Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Trump-Cruz Rivalry Continues in Dustup Among Tennessee Delegates

Case in point: a heated exchange over how the state’s primary-vote totals would be announced on Tuesday night.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 20, 2016 at 7:38 PM

CLEVELAND — Two of Shelby County’s more outspoken Republi
A screen capture of the Tennessee delegation during Tuesday night's roll call that nominated Donald Trump
  • A screen capture of the Tennessee delegation during Tuesday night's roll call that nominated Donald Trump
cans — well, make that three; no, four — were engaged Tuesday night during a behind-the-scenes drama during the runup to the roll call of states that, ultimately, confirmed Donald J. Trump as this year’s Republican presidential nominee.

The two most directly involved were Mick Wright of Bartlett, a delegate for Texas Senator Ted Cruz, the GOP runner-up, and Terry Roland of Millington, a Trump delegate. Each had a surrogate of sorts who got into the act — more or less as backup.

Those two were Charlotte Bergman of Memphis, who, like Roland, is a Trump delegate, and Lynn Moss, also of Memphis, a Cruz delegate.

Wright, it will be remembered, was an advocate of the failed floor effort on Monday, the convention’s first day, to force a roll-call vote on the convention rules. He was widely quoted as saying thue Cruz forces were robbed when the effort was finally declared unsuccessful by the last of several rotating temporary convention chairs who had made contradictory rulings.

For his part, Roland, the Shelby County Commission chair, had been quoted as calling the Cruz insurgents “whiners.”

That was it until Tuesday night when Bergman and others asked Wright to move from a seat in the delegation closest to the delegation’s floor microphone and reserved, said Bergman, for state Rep. Mae Beavers, the delegation chair. Wright declined, perhaps unaware of any prior arrangement for Beavers to occupy the seat. According to those who were there, including both Bergman and Moss, Wright wanted to stay close to the mike to be sure Cruz’s votes were announced correctly when the time came for Tennessee to announce its totals to the convention (and the nation).

At some point, Roland also urged that Wright take a seat somewhere else. That was when Wright shot a quick video of Roland with his smart phone, which he later posted on his Facebook page with a text contending he was being “bullied” and prevented from expressing his conscience.**(This was an echo of the rules change desired by the dissidents who on Monday had sought the roll-call vote on the convention’s rules package.)

Eventually, Wright was persuaded to take a seat elsewhere, Beavers was allowed to take the seat nearest the mike, and, when Tennessee’s time came to report its vote, both Trump’s winning primary totals and Cruz’s second-place totals were given accurately.

All that was a preamble to Cruz’s prime-time convention speech scheduled for Wednesday night, at which the Texas Senator was expected to say something close to an endorsement of erstwhile nemesis Trump, who had vilified him and whom he had vilified as well during their bitter primary-season rivalry. [UPDATE: Cruz would "congratulate" Trump in his speech and conspicuously failed to endorse him, incurring a virus of boos for his pains.]

And, though Roland for one would call the dustup “no big deal,” the continued buzz in the Tennessee delegation over Tuesday night’s contretemps over the seat nearest the floor mike was a corollary of sorts of the continuing tension and suspense among delegates trying to anticipate whatever it was that Cruz would say.

The video Wright took of Roland Tuesday night was apparently deleted later, along with Wright’s accompanying text (although other posts of his condemning what he saw as unfair manipulation by convention managers remained).

Here, for the record, was the text that originally was posted with the now missing video:

“*A day after binding delegates to a candidate and preventing us from having a recorded vote on the rules, the Tennessee delegation wanted to hand all our votes to Donald Trump and prevent anyone from objecting. For the second day in a row, they wanted to move me out of range for voicing an objection. This video is proof both that the RNC was asked to rule on their plan and that I was being bullied out of my seat again. This is not unity; this is not how you win people over to your side.”

The Memphis Flyer goes to the RNC — Podcast #2

Posted By on Wed, Jul 20, 2016 at 11:17 AM

Jackson Baker and Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam.
  • Jackson Baker and Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam.
Yesterday's theme was Make America Work Again but most speakers just bashed Hillary. Jackson Baker and Chris Davis talk all about it.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Flyer Writers Podcast from the RNC with Special Guests from Wonkette & Esquire UK

Posted By on Tue, Jul 19, 2016 at 10:31 PM

Nothing says political convention like a big puppet head.
  • Nothing says political convention like a big puppet head.
The Flyer's Jackson Baker and Chris Davis talk about Monday's events in Cleveland— from the Tennessee Republican Delegation's taco brunch, to shenanigans in the Quicken Loans Arena. Also: Davis drinks beer and talks about the Trumpublican dress code with Wonkette's Evan Hurst and Sanjiv Bhattacharya from Esquire UK.

