The municipal-school-district bill that stumbled in a state House subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Nashville last week will move on to the full Education Committee, but — and it’s a real “but” — the legislators who passed it forward Wednesday in the Education general subcommittee, both Democrats and Republicans, made it clear they had doubts about it and would expect a full vetting.
In fact, Rep. Richard Montgomery (R-Sevierville), the Education chairman, granted a request by Rep. Lois DeBerry (D-Memphis) for a full hearing on the bill, complete with “experts” on all sides of the issue and promised “whatever sufficient time we can agree on” for the process.
The measure (Senate Bill 2908; House Bill 3234) would lift the existing ban on new municipal school districts in Tennessee , not just in Shelby County as provided for in last year’s Norris-Todd bill, and would advance the date of eligibility from August 2013, as specified in Norris-Todd, to January 1, 2013.
While the new bill's chief sponsor, state Senator Mark Norris (R-Collierville),has argued that his intent was to create an environment in which the various parties to the ongoing school-merger controversy in Shelby County could "take their time" in working through it, others, notably the bill's critics, see the measure as an obvious attempt to expedite five Memphis suburbs' independence from the county's newly formed United School District.
The bill was moved without incident through the state Senate Education Committee earlier this month by Norris, the Senate Majority Leader who was also the primary author of Norris-Todd. The earlier bill, fast-tracked in February 2011 on a party-line vote, had imposed new state controls on the course of city-county school merger in Shelby County.
Norris’ opposite number, Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga), the House Majority Leader, agreed to co-sponsor the new bill advancing the date for municipal districts, but when McCormick introduced it in the House Education subcommittee last week, his unfamiliarity with the measure and discomfort in presenting it were both obvious.
Action on the bill that day had taken place in the immediate aftermath of state Attorney General Robert Cooper’s opinion that the five Memphis suburbs attempting to hold May 1 referenda on new school districts could not do so, or take any action regarding the proposed new districts, until the August 2013 date of school merger spelled out in Norris-Todd. In a further complication, the Shelby County Election Commission was even then meeting to formally cancel the scheduled referenda in voluntary compliance with Cooper’s opinion.
Besides all these unfavorable circumstances, the bill ran into vocal opposition in the Education subcommittee. Former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh (D-Covington) denounced the bill as furthering “segregation” in the creation of what he called “white school districts” by five Shelby County municipalities — Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Lakeland, and Arlington. And Rep. Lois DeBerry (D-Memphis) referred to both the new bill and Norris-Todd as disruptions in the comity of Shelby County.
Even more ominously, Rep. Bill Dunn, a subcommittee member and a Republican from Knoxville, announced that he might very well choose to oppose the bill. It was becoming clear that Norris and other Shelby County suburban legislators could not necessarily count on the party-line harmony that had allowed Norris-Todd to speed through to passage last year.
“Rolled” (postponed) last week, the bill came up again Wednesday in what would be the last scheduled meeting of the year for the House Education subcommittee.
Once again, McCormick introduced it, announcing to Rep. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), the subcommittee chair, “Mr. Chairman, I’ll try to get through with this one real quick so you can get through with your calendar.”
It wouldn’t go down that easy. Naifeh objected: I just can’t let this bill fly through without something being said about it. Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m not going to say what I did last week. It got myself and the Leader – both of us got some press we didn’t want….We’re trying to get less government, and this is just going to make more school systems. I just think we’re going the wrong direction with this, and I just hope you think about it when you vote.”
That was followed up by Rep. Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley), the House Democratic caucus chair: “I just want to make it perfectly clear that what we’re doing here is involving ourselves in Shelby County’s business.” Quoting House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) on the theme that “government is best at the lowest level,” he said that proceeding with school merger should be the responsibility of “the Shelby County Unified Whatever-they’re-Gonna-Call-It… where government should occur.” Of HB3234, he said, “This is not right, and I can’t support it.”
Again, as in the previous meeting, Dunn spoke up, pointing out that the bill required further discussion: “Since this is the last [subcommittee] meeting, that discussion may happen at the next level. In fact, if it doesn’t happen at the next level, I’m not voting for something I don’t understand all the ramifications [of].”
Dunn mentioned the still unresolved issue of how existing school buildings, which “it seems Shelby County owns,” might be made over to new municipal districts in Shelby County. “Do they get the school building automatically, or do they have to buy them from the county? “There are a lot of questions…I’m torn on this… At the next level I’m expecting a through vetting on this before I’ll vote on it.”
Now McCormick weighed in, terming what Dunn had said “a reasonable request” and speaking of the school-facility issue as “a mountain to climb.” The GOP Leader said, “I assume they’ll have to negotiate with the current school system to see if they’ll allow them to take these buildings over, and if they wouldn’t, they’d have to build new ones, which would be very expensive…There are a number of obstacles to get through. It’s not as simple as just declaring you’re a new school system.”
And, besides, he added, “The law does have statewide application.”
Dunn expressed a hope that “perhaps at the next level we have some experts outside the fray of Shelby County …who can speak to this.” And he reprised several of the key points that have vexed Shelby Countians, wondering if individual municipal districts could “band together” and if they would have to “leave pockets” of unincorporated Shelby County outside their purview.
DeBerry quickly said, “I agree with Representative Dunn.” She said she talked with Senator Norris concerning his further intentions regarding the bill and would attempt to get further clarification from him later in the week. Referring to Norris Todd, she said everything had “started with this one piece of legislation that just tore Shelby County up. I don’t want to be a part of it.”
She then asked Montgomery, chair of the full Education Committee, to provide for a full and “fair” hearing on SB 20-8/HB 3234. The chairman promptly concurred, offering “a commitment from me” for such a hearing, one to which both city and county interests in Shelby County could send representatives. McCormick concurred. “I don’t have any problem with it.”
There were two attempts at the Last Word Wednesday. One was Naifeh’s: “This did start when we started this General Assembly last year, and there’s been turmoil in education ever since. We have no business fooling around in Memphis and Shelby County’s business….they don’t need us to tell them what they need to do.”
And another attempt came from Rep. Ron Lollar (R-Bartlett), who said the suburban municipalities “have been denied a right to vote twice by litigation and lawsuits,” and the current bill was meant to remedy that.
But the very terms in which Wednesday’s discussion was couched indicated that issues beyond SB 2908/HB 33234 could well be addressed when the discussion on the bill resumed, issues like that of state vs. local control that were largely disregarded when Norris-Todd was being fast-tracked last year.
Whatever happens will take place on Tuesday, April 3. That’s the date of next week’s Education Committee meeting.
