Thursday, January 26, 2006

STANTON TAKES 9TH DISTRICT STRAW VOTE

Posted By on Thu, Jan 26, 2006 at 4:00 AM

The results are in on Thursday night’s “straw vote poll” for 9th District congressional candidates, taken from a teeming Rendezvous Restaurant crowd at a fundraising event organized by the Shelby County Democratic Party.

TA DA! The envelope, please.

The overwhelming winner, with 56 votes, was lawyer Ed Stanton, Jr.

Finishing second with 19 votes was a relative newcomer to the local political scene, one Tyson Pratcher, now serving as a state director for New York Senator Hillary Clinton. (Pratcher’s accomplishment was all the more impressive since, unlike the others who got votes, he was unable to attend and to address the crowd, having reportedly suffered a plane delay in transit from Up East.)

Third place was taken by free-lance consultant Ron Redwing with five votes. This, too, was something of a feat – since Redwing had publicly protested the $50 straw-vote fee as a “poll tax” and said he had advised his supporters not to show up and pay it.

Candidates Joe Kyles and Lee Harris each got two votes.

Bill Whitman, a new entry, was there and addressed the crowd, but got no votes.

Nobody else, absent or present, garnered any votes.

Granted, this was an unscientific poll. Take it with a grain or, if you please, a whole shaker-full of salt, but it was the first head-to-head matchup in which local Democrats got to express a choice for the record.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

DONALD PROMISES DECISION NEXT WEEK IN FORD CASE

Federal judge reserves judgment on lifting her injunction against a state Senate vote to void District 29 election.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 25, 2006 at 4:00 AM

Ophelia Ford will be a state Senator from District 29 at least through the weekend, while U.S. District Judge Bernice Donald ponders the exhibits, evidence, and testimony elicited up to and through Wednesday’s day-long special hearing on the status of Ford, whose narrow 13-vote victory in a special election last fall is on the very brink of nullification by a majority of her colleagues.

Though there had been a general expectation that the issue might be resolved on Wednesday, Donald’s decision to postpone a ruling until lnext week was accepted for the most part in an outward show of good grace by the defendants in the case, including the 13 Republican state senators and one Democrat who showed up en masse for the hearing.

“That’s fair enough. She’s got a lot of material to work through,” said Senate majority leader Ron Ramsey of Blountville. His sentiment was echoed by Memphis lawyer John Ryder, attorney for the GOP senators who, along with Democrat Don McLeary of Humboldt, were in the majority last week on a preliminary 17-14 vote to void Ford’s election.

Finding it difficult to be as philosophical was Terry Roland, the defeated Republican adversary who, in and out of court, has challenged Ford’s election on the basis of several alleged frauds and irregularities. Roland wondered aloud afterward if the extra several days provided by Donald wouldn’t give Lt. Governor John Wilder, the venerable Senate speaker who favors Ford’s seating, an opportunity to “twist arms and change the vote.”

Promising to reach a decision sometime between Monday at the earliest and Wednesday at the latest, Donald will determine a plethora of questions – on the question of her own jurisdiction, on her need to hear further elements of the case, and on the possible permanent continuation of her temporary injunction against a final – and definitive --Senate vote.

Donald imposed the injunction on due-process grounds last week after the Senate, acting as a “Committee of 33” for purposes of the ongoing special session, voted to void the results of the September 15th special election in District 29. The move came in response to a motion by Republican majority leader Ron Ramsey of Blountville and reached the magic number of 17, a majority of the body, when Democrat McLeary broke ranks to join with 16 Republicans.

Before that vote on Tuesday night of last week could be repeated in a scheduled vote by the Senate in regular session on Thursday – when another majority would have made the outcome irreversible -- Donald had been petitioned by lawyers for Ford, reportedly via telephone, and had granted the Temporary Restraining Order.

Legal teams representing the various parties to the action were in Donald’s court on Wednesday. On hand to represent the Senate as a whole were state Attorney General Paul Summers and two deputies. Ryder -- like the AG, making a motion to dismiss Ford's suit -- was there on behalf of the 17 Yea voters from last week, and Lang Wiseman, aided by Richard Fields, represented Roland, whom Judge Roland later dismissed as a defemdamt. Memphis lawyer David Cocke headed a three-member team representing Ford, who has invoked Civil Rights statutes in an effort to block further Senate action.

Witnesses heard from Wednesday included state Election Supervisor Brook Thompson, several Ford co-plaintiffs who claimed to have ended up improperly on Roland’s list of suspect voters, and state Senator Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat who was called by Cocke to affirm his thesis that the Senate had acted last week without appropriate information from the six-member Senate special committee charged with offering recommendations on the seating question.

