Friday, December 23, 2011

Blood Feud? Or: The Art of Shelby County Redistricting (Cont'd)

Posted By on Fri, Dec 23, 2011 at 12:28 AM

Commissioner Terry Roland
  • JB
  • Commissioner Terry Roland
In 2005 Democrat Ophelia Ford of Memphis edged out Republican Terry Roland of suburban Millington in a special election for the Shelby County state Senate seat vacated by Ford’s brother John Ford, convicted in the Tennessee Waltz scandal. Subsequently Ford was forced to vacate the seat and to run again for it when an investigation demanded by Roland turned up evidence that votes had been cast by felons and in the names of deceased individuals.

Ford would beat Roland in the 2006 re-run, but bad feeling remains. Roland, now a Shelby County Commissioner, clashed this week with Senator Ford’s nephew Justin Ford, also a Commissioner, over rival plans for redistricting, with Roland saying at one point, “I don’t need a Ford to tell me how to lead. I’ve been in that boat before, and I’ve got the T-shirt to prove it. You know what I’m saying?”

Demonstrating that he knew full well, Ford promptly re-drew his version of a re-districting plan, one of two which remains under consideration. The only apparent change is a modest adjustment in district lines which shifts Roland’s residence from a proposed majority-white suburban district into a majority-black inner-city district.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Withdrawals Make for Tighter County Races Next Year

Posted By on Mon, Dec 19, 2011 at 10:08 AM

Chumney (left); Weirich
  • Chumney (left); Weirich
Last week’s withdrawal deadline for next year’s Shelby County elections simplified the issue(s) seriously.

The most dramatic consequence occurred in the race for District Attorney General, as Carol Chumney’s two opponents in the Democratic primary — Glen Wright and Linda Nettles Harris — were prevailed upon to drop out, giving former legislator/City Council member Chumney a bye on the March 6 primary and time to prepare a one-on-one race in the August 2 general election against Republican incumbent Amy Weirich, who has no primary opposition.

Some winnowing down happened also in other races. The field thinned out in the Democratic primary for General Sessions Court Clerk when Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks withdrew and candidate Karen Woodward was disqualified by the Election Commission, which adjudged her qualifying petition to have been turned in late.

That creates a four-person primary between suspended incumbent Otis Jackson, who has been indicted for official misconduct in pressuring his employees for campaign activity; interim clerk Ed Stanton Jr.; Shelby County Commission chair Sidney Chism; and Marion Brewer.

Rick Rout, son of former Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout, and James Finney are vying for the Republican nomination for the clerk’s job.

In the race for Assessor, Democratic incumbent Cheyenne Johnson will have to face only realtor and frequent candidate Steve Webster in her primary, as another repeat contender, Charlotte Draper, was disallowed from the primary ballot by the county Election Commission after local Democratic Party officials formally denied her bona fides as a Democrat. (The action was a holdover consequence from Draper’s involvement with an unofficial party organization in a prior election.)

The three-way Republican primary for Assessor remains intact with John Bogan, Randy Lawson, and Tim Walton all running.

Finally, there was no change in the ballot for Shelby County Commission District 1, Position 3, as Republicans Marilyn Loeffel, a former commissioner, and newcomer Steve Basar fight it out in the GOP primary, and blogger/A-V technician Steve Ross remains the only Democrat in his primary.

As Year-End Deadline Approaches, County Commission Appears Deadlocked on Districts

Posted By on Mon, Dec 19, 2011 at 1:56 AM

clockwise, from top left: Mulroy, Shafer, Chism, Roland.
  • JB
  • clockwise, from top left: Mulroy, Shafer, Chism, Roland.
On Monday, December 19, the 13 members of the Shelby County Commission, mere days before Christmas, will gather for a crucial session in which there is expected to be very little give and take and an absence of seasonal good cheer as well.

With an apparent deadline of December 31, the commissioners must decide just how their 13 electoral seats should be apportioned in conformity with the Census of 2010 or see that matter referred to Chancery Court for resolution.

