Meet the new bosses. And, for better or for worse, they really aren't the old bosses.
The new wave of Republican influence in Washington, Tennessee, and elsewhere is unlike previous political sea changes in the nation's history. And note: we said “influence,” not “control,” because, until each of a series of tight battles for the almost evenly divided U.S. Senate is resolved, the exact dimensions of the changeover remain unknown.
But changeover it is. Nationally, Republicans gained control of the U.S. House by somewhere between 50 and 60 votes. In Tennessee, the state's House contingent went from 5-4 Democratic to 7-2 Republican, with even arch Blue Dog Lincoln Davis in rural Middle Tennessee's 4th District falling to a Republican challenger.
In Shelby County, there was no change to speak of. Challenged incumbents, whether Democratic or Republican, all kept their seats. And perhaps even the congressional victory of Democratic incumbent Steve Cohen in the 9th District (Memphis) owes more to local trends, which showed a strong GOP turnout throughout early voting and a bit of a compensating Democratic bump on Tuesday, Election Day.
Most of the outcomes were fully expected — specifically Republican Bill Haslam over Democrat Mike McWherter for the Tennessee governorship, Republican John Boozman over incumbent Democrat Blanche Lincoln for the U.S. Senate in Arkansas, the GOP's Stephen Fincher over Democratic state Senator Roy Herron in the rural 8th congressional District of northwest Tennessee , and Alan Nunnelee of the GOP over Democratic incumbent Travis Childers in Mississippi's 1st district.
All of these races were romps. But so were the victories of Democrat Cohen (over Republican Charlotte Bergmann) and Arkansas's Democratic governor Mike Beebe over Republican challenger Jim Keet.
What these two cases, along with the relatively narrow loss of Democrat Chad Causey to Republican Rick Crawford in Arkansas's 1st district, had in common was that these Democrats made much less of an effort (and in Cohen's case no effort at all) to distance themselves from their party brand. The previously mentioned Democratic losers were conspicuous in their studied renunciations of traditional party loyalty.
Let us posit that you can't sell Chevys by spouting the talking points of the Ford line, and let it go at that.
So the new Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives will be Ohio's John Boehner — the same John Boehner who came through these parts little more than a week ago to campaign for Nunnelee (and for his own Speakership, for that matter). The same John Boehner whose “Pledge to America” was a pale and indistinct retread of GOP predecessor New Gingrich's “Contract with America” in 1994, the last time the Republicans upset a Democratic apple cart to this extent.
But in that case the GOP was coming to congressional power for the first time in more than a generation, and it set about to dramatically change the rules, downsizing government and deregulating corporate power.
Most of that having been accomplished already, the new Republican regime won't find that much to transform. Since President Obama maintains his veto power, along with strength in the Senate, it won't be as easy for Boehner and company to repeal what they call “Obamacare.” (The other semantic target of this year's GOP surge, Nancy Pelosi, will be gone from her Speakership after a pair of two-year terms.)
This inability of the victors to define their goals might well become as irksome and frustrating, both for themselves and for the electorate, as would be anybody's attempt to demonstrate just what it was about the Democrats' rule for the last two years that necessitated the mass congressional firings that just got carried out at the polls.
What kind of mess was there, in other words, that was quantitatively or qualitatively different from the one left behind by the Republicans in the final years of the George W. Bush presidency? And what was the rationale for returning to that particular failed status quo ante? Is it possible that Republicanism is now the country's default political mode, to be returned to any time the Democrats flunk a chance, however brief, to bring about something new and successful?
In any case, where we are is where we are. But even in Tennessee, where massive redistricting is bound to occur as a result of the GOP's post-census control of the shaping, just how different will the new configuration be? The Tennessee congressional ranks already will stand at 7-2, with Republicans in charge, and the two Democratic outposts in Memphis and Nashville will most likely endure for the next decade or so, regardless of whatever rough beasts take shape in Tennessee or in Washington over those years.
