Wilder ruled the state Senate for 36 years as Speaker and, ipso facto, the state's lieutenant governor, surviving two serious coups along the way. He was finally deposed in January 2007 when a fellow Democrat, then Sen. Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, cast a surprise vote for Wilder's Republican challenger, Ron Ramsey of Blountville, ensuring Ramsey's victory.
The former Speaker served out that term in the Senate but did not run for reelection in 2008.
A statement released from the state Senate Democratic Caucus office in Nashville on Monday had contained the first information that Wilder had suffered a stroke:
The leadership of the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus released the following statement upon learning news that former Lt. Gov. John Wilder had suffered a stroke:
Our thoughts and prayers are with Gov. Wilder and the Wilder family tonight, Senator Jim Kyle, the Senate Democratic Leader, said from Memphis.
Senator Lowe Finney, Caucus Chairman, said from Jackson: Governor John Wilder is known for his toughness. We hope for a full and speedy recovery.
Preliminary reports had been that Wilder was taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital East, but spokespersons at the hospital said no one had been admitted there under the name of John Wilder.
It is well known — at least in state government circles — that Janice Holder of Memphis, Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court, is a lioness of self-defense. The diminutive jurist is a multi-degreed black belt and is not to be trifled with, in or out of court.
But Justice Holder took it to the limit on Sunday when, as part of the celebration of her mother Sylvia Holder’s 90th birthday at The Parkview on Poplar, she agreed to lie supine on a table and let her martial arts instructor, Patrick Wrenn, hack away at her midriff with a ceremonial sword.
Wrenn’s target was not really Justice Holder’s mid-section, of course. Rather the bell pepper she had balanced on her tummy. The aim was to slice it in half without harm to Holder.
Oh, did we mention that Wrenn was blindfolded?
The beneficiary of this demonstration, Sylvia Holder, is surely deserving of a celebration so exceptional. A retired jazz singer who worked with numerous famed bandleaders, she served in recent years as an usher at the FedEx forum. She is also a poet and the author of a recent book of recollections, Poetry & Memoirs.
And, like her daughter, Sylvia Holder is a model of poise, taking Sunday’s demonstration in stride. See the video. (Enlarge to full screen for best effect.)
Johnnie Turner, the longtime head of the local NAACP chapter, is highly respected in her own right and has been influential in numerous political, civic, and civil rights initiatives over the years.
Several other local figures — among them code enforcement officer Eddie Jones and lawyer Van Turner, chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party -- had expressed interest in running for the position in the weeks following Larry Turner’s death.
The Shelby County Commission will appoint a successor to Larry Turner at the commission's meeting of Janiuary 11, one day before the convening of the General Assembly. Johnnie Turner has indicated that, in adidtion to her interest in the interim position, she intends to seek election to a full term in next year's regular election cycle.
The exclusiveness of that earlier address to the party faithful, explicitly closed to the media, aroused protests — some of it from Republican Party elders themselves.
The announcement from Rhodes has this to say:
“…The lecture, presented by the Rhodes College Lecture Board and Young America's Foundation, is open only to the Rhodes community and begins at 8 p.m. in the McCallum Ballroom.
>“Seating is by ticket, and in early January, students, faculty and staff will be notified where to pick up tickets. Tickets also will be available for purchase by alumni….”
Rove's appearance will precede by a little over a month an address by current national Republican chairman Michael Steele at the local GOP's annual Lincoln Day Dinner in March.
No doubt taking his cue from the fact that the sizeable audience included former Nashville congressman Bob Clement, a Kyle in-law and booster, Wharton launched into a dithyramb on the virtues of the late Governor Frank G. Clement and, in particular, on the spellbinding oration — remembered as “How Long, America?” — that Gov. Clement delivered as the keynote address at the 1956 Democratic convention.
Said the mayor:
“We had a man in Frank Clement a governor of the people in every sense of the word, and I have looked here and yon, I have looked high and low, and I have wondered, ‘When will somebody come along who knows the values of Frank Goad Clement?’….I couldn’t find a Clement, but I found a Kyle!.
“God has sent us a tall man and not by chance. This is a long state. We need someone who is not short on vision. We need someone who is long on vision who is able to see across the length and breadth of this state.”
