioner James Harvey, Wharton’s would-be rival for the job of city mayor in 2011.
Harvey had attached a prominent sign saying as much to a chained-link fence on the property — the apparent catalyst for a later announcement by Gray on the P.A. system that any political signs left on the fence would be confiscated unless claimed by their owners.
As the day — and the sun, bringing near 100-degree temperatures — wore on, a variety of luminaries and lessers in the political universe happened by. Among those in the former category were county commission chair Deidre Malone and her potential rival, Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, both of whom addressed the crowd.
So did city council chair Myron Lowery, who declared his allegiance by swirling about at one point, displaying a Malone campaign logo on the back of his T-shirt. Lowery, long considered a likely candidate for city mayor, allowed as how he, too, might be running for something soon.
And finally there was Cohen, fresh from an event elsewhere in town at which he received a “Man of the Year” award from a local group. The congressman worked the crowd, person by person, clump by clump, and finally, after the band had finished a desultory version of “The Thrill Is Gone,” took the mike to say, “The thrill is not gone for me. It’s a thrill to represent you.”
Pics from the Picnic:
And a video:
Sidney Chism's annual Picnic for Pols went off as scheduled Saturday, and, yes, Virginia, Steve Cohen did
show up to confront his congressional opposition, sort of. For the time being, this tease will have to hold you. The full story and lots and lots of pics later Saturday night. Meanwhile, refresh your memory of other things that happened on the weekend.
*County commissioner Steve Mulroy was one of several prominent politicians on display this weekend. Here Mulroy (with commission colleague James Harvey) spoke at a Meet & Greet affair of the Shelby County Democrats at the Hattiloo Theater downtown. The affair drew candidates for governor, Congress, and a variety of local positiions.
*Other events of the weekend included a changing of the guard at the Tennessee Bar Association, where such eminent out-of-office polical figures as Harold Ford Jr. and Howard Baker made appearances; and Sidney Chism's annual picnic gathering.
Former congressman Ford, a Democrat, and former U.S. senator Baker, a Republican, discussed a wide range of subjects and concurred on several — including the value of current economic stimulus programs and the need for more bipartisan cooperation.
(More images and details to come from these and other events)
*On the sadder side, the great Josie Burson was laid to rest on Friday afternoon at Baron Hirsch Cemetery. Burson, who died Thursday at 93, was the widow of the late Leo Burson and mother of Charles Burson, former chief of staff for Vice President Al Gore and former state Attorney General. A distinguished figure in her own right, she did a stint as state commissioner of Employment Security and was honored with a variety of awards for her community service.
9th District congressman Steve Cohen, a family friend, remembered her this way: "Mrs. Burson was a wonderul lady who did for everybody what she could. She cared about the whole Memphis community and brought people together. She and her husband Leo were leaders for a long time, and, after he passed, she carried on, working for seniors. They were involved so much in the whole community. We're proud of their son Charles, who followed in their footsteps and brought great honor to the famiiy name and to the city of Memphis."
Mayor Strickland? Mayor Conrad? These are new names in the guessing games going on concerning the next Memphis mayor’s race — which could happen as regularly scheduled, in October of 2011 or, as a special election to fill a vacancy, sometime earlier than that.
Neither Jim Strickland nor Kemp Conrad, both first-term city council members, are so far-fetched to consider as possible — and viable — candidates as either might have seemed even a few months ago.
Strickland, in particular, has earned plaudits for his role in calling for — and then expediting — the transfer of the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center from city management to that of Shelby County. And he won hosannahs from sources as diverse as liberal blogger Steve Steffens and conservative columnist Marilyn Loeffel for taking the initiative in proposing and itemizing a leaner budget than the one set forth originally by Mayor Willie Herenton.
Tom Guleff, a maverick government-watcher whose “Joe Citizens” dispatches and Web site have earned a following in Shelby County, has launched an unofficial Draft Strickland campaign on Facebook.
Conrad, a special-election winner whose tenure is but a few months old, has wasted no time either in making his mark, exposing boondoggles in city government and proposing various reforms.
A former local Republican chairman and a budget-cutter like former Democratic chairman Strickland, Conrad sees himself as more open to humanitarian projects than most textbook conservatives. During the last round of council budget-cutting, Conrad’s intervention was important and perhaps decisive in saving full funding for programs of the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA).
Other council members consider both Strickland and Conrad to be interested in running for mayor, and neither will rule out the prospect, though it is Strickland who is getting most mention these days, largely on the strength of his MSARC initiative and budget proposals.
Conrad himself is a booster. “I consider it an honor to serve alongside Jim Strickland,” he says. And close Strickland ally Shea Flinn considers his colleague’s candidacy to be entirely possible — and highly desirable. “Jim distinguished himself with his leadership on MSARC and the budget,” says Flinn, whom Strickland had unsuccessfully tried to talk into becoming a mayoral candidate himself.