(We say “apparent” because former Commercial Appeal reporter Jimmie Covington, a maven in such matters, insists that, with no Commission elections scheduled before 2014, the deadline should be regarded as December 31, 2013. In fact, the Commission has already resolved that any vacancies to be filled in the meantime will observe the current district lines. The County Attorney’s office regards the end of this year as the appropriate drop-dead date, however.)

Informal polling of the Commission suggests that the present divide between those who favor large, multi-member districts and those who want single-member districts is unbridgeable.

When the Commission met on Friday in a special session, called expressly to expedite an agreement, the vote was 7-5, with the majority favoring a demographically updated version of the current pattern — four triple-member districts and one single-member district. — and the minority holding out for single districts. One commissioner — James Harvey , whose prerference remained unknown — was out of town on business but is expected to be on hand for Monday’s meeting.

Until Friday, momentum on the Commission — which had flirted briefly with the concept of an intermediate plan based on two-member dcistricts — was thought to be building toward single-member districts. This was a concept argued most strenuously by Commissioner Steve Mulroy, a Democrat who represents the present District 5, an urban enclave which is single-member and was designed ten years ago as something of a swing district.

Mulroy sees multi-member districts to be synonymous with “incumbent-protection plans.” He beieves, further, that smaller single-member districts are more responsive to constituents and could more easily to made to sync with single-member school bord districts in the future. Proponents of multi-member districts argue, among other things, that such districts provide alternative representation to constituents.

Until Friday, the stoutest proponent of triple-member districts had been Heidi Shafer, a Repubican and one of three members currently representing District 1, which stretches from Midtown Memphis into East Memphis and suburban areas outside the city.

But on Friday, Democrat Justin Ford of made a surprise presentation of what he called a “continuity plan” that was consistent with a prior proposal from Shafer, and two other Democrats — Melvin Burgess and Henri Brooks — voted in favor of it. So did Chris Thomas and Wyatt Bunker, Republicans from outer-county District 4 and newly named interim commissioner Brent Taylor, a GOP member from District 1 who serves as chair of the General Government Committee handling the redistricting matter.

Besides Mulroy, the holdouts for single-member districts on Friday were Commissioners Mike Ritz of District 1, Walter Bailey and Commission chairman Sidney Chism of inner-city Districts 2 and 3, respectively, and Terry Roland of District 4. Ritz and Roland are Republicans; Bailey and Chism are Democrats.

Inasmuch as support for each of the two warring concepts overolapped party and demographic lines, the essential disagreements could be interpreted as based on differing philosophies. Or they could be — and privately were — attributed to more personal considerations.

As examples: Some of those opposed to multi-member districts suggested that the support of them by Shafer, a Memphis resident, was based on her desire to include as many conservative suburban voters among her constituents as possible. In a similar vein, supporters of the “continuity plan” intimated that the opposition of Roland, a Millington Republican, was due to his reluctance to face potential future opposition from the populous suburban areas of southeast Shelby County.

In fairness, neither of those commissioners would assent to any such description of their motivations.

Whatever their reasons, the commissioners appeared deadlocked as Monday ‘s regular commission meeting approached. And, with the year coming to an end, with three readings required for passage of any given plan, and with the vote on final reading needing 9 ayes, chances of reaching agreement appeared remote.

Monday, December 12, 2011

County Commission at Cross Purposes on Redistricting

Posted By on Mon, Dec 12, 2011 at 10:14 PM

Bailey: Politics requires some giving and taking.
  • Bailey: "Politics requires some giving and taking."
There was a time, a week or two back, when it appeared that the Shelby County Commission would have little difficulty in arriving at a consensus on how to redistrict the legislative body’s 13 allotted seats in response to the 2010 census.

The current Commission map, drawn according to the census of 2000, consists of four three-member districts and one single-member district.

More or less in keeping with the Commission’s known preferences, the joint city/county Office of Planning and Development researched the demographics and offered a choice of two possibilities — what was called Scenario One, featuring six dual-member districts and one single-member district and Scenario Two, which divided the county into 13 single-member districts.

Both plans, in deference to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the current demographics of Shelby County, respected African-American dominance in the City of Memphis per se and gave blacks a fair chance at a numerical edge on the Commission as a whole. Both plans also acknowledged the fact that the county’s population had expanded outward and that, as a result, the areas outside the City of Memphis should be guaranteed at least four seats.