From the pont of view of content, the only truly startling fact adduced in the testimony was Thompson's admission, in reply to a question from Ryder, that the final matching of District 29 voters against the Social Sercurity Administration's "master death list" had yielded 38 hits -- not just the two that were already known. The disclosure evaporated almost as soon as it bubbled up, however, as Thompson went on to explain that 32 of these matches were "keying errors" involving voters whose names and ages "weren't even close" to those on on the corresponding death file. Another four matches involved surviving people continuing to  use the social security number of a deceased family member -- as was once permitted by the SSA. Upon receiving this explanation, Ryder did not press Thompson further, and the matter never re-surfaced.

Wednesday’s proceedings were often dull and technical to the point of challenging the wakefulness of attendees. Cohen managed to liven things with a series of quips that were both on and off the point of the moment. (Example: “If I can, I can get around this,” Cohen said when his paraphrasing of a statement by Wilder was objected to as hearsay evidence. Rephrasing the testimony from his own perspective, the Memphis senator quipped about Wilder, who frequently speaks of the “cosmos”: “What he said was cosmotic, anyway.”)

Cohen, who had tangled last week with Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle and others over the organizaton of the Senate into a "Committee of 33" for the special session also got the opportunity to complain that "they" had thereby "emasculated" the State and Local Government Committee, which he chairs. And, in response to a question in cross-examination from Assistant Attorney General Janet Kleinfelter about the duration of last week's Senate discussion on seating Ford, Cohen had the satisfaction of referring to Kyle, a frequent antagonist, as having been "verbose."

Ironically, Cohen’s appearance, coupled with the presence of Ophelia Ford herself, brought to 16 the number of senators on hand in Donald’s courtroom – almost enough to constitute a majority, if still well short of the two-thirds majority needed to constitute a quorum.

The most anxious of the senators present Wednesday was Democrat McLeary, who observed during a break in proceedings, “I feel intimidated about my vote, just being made to come here.” He, along with Memphis Republicans Mark Norris and Curtis Person, had received subpoenas for possible testimony – presumably because their domiciles were within a hundred-mile radius of the court and they could offer some background, if called upon, concerning last week’s vote.

In the event, the three senators, who were meanwhile bolstered by the show of support from their colleagues, were never called. Most of the testimony that was heard concerned the technicalities of the voting process and the alleged election irregularities, which included nine votes that were ultimately found by the six-member special Senate committee to be invalid. Two of those votes had been cast in the name of dead people, and several more were cast by felons whose right to vote had never been legally restored.

Remaining at issue were multiple instances of improper addresses and invalid election-day voter signatures alleged by Roland’s team. It was largely on the basis of these that Ford’s team sought the injunction, charging that any effort to void the election based on them would cause Ford “irreparable harm” and result in mass disenfranchisement of District 29 voters, as well as violation of constitutional due process.

Those are some of the issues Judge Donald will have to consider, as well as the defendants’ claims that the federal court lacked standing to adjudge the Senate’s historical right to determine its own membership ("Let the Senate be the Senate," as AG Summers put it Wednesday, employing a vintage Wilderism), that the results of the enjoined vote could not be predicted, in any case, and, most simply and crucially, that the injunction should therefore be dismissed – clearing the way for a final Senate vote.

As the courtroom was clearing, just after 6 p.m., and the weary senators were making plans to return to Nashville for the week’s final legislative day on Thursday, one of the Republicans who had voted against Ford and argued strongly to void her election, Jim Bryson of Franklin, made a point of smiling cordially at her. “See you tomorrow,” he said, colleague-to-colleague.

 

 

           

 

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

COMMISSIONERS OPEN TO COMPROMISE SENATE CHOICE

Posted By on Wed, Jan 18, 2006 at 4:00 AM

When and if the Shelby County Commission is required to name someone as an interim appointee to the Distict 29 state Senate seat, what will its members do?

To judge by a sampling of commissioners’ opinions taken Wednesday, that jury is still out and will likely remain so until the moment of decision is at hand. With the exception of current commission chairman Tom Moss, a Republican who told reporters he would gladly nominate party-mate Terry Roland for the job, most commissioners hedged their bets.

Roland, of course, is the plaintiff in the ongoing case to unseat Democrat Ophelia Ford, who was certified last fall by the Shelby County Election Commission as the winner over Roland – by 13 votes – to succeed her brother John Ford, who had resigned the seat after being indicted in the FBI’s Tennessee Waltz sting.

Charging various frauds and improprieties, including voting by felons and votes in the names of dead people, Roland and his legal representatives have challenged the outcome, in and out of court.

To the surprise of many, the state Senate – which is the ultimate arbiter of its own membership -- cast a preliminary committee-of-the-whole vote Tuesday to void the election results , a circumstance that, if formally ratified Thursday when the body meets again, will vacate the seat and make it necessary for the commission to appoint a temporary successor.

