Standing in front of the federal Bankruptcy Court in downtown Memphis, U.S. Senatorial candidate Rosalind Kurita took her Democratic primary opponent, 9th District congressman Harold Ford Jr., to task on Friday for his Yes vote on last yea's bankruptcy bill and challenged Ford to a series of debates on that and other issues.
"Memphis has the highest number of bankruptcy filings in the nation -- and Congressman Ford is out helping credit card companies.He needs to explain that vote," Kurita said. She then challenged Ford "to debate me here in Memphis about the bankruptcy bill and other issues that set us apart so the voters can hear firsthand the clear differences between us."
Referring to the widely ballyhooed joint appearance in Memphis this week of Ford and Illinois U.S. Senator Barack Obama, Kurita, a state senator from Clarksville, took note of the fact that Obama had used the line, "I believe we are our brother's keeper," in defining the mission of the Democratic Party. Kurita herself has featured the line on the stump in explaining her candidacy, usually adding, as she did in Memphis on Friday, "We're a nation of souls, not a multinational corporation focused on the bottom line."
Kurita said that, in contrast to her own emphasis on traditional Democratic principles, Ford seemed intent on sounding as Republican as possible
In another development Friday, a member of the Ford family whom most Memphians had never heard of - or even knew existed -- has become a candidate for the 9th District seat about to be vacated by his cousin.
Joseph Ford, Jr., who was born in Memphis and grew up here but now practices law in California, where he has spent the last several years, sent potential supporters an email announcing his probable candidacy. Ford, the son of current Shelby County Commissioner Joe Ford, visited the Election Commission downtown and inquired about the procedures for filing and was given the requisite information. He returned just before closing time Friday afternoon and completed his filing.
Before becoming a lawyer in California, Ford attended academic institutions in Florida and Georgia and received his Juris Doctor degree in law - "cum laude,' according to a brief resume he included in his statement of intent - at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.
The already convulsed election situation in District 5 of the Shelby County Commission took another unexpected turn Thursday when incumbent Republican commissioner Bruce Thompson withdrew just before the 12 noon withdrawal deadline at the Election Commission.
Thompson's immediate explanation was that he had decided to withdraw for both personal and business reasons. "I wasn't married when I ran the first time, and that makes a difference now that I am," the first-term commissioner said, adding, "I have business opportunities that just couldn't be attended to in a part-time way."
But Thompson said he would be "on the job for another six months and very much committed to it during that time." Reportedly he had been contacted recently by representatives of Democrat Steve Mulroy's campaign about withdrawing but did not resolve to break off his race until after attending a preliminary court hearing Thursday on Mulroy's residential situation.
Thompsons withdrawal left the race for District 5, a swing district, temporarily confined to three Democrats apparently increasing the chances of an overturning of the current 7-6 Republican majority on the commission after this falls elections.
Pending Thursday afternoons scheduled certification of candidates by the Election Commission and a follow-up March 9th hearing on Democratic candidate Joe Cooper's challenge of Mulroy's eligibility, perennial candidate Coopera member of the old Shelby County Court back in the 70s -- suddenly saw himself -- at least temporarily -- on the threshold of a possible return to public office.
Cooper had challenged the residency qualifications of primary opponent Mulroy, and the resulting Chancery Court hearing on the issue was continued until the March date after a brief hearing before Chancellor Arnold Golden Thursday morning. The continuation was based on several factors, including the entrance into the case of Shelby County government on the grounds that, as county attorney Brian Kuhn explained, a provison of the county charter was at issue.
Should Mulroy be excluded by legal means, Coopers only opponent of record for the moment would be Democrat Sherman Perkins Kilamanjaro
But the prospect of that continuing to be the case is now unlikely because of state legislation passed in the '90s that governs last-minute withdrawals like Thompson's; the so-called "anti-skulduggery" law of 1991 prompted the Election Commision to extend the filing deadline for a week, until March 2 -- thereby giving the local Republican Party time to field a substitute candidate. The new withdrawal dealine will be March 6.