(Also, interestingly, given the well-known hand-in-glove relationship between Senate Democratic leader Kyle and Governor Phil Bredesen, Wharton had this to say:
“This is a man who has represented us when everybody else turned against us. When I said to Governor Bredesen, when they pulled the rug out from under us…when we were trying to get money here, one man stood up and took on our most popular governor and said, ‘That’s not right for the citizens of Shelby County.’ That man was Jim Kyle.”)
No word on the amount raised, but the recommended contribution levels ranged from $250 to $2500. Kyle has released no financial figures as of yet. His remaining Democratic rivals are Mike McWherter, the Jackson businessman and son of former Governor Ned Mcwherter, and Kim McMillan of Clarksville, the former majority leader of the state House of Representatives..
Next year… Except, hold on, next year is when the race for the 9th District congressional seat is scheduled. Let’s face it: It’s always been an iffy thing. Anybody seen any Herenton-for-Congress paraphernalia? Gone to one of the Doc’s fundraisers? Seen any evidence of any kind that he’s been campaigning for anything at all —- except to stay out of the Graybar Hotel?
Yet the shaggy-dog aspect of this saga is what probably insures there will be a race between Willie Herenton and Steve Cohen. Had there been an indictment, the seriousness of that outcome would have blown away the ex-mayor’s pretensions to a congressional campaign like the diversionary balloon it was.
And had the endless, year-upon-year-upon-year stretched-out-to-the-crack-of-doom Groundhog-day threat of federal prosecution for Herenton been ended for good, that, too, would have made running for Congress an irrelevancy. The man would finally have relaxed in the relish of his soiled but now duty-free and unencumbered laurels, taken it easy and looked after his business interests for real.
It is only this end-of-chapter but not end-of-story circumstance that we are left with that makes a showdown between challenger Herenton and incumbent Cohen inevitable. The reluctance of the prosecution team and Grand Jury either to proceed with an open-and-shut conflict-of-interest case or to walk away from it altogether means that Herenton can do his sigh of relief but not hold that breath.
He will now be obliged to arm himself for what could be one last — and perhaps more animated — thrust at his freedom from the feds. Wht better hedge against new threats of prosecution than to arouse his old inner-city base with the cry of the martyr? What more potent medicine can he stew up to confound his legal adversaries than the elixir of the righteous victim?
White Memphis — only a fraction of the city, with an even smaller fraction in the confines of the 9th congressional district — is myopic in the way it sees Herenton. Yes, a goodly number of African Americans are down on the man, too — as much for his disingenuousness and his being yesterday’s newspaper as for any other reason. But come at him in any way that looks like a racial conflict or a vendetta, and Willie Herenton will start to look more like Nelson Mandela and to a larger constituency than anyone ever thought possible.
Cohen, who — let me say it — deserves to win reelection on the merits of the case, will not provoke Herenton or the former mayor’s potential base in this manner. But there may be surrogates or provocateurs who will in the many, many months that remain before votes are cast in the Democratic primary in August.
To be sure, Herenton has forfeited — or the long attrition he’s endured has undermined — any prospect of his raising real money. His campaign could only rise mighty in jihad-like circumstances — through the kind of populist whirlwind that could also blow deliberative reason plumb out of a jury pool. And shake the resolve of the man’s would-be prosecutors for good.
It is now unmistakably in Herenton’s interest to make the congressional race. And Cohen’s lot once more to prove (and maybe the congressman wants to prove) that he -- a sports nut who really does think in metaphors like this -- can face up to yet another vaunted Alabama team and rout it, too, in the same manner as before.
In a statement that notes Gibbons’ own recent release of such information as well as full or incomplete release of income tax information by most other gubernatorial candidates, both Republican and Democratic, the Memphis district attorney general heads quickly to his point:
“…Mayor Bill Haslam, has refused to disclose any income tax returns and refused to release any information on the amount of income earned from his family business, Pilot Oil Company, along with federal income taxes paid on that income. He has chosen to keep that information secret...”
Gibbons continues, in terms almost like those of an indictment:
“Mayor Haslam chose to run for governor. He should understand that the public has a right to know his income and its sources, even though it is an intrusion on his privacy. There should be no secrets.