Conflict in the RNC

As Republicans gathered in Cleveland, it quickly became apparent that serious differences of opinion persist in the ranks.

Posted By on Tue, Jul 19, 2016 at 11:58 AM

  • JB

CLEVELAND, OH — By the time this week is over, it will be apparent, one way or the other, whether the Republicans, who chose to hold their quadrennial nominating convention in this vintage rust-belt town, can rekindle the sense of Middle American unity that once served them so well in national elections.

To judge by events on the floor of the convention and on the TV screens of the nation and, for that matter, in the ranks of the Tennessee delegation here, the question is moot indeed. After a Sunday night welcome party at which delegates from Tennessee and elsewhere were regaled by a reconstructed Three Dog Night and got to mingle for some more or less apolitical good cheer, there were some mixed messages in Monday’s events — maybe even some buyer’s remorse.

That became evident right away at the Tennessee delegation’s first formal get-together, a Monday morning brunch at the Zocalo Tequileria restaurant in downtown Cleveland. The event was hosted by the state’s political Big Three — Governor Bill Haslam and Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker — and, while there were some obligatory mentions of the Republican presidential nominee-to-be, Donald Trump, they were few and tangential.

Corker, who kicked off a round of remarks by the three chief dignitaries, failed to mention Trump at all — interestingly in that he, alone of the three, had been widely rumored as being on The Donald’s original vice-presidential short list and is still thought to be a possibility for Secretary of State.

But perhaps the omission was none too meaningful, inasmuch as the Senator’s remarks were exclusively devoted to thanking the Tennessee delegates for their steadfast participation in the public weal, followed by an introduction of his two colleagues.

The name Trump did get mentioned by Alexander and Haslam — in the first case via Alexander’s assurance t hat Trump had assured him of his support for a key Alexander bill that aimed at returning control of public education to local communities; in the second instance by the Governor’s expression of regard for Trump’s vice-presidential choice, fellow Governor Mike Pence of Indiana.

The idea in both cases seemed less to climb aboard Trump’s bandwagon than to express gratitude for his accommodations to the concerns of party regulars.

And, even in the small talk of the socializing delegation members as they munched, there were signs of potential unrest. Mick Wright of Bartlett made a point of noting the presence among the Tennesseans of numerous delegates for erstwhile presidential hopeful Ted Cruz, notably including himself.

That fact would be underscored later in the day, when the convention convened for its afternoon organizing session in the cavernous Quicken Loans arena, and a tumultuous conflict arose on the floor following a what is normally a routine motion to approve the convention’s rules.

Instead of the expected vote of acclamation from the assembled delegates, there arose a monumental roar of discord and chants of “Roll Call Vote!” This call came from delegates considered partial to the clearly still extant “Never Trump” movement, and, though it was answered in high volume by chants of “We Want Trump” and “U.S.A., U.S.A.,” those demanding a roll call seemed to be in the majority, as indeed they did when voice votes were asked for Aye and Nay on the roll-call proposal.

There were issues involved in the matter, some involving potential rules changes for the current convention that would allow delegates a greater freedom in voting their choice (as against their obligation), some addressing that issue for future conventions, but basically the roll-call dispute, which went on for a while, amid constant shouting and contradictory rulings from the dais, was a test of strength — decided finally (and arbitrarily) in the Trump delegates’ favor, in a way that suggested there may have been a behind-the-scenes intervention by The Donald himself.

Wright would be quoted in the media at large as saying delegates were robbed of their chance to vote, while another Tennessean, Shelby County’s Terry Roland, complained out loud about “whiners” among the discontented delegates.

Even if things should end with official expressi ons of hunky-dory on the unity score, the first impression of this convention was one of fierce division within the party, one that could linger well beyond this week in Cleveland.
Tennesseans in Cleveland: Can the smiles last? - JB
  • JB
  • Tennesseans in Cleveland: Can the smiles last?

First Day of the RNC: Protests and Street-life — video and a slideshow

Posted By on Tue, Jul 19, 2016 at 10:59 AM

"I'll have a venti assault rifle please."
  • "I'll have a venti assault rifle please."
The sun was punishing and the sweat poured as I made my way through the labyrinth of closed streets and police barricades to Hope Memorial Bridge to catch the kickoff of the America First parade.

