Hart was, along with Board colleague Martavius Jones, one of the prime movers behind the Memphis City Schools board's decision to surrender its charter last December — a circumstance that launched the ongoing merger between MCS and Shelby County Schools.
Since his first election to Congress in 2006, former state Senator Cohen has comfortably turned back successive Democratic Party challengers. He defeated Nikki Tinker in the 2008 primary and former Mayor Willie Herenton in 2010 -- both by margins of 4 to 1.
Both contestants will have to wait to see the exact confines of the 9th District, the lines of whch will be re-drawn by the General Assembly in January.
Shelby County Commissoner Steve Mulroy has become the first well-known public official to enlist in the service of Occupy Memphis, the local version of the Occupy Wall Street movement which has become a national phenomenon.
In several cities — New York, Oakland, and even nearby Nashville among them — local authorities have attempted to uproot Occupy encampments, sometimes violently.
The Memphis encampment on the downtown mall between the buildings housing city, county, federal, and state government has been more tranquil. So far. The commissioner joined that encampment Monday night and intended to stay overnight.
In an interview at an East Memphis restaurant on Sunday night, Mulroy, a Democrat, explained his reasons:
“I want to dramatize my support for the Occupy Memphis movement and the Wall Street movement more nationally.…I think it’s an extremely important cause, and we need to be sure we drum up attention to it.”
And what is that cause?
“I think it’s to dramatize the growing and gross inequality of wealth in this country and undue corporate influence and a lack of attention to the problems of poor folks. These are serious issues everywhere in America, including Memphis, which is one of the poorest metropolitan areas in th3e country and recently revealed to have one of the widest gaps between rich and poor.”
How would his presence serve this cause?
I don’t know. Maybe it won’t. But my hope is it’ll draw attention to the legitimacy of the cause.
Kyle announced that he would not run next year as a Democratic candidate for District Attorney General, thereby saying no to what had the makings of a legitimate draft effort among local Democrats seeking an opponent for incumbent DAG Amy Weirich, who will run as a Republican.
Kyle will, however, run for reelection to the state Senate next year, braving whatever contours his northern Shelby County districts will end up having.
Kyle's announcement of non-candidacy for District Attorney General was in epistulary form to media and potential supporters and went as follows:
Approximately two weeks ago, several good Democrats contacted me to encourage me to run for District Attorney of Shelby County. I am writing you today to decline their generous offer of support, and wanted to take a moment to explain why.
As you are likely aware, my law partner suddenly passed away earlier this year. Aside from the unexpected loss of a good and dear friend, his passing meant that the future of the business we had spent years building was in question. At that time, I told my lawyers, staff and clients that if they stuck with me, we would continue to move forward. They did, and we have. It would be unfair of me to tell them six months later that I was leaving the practice that I had promised to keep together. I have always tried to do the right thing, and I know that this is the right decision for both my family and the people close to me.
Please know that I still believe that a candidate with strong, united Democratic support can be successful in Shelby County. That’s why I wanted to tell you of my decision before the filing deadline. I wish the circumstances were different, but I am nonetheless thankful for the encouragement and the belief that I could make Shelby County a better place.
Kyle's announcement of non-candidacy leaves local Democrats still looking for a candidate to run against the GOP's Weich, who numbers several prominent Democrats among her backers. Another Democratic prospect who has acknowledged considering a race for D.A. is former state representative and city councilwoman Carol Chumney.
Although he is one of the 21 members of the school-merger Planning Commision created by the Norris-Todd bill, Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald leaves very little doubt that he intends a more independent course for his city’s schools than the “large, homogenized:” system that would result from a totally amalgamated city/county school system.
After spelling out what he saw as Bartlett’s public-school options to attendees at a “town hall” session at the Bartlett Municipal Center Monday night, McDonald sketched out his preference, a municipal school system run by the city and involved in ways yet to be determined with other muncipalities and unincorporated county areas via “memorandums of understanding.”
Among the corollaries of that judgment: Adjacent communities like Arlington and Lakeland would have to be subsumed into some yet-to-be-imagined form of association via the aforesaid MOU route.