To vary an old metaphor, a week of big bangs on the school-merger front has ended, not with a whimper (to suggest so would be both inaccurate and discourteous) but with — oh, with whispery vacillation on the part of the contending parties.
Mark Norris, the Collierville Republican who is state Senate Majority Leader and has legislative authority second only to that of Senate Speaker/Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, was essentially biding his time on Friday, following a surprise rebuff in the House to legislation of his on behalf of municipal school districts for Shelby County.
Meanwhile, the Unified School Board of Shelby County, taking up on Thursday night an emergency agreement between itself and the Shelby County Commission on disposition of county school property, deadlocked unexpectedly 9-9, forgoing a chance to arm itself with a legal weapon against further power moves from Nashville.
The bill, which Norris himself had guided effortlessly through a Senate committee the week before, would jump up the date for legally creating new municipal school districts from August 2013 , the time specified in the 2011 Norris-Todd bill, to January 1, 2013, and would apply the action — technically, the removal of a 20-year ban on new municipal districts — statewide. The later deadline in the 2011 bill by Norris and state Rep. Curry Todd (R-Collierville) has applied only to new municipal districts in Shelby County.
The new bill is co-sponsored , more formally than otherwise, by GOP House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga, who, when he presented the measure in a House education subcommittee on Wednesday, was either reluctant concerning the bill or uncertain of its import, or likely both.
McCormick’s uneasy presentation (he seemed to think the bill was an amendment, not self-contained legislation) was quickly followed by denunciations from former longtime House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh (D-Covington), who, in an impassioned broadside, branded it a “segregation” measure to create “white school districts” in the Shelby County suburbs, and from Rep. Lois DeBerry (D-Memphis), who demanded that it be rolled so as to help salvage a school environment in Shelby County that was “in [dis]-array.”
Given that even Bill Dunn of Knoxville, a ranking Republican, also expressed misgivings about the bill (without specifying them), it was indeed rolled.
All of this took place in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s bombshell opinion from state Attorney General Robert Cooper that five Shelby Country municipalities (Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Lakeland, and Arlington) were not entitled, under the terms of Norris-Todd, to proceed with scheduled May 10 referenda to authorize municipal school systems for their communities.
Not until the city/county school merger itself was concluded on the pre-ordained August 2013 date would the municipalities be eligible to create new school systems or to carry out any enabling measures, such as holding referenda. “Each of these activities would require an action by an already-established school system,” reads the opinion, binding the municipalities in a virtual Catch-22. After consulting with state election authorities, the Shelby County Election Commission dutifully voted to cancel the May 10 referenda at a Wednesday afternoon meeting that was more or less simultaneous with the House subcommittee’s action forestalling the new Norris bill.
Under the shadow of all these circumstances, Norris not only expressed uncertainty in his Thursday interview about renewing SB2908/HB3234, he downplayed the prospect of putting forth explicit legislation of any other kind regarding the Shelby County school situation.(In their respective end-of-week press availabilities, Democratic House leaders Mike Turner and Craig Fitzhugh condemned the rolled bill as yet another instance of Republicans trying to steamroller local options, while Republican leaders Beth Harwell and Debra Maggart continued to stand behind the bill.)
A seemingly chastened Norris went so far as to suggest that Shelby County’s suburban mayors should reconsider a unification formula, entitled “Multiple Achievement Paths,” which the Transition Planning Commission on city/county school merger had endorsed but which the mayors had rejected. The formula allows extensive autonomy for suburban schools but not their outright independence. “As long as they are allowed to have their own districts,” Norris said, these districts could find a place under a common umbrella like the one proposed.
Norris said further that such an arrangement would circumvent the currently ticklish problem of how — and at what cost, if any —new suburban school districts could acquire existing school properties.
When 18 of the 23 members of the interim Unified School Board of Shelby County gathered for a specially called meeting Thursday night, they were expected to affirm a proposed legal agreement in which Shelby County government would confer on the Board de facto title and full fiduciary responsibility for school properties, as well as authority to exact value and apply the proceeds resulting from any transfer of the properties.
In voting on the proposal, the Board, composed of the 9 former members of the Memphis City Schools board and the 7 former members of the Shelby County Schools board, plus 7 new members who had been appointed by the Shelby County Commission, cleaved generally along city/county lines, but, in something of a surprise, a majority of the new members voted against the agreement, which failed on a 9-9 vote.
It remains to be seen whether this action gives Norris new incentive to push binding legislation or whether it confirms the hopes of those swing Board members who argued that rejecting the agreement would clear the way for fair-minded negotiations on the future of county school properties.
Meanwhile, the Unified School Board was scheduled to review its vote on the agreement at its forthcoming Tuesday night meeting, and the mayors of Shelby County’s five suburban municipalities indicated they might seek a legal injunction to force the Election Commission to proceed with the now canceled May 10 referenda in their communities.
All but lost in the shuffle was TPC member David Pickler's recent proposal that all parties agree to seek a year's extension of the merger timetable — something that would require the approval of U.S. Disttrict Judge Hardy Mays, who has jurisdiction over the increasingly tangled situation. At the conclusion of a Transition Planning Commission meeting that immediately preceded the Unified Board's meeting Thursday night, TPC chair Barbara Prescott announced that sentiment on the group's executive committee was to reject the Pickler proposal but that it would be discussed at next week's TPC meeting.
Former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh denounces a municipal-school-district bill as furthering "segregation."
Memphis state representative Lois DeBerry asks that the bill be rolled.
NASHVILLE -- One day after being staggered by Tuesday’s announcement of an adverse opinion regarding municipal school districts by Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper, the cause of those suburban districts in Shelby County experienced two more dramatic setbacks on Wednesday.
First, a legislative measure that would have moved up the date of eligibility for new municipal school districts from August 2013 to January 1, 2013, was denounced by opponents as racially motivated, then postponed, without action being taken, when it came up in a House subcommittee in Nashville.
Then, virtually simultaneously, the Shelby County Election Commission, acting on advice from the state Election Commission that General Cooper’s opinion be heeded, formally canceled the referenda that had already been scheduled for five Shelby County suburbs — Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Lakeland, and Arlington.
What Cooper had said on Tuesday, in response to a request from state Senator Beverly Marrero (D-Memphis) was that the five suburbs could not take any actions to facilitate special-school-district status until they became eligible for that status on terms established by the 2011 Norris-Todd bill that effectively governs the process of city-county school merger.
Norris-Todd had provided for August of next year as the date for completion of the merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools, as well as the date for the lifting, in Shelby County only, of a ban on new special or municipal school districts in Tennessee dating from the establishment of the late former Governor Ned McWherter’s Basic Education Program a generation ago.