(At present, only three suburban seats — in District 4 — are expressly guaranteed, although District 1, which overlaps between city and county, allows for the possibility of more.)

On the first reading, there were ten votes for Scenario One, which would go through several permutations and eventually became known as 1-F. In the beginning, only Steve Mulroy, the Democrat currently serving in the only extant single-member area, District 5, insisted on single-member districts.

Mulroy offered two basic arguments — that there was a developing consensus in favor of an ultimate 13-member school board to govern the merged city/county school district now under formation and that a 13-member single-district commission would be able to dovetail precisely with such a board; and that single-member districts allowed for more identifiable and direct representation of constituent populations.

By virtue of the forbidding distances involved, triple-member districts and even dual-member districts are disproportionately difficult for first-time candidates to crack, and thus a multi-district format is something of an “incumbent-protection” plan, Mulroy maintained.

Not so, argued Heidi Shafer, an incumbent Republican in District 1, whose three current commissioners represent both city and county areas. She and others said that multiple representation benefited constituents, giving them alternatives for access.

Beyond such abstract arguments were several other concerns. There was the general question of finding the proper balance of power between blacks and whites and Republicans and Democrats. Commissioner Mike Ritz, a Republican from District 1, insisted on drawing definite lines between the City of Memphis and outer-county areas, and his preferences were built into 1-F, the ultimate permutation of Scenario One.

And some of the political facts of life were shaded with personal realities.

Memphis resident Shafer, unlike the term-limited Ritz, , will have to run for reelection in 2014 under the new guidelines, and her preference, unlike his, was for mixing city and county in as many districts as possible, creating a more fluid partisan mix.

By the time the commission met last Monday for a second reading of what was now 1-F, the plan bearing Ritz’s imprimatur, Shafer had her own plan to present — 3-B, which reverted to 4 large three-member districts, plus one swing district, a plan like the current one, merely updated according to the new census numbers.

And Mulroy (who had briefly floated a compromise plan with five dual-member districts and three single-member districts) would stand behind what was now 2-B, the latest permutation of a single-member district plan.

The commissioners could not agree, making it obvious that the original apparent consensus behind Scenario One had more to do with getting the three mandatory readings started than anything else.

Mindful that if the commission could not approve a plan by December 31, the issue would go to Chancery Court for possible judicial resolution, the commission agreed to meet last Friday to try to advance an agreement.

No dice. The impasse held. The Commission recessed until Wednesday of this week, when it will make another try to break the deadlock. With Ritz and District 4 Republican Terry Roland of Millington now making statements indicating they could accept some version of a single-member plan, there seemed to be something of a movement in that direction. But there were — and are — significant differences of opinion as to how such districts should be drawn, as well as other variables.

And underlying everything was the unyielding fact that, on third and final reading, a plan will need a two-thirds majority — 9 of this discordant Commission’s 13 votes — to be adopted.

Could Shafer and Ritz compromise on the issue of separating city and county districts (as Ritz wanted) or of combining them (as Shafer preferred)? Democrats like Melvin Burgess and James Harvey and Commission chairman Sidney Chism were presumably friendly to a single-district plan, but could the right version of one be found that would suit venerable Democrat Walter Bailey, who seems to have patiently brokered the variations of Scenario One, with input from Roland and Ritz? "Politics requires some giving and taking," Bailey reminded his colleagues on Friday.

What about such hard-to-pigeonhole Democratic members as Henri Brooks and Justin Ford? And was there any chance at all of enticing diehard opponents like District 4 Republicans Wyatt Bunker and Chris Thomas?

“I personally don’t think any of the three plans we looked at Friday will make it through,” said new interim Commission member Brent Taylor, who is chair of the General Government committee handling the issue and has so far remained uncommitted to any variant. Taylor says he wants to maintain his honest-broker status as long as possible but will tip his hand before time runs out.

