"We'll be making an announcement about the race shortly. But let me be clear: this country is heading in the wrong direction, and I am going to be part of the solution. I am going to be part of a campaign to stop Nancy Pelosi's war on our economy and our conservative values. I will not sit by and watch the liberals shatter the American Dream and destroy our liberties, which so many people have worn the uniform to defend."
Flinn’s pending entrance into the race leaves Tom Guleff as the only announced Republican candidate for Shelby County mayor, and it may result also in a change of race by John Farmer, a local activist and blogger (“Blue Collar Republican”) who had previously declared his intentions to run in the 8th District.
The 8th District race became open late last year when longtime Democratic incumbent John Tanner announced he would not seek reelection.
Predictably, Tennessee political response to President Obama’s State-of-the-Union address varied by political party. Here are some of the reactions:
U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN):
“I had hoped President Obama would moderate his policies and his rhetoric, and while certainly there were aspects of the speech I agreed with, it didn’t seem to me that he’d learned a great deal from the past year. While that is disappointing, I do get the sense that my colleagues in the Senate HAVE learned a great deal over the past year, and for that reason, we have a far better chance to be able to work in a bipartisan fashion to implement good policies that will stand the test of time.”
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander R-TN):
“My hope is that the president now will focus on jobs, debt, and terror. And it would suit me fine if he would stop right there until he has all three headed in the right direction. On jobs, that means lower taxes instead of higher taxes, cheap energy instead of a national energy tax, reducing health care costs instead of increasing them, and ending TARP instead of spending TARP. And it means getting the government out of the automobile business. All of that would create an environment in which Americans could create more jobs.”
7th District congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood):
“There is a piece of Tennessee wisdom the President indicated tonight that he may have learned, ‘when you’re in a hole, stop digging.’ Unfortunately, our economic condition requires more than just a freeze on spending. In the last year, Washington tried to punish the economy into health. Punishing profit and risk has only dug the hole deeper. It is time to shift focus to incentives. By incentivizing individuals, we can expand the economy.
“We need to take immediate action to repair the damage. That means cutting federal spending, not just freezing it. Additionally, we must ease the federal burden on taxpayers to allow them to invest and save. We must ease regulations to allow small businesses and industry to grow and hire.”
9th District congressman Steve Cohen(D-Memphis):
“President Obama delivered a great speech tonight that laid out a clear path to rescue, rebuild and restore our economy while offering a new foundation for the prosperity of our nation. At a time of great challenge for our country, President Obama reminded all of us that the real strength of our union is found in our boundless optimism and unending hope that tomorrow can, and will, be better than today.
Jobs and Economic Development
“I commend the President for making jobs the very first issue he discussed in the State of the Union address. The President is right when he says this has been a difficult year for some, especially in the Ninth District. The unemployment rate in Shelby County has remained unchanged for the last two months, and I know how desperately many people want a job that pays the bills, keeps the roof over their heads, and let’s them plan for retirement or their children’s future.
“I voted for the Main Street for Jobs Act which the House passed in December that makes investments in small businesses, green jobs, clean energy, and infrastructure projects. Over the last year, the Ninth District has received millions in Recovery Act funding to jumpstart job creation and save thousands of teaching, public safety and private sector jobs that would have been lost had Congress not acted so swiftly.
“I was pleased President Obama called for an even greater investment in our transportation infrastructure — not just to create jobs, but also promote economic development. Memphis is the distribution hub of the nation. Our roads, river, runways and rails roads keep people and commerce moving. These unique assets are some of the reasons why companies are becoming more interested in doing business in the Ninth District. As a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I look forward to working with the President on his ambitious plans — including his commitment to expanding high-speed rail across America.
“I look forward to working with the President to do even more in the months ahead to address the foreclosure crisis, help people keep more of their paycheck to save for their retirement, make the dream of college a reality for even more people, and finally make health care affordable for all those who need it. This is a solid path forward to increasing the cost of living and standard of living for all Americans.
“President Obama reminded the nation tonight that the stakes are simply too high to abandon health care reform efforts. To do nothing means that health care premiums will increase, businesses will drop coverage for employees and people with pre-existing conditions will still be at the mercy of the insurance industry.
“An overwhelming majority of constituents in the 9th District want to see a health care reform bill passed. I am working with the Speaker and Democratic Leadership to see that the needs of the 9th District, including funding for The MED and programs to reduce infant mortality, are included in the final bill sent to the President for his signature.”
