After exciting a surprisingly less-than-overflow crowd at this year’s annual Lincoln Day dinner by recounting the Republican Party’s successes in Tennessee — including the possession of two U.S. Senate seats, 7 or 9 U.S. House seats, and super-majorities in the state legislature — Governor Bill Haslam cautioned his listeners with a qualifier, preceded by a warning.
The “national situation” was different, he noted. “At the end of the day we have to get better at winning elections,” Haslam said, noting the GOP’s failure in the two most recent presidential elections. He contrasted 2012 party nominee Mitt Romney’s 16-point victory in Tennessee with Romney’s 4- or 6-point loss nationwide.
The governor compared the voting in Tennessee to that in North Carolina, “a little bit bluer than we are” but a state roughly comparable to Tennessee in its demographics. Romney’s winning margin in North Carolina was only 2 or 3 percentage points, Haslam said. “What’s the difference?” he asked, and answered his own question: The Democrats in North Carolina “went out and engaged,” unlike what was the case in Tennessee.
In the Tar Heel State, “they advertised, we advertised, they organized, we organized,” whereas, in Tennessee, “the Obama campaign wrote it off early. We didn’t see all those advertisements….When both parties engage, you see a difference.”
Haslam’s words presumably meant to inspire Republicans to more dedicated and technologically up-to-date efforts locally and statewide, could have the unintended consequence of rousing the currently dazed and near-impotent Democrats of Tennessee, as well.
An unspoken issue in the Democrats’ state chairmanship election, in January, had been this very question of whether, in the current political environment, contesting elections on a statewide basis was really possible. The governor’s North Carolina comparison could serve as an encouragement to them and to their new chairman, former state Senator Roy Herron, who is already, it would seem, adopting an aggressive strategy.
The other featured speaker at Lincoln Day, held at the University of Memphis Holiday Inn location on Central, was 8th District U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, who was probably being seen for the first time by many members of the audience, residents of the portion of East Memphis which was redistricting into Fincher’s domain for the last election cycle.
Fincher, who seems to be making a conscientious effort to appear locally and get acquainted with his new constituents, made remarks of the sort that Romney, inclined toward verbal malapropisms, might have called “severely conservative” but delivered them with the Frog Jump congressman’s characteristic sunny-side-up manner.
Citing an anonymous Democrat’s comparison of legislation for social programs to the ministry of Jesus, Fincher said, “Man, I really got bent out of shape,” contending that the Bible says that “the poor will always be with us,” and it also says “if you don’t work you don’t eat”. He said that Christians needed to take care of each other but it was wrong for Washington to “steal” from some in the country “and give it to others in the country.”
With 2014, an election year, approaching, numerous candidates helped swell the crowd, including a goodly number of current sitting judges, who are up for re-election next year and, one of them acknowledged, would probably be on hand for the local Democrats’ annual Kennedy Day dinner.
Willingham, who would have been 81 on Sunday, the day after the conclusion of this year’s Barbecue Festival, had looked forward to the event this year with special anticipation. A two-time Grand Champion of the Festival and winner over the years in several event categories, he had argued for years that competitors should be allowed to vend their products at the Festival and had finally convinced the sponsors to allow it.
“Daddy told us a year ago he thought that this year ‘Karla and Clay’ would carry the load,” said Karla Templeton, one of three Willingham daughters. And she vowed that she and her husband Clay would indeed carry forward and try to win the championship in her father’s honor.
Besides Templeton, Willingham leaves his wife Marge, two other daughters, Kristi Goldsmith and Kara Wilbanks, and six grandchildren,
“And there were many others who called him ‘Daddy’ just out of love and respect,” said Templeton.
Willingham, a former Shelby County Commissioner, had been a prominent figure in local politics for decades. He made several runs for both city and county Mayor and was an influence in the careers of numerous office-holders.
An inventor, he held several patents, and he was a high official of the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Nixon administration. The versatile Willingham also played professional baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals organization.
Willingham was perhaps best known, however, as a barbecue maven, who owned several restaurants and packaged and sold a variety of products related to the art of barbecue.
No funeral arrangements have yet been announced.
Billed by its sponsors as “The Working Families Flexibility Act” and characterized by opponents as “The Bosses Flexibility Act,” H.R. 1406 narrowly passed the majority-Republican U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday by a vote of 223 to 204.
The bill, technically an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, a New Deal measure, is given no chance of passage in the Senate, and it is also opposed by President Obama, who has indicated he would veto it if need be, and by organized labor.
Its effect, according to its GOP sponsors, is to give employees the option to take time off from their jobs at a later date as an alternative to receiving overtime pay. The Democrats who oppose the bill say that it would give employers the right to decide when or if this ‘comp” time is actually allotted.
Here is 9th District U.S. Representative Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) called Wednesday “one of the saddest days the House of Representatives has probably ever seen” expressed his opposition to H.R. 1406 on the House floor:
In a news release, Cohen made the following points against the bill:
What this misnamed bill really means is more work and less pay for workers, not flexibility:
o Workers will not get paid for hours that exceed 40 hours per week. That pay will instead go into an employer-controlled pot to be paid later.
o An employer can refuse to allow a worker to take time off to deal with a family member or attend a parent-teacher conference. This is not real flexibility for workers.
o Employers could schedule excessive overtime hours and only offer overtime work to workers who agree to take comp time instead of overtime wages.
o Since unused comp time will not be paid to workers until the end of the year, this amounts to an interest-free loan out of workers’ pockets to the employer.
As the Flyer first reported in March, Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy had resolved to donate one of his kidneys to the National Kidney Registry through the UT-Methodist Transplant Institute, the Registry's sole medical partner in Tennessee.
