Among the questions thrown at him during a fleeting melee that passed for an impromptu press conference was this one: Had he actually read the proposed Metro charter that he had just denounced as a threat to the rights of The People?
“I’ve read it, I’ve studied it, and I’m definitely disappointed with it,” was Sharpton’s answer. (Take that one or leave it, and, okay, the same question might fairly be asked of FedEx founder Fred Smith and other prominent supporters of the charter.)
The extent to which the Rev. Sharpton, head of an organization called the National Action Network, was fully conversant with local issues might have been tipped by his answer to another question: How did he regard the recently filed federal lawsuit, evoking Dr. Martin Luther King as he had done and based on the same civil rights assumptions that he had just invoked against the charter, that had put the results of the November 2 vote in legal limbo?
“Again, I have serious questions about what happened on August 5,” Sharpton answered, confusing litigation aimed at the state law mandating separate city/county tallies of consolidation votes with the recently dismissed Chancery lawsuit seeking to overturn the results of this summer’s county election. Significant numbers of inner-city African-American Democrats had conflated their suspicion of the August election outcome with their opposition to consolidation, and, in his remarks, Sharpton, too, had linked the two cicumstances as instances of "co-option".
(That particular neologism figured prominently in Sharpton's speech. A central tenet of his opposition on behalf of inner-city Memphis had to do with the fact that the city would surrender its charter, while the surrounding munipalities would not be required to. “If you're the only one putting up your charter, then that's not consolidation, that’s co-option.”)
What did Sharpton make of the fact that consolidation had drawn passionate opposition from white suburbanites as well as black city dwellers? “Well, sometimes there are unusual alliances. People get to the same place for different reasons. I think that’s all the more reason why this should be defeated, because you have people from different perspectives that agree with the same conclusions.”
In the case of consolidation, of course, those “different perspectives” are akin to those featured by Poe in the famous story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” in which bystanders, on the basis of some overheard shrieks, all describe the perpetrator (who turns out to be an out-of-control orangutan) as belonging to some human faction other than themselves.
Similarly, suburban opponents of consolidation see it as a scheme emanating from the inner city, while residents of the urban core, newly up in arms against the referendum, denounce it as a plot to disenfranchise Memphis for the benefit of the outer municipalities. Not quite “the same conclusions.” What these attitudes have in common is a vision of lost local sovereignty, a dread of surrendering political control to a larger collective.
And, indeed, the frustrated protests from consolidation supporters that the proposed charter hasn’t really been read, or understood, or given a fair shake are irrelevant to this kind of visceral reaction. Logical arguments about the governmental and economic improvements to be had from consolidation get nowhere. Increasingly, opponents of all kinds are saying it’s spinach, and they’re saying the hell with it. And the feeling — for that is what it is — is contagious.
Take Shelby County Commissioner James Harvey, for instance, who was cited to the crowd by Greg Grant, local president of the National Action Network and one of the impresarios Thursday. (Another was local AFSCME president Warren Cole.)
Harvey, a black Democrat, was described by Grant as one who had taken the initiative on the commission in opposing consolidation. In actual fact, as the commissioner acknowledged afterward, he had not even been a co-sponsor of a recent commission resolution opposing the referendum. The measure had emanated from white Republican suburbanites like Terry Roland and Wyatt Bunker. Harvey, who famously (and perhaps uniquely) makes up his mind about issues after listening to debates, had in fact decided to support the resolution only as the vote was being taken.
(One of the ironies of the county body’s vote was that the commission, along with the Memphis City Council, had voted to endow the Metro Charter Commission in the first place.)
Anyhow, there Harvey was, after the event Thursday, giving a confidently assertive press interview in which he both conceded, as Sharpton had done, that people of radically disparate views opposed the Charter and maintained that the Charter was “biased.”
Consider, as Grant did, some of the organizations that have taken formal positions against passage of the Charter: the NAACP, the County Commission, the Shelby County Democratic Party, local labor groups. “Civil rights and labor on one side, big business on the other. What else do you need to know?” Sharpton had asked rhetorically.
What else? Well, maybe that a phalanx of conservative ad hoc organizations, along with the mayors and governing bodies of the suburban municipalities, could be lumped together as Charter opponents, as well, and they, too, could cite “business interests” as the requisite foils. The self-professed populists of the Right and the Left are together on this one.