Ending the Cycle of Boom and Bust
“As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Subcommittee that deals with the nation’s bankruptcy laws, I commend the President for putting forth a financial regulatory plan that will provide consumers with the information they need to make important financial decisions so they can avoid foreclosure and the bankruptcy courts.
“Wall Street can not be allowed to go back to their business as usual ways of massive bonus payments, golden parachutes for top executives or creative accounting practices that pushed us to the brink of depression. The banks and financial institutions that received TARP money must repay every dollar. The regulations that President Obama outlined tonight will hold banks accountable and provide greater oversight of the financial sector so that the cycle of boom and bust can become a thing of the past.”
Education“The foundation of our long-term economic success won’t be found in the boardrooms on Wall Street, but in the classrooms of the Memphis City and Shelby County Schools. We must invest in education, and that means ensuring there is a qualified teacher in every classroom, 21st Century computers and technology in every school, a renewed commitment to foreign languages, and an emphasis on character and diversity.
“As Congress prepares to discuss reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Law, I will work with President Obama and Education Secretary Duncan to make sure that school children in the 9th District are able to compete and become employed in the global 21st Century economy.”
“The President spoke passionately tonight about the need to strengthen our nation’s commitment to civil rights. At long last we have a Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department that is focused on prosecuting civil rights violations. Whether its hate crimes, violations of equal pay laws or simply ensuring equal justice for all, I look forward to working with the President to diligently pursue these aims.”
“As the President said tonight, ‘our destiny is connected to those beyond our shores.’ President Obama has made great progress in turning around the tarnished image of our nation. Once again, the United States is a voice for human rights and leader in the world community on climate change and economic growth. I applaud the President for his commitment to do more to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa and for his leadership in responding to the earthquake in Haiti.
“I applaud the President for his efforts to wind down the war in Iraq and bring our troops home. However, I am concerned about the path forward in Afghanistan. I believe the President deserves an opportunity to implement his plan, which includes an exit strategy for our troops. The fight in Afghanistan can not be won by sheer military force alone. We must offer humanitarian and diplomatic assistance to create the foundation for a stable and long-lasting Afghan society that will be free from the Taliban’s influence.”
3rd District Congressman Zach Wamp (R-Chattanooga):
“Since controlling the White House and Congress for the past year, the liberal Democrats in Washington, D.C., have increased the deficit by more than 300 percent to $1.4 trillion. Simply implementing a budget freeze measured against last year’s record levels of spending will do little to curb the ballooning deficit. It is time to return to fiscal sanity.
“Our country can no longer accept these spending policies. House Democrats, in one year of reckless federal government spending, passed $787 billion in stimulus funds, two government spending bills totaling more than $855 billion and increased non-defense spending by 12 percent. This doesn’t include all of their new spending priorities for 2010 or expanding entitlement programs that impose additional mandates on state and local governments.
“The Congressional Budget Office has released its projections that the United States will have a $6 trillion total budget deficit over the next decade. The Wall Street Journal described this $6 trillion aggregate debt as, ‘a level that many economists worry is unsustainable in the long run, and could lead to a currency shock, inflation, crippling interest rates or other economic maladies.’
“The public rightfully has major concerns with the rapid growth of government. We should work to implement responsible policies that decrease our national debt and properly manage the entire federal budget, including mandatory and entitlement programs, and limit our debt in future years.”
Chris Devaney, state Republican chairman:
“Tonight, we heard more of the same from a President who has failed time and again to make good on his promises. President Obama has now been in office for more than a year and in that time Tennesseans have suffered the loss of nearly 90,000 jobs resulting in a statewide unemployment rate of almost 11 percent. Instead of working on real solutions that will help put people back to work, this Democrat Congress and Administration have used the economic downturn as an excuse to blow billions of taxpayer dollars on fiscally reckless policies that are burying our kids and grandkids under mountains of debt.
"Middle-class families are looking for more than empty promises. They want to go back to work. And they want the Democrats who run Washington to stop pursuing a big government, big spending agenda that includes a government takeover of health care, 'stimulus' bills, a new national energy tax and taxpayer-funded bailouts. The recent elections in Massachusetts, Virginia, and New Jersey have shown that voters aren't buying this Administration's rhetoric, and in November I think we'll see that Tennessee voters aren't buying it either."
Under the worst of circumstances, Mayor A C Wharton is preternaturally smooth and gets credit for trying. How else could he have won last year’s crowded special election with fully 60 percent of the vote?