Normally, a gentleman’s agreement prevails whereby an interim appointment goes to a member of the same party which customarily controls the district. There is no disputing that District 29, which hugs the Mississippi River line, is heavily African-American and traditionally Democratic.

Arguably mitigating that fact, however, are the results of last year’s special election, in which Ford and Roland essentially ran neck-and-neck. Not only Moss but two other Republican commissioners, George Flinn and Bruce Thompson, suggested Wednesday that no party label should be taken as automatically applying. Both Flinn and Thompson made it clear that they were open to a variety of choices, irrespective of party-line or racial factors.

Two black Democrats, Cleo Kirk and Walter Bailey, insisted just as strongly that an interim appointee should be an African-American Democrat, in keeping with the district’s tradition and, both noted, the relative dearth of black legislators in the General Assembly. Kirk specifically called for the reappointment of Ophelia Ford.

But neither Kirk nor Bailey seemed prepared to draw a line in the sand on the matter. Bailey said that a black Republican would be worth his consideration and that he could live with whatever the commission – divided 7-6, with Republicans in the majority – ended up deciding.

Though no consensus had yet developed among commissioners, there seemed to be developing sentiment for a compromise choice of some sort. Whether coincidentally or not, one name being mentioned was that  of Sidney Chism, an African-American Democrat who last year served a term as interim senator for the District 33 seat ultimately won by Democrat Kathryn Bowers in a special election.

It wasn’t so much that Chism himself was being touted for another go-round in Nashville as that he was the type of nominee who might be able to get a crossover vote among commissioners.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

SENATE 'COMMITTEE OF 33' VOTES TO VOID DISTRICT 29 ELECTION

Posted By on Tue, Jan 17, 2006 at 4:00 AM

In the eyeball-to-eyeball partisan confrontation over a disputed state Senate seat from Shelby County, a Democratic member of the Tennessee Senate blinked Tuesday night. A contrary view would be that he opened his eyes and saw the light.

Regardless of how his vote ends up being regarded – and assuming it stands up when a final vote on the issue is taken Thursday – Democratic senator Don McLeary of Humboldt broke party ranks and made the difference as the Senate, functioning as a 33-member “Committee of the Whole” for special-session purposes, voted 17-15 to void the results of last fall’s special election in District 29.

That meant that Democrat Ophelia Ford, who had been sworn in and tenuously seated, pending the completion of a committee investigation into the election, might soon be ousted, while Terry Roland, her former Republican opponent whose protest of Ford’s apparent 13-vote victory had generated the investigation, had renewed hope that he might become a senator, after all – perhaps through interim appointment by a Republican-dominated Shelby County commission.

The vote Tuesday night came in response to a formal resolution introduced earlier in the day bySenate Republican leader Ron Ramsey of Blountville, who had served notice that he would not wait on the results of a completed investigation by the six-member special Senate committee appointed to recommend action on Roland’s challenge.

That committee, which Ramsey is member of, had voted 4-2 Monday to withhold its findings until further research could establish questionable votes in addition to the six (two dead “voters” and four felons) whose existence was now taken for granted.

The committee’s Republican chairman, Micheal Williams of Maynardville, had voted with three Democrats to continue the investigation on the assumption that no action would be taken unless the total of questionable votes should pass the magic number of 13, corresponding to Ford’s victory margin. The investigative process, which involved acquiring and combing through Social Security records for the district, was estimated to require two more weeks.

That wasn’t good enough for Ramsey, who charged Monday that available evidence indicated the District 29 election “stinks to high heaven,” despite the fact that its results had been duly certified by the Shelby County Election Commission.

Williams abstained from voting Tuesday, as he had last Thursday in a vote on a failed resolution disputing two indicted Democrats’ rights to participate in the current special election. But McLeary, who had voted with his fellow Democrats to defeat that resolution narrowly, changed sides on the District 29 vote. Simultaneously, Miller, who had voted with the Democrats last Thursday, reverted to party ranks for Tuesday night’s vote. Those two actions together determined the outcome.

Though all 33 members of the state Senate had been available for the vote to void the District 29 election, they will have to vote on the issue all over again Thursday, this time as the Senate itself, and not as the special “Committee of 33”whose recorded vote Tuesday was no more than advisory.

The outcome is by no means as certain as it might seem, since Lt. Governor John Wilder, the nominally Democratic Senate speaker, was known to have worked overtime behind the scenes to sustain Ford’s election. Wilder, whose long tenure as Speaker has depended both on bipartisan support and his established mastery of parliamentary mechanics – not to mention I.O.U.’s owed him by members of both parties – is expected to intensify his efforts in an effort to get a different outcome on Thursday.