Subsequently, U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays had dealt with various litigations stemming from the ongoing merger, which was forced by the MCS board's action in late 2010 to surrender its charter -- an action caused, ironically, by a board majority's fear of an imminent move by SCS to achieve special-school-district status.
Judge Mays would go on to sanctin the legality of the merger, recognizing Norris-Todd as the de facto guide for the merger process.
The process at that point got under way, aided by a 21-member Transition Planning Commission that had been mandated by Norris-Todd, and by a new 23-member Uniform School Board uniting the members of the old boards of MCS and SCS, along with seven new members appointed by the Shelby County Commission.
Regarding the issue of new municipal school districts as not “ripe,” Judge Mays did not deal with it in his original comprehensive ruling.
Meanwhile, Shelby County’s municipal communities, anticipating the final phase of Norris-Todd, hired a consulting firm, Southern Educational Strategies, and — with the exception of Millington, which the consultants deemed less prepared than the others —began making plans, beginning with the scheduled May 10 referenda, for establishing new municipal school districts independent of the simultaneously developing Uniform School District.
Tuesday’s bombshell announcement by Attorney General Cooper, though his opinion was technically only advisory, effecrively scuttled the process and also would end up nullifying, at least for the time being, the effort by state Senator Mark Norris (R-Collierville) to speed up the suburbs’ readiness with the ill-fated bill introduced in a House subcommittee Wednesday.
Norris had previously routed through the Senate version of the bill, which would lift the ban on new school districts statewide, without incident, but his House co-sponsor and opposite number, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) was clearly ill at ease about presenting the measure and agreed to postpone (or, in legislative parlance, “roll”) the bill when former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh (D-Covington) and former House Speaker Pro Tem Lois DeBerry (D-Memphis) strenuously objected to it, recapping some of the arguments they had made in February 2011 when Norris-Todd itself was being pushed through to passage by a unified Republican legislative majority.
What happens next is uncertain, but one thing is fairly definite: The component of Norris-Todd regarding the creation of special or municipal school districts will almost surely qualify now as being ripe for judicial review.
Moving through the Tennessee General Assembly under the sponsorship of state Senator Mark Norris (R-Collierville), the Senate majority leader, and state Rep. Gerald McCormiuck (R-Chattanooga), the House majority leader, is a bill (*SB 2908, HB 3234) that would legalize the creation of new municipal school districts statewide, as of January 1, 2013.
If passed during the current legislative session and signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam, the bill would shortcut by 9 months the wait of five suburbs before they can take concrete steps to establish independent municipal school districts.
The suburban municipalities are Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett,Lakeland, and Arlington.
An opinion by AG Cooper on Tuesday had stated that no move — not even the referenda planned by the suburbs for May 10 to get citizen sanction for the new school districts — could be taken until the currently planned August 2013 merger date for Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools.
(The 2011 Norris-Todd bill on school merger had acted to lift the ban on new special or municipal districts, but in Shelby County only, as of the August 2013 date.)
Cooper’s opinion further stated that only municipalities with existing school systems could hold referenda or take other concrete steps to establish new districts — something of a Catch-22, inasmuch as the districts would have to await the completion of MCS-SCS merger.
The Norris-McCormick legislation, which could be heard by the Senate Finance,Ways & Means Committee as early as this week, would allow for new districts — and thus concrete steps toward formalizing them — even before the scheduled city-county merger date, which itself could be sped up by additional legislation.
Presumably, though, U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays, whose court has jurisdiction over the merger, would need to authorize any significant alterations of deadline dates — not only those In the pendig legislation but any postponement of the sort — a year’s delay in proceeding along the merger path — advocated by Transition Planning Commission member David Pickler.
Pickler’s proposal had seemingly met with favorable response among a variety of interested principals — though suburban mayors had expressed their intention to proceed with the May 10 referenda, now apparently on hold.
Basing his opinion on mandatory conditions set forth in the 2011 Norris-Todd bill, which became Public Chapter One, Attorney General Robert Cooper has found essentially that the ban on new municipal or special school districts in Tennessee must be continued until the completion of the ongoing merger of Memphis city Schools and Shelby County Schools.
He finds further that none of the enabling acts contemplated by the Shelby County suburban governments prior to the creation of new municipal districts can be undertaken until the completion of that merger — spelled out by Norris-Todd to take place no earlier than August 2013. Specifically, says Cooper, that makes the referenda scheduled for May 10 of this year null and void.
The kernel of the Attorney General’s opinion reads as follows: “Such an interpretation is buttressed by the fact that until the transition is actually effectuated, the transition cold be delayed or never finalized — thereby altering or completely negating the date allowing municipalities to proceed to establish a new district — or that the transition ultimately developed could cause the leadership or voters of a municipality to forego any attempt to establish a separate school district.”
In his opinion, provided in answer to a request by state Senator Beverly Marrero (D-Memphis), Cooper goes on to preclude any number of other possible actions prior to, and on behalf of, establishment of municipal school systems. “Each of these activities would require an action by an already-established school system,” reads the opinion.
Opinions from the state Attorney General do not have the effect of judicial fiat in Tennessee, but they are traditionally regarded by the courts as effective guides to proper action. U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays, who holds jurisdiction over the various aspects of the city/county school merger, has demonstrated by his rulings so far that he is mindful of every legitimate precedent involved — legislative, executive, or judicial.
Even before the Attorney General’s opinion, there had been a developing consensus among all the parties involved in the complex merger situation that — as David Pickler of the Transition Planning Commission had recommended — a delay of at least a year in going forward in implementing the merger (or, presumably, any of the concomitant actions associated with it) would be desirable.
General Cooper’s opinion gives further force to that reality and will doubtless impact the planning of the various persons and institutions, local and statewide, involved in the merger process.
The ongoing imbroglio on the Shelby County Commission regarding the matter of post-census redistricting will apparently have to be resolved by Chancellor Arnold Goldin next month when he meets with attorneys representing Shelby County government as a whole, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, three commissioners engaged in a suit against the county regarding the redistricting process.
If this originally pro forma confrontation seems unduly complicated, it could quickly become more so. Commissioner Mike Ritz, one of the three plaintiffs in the existing case, now indicates he intends to sponsor a resolution asking the Commission to appoint a lawyer to oppose the county’s current special attorney, Ron Krelstein, who was hired late last year by Shelby County Attorney Kelly Rayne.
Okay, breathe in deep and try to focus: Krelstein was hired by Rayne to represent both the executive branch of Shelby County government and the Commission itself against the three plaintiffs’ suit because Rayne herself could not easily do so.
