Stephen Fincher, a member in good standing of the congressional Tea Party caucus and an unabashed member of the Republican Party’s right wing, struck some unwontedly moderate-sounding notes Tuesday night as the featured speaker at the annual Master Meal event of the East Shelby County Republican Club.
Noting that he was “the first Republican to hold this seat,” the 8th District congressman from Frog Jump in Crockett County called for unity among all Republicans of whatever faction. “This is a two-party system. We cannot eat our own. We must stay united if we’re going to beat Barack Obama and the Democrats,”he said.
And Fincher, who spoke before a packed house at the Great Hall of Germantown, urged caution regarding a proposal by some Republicans to force a shutdown of the government rather than allow the funding of Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act)..
“If we do a CR [Continuing Resolution] without Obamacare, [Senate Democratic Leader] Harry Reid is going to put it right back in and sent it back to the House,” Fincher said.
Then, after asking for a show of hands over the proposition that "the President will be right back on campaign trail, and IRS scandals and Benghazi and all that will be swept under the rug, and he will use this to keep control of the Senate in 2014,” Fincher said, “I think that’s what’ll happen….I think he’s baiting us, he’s trying to divide us.” The congressman advocated instead a strategy of delaying the onset of aspects of Obamacare.
But Fincher made it clear that, in proposing discretion, he was not advocating that Republicans surrender their principles. “If we fall, it won’t be because of the Democrats. It’ll be because of the Republicans not standing up.”
Other speakers at the annual East Shelby GOP affair included Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, Shelby County Republican chairman Justin Joy, and state Republican chairman Chris DeVaney of Nashville.
Devaney defended a decision by the National Republican Committee to keep NBC and CNN out of the GOP’s future televised-debate plans as the penalty for those networks’ pursuing program projects relating to potential Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Dwight DeBerry, a political newcomer, is a cousin of Lois DeBerry, while Doris A. DeBerry-Bradshaw is the sister of District 90 Rep. John DeBerry (no relation to Lois). The extended Ford family figures with the filing of Kemba Ford, daughter of former state Senator John Ford, who is making her second electoral effort after running unsuccessfully for the City Council in 2011.
Other candidates in a fairly non-descript field are Raumesh Akbari, Joshua R. Forbes, Terica Lamb, Clifford Lewis, Kermit Moore, Gregory Stokes, Mary Taylor Wright, and Jim Tomasik. All except Tomasik, an independent, are running in the October 8th Democratic primary. No Republicans filed in District 91. The general election date is November 21.
In an August 14 order, Mays had “invited” the parties to respond by today, Friday, August 23, to his inquiry as to what — after Act 256 of 2013 apparently resolved the constitutionality issue for new suburban school districts — the remaining issues were that were moot for further litigation.
Subsequent to last week’s order, the parties had at least one go-round of multi-party negotiation, but little headway was made toward an agreement; so their collective answer to Mays’ order was a request for two more months to keep trying.
The germ of the response was in this part of the brief, filed for all contending parties by Lori Patterson, special counsel for the Shelby County Commission::
“Since the relevant parties are currently participating in settlement negotiations in good faith and that they expect and hope that these negotiations will result in the settlement of all claims pled in the Third Party Complaint, the Parties request that this Court allow them to have at least another sixty (60) days in which to continue the settlement negotiations before responding to this Court…."
“The brief goes on to say the parties are conducting
“negotiations in good faith and…expect and hope that these negotiations will result in the settlement of all claims.”
One of the main bones of contention concerns the means by which the six new planned suburban school districts can avail themselves of existing school infrastructure (now owned by the Unified School District). Another is regarding the question of which district or districts can lay claim to students in unincorporated Shelby County.
And overriding everything at the moment — as well as constituting a possible bargaining chip — is the claim, still being pressed by the Shelby County Commission, that re-segregation will be fostered by creating new school districts in Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Arlington, Lakeland, and Millington.
In 60 days some horse trading may yet be accomplished to end the current impasse. If not, Judge Mays will be obliged to formally consider the resegregation claim, either by trial or otherwise.