On Tuesday night at Hickory Hill Community Center, Wharton displayed enough charm and sincerity — and, most importantly, know-how — to keep a packed house happy. And never mind that the questions he got at this, the mayor’s second “town hall” since taking office last October, showed that the attendees considered themselves to be in woeful circumstances indeed.
Back to that question of know-how: When Wharton held his first Town Hall at Breath of Life Christian Center in the Frayser-Raleigh area on the last day of November, he had armed himself with members of his administrative team — as he did again on the other side of town Tuesday night — and, not far removed from his former job as Shelby County mayor, more often than not deferred to them for answers.
On that first occasion, Wharton even allowed himself several “I-don’t-know’s.”
The ratio of deferrals to answers of his own had dropped considerably on Tuesday night, and it’s difficult to remember if there were any disavowals of knowledge on the mayor’s part at all.
Wharton clearly has learned the ropes of his new job, and, though he still let, say, Robert Lipscomb, the director of Housing and Community Development, answer in depth to the issue of when and whether Marina Cove, former site of the old Cablevision complex, might be rescued from its present state of dilapidation, the mayor himself spoke convincingly and at length of the need to revive Marina Cove along with Hickory Ridge Mall as the twin pillars of the area’s redevelopment.
Like the one about Marina Cove, a good many of the audience questions Tuesday night concerned various states of dishevelment or decay in the larger Hickory Hill community. Several of them concerned dumping of refuse in public areas.
Wharton established a bond with his audience when he acknowledged that dumping was a problem in his own neighborhood, too. Looking at the refuse near his home digs, he said, was instructive. “I can tell what people ate last night. I can tell what they drank.”
Then Public Works director Dwan Gilliom spoke up to promise authoritatively that a call to his office one day would result in the offending substance being picked up the next.
Hearkening back to a matter that had come up during the recent cold spell (and which had an unsettling resemblance to issues that had precipitated the fateful sanitation workers’ strike of 1968) — namely, the arbitrary decision by some sanitation work crews not to work in sub-freezing weather — Wharton promised, “I’m not going to put up with people deciding when they’re going to work.”
That remark, delivered in an unusually steely voice, generated a roomful of supportive applause.
Not every prospect discussed Tuesday night was so bleak. Lipscomb was so salvific as to pledge a “ten-year plan” to end homelessness in Memphis. A C himself talked about a massive Whitehaven redevelopment promised by the current managers of the Elvis Presley empire. And he worked in an optimistic plug for is current pro-consolidation initiative.
But, given the stated concerns of those present, there wasn’t that much to be uplifting about. The mayor was bluntly candid at one point when asked about the area’s — and the city’s — stray-dog problem. Some 70 percent of the strays were pit bulls, he told the audience, and with funds low and with dogs packed three to a kennel at the Animal Shelter, confessed, “It’s either that or we kill them….We don’t have the capacity to pick up strays.”
Issues related to garbage and sanitation kept resurfacing. One woman, a postal worker in uniform, expressed her irritation at finding empty garbage pails left in the streets by sanitation workers, blocking her access to postal boxes. “I love my customers. I don’t know about your people,” she said.
Close to the end of his remarks, Wharton gave her — and the rest of the Hickory Hill attendees — something of an answer to that. He was recasting the whole city work force, he said. It was being instilled in all city employees, in big jobs and small, to regard themselves as “customer servants.”
And though he didn’t designate himself specifically, his implication seemed clear enough: That included the mayor. And people in Hickory Hill and elsewhere will surely be looking to see how that works out.
Most of these have been generalized background queries. Some have been more targeted, and, in a coincidence that is almost starling, today brings questions from more than one New York source about a single speech delivered by Ford, then a second-term U.S. representative from the 9th District, in Apriil 1999.
The speech, before a Memphis Rotary Club luncheon, showed 29-year-old Democrat Ford — who had months before been described by the New York Times as a "black centrist" — in a very, very conservative light, tending so far right as to sound almost like a traditional Republican.
The queries we received from New York reflected interest in the then-congressman's statements advocating a lifting of the ban on corporate contributions to political campaigns — something that has just this week been accomplished by action of the U.S. Supreme Court. But, in the retrospect of more than a decade, we ourselves appreciate being reminded of just how early Ford's turn to the political right had begun.