That was then, this is now — mere days after the Institute’s famed director, Dr. James D. Eason, extracted the kidney via laparoscopic surgery on Tuesday. And if the science of transplant surgery should need a poster boy to represent its potential to the general public, it couldn’t do much better than Commissioner Mulroy, whose regular job is that of a University of Memphis law professor.
Mulroy appeared at a press conference at Methodist Hospital on Union Ave. Thursday with Dr. Eason; Dr. Luis Campos, who administers exchanges along the organ-transplant network; and transplant coordinator Melissa Moore.
Wearing a pajama robe, but looking more like a denizen of the Playboy Mansion than of a hospital ward, Mulroy was bright-eyed and ebullient, cracked jokes, did impressions, elaborated on the fine points of his surgery, and vowed to be in full “argument mode” for the next Commission meeting on Monday, when a contentious debate on a gun-rights resolution is expected.
On the other side of that debate from Mulroy will be fellow Commissioner Terry Roland, author of the resolution and no miser with energy himself. Mulroy was asked: Would he be able to handle Roland in debate?
” I don’t know if anyone is ever up to handling Terry Roland,” he answered. “That’s a tall order. But I will say that, come Monday, I will be there. I will do my duty for the voters of Shelby County.”
Mulroy this week became what is known in the transplant-surgery world as an “altruistic donor” — meaning that he did not donate his kidney to a particular individual but to the Registry at large, so that his organ might go — as Mulroy said, quoting (and doing) the Ned Flanders character from a Simpsons TV episode about transplant surgery — “to whom it may concern.”
The way he and the Institute personnel explained it Tuesday, the acquisition of an unencumbered organ makes it easier to arrange ideal matches through the transplant network’s computerized system, to “break the log jam,” in Mulroy’s words. As Dr. Eason said, “We didn’t just do one transplant on Tuesday, We did six.”
Dr. Eason emphasized that the laparoscopy done on Mulroy was relatively “non-invasive,” done via a small incision and employing a camera and a fiber optics system — or in Mulroy’s words, “so easy-in-easy-out it’s not a big deal.”
Asked if he’d like to meet the recipient of his donated kidney, Mulroy affirmed that he would, jesting, “First, I’d like to find out if they’re a registered voter in Shelby County.”
Mulroy said, “People ask me, ‘can you still drink?’” He said that, “as a good Irish Catholic,” he intended to. A running and exercise addict, he added that he expected eventually to resume his full round of activities. “It doesn’t change your life all that much,” he said. “The remaining kidney grows and takes over the function of the other kidney.”
Mulroy’s wife Army, daughter Molly, and son Quinn were on hand for the press conference. Asked if his loss of a kidney might in any way inconvenience them, he said he had done extensive preliminary research on the point and argued convincingly that their medical histories made the odds infinitesimally small that they would ever be in need of a kidney transplant requiring him as a donor match. He had looked for “red flags” and was assured there were none, he said.
Dr. Eason said, “We do approximately 35 living-donor transplants a year. We’d like that to be more.”
Melissa Moore is the Institute’s contact person for potential donations and can be reached at (901) 516-8466.
A week after failing to reach agreement on school closures or cleaning services and only hours after being tongue-lashed in absentia by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, who was irked (as many of the Board members themselves were, for that matter) by their inaction, the Board disposed of several pending matters and even managed to extract some not too scolding advice from Rick Masson, the hitherto Delphically silent Special Master appointed by presiding federal Judge Hardy Mays.
They also dealt with virtually all of the recommendations inherited from the Transition Planning Commission and were suddenly within grasping distance of being able to submit a budget for the 2013-14 school year. Their previous failure to come anywhere close to one had been the catalyst for the outburst earlier Tuesday by Luttrell, who told a luncheon meeting of the Memphis Rotary Club that the seemingly gridlocked Board had been doing the community a “disservice.”
The mayor had also lent his support to the idea, discussed in several quarters after this month’s passage of municipal-schools legislation in Nashville, that city/county school merger, scheduled to be completed on July 1, might be held off for a year. A resolution to that effect would be introduced Tuesday night by veteran Board iconoclast Kenneth Whalum Jr. but was fairly effectively iced by advice from the aforementioned Masson.
The meeting began with a 30-minute warm-up round, during which audience members were invited to speak directly to the Board, and the sentiments that were expressed ran the gamut, with people expressing their desires that former Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken be drafted to return from retirement or that current interim superintendent Dorsey Hopson be induced to remain in the role permanently, that the merger be advanced or slowed or even abrogated, and much else, across the spectrum of opinion.
Not long after that Chris Caldwell, as expected, put before the Board a motion to allow PROACT, the firm hired by the Board to find a superintendent for the new Unified system, to shelve their search efforts, for which they were facing a completion deadline on Friday, until the fall and winter months. News of the company’s desire to lay off for a year had leaked earlier in the day.
Caldwell said he “strongly” recommended allowing the firm to cease its recruiting efforts until after the beginning of the next school year.
Referring to a communication received from PROACT, he cited the firm’s conclusion that it would be too much of a challenge to recruit “the right kind of candidate,” given all the uncertainties swirling about the Board at that point — concern about the makeup and composition of the School Board, about the size of the Unified district, the prospect of separate municipal districts, and the pay scale a superintendent might expect. Concerns, too, about the departure of two prior superintendents and uncertainties about staff matters.
Caldwell made a point of stroking Hopson, the former Memphis City Schools attorney who succeeded MCS superintendent Kriner Cash and SCS superintendent Aitken, both of whose contracts had been bought out. “Until someone undoes that, he’s the superintendent,” Caldwell said, praising the “stability” brought by Hopson and “the kind of work he and his deputy have done.”