Mcdonald enumerated several unknowns. One was the cost of obtaining existing school infrastructure. He believes he can make the case that Bartlett has already paid in full for its school facilities through the state-ordained distribution-of-funding formula, based on average daily attendance figures.”The worst case,” he said, would be the schools’ “book value” (which he estimated at $65 million), plus the cost of debt service, “53 cents on the tax rate.”
Although Norris-Todd seemingly allows for the creation in 2013 of new special school districts in Shelby County other than municipal ones, McDonald said he thought the legislature would shy away from non-municipal systems on the grounds that to allow their creation would involve the extension of new taxing authority.
Consultants hired by the cty will report on January 16 on the feasibility of a city system, with a referendum possible by next November, said McDonald, who ventured that he and other city officials might shortly go "on the road" for a fact-finding tour to eqaivalent-sized communities with municipal school systems like Kingsport, Johnson City, and Alcoa in East Tennessee.
Though it was unclear to what extent he meant the remark to apply to a separate Bartlett educational systemn, McDonald was strikingly firm on his commitment to quality education for his city. “In politics you have to be careful on which sword you are willing to die on. I’m willing to die on this one.”
Not to be literal-minded or anything, but a paragraph contained in an otherwise gruesome NYTimes account of alleged serial child molestation by former Penn State assistant Jerry Sandusky goes this way:
"Sandusky was indicted last week by a grand jury and faces 40 criminal counts of serial assault ranging from statutory rape to inappropriate fondling. He has denied all charges. He was released on $100,000 bond and is to appear in court next month for a preliminary hearing."
Joyce Avery, a Republican who logged two terms on the Shelby County Commission as a District 4 (suburban) representative, earned a reputation on that body as a bridge between city and county interests. This was especially so during her last year, 2009-10, when she served as both chairman and interim mayor and focused considerable effort on shoring up medical facilities for the indigent.
Avery may be functioning as a go-between again in a new role as a member of the Planning Commission, created by the Norris-Todd bill earlier this year as an official guiding force for the ongoing city/county school merger.
An appointee of state House Speaker Beth Harwell, Avery professes herself determined to see that the consolidation of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools proceeds smoothly and completely, without a new special school district forming in 2013, as the Norris-Todd bill permits, in the area outside the Memphis city limits.
“I think we can maintain a single, successful district, with everybody in it, and I’ll do what I can to make it happen,’ Avery said after a meeting of the Planning Commission Thursday night at the county’s Code Enforcement building on its Shelby Farms campus.
Avery said that she thought unity could be preserved without recourse to a much-discussed "chancery" model, which would involve several discrete and virtually autonomous sub-districts within a common system.
This week’s meeting, featuring a presentation by SCS superintendent John Aitken and members of his staff, counter-pointed one held last week under the auspices of MCS superintendent Kriner Cash and his associates. “They both did very well,” said Avery, who commended a “sad” Cash for persevering despite the recent loss of his wife to cancer.
Avery, a resident of Arlington, said she was aware that several members of both the new interim all-county school board and the Planning Commission itself had begun by harboring notions of creating one or more special districts when merger is completed in 2013.
“But I think they’re going to change their minds. This is a wonderful commission, and we are beginning to cohere and come together as we work alongside each other. I expect us to want to stay together when all is said and done. I think we will. I really do."
For that to happen, Avery has some missionary work to do right under her nose. The City of Arlington, like several other suburban municipalities, has already commissioned a study of potential special school-district status. Reminded of that, she shrugs. "You know me. I'm determined."
With all absentee and early-voting ballots counted, the unofficial totals had been: Lee Harris, 960 votes, or 68.42 percent of the total; Kemba Ford, 443 votes, or 31.58 percent. Unofficially, Harris would finish with 2,587 votes to Ford's 1,259 (32.73 percent).
Both candidates had worked hard since they were paired off as the survivors of a multi-candidate race on October 6. But, in adddition to his credentials and campaigning skills, Harris, a veteran of the 9th District congressional race in 2006, had greater resources, more financial support, and a larger number of politically experienced backers.