And that is scheduled to happen at the stroke of midnight on December 31.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Contested Races Add Drama to Next Year's Lean County Ballot

Posted By on Thu, Dec 8, 2011 at 10:46 PM

District Attorney General Amy Weirich (right) and hostess Pat Kerr Tigrett respond to jest by guest Rick Masson at Weirich fundraiser this week.
  • JB
  • District Attorney General Amy Weirich (right) and hostess Pat Kerr Tigrett respond to jest by guest Rick Masson at Weirich fundraiser this week.

Some last-minute filings by the Thursday noon deadline have ensured that next year’s leaner, leap-year version of the county election cycle will generate its share of drama.

Only two charter positions are up for grabs — assessor and General Sessions Court clerk — but special elections for District Attorney General and the District 1, Position 3 County Commission seat will also command attention, and there will be intriguing matchups in all four major contested races.

GENERAL SESSIONS COURT CLERK: The most crowded race on the ballot will be the Democratic primary for this race — which will be held, along with its Republican counterpart , on March 6. Party nominees in that and the other races will battle each other for rights to the job in the general election of August 2.

The contending Democrats are Marion Brewer, Henri Brooks, Sidney Chism, Otis Jackson, and Ed Stanton Jr. Brewer is something of an unknown, but the others are veterans of Shelby County politics.

Jackson, the incumbent, is currently suspended and under indictment for official misconduct in openly soliciting campaign acrtivity and contributions from his office staff. His well-publicized legal problems have attracted primary opposition from Chism, the chairman of the Shelby County Commission; Brooks, an incumbent member of the Commission, and Stanton, a veteran of county government who has been serving as interim clerk.

Rick Rout, son of former county mayor Jim Rout, is the sole Republican seeking the clerkship.

ASSESSOR: Democrat incumbent Cheyenne Jackson faces two challengers in her primary: Charlotte Draper, an employee of the office, and realtor Steve Webster, a frequent political candidate in recent years.

Three Republicans will also be vying in the GOP primary: John Bogan, a long-term employee of the assessor’s office; videographer Randy Lawson; and real estate appraiser/firefighter Tim Walton.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Former legislator and City Council member Carol Chumney will contend with former federal prosecutor Linda Nettles Harris and attorney Glen Wright in the Democratic primary.

The sole Republican running is incumbent Amy Weirich, who was appointed to the job by Governor Bill Haslam when former D.A. Bill Gibbons became state Commissioner of Safety and Homeland Security.

DISTRICT 1, POSITION 3, SHELBY COUNTY COMMISSION: Two Republicans, political newcomer Steve Basar, a pharmaceutical-company executive, and former Commissioner Marilyn Loeffel, oppose each other in the GOP primary for this suburban-rim seat vacated by former Commissioner Mike Carpenter, now heading an education lobby in Nashville.

Steve Ross, an audio-visual technician and well-known local blogger, is the sole Democratic candidate.

Candidates have until Thursday, December 15, to withdraw their names from the election ballot.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Carol Chumney Enters D.A.'s Race

Posted By on Wed, Dec 7, 2011 at 3:39 PM

Carol Chumney
  • Carol Chumney
Former state Representative and City Council member Carol Chumney indicated late this morning that she was on her way to the Election Commission to file for the office of District Attorney General.

Chumney, one of three Democrats who had previously pulled petitions from the Election Commission, thus becomes the first Democrat to commit herself and the first known challenger to incumbent Republican Amy Weirich, who had previously filed.

A graduate of the University of Memphis Law School who has maintained a private practice in recent years, Chumney first won election to the state House from District 89 (Midtown) in 1990 and was reelected six times.

She was elected to the Council in 2003 and was a candidate for Memphis Mayor in 2007, finishing second to then incumbent Mayor Willie Herenton in a three-way race. Chumney had run for Shelby County mayor in 2002 and made another race for Memphis Mayor in 2009, losing to A C Wharton on both occasions.

Chumney is the former president of the Memphis Federal Bar Association, served as an appointee to two Tennessee Supreme Court commissions, and was an officer of the House Judiciary and Children & Family Affairs Committees.