And, oh yes, consolidation: Can anyone be surprised at the lopsided defeat of the Metro Charter referendum — or at the reaction against the proposed merger by inner-city African Americans intent on maintaining their control of a truncated urban space? Or at the aversion to marrying up with the city on the part of county residents, so many of whom are where they are in order expressly to pursue as secure a divorce from Memphis as possible? 'Nuff said.
"Seventy-plus percent is a landslide," Cohen said in a speech to supporters, "And landslides are what we do."
Cohen's victory sends him back to a changed national landscape in Washington, as Republicans won enough seats to take control of the House by a margin of some 60 seats.
"If we lose tonight, and it's looking like we will" I assure you you're going to have an effective Congressman from the 9th district," Cohen told his supporters soon after claiming victrory.
Bergman made an appearance at Bill Haslam's local headquarters in east Memphis but did not give a formal speech
Stephen Fincher picked up a seat for Republicans in the 8th district, defeating Roy Herron with 60 percent of the vote in a heavily financed campaign.
For the other big races, it was a night of landslides.
As expected, Republican Bill Haslam soundly defeated Democrat Mike McWherter in the governors race, with 65 percent of the vote to roughly 33 percent for McWherter. McWherter did prevail in shelby County, however, with 51 percent of the vote there.
Marsha Blackburn defeated Greg Rabidoux handily, with 72 percent of the vote in the race for the 7th Congressional seat.
Republican Brian Kelsey will get a chance to serve a full term as the state senator for district 31 after defeating Ivon Faulkner.
Ophelia Ford will retain her seat in the state senate district 29, defeating Robert Hill and Herman Sawyer.
In races for state House seat in Shelby County, some results were relatively close, but incumbents were able to hold on.
Democrats Jeanne Richardson and Mike Kernell retained their seats in seriously contested races. Incumbents Curry Todd, Lois DeBerry, Barbara Cooper, and Johnnie Turner won re-election over opposition handily. All except Republican Todd are Democrats.
The consolidation referendum narrowly passed in Memphis, 51 percent to 49 percent, while getting hammered in non-Memphis voting, 85 percent to 15 percent.
Memphis votes approved a pair of amendments — to repeal staggered-term requirements for city council members; and to allow city employees to reside within greater Shelby County.
C. Elise Dillingham and Jackson Baker contributed to this report.
All's well that ends well.
Well, not really. All have not won, and all will not have prizes. But all — or most — of the candidates seeking to gain or retain public office with the help of Shelby County voters ended up their campaign efforts in good style. And that's something.
Mike McWherter, the Democratic nominee whose run for governor often had an indifferent, say-what feel to it, proved in a couple of late speeches — notably one last Friday before the members of the Central Rotary Club in Memphis —that he had the know-how, the drive, and the internal coherence to serve as Tennessee's chief executive officer in the unlikely event he got a chance to.
Bill Haslam, the Republican gubernatorial nominee who seemingly had earned a lock on the office after two years of a skillful, tireless, and, to be sure, well-financed effort up and down the length of Tennessee, recouped somewhat from his one egregious lapse — a cave-in to gun activists on the issue of abolishing carry permits — and vowed in Memphis on election eve that he would do what he could to dissuade the legislature from even taking up such a measure.
Roy Herron, the respected state Senator from Dresden and would-be 8th District congressman who, like fellow Democrat Travis Childers in Mississippi's 1st District, crawfished on his party label and tried to win on cosmetics and political skills alone, came on strong at the end with a few reminders of his own accomplishments and some unresolved mysteries concerning his elusive opponent, Republican Stephen Fincher.
Even Charlotte Bergmann, a preordained loser in the 9th District congressional race — for arithmetical reasons if nothing else — had managed, within the campaign's last month, to transform herself from a fringe candidate of uncertain provenance to a legitimate representative of the Republican Party. Something of the same could be said — with labels reversed, to be sure — for Democrat Greg Rabidoux, the Austin Peay political scientist whose challenge to 7th District Republican incumbent Marsha Blackburn was fundamentally as hopeless as Bergmann's to incumbent Democrat Steve Cohen.