As for a putative successor to Hopson, Caldwell opined, “Because of all this dysfunction that has gone on, I’d be very reluctant to get into this job until I knew what I was getting into.”
Not everybody was all that ready to cut PROACT any slack — especially, it seemed, some former members of the MCS board who had insisted on the superintendency search last year when there was a move on to hire Aitken. Stephanie Gatewood and Teresa Jones both suggested the firm shouldn’t get any more pay until they got back on the job, and Tomeka Hart, eyeing the Friday deadline, said, “How will they know what they’ll get or won’t get by Friday?” She added, “We knew it was chaos at the time we hired them.”
In the end, most members responded to Caldwell’s (and PROACT’s) request in the manner of former SCS Board member Wissman, who said, “We need to listen to somebody.” The vote was 18-4, but Gatewood and Jones got their way with the Board on withholding payments during the cesura.
In the aftermath of the vote, Board chairman Billy Orgel, an inveterate jester, would ask Hopson, “Are you cool with hanging around?” Hopson deadpanned, “I’m willing to serve, Mr. Chair.”
FROM THERE THE BOARD segued into a report by attorney Valerie Speakman on a conference Tuesday involving the attorneys for the various parties to the still ongoing school-merger litigation and presiding judge Mays. The issue had been whether the Shelby County Commission had authority to appoint the six new members the Commission wants to add to the 7-member Unified Board that will exist on July 1.
“The hearing had no fruit at the end of it,” said an unaccountably poetic Speakman, who reported that representatives of the county’s suburban municipalities had raised the issue of scotching expansion plans altogether. Speakman said, “We took the position that the Board could be expanded in the general election of 2014.” The judge had asked for information on voting precincts, apparently with an eye toward the possible changing of district lines with the ultimate onset of municipal districts.
Speakman reported that representatives of the Shelby County Election Commission had declared it impossible to hold a special election until December of this year, a fact that caused Board member Martavius Jones to wonder if state law did not require such an election to be called within 60 to 90 days of a formal request, as it had following the eventful MCS charter surrender of December 2010, which he and Hart had overseen.
Speakman confessed she had not fathomed the Election Commission’s reasoning. “I can’t really say I understood,” she said. “They kept talking about some kind of new computer system and IT people, and some were here and some weren’t.” This, it should be said, is par for the course when it comes to the kind of specialized hair-splitting one hears from Election Commission sources and at SCEC meetings.
“An absurdity,” was how Jones summed up the Commission’s position.
AFTER A LENGTHY DISCUSSION, the Board, which had deadlocked on teachers’ compensation issues for weeks, somehow found a basis for compromise between the concepts of rewarding the acquisition of post-graduate credits in the traditional way and the now modish idea of merit pay — “blending performance in with professional development,” as Patrice Robinson would put it.
It took a while, but the 16-5 vote on the compromise plan (with one abstention) indicated that the Board had heeded the messages of frustration and impatience emanating from Luttrell, PROACT, and — as it shortly turned out — Mays.
Whalum’s resolution to put off merger for a year took the form, as it had to, of asking the judge’s consent. And it was the occasion for Jeff Warren’s asking an opinion on the matter from Special Master Masson, the bearded and gaunt onlooker who for all the Board meetings since his March appointment as a monitor of the lagging merger process by Mays, had sat silent, immobile, and inscrutable, as if modeling for a bust of Lincoln.
Now Masson rekindled memories of his days as a prime advisor to former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, outlining the situation in a series of lucid but densely weighted sentences. There was a “mistaken understanding that a federal judge can do whatever they feel like doing,” Masson said, but in fact judges were “constrained by state law and case law. “
The law required that the merger be completed before the 2013 school year, Masson explained, and there was consequently “no basis for the judge to delay merger.” The Special Master also noted that the existing timetable and arrangements that all parties were obliged by were not decreed by Mays but contained in a consent order which the judge had approved.
The bottom line: “There is no legal basis for a divert.” Not until and unless the contending parties should agree to a new consent order.
There was more discussion, but the point of no return had been reached on the Whalum initiative. “It doesn’t seem like we’ll be able to put the genie back in the bottle,” concluded Jeff Warren, who — not for the first time — opened up a new and fertile subject area. Should not the Unified Board itself be a party to future hearings with Judge Mays? There was general agreement, and implied consent from Masson, that the Board should indeed be so involved.
Masson found it timely at this point to read the riot act to the Board, as politely as such a thing can be done. He and Mays had been astonished to find the Board’s arrangements for a unified IT program and other matters to be behind schedule. “We expected to see a countdown clock with a sense of urgency.” The judge expected the Board to make decisions.
But there was some soft soap in the lecture. “Of all my years in public service,” said Masson, he had not seen a group so clearly representative of the entire community as on this night at the Board meeting. “The judge and I have great faith in the democratic process. We want you-all to demonstrate that our community can work together. If you can do it, we can do it as a community.”
David Reaves intervened with a motion — unsuccessful by a vote of 15-3 — to request Mays to maintain a 7-member maximum for the Unified board. And Whalum’s main motion, for the record, went down 15-6.
Whalum was unfazed. “My heart is a-flutter because we got the Master to talk tonight,” he wagged.
From that point on, the meeting went comfortably downhill.
An accord was reached on the previously intractable matter of school closures — though all it amounted to was a tentative agreement on the identity of 16 institutions that, for various reasons, depopulation primary among them, seemed most eligible for closure. A policy in hand at last, the Board agreed to hold practical discussions on the matter, coinciding with public forums in the affected areas, beginning in August.
The night's final discussion, on transportation, was markedly uncontentious, and resulted in another compromise, blending out-sourced bus services with expanded use of the fleet vehicles now owned by the Unified district — and doing it so as to achieve an apparent discount.