The pro-Donald Trump group anticipated 5000 marchers, but the journey beyond the RNC's perimeter would have been a lonely one had I not encountered a few genial police officers along the way. Thus far, the streets in Cleveland had been pretty boring — and that's a good thing. As is always the case at big political events, religious zealots with bullhorns, and various other frustrated citizens aired grievances in the public square, giving the city's more congested avenues the colorful, energetic vibe of a carnival midway without the shooting galleries. Oh, sure, there was some open carry yahoo wagging his big rifle around in Starbucks, but, so far, Cleveland had avoided the kinds of conflict that filled holding cells in New York in 2004 and in St. Paul in 2008.

But we've seen the kinds of shenanigans that go down at Trump events. What would happen when 5000 amped up fans came into contact with all that loud and lively street-life?

Under an overpass, I encountered a lone counter-protester sitting quietly with a sign inspired by Politifact demonstrating Trump's apparent aversion to true statements. I thought he was wearing a Memphis Tigers shirt, but I couldn't really tell with the perspiration stinging my eyes. Either way, I stopped to talk, and wait for a parade that, according to schedules, had already kicked off. Turns out my new friend, Darrell Cozen, was a former Midtowner, now retired and living in Ohio. This is what he had to say.

We waited and waited, but the parade never arrived. Eventually a group of four people, including a reporter and a professor of photography who'd come out to see the sights, joined us from the other direction. 

"Have you seen the America First parade," one asked. We said we hadn't. They said they'd arrived on the bridge early, per requests, and nobody else ever showed up. We waited a little longer. Nobody ever did, so I made my way to the other side of town to catch a more successful anti-poverty demonstration. 

As things heated up in the arena, this is what Cleveland's street scene looked like. 
Slideshow here. 

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Friday, July 1, 2016

The Shelby County Democratic Party Fracas for Dummies

Not for the first time, there seem to be two local Democratic Party organizations in Shelby County, or at least two wholly disparate factions. A showdown of sorts is in order for next week. [REVISED, with note of correction]

Posted By on Fri, Jul 1, 2016 at 12:02 PM

If it’s July, the Shelby County Democratic Party must be live and well and getting ready for next month’s primary voting, right? 
Shelby County Democratic Party chairman Michael Pope (left) with Germantown Democratic Club president Dave Cambron at a party fundraiser on Thursday - JB
  • JB
  • Shelby County Democratic Party chairman Michael Pope (left) with Germantown Democratic Club president Dave Cambron at a party fundraiser on Thursday
Well, not necessarily. Not for the first time, there seem to be two local Democratic Party organizations in Shelby County, or at least two wholly disparate factions — one loyal to the current chairman, Sheriff’s Department Lt Michael Pope and to state party chair Marty Mancini; and another, possibly constituting a majority, up in arms against Pope and Mancini over the issue of a legal settlement involving former local party chairman Bryan Carson.

Carson, the son of longtime state party secretary Gale Jones Carson, was forced by the local party executive committee to resign his chairmanship in February 2015 after the Shelby County party had missed a state Election Registry filing-disclosure deadline and after an informal committee audit determined that party funds amounting to as much as $10,000 could not be accounted for, then or later. The party then proposed a settlement whereby Carson might repay the local party a lesser sum of $6,000 in installments of $100 a month. The offer was rejected in a letter by Carson’s attorney, Robert Spence, but may have been agreed to in some form later on, a matter key to the current disagreement.

[NOTE: It now appears that a letter made available to the Flyer in which Spence is seen to be explicitly rejecting a proposal may actually have been in response to a later proposal from a committee source demanding a much larger repayment amount from Bryan Carson of $26,336.00, with a $5,257.20 down payment and a monthly note of $585.24. This would be a reference to a matter referred to in the next paragraph.]

Meanwhile, the party missed another financial-disclosure deadline early this year, and, in April, Carson’s elected successor as party chair, Randa Spears, and the party vice chair, Deidre Malone, resigned their positions, pleading a need to focus more on their livelihoods. One known catalyst, however, was the still pending Carson affair, in which the two departing officers had supported the $6000 payoff. Meanwhile, an ad hoc party committee conducted a second audit, maintaining that, by means of a second, unauthorized bank account, Carson had managed to misappropriate another $15,000-plus. Adding that sum to the original raw number of $10,000 nudged the amount of unaccounted-for funds over the $25,000 mark, and a majority of the executive committee voted in early June to seek Carson’s prosecution for embezzlement.