In an order of August 14, Mays reviews recent developments and cites precedents to the point that the passage of Act 256 in the 2013 session of the General Assembly had made moot a complaint by the Shelby County Commission concerning the unconstitutionality of a prior act enabling the establishment of new municipal school systems.
Mays had invalidated that prior act, which was unduly restricted to Shelby County, in November 2012, thereby halting the first effort by six Shelby County suburbs — Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Arlington, Lakeland, and Millington — to establish separate school districts.
Act 256, which applied statewide in its lifting of a ban on new special school districts, had remedied the defect of the earlier act, Mays notes in the order.
The order concludes with this paragraph:
The parties are invited to address whether the passage of Chapter 256 moots the remaining claims in the Third-Party Complaint. Submissions should be filed no later than August 23, 2013. Responses to the submissions should be filed no later than August 30, 2013.
In a strict sense, the “remaining claims” language would refer to a still extant claim by the Commission as a party to the case that the establishment of municipal schools would foster re-segregation.
In a more general sense, there are remaining issues outside the direct frame of litigation, such as that of which jurisdiction or jurisdictions can lay claim to students in unincorporated Shelby County or that of how and under what circumstances the soon-to-be municipal districts can make use of the school infrastructure which, technically, is the property of the current Unified School District board.
Subsequent to Judge Mays’ order, all of these issues got a workout in an executive session of County Commission members with attorneys on the case after Monday’s regular Commission meeting.
Though no official word resulted from that session, enough leaked out of it to indicate that the contending parties made little headway with each other.
One bottom line of that would seem to be that the County Commission’s claim that the new municipal districts would foster re-segregation remains under dispute and will have to be adjudicated by Judge Mays, whether in a formal trial or otherwise.
For altogether different reasons, two matters of local political importance that were on Tuesday’s agenda failed to advance.
One involved a potential decision by the Memphis City Council on whether to ratify a compromise agreement reached between the city administration and AFSCME union representatives regarding changes in city’s waste-collection procedures.
A press conference presided over by Mayor A C Wharton on Monday had given the impression that Council ratification of the agreement — involving terms that amounted to a multi-party trade-off — was within reach.
Sanitation workers represented by the union, previously lacking any pension benefits, were to get a modest retirement benefit, amounting to a maximum of $12,000 a year, based on seniority of service.
The City would be able to reduce its annual expenditures by as much as $5 million through consolidating what have been separate garbage and recycling/brush collection processes, by upping the number of collections performed by individual crews, and by reducing waste-management positions through attrition.
City residents would be assessed an additional $2.25, restoring their monthly service fee to a former level of $25.05 that had recently expired, having attained "sunset" status.
The agreement was billed as being the result of weeks of talks between Mayor A C Wharton and members of his administration, on one hand, and ASCME officials on the other, and was the subject of a symbolic signing ceremony Monday afternoon in the City Hall lobby, at which the name of Martin Luther King was invoked.
But there was a vital omission in the planning.
As it turned out, Council members were not in the loop. According to Council member Kemp Conrad — who, along with Myron Lowery, had at least attended a couple of preliminary meetings on the subject — Council members were not informed of the elaborate press conference/ceremony on Monday until just before it started. Hence, none of them were on hand.
And few Council members, if any, had expected the matter to be brought before the Council at the regular biweekly public session on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s par for the course,” said Conrad about what he characterized as a Wharton habit of proceeding on major initiatives with little or no advance warning or consultation with the Council.
The bottom line was that the issue, which received some attention — and some brisk questioning — during a morning meeting of the Council in executive session, was by general consent removed from the docket of Tuesday’s meeting. “I think we’re close to an agreement, but we have some questions, and the Council needed to be more involved,” Conrad said.
Mark this one down as a setback — a fiasco, even -- but one that can be righted, possibly even before the next regular Council meeting.
Another process under way on Tuesday turned out to be somewhat less than ripe, as well. It involved an ethics complaint filed by Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland against Commission colleague Sidney Chism regarding an alleged conflict of interest in violation of a 2009 ethics code adopted by the Commission.