A reporter was asked by one of the attendees: Had this event on Thursday been the “funeral” of this latest effort to consolidate city and county governments? Nope, was the answer; this had been just a memorial service. The consolidation effort was long dead. In fact, it was stillborn. Al Sharpton is not the only one who can profess to be “deeply disappointed.”
So, too, though for opposite reasons, are the proponents of consolidation, who continue to believe it is in the best interest of the whole community, and will, it is rumored, try again in a couple of years in the almost certain event of a defeat next Tuesday.
Two Republican candidates got the V.I.P. treatment in Memphis this week —guest appearances in support of their campaigns from U.S. Senators. In the case of GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Haslam, that was Tennessee’s senior senator, Lamar Alexander; in the case of 9th District congressional candidate Charlotte Bergmann, it was Alexander’s Senate colleague Bob Corker.
The import of the two visits was different. Alexander, who did a ride-along on Haslam’s bus on Tuesday, making stops with the Knoxville mayor in Collierville and Memphis, was a coals-to-Newcastle case —meaning that any new help Haslam gets at this point is somewhat superfluous. He is widely presumed to have his race against Democratic nominee Mike McWherter of Jackson in the bag.
Things are different with Bergmann, a long-odds underdog in her race against Democratic incumbent congressman Steve Cohen. Corker’s lunch time appearance at her headquarters on Yates Rd. on Wednesday was a genuine serendipity — further evidence, along with new TV ads and proliferating yard signs, that Bergmann’s once largely invisible candidacy had taken on a new seriousness.
Besides Alexander, Haslam was accompanied on his Early Voting Bus Tour in Shelby County by his father, Pilot Corporation founder Jimmy Haslam, the mayor's wife Crissy, and Tom Ingram, Haslam's campaign manager and a longtime political guru for Alexander as well.
The local leg of the ongoing Haslam tour concluded at the headquarters of Junior Achievement downtown, where the candidate and his party were escorted through the premises by JA president Larry Colbert — stopping at one point at a “City Hall” booth, where youthful Jordyn Johnson, a student at St. Mary’s Episcopal School for Girls, was serving as “mayor” for the day.
“Do people give you trouble when you have to raise taxes?” Haslam jested. Jordyn looked confused, and Haslam, mock-commiserating, said, “Yeah, I’ve got that problem, too.”
On a more serious note, the candidate responded to a question about last week’s imbroglio concerning his apparent concession to gun activists that he would sign a bill eliminating the need for gun permits in Tennessee.
"I should have been more definite about saying I preferred the law the way it is,” Haslam said.
A would-be tipster in local Republican ranks was trying to vend a story last week to the effect that Alexander, a two-time candidate for president, intended to leave the Senate early to make another bid for the nation’s top job in 2012.
The story assumes, of course, that Haslam will be elected governor next Tuesday and would use his appointive power to name as Alexander’s replacement former 7th District congressman Ed Bryant, who lost a bid for what was then an open seat to the current senator in the 2002 Republican primary.
But Alexander debunked the story in Memphis during the Junior Achievement stop.
“Nothing to it,” said the Senator who offered himself as a presidential candidate for the 1996 and 2000 cycles but now disclaims any further presidential ambitions. “My colleagues in the Senate just reelected me [as Republican caucus chairman], and I intend to keep serving in that role and going back and forth between Washington and Maryville and other points in Tennessee.”
Corker’s visit to Bergmann’s East Memphis headquarters on Wednesday was sandwiched in between another Memphis stop and an evening visit to Henning for an appearance with Haslam, 8th District GOP nominee Stephen Fincher and other Republican notables.
The senator made sure to offer a tribute to Bergmann, whose rhetoric runs to Tea Party concepts, and praised her for “running on principle,” saying further, “The platform she is running on is the platform that has energized and, in many ways, transformed America.” And, in a Q and A with reporters afterward, he said that he made an endorsement on Bergmann’s website “a long time ago.”
But Corker’s emphasis, both in body language and verbally, was more generalized than is generally the case with such encounters. When he entered the HQ, Corker initially bypassed the candidate herself and spent some time making the rounds of the room, which was crowded with Bergmann supporters.
At length, he came to the front of the room, offered Bergmann a hearty embrace, and began his remarks this way: “I just came by to thank all of you for what you do. This is what makes America great.” In the Q and A afterward, he explained his purpose similarly: “I’m here because there are a lot of people who have thrown their lives behind a candidate who has a vision they want to embrace.” And he disclaimed knowing enough about the circumstances of the 9th District race to judge Bergmann’s chances.