Meanwhile, Pope, who, ironically, was elected the new chairman in the same meeting as the vote to prosecute, was in contact with state party chair Mancini, who, along with Pope and a minority faction of the local party, favored getting past the Bryan matter so as to move on to electoral matters in this election year. Late last week, Mancini, regarding the Carson affair as “already settled,” wrote a letter to Shelby County executive committee members, claiming that state party bylaws gave her “supervisory and organizational” authority over local party matters and giving the local party a de facto ultimatum of July 1 to endorse the $6,000 repayment proposal or risk losing the local party charter. (Interestingly, some local party members, willing and anxious to start again from scratch, have actually called for a voluntary surrender of the charter!)

There are numerous other complications, charges, and counter-charges, but the bottom line is that Pope has signed a statement authorizing the settlement, and Mancini has accepted it. What seems to have been a local party majority petitioned Pope for an emergency called meeting by the July 1 deadline to dispute the settlement, alleging that it had not been authorized by the committee. Citing party bylaws requiring what he said was a 15-day notice for a special called meeting, Pope rejected the idea of having one.

The committee will hold its next regular meeting on Juty 7, at which, it seems clear, the whole confusing affair will be the subject of a knock-down, drag-out. For the moment, everything is uncertain, including the legal status of the alleged settlement with Carson, conflicting claims over Mancini’s authority, and the question of who it is that actually runs — or will run — the Shelby County Democratic Party, which, as Mancini noted in her ultimatum letter of June 24, has experienced “many years of dysfunction.”

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

It Took a Collaborative Effort, but Shelby County Passed a Budget

The Luttrell administration and the County Commission spent most of Wednesday doing some serious horse-trading.

Posted By on Wed, Jun 29, 2016 at 10:32 PM

Administration figures Luttrell, Kennedy, and Swift huddle as the bargaining gets intense. - JB
  • JB
  • Administration figures Luttrell, Kennedy, and Swift huddle as the bargaining gets intense.

On Wednesday, the Shelby County Commission met for seven hours —nonstop except for brief “recesses” — and finally voted for a solution to the county’s budget dilemma that could probably have been arrived at within the first several minutes.

But the longer time period was doubtless necessary to iron out wrinkles and wear down some stubbornness and misgivings among the principals, both on the Commission and within the administration. The only given, as the day started, was that the persistent issue of school funding would be resolved via a $3.5 million add-on allocation to Shelby County Schools. (SCS’s total allocation is $22 million, and the county’s municipal-district schools will receive a pro-rated $6.2 millionl.)

The school-funding increase was one matter that Chairman Terry Roland (and most other participants) was insistent about. Every other possible increase was a variable in what turned out to be a $1.4 billion operating budget.

At roughly 3 p.m., the Commission resorted to a procedure that the administration of Mayor Mark Luttrell had persistently warned against and voted resoundingly to tap the county’s fund balance for $5 million to round out a budget deal that included some $13.5 million of add-on expenditures.

At various times in the proceedings, which began with committee meetings at 8 a.m. and continued with a special full-commission meeting that started at 11 a.m., Luttrell and two aides — CAO Harvey Kennedy and CFO Mike Swift — had seemingly convinced the Commission to pare down or eliminate some of the add-ons, which were earmarked for a variety of county departments, but in the end only a pair of add-on allocations were modestly trimmed.

The beneficiaries of the Commission’s largesse were Shelby County Schools ($3.5 million); the Sheriff’s Department ($3.1 million, with another $1.3 million possible down the road); Juvenile Court ($1 million); Shelby County Department of Corrections ($1 million); Regional One Health ($1 million) the District Attorney General’s office ($1,300,000); the Shelby County Election Commission ($8,216); General Sessions Criminal Court ($228,238); General Sessions Enviro
Commissioner Eddie Jones - JB
  • JB
  • Commissioner Eddie Jones
nmental Court ($8,233); $169,000 for JIFF (Juvenile Intervention & Faith-based Fellowship); and $64,590 for the Commission’s own budget.

To offset these increases, the Commission availed itself of several cost-cutting remedies, some suggested by Kennedy for the administration, some of its own devising.