Though she could boast a well-known political name -- that of the extended Ford family -- Kemba Ford was not personally well known at the start of the race, having spent most of the last several years in California, where she had been working at an acting career.
She performed impressively on the stump, though, and had the support of most of the city's employee unions, whose members felt aggrieved by the pay and benefit cuts imposed on them in this year's city budget.
After the initial round of voting on October 6 showed Harris and Ford with virtually identical totals, members of Mayor A C Wharton's political circle vowed to spare no effort in backing Harris, a Wharton endorsee.
Harris' ability to generate an impressive vote downtown and on Mud Island (site of both his and Ford's residence), as well as more than holding his own in the district's North Memphis precincts, seems to have made the difference. "I think it's possible that we won every precict," he said.
Harris, regarding himself as a "political unknown," saw the question of name identification as working in his opponent's favor, overall. "Service and dedication beat the brand name," he said at his victory celebration.
The District 7 seat was vacated earlier this year by longtime incumbent Barbara Swearengen Ware, who retired upon accepting a plea bargain on charges of official misconduct in circumventing automobile registration procedures. Berlin Boyd had subsequently filled in as an interim councilman.
Harris is expected to fit in smoothly with an existing corps of young professionals on the Council.
A statement was released from the Ford campaign conveying news that Ford had called to congratulate Harris and bearing these lines: "Ford says she told Harris by phone that she hopes he does right by the people in District 7, and that she hopes he lives up to his promises. 'I will be watching,' she said. 'This is my first race, and it will not be my last. I will be very active in the community.'"
Harris, who said he was "surprised" by the somewhat edgy tone of her concession statement ("which was a little more tense over the telephone than it appears to be in the print version"), nevertheless praised Ford for having run a positive race overall and described her as someone with fine personal qualities and "real contributions" to make to the district and the city.
Sometime tonight the residents of City Council District 7, which encompasses a wide swath of downtown, North Memphis, and Mud Island, will have elected a new Council member to succeed former longtime Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware, who resigned — or, in the idiom of the day for those pressured out of office, retired — as part of the settlement of her indictment for official misconduct.
In the meantime, Berlin Boyd has by general agreement of his Council mates served creditably and well as an interim replacement for Ware, who had been charged with offering modest inducements to employees of the County Clerk’s office for the privilege of bypassing automobile registration procedures.
But Ware’s permanent successor will be one of the two survivors from the large original field who contended in the regular election that ended on October 6.
Contending in the runoff election which concludes on Thursday are University of Memphis law professor Lee Harris and Kemba Ford, the daughter of former state Senator John Ford who broke off a would-be acting career and returned to Memphis from California in the wake of her father’s own legal problems. The senior Ford now languishes in a federal prison in Mississippi after conviction on bribery charges relating to the Tennessee Waltz scandal.
Many, perhaps most, observers, see the two contenders running neck-and-neck.
Though their supporters were not necessarily as circumspect, the runoff candidates themselves expressed appreciation and support for each other. In the campaign’s waning days, Harris said at a public forum, “I think we both care,” and Ford was even more complimentary about Harris: "He's a fine person. He'd be a credit to any community he offered his services to."
Even so, there was a subtext of fundamental differences between the two campaigns — Ford casting herself as a grass-roots representative of the people, and Harris owning visible support from established business and political figures, including Mayor A C Wharton.
Far from dodging the legacy of her father or her extended family clan, Ford pitched them both as positives. “My family’s legacy is never absent from my mind. I have learned how much our family has affected people’s lives. Our family’s legacy in this city has been a huge inspiration. A lot is expected of me.”
And, for all his high-profile support, Harris stressed his own native roots and modest origins. “I’m a workhorse, not a show horse. I am Memphis- born and raised here. My Dad was an air-conditioner repairman, and my Mom is a retired high-school guidance counselor….I love this community, and have been blessed by this community.”
Ford boasted endorsements from several public-employee unions aggrieved by recent budgetary cuts in their pay and benefits. “We are racing to the bottom in employment wages and defined benefits. I stand for hard working people and against privatization,” she said.
Harris pointed out that he was a member of United Campus Workers, a union composed of faculty members and University employees. He also enjoyed the support of the Memphis Education Association.