“Let’s not stop the ball rolling,” was Orgel’s epitaph on the meeting, perilously near the midnight hour, and, like Reaves' summary at adjournment, it seemed appropriate. n
Amid the nonstop sound of gunfire from practice rounds in firing lanes on the other side of the wall from where he spoke, U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-8th District) delivered a ringing endorsement of gun rights Monday night, speaking to members of the Northeast Shelby Republican Club at Range USA.
During a question-and-answer period following his brief prepared remarks, Fincher was asked for his views on gun issues by Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland, whose “Second Amendment Preservation Resolution,” intended to “prevent Federal infringement on the right to keep and bear arms,” will be voted on by the Commission at its Monday night meeting.
Fincher responded, “You saw a couple of weeks ago gun control could not get passed through the Senate? We’re very clear in the House what’s going to happen to gun control. It’s going nowhere….The Second Amendment’s not about hunting. It’s not about shooting for sport. It’s about protecting yourself from who? The government!….We’re not taking the guns. It’s not going to happen, not as long as I’m up there and I’ve got a vote.”
The congressman could hardly have chosen a more apt location to make such a statement, nor, to judge from the hearty and prolonged applause he got, a more appreciative audience to hear it.
The Bartlett facility, as Martha Montgomery of Range USA explained to attendees before the event, contains two ranges, the larger of which, with 14 lanes, was separated from the canteen area where the meeting was being held by a wall. Activity over there could not be seen, because, as Montgomery said, the wall had “cardboard in the windows.”
Constant gunfire could be heard, however, from the invocation and pledge of allegiance through to the very end of the meeting — confirmation that, as Montgomery said, the facility’s lanes “are always open to the public,” and instructional opportunities abound, including free clinics held there by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department.
Continuing to make his case against the utility of new gun restrictions, Fincher referred to last December’s Newton massacre and asked, “How many laws did that boy break already? What about baseball bats? What about box cutters?” Roland suggested “pressure cookers,” and Fincher added that term on. “Pressure cookers!”
There were even Democrats voting against President Obama’s recently failed background-check legislation, Fincher said. “When you do a good job of messaging, it works.”
For much of the Q-and-A session, Fincher attempted to satisfy the wishes of some of the more conservative members of his audience without necessarily accepting their solutions. Asked about impeaching Attorney General Eric Holder, for example, Fincher said, “We’ve done everything short of impeachment,” and urged the attendees to accomplish their ends at the grass-roots level via elections.
“The American people elected President Obama. I don’t know how, but they did,” he said. “We’ve got to have good candidates.”
Fincher urged his listeners, “without surrendering our principles, “ to practice a sort of political moderation: “Our party, the conservative party more than the Republican Party, we’ve got to be the party of including people, not condemning people. Whether it’s immigration reform, whether it’s pro-life issues, or even, we talk a lot today about gay rights issues — every time we talk about these issues, we divide the country….We’ve got to be the party that cares about folks and doesn’t condemn.”
He even suggested they take Fox News, the preferred broadcast outlet of conservatives, with a grain of salt. “They’re entertainers” who offered their share of “spin,” he said. “Be very cautious, whatever the news organization.”
But the congressman did not shy away from some firm-sounding ideological statements. He noted that he had bucked GOP House Speaker John Boehner on the fiscal-cliff deal reached early this year. And on terrorism, he said, “These are not radical Baptists or radical Methodists doing this. These are radical Islamists.”
“The Constitution and the Bible are our guiding documents,” he said.
A member of the House banking committee, Fincher denounced the quasi-governmental lending agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and predicted, “In our committee, we’re going to do away with Fannie and Freddie.”
Fincher vowed to take a firm stand against any more government “bail-outs,” but suggested that Republicans might cease futile efforts to repeal “Obamacare,” the Affordable Care Act, and let it be implemented, “so people can see what’s happening.”
In concluding, Fincher returned to the idea of inclusiveness. Ultimately, the congressman said, “Democrats, Republicans, Independents, we’re all in this boat together. And if we push people away, we won’t win.”
Smith’s slipping of the mortal coil is sure to be formally recognized and her life commemorated by local, state, and national legislative bodies, for there is hardly as aspect of the times she lived in that she didn’t do much to transform.
As in the case of Rosa Parks, whose denial of a seat on a Montgomery bus in 1956 led to that city’s landmark bus boycott, led by the young Martin Luther King, Smith’s ascent into social leadership stemmed from a personal rebuff.
She and Miriam Sugarmon Willis, another civil rights pioneer, saw their applications rejected to do graduate work at Memphis State University in 1957. That led to Smith’s involvement with the NAACP and her activity on behalf of sit-ins and various protests and voter registration drives.
She led the "If You're Black, Take It Back" campaigns that boycotted downtown stores with segregated work forces and separate water fountains. She personally escorted the African American children who desegregated Memphis public schools in 1961. In 1969 she was a leader of the “Black Monday” boycotts to force further school desegregation.
As a leader of the NAACP, Smith was outspoken in support of the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike, which would culminate in the tragic assassination here of Dr. King.
Having been elected to the Memphis School Board in 1971, she was the single most important factor in the elevation in 1979 of Willie Herenton, a black principal, to fill the vacant position os school superintendent, organizing resistance on the Board and in the city to a Board majority’s plan to hire a white superintendent from Michigan.
Smith was equally influential in the 1991 mayoral campaign of Herenton, who won and became the city’s first elected black chief executive, just as he had been the school system’s first black superintendent.
Speaking of Smit on WREG-TV Friday, after learning of her death, Herenton, now organizing a charter-school network, credited Smith for being a major force for “the advancement of African Americans,” and said, “When the annals of history are written … Maxine Smith’s name will be there. She made an indelible imprint on this city.” A tearful Herenton acknowledged that he would never have become superintendent of schools “if not for the courage of Maxine Smith.”