”The extent of Mayor Haslam's income from Pilot Oil will tell the public whether his interest constitutes a minor conflict of interest or a big one. The public deserves to know.
”Mayor Haslam did release a summary of what he says is his non-Pilot Oil income for certain years, along with federal taxes paid on that income. That summary shows an average of only about 12 percent of his non-Pilot Oil income being paid in federal taxes, and only about five percent for 2008. Does Mayor Haslam have tax shelters that could pose additional conflicts? The only way to find out is through the release of complete income tax returns.”
In conversations over the weekend, Gibbons expressed disappointment in what he considered lack of zeal by members of the media in seeking answers to such questions, which he had previously raised. He noted that conflict-of-interest issues had loomed large in government and politics in recent years.
Among Republican gubernatorial candidates, Gibbons now occupies something of an underdog’s role, at least where fundraising is concerned. The most recent filing showed him trailing Haslam in fundraising by roughly $5 ½ million to $500,000, while two other Republican candidates, 3rd District congressman Zach Wamp and Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, were in the $2 million range.
What it comes down to, stripped of all euphemisms and rationalization, is that Tennessee’s Democrats, one year after taking a licking in legislative races and becoming the minority party in both houses of the General Assembly, are abandoning ship at the congressional level, too — not even waiting for the 2010 census, after which the state GOP will presumably have a free hand in redistricting.
State Senator Roy Herron of Union City, who switched from the governor’s race to the one for the 8th congressional district after Tanner’s surprise withdrawal, is expected to run competitively against whatever Republican wins the 8th District primary. It is still too early to gauge if a Democrat of equal capability chooses to contest the 6th, where several Republicans are running or are about to.
The Democrats have held a 5-4 advantage in the state’s nine congressional districts. Two of these seats are now at obvious risk. A third, the 4th, is held by Lincoln Davis, a Blue dog Democrat (like Tanner and Gordon) who can also expect a stiff race in 2010 and perhaps a stiffer one afterward.
The 9th District seat now held by Steve Cohen is safely Democratic, though Cohen himself will apparently be challenged in the primary by former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton. The 5th District, encompassing Nashville, is held by Jim Cooper, a Democrat who faces constant criticism from the Democratic left (as did Tanner) for being too conservative in his voting. He may end up facing both a primary and a general-election challenge in 2010.
The Chattanooga-based 3rd District seat, which was Democratic until Zach Wamp won it in 1994, will evidently go by default to one of two Republicans, Robin Smith or Chuck Fleischmann, in 2010, as both declared Democratic candidates for the seat had undeclared by last week.
Some Democrats — especially in the blogging fraternity — have reacted to the withdrawals of Tanner and Gordon by saying, in effect, Good riddance, these weren’t real red-blooded Democrats anyhow.
That, of course, is almost a textbook recreation of the parable of the fox unable to claim grapes hanging high over his head. Sour Grapes is the name of that story. And there’s no denying that, electorally speaking, the grapes have turned very, very sour indeed for Tennessee Democrats.
The announcement was made at Saturday's annual Shelby County Republican Christmas Party, held this year at the home of John and Sue Williams in Germantown. Local GOP chairman credited Memphis lawyer John Ryder with arranging for Steele's presence at the event. Ryder, a member of the Republican National Committee, was named last year as the director of the Republican's nationwide re-dsitricting effort
More interestingly for the long run, the thrust into the question of higher education by District Attorney General Gibbons, who has thus far focused on public safety, puts him on the same page, issue-wise, that has so far characterized the race by Kyle, the Democratic leader in the Tennessee state Senate.
And it highlighted a fact of life for both campaigns: Each candidate is seeking, beyond his own partisan political base, voters from the broad middle of the local Shelby County voting population. After his press conference Thursday, Gibbons acknowledged that he and Kyle were competing for some of the same voters — moderate or independent or just partial to both local hopefuls — who would have to choose between supporting Gibbons in the Republican primary or Kyle in the Democratic primary.
But, along with his admission, Gibbons gave a shrug, a gesture which spoke eloquently to his belief that the problem is more acute for Kyle, who doesn’t have the demonstrable long-term record of attracting voters from the opposite party that Gibbons himself does.