Before all that became known for sure at the Election Commission's Thursday afternoon meeting, Cooper had reacted to news of Thompson's withdrawal this way: "Without an incumbent, that makes me the favorite in anybody's reckoning."
That reckoned without the anti-skulduggery law, however -- passed by the General Assembly after then incumbent state Representative U.A. Moore withdrew on the last day back in 1990, a circumstance allowing friend Ed Haley to inherit Moore's legislative seat without opposition.
By the time the March 2nd deadline comes and goes, Cooper may well find himself not only with Mulroy's District 5 residence securely grandfathered in but with a formidable new Republican opponent as well.
In any case, Mulroy's lawer, David Cocke, expressed confidence that the new filing deadline rendered his client, who has already moved into the district, eligible beyond the possibility of further legal challenge. And Memphis lawyer John Ryder, who ran unsuccessfully against Thompson in the 2002 GOP primary, indicated Thursday that he'd been asked about making another run for the seat this year and was giving "serious thought" to the prospect.
Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton could be forgiven if he complained Thursday that his ears were burning. There were at least two good reasons why he should feel that way:
One was the fact that late in the afternoon the Shelby County Election Commission gave Herenton adversary Thaddeus Matthews the go-ahead to put his recall-the-mayor petitions on the August general election ballot. This is provided that at least 60 days before the August 3rd date, Matthews acquires legal signatures from 70 thousand-odd Memphis residents and that he specifies on the petitions good reasons why Herenton should be removed from office.
The commission also suggested revising the petition's head to reflect that the undersigned are citizens of Memphis, not more generally of Shelby County, as now reads.
Matthews said he would comply with all conditions, both mandated and suggested, and promised to have an edited and amended copy of his petition available for commission approval by Friday morning.
The other circumstance that should have rattled the mayor's antennae was a meeting Thursday night at the Memphis Police Association headquarters on Jefferson. Here representatives of several unions involved in difficult contract negotiations with the Herenton administration met to form a united front and plot a common strategy.
"They're pissing on us," said one union representative as a discussion of possible coordinated approaches went on for several hours. There was common consent that the mayor himself, CAO Keith McGhee, and current MLGW head Joseph Lee were all acting in bad faith.
Some of the organizations involved in the "Union Summit" were the MPA, the Firefighters, IBEW, and AFSCME.
Comments at the meeting Thursday night made it clear that the union's strategy includes a focus on direct contacts with city council members in order to do an end-around the Herenton administration, if necessary. To that end, meetings with individual councilman have been proceeding of late.
One of the attendees at the Thursday night meeting, in fact, was councilman Scott McCormick.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bob Corker, who has focused increasing criticism on U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., one of two Democratic candidates for the Senate, fired another shot Friday, writing Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who will appear in Tennessee with Ford on Monday, urging Obama to take note of Ford's "record on the issue of ethics.".
Ford's spokesperson, Carol Andrews, responded to Corker's blast -- the latest of several delivered of late by one or another of the congressman's Republican opponents -- by calling it "yet another example of big talking and big lying" by Ford's GOP adversaries.
The text of Corker's press release:
Bob Corker urges Senator Obama not to dodge ethics issue while campaigning with Representative Ford
Senate Democrats' "point man" on ethics to campaign with
Representative Ford - top congressional recipient of privately funded travel
Chattanooga - In advance of Senator Barack Obama's Tennessee campaign swing with Congressman Harold Ford, Jr., Bob Corker, Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, wrote Senator Obama to inform the Senator of Congressman Ford's questionable record on the issue of ethics and encourage Senator Obama to address the issue with Ford.
According to Ford's website, Congressman Ford will hold a lunchtime rally with Illinois Senator Barack Obama, the person Senate Democrats have tapped "to be their point man to carry the message of ethics reform during the midterm election year." (Chicago Tribune, 1/18/06).
"Monday's trip to Tennessee to campaign with Congressman Ford is a tremendous opportunity for Senator Obama to demonstrate that his interest in ethics reform is sincere and not merely a partisan exercise," said Republican Senate candidate Bob Corker.
Below is the letter to Senator Obama in its entirety.