In a press release, Chumney issued this statement about her purpose in running:

"At the local courthouse, the lady holding the scales of justice, is a symbol that in our country noone is above the law. I vow to protect our community from those who prey on the vulnerable, such as senior citizens who are scammed by con artists, children and youth from sexual predators, families from domestic abuse, workers who are not paid equally for their work, and the trusting public that suffer abuses from even the most prominent professionals in our community—lawyers, doctors, and bankers . When I take office as D.A. noone will be above the law anymore."

Two other Democrats, Glen Wright and Linda Nettles Harris, had drawn petitions for District Attorney General but have not yet filed.

Deadline for filing for next year's county offices is 12 noon on Thursday.

Friday, December 2, 2011

State Education Officials Visit Memphis, Unveil Bootstrap Process for Ailing Schools

Posted By on Fri, Dec 2, 2011 at 7:11 AM

Solar (left) and Huffman at Planning Commission meeting
  • JB
  • Solar (left) and Huffman at Planning Commission meeting

State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and Ash Solar, chief strategy advisor for the state’s burgeoning new Achievement School District, paid a visit Thursday evening to a meeting of the Shelby County Planning Commission, which is charged with providing advice for the forthcoming merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools. Both state officials gave detailed presentations of the multi-faceted state strategy for improving failing schools.

One catch: Implicit in the elaborate models discussed — if largely unspoken — was the significant role to be played by charter schools, which the Haslam administration has made a major commitment to. And only two nights earlier the county’s interim 23-member unified school board poured a few more shovelfuls of dirt on the concept of new charter schools, applications for which the board had roundly defeated and buried in its two previous meetings.

At those prior meetings, 17 charter-school applications, including several by former Memphis City Schools superintendent and Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, had been turned down and then rejected again when resubmitted in greater detail.

The major reason for the rejections had been given as concern about the additional expense entailed by new charter schools, but at the Tuesday night meeting this week, the board heard from several ideological opponents of charter schools per se, a number of whom expressed concern about dilution of regular public school education, in the process citing such anti-charter school theorists as Diane Ravitch of New York University. (John Branston has more on "escape hatches" from traditional public education.)

Given that charter schools had been stoutly resisted by members of the former Shelby County Schools board and that resistance to new ones is growing among members of the former Memphis City Schools board, the unified board may be on a collision course of sorts with one of the central premises of the Haslam administration’s school reforms.

According to Jane Roberts in The Commercial Appeal, Huffman had used the expression "bad policy" earlier Thursday in a meeting with the CA's editorial board to describe the developing resistance to charter schools on the part of the interim school board.

In any event, charter schools as such were downplayed at Thursday night's Planning Commission meeting. Most of the presentation, especially on Huffman's part, was focused on several modes by which the administration proposes to raise the level of existing low-performing schools, putting the bottom-most under ASD (Achievement School District) control and guiding the next level up into "district-level innovative zones."

Unsurprisingly, Memphis provides a largish proportion of the state's ASD-eligible schools. — 25 out of the current 34 so designated statewide. Huffman may have whetted the appetite of Planning Commission members (and those interim School Board members who were present) with his mention of $40 million in funding which the state would make available for the ASD effort in March, to be followed by another $40 million next fall.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

City Court Clerk Long Could Be Third Wheel in 9th District Race

Posted By on Thu, Dec 1, 2011 at 3:18 PM

City Court Clerk Thomas Long
  • City Court Clerk Thomas Long
Tomeka Hart, whose campaign headquarters opening is scheduled for Thursday night, may not be the only challenger for incumbent 9th District congressman Steve Cohen in next year’s Democratic primary.

City court clerk Thomas Long confirmed recently that he is thinking of running for the position but will make no decision until his official swearing-in on January 1. Long was re-elected as clerk during this year’s city election.

Long, who has flirted in recent years with the idea of running for various positions, including county clerk and city and county mayor, was first elected to the city court clerkship in 1995 and has been reelected four times.

His participation in the 9th District race would complicate things in unpredictable ways, though the presence of two challengers would seem to enhance the incumbent’s chances of reelection. That prospect, however, was downplayed by Long, who has game-planned a prospective race but stressed that he has made no decision.