Roland alleges that, in voting for county appropriations, Chism improperly failed to disclose the receipt of county “wraparound” services (involving medical and dental checkups and other Head Start funding) by a South Memphis day care center he owns.
An Ethics Commission appointed by the county at the time the ethics code was adopted has met twice on the matter and was scheduled to convene Tuesday afternoon, presumably to deliver its verdict on the matter.
The mere fact of the complaint played a significant role in the Commission’s budget and tax rate deliberations this year, in that Roland, an opponent of proposed increases in both, challenged the propriety of Chism’s taking part in votes on the two issues.
For his part, a cautious Chism, a proponent of County Mayor Mark Luttrell’s proposals for increasing the budget and county tax rate, did in fact avoid voting on the latter until the recent announcement by the administration of the Unified School District that the wraparound funds would not be disbursed in the coming fiscal year.
A late contribution to the case was an amicus curiae brief filed with the Ethics Commission Monday by former commissioners Joe Ford, Joyce Avery, and Deidre Malone, and current commissioner Steve Mulroy.
The brief, prepared by Mulroy, argues against a contention by special counsel Brian Faughnan that state law, which has provisions regarding both direct and indirect benefits, should supersede the county code, which, as the brief indicates, specifically excludes indirect benefits as an infraction of the code.
Chism has maintained that any benefits received by his day care center were, in fact, just that — indirect ones.
Included in the brief are generous excerpts from dialogue between commissioners at the time the ethics code was being promulgated in 2009. Typical was a comment at the time from Commissioner Wyatt Bunker warning against “politically motivated charges” that could result from the inclusion of indirect benefits as an actionable condition.
As it turned out, all that got dealt with on Tuesday were some matters involving the process of discovery. The members of the Ethics Commission indicated they still had much to sift through, and more meetings would be necessary before any judgment could be rendered.
Like the Council matter, that show is not quite ready for the final act.
recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays neatly sliced through a Gordian knot regarding the Unified School Board’s future composition. Now another ruling, this one by Chancellor Kenny Armstrong, has snarled the issue again.
In the first instance, Mays postponed by a year the planned expansion of the Unified Board from 7 to 13 members, thus extricating the County Commission from the puzzle of how — and when — to reconfigure the District 6 seat vacated by Reginald Porter, who resigned it to become the school system’s new chief of staff.
In the latest case, however, Armstrong ruled that a new election had to be held for the District 4 seat occupied by Kevin Woods since the August 2012 elections for the 7-member board. Woods was the apparent winner — by a 106-vote margin that was later adjudged to be 290 votes — over Kenneth Whalum Jr., but Whalum had sued, contending that wrong ballots issued by the Election Commission had skewed the results, and Armstrong agreed.
In his opinion, issued Monday, Armstrong declared:
“…. The Election Commission here made no concerted effort to avoid the problems that occurred in this election for school board positions….
“These mistakes in assigning so many voters to incorrect school board districts cannot be simply ignored in an effort by the Court to not take then step of declaring an election invalid. Without a new election conducted properly, there will always be legitimate questions about the actual winner in the District 4 county school board race….
“The District 4 race is under the facts here incurably uncertain when all voters are considered and leaves the Court no alternative except to order a new election in this race.”
Hence, it is up to the Election Commission — with a new black eye, or with its former black eye newly exposed — to schedule a new election for District 6. Both Woods and Whalum have indicated they would vie again in such an election.
But that new election could be delayed indefinitely by an appeal from Woods.
Meanwhile, the County Commission has set a date of August 23 for applicants to seek the vacated District 6 seat, will interview those applicants on August 29, and make an appointment on September 9.
That part seems simple enough.
Moderator for the event will be Judge Joe Brown, the former Criminal Court Judge and TV celebrity judge. Inasmuch as Herenton is trying to re-establish himself in the local firmament with a network of charter schools, and Brown recently floated a trial balloon about running for the Senate, the roast event could serve both purposes.