Herewith is the column, as it appeared in our issue of April 15-21, 1999 — or those portions of it dealing with Ford.
(The column's second half concerns an equally eyebrow-raising move to the political left by then Governor Don Sundquist, a Republican, and interested readers can read the whole column here via this URL:
Crossing the Lines
Ford Jr. poaches on the GOP’s turf, while Sundquist heads in the other direction.
by Jackson Baker
Is this a pre-millennial phenomenon or what? Increasingly, influential public figures are departing their parties’ fixed ideological positions and grazing for new ideas over on the other side of the partisan battle lines.
Two recent examples, each happening in a different direction:
Left to Right: For the few hundred mainly moderate-to-conservative Memphians on hand last week at a Downtown Rotary Club luncheon, it was almost a throwback to the heady days of the Contract With America, circa 1995.
Up there was a fresh-pressed yuppie-looking congressman talking up the flat tax, charter schools, pay-as-you-go economics, and conditional tax cuts. He advocated a lifting of the ban on campaign donations from corporations, bragged on former congressman Bob Livingston, a Louisiana Republican who “would have been one heck of a Speaker” had he not resigned after allegations of sexual misconduct, and criticized the Clinton administration for the weakness of its foreign policy.
What spawn of Newt Gingrich might this have been?
Well, truth to tell, it wasn’t like that. This was Harold Ford Jr., the second-term 9th District Democratic congressman from Memphis, successor in the House of Representatives to his father and namesake, Harold Ford Sr., who could always be found among the ranks of liberal urban Democrats.
The son and heir — perhaps looking to a statewide race earlier than almost anyone expected, or maybe just taking pains to build his name throughout Tennessee — has been in East Tennessee of late and was in Nashville on Monday, preaching much the same gospel as he brought to the Memphis Rotarians on Tuesday, a message of moderation that, a few scant months ago, caused him to be written about in The New York Times Magazine and celebrated on its cover as a “black centrist.”
“I’m a ‘New Democrat.’ I like to spend money, but we ought to be able to pay the bills at the end of the day, and we ought to hold people accountable,” said Rep. Ford at Rotary.
And: “Some of us moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans are trying to find ways to heal and to bridge that chasm and to close that gap [between the parties].”
And (quoting John Maynard Keynes): “The difficulty lies not in developing new ideas but in escaping the old ones. We have a lot of old ideas to escape from.”
Some of those “old ideas” are those very dear to most Democrats — the sacrosanctness of the public schools, for example, and the clear distinction between them — as objects of governmental largesse — and private educational institutions. But quoth Ford Jr.:
“We need to look at alternative ways to teach kids. I’ve taken some hits even from friends of mine, locally. But the only loyalty I have, the only chips I have in the game are our children. If charter schools teach them, let’s go with charter schools. If public schools teach them, let’s go with public schools. If private schools can do it, go with private schools. We’ve got to move beyond the rhetoric that envelops this discussion and deal with the facts, deal with the reality.”
What about some of those basic alterations in the nation’s tax structure which Republicans insist upon? “I’m not opposed to the flat tax. I think that would be the way to simplify things considerably. I support tax cuts. I’m a New Democrat. I don’t want to pay any more than I have to pay.” The congressman adds a proviso, it should be said, that positions him against immediate tax cuts — namely, that obligations to Social Security and Medicare, as well as payments on the national debt (currently standing at $2.5 trillion), preclude any across-the-board reductions now.
Ford does, however, join in the Republican call for elimination of the so-called marriage tax, and he agrees that businesses are entitled to a 20 percent flat-rate tax credit for research and development. He also called for a presidentially appointed national commission to study revisions in the tax code.
Ford credits President Clinton with pragmatic policies that have resulted in the nation’s current sustained economic boom. But he does not shrink from criticism of the president, whether during last year’s Monicagate affair or with his current call for Clinton to make “a stronger, more forceful, more articulate case” for the actions in Kosovo.
Much of the congressman’s political sea change (if that is what it is) would seem attributable to his interest in making a statewide race — possibly as soon as 2000, against incumbent Republican Senator Bill Frist. Certainly, his recent travels seem designed to draw the attention of party activists and donors statewide.
Why else would a Memphis-area congressman make a point of touring the new Tennessee Titans’ stadium — now nearing completion in Nashville — as Ford did on Monday and then offer a defense of the team and its host city to an audience in his home city, still peevish about being so badly upstaged on the sports front?