Among the former were a cap on life insurance payouts for county retirees, for a savings of $2 million; the inclusion of an estimated $1 million windfall addition to the county wheel tax, which will be routed exclusively to the schools for fiscal 2016-17; and a pledge from Kennedy to “find” another $1.2 million in random funds. Among the latter were a re-allocation to the fiscal 2016-17 budget of surplus Sheriff’s Department budget funds from fiscal 2015-16, and the aforementioned $5 million transfer from the fund balance.
Before the final budget formula was reached, various other alternatives were considered and discarded, including a proposal by David Reaves to eliminate blight-reduction funding so as to shift funds elsewhere; and a comprehensive amendment by Steve Basar that would have freed up several millions by re-classifying a number of pay-as-you-go capital-construction projects as debt-incurring cases.
Acceptance of Basar’s amendment, which was rejected after a recess, would have funded all the intended projects but would have left the county budget out of balance, with a need for the Commission to make later revisions in either the budget, which had to be passed by July 1, or the county tax rate, which got the second of three readings Wednesday, remaining at $4.37 per $100 of assessed value. The tax rate, which as of now balances with the budget, will get its third and final reading on July 27.

Although several of the votes along the way of Wednesday’s elongated bargaining sessions were contested, the margins of acceptance seemed to grow as the day wore on, with several commissioners accepting procedures they had earlier balked at (e.g., David Reaves on several expenditure increases he eventually accepted, or at least tolerated; and Reginald Milton on the retirees’ insurance caps).

The administration’s acceptance of the Commission’s tapping the county balance was passive and grudging, at best, with Kennedy acknowledging, “We didn’t like it, but we couldn’t stop it, and at least we managed to mitigate it.” As Heidi Shafer noted, the delving into the fund balance may have reduced the intensiveness of the county’s debt-retirement policy somewhat, but it still left it in acceptable order.

Implicit in Wednesday’s bargaining was the continuation of a power struggle
Commissioners Walter Bailey and David Reaves - JB
  • JB
  • Commissioners Walter Bailey and David Reaves
 between the Commission and the administration on matters of governance. Shafer voiced the issue during the day’s deliberations as a matter of whether the Commission’s responsibility was limited to approving a tax rate to cover the administration’s budget allocations or involved a more active license to collaborate on determining those allocations.

By definition, Wednesday’s negotiations, as well as the final outcome, resolved the issue in favor of a broader interpretation of the Commission’s mission.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

State Party Head to Local Dems: Settle the Carson Matter!

Mary Mancini cites state law and party bylaws in ordering a $6,000 payback agreement to cover ex-chairman’s funding shortfall.

Posted By on Tue, Jun 28, 2016 at 4:48 PM

Mary Mancini
  • Mary Mancini
There are, as it turns out, more guaranteed circumstances than the two most often noted: death and taxes. Right up there with those two, in terms of inevitability, is the fact of discord in state and local Democratic Party ranks.

The latest instance of such is contained in a letter dispatched to members of the Shelby County Democratic executive committee from state Democratic Party chair Mary Mancini. The letter deals with the long-festering case of former local party chairman Bryan Carson, who was forced to resign by the county committee in February of 2015.

The Mancini letter, in essence, mandates the terms of a resolution of the matter by the Shelby County party and provides a short deadline for doing so.

The executive committee’s action in early 2015 came after the county party had been fined by the state Election Registry for its failure to comply with financial reporting deadlines and after Carson had been unable to account for the disposition several thousand dollars in party funds. At issue also was the fact that the chairman had apparently switched bank accounts for the party funds without express authorization by the executive committee and had made several withdrawals from ATM machines without providing receipts.

The amount of the financial discrepancy has never been determined with exact accuracy, but a preliminary audit performed by committee members at the time of Carson’s resignation estimated the unaccounted-for amount to be at least $6,000. Another ad hoc investigating group on the committee has since arrived at a higher estimate for the missing funds, in the vicinity of $25,000, but there has never been absolute agreement on the committee on the validity of either sum.

Through his attorney, Robert Spence, Carson admitted no wrongdoing but offered to settle the dispute by compensating the local party for the $6,000 sum at the rate of $100 a month. There is disagreement as to whether the full committee was ever apprised of the offer, which in any case ceased to be active.

Compounding the confusion was the fact that Carson’s elected successor as chairman, Randa Spears, as well as the local party’s first vice chair, Deidre Malone, had both abruptly resigned their positions in April, each giving the press of other obligations as the reason for their departure. The Spears-led party had meanwhile missed another financial reporting deadline for this year and had been assessed a fresh $10,000 fine by the Election Registry.

At its regularly scheduled monthly meeting on Thursday, June 2, the executive committee elected a new chairman, Sheriff’s Department Lt. Michael Pope, and acted on a motion by defeated chairmanship candidate Del Gill to prosecute Carson for embezzling the larger estimated sum. That motion passed, fairly handily, but there has been no formal action on the matter by the committee since.

All of that formed the background for the Mancini letter, dated Friday, June 24, to the Shelby County executive committee, care of chairman Pope.