In his remarks to the crowd, Corker, a dedicated foe of the TARP bailout first proposed by former President George W. Bush and an opponent also of President Obama’s bailout of distressed domestic automobile manufacturers, seconded Bergmann’s statement of congratulations to Ford Motor Company for forgoing participation in the government loan program and still turning a $1.7 billion profit in the last fiscal quarter.
Corker concentrated on what he saw as the growing menace of government debt. “Washington’s been irresponsible for at least a decade,” Corker said — his math implicitly lumping together eight Bush years and two Obama years. He said the national debt was about to rise in value to 143 percent of the nation’s Gross National Product and pronounced that prospect untenable.
“People like you have said, ‘’Look. I’m sorry. This cannot go on. We’re going to lose our economic sovereignty.’”
After Corker left the headquarters, Bergmann had her own Q and A with reporters. To a reporter’s comment that she seemed to have moved from “the fringe” to “the mainstream,” she responded,” We have been mainstream for quite some time. It’s just that the media is just now finding out.”
“…It was a grievous fault, and grievously hath Caesar answered it.” — Shakespeare, Julius Caesar.
Actually, "awkwardly" would be a better word than "grievously" to describe the way Bill Haslam answered reporters’ questions on Thursday when they grilled him on his astonishing volte-face this week on the issue of doing away with gun permits in Tennessee.
For the consequences to be truly grievous, Republican Haslam would have to be demonstrably in danger of losing the governor’s race to Democrat Mike McWherter, and, though many things can happen in the 12 days left before voting closes on November 2, Haslam’s presumed edge in this GOP-friendly election year is probably large enough to survive.
But you can’t blame McWherter for trying. The Jackson businessman, son of a well-loved Tennessee governor of a generation back but a political Unknown Quantity in his own right, is doing his best to highlight what has to be reckoned a Haslam gaffe of major proportions — one that potentially raises doubts about the Knoxville mayor’s capacities for leadership.
At a Thursday morning press conference, held in front of the Convention Center, where both he and Haslam were scheduled to address a meeting of the state’s district attorneys, McWherter verbally blistered his rival for “going over the top and over a cliff” at a meeting of the state Firearms Association in Nashville on Monday in Nashville.
Hectored by a gun-rights advocate on his attitude toward a proposed bill that would do away with the need for carry permits in Tennessee, Haslam had gone back and forth on the issue verbally but ultimately was pressed into saying, “if the legislature passed it and brought that to me, I said I would sign it.”
Something of a shock wave developed as news reports about the incident got out, and McWherter, who had been trailing Haslam badly in published polls, wasted no time in responding to this unexpected opportunity. He told the assembled media Thursday that the incident “speaks to the core of his character,” and he castigated his rival for a “lack of common sense and total disregard for public safety,” one which would put Tennesseans in “jeopardy.”
Lumping in Haslam’s response on the gun issue with what he said had been reversals on other controversial matters, the Democratic nominee accused Haslam of “pandering” and “flip-flopping” and of being “willing to say anything to any group at any time in order to get elected.” In unusually strong language, McWherter went so far as to say Haslam would “sell his soul” in order to get votes.
Reporters had been prepped well in advance about the McWherter press conference, and the Democrat’s choice of location and time — directly in front of the Main St. entrance to the Convention Center and fifteen minutes before Haslam’s scheduled remarks to the D.A.’s — indicated that McWherter hoped to be able to confront his opponent directly.
The situation recalled a circumstance during the 2006 U.S. Senate race between Democrat Harold Ford Jr. and Republican Bob Corker, when Ford made an “ambush” appearance at a scheduled Corker press conference at Wilson Air Services in Memphis. Most observers credited Corker with a win in the encounter — one that might have been pivotal in determining his election.
Whether forewarned or not, Haslam had entered the Convention Center through a less used entrance on the other side of the building. He delivered a generalized prepared pitch to the assembled district attorneys and got one audience question — from Michael McCusker, an assistant D.A. locally, who asked Haslam his position on the gun-permit issue.
Haslam gave a variation of the same answer he had given at the Firearms Association meeting — that he preferred the permit law “the way it is now,” but he would sign a bill eliminating the need for permits if the legislature presented one to him.
And Haslam held to that position when cornered by reporters for a subsequent availability outside the Convention Center meeting room.
“My personal opinion is that they [permit requirements] should stay the way they are... I’ll let the House and Senate debate that [a bill abolishing the permit system], and I’ll let them know what my opinion is, but if they pass that, I’ll sign it.”
