Look, let’s keep this simple. Memphis’ own Kontji Anthony of WMC-TV, Action News 5, is conceivably the next Oprah and needs you to cast a ballot for her in Oprah’s “Your Own Show” Contest. She’s vying with literally thousands of others who have projected an idea for a new show, and your vote can help.
The bottom line: Time is running out. She needs the votes by Friday.
Is this politics? It’s an election, ain’t it? And here’s a deserving candidate who beats hell out of most of those on your regular ballot.
His slogan (well, one of them, anyhow) is “Vote Greg, not Marsha, Marsha, Marsha,” and he insists that that he’s got a chance to be elected on the basis of what he sees as “an anti-incumbent fever,” along with what he hopes is revulsion in the 7th congressional district against the positions of the well-entrenched incumbent.
That’s Greg Rabidoux, a professor of politics and law at Clarksville’s Austin Peay University and the latest Democrat to hazard the forbidding task of challenging U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn.
Rabidoux basically spent the weekend in Shelby County, making the rounds of actual and potential supporters and turning up on Saturday at Sidney Chism’s annual picnic on Horn Lake Road.
Speaking to a group of hard-core Democrats on Friday night at the Germantown home of Adrienne Pakis-Gillon, Rabidoux tried to inspire his listeners with examples ranging from Barack Obama (“He started with just a small core of believers”) to last week’s marathon, record-setting Wimbledon match that took parts of three days to complete (“There’s a first time for everything”).
Allegiance to special interests and indifference to Social Security, Medicare, and other staples of contemporary American life are some of the derelictions Rabidoux charges his Republican opponent with.
However long on enthusiasm, Rabidoux is admittedly short on resources, making it prohibitive just now to get mass-media circulation for a crisply edited video spot linking Blackburn to alleged Big Oil sponsors that’s playing right now on the Internet.
But, like underdog challengers before him, Rabidoux is making virtue of necessity. Not for him the “thousand-dollar-a-plate fundraisers or the $2500 ‘spa day’ at a fancy Washington hotel” that he attributes to Blackburn, an assistant GOP whip in the House of Representatives and a fixture on the TV talk circuit.
“She’s more celebrity than public servant,” argues Rabidoux, the author of a highly readable and comprehensive study, published just last year, entitled Hollywood Politicos, Then and Now.
“There’s a disconnect there that they feel now more than ever before,” Rabidoux says regarding the constituents of the sprawling 15-county 7th congressional district, which stretches, literally, from the suburbs of Memphis to those of Nashville.
Whether that’s wishful thinking or not remains to be seen.
With less than six weeks to go before all the votes are counted in his Democratic primary contest with incumbent 9th District congressman Steve Cohen, Herenton addressed attendees at the annual picnic of his major political ally, Shelby County Commissioner and former Teamster leader Sidney Chism.
Herenton even seemed to be undertaking ancillary political acts of a pragmatic sort. In the picture at right, for example, he is seen shaking hands with Republican Sheriff’s candidate Bill Oldham, whom he had sought out on the picnic grounds. In the presence of the media, Herenton made a point of praising Oldham, the current chief deputy in the Sheriff’s Department and someone who had served for the better part of 1999 as interim police director while he was mayor.
The former mayor extolled Oldham’s integrity, ability, and dedication, and, while stating for the record that he would not be getting involved in the Sheriff’s race, wished the former director well.
Lest this be seen only as a casual act of ordinary graciousness, it needs to be remembered that Oldham’s opponent on August 5 is Randy Wade, a former deputy whose most recent employment was as Cohen’s district director and who is basically running in tandem with Cohen. Earlier in this past week, in a League of Women Voters debate with Oldham at the Hooks Main Library, Wade had made several charges that had the effect of impugning Oldham’s record.
Here readers can view Herenton's stump speech in full, complete with a cryptic reference by the former mayor to an unidentified “traitor” on the grounds at Chism’s picnic:
When WMC-TV reporter Andrew Douglas, who was moderating that mayoral debate at Advent Presbyterian Church in Cordova, persisted in wondering how Ford’s former commission colleagues could trust his word in the future, Ford called the question “unfair” and continued that he didn’t know “what colleague I served with on the county Board of Commissioners” might have reacted adversely to his decision.
No commissioner who had voted for his appointment had reproached him for the change of mind,” Ford insisted. “I haven’t’ had one. If you can name one tonight, then maybe we can talk about it, but most of my colleagues have urged me to run.”