“Let me remind you, Nashville went out and bought them a team. We shouldn’t be angry with them,” Ford told the Rotarians, arguably attempting to elevate himself above parochial jealousies and intra-state rivalries.
It may be that Ford — whose financial cupboard is bare just now and whose safe congressional seat is a fair launching pad in itself — means only to ensure that he keeps being talked about.
His new rhetoric won’t hurt in that regard....
(The column can be read in its entirely here.)
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the incumbent whose seat Ford has declared an interest in, and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, New York’s senior senator and a close Gillibrand ally, are pressing the Bank of America on what they deem a workers’ rights issue, and the public employees union SEIU 32BJ, one of the nation’s largest, has tied the issue directly to Ford.
In a letter to Ford last week, only days before he announced his leave of absence from his vice chairman’s job at BOA, union executive vice president Kevin Doyle decried the recent laying-off of 30 security officers from their jobs at the bank and the loss of health-care coverage last year for 130 other employees.
“It is incredible many of these security guards have been left out in the cold while your firm is set to pay out one of its biggest bonus pools ever. Last year Bank of America paid out $3.3 billion in bonuses for 2008 performance, and Merrill Lynch paid out $3.6 billion. Merrill Lynch executives, including you, received these bonuses even though the firm lost $3.8 billion.”
“Officers who protect your employees and who live in one of the country’s most expensive cities should not be struggling to support their families while executives make billions in bonuses.
“As you contemplate a run for the Senate, it is time to show your commitment to improve the quality of life for all New Yorkers—not just the Wall Street elite. I hope that you will help correct this problem at Bank of America and ensure that the officers at your buildings are restored to their previous positions and have their full benefits restored. I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you and/or other Bank of America representatives to discuss this further.”
No response from Ford was received in the meantime, but days later, on Tuesday of this week, he announced he would be taking a 30-day leave of absence from the bank to begin a “listening tour” of New York State in advance of a possible Senate run.
And, as the New York Times then reported: “[Ford spokesman Davidson] Pollock noted that the timing of Mr. Ford’s leave coincides with disclosures that are expected in coming days from Wall Street banks about bonuses for employees’ performance in 2009. Mr. Ford has declined to discuss his compensation. At Merrill Lynch, he advises senior management on domestic policy, among other duties.”
In an online article last February the Flyer had been first to speculate on the question of Ford’s possible receipt of a healthy bonus from the Bank of America after the Merrill Lynch company (for which Ford had previously worked as a rainmaker) was absorbed by BOA. The Bank of America continued to employ Ford.
The nation’s taxpayers in effect subsidized the takeover of a belly-up Merrill Lynch by BOA, since the deal required some $20 billion in direct federal funding, plus $188 billion in protection against further losses.
Given that scenario, hackles were raised by the Merrill Lynch division’s payout in late 2008 of some $3.6 billion in bonuses to its executives — after losses for the year of almost $30 billion in the estimation of New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo, a figure considerably more than the $3.8 billion mentioned by Doyle in last week’s letter to Ford.
Cuomo, who invoked the specter of legal action, said the bonuses — ranging from $1 million on the low end to many times more than that for ranking executives — raised “serious and disturbing questions.”
The names of bonus recipients and the amounts paid them by Merrill Lynch have thus far not been revealed, and Ford has brushed aside direct inquiries about payouts to himself, other than to say his relationship with the Merrill Lynch division is “by contract,” with annual compensation estimated by the New York Post at $3 million.
In any case, the current full-court press from SEIU against Ford’s employer and Ford himself has been augmented by similar public pressure from Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, who, in widely publicized statements this week, have called on Bank of America to compensate the dismissed employees.
Given that SEIU has close ties with the two senators and that Schumer, who has publicly called on Ford not to run for the Senate, is well known to be colleague Gillibrand’s chief backer (and Ford’s current chief critic), further publicity linking likely candidate Ford to the bank, its alleged misdeeds, and the volatile issue of bonus payments is probably inevitable — and imminent.