Both candidates made strong statements in support of boosting education.
Both were relentless campaigners, going door-to-door, making frequent public appearances, and availing themselves of mailers, robocalls, and other established electioneering techniques.
Pro-life? If established, this measure will actually cost women’s lives. Small government? The amendment establishes a government that will fit into every womb in the Magnolia State.
The proposed amendment to the Mississippi constitution or “Initiative 26", would define as a person "every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof" would be the most radical, draconian law to come to the United States in a half century.
The logic is so absurd—so insane—it is essentially claiming that any fertile woman of child-bearing age who has just engaged in unprotected sex will actually split — bada bing! — into two separate human beings the moment sperm meets egg! Sort of an inverse of “Left Behind”—this has got to be the mother of all WTF ideas!
A few poorly funded women's groups in the state have been working hard to inform voters of the ramifications, but their efforts have mostly fallen on the self-righteous and brainwashed in the churches who have been hammered by Brother Billy Bobs into believing that good, Christian women are to be submissive, ovum-filled citadels lying in wait for the babies God will be instructing his manservant, the head-of-the-household, to make.
A statement by the Feminist Majority Foundation said: "The implications are staggering. By giving constitutional rights to a fertilized egg, the amendment could ban emergency contraception, birth control pills and IUDs as well as all abortions, even in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman or girl. It would eliminate medical choices for women, such as some cancer treatments and in-vitro fertilization. It could allow the state to investigate and even prosecute a woman for a miscarriage. Undoubtedly, it would lead to many court cases.
Mississippi—the poorest state, with the highest dropout rates, lowest number of people with health insurance, highest illiteracy rates, highest teen pregnancy rates, highest infant mortality rates, and greatest number of food stamp recipients in the country — will now become the state where 9-year old girls who are raped and impregnated by some sick pedophile—-a step-father, uncle, mother’s boyfriend or perhaps even a coach or preacher—- will be forced by the government to bear her rapist's child.
Where the poorest women, who rely exclusively on community health services, will have more unplanned, unwanted pregnancies because birth control pills and other reliable forms of contraception will be outlawed.
The proposed amendment is so deplorabe, even Governor Haley Barbour, who has thumped his chest proudly for years for being one of the most strident anti-abortion politicians in America is expressing "concern" about the amendment’s implications. 'Ol Haley has courted and stoked the extremist nutbaggery for years. Now, the chickens are coming home to roost. He is worried that state coffers, already thinned by hurricanes, oil spills, and other disasters, will be sucked dry by legal battles.
So who, exactly, would have so much contempt for women they would want to not only criminalize all abortion, but ban birth control and in-vitro fertilization? Who could propose laws that would seek government investigations for miscarriages? Who would want women and girls essentially returned to the Dark Ages?
The crackpot most responsible for dreaming up the 'personhood" ballot initiative is a fellow named Les Riley. Mr. Riley is the founder and director of a far-right Christian separatist group called Christian Exodus. According to their mission statement, their goal is "to move thousands of Christian constitutionalists to South Carolina to accelerate the return of self-government based upon Christian principles with the ultimate goal of forming an independent Christian nation that will survive after the decline and fall of the financially and morally bankrupt American empire."
Mr. Riley, a self-described “eighth-generation Mississippian who is proud to be an outspoken proponent of an agrarian lifestyle” is married with nine children, and serves as the chairman of the Constitution Party of Mississippi, a political group that advocates for secession. He is also a past member of the neo-Confederate League of the South.
Mr. Riley and his band of extremist whackjobs are so dangerous they can only described as The American Taliban. By working through churches and right-wing groups such as the Tupelo-based American Family Association (a wholly owned subsidiary of the Tea-publican party) the fanatical have completely mainstream in Mississippi.
If they succeed in getting enough votes to remove women's reproductive freedoms in their own state, they will feel emboldened enough to move on to other states, especially in the South, where religious fundamentalism is strong and well funded. Women in Mississippi have a lot at stake on Tuesday. Hopefully, voters will decide to fall back in time for only an hour, not a half-century.