But one of the commissioners who was in the debate audience that night, Republican Mike Ritz, begs to differ. “I voted for him then, but I never would have if I’d known he intended to run for the full-time job,” Ritz insists. “He gave me repeated assurances, both publicly and privately, that he wouldn’t run for election as mayor.”
Ritz was one of two GOP members whose votes for Ford, who was deadlocked with fellow commissioner J.W. Gibson through 27 ballots, had, more than anythi9ng else, determined the final outcome. “If I hadn’t voted for him, someone else would be mayor today,” said Ritz, who noted that, besides Gibson, other hopefuls, including g former Judge Otis Higgs and former city councilman John Vergos, were in the commission audience that day, making their availability known.
The other Republican who was instrumental in holding the fort for Ford throughout the multiple ballots was Wyatt Bunker. But Bunker still maintains that, among those who sought the interim mayor’s position, Ford had the voting record that was most agreeable to his own conservative views. He had voted with the body’s Republicans on numerous fiscal issues, including proposals to hold the line on taxes or even to lower taxes, said Bunker. “And he was the only Democrat to vote with the Republicans on replacing David Lillard.”
That latter reference was to a vacancy that occurred when Republican Lillard resigned his commission seat to become state treasurer. A Democratic majority broke with tradition and chose fellow Democrat Matt Kuhn over the GOP’s favorite son, Tommy Hart. But Ford had kept on voting with the Republicans most of the way.
So Bunker, though he agrees with Ritz that Ford should not have changed his mind about running for mayor, isn’t sure he wouldn’t have voted the same way as he did in December, had he known that Ford would go on to run.
As for the forthcoming August 5 election, Bunker will join with Ritz, a member of Sheriff Luttrell’s finance council, in voting for the Republican. “But I still think that, faced with the choices we had, I did the right thing,” Bunker says.
He would even go so far as to mete out a letter grade to Ford, who is always rhetorically suggesting to audiences that they do so. “I’d give him a B-minus or a C-plus,” Bunker says. “He’s worked hard and kept up with things. You have to say that.”
Subsequently I read a blog article by Steve Ross, part of which dealt with the absentee candidacy (in Shelby County) of McWherter. And on Wednesday morning I had attended an event in Memphis in which Republican gubernatorial candidate Zach Wamp was making (by his count) his 49th appearance of the campaign in Memphis.
At the latter venue I fell into conversation with a gentleman from the Tea Party who dilated on the 8th district Republican congressional primary and wondered out loud why Stephen Fincher, the Frog Jump farmer/gospel singer (which is how he is usually billed), had so far been something of a no-show in Shelby County despite being regarded as the GOP frontrunner in the district at large.
And all of this suddenly welled up in my consciousness. Hey, what’s going on here?
Granted that, in McWherter’s case, he’s home free in his primary and won’t face an opponent until after August 5 when the Republicans nominate their gubernatorial favorite, but still… He is way less than a name-brand presence, son of Ned Ray or no son of Ned Ray, and why would he not (a) let Shelby Countians in general get a look at him and compare him to the GOP candidates they see so much of; and (b) give the hard-pressed local Democratic cadres a morale boost?
I mean, even I can afford the time and money required for a simple back-and-forth between Memphis and Jackson. (Or Memphis and Nashville.)
And Fincher…. Does he not realize that an ample number of Shelby County’s northernmost wards are in the 8th District he hopes to represent? And that the Memphis media market encompasses an even larger swath of the 8th District?
Are these no doubt worthy gents aware that their reticence to be found here is bound to be interpreted as indifference by Memphians, notoriously sensitive to slights by political officials from elsewhere in the state?
What can they be thinking? And how will it affect their chances on August 5 in the one case and November 2 in the other?
*State Senator Roy Herron of Dresden, the Democratic nominee-in-waiting for the open 8th District congressional seat, was in Memphis this week for a well-attended fundraising event at the river-bluff residence of entrepreneur/political broker Karl Schledwitz.
Herron will face the winner of the current free-for-all involving Republican primary candidates Stephen Fincher of Frog Jump, George Flinn of Memphis, and Ron Kirkland of Jackson.
*7th District congressional nominee Greg Rabidoux, who faces the formidable task of challenging GOP incumbent Marsha Blackburn, will be the beneficiary of a meet & greet/fundraiser on Friday at the home of Adrienne Pakis-Gillon on Prestwick Drive.
*Jackson businessman Mike McWherter, the sole Democratic candidate for governor, apparently has no imminent plans for visiting Memphis but this week got what he hopes will be a major boost in Nashville, appearing before the media with Governor Phil Bredesen, who officially endorsed his candidacy.