Her responsibilities — to individual Commissioners, as well as to the Commission as a unit — would be hopelessly divided and she would be litigating to some degree against herself.
Now, if Ritz should follow through on his resolution, and if it should be approved, the lawyer hired thereafter to counter Krelstein would be technically representing the Commission against itself as well as, presumably, against the three plaintiffs, including Ritz, who, along with co-plaintiff Terry Roland, is already represented by another lawyer, Gerald Lawson, while the third plaintiff, Commissioner Walter Bailey is representing himself.
Even with a scorecard, it would next to impossible to identify all the players and to separate their roles and legal responsibilities from one another.
Ritz’s contemplated resolution is based on his resistance to Krelstein’s position, made public at Monday’s regular public meeting of the Commission, that state law trumps the Shelby County charter in determining how many votes are necessary for the passage of a redistricting plan on the third of three required readings.
Tennessee statute requires only a majority of the legislative body — 7, in the case of the Commission —on third and final passage. The county charter calls for a super-majority — 9, in the case of the 13-member Commission — to vote for a redistricting plan on its final reading.
Ritz argued strenuously at Monday’s meeting that Krelstein should not attempt to abandon the county charter, much less litigate against it.
If the legal situation itself resembles an impenetrable thicket, that merely reflects the ever-shifting and equally confusing alliances on the Commission regarding the redistricting issue.
The plan which Krelstein proposes to put forth on April 5 as deserving of Chancellor Goldin’s approval is one calling for 13 single-member districts and designated 2-J. When the three plaintiffs filed their suit at year’s end, they were attempting to end-run what at the time appeared a Commission majority in favor of 3-C, variously known as the “Continuity Plan,” because it continued the format of large three-member districts currently in play, and the “Ford Plan,” because freshman Commissioner Justin Ford, theretofore something of a wallflower, had loudly and ostentatiously grabbed that ball and run with it.
At the time they filed suit, the three plaintiffs favored either a plan based on two-member districts or one involving single-member districts. By this week, all three had settled on the single-member format. So had a clear super-majority of the Commission. Problem solved? Nope, the issue was, they couldn’t all agree on which version of a single-member format.
Bailey and Roland continued to favor 2-J, which had claimed 9 votes on its second reading two weeks ago. This plan envisioned 7 majority-black districts out of 13, a ratio more or less corresponding to demographic ratios within the county. But in the meantime, the famously Afro-centric Henri Brooks had attached herself to another single-member variant, 2-O, which calls for 8 majority-black districts, by comparison a somewhat disproportionate number.
Joining her on Monday were several others, including Commissioner James Harvey, formerly an advocate for 2-J, and — to most people’s surprise — Commissioner Ritz, who would say later that he thought 2-O carved out a more equitable division for outer-county residents. There would not be enough votes to put 2-O over, but neither, given the leakage, were there enough to create a super-majority for 2-J, which topped out at 7.
Krelstein had meanwhile interpreted his charge to mean espousal of the majority-backed plan, which remained 2-J. And to support his position, he stated in his initial brief the belief that the aforesaid state law requiring only a legislative body’s majority in a final redistricting vote was the governing element, overruling the requirement in the county charter for a final two-thirds vote. Hence the dispute with Ritz, who contended Thursday that Krelstein could support 2-J in court without an outright disavowal of the charter provision.
Is legal hair-splitting really the basis of the current standoff? Maybe not, in the judgment of several commissioners, a couple of whom attribute Ritz’s pivotal switch-over to 2-O to be based on that plan’s provision, in two different versions, for colleague Heidi Shafer to be located in a district where her reelection in 2014 would be imperiled.
Ritz was known to be displeased at Shafer for favoring a censure vote aimed at him some weeks ago, one based on his having used the term “bribe” to describe an acknowledged inducement that colleague Brent Taylor had loaded into a would-be compromise version of a multi-district plan.
In the event, Ritz defended himself ably in debate before the full Commission, and the censure resolution was shelved, but Shafer had meanwhile cast a vote for it in committee, and she, unlike some of the others favoring censure, was in a relatively tenuous geographical situation vis-à-vis potential district lines.
So, coincidentally or not, in version One of 2-O, the residence of Shafer, a white Republican, was located on the margins of a preponderantly black and Democratic inner-city district; when Shafer let her discontent be known, she found herself shifted in Version Two of 2-O to a majority-white East Memphis district, one which, as Ritz himself observed on Monday, contained a large concentration of the city’s Jewish population.
Again, It may have been pure coincidence, but the revised version also contained the residence of Steve Basar, a Shafer friend and ally who happens to be Jewish, who became a Republican nominee for the Commission on March 6, and who, if elected in August, would also be seeking reelection in 2014 in the proposed District 5, same as Shafer.
Neither Basar nor Shafer cared much for that prospect. While he acknowledges having had a hand in drawing some of the lines in both versions of 2-O, Ritz — who had also, like Shafer, supported Basar on March 6 — professes utter innocence of arranging any gerrymandering for personal reasons.
Likewise, it may have been pure coincidence that Millington Republican Terry Roland found himself dumped into a provisional inner-city district of one of the permutations of the Ford Plan in the immediate aftermath of a heated public clash with Ford over redistricting.To unravel all the personal (and political) motives involved in the months-long redistricting squabble is beyond the scope of the present article. Suffice it to say, in something of an understatement, that such motives have been numerous, accounting for an almost infinite number of changes of mind on the part of individual commissioners.
(The most remarkable metamorphosis involves the gradual transformation of the single-member district -- in the beginning a concept advanced only by one commissioner, Steve Mulroy -- into the dominant end pattern.)
In any case, one way or another, in the presence of howsoever many teams of lawyers, Chancellor Goldin, who had hoped the Commission could decide on redistricting for itself, will probably have to make the call himself on April 5 or soon thereafter.
This week’s Republican presidential primaries in Mississippi and Alabama, resulting in dual victories by former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, were widely regarded as the last stand of former Speaker of the House Gingrich, a second-place finisher in both states.
An intellectually adventurous sort regarded as a loose pistol in Republican Party establishment circles. Gingrich has risen from the dead already two, maybe three times, but it had been the consensus that anything less than a dual win this week would further cripple chances that were already hobbling.
The former Speaker made a visit last week to the Landers Center in nearby Southaven, where he addressed a rally of some 300 people crowded into a smallish side room within the sprawling amphitheatre. Signs among his supporters saying “Don’t Believe the Liberal Media” underscored the ironic nature of Gingrich’s candidacy at this point: His best showing, a late-January walloping of Romney in South Carolina, followed two debates in which he had scored rhetorical points against the “elite media,” but, without further victories to fuel his fund-raising, Gingrich is largely dependent on free media to get a hearing.