Mancini’s letter begins with a citation of party bylaws and state codes that, she says, assign her “both a supervisory and organizational role over each of the county executive committees that operate throughout the state.” The letter follows with a cursory and none too indulgent recounting of the Shelby County’s ongoing problems (“many years of dysfunction,” as she puts it).

Mancini then comes to the nut of the matter, prescribing a settlement in accord with the dormant offer made to the party by Carson through his attorney:

“With a looming election that is shaping up to be of monumental importance for our state and our country, and for the health of your organization and executive committee, it is my responsibility to inform you that you must agree to the arrangement that Mr. Carson pay the amount of $6000 at $ 100 per month for 5 years and be released from any additional claims and that Chairman Pope must sign all the necessary paperwork to honor that agreement or you will no longer be in compliance with your charter issued by the Tennessee Democratic Party.”

Ironically, perhaps, Mancini had in recent months been sounded out by disgruntled party members wondering if voluntary surrender of the local party’s charter might be a feasible option. She had always answered no to such inquiries.

The deadline for “signing the necessary paperwork and forwarding it to Mr. Carson’s attorney is Friday, July 1, 2016,” Mancini concludes.

Some party members are questioning Mancini’s authority to mandate an or-else solution of this sort, while others are ready to acknowledge that she has the right. In any case, there is no pending meeting of the executive committee until the regularly scheduled one of Thursday, July 7 and thus no opportunity for a committee vote before Mancini’s deadline.

Chairman Pope, however, has indicated he is prepared to accept Mancini’s mandate, but his authority to do so without a committee authorization is questionable. To say the least, confusion persists.

Dynamic duo: During his first several congressional terms after being elected in 2006, 9th District U.S. Representative Steve Cohen cemented an alliance with venerable Detroit congressman John Conyers (D-Michigan), who then served as House Judiciary Committee chairman and regarded the Memphis liberal, a committee member, as something of a protégé and journeyed to Memphis on Cohen’s behalf.

When the Republicans captured control of the House after the election of 2010, the Conyers-Cohen tandem was not heard from with the same intensity, but it still existed. This week, after the landmark Supreme Court decision striking down the severe restrictions on abortion clinics imposed by a Texas state law, Conyers and Cohen reasserted themselves as a duo.

In a joint press release, Conyers, in his capacity as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee and Cohen, as ranking member of the Judiciary subcommittee on the Costitutional and Civil Justice, and Cohen, hailed the Court’s decision as a reaffirmation of “the fundamental cnstitgutional right of women to make their own decisdions about their health, their bodies, their families, and their lives.”

Said the two congressmen: “The Court correctly saw the Texas law for what it was, which was an attempt to severely restrict abortion rights and not one to protect women’s health” and that the Texas law “placed such substantial obstacles to a woman’s choice to have an abortion that its provisions were an “undue burden” on women’s constitutional right to choose….”

The Conyers-Cohen press release, one of several recently released by Cohen’s office, highlighted one of the incumbent congressman’s built-in advantages in generating media. Cohen has three opponents in the 2016 Democratic primary — Shelby County Commissioner Justin Ford, Larry Crim, and M. LaTroy Williams. Republican Wayne Alberson and independent Paul Cook will be on the November ballot.

More fallout: The Court’s decision on the invalidated Texas statute, incidentally, will almost surely have repercussions in Tennessee, where the General Assembly in recent years had enacted laws with provisions almost identical to those in the Texas law, which basically required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and imposed rigid standards on abortion clinics resembling those for hospitals performing outpatient surgery.

Laws passed by the Tennessee legislature in 2012 and 2014 had made similar specifications, which have been challenged in the U.S. District Court in Nashville.

Promises, promises: The fact that a freshman seat In the U.S. House of Representatives — to be one of 435 — is the equivalent of landing an entry-level job in the federal government, the continuation of which is entirely contingent on the good will (or passing whims) of voters back home, is often lost sight of in the heat of campaigning. Candidates want to suggest that they can, all by themselves, shift national policy, and who can blame them?

Along this line, it will be hard for any of his competitors to beat two claims made by 8th District Republican congressional candidate David Kustoff in a TV commercial that just hit the airwaves over the weekend. The ad proclaims, of course, that Kustoff, the former U.S. Attorney for Western Tennessee, has impeccable credentials as a conservative and will, for example, oppose Obamacare, but it makes two additional claims that are unprecedented in their magnitude.