McWherter awaits the outcome of the GOP gubernatorial primary, currently being contested by Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam, Chattanooga congressman Zach Wamp, and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Blountville.
In announcing his endorsement of McWherter, Bredesen said in part: “Mike’s background as a small business owner gives him the personal perspective and experience he needs to move our state forward, particularly during these tough economic times. He understands what it takes to make a payroll, to provide health insurance to working families and to create new jobs from scratch. I believe Mike is the most qualified candidate in this race and I look forward helping him win in November.”
At the Herron event, host Schledwitz jested ironically to an audience loaded with well-known donors and members of the local political community that “I love having a Democratic buddy who can write a book about God and Politics [a title by Herron, author of three books] and still be a Democrat.” His point was that Democrat Herron, a longtime legislator, lawyer and former minister, embodied many of the social virtues that voters are used to hearing touted by Republican candidates.
“I can be the urban candidate if not the urbane candidate,” Herron said, following suit. “We’re going to be talking about job, jobs, and jobs,” the candidate said, noting the high rate of unemployment in the countries of the 8th District. Herron also stressed the importance of reducing the federal deficit, which, he noted, had begun mounting to mega-levels under the Bush administration.
Monday night was a good one for debate fans, as the major-party candidates for Shelby County Mayor and Sheriff went after it and exchanged some pretty good licks. The Sheriff’s debate took place at the the Hooks Main Library on Poplar under the auspices of the League of Women Voters, while the mayoral debate, sponsored by the Cordova leadership Council, transpired almost simultaneously at Advent Presbyterian Church on Germantown Parkway.
Typical of the pre-July 4 fireworks was this exchange between interim mayor Joe Ford, the Democratic candidate, and Sheriff Mark Luttrell, the Republican candidate for mayor. The subject: Ford’s change of mind about running.
Questioner/moderator is Andrew Douglas of WMC-TV, Action News 5. The heckler between candidates' answers is Leo Awgowhat, an independent candidate for mayor.
The opening of a satellite headquarters opening at Whitehaven Plaza went without a hitch Saturday for 9th District U.S. Representative Steve Cohen.
Well, virtually without a hitch. The weather, which got up to 100 degrees during the course of the event, was no help. And because Cohen ally Randy Wade had a concurrent fundraiser/barbecue event scheduled in Millington for his campaign for Sheriff, Wade (left) could not stick around, as originally planned, to introduce the congressman’s remarks , as he is explaining here to Cohen and the congressman’s campaign manager, Craig Kirby. (Kick-boxer Anthony “Amp” Elmore ended up doing the honors.)
Several musicians performed in a tent on the Plaza parking lot before, during, and after the congressman spoke, and — with Cohen participating — they initiated a rap in his honor.
After his remarks, before a diversified crowd that contained civil rights legends Maxine Smith and Russell Sugarmon and several candidates, a perspiration-drenched Cohen took questions from reporters inside the HQ. One concerned the vanishing prospect of a debate between himself and former mayor Willie Herenton, his opponent. Cohen insisted again that he intended to keep his itinerary open for a scheduled July 11 debate at Channel 3, and he listed the various opponents he has debated in the past.
Finally, Cohen took some time out to distinguish between the duties of a congressman and those of a mayor -- and got a surprise visitor.
To wit: If former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi is quoting current House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio accurately, then George Flinn must be doing something right in his bid for the Republican nomination in Tennessee’s 8th congressional district.
As Lott put it Friday at a fundraiser for Flinn, his former Ole Miss classmate, at the East Memphis home of Jack and Jennifer Sammons, he ran into Boehner at Reagan National Airport in D.C. Friday morning and told the current House Leader where he was headed — to Oxford and to Memphis for the Flinn fundraiser.
"He said, 'You know what? I hear that guy's gonna win!'"
Flinn, who was hearing this piece of news for the first time, seemed stunned, but managed to respond, “That’s good. That’s really good!”
“Oh, it’s good,” said Lott.
Flinn has two opponents for the GOP nomination, farmer/gospel singer Stephen Fincher of Frog Jump and Ron Kirikland of Jackson. Kirkland, like radiologist/broadcast executive Flinn, is a physician. The winner of the primary will face Democrat Roy Herron in November.
Lott told reporters that he had counseled Flinn on the fact of a contested primary by saying, “You’d rather not have one, but it’ll make you a better candidate.” The former majority leader said that all incumbents needed to “be careful” in this year of voter unrest, but he thought that Republicans, especially, were well poised to make gains.