Ford’s “Salary Is Set By Contract, Period” … “He Does Not Get A Bonus”. According to the NY Daily News, “Aides to Ford, a vice chairman of Merrill Lynch, said yesterday that his ‘salary is set by contract, period.’ ‘He does not get a bonus based on how well the bank does,’ spokesman Davidson Goldin said. Goldin refused to specify Ford's salary but said that ‘if he runs, he will disclose all appropriate financial information.’” [NY Daily News, 1/13/10]
His Spokesman “Declined To Say Whether He’d Received One”. According to Politico, “Ford arrived at the tail of the boom and stayed at Merrill through its absorption by Bank of America and through a controversial round of bonuses at the end of 2008. His spokesman, Davidson Goldin, declined to say whether he’d received one, but New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has requested information on the bonuses from the bank, which received federal support to weather the crisis.” [POLITICO, 1/13/10]
Salary “Set By Contract” According to the Washington Post, “When asked in the interview whether he himself had received a bonus from his employer, his spokesman, Davidson Goldin, interrupted, as he did on other topics not related to Ford's rationale for running, which the media handler understood to be the sole focus of the interview. At that point in the interview, Ford stayed silent, but Goldin later offered that Ford's "salary is set by contract." [Washington Post, 1/15/10]
In a press release Thursday morning announcing his withdrawal, Byrd declared, “I am …blessed with good health and to be a part of a strong and contributing community business,” thereby discounting as factors in his decision a bout with colon cancer some years ago or speculation in the business press concerning the effect of the recession on the Bank of Barlett.
Nor did Byrd, in his statement, mention a possible candidacy by interim county mayor Joe Ford as bearing on his decision.
Byrd was considered by many to be the favorite in the developing Democratic field. The remaining prospects are Ford and Shelby County commissioner Deidre Malone. No major Republican figure has yet declared for county mayor.
Byrd’s statement, in its entirely:
AFTER MUCH DELIBERATION, I HAVE DECIDED TO WITHDRAW MY NAME AS A POSSIBLE CANDIDATE FOR SHELBY COUNTY MAYOR FOR THE 2010 ELECTION.
MY LIFE HAS BEEN GREATLY BLESSED WITH A STRONG, LOVING & SUPPORTIVE FAMILY AND A LEGION OF CLOSE FRIENDS. THROUGHOUT MY YEARS IN ELECTED OFFICE AND COMMUNITY ENDEAVORS, MY FAMILY & FRIENDS HAVE SELFLESSLY, GENEROUSLY, AND CONTINUALLY GIVEN THEIR TIME, EFFORTS, AND FINANCIAL SUPPORT ON MY BEHALF. MY ELECTION AT AN EARLY AGE TO THE TENNESSEE STATE LEGISLATURE AND YEARS OF ACTIVE COMMUNITY SERVICE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE OTHERWISE. I AM ALSO BLESSED WITH GOOD HEALTH AND TO BE A PART OF A STRONG & CONTRIBUTING COMMUNITY BUSINESS.
THE ENCOURAGEMENT I HAVE RECEIVED REGARDING A MAYORAL CANDIDACY HAS BEEN HEARTWARMING & OVERWHELMING. THAT HAS MADE MY DECISION TO FOREGO A RACE AT THIS TIME AN EVEN MORE AGONIZING ONE. HOWEVER, THE PERSONAL & ECONOMIC SACRIFICES REQUIRED ARE NOT PRUDENT FOR MYSELF PERSONALLY OR MY FAMILY AT THIS TIME. IT HAS BEEN A LIFELONG PASSION & JOURNEY TO BE A COALESCING & PIVOTAL FORCE FOR PROGRESS IN EDUCATION, RACIAL HARMONY, & ECONOMIC PROGRESS.
THAT PASSION & JOURNEY WILL CONTINUE BUT AS A PRIVATE CITIZEN RATHER THAN AS AN ELECTED OFFICIAL.
Should a party committee keep an ex-Republican from running under the Democratic party label?
Go here to see what local Democrat Douglas Gillon thinks about it.
It was a forum at Belmont University co-sponsored by SCORE (State Collaborative on Reforming Education, the organization founded by former U.S. Senator Bill Frist) and the state’s CBS television affiliates. Not so coincidentally, it paralleled the ongoing special session on education called by Governor Phil Bredesen.
In one sense the discussion was just that — a frank and open marshalling and vetting of ideas — and all seven candidates seemed to come prepared with considered ideas. In another sense, it was a political beauty contest, with the candidates competing with each other.
It was hard to pick a winner. Looked at one way, all have won and all must have prizes. 4th District congressman Zach Wamp, a Republican, continues to be the best communicator per se, GOP Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey came off as a resolute leader, former state House Democratic leader Kim McMillan exuded pure sincerity, Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam of the GOP was competence itself, Jackson businessman Mike McWherter, a Democrat, was Mr. Likeability, Shelby County D.A. Bill Gibbons, a Republican, suggested a tough-minded innovator, and state Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle was able to remind the audience at Belmont and on home TV that his was the campaign built around education.
