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. (Pratchers 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.
Though there had been a general expectation that the issue might be resolved on Wednesday, Donalds 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.
Thats fair enough. Shes 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 Fords election.
Finding it difficult to be as philosophical was Terry Roland, the defeated Republican adversary who, in and out of court, has challenged Fords election on the basis of several alleged frauds and irregularities. Roland wondered aloud afterward if the extra several days provided by Donald wouldnt give Lt. Governor John Wilder, the venerable Senate speaker who favors Fords 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 Donalds 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 Rolands 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.
Wednesdays 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, Cohens appearance, coupled with the presence of Ophelia Ford herself, brought to 16 the number of senators on hand in Donalds 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 weeks 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 Rolands team. It was largely on the basis of these that Fords 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 Senates 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 weeks 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.
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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 FBIs 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 gentlemans 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 years 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 districts 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 wasnt 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.