Dear Senator Obama,
Through media reports here in Tennessee, I have been made aware of your upcoming campaign visit to our state to campaign for fellow Democrat Harold Ford, Jr.
I also understand that you are serving as Senate Democrat Minority Leader Harry Reid's "point man" on ethics reform.
These two facts suggest to me that your visit with Congressman Ford is a great opportunity in regards to your efforts to clean up Washington.
Accordingly, I am writing to fully inform you of Congressman Ford's record on the issue of ethics so that you may, should you chose, use your visit in Memphis to further your efforts to end what your fellow Democrats have termed the "culture of corruption" in Washington.
· According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Congressman Harold Ford ranked first among current members of Congress for the number of trips funded by private interests. Congressman Ford's privately funded travel includes trips to Las Vegas and the Virgin Islands. As you well know, much of this type of activity would be banned in the ethics reform bill you are currently championing in the Senate. (Sen. Obama Press Release, 2/1/06; Times Free Press 4/27/05; www.politicalmoneyline.com)
· Congressman Ford refuses to return funds linked to indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Unlike your colleagues, Senator Mark Pryor, Senator Russ Feingold, and Senate candidate Ben Cardin, Congressman Ford refuses to acknowledge the appearance of impropriety by accepting contributions from those who were a part of Jack Abramoff's lobbying team. In fact, Congressman Ford went so far as to call for other candidates to do so, but still remains unwilling to do so himself. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 1/7/06; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 1/7/06; The Hill, 2/15/06; Commercial Appeal, 1/10/06)
· According to the Commercial Appeal, Congressman Ford used $2,549 of campaign funds to purchase an Armani suit for the 2000 Democratic National Convention. According to the newspaper, the Federal Election Commission prohibits the use of campaign funds for clothing for campaign events. Additionally, I would encourage you to have your staff examine Congressman Ford's most recent FEC report, as it is replete with extravagant disbursements for expenses incurred by Congressman Ford. (Commercial Appeal 11/20/00)
As is clear through these and other activities, Congressman Ford has spent these past several years in Washington occupying the space between what is legal and what is right.
It is my hope that you will use your visit to Tennessee to demonstrate to your critics that your interest in ethics reform is genuine, and not merely a partisan endeavor.
On behalf of Ford, Andrews responded to Corker's press release with this statement:
"Bob Corker's letter to Senator Obama is yet another example of big talking and big lying from the Republicans running for the US Senate.
"Congressman Ford's ethics have never been challenged by anyone other than those seeking political office.
"Unlike Bob Corker, who, according to IRS documents, paid no federal income taxes in the late 1980's, Congressman Ford has called for a ban on private travel, an end to pork barrel spending and a prohibition on gifts from lobbyists -- a comprehensive effort to clean up the ethics mess in Washington.
"If Bob Corker wins his primary, Congressman Ford looks forward to a real and honest debate on the issue of ethics."
Kustoff -- whose ultimate appointment has been taken for granted for some time, even by other aspirants for the position --- is a partner in the Memphis law firm of Kustoff and Strickland. He was Bush's Tennessee campaign director in both the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns. Kustoff also ran unsuccessfully in the 2002 Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat eventually won by then state Sen. Marsha Blackburn.
One of the first responses to Kustoff's appointment came from U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) :Im pleased the president has selected David Kustoff to serve as the next U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee. Davids personal integrity, legal acumen, and attention to detail are well-known. His lengthy history of community involvement indicates he will act as a tireless advocate for the people of West Tennessee. I appreciate his willingness to serve the region in this capacity and look forward to his confirmation.
Lamar Alexander, the other Tennessee GOP senator, responded this way: "This is a good appointment. I know David. I look forward to his speedy confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
As of noon Thursday, the first major filing deadline of the political year has passed - the one for the May 2nd Democratic and Republican primaries for countywide offices - and several interesting races are shaping up.
Two of them - involving incumbent county commissioners Walter Bailey and Cleo Kirk - may turn out to be moot in one way or another, dependent on whether the state Supreme Court eventually rules that Bailey and Kirk are term-limited out of eligibility according to the terms of a 1994 local referendum.