There were some givens shared by all, and some distinct differences, mostly of the partisan sort.
The candidates agreed on a need for more interfacing between public education and the larger community and on more direct connections between the classroom and the workplace. They differed on the implications of that.
The Democrats favored continuing with current levels of pre-kindergarten education and were open to expansion of it. As McMillan put it, “Nothing is more important than pre-K education.” The Republicans, even Wamp, an early-childhood-education enthusiast, were willing, mainly for cost-cutting reasons to prune back pre-K to use as a tool “at-risk” students.
The idea of “leadership academies” for teachers and principals seemed to cross partisan boundaries, and the concept of “outcome-based” education received general support. Kyle urged a shift in goals from enrolling students to graduating them. There was a general concurrence in the idea of easing the transitions from community colleges to four-year institutions.
Everybody was on board with Bredesen’s idea of using student achievement scores and teacher evaluation data to improve teacher performance, though the Republicans were discernibly keener about sanctioning teachers. Gibbons was surprisingly confrontational, professing himself ready to “take on the political and educational bureaucracies,” and Ramsey was eager to elevate charter schools and home schooling vis-à-vis traditional public education. “I’ll put those home school scores up against any in the state,” is how he put it. Haslam stressed business models as the key to revamping the system.
Perhaps the staunchest defender of traditional education was McWherter, who responded to various proposals from the others to import outsiders into educational leadership roles by defending the status quo regarding the elevation of teachers to assistant principals to principals, as did Kyle. Perhaps understandably, McWherter favored full funding for objectives of the Basic Education Plan (BEP) advanced by his farther, former Governor Ned McWherter. He was also adamant against elected superintendents.
The best line of the night was Wamp’s. During his closing remarks, he extolled the state’s virtues, including its mountains and rivers and its achievements, including the fact that, “We even got rid of Lane Kiffin!”
White’s unofficial totals were 3076 to Democrat Guthrie Castle’s 1452 and independent John Andreuccetti’s 85. White polled 68 percent of the vote. At his victory celebration in his headquarters at the Park Place Mall, the winning candidate joked that he was disappointed. “I had wanted to get 76 percent to beat Brian Kelsey.” Fellow Republican Kelsey had won a recent special election race for state Senate District 31 with 75 percent of the vote.
The District 85 House seat had been occupied by Kelsey, who vacated it early in his own race to insure that a Republican successor would be in place before the current session of the General Assembly, which convened on Tuesday, got too far down the line.
White’s victory insured that the GOP would maintain its 51-48 edge over Democrats in the House.
Given the long odds against a prospective victory by Castle, his Democratic backers had devised for him a “stealth campaign,” one in which the candidate and his backers set out to avoid public attention as such — indeed, to be as inconspicuous as possible — in the hope that the Republican hierarchy and candidate White himself would consider themselves home free because of the GOP’s well-known predominance in District 83.
Meanwhile, went the theory, the over-confident Republicans would be lulled to sleep, and Castle, supported quietly by representatives of the House Democratic Caucus, which went along with the strategy, would flood the district late in the game, as they in fact ended up doing, with targeted mailouts and robo-calls (some of them involving Memphis mayor A C Wharton and 9th District congressman Steve Cohen).
But the Republicans had been able to anticipate and track the Democratic activity, said veteran political consultant Layne Provine, who advised the White campaign. Provine said the White campaign sponsored its own deluge of last-minute attention, paying special attention to mailouts and teams of door-to-door campaigners.
A press release issued by Brooks herself cites the commissioner “because in the midst of personal trials and tribulations, she stood up for the poor and fought for decent housing for the poor.” According to the release, Dr. Johnnie Watson, president of LeMoyne-Owen College and former Memphis City Schools superintendent was keynote speaker for the award presentation.
The release does not indicate what specific actions by Brooks occasioned her receiving the award, though she has been most active recently in an effort to prevent developer Harold Buehler, whom she dubbed a "slumlord," from getting title to 140 vacant lots under a program administered by the Tennessee Hoousing Development Agency (THDA).