Gibbons elaborated: “I like Kyle. In fact, I told him last year that if he wanted to run for governor, he better do it now. This would be his best-ever opportunity. But he’s got a problem. As a state senator, he doesn’t have the widespread name recognition that he might have in some other office.”
Gibbons’ proposal for an independent board for the University of Memphis, made in the Central Avenue Holiday Inn that faces the northern rim of the university campus, was based, he said, on three factors — (1) UM’s certification by the Carnegie Institute as a research university, making it one of three in the state (the others being the University of Tennessee and Vanderbilt University, both independently governed); (2) UM’s “unique status” as an urban university, serving a city population and offering a growing number of post-graduate degrees; (3) an overriding need “to cut down on bureaucratic red tape,” both that of the state Board of Regents and that of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC).
The Board of Regents, currently saddled with the oversight of six major institutions, 13 community colleges, and 26 technology centers, is over-burdened and slow to focus on the needs of individual campuses, Gibbons said.
Gibbons said the change to independent governing status for the University of Memphis would involve no major start-up costs “and in fact might save money.” Reminded that the proposal for an independent UM board had been made before, notably by first-time gubernatorial candidate Phil Bredesen in 1994, who has not proposed such a change while serving as governor, Gibbons said, without elaborating, that the idea had suffered historically from “benign neglect” and “turf protection.”
As indicated, Kyle himself has concentrated a good deal of his campaign rhetoric on the problems of higher education, and, he, too has called for revamping the Board of Regents, removing the technical institutions from the Board’s control and giving them their own supervising authority. Kyle has also made proposals for guaranteeing stable tuition costs for students on course to degrees. He has not yet focused on plans for individual universities but has promised to release a comprehensive plan for higher education at some point in the future.
Kyle’s endorsement by the Firefighters occurred at the Association’s local headquarters on Stage Road. In a prepared statement, Larry Anthony, president of the Memphis Fire Fighters Association, said "Jim Kyle has a long history of working on our behalf and we trust him. We believe he is the candidate who knows what needs to be done and has the ideas and the experience to make it happen.”
Elaborating at the endorsement ceremony itself, Anthony said he thought Kyle would win the support of other labor organizations in the state. Expressing gratitude for the endorsement and for financial support from the Firefighters, Kyle said he, too, believed that his record would meet with the approval of other labor organizations.
In recent weeks, Kyle, both of whose parents were union members, has received the endorsement of such organizations as the Mid-South Carpenters’ Regional Council and the Memphis Police Association.
His interest in the county mayor’s position, which he first ran for as the Republican nominee in 2002, has not waned. Just last month he was one of those who applied for the position of interim mayor when the office was vacated as a result of incumbent A C Wharton’s victory in the city mayor’s race.
And Flinn has talked out loud about making a race for Shelby County mayor next year when it’s up for its regular place on the countywide ballot.
But he may be after other game, as well. Roll Call, of all people, followed up on some rumors that have been trickling through various Internet sources and called Flinn up, asking if it was true that he intended to be a candidate for the 8th District congressional vacancy which opened up when incumbent Democrat John Tanner announced last week he wouldn’t seek reelection.
Flinn, a Republican, gave the Capitol Hill publication this statement (which apparently also appears on his Facebook page):
“In the days since Congressman Tanner’s announcement, many people from across the district have encouraged me to run for the seat.
“I am deeply troubled by the direction the liberals in Congress are taking our nation runaway spending and taxing, as well as a stunning increase in the size of government, threaten our future prosperity and our freedoms.
“My family and I are praying on this important decision. Let me make one thing clear, I will be a part of a campaign to take back America and make sure our conservative values are no longer ignored, whether I do it as a candidate or in another role.”
The certain candidates inthe 8th district race so far are gospel singer/farmer Stephen Fincher, a Republican, and state Senator Roy Herron, a Democrat.
Fincher already has a head of steam but it should be noted that Flinn overtook attorney Larry Scroggs, the favorite of the local Republican establishment, when he captured the GOP nomination for county mayor in 2002. He was beaten in the general election that year by Democrat A C Wharton, who served the better part of two terms before being elected Memphis mayor this year.
The good news first: “I think we’ve got a 2005-quality machine,” Hargett said in Memphis Tuesday night. Meaning that an optical-scan voting apparatus with paper-trail capability would soon be available in enough quantity to conduct statewide elections in 2010.
