This is especially true when it comes to Democrat Steve Mulroy, a Midtown resident and a University of Memphis law professor in civilian life, and Terry Roland, a boisterously outspoken Republican and store-owner from the hinterland of Millington.
On gay rights (Mulroy, for; Roland against), school consolidation in Shelby County (Mulroy for; Roland against); political philosophy (Mulroy’s a professed liberal; Roland’s a hardshell conservative); or just on general principles the two hardly ever see eye to eye.
But duking it out? Fist to fist? That’s a stretch, even for these two.
On Monday, the day the Commission met to resolve the matter of who was going to serve in the seven new seats created for a unified all-county school board, things came to a head.
That morning, Mulroy was on hand early and had gone to the Commission library, a room on the same floor as the commissioners’ offices, to look something up.
He was promptly joined by Roland who, as Mulroy tells it, stalked up and confronted him nose-to-nose, with fists doubled up.
Again, as the Democrat recalls things, the Republican commissioner in a hard-edged version of his distinctive drawl, said something to the effect of this: “You and I are never going to agree. There’s only one way to settle things. We’re going downstairs, and I’m going to whip your ass!”
Mulroy maintains that he tried to respond with a joke, and Roland responded, “I’m not kidding! We’re going downstairs and settle things with our fists!” There may have been an epithet along with that, Mulroy thinks; in any case, there were was little doubt in his mind that Roland was dead serious.
And, he says, he tried to defuse things by saying, “Sure thing, Terry. In fact, let’s call up the media, get some cameras down there, and put on a show for television.” Or words to that effect.
To that, Mulroy says, Roland gave him a menacing stare and stalked away.
Roland, of course does not agree with that account.
“Aw, heck, I was just kidding with him!” the Republican commissioner said this weekend by telephone, on the way to his farm. In fact, says Roland, it was he, not Mulroy, who threw out the facetious idea of putting on a public exhibition. “I remember my exact words. I said, ‘Why don’t we have a celebrity boxing match?’ And I thought sure he knew I was joking.”
Roland went on, speaking in a soft and mock-cordial tone. “Hey, tell him he’s going to be all right. I don’t pick on elderly people, children, or invalids.” The commissioner did not indicate which of those things applied to Mulroy.
Mulroy still doesn’t believe the set-to was all in jest. In an email, he sums up his view: "I do not believe Roland was actually intending to engage in fisticuffs. I do think he was trying to physically intimidate. That is, he was hoping I would think he might actually be serious, and be intimidated as a result, even though, in fact, he wasn't planning on actually throwing a punch."
And Mulroy says that during the subsequent contentious debate in the commission meeting Monday about candidates for the School Board, Roland came over to his side of the commission semi-circle, got behind him, and whispered loudly in his year, “Your gay rights ain’t going nowhere in Nashville!”
To which Mulroy, who sponsored a successful anti-discrimination resolution last year, says, “I thought, ‘What gay rights? In the legislature that’s in Nashville these days? No chance!” (In fact, the GOP-dominated legislature passed a bill in the 2011 session prohibiting anti-discrimination measures by local jurisdictions.)
Joke or no joke, the confrontations in the County Commission, as currently constituted, come increasingly fast and furious these days. It hasn’t yet come to physical confrontations, and, if it ever does, we can only hope the gents at least put the gloves on and don’t try to do it, as Mulroy says Roland first suggested, with bare fists.
And if tickets are sold, we hope the proceeds go into the county general fund, which, in this time of budget austerity, needs the money. Mulroy and Roland would surely agree on that.