Ironically enough, Gingrich may have begun hitting on a theme — the high cost of gasoline — that could succeed him as a campaign issue. His Landers Center speech focused on his plan to reduce the current pump cost from its current $4 range to $2.50, which he contended was a demonstrably sustainable level. High gasoline costs have been cited as the major reason why recent polls show President Obama to be in jeopardy in sample match-ups with any of his potential Republican opponents.
Though Gingrich’s “Winning Our Future” Super-Pac received fresh infusions recently from benefactor Sheldon Adelson (rumored amount: $10 million), that is very likely the casino mogul’s last gift to the former Speaker.
During the run-up to the Tennessee presidential primary on Tuesday, March 6, neither Gingrich nor former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, struggling but still favored to win the GOP nomination, had visited Memphis, though each had made appearances elsewhere in Tennessee. The only candidate to actively campaign in Memphis was Santorum, who spent most of a day here on the Sunday before voting in Tennessee. Given the bleed-over from the Memphis media market into northern Mississippi that visit may have been a factor in Santorum’s success in Mississippi a week later.
The Memphis area may get one more close-up look at the three GOP contenders, if, as now appears possible, all three are still actively campaigning when Arkansas casts its presidential-primary votes on May 22. A West Memphis visit would appear to be a viable strategic option.
Look closely at the above diagram. It depicts a plan of organization that received the virtually unanimous imprimatur last week of the Transition Planning Commission for city/county school merger.
We say “virtually” because, while there were no Nay votes, there was an abstention from Tommy Hart of Collierville, who expressed no objection to the model, merely a wish for more elaborate information about it.
What seems obvious is that the model, brokered by the Boston Consulting Group, makes a conscientious effort to split the middle between competing interests — between central authority and autonomy, for example. The model also contemplates the inclusion not only of the institutions currently belonging to the still functioning Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools administrations but makes allowance for the future inclusion of charter schools and schools taken over by the state’s Achievement School District for failing institutions.
The bottom line is that the Multiple Achievement Paths Model makes generous allowances for diversities of all sorts but preserves the cover of a common Big Tent.
Shelby County’s suburban municipalities remained determined, however, to establish their own independent school districts. Though Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald, a TPC member, voted for the Multiple Achievement Paths Model , he made it clear afterward, as he always has, that his city remains committed to developing its own independent municipal school system.
Bartlett residents are scheduled to vote for that prospect in a May 1 referendum. On the same date the citizens of other Shelby County municipalities will do the same. And all projections are in favor of positive outcomes, followed by efforts by the several suburban cities to associate their systems in a common network. The major uncertainty is in Millington, which was advised by its consultants that forming a municipal district would require annexation of new territory and additional taxes.
The TPC model adopted last week is, from the point of view of McDonald and other suburban mayors, something that might be satisfactory as a fallback, but they can be forestalled from creating their own systems only by serious litigation — regarding the transfer of school properties or whatever — and then only if that litigation succeeds in some definitive and unforeseen way.
Pointedly, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, who earlier had raised the prospect of possible constitutional obstacles to suburban districts’ eligibility for county funding, has now acknowledged that the state’s A.D.A. (Average Daily Attendance) distribution formula would apply to the prospective new districts. But he’s still withholding judgment on the school-property issue.
Meanwhile, it should not be forgotten (a) that the Uniform Shelby County School Board (scheduled for August elections that will ultimately reduce its number from 23 to 7) will make the final call on the shape of such merger as can be consummated; and (b) all arrangements are still under the jurisdictional control of U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays.
The ASB banquet featuring Dees as speaker will take place from 12 noon to 2 p.m. at the UM Law School on Front Street downtown.
The following news release provides more details:
U of M Law Students Will Forgo Spring Break to Serve the Community
For the third year in a row, the Public Action Law Society (PALS) and the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law will sponsor Alternative Spring Break (ASB), an opportunity for law students from around the country to perform community service in lieu of vacationing. This year the event will be held March 5-9 at the Law School in Downtown Memphis.
Sixty-two law students from eight law schools, including 29 students from the University of Memphis, will participate in four service tracks. They will also attend a series of tutorials and presentations on “hot topics” in the law. The University of Tennessee at Knoxville and the University of Mississippi each will send eight students. Other schools participating are the University of Toledo, Valparaiso, Southern, Nova Southeastern, and George Washington University.
This year’s ASB banquet will feature Morris Dees as guest speaker. Dees co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in 1971 after a successful career in business and the law. Named one of America’s 100 most influential lawyers by the National Law Journal in 2006, Dees is known for his groundbreaking civil rights lawsuits that helped desegregate government and public institutions and for his innovative litigation that has crippled white supremacist hate groups. The SPLC promotes the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity through the use of education, litigation, and other forms of advocacy. One of its most noted projects is its “Teaching Tolerance” campaign.
Students in the Immigration Track will partner with the Community Legal Center to represent immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, who are victims of certain serious crimes and who have cooperated with authorities in the prosecution of the perpetrator. The law students will complete U-visa applications for them. Coordinated by U of M law students, who will staff this track during the week of March 5, the project will be joined by UT law students during the week of March 12 and Ole Miss law students during the week of March 19.
Law students have volunteered in record numbers because of poignant stories such as that of T. R., the victim of aggravated statutory rape, who was just 13 years old when she was stalked, intimidated, and lured into having sex by a “friend,” who was 24. T.R.’s family had come to Tennessee from Mexico in search of work. Her mother tried to explain to immigration authorities the trauma and pain of a parent whose daughter had been sexually abused. “This not only affected her directly, but the family as a whole,” she said. “The pain, the desperation, the suffering. To know that in that moment you do not have any way of comfort. It feels like somebody stabs your heart with a knife, and nobody can stop that pain.”
The purpose of a U-Visa is twofold: it enhances law enforcement’s ability to investigate and prosecute crimes, and it furthers humanitarian interests by protecting victims of serious crimes. A U-visa will help give the T.R.’s family the comfort they need.
Students will also partner with community organizations to draft and secure sponsors for public interest legislation. Together with Operation Broken Silence, a Memphis organization dedicated to ending human trafficking at state, national, and international levels, they will draft a human trafficking bill to be introduced in the Tennessee Legislature. Another group of students, in partnership with the Public Defender’s Office and the Law School’s Mental Health Law Society, will draft a bill regarding post-civil commitment procedures for the mentally ill. A fourth group of students, in cooperation with Bank-On Memphis, will work on legislation to promote financial literacy and end predatory lending practices.