“Maybe two months,” said former Bartlett state representative Hargett, who was in town to address the annual Master Meal of the East Shelby Republican Club, along with Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and state Treasurer David Lillard.
Hargett would go on to identify the apparatus in question as one about to be marketed by Unisyn Voting Solutions, a California-based company. Assuming Hargett’s estimates of availability to be accurate, the existence of the Unisyn device would seem to allay one of the Secretary’s persistent doubts about being able to implement the TVCA in 2010.
Hargett and other skeptics had questioned whether machines meeting 2005 standards of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission would be available in time to meet the 2010 deadlines imposed when the authorizing legislation for TVCA was passed in 2008. He and state Election Coordinator Mark Goins had been reluctant to fall back on the 2002-vintage machines that Nashville Chancellor Russell Perkins recently ruled would be adequate to the task.
“But this has always been about the cost to the various counties,” said Hargett, keeping to the second focal point of his resistance to immediate implementation of TVCA — that many of the 93 Tennessee counties currently not employing optical-scan devices would be forced to appropriate ruinously large expenditures to retrofit, amounting to some $11 million statewide — this despite the availability to the state of some $25 million in federal funds for the purpose, provided under HAVA (the Help America Vote Act of 2002).
“The real question is if there are other costs required of the counties. We can purchase the machines, but that’s all we can do,” Hargett would say in his remarks to the GOP audience, implying the existence of other logistical expenses beyond the federal funds available, but not elaborating.
And now the bad news for TVCA advocates: Hargett as much as said that the Act’s chances in 2010 ranged from dubious to nil. He noted that in the waning days of the 2009 legislative session, a measure to delay implementation of TVCA passed the state House and failed of passage by only one vote in the state Senate, largely due to absences of key senators.
“I understand that the Senate is going to go back in January and take the necessary steps to protect the taxpayers, throughout the state,” Hargett said. “But we’re going to be prepared to implement that law, no matter what.” In his remarks to the Master Meal audience, he did not mention the imminence of the Unisyn machines but said the state was prepared to lease 2002-vintage machines, if necessary.
Acknowledging that the TVCA issue had settled into a partisan battle, with Democrats pushing for immediate implementation and Republicans including himself predominating in the opposition, Hargett attempted some irony, noting that the voting machines in the 93 Tennessee counties without them had been purchased by Democratic election commissions under a system of Democratic election administrators. (Until the Republicans acquired a legislative majority in both houses in the 2008 statewide elections, all county commissions were dominated by Democrats under state law.)
“Either they think that I’m gong to take these election machines that they were honest with and steal elections. Or they’re telling me that they were stealing elections, and now I’m gong to turn around and do the same,” Hargett said.
On Monday, the pollster Peter Brodnitz released the results of a carefully calibrated poll taken on behalf of state Senator Jim Kyle of Memphis, a Democratic canedidate for governor, during the first week of November.
In some ways, the Kyle poll showed the same results as one released earlier by Democratic rival Mike McWherter, a Jackson businessman and son of former Governor Ned McWherter.
In the new poll, as in the earlier one, McWherter led all Democratioc comers — both in a “cold” poll and in a subsequent “informed” one in which brief information about each candidate was added in. (Cold: McWherter, 22 percent; Kyle, 5; former state Representative Kim McMillan of Clarksville, 4; state Senator Roy Herron, 3; Nashville businessman Ward Cammack, 1. vs. Informed: McWherter, 27; Kyle, 10: McMillan, 8; Herron, 4; Cammack, 3)
As in the McWherter poll, Kyle gained more than other candidates in the informed round.
In a conference call with Tennessee reporters, Brodnitz illumined some other silver linings — for example, that Kyle actually led McWherter in the Memphis area (38 percent to 22 percent), which will account for something like 23 percent of the Democratic primary vote. Kyle’s home-base strength plus the large number of undecideds (65 percent in the cold poll, 48 percent in the informed ballot) are posited as reliable long-term strengths.
The two chief surprises in the Brodnitz poll are the less-than-expected showing of Herron, who boasted a string of “straw-vote”victories before changing races last week to run for the suddenly open 8th District congressional seat, and the greater-than-expected strength of McMillan, whom Brodnitz judged to be a serious ongoing player.