In the checklist of promises with which the commercial concludes, one learns that Kustoff will (drumroll) “end illegal immigration” and (thunder and lightning) “destroy radical Islamic terrorism.” Not to vote to do these things, mind you, but — well, just to do them.
Er…wow! •

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Poll Shows Strickland with High Local Approval Ratings

Survey by Public Opinion Strategies of Alexandria, Va., taken May 15-17 of 400 Memphis voters

Posted By on Tue, Jun 14, 2016 at 7:18 AM

A graph showing some of the results of a Public Opinion Strategies poll on Mayor Jim Strickland's current approval ratings with Memphis voters
  • A graph showing some of the results of a Public Opinion Strategies poll on Mayor Jim Strickland's current approval ratings with Memphis voters

On the eve of what could well turn out to be a long, hot summer, and with all the crises, ongoing and potential, affecting Memphis, how is the approval rating of Mayor Jim Strickland holding up?

Rather well — or so would a fresh new poll taken on the Mayor’s behalf seem to suggest.

A new sampling of public opinion by Public Opinion Strategies, the firm relied on for the Strickland campaign during the 2015 mayoral race, shows the Mayor’s approval rating, as of May 2016, to be 68 percent, with only 15 percent of those polled disapproving.

The results are analyzed three ways:

—By gender, with 66 percent of men approving and 15 percent disapproving, and wotj 70 percent of women approving, against 14 percent who disapprove;

—By political party, with 89 percent of Republicans expressing approval and a statistical sample small enough to register as zero disapproving; 65 percent of approval from Democrats, with 17 percent disapproving; and 63 percent of independents approving, as against 19 percent disapproving;

—By race, with whites approving at a rate of 80 percent with only 5 percent disapproval, and with a approval rate of 62 percent among African Americans, 20 percent disapproving.

— And, Rather oddly, the poll offers figures for “Northern Districts” (73 percent approval, 13 percent disapproval) and “Southern Districts (61 percent approval, 17 percent disapproval).

According to Steven Reid, the consultant whose Sutton-Reid firm represented Strickland during his successful 2015 mayoral race, the actual polling was performed by Public Opinion Strategies of Alexandria, Virginia, the company which had also done polling for Strickland in 2015.

The poll was conducted by telephone from May 15 to May 17, with 25 percent of those polled contacted by cell phone. The sample involved 400 voters, broken down as follows: 66 percent said they always vote in all elections, general and primary; 23 percent vote in all general elections but occasionally miss a primary; 5 percent were occasional voters in general elections but never primaries; 5 percent “almost never” voted at all.

The poll’s margin of error was estimated at 4.9 percent.

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Friday, June 3, 2016

Del Gill Wins One (No, Not the Chairmanship)

[REVISED] Executive committee elects Michael Pope as head of local Democrats, but perennial maverick gets party on record for prosecuting former chairman Carson.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 3, 2016 at 8:36 AM

After what threatened to be an interminable early segment, in which a dozen or so procedural motions from self-appointed Democratic Party scold Del Gill were introduced, duly hashed out, and rejected, the Shelby County Democratic Party got down to business at its regular June meeting Thursday night at the recently refurbished IBEW meeting hall and elected a new chairman. Sheriff’s Department Lt. Michael Pope.

Pope, a former party vice chair who had been serving as acting chairman after the resignation two months ago of then chair Randa Spears, was handily elected to lead the party by a
New SCDP chairman Michael Pope - JB
  • JB
  • New SCDP chairman Michael Pope
 margin of 17 to 4 over executive committee member Gill, whose chairmanship bid went the way of all his previous motions and who would lose a subsequent vote for vice chair as well.

In his brief remarks to the party’s executive committee before its members took their vote, Pope had appealed for party unity and an end to internal strife, but the moment of relative concord achieved by his victory dissolved somewhat in the aftermath. That was when Gill offered a new motion calling for the committee to go on record as favoring the prosecution of former chairman Bryan Carson for the alleged embezzlement of upwards of $25,000 from party coffers.

Carson had been forced to resign his chairmanship in February 2015 after an ad hoc internal audit of the party’s books showed an unresolved deficit of several thousand dollars that the chairman was not able to explain. He was also under fire for failing to arrange timely financial reports to the state Registry of Election Finance.

In subsequent months, during the chairmanship of Spears, Carson’s elected successor, the matter of unaccounted-for funds continued to be an unresolved point of contention on the party executive committee. There ensued negotiations of various kinds, both public and private, in an effort to achieve a solution acceptable both to Carson and to all factions of the committee.