For the second year in a row, PALS will offer a Pro Se Divorce Track and an Advance Directives Track. Students will help pro se divorce litigants, couples who have no property or children, to file divorce documents and secure hearings on their petitions. They will be supervised by the Community Legal Center. Students will also travel to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and senior centers to draft health care directives, powers of attorney, and wills for seniors. Memphis Area Legal Services and the Memphis Bar Association will oversee this track.
Atina Rizk, president of PALS, said that Alternative Spring Break is motivated by the desire of many law students to make a difference in the world. “Students come to law school with high ideals and a strong public service ethic. ASB gives them the opportunity to put their ideals into action.”
Almost all expenses of ASB are paid by PALS through fundraising. A silent auction and lunch will be held at the Law School beginning at noon on February 23 to help defray costs. The public is invited.
Madam Speaker, Members, I want to thank you for giving me a few minutes today to come to the well and make some remarks. I’ve served in this chamber for 38 years. That’s a long time, over half my adult life actually. This body, this institution is a part of me, it’s a part of my family and I will always have a special place in my heart for the men and women I’ve served with here over the last three decades. But as with every endeavor in life, that which has a beginning must also have an end. For me and my service in the legislature that end comes now. I am announcing today, to you and to the people of district 81, that I will not be seeking re-election to the House of Representatives this fall. Governor McWherter, my mentor, always told me I would know when it was time to go home and I know that time has come for me to step aside for the next generation of leaders.
I was elected to the legislature in 1974. Most people don’t know that I had run for this seat once before, in 1972. I actually lost that election by 13 votes. It sounds strange now, but I was actually the anti-establishment candidate back in those days. When the results came in, they were close enough that I could have requested a recount, but I didn’t. I didn’t do that because I knew that wasn’t what was best for the people of Tennessee. And it also taught me a valuable lesson; you can’t take any vote or any person for granted. When I finally got here two years later, I kept that lesson in mind. I think that’s why I have been blessed again and again to be returned to this house by the people of district 81. Regardless of our disagreements over matters of policy, I always believed that people mattered, that their opinions mattered and that they deserved a representative who would listen to their concerns.
When I got here, I knew that I wanted to move up into leadership or I was going to go home. That kind of restlessness I think comes from my days as an infantry officer. In the army, they teach you that everyone who has the ability lead has the responsibility to do so. In my second term, I was elected Floor Leader for the Democrats. Then I became Majority Leader and later had the privilege to serve as Speaker of this House for 18 years. I passed a lot of bills during my time here. Back in those days, the Majority Leader handled all the Governor’s bills. You didn’t hand them off and let anyone else run them, you did that yourself. It was, to say the least, a nightmare for both me as Leader and for my staff, but we passed some good bills.
Talking about staff, I want to say a word about how much the staff and members have meant to me over the years. The members were always my first priority as Speaker. Whether they were Democrat or Republican, I always saw myself as the Speaker of this body, not a particular party. Now I don’t think it was any secret where my party loyalties laid and I certainly played hardball a time or two, but I always maintained relationships with members on both sides of the aisle. This is a unique fraternity. Our families know each other, my two daughters who are here today, practically grew up here with people like Lois DeBerry and others as members of their extended family. We celebrate together, we mourn together and we work together to get the job done for Tennessee. Governor McWherter, who I think you all know was my mentor in politics and in life, used to tell Lamar Alexander that he wanted him to succeed because when he succeeded, Tennessee succeeded. I took that approach with my members. I wanted everyone in this body to be successful because they had earned the right to be here. When they succeeded, the men and women who sent them here were the ultimate winners.
And our staff, we are so fortunate to have a highly trained, professional staff here at the Tennessee General Assembly. As Speaker, I could hardly wait to get to my office and Reta and Burney could hardly wait for me to get there, as they would never know what I would be doing off schedule. I had a truly great staff with Reta, Burney, Doris, Bertha and of course my good friend Victor. When people talk and make jokes about state employees, I tell them that I would put our staff up against any Fortune 500 company. That is one of the things I am most proud of from my time as Speaker. We were able to build—from the attorney’s in legal, to fiscal review, to human resources, to legislative assistants—a capable and high-performing staff. Many of the people we hired over the years are still here, not because they do a good job for one political agenda or another, but because they work hard and do a good job for the people of Tennessee. I appreciate all the help they have given me over my years here in the legislature.
It’s hard to put 38 years of service into a few remarks, but I will leave you with this thought. It’s actually my favorite quote: Power and influence are only effective when used properly. Each and every one of you has been given an extraordinary amount of power by virtue of the office you hold. What you do with that power, whether it be for the good or for the bad, is entirely up to you. I hope you will remember that people matter, all people not just people from your caucus or your party, all people. Every person in this place got elected. They represent people and ideas that have validity, that deserve to be heard and accommodated. Remember that as you go forward. It has been my privilege to serve in this body, I will miss it enormously, but it is time to pass the torch and explore other options. I thank you for your time, Madam Speaker.
Among the responses to Rep. Naifeh’s announcement were the following two, each in their way typical:
Said state Senate Democratic caucus chair Lowe Finney of Jackson:
"Speaker Naifeh has served all Tennesseans for nearly 40 years with a fair hand, a strong will and an eye toward justice. An unparalleled advocate for children's rights, education and safety, Speaker Naifeh took to heart our charge to care for the most vulnerable among us.
"His presence and authority in the legislature will be missed, but we have no doubt that he will continue to embody these values as he sets an example for a new generation of Tennessee leaders."
And later in the day came this reaction from state Republican chairman Chris Devaney of Nashville:
"A chapter is ending in Tennessee political history with the announced retirement of former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh. We wish him well in his future plans. As we look ahead, we will be working hard to elect a strong Republican to lead district 81 moving forward.”
With all of Shelby County’s votes in on Super Tuesday, March 6, this was the outcome:
REPUBLICAN: Shelby County Republicans followed the lead of GOP voters elsewhere in Tennessee, awarding former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum a substantial victory over Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul in the presidential primary.
Santorum had 18,260 votes in Shelby County, compared to 16,698 for Romney, 9,903 for Gingrich, and 3,838 for Paul.
DEMOCRATIC: President Barack Obama was unopposed and had 22,821 votes in Shelby County.
In local races:
General Sessions Court Clerk
DEMOCRATIC: Interim Clerk Ed Stanton Jr. won the Democratic primary with 8,422 votes over Shelby County Commission chairman Sidney Chism, who was favored in most pre-election forecasts but ended with 8,177 votes. Lagging behind were incumbent Clerk Otis Jackson, who is indicted for official misconduct and was under suspension, with 3,390 votes; Karen Woodward, with 1,430 votes; and Marion Brewer, with 1,352.