Brodnitz characterized McWherter’s strengtrh as essentially consisting of small rural counties, though he acknowledged that McWherter at present has a lead everywhere except Shelby County.
Aside from the purposely contemptuous nature of Wiseman’s comments themselves, they were a disservice to the population he represents. Any first-amendment defense of what Wiseman wrote is wildly off point. Public officials represent their publics. It is the very nature of our political system.
Though it wouldn’t be exculpatory, it would be a step toward redemption if Mayor Wiseman would do the obvious: Admit error and apologize. Not to do so makes the people of Arlington complicit in his ill-considered philippic.
And there’s yet another disservice he needs to requite — the one committed against the only other public person named Wiseman in these parts, his brother Lang Wiseman, who is not only the chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party but has for the most part comported himself effectively, even far-sightedly, and, perhaps most importantly, discreetly. It would be tempting to call the GOP chairman a “moderate,” only that’s a descriptor as unacceptable to the contemporary Republican as “liberal” is to your average office-holding Democrat.
Lang Wiseman has so far held his peace on the matter of the Facebook entry. It would be wise (as it were) for him to continue to do so, unless his brother declines to avail himself of the apologetic course just suggested. In that case, the chairman might need to supply the remedy himself, as embarrassing to both brothers as that might be.
All three survivors — Jackson businessman Mike McWherter, state Senator Jim Kyle of Memphis, and former state Representative Kim McMillan of Clarksville — are scrambling for their share of donors and supporters from Herron’s leave-behinds.
And at least two of the candidates — McWherter and Kyle — agree on the reasons for the surprise announcement by 8th District incumbent Democrat that he wouldn’t be seeking reelection in 2010. It was that news from Tanner on Tuesday night that triggered Herron’s change of race and the fast shuffling that followed.
In similar terms, each expressed in Memphis this weekend the same theory — that Tanner, a 22-year veteran of Congress, was unwilling to expend time, energy, and treasure in a campaign already being stoutly contested by Republican Stephen Fincher, just to gain two more years in office.
Based on the possibility that continuing Republican legislative majorities after the 2010 election cycle would result in the drawing of district lines to meet GOP needs, Tanner would then be confronted with a hopeless reelection situation for 2012.
In a conversation with Kyle on Saturday, after the two had addressed a Democratic Party-sponsored “S.O.S.” (for “Save-out-State”) training session for party cadres, McWherter took the scenario a step further, suggesting that Tanner’s opting-out was “good for our party,” in that it would allow a Democratic winner in 2010 time to develop an incumbency and therefore a leg up on the 2012 race in the redesigned 8th District.
One revelation from McWherter, running counter to a conspiracy theory or two suggesting a possible role of the candidate’s father, former Governor Ned McWherter, in prompting Tanner’s decision: The younger McWherter was visiting his father Tuesday night when the former governor got a courtesy phone call from Tanner concerning his decision. “I was floored. We both were,” said candidate McWherter.
McWherter’s appearance at the S.O.S. affair, where he delivered a carefully crafted and thoughtful address on the challenges of the 2010 election season, may well have been augured a new strategy to boost his prospects among still undecided Democrats. Word-of-mouth afterward was uniformly positive, even among some who had harbored doubts previously about the speaking ability of McWherter, a no-show among many of the previous party dinners and forums around the state.
A “rose garden” strategy was how Kyle had dubbed McWherter’s effort up to now. Something like that had been the appraisal of many observers about a campaign that had depended largely on name recognition but may now be morphing into a more public phase.
McWherter had clearly made gains in the immediate wake of Herron’s switchover — especially in the Nashville area. Typical was the announcement this past week from Charles W. Bone and Charles Robert Bone, influential party figures and fundraisers, that they were transferring their allegiance from Herron to McWherter.
For his part, Kyle was concentrating on solidifying his support from organized labor and in picking up his own recruits from among ex-Herron supporters — in the Chattanooga area, especially.
And McMillan, who had spent several days in Memphis this week, was also redoubling her efforts and making phone calls to erstwhile Herron backers.
It is still too early to analyze the results of these several overlapping efforts and the reconfigurations that will follow. But with the New Year of 2010 only a hop, skip, and jump away, it’s a new race. Everybody understands that.