Asked about the prospect of a veto, Haslam noted that a simple legislative majority could override a gubernatorial veto. Was he not sending a go-ahead signal to proponents of an anti-permit measure? “Well, I will sign it. But also, again, I think in that process I’ll let it be known that I like the system the way it is now. And I’ll let people know that, too.”
Was not his position something less than “leaderly?”
“I don’t buy that. Again, I think what a governor has to do and say is, Here’s my view of the situation. Here’s the things that I believe. In the end if you all pass it after deliberate discussion, then I will sign it.
Haslam was asked about McWherter’s “sell-his-soul” remark.
For once, the usually imperturbable Haslam bristled. “That’s 100 percent wrong, and I actually take offense at that.” He said his record as mayor and his mode of campaigning had shown him to be “the realistic one” on the budget and other matters, “not promising everything.”
Haslam repeated that he was offended by McWherter’s charge. “To say what he said is irresponsible.” And at that point an aide called an end to the press conference, cutting off other possible potential follow-up questions, such as whether Haslam might have tethered himself irrevocably to an implicit promise on the matter of eliminating gun permits — and to a campaign issue that, with Halloween on the way and the election close behind, could haunt him yet.
Trailing by ten points in two recent polls and freshly taken off the funding list of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Roy Herron, the Democrats’ 8th District congressional nominee, soldiered on in Memphis on Friday, attacking the credibility and bona fides of Republican opponent Stephen Fincher.
If Fincher should be elected, “His first official act might be to defend himself before the House Ethics Committee,” Herron, a longtime state Senator from Dresden, declared at a news conference held at Blockers Soul Food Restaurant in Raleigh.
The choice of venue seemed to be a statement in itself, in that Fincher, a gospel singer and mega-farmer from Crockett County, had indicated in a recent interview with the Commercial Appeal’s Richard Locker that he wasn’t sure portions of Memphis — specifically Frayser and Raleigh — were in the 8th District.
Herron’s case against Fincher, documented in a thick packet which he passed out to reporters, had three prongs — that Fincher had not been candid in his financial disclosures, that he had avoided debates and scrutiny by the media and the public, and that he was beholden to special interests in Washington and elsewhere.
For each of these categories, Herron offered a descriptive phrase: “The Fibber from Frog Jump,” “The Hider from Halls,” and “The Dependent from D.C.” (The use of both Frog Jump and Halls was Herron’s way of suggesting that even his opponent’s official home address was in doubt.)
Much of Herron’s case rested on a controversial loan of $250,000 made by Fincher to his own campaign. The loan, listed by Ficher in his disclosures as being from “personal funds,” has since been identified by various media as stemming from a prior loan made to Fincher by Gates Banking and Trust. Neither the bank nor Fincher has revealed the collaterial for the loan, and a Herron supporter has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, seeking fuller disclosure.
“He’s hiding assets,” including the existence of checking or savings accounts, none of which are listed on Fincher's disclosure forms, said Herron, who charged further that Fincher's listed annual income of $59,000 could not possibly account for his owning a "lavish" domicile and numerous motor vehicles.
"Two-thirds of his financing comes from Washington special interests, politicians, and groups about which nothing is known," said Herron. He also took Fincher to task for dodging debates, declining reporters' questions, and not making his campaign itineraries public.
"No congressional candidate in Tennessee history has hidden more and disclosed less," said Herron. "Let him man up, stand up, meet me in a public place, and prove me wrong."
Herron was asked about his own decision last week to announce that his vote for House Speaker would go to neither current Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California nor Republican leader John Boehner of California, both of whom he characterized as "extreme." On the same day at this announcement, the DCCC revealed it was including Herron's race on a list of Democratic contests, apparently regarded as unwinnable, that it would not continue funding.
"If the price of independence is that they pull whatever they were going to do with ads, that’s a price I’m willing to pay. I'm beholden to the people of the 8th District and represent their values and views," Herron said.
Discounting adverse polls, Herron insisted there was "no doubt" the race was tightening up.
In a brief statement upon reconvening court at 9 a.m. Goldin ruled that the case presented by plaintiffs' witnesses in a full day of testimony Wednesday did not meet the standard for declaring the election results "incurably uncertain" due to fraud, illegality, or substantial irregularities.
The ruling was greeted with satisfaction by lawyers for the Election Commission and by Election Commission chairman Bill Giannini, who said he took to heart criticism of the SCEC heard during the trial and would seek to improve the level of training for poll workers and other Commission employees for forthcoming elections.