Perhaps appropriately, Smith was elected president of the School Board the same year, 1991, that Herenton was elected mayor. She left the school board in 1995 and eventually relinquished the reins of the NAACP, but continued to function as a sort of elder stateswoman, speaking out on issues and offering advice whenever she was consulted by either side to a controversy, which was often.
She remained an inspirational figurehead, as did her late husband Vasco Smith, a veteran civil rights activist himself and a longtime member of the Shelby County Commission, which meets now in a building named for him.
Speaking of Maxine Smith's death on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives Friday, 9th District congressman Steve Cohen said, "Today in Memphis, Tenessee, a great lady passed, a lady who was as fierce, as brave, as courageous as any woman who has ever lived in this country...She helped take Memphis beyond Jim Crow and segregation... and she helped take America there...."
Kenny Crenshaw was speaking earnestly — the look on his face familiar to most of his onlookers, who had seen it numerous times on a host of billboards and TV screens. Only this time the easily recognized local lawn services proprietor wasn’t pleading to be allowed to “kill your weeds. “
It was Wednesday morning in the committee room of the Shelby County Commission, and Crenshaw was beseeching Commission members to take a stand for the rights of gun owners and against what he deemed “ a lot of attempts to infringe on the Second Amendment.”
Crenshaw and two other men — all touted in advance by Commissioner Terry Roland as “experts — were on hand to convince members of the Commission’s Government Operations Committee to support a resolution by Roland that, as described in its title, “shall be known and may be cited as the ‘Second Amendment Preservation Resolution.’ to prevent Federal infringement on the right to keep and bear arms; nullifying all Federal acts in violation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”
Despite the baldness of the word “nullifying” in that final clause of the caption, the three petitioners were at pains to appear diffident and reasonable. “There’s no one here who is in any way an insurrectionist,’ said David Mixon, the second member of Roland’s support group. They were only asking “that the Commission support the Constitution of the United States of Amer ca [and] support the framers,” said Nixon.
|Shafer:“We’ve got a right to take care of ourselves and our family. And let me tell you: A kitchen spatula isn’t going to get it.”|
The third member of the trio was Richard Archie of Madison County, who had helped in the passage of similar resolutions elsewhere, including on freshly subscribed to by his home county government. “We’re simply asking our peers to stand forth and to notify the state of Tennessee that we’re desirous of having our Second Amendment rights upheld,” said Archie, who warned of disquieting activity “at the federal level” that threatened those rights.
Roland himself weighed in, saying his proposed resolution was “doing nothing more than saying we support the Second Amendment and the Constitution as it is written.”
Commissioner Heidi Shafer rejoiced at the opportunity to support “an issue near and dear to my heart.” She made the point that “the vast majority” of legally sold weaponry was used “for self-defense or hunting” and that those people who used guns for criminal purposes “have got them illegally.”
Recalling the recent reign of terror imposed on Boston, Shafer said, “We’ve got a right to take care of ourselves and our family. And let me tell you: A kitchen spatula isn’t going to get it.”
Commissioner James Harvey thought all the rhetoric was getting out of hand. He said he, too, supported the Second Amendment but averred , “No one is abolishing the Constitution.” All that was going on in Washington was an effort “to have a little b it more control to try and reduce gun violence.” Harvey professed himself to be uneasy about “people with behavior problems” walking around with guns. “Some of you have wives and husbands that you don’t want,” he said. “I just don’t want to live in a society that’s caught up with guns.”
Commissioner Wyatt Bunker pooh-poohed all that. “The sky’s not going to fall if we pass a resolution to uphold the Second Amendment,” he said. He lamented what he said was “a lot of fear-mongering” as wel l as misleading “media bias.” Gun laws were “in and of themselves, ineffective,” Bunker said. “I support the Second Amendment for that reason.”
Chairman Mike Ritz opined that “as a general rule, I think we should avoid these advisory requests,” that calling on the General Assembly to take action on such things “consumes a lot of time and is of no real value to citizens and taxpayers.” Ritz said that a statute to the same effect as the resolution had already been brought before the legislature “and the state dropped it on advice of the Attorney General.”
Archie, who said he’d spent abundant time in Nashville before legislative committees, objected that Ritz was wrong , that the measure objected to by the Attorney General had been Senate Bill 250, introduced by state Senator Mae Beavers (R- Mt. Juliet” and later withdrawn.
That bill, he noted, went much further than the current resolution. It would have gone so far as to designate federal officials as felons for enforcing new gun laws and would have subjected them to arrest. (Archie didn’t single it out, but state Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) had succeeded in getting the Senate to pass a resolution very like the one before the Commission.)
Commissioner Chris Thomas couldn’t resist reminding Ritz that if he thought “advisory” legislation was wasting the General Assembly’s time, he and the Commission majority, in the course of communicating opinions to the Assembly, shouldn’t have bothered legislators by “advising them on the school issue.”
|Nullification had been an issue in the Civil War. “We fought a war over that,”Mulroy said.|
Steve Mulroy, chairman of the Government Operations Committee, had been biding his time, and now he suggested that the resolution was not merely aimed at supporting the Second Amendment: “It goes far further in disturbing ways.”
Nullification had been an issue in the Civil War, he noted. “We fought a war over that,”Mulroy said, and he cited a clause in the resolution that calls upon Tennessee sheriffs to defend Tennesseans “against infringements upon their rights and to hold the federal government to the limitations provided under the Constitution.” He mused: Would the supporters of the resolution really expect Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham to round up federal officials?
In the end the matter was put to a vote. Four committee members — Roland, Bunker, Thomas, and Shafer — voted Aye, and one, Mulroy voted no. The others had either absented themselves or opted not to vote.