Both Strickland and Conrad are white males, of course — a fact of personal identify that could be a handicap in a city in which African Americans and women have fared better at the polls in recent years.
Former council member Carol Chumney, another white, has already announced she will reprise her 2007 mayoral race when the time comes. Other likely candidates are current council chairman Myron Lowery, maverick school board member Kenneth Whalum Jr., Shelby County Commissioner James Harvey, and the odds-on favorite, current Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton. Wharton has already raised more money than any of the others are likely to, and he starts with a forbiddingly huge support base.
Those who believe that Strickland or Conrad could run a viable race in the face of this reality maintain that either will have earned a substantial public profile by the time the race comes along and will compete seriously for Wharton’s share of the Poplar Corridor vote and that in other predominantly white enclaves. And with other serious black candidates taking sizeable hunks of the African-American vote, the county mayor could have a real race on his hands.
By that reckoning, the mayor’s race could indeed turn into a free-for-all, one which almost any serious candidate could win, if he or she happened to catch the right kind of lightning.
Acknowledging that race will be a theme in next year’s 9th District congressional race, Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism, a major backer of Memphis mayor Willie Herenton’s candidacy, seemed to concede that the 68-year-old Herenton might be a short-term congressman if successful against incumbent Steve Cohen in the 2010 Democratic primary.
“It’s an African-American seat,” Chism told the Flyer in the course of a weekend interview, “and if he just serves one term, it will re-establish the pattern. And after that there won’t be any nine or ten [black] candidates running.”
Chism expressed confidence in a Herenton victory and discounted a recent poll by Berge Yacoubian showing Cohen with a healthy lead. “He’s never had Herenton winning, in any election,” said Chism, who contended further, “All the mayor has to do to win is keep the support he already has. He doesn’t need anybody new.”
With perfect unanimity, the Shelby County Commission voted 13-0 Monday to accept the transfer of the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center from City of Memphis managementto that of the Health Department, now the sole responsibility of Shelby County.
The vote was in decided contrast to the somewhat edgy and distanced attitude displayed by members of the commission’s Community Services committee last Wednesday when commission members present — expressing concerns about cost or protocol or “unilateral” action by mayors Willie Herenton and A C Wharton in announcing the transfer — had voted to send the issue to the full commission “witout recommendation.”
Deborah Clubb, executive director of the Memphis Area Women’s Council and one of several members of a “Friends of MSARC” coalition that has lobbied on behalf of the transfer, was asked: What was the difference between Wednesday and Monday?
“Word came down that if we didn’t move on this we we’d be missing out on all kinds of federal grants. That, and the fact that defense attorneys would literally be in heaven,” Clubb said succinctly.
Both points had been addressed at Monday’s commission meeting, the former somewhat obliquely, the latter more directly. Commissioner Mike Ritz, who had been the leading edge of complaint last Wednesday, hit it head down when introducing the facilitating resolution Monday.
“I think we have created a huge opportunity for defense attorneys who are defending these rapists to get off the hook,” he said, concerning the present irresolute state of affairs and the lack of an agreed-upon protocol. Ritz is normally among the most hard-nosed of commissioners on issues of cost but agreed with colleague Sidney Chism, who had said, “There’s a cost factor whether we like it or not. I don’t know that we’re in a position to say, whatever the cost, we’re not going to do it.”
The issue of costs was addressed directly by county finance officer Jim Huntzicker, who estimated expenses as $210,000 for a 90-day transitional period and annual costs as ranging from a “worst-case” scenario of $750,000 to a best-case one of $100,000, with a “mid-range” estimate of $275,000 to $300,000 being more likely. Huntzicker, Health Department director Yvonne Matlock, Shelby County mayor Wharton and others all indicated that additional financial support was likely from city sources during the transition.
“We will maintain things as they are for 90 days,” said Wharton, promising a.” coordinated effort” with the city. “We will make sure that two things prevail: That the physical, emotional, and mental welfare of victims will be foremost at all times, regardless of the when and where the examination takes place, and, second, for forensic purposes, there is a standard and uniform protocol which will avoid the situation to which Commissioner Ritz alluded.”
Matlock offered further reassurance of a “seamless” transition in which there would be “very little change in actual operation.” She said longer-term issues to be resolved including those of staffing, funding, and infrastructure, as well as that which she referred to delicately as “co-location.”
Various supporters of MSARC, including Norma Lester, who spoke Monday on behalf of forensic nurses, have been dubious about splitting the functions of MSARC, as proposed, before the transfer was arranged, by Memphis mayor Herenton, who accepted an offer from LeBonheur Hospital to see juvenile rape victims, while adults would continue to be treated at MSARC’s main facilities.