Kinky Friedman Comes, Sees, and Conquers in Memphis

Posted By on Thu, Dec 1, 2011 at 1:02 AM

Sometimes, as Freud said, a cigar is just a cigar. Here, Kinky Friedman goes head-to-head with Folk Alliance attendee Dean Baxter.
  • jb
  • Sometimes, as Freud said, a cigar is just a cigar. Here, Kinky Friedman goes head-to-head with Folk Alliance attendee Dean Baxter.

Kinky Friedman, songwriter, singer, politician, author, comedian, and God-knows-what-else came, saw, and conquered Wednesday on a trip to Memphis, where he did a well-attended presentation of all his various guises in an evening appearance at the Folk Alliance storeefront headquarters on South Main St..

Friedman and his best-known ensemble performed for decades under the name “Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys.” The name is a hoot and was intended as such, but, like everything Kinky has been involved in, the band was a serious venture.

His song standards, a generous selection from which he rendered Wednesday night, have titles like “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore,” “Sold American,” “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven & Your Buns in the Bed,” “Asshole from El Paso,” “Home Erectus,” “Ride ‘Em Jewboy,” and “Rock and Roll Across the USA.” And, yes, of course, they have a satirical edge, but they are real music, too.

Kinky is a serious man. He has written 31 books, the most recent of which, Heroes of a Texas Childhood, was on sale at the Folk Alliance building. The book is a series of profiles of exemplars from the Lone Star State. Some of the subjects are Willie Nelson, Sam Rayburn, Sam Houston, Ladybird Johnson, and Bigfoot Wallace. Three others — former Texas governor Ann Richards, former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, and legendary columnist Molly ivins, all now deceased — Friedman singled out for special tribute Wednesday night.

Friedman made a race for governor of Texas in 2006 and, running as an independent in a field that included eventual winner Rick Perry, finished with 13 percent of the vote. Although his list of heroes runs to Democrats and progressives, his current politics, as revealed in the following interview with the Flyer, may surprise you. By turns, Friedman’s answers are whimsical and dead serious.

Flyer: Is your political career on hold? In 2006 you finished respectably.

Friedman: That’s a kind word for it.

Fourth out of six? Something like that?

Yes, and I’m not bitter. I think the career of musician is a higher calling than that of a politician…..13 percent of Texas voted for me. Today almost all Texans feel that way…..They now have a chance to see Rick Perry run for president.

What are three things you know about Rick Perry? You can forget the third one.

I know that all the blonds and Aggies are now telling Rick Perry jokes.

What was your platform when you ran?

Never re-elect anybody. Two terms. One in office. One in prison. I didn’t really have a platform. There was a trap-door in it. I just came up with a lot of good ideas, and I think Texas missed a chance. I think we won that race every place but Texas.

Do you ever think about doing that again?

Not much. I’m getting O-L-D.

How old are you?

67. But I read at the 69-year-old level.

Is Heroes of a Texas Childhood your best [book]?

The best one is always the next one.

What is the next one?

One I’m doing with Willie Nelson, called The Troublemaker.

You haven’t had a new album in a few years….

At least.

Well, have you got plans for another one?

No.

No new material? Or what?

No new material. The songs are older than the audience….

Any last word on the presidential campaign, other than Rick Perry?

Well, I told my friend Don Imus, Herman Cain is deader than Elvis. I think at this point I would like a ticket like Romney-Rubio. That would be the one.

Really?

I think Obama’s got to go.

You’re serious? Why?

I think he’s a fraud. I think he’s a good candidate. I think he’s a good law instructor at Harvard. But he will never in his lifetime be a statesman or a leader. It’s not that I don’t like him. He doesn’t have the chops. He’s also — if you’re a Jew, you should never vote for this man. He’s isolated Israel even further than she was. And he’s appointed a lot of Jew-hating Jews around him. They hate Israel.

But why Romney, and, especially, why Rubio [the arch-conservative freshman Senator from Florida]?

Because they can win. That’s why. I don’t think Gingrich can win. I like Gingrich, but I don’t think he can win. I’m worried about Romney. He’s beating Obama right now in all the state polls. But the Republicans are the best friends Obama’s got. I’m an Independent. God bless all independents.

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