The voting on Wednesday was a preliminary of sorts.. It will all be done all over again on Monday, May 6, when the full Commission gets a chance to vote on the resolution — this time for real.
Bunker drew a petition from the Election Commisson on Wednesday, immediately following the Commission’s schedule of committee meetings . Incumbent Mayor Scott Carmichael has also drawn a petition. The election will be held on September 19.
A veteran of law enforcement, Bunker now serves as director of security for Baptist Hospital East.
On the Commission, Bunker has been a outspoken advocate for suburban municipal schools, consistently resisting the Commission majority’s pursuit of litigation against the municipal-school process. "I regard my legislative experience and contacts, as well as my School Board service as good preparation to lead Lakeland into the new era," Bunker said.
Remember “Send Brown Downtown?” No, probably not. Most of you weren’t fixated on the lengthy ballot that confronted Shelby Countians in the steamy summer of 1990.
The Brown in question was Joe Brown, candidate for Shelby County Criminal Court and, after he won that race, just plain Judge Joe Brown later on.
In a way he gave up that title, in a way he didn’t. In 1998 he attracted the attention of CBS producers, having won some notoriety as a result of handling an ultimately futile 1997 appeal by James Earl Ray of his 1969 conviction (via guilty plea) for killing Dr. Martin Luther King.
The result was that in 1998 Judge Joe Brown, Shelby County Criminal Court, became Judge Joe Brown of the eponymous TV reality show, Judge Joe Brown, which was paired by CBS Television Distribution with Judge Judy, starring retired Manhattan Family Court Judge Judith Sheindlin, in a national syndication package.
Both shows involved binding-arbitration situations staged as plaintiff-and-defendant courtroom drama with both the competing participants and the TV judge encouraged to ham it up.
For two years, Brown handled both the television show, installments of which were recorded in Los Angeles, and his regular judicial position in Shelby County, to which he had been reelected in 1998, the same year his TV show began.
The wear and tear of so much commuting, along with the far greater financial compensation of the television show, eventually convinced Brown to resign his judicial position in 2000 and focus on his TV career.
Cutting to the chase, last month Brown recorded his final installment of the show, which was canceled by CBS, following the failure of Brown and the network to reach agreement on a financial package. CBS, citing lower ratings, wanted to cut Brown’s compensation, publicized by the network as $20 million annually, although Brown, complaining about “Hollywood trick economics, said he was actually only paid $5 million a year.
In any case, the CBS-syndicated version of Judge Joe Brown is no more (Judge Judy was, incidentally renewed), and Brown is casting about for other syndicators for his courtroom theatrics. He and various partners are also purportedly planning a radio program to be called Real Talks With Judge Joe Brown.
And hark! The Hollywood Reporter maintains in a new article that Brown “also is considering offers to get involved in politics, which could include a run for the U.S. Senate from Tennessee.”
Since Brown has, during the years of his TV judgeship, occasionally returned to Memphis to host fundraisers for various local Democratic candidates, it is to be presumed that his party label as a Senate candidate would also be Democratic. Which means that if he availed himself of his first opportunity at a U.S. Senate seat, challenger Brown could find himself trying to put Republican incumbent Senator Lamar Alexander in the dock of public opinion in 2014.
Alexander should be forewarned: Though journalists who covered Brown as a Criminal Court judge were often impressed with his habit of dramatizing his opinions, they also saw him as being relatively mild-mannered with the contending parties in his courtroom.
But not so the Joe Brown of that Hollywood studio courtroom, who perfected the art of being stern, hard-edged, and sometimes even abusive with those upon whom his adverse judgments fell.
But stay tuned. Maybe there won’t be an Alexander-Brown showdown. Surely it’s as practical to be a faux legislator as a make-believe judge. Is it possible that, sometime down the line, maybe in 2014, we could find ourselves watching a new “reality” show entitled Senator Joe Brown?
That was the word from Strickland, the featured speaker Saturday at the monthly Dutch Treat Luncheon, a surviving spinoff of the old Loeb Dutch Treat Luncheons once presided over by former Mayor Henry Loeb and by the late Charley Peete, who took them over after Loeb’s death.
As in Loeb’s time and Peete’s, the attendees tend to be arch-conservative or seriously libertarian, and Strickland, who boasted at Saturday’s meeting at Pancho’s Restaurant on White Station that he was “the only Council member who has never voted for a tax increase, not one,” was well received. When one woman gave voice to a common assumption that Strickland intends a mayoral race at some point, the Councilman merely gave a faint smile, as if in confirmation.
As he has on other occasions, Strickland expressed a concern that the greatest danger facing Memphis is that of population loss. "People are voting with their tail-lights,' he said. He attributed the problem to people’s anxieties about three areas — crime, education, and taxes. For the most part, he confined his remarks to crime and taxes, both of which, unlike schools, he said he as a Council member had some direct responsibility for.
Strickland seemed guardedly optimistic about crime control in Memphis. He said the city’s crime rate had declined in recent years under the influence of “Blue Crush” tactics, first introduced by former police director Larry Godwin after the model of an approach by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani that located an increased police presence in statistically high crime areas.
According to Strickland, there was a bit of a relapse after Godwin’s departure in 20111 to become a deputy to state Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons and as new police director Toney Armstrong took up the reins. Members of the Council noted a 10 percent increase in crime under a new, modified policy instituted by Armstrong “that did away with the biggest part of Blue Crush.” Things have since stabilized as Armstrong has begun to restore the former policy. “Blue Crush works,” Strickland said.
Turning to budgetary matters, Strickland, who chairs the Council’s budget committee, told his audience they “probably won’t believe it,” but the city’s tax rate has in recent years decreased by about 10 percent. He reminded them that the amount of property tax paid is a combination of two elements, “the tax rate and the value of your homes.”