REPUBLICAN: Rick Rout defeated James R. Finney with 19,429 votes to Finney's 15,463..
Assessor of Property
DEMOCRATIC: Incumbent Cheyenne Johnson easily won renomination over challenger Steve Webster, 16,916 votes to Webster's 4,032.
REPUBLICAN: Tim Walton, with 12,644 votes, won the GOP nomination, over Randy Lawson, 10,580, and John Bogan, 9,493.
County Commission, District 1, Position 3
REPUBLICAN: Political newcomer Steve Basar, who narrowly trailed in early returns, went on to defeat a comeback try by former two-term County Commissioner Marilyn Loeffel. Basar had 7,484 votes to Loeffel's 7,182.
DEMOCRATIC: Steve Ross was unopposed, finishing with 2,302 votes.
District Attorney General
REPUBLICAN Amy Weirich, the incumbent, and DEMOCRAT Carol Chumney were both unopposed in their respective primaries. Weirich ended with 26,197 votes, and Chumney had 16,555.
After Mitt Romney, still the presumed frontrunner in the ongoing Republican presidential race, committed the much-noted folly of having a middling-sized crowd in Detroit’s cavernous Ford Stadium two weeks ago, it was probably smart — optics-wise, anyhow — for Rick Santorum, Romney’s chief remaining opponent for the GOP nomination, to try to wedge a small gathering into an even smaller space.
That’s what Santorum did on a surprise Sunday morning visit to Memphis, one which included a visit to Bellevue Baptist Church and a Catholic mass later on. But, when it came time to meet the media, the candidate’s chosen venue was Corky’s Barbecue on Poplar Avenue, where the local media and reporters and photographers from places around the world waited an hour for the candidate to arrive, then another hour or so while Santorum, his wife, other members of his family, staffers, and local supporters sat down, munched on barbecue, and carried on conversation at their leisure.
The prolonged wait, plus the jam of media bodies and cameras and other paraphernalia into the limited space that was unclaimed by the Santorum entourage and the usual Sunday lunch crowd at Corky’s , generated a fair amount of expectancy and tension — okay, call it “excitement.” Even a near international incident or two, as a photographer from France and one from Norway at various times wandered into other shooters’ lines of sight.
Given the venue, the trick, as one photographer explained, was to get Santorum munching on his meal — “Candidate Dines on Authentic Memphis Barbecue,” was the idea —in as dignified a pose as possible (i.e., without cheeks unduly puffed out with a mouthful of seasoned pork).
Among those privileged to share Santorum’s table at Corky’s was Fox-13 commentator Ben Ferguson, while at a nearby table sat Shelby County Commissioners Heidi Shafer and Wyatt Bunker.
As the extended lunch was finally finishing up (in fairness, it seemed somehow right that a presidential candidate, member of a species this year that notoriously has to eat on the run, was able for once to savor a meal in his own sweet time), a staffer directed the media mob to go outside and get ready for an imminent availability.
As they waited, the reporters chatted with each other in that studiously cynical lingua franca that often passes for conversation in media circles.
One traveling reporter offered up a pretend question for Santorum: “Romney says you’re not ready for prime time. Do you agree?”
That got enough of a chuckle to get the reporter to reminisce: “I asked Romney when the last time he took a paycheck was. He said eleven years. He went through the whole thing. He took it as a serious question. It was amazing.”
Turning serious, he mused out loud about the imbroglio resulting from broadcaster Rush Limbaugh’s calling an activist for birth control a “slut,” something that had landed El Rushbo in trouble with his sponsors and with his fellow conservatives and forced Limbaugh into making an awkward — and, some thought, insufficient — apology.
““I’m going to try to ask about Rush. Did he go far enough?” said the reporter, who acknowledged that he hadn’t seen the exact language of Limbaugh’s apology.” Neither had the two female colleagues with whom he was doing most of his talking. Each of them was also sending up trial balloons for possible questions.
It was about then that the woman who was Santorum’s press handler arrived and asked the reporters, who were standing in a circle, to create a lane of passage for the candidate.
Once he was situated, a sudden hubbub of media voices rose and then dimmed enough for his answer to the first question to be heard. The kernel of the answer was, “Oh, it’s been wonderful. I’ve had some real Authentic Memphis Barbecue.”
More hubbub, then the question about Rush. “That’s not my business,” said Santorum, somewhat summarily. (Oddly enough, a wire service story datelined Memphis would appear the next day with a headline suggesting that the Limbaugh question was dominating the campaign day, but quoting neither Santorum nor anyone else on the subject. Some memes die hard.)
Then came the obligatory question asking Santorum to size up his chances, with Super Tuesday’s voting then only two days away.
The candidate’s answer was an interesting mix of boilerplate, candor, and actual analysis:
“I think we’re doing fine. But look, every time we get into these races, as you’ve seen, Governor Romney goes out there and out-spends us 4 or 5 or 6 to 1. It’s going to take a toll, and it’s happening in pretty much all the states....
“This is a game of survival, and we’re doing as well as anybody in all these races where we’re first or second in most of the states out there, and I think this is going to be a good Super Tuesday for us. So, again, this race…for us to win this race, it’s ultimately going to be narrowed down to two, and I think that will happen eventually….
“You look at all the national polls, and we’re running ahead of Governor Romney right now. You look at all the swing states, and we’re running ahead of Governor Romney in the polls. [note: even as Santorum spoke, the polls were shifting measurably in Romney’s direction.] This narrative that Governor Romney is the guy that can beat Barack Obama — the only reason Governor Romney‘s winning in these early states is because he’s out-spending his opponents 4 or 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9 to 1.
“That‘s not going to be the case in the general election. He’s not going to have that huge money superiority, and at some point he has to have a vision and a campaign that’s connecting with people. We are. We believe we’ll continue to do so. We feel very good about our chances on Tuesday, and beyond.”
Another reporter, one of the two women who had earlier been bantering with the questioner on Limbaugh, tried a gotcha question of her own, asking about Santorum’s embarrassing admission, in his recent debate with Romney in Arizona, that he had ”taken one for the team” in having voted as a Senator for No Child Left Behind. Santorum dispatched that one quickly, also: “As I explained before, there were things I liked in NCLB and things I didn’t. That’s all.”
There followed a question about Santorum’s attitude toward educational reform. Citing the evils of “bureaucracy,” Santorum said, “We need to have education focusing on parenting children and local control of schools where we can really put the resources around children as best meets their needs, not what best meets the needs of the institution or the school.”