Among the roasters will be Mayor A C Wharton and what party chair Bryan Carson and vice chair Dave Cambron promise will be a whole host of other local political celebrities.
Hmmm. Maybe mark this as the preliminary bout of the 2014 political season.
In a writ of election issued on Tuesday Governor Haslam set October 8 as the date for party-primary elections to fill the vacancy in state House District 91 created by the death last month of longtime incumbent Lois DeBerry, who served the area for 40 years.
The writ further established Thursday, November 21 as the date of a general election for that office.
Filing deadline for the office will be August 29, and the winner of the general election will serve until the regular election cycle for the seat in November 2014.
A large field of candidates is to be expected, at least for the Democratic primary in an inner-city district that normally goes heavily Democratic.
According to the Tennessean of Nashville, Sara Kyle, “who resigned from the Tennessee Regulatory Authority in March after a 19-year stint as a director, confirmed Tuesday she’s weighing a run for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2014.”
If Kyle makes the race, she has to hope that she has better luck than her husband, state Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle, who tested the gubernatorial weather in 2009 before deciding, early in 2010 that the time wasn’t right for a Democratic candidacy. “More yellow dog Republicans out there now than yellow dog Democrats,” he observed before joining such other Democratic worthies as Roy Herron and Kim McMillan on the way out.
Mike McWherter of Dresden, son of legendary former Democratic governor, was the eventual party nominee, and he finished a distant second to Haslam — sign enough that Jim Kyle’s vision was 20-20 that year.
Now there’s a different vision on the part oif his wife, who was a Memphis city judge before being named to the state’s old Public Service Commission, an elective bodfy which was discontinued by the legislature at the urging of former Governor Don Sundquist and converted to the non-elective T.R.A.
“I want what’s best for that party,” the Tennessean quoted Sara Kyle as saying. “I’m listening, sitting down with different groups and hearing what folks have to say.”
Tennessee Democrats briefly had their hopes up that state House minority leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley might be their candidate, but Fitzhugh took himself out of the running a week ago.
It was a typical memorial service, in a way. A preacher, the Rev. Keith Norman of the host church, First Baptist Church on Broad, officiated. Interspersed with the testimonials to the deceased, Lois DeBerry, were hymns sung — actually, belted — by such artists as Deborah Manning Thomas.
And the testimonials themselves came from the people who had known DeBerry, mainly from her four decades of prominence as a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives.
This was a lengthy and — as befitted the stature of the longtime House Speaker Pro Tem — influential list, beginning with a former vice president of the United States, Al Gore, and continuing through other such personages, including a current governor, Bill Haslam, and a past one, Phil Bredesen, and concluding with DeBerry’s surviving husband, Charles Traughber, who, until his retirement late last month, had been chairman of the state Pardon and Parole Board.
Gore, for whom DeBerry had made a nominating speech for president during the 2000 Democratic National Convention, returned the favor in good style, establishing that DeBerry was a role model par excellence, one without a “mean bone in her body.:”
Other speakers would expand on that image and, on occasion, put it in bas relief, making sure it was realized that Lois DeBerry, who pulled her legislative oar non-stop during her four-year battle with pancreatic cancer, was a fully round character.
There was former House colleague Roscoe Dixon, for example, looking white-haired and distinguished, seemingly recovered from the career derailment of his involvement in the Tennessee Waltz sting and the years of incarceration which followed. As others, notably the two governors, had done, he testified to DeBerry’s sense of authority, which co-existed with the charm of the late legislative eminence, who genuflected to nobody.
If you crossed her, “she could put you on ice,” noted Dixon, and the appreciative murmurs that rose from several parts of the ad hoc congregation indicated that many others knew this well, not excluding the longtime boss of the House, Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, who in his turn spoke of having to endure a month of not being spoken to by DeBerry as a result of some dereliction on his part.
That was one of the things that made this memorial service atypical — the obvious resolve of the speakers to illuminate as many corners of DeBerry’s personality as possible, as if by doing so she could be revivified.