The question of location was left vague on Monday, however, as were most other matters, pending a fuller report to the commission by Wharton, Matlock, and others within the 90-day transitional period.
All in all, the commission seemed on Monday to be of similar mind, determined, as Commissioner George Flinn, chairman of he community services committee put it, “to keep this [discussion] to a minimum and get this thing out of the headlines and into practice.”
Clubb, Lester, and Jacob Flowers of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, in thanking the commission for its action, said that suited the Friends of MSARC just fine.
City councilman Bill Boyd, who represents District 2, has listened to two of his colleagues, Jim Strickland and Harold Collins, propose austerity budgets as alternatives to that of Mayor Willie Herenton. But he can’t go along with the total rollback of Herenton’s raises for city employees, something that both Strickland and Collins propose.
And so he’ll be unveiling his own alternative budget Monday night as this week’s council budget sessions get under way.
“They [the city employees] are taxpayers, and they’re citizens,” Boyd said. “And many of them are doing useful work. We shouldn’t be trying to balance the budget entirely at their expense.” Boyd, a veteran city administrator under former mayor Dick Hackett, said he had always been “friendly to labor.” He said that recommendations for leaving vacancies unfilled and for laying off temporary employees might also be misguided. “Many of them are doing jobs for the city that are actually saving money,” he said.
Boyd suggested that it might prove difficult to leave the full amount of the Herenton raises in effect and that rolling them back to some degree might prove necessary. But he said there were other ways to economize that didn’t penalize city workers and promised to put forth some on Monday night.
Terry Roland, the Millington grocer and conservative Republican who came within a few votes in late 2005 of winning a special election in a predominantly black state Senate District, is a candidate again — this time for District 4, Position 3 on the Shelby County Commission.
Roland, the beneficiary of a Saturday afternoon fundraiser picnic at the Arlington home of current Republican commissioner Joyce Avery, is campaigning actively for the job, hoping to sew up GOP support so as to have minimal or no opposition for the position in 2010. He isn’t worried about whatever Democrat will run against him in the overwhelmingly Republican district.
In fact, he’d just as soon have as his opponent Matt Kuhn, the Democrat who won a controversial interim appointment to the seat from the commission’s majority Democrats back in February after the former Republican incumbent, David Lillard, left for Nashville to become state treasurer.
Discoursing to a group of supporters as they all sat in lawn chairs, Roland said, “Matt’s a nice guy, but he’s trying to climb a ladder, and I don’t think he can vote the way the people of that district want him to vote. I asked him was he keeping my seat warm. He said he wasn’t going to run. But I hope he does run. I’ve welcomed him to. We need some real, honest dialogue.”
Roland spent much of his conversational time making the case against city/county consolidation and clearly intends to make opposition to it a major theme of his election campaign. “If we consolidate, not only are the people going to leave, but the businesses will be right behind them. They’ll be following their taillights,” he tells his audience. He mentions Covington to the north, Oakland to the east, and DeSoto County to the south as the principal beneficiaries of consolidation.
“It’s good for the Tipton County Chamber of Commerce,” he says. “If we consolidate, we’ll end up like East St. Louis or Detroit, because the people will be gone.” He offers a glimmer of hope. Since several plants have shut down in Tipton County, officials there will have to raise property taxes to pay for overdue improvements in infrastructure. “Now is the time for us to make our move, and lower ours” as a means of coaxing self-exiled Shelby Countians back onto home turf.
More obiter dicta from Roland on Saturday:
· On Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton’s current “listening tour” of the county to advocate consolidation: “It’s supposed to be his listening tour, but it's us listening to him. He doesn’t want to listen to us.”
· On Wharton’s original plan to balance the county budget by laying off county employees: “He has 188 county attorneys, all of them drawing money. Instead of cutting two or three hundred people trying to feed a family, why doesn’t he cut them?”
· On the recent vote on the commission for an anti-discrimination resolution, spoken for by former commissioner Walter Bailey and based on an ordinance originally sponsored by Commissioner Steve Mulroy: “Walter Bailey was the very best at what he did. He got up there talking about anti-discrimination. But I told him, 'You got to be the biggest hypocrite I’ve ever seen in my life. You’re the same Walter Bailey that got on the Mike Fleming Show and said I didn’t deserve to be senator in District 29 because I was white! “
· On Mulroy’s motives: “He knows it’s getting close to election time. The problem I have with anybody doing that is putting their fellow man and their community at risk. You get people mad at each other, which could really be avoided, a battle that doesn’t need to be fought. We could make this a better world if we didn’t have people on both sides of the aisle stirring up trouble”
Keith Norman, the immediate past chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party, wants to make one thing clear: He isn’t through with the game of politics. But he leaves a lot of other things unclear.
