Monday, March 25, 2013

Looking at County Mayor Race, Ritz Unworried by Effort to Recall Him, Ban Him from GOP

County Commission chairman calls move "best thing possible" for his contemplated 2014 run as independent.

Posted by on Mon, Mar 25, 2013 at 11:08 AM

Shelby County Commission chairman Mike Ritz
  • Shelby County Commission chairman Mike Ritz
Though Shelby County Commission chairman Mike Ritz, up to this point a Republican in good standing, says, “I certainly won’t volunteer to leave the party,” he professes not to be concerned about efforts by a group of discontented local Republicans to have him recalled as chairman and declared “persona non grata” by the state Republican executive committee.

And he thinks the whole development could be “quite frankly, helpful” to him in a plan he’s actively considering to run for County Mayor in 2014 as an independent.

About the recall effort, announced at Sunday’s county Republican convention by a group associated with the Tea Party movement, Ritz contended that most of his critics live outside the area he represents, District 1, which takes in much of the City of Memphis from midtown to its eastern periphery as well as scattered precincts in its adjoining suburbs.

Ritz says he doubts that 21,000 signatures could be found inside his district for a recall petition. That’s the number — 15 percent of the district’s registered voters — estimated as necessary according to state law by Mick Wright, a vice chair of the county GOP organization who is supporting the recall effort.

“Now, they might have an easy time of it out in the county,” Ritz said, meaning essentially District 4, which takes in unincorporated areas of Shelby County as well as six suburban municipalities which are seeking to form independent school districts and are resisting long-term involvement in the Unified city-county school district which Ritz supports. “The mayors out there might even circulate the petition themselves,” Ritz said, only half joking.

Rather famously, Republican Ritz and seven County Commission Democrats have formed a solid bloc of 8 in favor of completing the unification of city and county schools and litigating against efforts by the suburban municipalities to secede from the school consolidation forced by the December 2010 surrender of the Memphis City Schools charter. Vote after vote on the Commission has produced an 8-5 outcome, with five Republican members —three from District 4 and two from District 1 — voting against the majority.

Wright, who is involved both in the recall effort and a parallel one to have Ritz formally excommunicated from the Republican Party, engaged in a little guerilla theater in the course of a speech supporting his own reelection at Sunday’s GOP convention.

Wright at GOP convention with Ritz crackers
  • Wright at GOP convention with Ritz crackers
He told the audience, “I was at Kroger, needing to pick up a few things. I found the items on
my list and made it to the checkout. As the clerk was scanning the last item in my cart, I told her to stop — I didn't choose that.” He paused, then brandished a box of Ritz crackers.

“It was Ritz,” Wright said, continuing, “’I said, ‘I don't want that.’ She said, ‘Ritz is completely crackers.’
I said, ‘I know, I don't want Ritz.…’”

Wright continued his routine, using anecdotes that made the case against chairman Ritz for supporting increases in County sales and property taxes, pressing expensive litigation against the suburbs, and allegedly attempting to “pack” the Unified School Board with six new appointed members.

Other Republicans active in the anti-Ritz movement are Yvonne Burton, Brad Snyder, and Joe and John Fox, twin brothers who are also looking into legal ways of having the Cordova section of Memphis de-annexed.

In an interview with the Flyer, Wright drew a parallel between Ritz and state Rep. Kent Williams of Elizabethtown, who incurred the wrath of state Republicans when Williams, a Republican himself, became Speaker of the House in 2009 with 49 Democratic votes to go with his own, thereby defeating the designated GOP candidate for Speaker.

Williams was declared persona non grata by the state Republican executive committee, an action which kept him from running for office thenceforth as a Republican. He is now listed as an Independent and won reelection twice under that mantle.

Ritz, too, term-limited and unable to run again for his Commission seat, foresees no negative consequences to his political future should he suffer a fate similar to Williams'. He doubts things will come to that, but, given his mayoral-race plans, “If they kick me out, it could be the best thing possible for my candidacy.”

Running as an independent candidate for Shelby County Mayor against Luttrell and any of several possible Democrats, he could at the very least be something of a “spoiler,” Ritz believes. And if Luttrell should accept an appointive office from Governor Bill Haslam — something Ritz thinks is possible — “my vote potential looks better and better.”

Whatever happens, Ritz says, he’s perfectly at ease with the political positions he’s taken, attributing them all to a sense of fiscal responsibility. “I think most people see that I’m a moderate, and that’s basically what I am.”

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