Two lawyers for the plaintiffs — David Cocke and Regina Morrison Newman — said appeals would be likely after appropriate consultations were conducted with the full list of plaintiffs and with the rest of the legal team which had brought the case.
Both Cocke and Newman suggested that Goldin had used the wrong standard by which to judge the case, one that depended too heavily on evidence of outright fraud, and that the number of irregularities testified to by themselves should have invalidated the electin results. "His rulign was not consistent with the correct standard or with Tennessee law," Newman said.
Newman had been county Trustee until losing her reelection bid and joining in the lawsuit, along with the other nine petitioners, seven other Democratic nominees for various positions and two judicial candidates. She maintained that Goldin had committed several judicial errors that warranted a retrial, including his refusal to entertain a motion on behalf of judicial candidate Glenn Wright to amend his pleading.
(Original article, 0/07/2010 - 01:45 am)
Chancellor Goldin Considering Motion to Dismiss in Election Lawsuit
To do a variation on a well-known quote from T.S. Eliot, the trial in Chancery Court pitting ten candidates defeated in the August 5 county general election against the Shelby County Election Commission seems likely to end not with a loud bang but with a muted whisper. And almost before it ever got started.
After the histrionics of Monday’s opening round — which featured a wrangle over the Election Commission’s late delivery to the plaintiffs of discovery material, followed by a quarrel over the credentials of the plaintiffs’ intended witnesses — the presentation of the plaintiffs’ case proceeded almost quietly on Wednesday, with none of the fireworks promised by the lawsuit’s original and somewhat sensational charges.
No revelations about “ghost races,” no pulling aside the curtains to reveal a sinister eminence back there manipulating vote totals, no gotcha surprises of any kind — merely a litany of complaints from a variety of witnesses about election-day glitches and inconveniences, the substance of which was that the Election Commission could have done a better job of putting on the election. And the Commission had pretty much owned up to that already.
Among the highlights, if that is the right word: Regina Morrison Newman, a plaintiff herself as the unseated Democratic Trustee and one of several attorneys presenting the suit in Chancellor Arnold Goldin’s court, presented some compelling data about odd vote distributions in certain precincts, youthful investigator George Monger testified about some cryptic print-outs and suspiciously unsealed voting machines. And poll inspector Lexie Carter made the case that training of poll workers had been woefully insufficient to deal with the confusion caused by the one universally stipulated and central flaw on election day — that some 5400 people had been erroneously entered into the electronic poll book on August 5 as having early-voted already.
The plaintiffs’ star witness, if that is the right word, was Julie Ann Kempf, a former superintendent of elections in King County, Washington (Seattle). She was the only one of three proffered plaintiffs’ investigators allowed by Chancellor Goldin as an expert witness. (Disallowed as insufficiently credentialed were Bev Harris and Susan Pynchon, the two Black Box Voting activists who had basically compiled the plaintiffs’ itemized allegations.)
Plausibly enough, Kempf testified that the Election Commission had failed to impose sufficient logic and accuracy standards, and, in particular, had not conducted a fact-finding inquiry of the 3,265 potential glitch-affected voters whom the plaintiffs estimate had not finally managed to vote on Election Day. And the impact of her testimony may even have survived the embarrassing revelations from Election Commission attorney John Ryder about her checkered tenure as a voting supervisor in Seattle. One example: she acknowledged having been fired after allegations that she had mishandled absentee voting records.
When all was said and done, Election commission attorney Sam Muldavin moved for a dismissal of the lawsuit on the ground that it had failed to demonstrate the claimed pattern of fraud, illegality, and substantial irregularities that could justify voiding the election as “incurably uncertain.”
One of the ten plaintiffs — Criminal court judicial candidate Glenn Wright, whose margin of defeat was less than 2,000 — might have had a case, conceded Muldavin, had he founded his case on the prong of mathematical uncertainty. And, while lead plaintiffs’ attorney Gerard Stranch continued to insist, on behalf of all ten plaintiffs, that overall patterns of illegality had been proved, he offered a motion to refile Wright’s case on the suggested ground.
“Nah,” said Chancellor Goldin. And, after proposing to consult overnight a sheaf of depositions from principals in the case (notably, from Election commission chief administrator Rich Holden), he adjourned court until 9 a.m. Thursday, at which time, he suggested, he would have a ruling on the motion to dismiss.