On other matters, Lott said that President Obama seems to be finding himself in the same negative fix regarding the BP Gulf oil spill that his predecessor, George W. Bush, experienced regarding Hurricane Katrina. “And the reason is the same in both cases — the difficulty of getting the bureaucracy to get anything done.”
Lott, who maintains residences in both the Washington area and Mississippi, said that in Mississippi only eight applications for emergency loans had been approved by the Small Business Association, out of 108 applications thus far and that nationally the rate of turndowns was more than 60 percent.
Ramsey, the Speaker of the state Senate and the state’s Lieutenant Governor, is famous for saying, “What do I want out of government? Nothing!” And he reckons that his supporters, whom he sees abounding in the Memphis suburbs, are of the same mind.
As he said Friday, “What suburban voters want is someone to share their values.” And he thinks the same sentiments prevail in rural c0ommunities. “They’re not asking for government programs.”
What Ramsey sees himself doing, both as a constitutional officer of the state and as a gubernatorial candidate, is putting coalitions together. And he was explicit on Friday about the nature of his coalition in 2010.
He named four components: Small business people, believers in 2nd amendment rights, pro-life voters, and members of the Tea Party movement.
Like them, Ramsey likes to contrast the “Tennessee way” with the “Washington way.” That’s a message he has broadcast in a couple of campaign ads featuring his Texas-style Western boots so far and one which, he said Friday, will go back on the airwaves Monday.
Ramsey boasted to a crowd of supporters at the headquarters opening about his support of gun-rights legislation, his efforts to restrain state spending, and his sponsorship of a measure to counteract the recently enacted federal health-care program.
He had dispraise for Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam and Chattanooga congressman Zach Wamp, the two “good friends” running against him in the Republican primary.
“Mayor Haslam from Knoxville, he just doesn’t get it….He’s the Establishment candidate, I think he just wants to take it easy, he wants to play the four-corners offense, just coast his way in on his money. If it wasn’t for his being worth a billion dollars he wouldn’t be a legitimate candidate. I believe that.” He said Haslam had been a member of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “Mayors Against Guns” group and had raised property taxes in Knoxville.
As for Wamp: “That other candidate I’m running against has been in Washington for 16 years. He has this saying: I want to meet ‘em at the border. Well, I hope there’s a mirror there when he gets there. He’ll be staring back at himself when he gets there because I want to tell you, it’s been Republicans and Democrats alike up there that have been spending us into oblivion.”
Ramsey said Wamp had been “the king of earmarks in Washington, D.C.,” and he criticized the congressman for “promising $50 million of state money” as a solution to the problems of the Med. (This was his way of describing compensatory federal funds generated by Med charity care and routed from Washington back to state government for redistribution.)
Ramsey professed himself “satisfied” with the results of a Rasmussen poll, published this week, showing Haslam to have a slight lead over himself and Wamp, tied for second place among Republicans running for governor. (The poll showed all three Republicans beating Democrat Mike McWherter in the general election.)
He said “it tells you something” that Haslam had so far out-spent him “five or six to one” and was still only six points ahead in the poll.
“This is going to be a very close election,” Ramsey said, suggesting that the final split in the Republican primary would be something like “40-30-30.” Presumably he intends to claim the 40.
The survey was by the respected Rasmussen polling service, and it showed Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam doing best among all four candidates — including two other Republicans, Chattanooga congressman Zach Wamp and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey of Blountville; and Democrat Mike McWherter, a Jackson businessman whose father, Ned Ray McWherter, governed Tennessee for two terms.
In sample match-ups, all three Republicans led McWherter, except among African Americans, where the Democrat held the edge. But Haslam’s overall lead was larger, 50 percent to 32 percent among likely voters expressing a preference.
By comparison, Wamp and Ramsey both led McWherter by the identical margin of 44 percent to 33 percent.
Haslam did best on the favorability scale as well, scoring at 66 percent for the combined categories of “very favorable” and “somewhat favorable.” Comparable composite scores were: Wamp, 51 percent; Ramsey, 46 percent; and McWherter, 45 percent.
Voters in all categories and political persuasions expressed a favorable opinion of current governor Phil Bredesen, with Republicans weighing in at 66 percent “very” and “somewhat” favorable, and Democrats with 79 percent for the two categories.