Inasmuch as the most recent assessment shows a dramatic downturn in property values for most Memphians, he said, there is pressure to increase the tax rate so as to maintain revenue. Hence, a budget proposal from Wharton last week calling for an increase from a $3.11 rate to one of $3.39.
Strickland noted that the combined city and county tax rates for Memphians are already 50 percent higher than the property tax rates imposed by Nashville Metro government. Given that the county rate is going to go up, largely because of the unanticipated transitional costs of school consolidation, Strickland forecast the possibility that local tax rates could increase to a level 75 percent higher than Nashville’s.
He further noted that Mayor Wharton’s proposed budget would spend $622 million, an increase over last year’s budget of $597 million and said, “We need to reverse that.” The bottom line, said Strickland, was that “we have to spend less.”
The problem is one of where to cut, and Strickland made known his preference for maintaining projected expenditures for pre-K education. “Pre-K works,” said Strickland. “If Pre-K didn’t work, I wouldn’t have sent my kids to Pre-K.” He said statistics demonstrate that Pre-K instruction causes literacy rates among children to rise dramatically.
Strickland said some of the remedies frequently called for (and expressed by members of his audience on Saturday) would have no effect on the tax rate per se. Included in that category were the idea of privatizing city sanitation services, which are subsidized by fees, not taxes, and proposed pension reforms involving a change from a defined-benefits system to a defined contribution (or 401-K) system. Strickland agreed that pension reform needed to be discussed, but he argued that an immediate switch “would not save tax dollars” and that there were would be transitional costs involved in maintaining the city pension fund.
As an example of the kind of thing that might be cut, Strickland mentioned the Memphis Music Commission, the work of which is paralleled by the privately funded Memphis Music Foundation, “which probably does it better.”
An aspect of Wharton’s proposed budget that Strickland did not specifically discuss but one which may be featured in budget deliberations next week is the mayor’s call for a 2.3 percent pay raise for all city employees to take place in January as a start in restoring a 4.6 percent pay cut imposed on city employees two years ago.
“We need to go over the budget line by line” looking for opportunities to cut, Strickland said, and he called for public participation in the process of looking for reductions, noting that the facts and figures of the budget process are available for inspection on the city’s website, memphistn.gov.
NASHVILLE: The state Senate will shortly adjourn for the year without passing the Charter Authorizer bill (HB702/SB830) that easily cleared the state House on Thursday.
The reason? A tit-for-tat response to the House’s killing of a bill, favored by Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville), to revise the state’s judicial districts. That bill (HB0630/SB0780) was defeated 28-66, with House members of both parties rebelling and expressing defiance against what several members referred to as dictation by the Senate.
One result: Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), Senate sponsor of Charter Authorizer, will apparently not even bring it to the floor. If she does, before what is now an imminent adjournment, it will “go nowhere,” says source in position to know. Ramsey’s attitude is said to be, “Don’t get mad, get even!"
Though sibling rivalries have happened before between House and Senate and between their respective speakers, this is the most serious schism yet involving the GOP leadership. At one point, there was a heated exchange in Legislative Plaza between Gresham and House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville).
Details to follow
UPDATE: The Senate formally adjourned for the year Friday afternoon, minutes after state Sen. Gresham asked that SB0830, the Senate version of the Charter Authorizer bill, be referred to the Senate Calendar committee.
The fate of the Authorizer bill appeated sealed when the House overwhelmingly defeated a Judicial Redistricting bill favored by Lt. Gov. Ramsey, but various principals attempted to put together an improvised deal with inducements that could appease Ramsey and save the Authorizer bill. As it turned out, however, there weren't enough carrots in the package.
Formal adjournment of the 2013 session awaited only action of the House to adjourn.
In the end every stratagem to blunt the bill and every amendment to deflect or redefine its purpose fell victim to a party-line vote from the top-heavily Republican membership of the House. The final vote there was 62-30. Much the same result is expected when the bill gets to the floor of the equally GOP-dominated Senate on Friday.
The bill (HB702/SB830) targets only five of the state’s counties (and “targets” is definitely the right verb). Stripped of its various clauses and protocols, what it does is empower the state Board of Education, as an authorizing agency, to overrule, sans recourse to appeal, negative decisions on charter-school applications by school boards in Knox, Hamilton, Hardeman, Davidson, and Shelby counties.
The provision of the bill that limits it to those counties stems from an amendment by state Rep. Harry Brooks (R-Knoxville), the key part of which states: “This section shall only apply to charter schools authorized by the state board of education upon appeal from a denial of approval of a charter school application by an LEA that contains at least one (1) priority school on the current or last preceding priority school list.”
“Priority” is essentially a euphemism for “failing,” and the adjective applies to the lowest-performing 5 percent of the state’s schools, those desti ned to end up being absorbed by the new state-run Achievement School District.
Defining the application that way nets the five counties listed, four of which — Knox (Knoxville), Hamilton (Chattanooga), Davidson (Nashville), and Shelby (Memphis) — happen to be the sites of the state’s largest urban school systems. Hardeman (Bolivar) makes the list because it is home to a large rural — and impoverished —African-American population.
The original version of the bill, sponsored by Mark White (R-Germantown) and Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), was based on population and too arbitrarily had Davidson and Shelby counties in its sights. As amended by Brooks, it both has a more defensible qualifying mechanism and is shorn of a proposal for a new state review panel that would have added a burdensome fiscal note.
White and Brooks stood in the well to advance the bill Thursday, and they were kept busy fending off a series of energetic efforts that essentially were meant to stigmatize and condemn the measure. No one really doubted what the outcome would be.