Buehler, an "infill" developer who specializes in rental property, won commission approval some weeks ago, but Brooks, who advocates allowing community development groups to administer the properties, has continued to look for ways of overturning the decision. Her latest sertback occurred last week with the receipt of a letter from Ted R. Fellman, executive director of THDA, stating that Buehler's application for the properties had been consistent with the guidelines of the Homestead Program, that the developer had "performed well within our program guidelines," and that Buehler's units consistently passed quality inspections.
The hopefuls are Johnnie Turner, who wants to succeed her late husband Larry Turner as representative from state House District 85, and Linda Kerley, the former mayor of Collierville, who is vying for the District 4, Position 3 seat on the commission vacated by the resignation of Matt Kuhn to become policy advisor to interim county mayor Joe Ford.
Turner, the longtime executive director of the local NAACP chapter, is considered the odds-on favorite in her race, though both Eddie Jones, a city code enforcement officer, and attorney Errol D. Harmon have some prominent backers. Jones appears to have the support of District 3 commissioner Sidney Chism, while Harmon is being vocally boosted by author and former Circuit Court Judge D’Army Bailey.
Kerley’s case is harder to call, in that several of her rivals for the commission vacancy would seem to have reasonable prospects themselves — among them Millington store-owner Terry Roland, a longtime presence in Republican politics, and John Pellicciotti, a computer networker and restorer of vintage automobiles.
The commission race is complicated by the question of party identity and the matter of whether the contenders intend to seek election for a full term later this year.
During last week’s interviews of candidates, current commission chair Joyce Avery, who represents District 4 herself, made a point of insisting that the district’s Republican heritage and voting history be accounted for in naming a successor. .Several Republicans on the commission are still somewhat aggrieved by the Democratic majority’s selection last February of fellow Democrat Kuhn to fill a position vacated by the GOP’s David Lillard, who became state treasurer.
Kerley is a Republican, with a documented history of voting exclusively in GOP primaries, but some Republican commissioners are unhappy with her past support for such Democratic campaigns as those of former county mayor and current Memphis mayor A C Wharton, Governor Phil Bredesen, and former congressman Harold Ford Jr. in his 2006 U.S. Senate race.
That fact hampered Kerley’s chances in previous bids to be appointed commissioner and interim county mayor, but her prospects are considered better this time around
Some commissioners continue to prefer that applicants for interim positions should, like Kerley, eschew running for regular terms. Pellicciotti has also taken that position. But Roland and another hopeful, George Chism, have declared their intent to run for a full term if appointed.
Moore’s surprise election as commissioner against better-known candidates makes it clear that surprises could happen and unheralded candidates could achieve victory, especially in the case of extended ballots.
The full roster of candidates for the two positions are:
District 85 — Turner, Harmon, Jones, Paul Lewis, and Jacqueline Camper.
District 4, Position 3, Shelby County Commission — Kerley, Roland, Pellicciotti, chism, Kevin Bailey, Jim Bomprezzi, Harold Bill, James Michael Hivner, Charles McGowan, and John Wilkerson.
Castle’s absence from the forum had puzzled and upset members of the League , as well as several of Castle’s Democratic supporters who had gathered for the event, held at the Germantown Municipal Center. Republican nominee Mark White and independent candidate John Andreuccetti did attend and take part.
Before the proceedings got under way, League president Peg Watkins read what seemed to be a statement from Castle, received at 3:30 Monday afternoon, announcing that a scheduling conflict prevented him from attending. Watkins and other attendees told the Flyer at the time, and repeated later, that Castle had committed to attend days earlier.
But Castle says otherwise, and Madalyn Phillips, the League’s liaison with him, said that she had only been given the “impression” Castle would be there but could not specify a specific statement from Castle indicating as much.
Phillips had contacted Castle and the other candidates in December, asking essentially if they had last Monday night’s date free. All did, but at that time she was unable to give the candidates a definite venue. Phillips herself blames a change of ownership at Homebuilders, the structure on Germantrown Parkway where the League had hoped to hold the proceeding.
According to Phillips, hard and fast particulars for the forum were delayed by extended negotiations with Homebuilders’ new owners concerning rental terms and other matters. When no deal satisfactory to everyone could be made, Germantown mayor Sharon Goldsworthy offered the city facility for the event, free of charge, and the League accepted.
Phillips attributes the failure to pin down all three candidates not to recalcitrance by Castle, but to the delay in being able to settle on a venue for the forum.
The election in House District 83 will take place Tiuesday, the same day as the opening of the Tennessee General Assembly, and presumably the winner will go immediately to Nashville to be sworn in.