As it happened, on the day before the results of the Rasmussen poll were revealed, showing him leading the gubernatorial pack, Haslam sat down with the Memphis Flyer editorial staff for a no-holds-barred group interview. Here, in four segments, is the result. (Video and titles by Chris Davis)
Part 1: On guns-in-bars; on journalists' questions; on who's the "least loony candidate;" on Zach Wamp and Bob Corker; on saving the Med; on whether to opt out of the new federal health-care plan —
Part 2: on immigration policy in Tennessee; on playing fair with Memphis; on the University of Memphis and higher education policy in general; on the Gulf catastrophe and energy policy —
Part 3: on TVA and the Kingston coal-ash spill; on "recusing" himself from a possible ethanol measure; on who should regulate petroleum issues under his administration; on possible conflicts of interest in general —
Part 4: on his "Memphis plan;" on not disclosing his income-tax returns; on comparing himself to the other candidates; on why Republicans have gained an edge over Democrats statewide; on his relations with African American voters —
On one of his few public outings since he entered the Democratic primary opposing incumbent Steve Cohen for the 9th District congressional seat, former Mayor Willie Herenton at Raleigh found himself snagged up in party-line issues.
Speaking to a “Voice of Raleigh and Frayser” meeting at Exline’s Pizza on Austin Peay, Herenton had begun his presentation by flashing his now familiar “What’s Wrong With This Picture?” composite photograph of Tennessee’s congressional delegation, all white.
He then took his audience, heavily dosed with media representatives and other political candidates, through his usual litany, designed to make the point that the predominantly black 9th District deserved a black congressman: “Is there anyone here who doesn’t believe in representative government?," "Is there anybody here who does not respect and appreciate diversity?,” and so forth.
More or less rhetorically, he asked if anyone disagreed with his conclusions. Unexpectedly, he got some disagreement — from Lexie Carter, an African American and an officer of the Shelby County Democratic Party.
“OK, our Supreme Court is diversified. We have Clarence Thomas on there. He does not represent me,but he’s black. [Former congressman] Harold Ford Jr. did not represent my views, and he was black. You supported [U.S. Senator] Lamar Alexander, correct? He fights everything that the president comes out with. He’s a poster boy for that here in Tennessee. So I can’t kind of picture that in my head how you would support me. I’m a Democrat. I’m a Yellow Dog Democrat.”
Herenton seemed taken aback, but he responded. “First of all, I’m an American,” he said. “ I’m a Democrat because I chose to be a Democrat,…that party that espouses my values [but] I’ve never been a part of any particular group…. Does that mean I would not or have not supported individuals who are Republican. I support Lamar Alexander.”
The former mayor explained that “when I get to Congress I will be able to communicate with Lamar Alexander and with [Senator]. Corker, because of a mutuality of respect that transcends party lines. And that’s another reason I’m running. If we don’t have individuals who go to Congress with some bipartisan awareness we’re not going to make progress….
“I want you to look at me broader than that. I don’t deny that I supported Lamar Alexander, and Corker, and Senator Frist. They’re friends of mine, okay? I’m that type of Democrat. I can cross party lines. Having friends that are Republican, being friends with Republicans can help us with some problems.”
Herenton, who referred to himself as “the best qualified candidate, who happens to be African American,” was asked by an attendee about the issues of legalized medical marijuana and same-sex marriage and stated positions in opposition to both.
He acknowledged there was “medical evidence that supports utilization of marijuana for various diseases,” but said, “Let me tell you that I’m lconservative and oppose that. I’m afraid that if we utilize any form of drugs, where does it stop?”
In a letter to Haslam dated Thursday, June 10, Bunker refers to an “enjoyable” meeting between himself and Haslam the week before and expresses satisfaction at what he calls Haslam’s “candid support” of Bunker’s own positions in favor of the 2nd amendment and opposed to a state income tax. He also expresses solidarity with Haslam on the issue of “Limited Government.”
Stating his confidence that the next Tennessee governor will be a Republican, Bunker informs Haslam that “this written notice serves as my official endorsement of your candidacy in the Republican Primary for Governor of the great State of Tennessee.”
The campaign of Chattanooga congressman Wamp had put out an endorsement list two weeks ago that featured Wamp’s name, along with those of commission colleagues Mike Ritz and Joyce Avery and commissioners-elect Heidi Shafer, Chris Thomas, and Terry Roland. Bunker subsequently said he had not given permission for his name to be used. So did Shafer,but she consented to have her name used,
The third Republican candidate for governor is Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey of Blountville; Jackson businessman Mike McWherter, a Democrat, also seeks the office.
Three bloggers well known to area politicos will come out from under their monikers Saturday as featured speakers at the monthly meeting of the Democratic Women of Shelby County.
The luncheon meeting will take place at the Piccadilly Cafeteria, 5272 Mt. Moriah View, from 12 noon to roughly 2 o’clock.