The bill’s opponents couldn’t be faulted for lack of effort. Rep. Bo Mitchell (D-Nashville) made a point of describing the disagreement between the Davidson County School Board and the state Board of Education that may have occasioned the bill.
This was a case in which the local board rejected a charter application from Mitchell described as an “out-of-state company from Arizona” that wanted to locate a charter school, Great Hearts Academy, in the upscale Belle Meade section of west Nashville but was rejected by the school board, he said, for failures to address questions regarding diversity and transportation.
Reflecting the Haslam administration’s strong comimitment to charter-school expansion, the state Commission of Education would penalize the Davidson board $3.4 million in state funding for its action regarding Great Hearts. That was one consequence. Development of the current authorizer bill was another. “A corporation from Arizona got denied some taxpayer dollars from Tennessee, that’s why we’re here,” Mitchell said. The issue hadn’t been education, it had been money. “Some millionaries weren’t go0n g to get some money, that’s why we’re here.”
If the presence of priority schools in a county was what qualified that county for such direct oversight by the state Board of Education, then new charter schools should be located within close proximity to the failing schools or within their confines, not in affluent areas, Mitchell argued, but his amendments to that effect were tabled.
State Rep. Mike Stewart (D-Nashville) argued in vain for an amendment requiring the state to pay the local share of funding for a new charter school in cases where it might overrule a local school board’s judgment. “If the state Board of Education is overruling the will of the people, the state can for for it,” Stewart said. “Nashville shouldn’t become a piggy back to fund whatever new educational scheme happens to be advanced by the latest school reformer Let them pay for these new unproven experiments they find so captivating.”
Stewart said the authorizer bill was one of many in this year’s session and in the previous two years that conformed to a pattern of state power being imposed on local options.
Others — Reps. Larry Miller (D-Memphis), Criag Fitzhugh (D-Ripley), Sherry Jones (D-Nashville), Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) — tried other arguments and other amendments, but nothing availed. Everything was tabled by more or less the same vote — 60- or 70-something to 20-somethng, ratios corresponding to the Republican-to-Democrat ratio in the House.
To all the objections White and Brooks responded that the aim of the bill was to reverse the trend whereby Tennessee consistently ranked low among the states in educational achievaement. “We’re trying to get the best charter schools in our state. We’re tired of ranking 46 or 47 of 48 in national standings. That’s what we’re targeting,” White said.
The outcome of the battle was never in doubt, but at least there was a battle. For most of Thursday, in the two chambers and in the committee rooms of the House and Senate, bills were read out by the speakers or chairpersons and declared passed without objection, one after the other, with the bills’ sponsors in most cases not having to say a word in explanation of them. It was government by assembly line.
More of that is expected on Friday, the last day before the factory is scheduled to shut down for the year.
News sources were reporting late Wednesday that Paul Kevin Curtis of Corinth, Mississippi (mis-identified in first reports as having a similar name and being from Tupelo) has been arrested in connection with the sending of suspicious mail to Justice Court in Tupelo and possible involvement in the mailing of two letters — one to President Obama, the other to U.S. Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi — containing what FBI labs had identified as traces of the deadly poison ricin.
Earlier Wednesday, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton had responded to published reports that Memphis had been the point of origin for the letters to Obama and Wicker. The mayor issued the following statement:
“We are grateful that, to this point, these letters have been intercepted before causing injury to anyone. While it has not been confirmed that the letters originated from Memphis, it is regrettable that our name is connected in any way with this heinous act. Local law enforcement officials have been in contact with the investigating agency, the FBI, and stand ready to cooperate as needed.”
The Associated Press, on the basis of an FBI bulletin the news agency had obtained, had been the source of information that the two letters, both intercepted by authorities on Tuesday, both bore Memphis postmarks and had contained, along with the poison, the same message: "To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance. I am KC and I approve this message."
The 45-year-old Curtis, whose initials roughly match up with those in the message, is said to be someone who habitually writes letters of complaint to members of Congress. He is also being identified by several sources as a frequent Elvis impersonator. See here.
Sheriff Jim Johnson of Lee County, Mississippi, had earlier confirmed to the Jackson (Ms.) Clarion Ledger that FBI agents had set up a staging area around Tupelo for their investigation and said he would have a press conference at 9 p.m. Wednesday to release more information. It was at the press conference that he mentioned FBI interest in possible connections between the letter locally received and those to Obama and Wicker.
The Department of Justice issued this clarifying statement Wednesday evening, apparently connecting all the letters to suspect Curtis:
Today at approximately 5:15 p.m. (CDT), FBI Special Agents arrested Paul Kevin Curtis, the individual believed to be responsible for the mailings of the three letters sent through the U.S. Postal Service which contained a granular substance that preliminarily tested positive for ricin. The letters were addressed to a U.S. Senator, the White House and a Mississippi justice official. The individual was arrested at his residence in Corinth, Mississippi, following an investigation conducted by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces in Memphis, Tenn., and Jackson, Miss., the U.S. Capitol Police, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Secret Service, aided by the following state and local agencies: Lee County, Miss., Sheriff’s Office, Prentiss County, Miss., Sheriff’s Office; Corinth, Miss., Police Department; Booneville, Miss., Police Department; Tupelo, Miss., Police Department; the Mississippi National Guard 47th Civil Support Team; and the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security.
Since the first reports Tuesday of ricin letters to the President and the Mississippi senator, Senate offices from Alabama, West Virginia, Arizona, and Michigan had all received what were described by news agencies as suspicious envelopes, though no further confirmations of nicin deposits had so far been reported.
The flare-up of anxiety about the ricin letters in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings is reminiscent of the anthrax scare that occurred after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001,
MTK, as fresh information is received.