Santorum was asked about President Obama’s purported remarks, earlier that day, warning that “loose talk” about war with Iran could drive up gas prices.
“That’s pretty funny,’ said Santorum, who didn’t laugh, but went on instead to suggest that Obama might more properly be concerning himself with efforts “to open up supply lines across this country” and reduce American dependence on foreign oil. Suppressing a sniffle (Santorum has been nursing a cold), the candidate continued: “Loose talk of Republicans! The best thing that can happen in world markets is an Iran without a nuclear weapon and a new Iranian regime, neither of which he is doing very much about to make happen.”
“Last question!” Santorum’s handler advised the media scrum.
Appropriately, perhaps, someone asked the candidate to comment on the news, that day, that Romney had picked up a couple of key congressional endorsements — a fact suggesting that at long last the Republican mainstream, tired of the contentious struggle among rival presidential hopefuls, might be willing to unite around the suspected moderate Romney, whose difficulty in reassuring party conservatives had so far hindered such a development and encouraged the likes of Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and, for that matter, Ron Paul, to continue.
Quoth Santorum: “You know, to be honest with you, I don’t really call a lot of people and ask for endorsements. That’s not the kind of campaign we’re running. We’re running the insurgent campaign. He’s running the insider campaign. It’s sorta funny, you know, when he has all the establishment Republicans, hundreds and hundreds of lobbyists, basically, running and managing his campaign, and, of course, you’re going to get endorsements from people across the map that are with the establishment candidate. That’s pretty much what’s happened.
“We’re running a very different campaign, and we feel comfortable, as folks inside said. One guy says, ‘you got a campaign with normal folks working for you.’ And that’s what we do. We have just average citizens out there stepping up, volunteering and making this happen on, you know, a fraction of the cost of what Governor Romney is doing, and I’m actually continuing to be encouraged by the fact that I’m dong as well as we are and when this race narrows down we’ll come out on top."
Santorum concluded the group interview with the dogged fatalism that was evidently his theme for the day (and maybe for the rest of the way): “This is a game of survival.”
Governor Bill Haslam, addressing a pro-Roimney rally in Memphis Thursday night, was his usual genial, upbeat self. Early in his remarks, he said,: “: I’m not somebody who’s a president basher. A lot of Republicans think our job is to tear down the president. Actually, I don’t think that. I talked to the president today. He called me about some storms in middle Tennessee. We had three fatalities, and he called me and made sure FEMA was doing everything they should....When he called me, I was actually visiting one of our prisons in southeast Tennessee. He said, ‘Governor, did I interrupt you? Where did I catch you?’’I said, ‘I’m in prison.’”
And, even though the last of the GOP presidential debates occurred two weeks ago in Arizona, a debate of sorts broke out between the governor and his director of economic development, Bill Hagerty.
Question: What did all of that mean? That the media made the race close in Michigan, and the relative absence of media in Arizona gave Romney an easy win there? That Romney's own actions, measured against those of his opponents, had not been a factor? That, for example, Romney's brain-teaser about loving "the height" of Michigan's trees had no bearing on voters' sense of the man?
Asked about that, Haslam would say,: “When you’re in our shoes, you’re always wishing the media would have a different spin on things, but I honestly think it’s a case of Romney’s having to win this the hard way….I’m one of those who thinks that’s not necessarily a bad thing….I think a tough primary can be a real proving ground….I do think the media loves a race. I think there’s times they want to see the underdog come up."
Fair enough. The media go to where the contests are (in this case, following the pols and the polls to Michigan, which was known to be a razor-close affair, despite being Romney's home state) and report what happens. And yes, they look for ways to keep the story fresh.
But the facts are still the facts, and it's easy to argue that Santorum lost his previous ten-point lead and the Michigan primary because of media reportage of the ex-Pennsylvania senator's horrendous fluffs of the previous week — beginning with his invoking Satan as some sort of omnipresent opposition ward heeler and continuing through insulting remarks about JFK's causing him to barf and concluding with Santorum's disparaging of the venerable American dream of achieving a college education.
Which is to say, the media may have helped Romney,not hurt him, just by doing their job.
And, surely, with a pair of polls showing Santorum owning a two-to-one edge over Romney in Tennessee, Romney has been risking a serious defeat in Tennessee by not being here while both his GOP rivals -- Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- have been (twice each.)
Maybe it's that fact, and not the mischief-making of the media, that should be blamed if the absent Romney can't make a race of it with his rivals in Tennessee. Oh, but the media have reported on Romney's absence, so maybe the media are to blame after all, for letting the cat out of the bag.
NASHVILLE — All three Republican presidential candidates — or at least the ones who, in Rick Santorum's phrase, "have won states" — are making their presence felt in Tennessee this week as the Volunteer State gets ready to pick a leader in the ever evolving contest for the GOP nomination to oppose President Obama, who has no Democratic opposition.
Santorum himself, the former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, has made two trips so far to Tennessee. He was in Chattanooga last weekend for an appearance before a Tea Party group. And he was in Nashville all day Wednesday, making the rounds, including a Steve Gill radio show and an evening address at Belmont University. (Story to follow.)
Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives,was in Chattanooga and Nashville earlier in the week, working in a rally at the state Capitol and an appearance before the members of the Republican legislative caucus.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, still the presumed frontrunner in the GOP race, has of yet made no plans for a personal appearance in Tennesse, though Governor Bill Haslam, who will appear Thursday afternoon at a Romney rally at Jason's Deli on Poplar in Memphis, has been doing surrogate duty for Romney.
Democratic officials in Nashville held a statewide press conference by telephone Thursday to coincide with the Romneyless Romney rally in Memphis.
The press conference, conducted by Democratic state chairman Chip Forrester, state House Democratic chairman Mike Turner, and UAW official Mike Herron, dealt exclusively with Romney and focused critically on the former Michigan governor's laissez-faire attitude toward the domestic automobile industry, which was imperilled last year but was able to survive and rebound with aid from federal sources.
Asked why no mention was being made of Santorum, who apparently leads in statewide polls, Turner acknowledged that Santorum seemed to be doing better than Romney in Tenessee but said that the expansion of primary voting on Super Tuesday and beyond will make it increasingly difficult for other GOP candidates to keep pace with the well financed and organized Romney.
The fact that Romney, unlike Gingrich and Santorum, apparetly plans no appearances in Tennessee this week, does confirm, however, that "he reads the polls," Turner said. "Some of them [Republican voters] just have problems getting their arms around him." And that fact, he said, augured well for President Obama in the fall.
More details to come.