All these are subjective judgments, of course — that being the kind that pundits, along with voters themselves, normally make, and for that matter, the only kind of judgment that was destined to have any relevance at all in the doomed referendum on consolidation.
Proponents of the proposed Metro Charter were, at the end as at the beginning, inclined to belabor the fact that, as they saw it, people should vote for consolidation. Opponents, for the most part, based their strategies on the way voters actually did feel and on the stubborn doubts and turf fears that no amount of rational pleading could make go away — increasingly in the city as well as in the county.
Somewhat under the radar battles were going on for a few legislative positions.
Republican Tim Cook was making yet another try at grabbing off the 93rd state House district in Southeast Memphis from veteran Democrat Mike Kernell. (Redistricting by a triumphant GOP may eventually accomplish, perhaps in two years' time, what no Kernell opponent, Democrat or Republican, has yet been able to do.) For the time being, Kernell is — and should be — more concerned about the sentence his son David will receive for famously hacking Sarah Palin's email account in 2008.
And, though Democrat Jeanne Richardson is working as though she had a neck-and-neck challenge on her hands from Republican newcomer Clay Shelton in District 89 (Midtown), the outcome is likely to be two-to-one in her favor. Richardson, whose first name has been mispronounced “Jeanie” so consistently in her life that she answers to it, got off one of the best lines of the campaign. When daughter Danielle complained at Shelton's attempt to paint the incumbent as “the most liberal member of the legislature,” Richardson (a sponsor of a medical marijuana bill and much else) replied reassuringly, “Darling, I am the most liberal member of the legislature.”
The race of likable eccentric Arnold Weiner, a Republican, against ultra-respected Democrat Lois DeBerry, the House Speaker Pro Tem, is mainly an exercise in chutzpah.(Just now friends are cheering DeBerry's plucky battle in another contest — to regain full health after a serious illness.)
Under the heading “Fahgetaboutit!”: Republican Edgar Babian vs. Democratic incumbent Johnnie Turner in House District 85; Republican Harold Baker vs. incumbent Democrat Barbara Cooper in district 86; independent Christian Johnson vs. GOP incumbent Curry Todd in House District 95; Democratic challenger Ivon Faulkner vs. Republican state Senator Brian Kelsey in Senate 31; and the GOP's Robert Hill and independent Herman Sawyer against Democratic incumbent Ophelia Ford in Senate District 29.
(A necessary caveat in all legislative races: Once again, as was the case with the August 5 election, white Republican turnout was stout (motivated this time mainly by consolidation), and Democratic catchup efforts depended on election-day efforts. If these don't come about, there could be some surprising consequendces.)
Incumbent Kenneth T. Whalum seemingly has things under control against challengers Bob Morgan and Richard B. Fields in the Memphis school board's At Large Position 2, while there's a free-for-all going on in MCS District 6, with Sara Lewis, Cherry Davis, and incumbent Sharon Webb the main contenders.
A constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to hunt and fish is your proverbial lead pipe cinch, while city ordinances to repeal staggered terms for city council members and to allow city employees to live within greater Shelby County may be more problematic.
Oh, and did we say all's well that ends well? With the announcement Monday by U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton Jr. that federal officers will monitor voting in Shelby County precincts, the chances for a glitch-free election locally are actually on the upsurge. (But don't hold your breath.)