Coincidentally or not, the Court informed the two commissioners Thursday that it would meet on March 21st to hear their suit seeking an overturn of the restriction, with briefs due on March 7th. (A third term-limited commissioner, Julian Bolton, is also a party to the suit but has decided not to run for reelection; Bolton is eyeing a race for Congress in the 9th congressional district.)
As of now, Bailey is opposed in District 2, Position 1 by two primary opponents, J.W. Gibson and Darrick Harris. Kirk has a one-on-one primary contest with former interim state Senator Sidney Chism.
In other major races, county commissioner John Willingham filed Thursday as a Republican candidate for Shelby County mayor. He is opposed in the Republican primary by Brent Todd. Incumbent mayor A C Wharton is opposed in the Democratic primary by Jefferey Woodard, ironically a political sympathizer with Willingham.
Willingham's daughter, Karla Templeton, is a candidate for her father's vacated seat in District 1, Position 3. She will face Mike Carpenter in the GOP primary. DeAngelo Pegues is running unopposed in the Demcratic primary.
Unopposed members of the county commission are;
Republicans George Flinn and David Lillard, in District 1, Position 2,
and District 4, Position 3, respectively, Democrat Deidre Malone in
District 2, Position 3, and Joyce Avery, District 4, Position 1. (A Democrat, Thomas Dillard, had filed for Avery's position but evidently did not qualify.).
CANDIDATES FOR OTHER COMMISSION RACES:
District 1, Position 1: Republicans Charles Fineberg, Mike Ritz, and Mike Rude; Democrat Gweldolyn Brooks-Owen.
District 2, Position 2: Democrats Henri Brooks, Melvin Burgess II, Reginald Fentress, Teddy King, and Joseph Moore. Novella Smith Arnold carries the Republican standard.
District 3, Position 1: Democrats Del Gill, James Harvey, Johnny Hatcher, Bob Hatton, Adrian Killebrew, Clifford Lewis, Georgia Malone, and Paul Springer.
District 3, Position 3: Democrats Joe Ford, the incumbent, and Walter Payne.
District 4, Position 2: Incumbent Republican Tom Moss has two primary opponents, Jim Bomprezzi and Wyatt Bunker.
District 5: Republican Bruce Thomp-son is unopposed in is primary, but Democrats Joe Cooper, Sherman Perkins Kilamanjaro, and Steve Mulroy.
CANDIDATES FOR OTHER COUNTYWIDE RACES:
County Clerk: Democrats Charlotte B. Draper, Otis Jackson, Zolton Scales, and Joe Young will vie, as will Republicans Debbie Stamson and Marilyn Loeffel.
Criminal Court Clerk: Democrats Kevin Gallagher and Vernon Johnson Sr. will compete for the right to take on incumbent Republican Bill Key.
District Attorney General: Republican incumbent Bill Gibbons and Democrat Gail Mathes are unopposed in their primaries.
Juvenile Court Clerk: Democrats Wilma F. Foster, Wanda Halbert, and former clerk Shep Wilbun with compete for the right to oppose Republican incumbent Steve Stamson, who is unopposed in his primary.
Probate Court Clerk: Democrats Sondra Becton and Leon Dishmon vie for the right to oppose GOP incumbent Chris Thomas.
Register: Incumbent Republican Tom Leatherwood and Democrat Coleman Thompson are unopposed in their primaries.
Sheriff: Incumbent Republican Mark Luttrell has no primary opposition; Democratic candidates include Bennie Cobb, Reginald French, Elton Hymon, and Jesse Jeff.
Trustee: Incumbent Republican Bob Patterson and Democrat Becky Clark are unopposed in their primaries.
Independent candidates have until April 6th to file for the above offices.
The countywide general election will be held on August 3rd.
A fully parsed, definitive answer will surely come soon from the relative horde of lawyers who began going over Judge Bernice Donalds somewhat perplexing ruling on the disputed District 29 state Senate seat just after 3 p.m. Wednesday when Donald emailed copies of it to the various contending parties.