Will he, as blogger Thaddeus Matthews has repeatedly suggested in recent days, run against incumbent Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy for the commission’s District 5 seat next year? Norman’s answer points in several directions at once.
“I consider Steve Mulroy to be a good friend, and I think he has done a very good job for the district on the commission,” said the hulking but affable pastor of First Baptist Church on Broad Street. Then reports of his wanting to run against Mulroy were wrong?
“I didn’t say that. I might make that race. I might run for something else,” answered Norman, who indeed has floated trial balloons for a variety of political races in the past, including one for city mayor. He pointed out that he considered running for the District 5 seat in 2006, the same year Mulroy contended for the seat and won it.
Well, had he taken exception — as more than one black minister had — to the ordinance recently proposed by Mulroy banning discrimination in the county against gays, lesbians, and transgendered people?
“No, let me make one thing clear. I don’t think there should be discrimination against anybody,” said Norman. Pressed further on the issue of Mulroy’s ordinance, which was eventually amended by Commissioner Sidney Chism (and passed) in the form of a simple resolution opposing “non-merit” discrimination of any kind, Norman said, “I do not take a position on the ordinance.”
For all the friendship professed by Norman for Mulroy, the two had at least one serious personal rift — occasioned by an unauthorized recommendation on last fall's official party election guide calling for the defeat of all referenda on the November general election ballot. One of those referenda, providing for "instant runoff" election results, had been shephereded into being by Mulroy, who was understandably vexed. On behalf of the party, Norman declined to issue an amended ballot, though he acquiesced in Mulroy's affixing corrective labels, at his own expense, on such ballots as had not yet been distributed.
The chairman also insisted on an apology from Mulroy for calling a press conference about the snafu. In the end, all referenda on the ballot passed anyway, but the incident left something of a cloud over Norman's tenure and the two men's relations.
Since Norman was making a point of keeping his political options open, how would he deal with criticism from several members of the county Democratic executive committee who had served with him that he had been an indifferent, absentee chairman?
Acknowledging that there had been such criticism and that he had in fact missed some six regular meetings of the committee during his two-year term that ended in March, Norman said, “That’s six out of 24, and of those six, I missed three because of obligations having to do with more important political matters.” He indicated, without explicitly specifying, that those matters concerned support activities for the 2008 presidential race of Barack Obama.
Regarding the six absenteeisms, Norman continued, “I designated that they be handled by party vice chairs.” There were two such who did so — Desi Franklin and Cherry Davis. “Desi had a hard time dealing with it, and I heard about some free-for-alls, but Cherry, I think, was able to handle it all pretty well,” he said.
As for the alleged “free-for-all” meetings, Norman suggested that they made the case for his chairmanship having been a strong one. “Nobody got out of line when I was presiding,” he said. “I was able to control things and keep the party’s attention on the business at hand.”
All in all, Norman said, he thought he had made a record as chairman that he could proudly run on.
UPDATE: In “Taking His Lumps,” this past week’s Politics column, it was described how Governor Phil Bredesen’s energy efficiency bill, designed to establish uniform statewide building codes for residences, had run aground in the state House of Representatives. In that chamber last week, representatives from various rural constituencies sought to exempt their areas in amendment after amendment., and action on the bill had to be postponed until this week.
The good news for the governor is that the bill finally passed. The bad news is that any county that wants to is empowered to opt out of the code’s provisions. Got that? A law gets passed saying that you’ve got to do such-and-such, unless you say you don’t want to do such-and-such. That truly is a new one.
From the governor’s point of view, there’s one small counter-catch: Each newly elected county commission in a self-exempted county is required to opt out all over again by a two-thirds majority.
In other words, every four years, eah scofflaw county (and, to judge by last week's debate, there are bound to be many, many of them) will have to keep its guard up to keep from coming under the state law. So, while it is clear that this is virtually a textbook definition of a law without teeth, arguably, just maybe, it has tooth.
Mayor Willie Herenton took a major step toward making his 2010 race against 9th District congressman Steve Cohen a reality Thursday with the following announcement, emailed to area news outlets from a firstname.lastname@example.org address:
Willie W. Herenton, Mayor of the City of Memphis, has Federal Expressed to the Federal Election Commission his FEC Form 2 Statement of Candidacy to officially start his campaign for the United States House of Representatives Ninth District 2010 Congressional race.
Herenton's action, coming on the heels of news that former congressman Harold Ford Sr. is hosting two big-ticket funcraisers for Cohen, was an apparent sign of the mayor's resolve to run whatever the obstacles might be. The filing — which indicates, among other things, whether a candidate intends to spend his own money — is required within 15 days of a candidate's announcement that he has formed a committee and intends to run for a federal elecrtive position.