I,_________________________, do solemnly swear to abstain from the use of and participation in any of the following Government-Run (Socialist) goods and services including but not limited to the following:
* Social Security
* Roads & Highways
* Public Water & Sewer Services
* Police, Fire & Emergency Services
* U.S. Postal Service
* Unemployment Insurance
* Municipal Garbage & Recycling Services
* Air Travel (regulated by Socialist FAA)
* U.S. Railway Service
* Subways/Metro Systems
* Public Bus and Light Rail Systems
* State Highway Rest Areas
* Public Elementary, Middle & High Schools
* Public Universities & Colleges
* Public Museums
* Public Libraries
* Public Parks & Beaches
* State & National Parks
* Public Zoos
* Treatment at any Local, State, or Federal Government (Socialist) funded Hospital or Health Clinic
* Medications or Medical Services that were created from Government (Socialist) Grants or Research
* Produce, Meat, or Food grown with, fed with, or that might contain any ingredient paid for with Government (Socialist) farm subsidies
* Veteran benefits from the Government-run (Socialist) Military
* All Government (Socialist) sponsored buildings including the national Capitol & all State Capitols
* All Courthouses, State & Federal
In addition, I pledge to never visit or allow my children to visit any of the following Socialist locations throughout the country:
* Washington Monument; Lincoln Memorial; Jefferson Monument
* Statue of Liberty
* The Grand Canyon
* World War II & Vietnam Veterans Memorials
* Arlington National Cemetery
* Yellowstone National Park
* The Great Smoky Mountains
* The Smithsonian Museum
* Mount Rushmore
* The Hoover Dam
* The Florida Everglades
Furthermore and in Addition, I will:
* Contact my Members of Congress & Senate, both State and National, and demand they leave their state capitols (or Washington, DC), therefore foregoing their Socialist salaries and Government-Provided Socialist healthcare.
* I will also oppose & condemn the Government run (Socialist) military of the United States.
* I will oppose any and all other Government-run (Socialist) departments such as The Pentagon, FBI, CIA, The Department of Homeland Security, TSA, and Department of Justice
Finally, I solemnly swear to do the following:
* Upon reaching eligible retirement age, I will immediately shred all checks coming from the most Socialistic of all Government Programs—Social Security— and will work to privatize it so that all its funds can be made available to investors on Wall Street
* Upon reaching age 65, I will burn my Medicare card, foregoing all Socialist/Government-run healthcare and will pay for all my healthcare with private insurance premiums until I die.
WASHINGTON — Standing in front of a crowd that stretched almost across the entire national mall, Jon Stewart had one very important message for his supporters at the beginning of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.
And so it went. Stewart and his partner Stephen Colbert headed a star-studded three-hour show that included Ozzy Osborne, Mavis Staples, Sheryl Crow, Sam Watterson, the Roots and a gaggle of other celebrities in which everyone was told to be polite, be respectful, and be sane.
“It was amazing to have this out there today,” said Jay Zapf, a 27-year-old from Memphis attending the rally with friends. “My parents generation got to be involved in so many of these rallies and social events, and we normally didn’t get to do it.”
Zapf and six other friends drove to the rally from Memphis. Their presence, plus that of this reporter,accounts for at least eight Memphi- area folks at the event.
The biggest takeaway from the event for this sane Memphis seven?
“The crowd. Wow was it big,” said Steven Strang, a 27 year-old server at Amerigo’s. “We wanted to see how many people out there thought like us, and it turns out that it’s a lot.”
Back home, a group of about 25 “reasonable” locals held a satellite in Overton Park, where they gathered around a car speaker plugged into a smart phone picking up the rally stream from the Internet. Comedy Central reported that the live webcast of the event attracted around four million viewers.
“It went great, we thought Stewart did a real nice job out there today and we had a lot of fun,” said the event’s organizer Bob Huddleston.
At the end of the event, Stewart gave an impassioned speech to the crowd, blaming the 24-hour cable news cycle for much of our woes as a country.
“When we amplify everything, we hear nothing,” he said.
After the speech, Stewart was joined on stage by everyone who had played a part in the event’s performance as they sang a version of the Staple Singer’s “I’ll take you there.” The original song was recorded at Stax records in Memphis.
So at the end of the day, a Memphis message helped bring sanity home.