But State Attorney General Paul G. Summers, for one, seemed sure that the ruling represented a victory for those (including, formally, the state of Tennessee) who wanted to validate the potential voiding of state Senator Opehlia Ford's election. Said Summers: "The motion clears the way for the State Senate to void or affirm Sen. Ford's election....Our argument that the court should let the Senate be the Senate was well founded. The court has rendered advice about how the Senate might proceed. I am studying the 31 page opinion thoroughly before I advise the Senate leaders as to the procedure to be used in the election contest."
What that means is that, though Judge Donald may have given half a loaf to each of the principal parties, the challengers to Democrat Ophelia Fords election as well as her defenders, only the half given to her opponents seems readily edible.
Highly uncertain is the effect of Donald's grant of declaratory relief to Ford in her effort to forestall a final Senate vote voiding her election. More immediately relevant is Donald's denial of the injunctive relief Ford also sought.
Donald's lift of her temporary injunction of two weeks ago means that the state Senate may proceed to vote Fords tenure (provisional to this point) up or down. The ruling also asks the Senate, in judging, to employ voting standards that are uniform throughout Tennessee.
A key part of her ruling calls for ground rules that, Ford's partisans say, ultimately favor her:
The Senate must apply uniform, non-arbitrary, objective standards for determining and defining a legal vote. Such standard must be applied uniformly across each of Tennessees ninety-five (95) counties....
"Again, the Senate may not apply post-election standards to assess ballot validity that differ from pre-election standards. Voters whose right to vote is challenged must be afforded minimal, meaningful due process to include, notice and opportunity to be heard before they can be disenfranchised.
The Senate, in its wisdom may vote to void an election, but only after it has developed and applied statewide uniform standards that govern which votes will be counted, practicable procedures to implement them, with an orderly mechanism for judicial review of disputed matters that may arise.
Since Donald expressly disclaims jurisdiction to decide an election dispute, the bottom line would seem to be that the Senate, which she acknowledges to be the final arbiter of the election contest, can vote on the District 29 issue at its own risk, outlined above.
Acting as a Committee of 33, the Senate in special session voted 17-14 two weeks ago to void the special election of last fall, which saw Ford beat Republican Terry Roland by 13 votes; the body was prevented from finalizing that vote in regular session two days later because of the temporary injunction granted by Judge Donald at Fords request.
The new ruling, in response to arguments by all parties at a hearing last week, clears the air to the extent that it frees the Senate to vote, but Donald is explicit that the Senate cannot take into consideration the various challenges made by Roland and his legal team on the basis of voters addresses and the disputed manner by which some of them were signed in by registrars.
That leaves the number of recognized invalid votes including those of deceased voters and felons -- at 10, still three votes short of Fords 13-vote lead, but it is unclear what degree of legal restraint is incumbent upon the Senate, whose previous vote ipso facto declared the election as tainted.
The bottom line: Though various nuances remain to be sorted out, it would indeed appear that Judge Donald has conditionally licensed the Senate process to complete its vote to void the disputed election - a fact which could bring the matter of an interim appointment to the Shelby County Commission next week in the event of a quick Senate vote.
But -- and this is a very real "but" -- the ruling establishes possible pitfalls that could open the way for further legal challenges.
David Cocke, Ford's lawyer, had this to say: Im very happy with the decision. She has essentially told the Senate they must apply standards consistent with due process, and she has spelled these out. Unless they apply her criteria, any vote of the Senates will be invalid, and Ill be back in her court the next day to contest it.
Cocke said Donalds use of the term without prejudice in denying Ford s injunction means that the case can be reheard in her court at any time if her conditions are violated. As Cocke saw it further, Donald essentially states that the Senate has no legitimate grounds for unseating Senator Ford.
A Democratic member of the Senate, speaking for background Wednesday night, suggested that the terms of Donald's declaratory judgment tie the hands of the Republican majority and that the Senate's freedom to void the District 29 election would prove to be more theoretical than pragmatic.
"I'm a lawyer, and I can't understand it," the legislator said of Fonald's ruling.
In any case, indications late Wednesday were that no vote would occur on Thursday, after all. And all parties would have the weekend to further digest Donald's complex judgment.