Officials of the Shelby County Electon Commission and the state Department of Safety were on hand for Tuesday night’s session, which also featured a prefabricated video of state Election Coordinator Mark Goins. The video recapped information that Goins had imparted at greater length during two live appearances in Memphis last week concerning the law passed by the 2011 General Assembly and binding on all Tennessee elections as of the New Year.
During his two live appearances here last Wednesday — at the offices of the Commission for the Aging on Poplar and at the Board of Education on Avery — Goins, who stressed that he had no part in making the law, made the point that, in essence, it replaced a requirement that voters show state or federal identification containing a legitimate signature with a requirement for a state or federal ID containing a bona fide photo.
The bill’s Republican sponsors have touted it as a way of guarding against election fraud; the bill’s detractors, including members of the legislature’s Democratic leadership, see it as a means of suppressing voter turnout, especially among college students, whose IDs are not regarded as acceptable, and seniors, whose reduced mobility could make their acquisition of an appropriate Photo-ID difficult.
In Memphis, Goins made an effort to allay concerns about the bill, pointing out that the law permits exemptions — e.g., for absentee voters, for residents of nursing homes or assisted-living centers, for voters with religious objections to being photographed — and that indigent voters and driver’s-license holders over 60 without Photo-IDs could receive “express service” upgrades at driver’s license centers.
(State Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons recently announced an agreement with 30 county clerks in Tennessee, including Shelby County Clerk Wayne Mashburn, to provide free of charge upgraded drivers’ licenses with photos to drivers who possess drivers’ licenses without photos.)
Goins also noted that voters without Photo-IDs could cast provisional ballots on election day that would be counted if they could furnish legitimate Photo-IDs within two days of the election.
At neither of his appearances last week was Goins pressed especially hard by opponents of the Photo-ID measure, but that honeymoon is destined to end, as state Democratic Party chairman Chip Forrester announced on Monday the beginning of a statewide voter-education program on the matter under party auspices.
Among other differences of opinion, Forrester contends that some 675,000 Tennessee voters now find their previously valid credentials to vote under challenge, as against the 126,000 currently invalid driver’s licenses cited by Goins.
“I hadn’t thought about it at all, but I had to respect the people who were talking to me about it, and I am thinking about it seriously.”
Blogger Steve Steffens (leftwingcracker.blogspot.com) was the first person to float the idea in public, but Steffens said he was responding to some of the same people who had contacted Kyle about the idea. He, like them, thought it made perfect sense.
For one thing, it is the most open of secrets that the now dominant Republicans intend to re-district Kyle out of his Senate seat. And even if he should win in a freshly gerrymandered district and survive, he’d be mired in minority-party status for years to come in Nashville.
Meanwhile, Shelby County, like Davidson County (Nashville), is one of the few areas with enough of a Democratic core for a Democrat to make a serious race for a major position — like, say, District Attorney General.
Amy Weirich, a respected longtime deputy to former D.A.., now state Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons, and currently the D.A. herself, will be the Republican candidate, and Shelby County Democrats had been casting about for an opponent. Former judicial candidate Glen Wright, they thought, or maybe Carol Chumney, the onetime legislator and City Council member who ran for mayor twice (or actually thrice —two times for city mayor, once for county mayor)….
Neither of those balloons seemed to be flying, however. But Kyle? As Steffens said on his blog, “There are, at this point, only three people in Shelby County who have the name recognition,legal background and ability to raise money to beat Amy Weirich in the District Attorney General's race. A.C. Wharton is staying Mayor of Memphis, and Steve Cohen is quite happy being our Congressman. That leaves Senator Jim Kyle....”
Just last month Kyle was offering himself as a candidate for the new unified Shelby County School Board. Coordinated Republican opposition on the Shelby County Commission deprived him of that, but the senator had given a clear signal that he might be hankering for new opportunities.
Kyle will mull things over for a while yet. But he's clearly interested. He has enough fundraising contacts both locally and statewide and enough organizational experience to put together a major effort. And as far as the job itself goes: “You know, the thought struck me: I have personally written a lot of those laws I'd be enforcing!”
Stay tuned. Things could develop quickly here.