”This isn’t just a referendum on Ophelia Ford. It’s a referendum on Wilder’s control,” acknowledged one of Ford’s supporters on Tuesday. And that fact could loom large, come Thursday.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

STATE BOARD DEADLOCKS OVER ROUT PENALTY

A 3-3 stalemate among Election Registry members effectively sidelines charges relating to 2002 “wedding-anniversary” event.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 11, 2006 at 4:00 AM

NASHVILLE -- In the case of former Shelby County mayor Jim Rout, the tie goes to the runner. That was the de facto judgment of the state Election Registry, sitting in judgment Wednesday at a “show cause” hearing concerning two possible breaches of the state election code.

Basically a 3-3 deadlock, with one member of the seven-member Board abstaining, put the case on ice, where it is likely to remain.

The first matter, relating to Rout’s use of campaign funds to defray wife Sandy’s expenses on what was presented as an official trip to Europe, was disposed of relatively quickly and without controversy. The Registry’s seven-member bi-partisan board held a brief discussion and decided by acclamation that the expenditures were in order and consistent with prevailing practice. The then county mayor’s own expenses for the trip, centering on an economic conference, were paid for by Shelby County government.

There was disagreement, however, on a 40th wedding-anniversary celebration that Rout’s lawyer John Ryder referred to as a “political event” but which was regarded as a wholly private affair by complainants, including Jerry Cobb, Rout’s fellow Memphis Republican, whose letter of protest about the use of campaign funds was part of the record under review on Wednesday.

Democratic board member George Harding of Lebanon got discussion under way with a quip: “Why weren’t we invited?” To which Ryder replied: “The short answer is, you weren’t on the contributors’ list.” That was followed up by Memphian Karen Dunavant, a Republican, who said, “Nor are you likely to be.”

Discussion did not altogether remain in the jesting vein, however. Rout made a presentation in his own defense, contending, like Ryder, that invitees to the 2002 event belonged to former mayor’s political and official universe, that no gifts were conferred on the Routs, and that the event was “themed” as an anniversary-celebration more or less incidentally, as one alternative among many.

That satisfied Harding, Republican member William Long of Nashville, and Democratic member John McClarty of Chattanooga, but it didn’t go all the way with board chairperson Lee Ann Murray, a Nashville Democrat, nor with Republican Darlene McNeece of Loudin nor Marian Ott of Nashville, who represents the League of Women Voters on the panel. Citing the conclusion reached at an “ethics convention” she had just attended, Ott insisted that some signal of disapproval needed to be sent. “What you allow is what you encourage,” she said, going on to propose a $5,000 fine.

Dunavant, a friend of both Rout and Ryder, had recused herself, making possible an even-numbered deadlock. Ott's initial resolution and subsequent ones from her, Murray, or McNeece downsized to $2500 failed to get a crucial fourth vote. As Harding said at one point, “You can make it a dollar if you want to, and I won’t vote for it.” His own resolutions to dismiss the charge altogether also hit the 3-3 barrier, however, so that the final result was permanent and irreversible stalemate.

All principals acknowledged afterward that a renewal of the charges is unlikely, and, understandably, Rout professed satisfaction with that result. If he were doing things all over again, would be insist that the even in question be themed differently? “Of course,” the former mayor said.

For the record, all members of the Election Registry panel, including the three who insisted on a penalty, had made it clear that they did not regard the Routs’ wedding-celebration event in the same light as a wedding celebration for former state Senator John Ford’s daughter, paid for out of campaign funds and sanctioned last year by the Registry.

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

HERENTON: FISCAL PROBLEMS "SHORT-TERM"

Posted By on Wed, Jan 4, 2006 at 4:00 AM

New Page 1

In a low-key “state of the city” address, Mayor Willie Herenton said city government’s fiscal problems are a “short-term situation” that will be fixed in 2006.

     

“I as your mayor must govern the city operations with greater efficiency,” Herenton told a luncheon gathering of the Kiwanis Club at The Peabody. The turnout of about 150 members and guests was much smaller than in previous years when Herenton spoke at prayer breakfasts on New Year’s Day.

     

Herenton took questions from the audience but not from the media. He plans to hold a press conference Thursday.

     

The mayor, who is starting his 15th year in office, said he and his staff met financial projections for 13 years before 2005, when the reserve fund fell to $3 million and the city’s bond rating was reduced. He promised to restore fiscal health by reducing police and fire department overtime, coaxing pension concessions from unions, and halting new capital construction. He will also push to have some city and county government operations merged, although ahe admitted full consolidation will not happen while he is mayor.

“I am a lightning rod,” he said.

     

He did not criticize members of the Memphis City Council as he has in previous years. No council members were seen in attendance. Herenton reiterated that he plans to run for reelection in 2007.

Herenton told the group to "look beyond the distortions and exaggerations of the Memphis media." He singled out The Commercial Appeal for criticism, calling an editorial urging him to give up on consolidation notable for its audacity.  

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