At one point, a proposal to allow Carson to repay a reduced sum of $6,000 in modest monthly installments, coupled with a contention of no intentional misconduct, was submitted by Cardon through his attorney, Robert Spence. There is disagreement as to whether the full committee was apprised of the offer, which in any case ceased to be active.

Meanwhile, a new ad hoc committee appointed by then chairman Spears had performed a second audit, showing the funds unaccounted for to be in excess of 25,000 and suggesting a variety of potential responses from the committee.

That was the background of things when, in the wake of the chairmanship vote Thursday night, Gill offered his motion calling for Carson to be prosecuted. There was debate back and forth, with various other members calling for delays or for more restrained actions, but, when vote time came, 14 committee members stood up for the motion to prosecute, including several who rarely or never vote on Gill’s side of an issue. That was enough to make a clear majority.

The gravity of the decision was undercut briefly by a semi-comic moment when Gill appeared about to protest something or other regarding the outcome, as he has done numerous times over the years after losing a vote and had done so repeatedly on Thursday night. Amid various catcalls to Gill of “Shut up!” or “You won,” committee member Rick Maynard uttered the line of the night, “Take yes for an answer!”

It remains to be seen whether and how the committee will follow through on the implications of Thursday night’s vote to prosecute, but it had finally taken a decisive action of sorts and perhaps can shortly shift to what new chairman Pope proposed as the party’s main duty of the year — to elect Democrats in the various election races of 2016.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Will the Real Keith Williams Please Stand Up?

Name confusion involving a pro-vouchers opponent of Rep. Johnnie Turner and an anti-vouchers supporter of hers could impact her District 95 reelection race.

Posted By on Wed, May 25, 2016 at 8:42 AM

Rep. Johnnie Turner addressing attendees at a Diversity Memphis forum last week - JB
  • JB
  • Rep. Johnnie Turner addressing attendees at a Diversity Memphis forum last week

Name confusion has played a significant role in many a past election in Memphis and Shelby County.
Just ask Roderick Ford, a sometime candidate who has never been elected to anything, although he has netted a few extra votes in a race or two from people who (mistakenly) assumed him to be a member of the long-established Ford political clan.

Or, even better, ask William Chism, a novice candidate whose 2014 win in the Democratic primary for Probate Court Clerk, no doubt owed much to his last name, identical to that of non-relative Sidney Chism, well-known political broker, former state Senator and, at the time, a prominent member of the Shelby County Commission.

But those were, in the end, minor distractions that came to nothing much, bumps in the road compared to the more serious misunderstanding that could confront Democratic voters in state House District 85, where veteran state Representative Johnnie Turner has two primary opponents, one of whom bears a name long familiar within the councils of local public education.

from left: the pro-vouchers Keith Williams who is Rep. Turner's opponent; Keith O. Williams, the anti-voucher executive director of the MSCEA and a Turner supporter
  • from left: the pro-vouchers Keith Williams who is Rep. Turner's opponent; Keith O. Williams, the anti-voucher executive director of the MSCEA and a Turner supporter
 would be Keith Williams, whose candidacy is indeed focused on education. Sort of. This Keith Williams — identified as a pastor, Memphis parent, and senior adviser for the “Tennessee Black Alliance for Educational Options” — testified to the General Assembly this past year in favor of state vouchers for use in private school.

That’s something that is pure anathema to another and much better known Keith Williams (Keith O. Williams, more fully) who has served as both chairman and executive director of the Memphis/Shelby County Education Association and who is a vehement and vocal opponent of school vouchers.

To compound the potential confusion, Keith Williams of the MSCEA ran unsuccessfully last year for the Memphis City Council, and the presence on this year’s election ballot of someone with the same name could be a real voter snag.

Rep. Turner, a former teacher and a decided opponent of school vouchers herself, says that Keith Williams of the MSCEA has pledged his support to her and will do what he can to clear up such voter confusion as might be. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

State Safety Commissioner Gibbons to Return to Memphis in Dual Role

Former District Attorney General will once again be at the forefront of local crime control.

Posted By on Fri, May 13, 2016 at 12:17 AM

As Dr. K.B. Turner of the University of Memphis Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice and other officials looked on, state Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons expressed enthusiasm Thursday  about his soon-to-be new duties in Memphis.  Gibbons will have a dual position as Crime Commission president and director of the new Public Safety Institute at the University. - JB
  • JB
  • As Dr. K.B. Turner of the University of Memphis Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice and other officials looked on, state Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons expressed enthusiasm Thursday about his soon-to-be new duties in Memphis. Gibbons will have a dual position as Crime Commission president and director of the new Public Safety Institute at the University.
Some five years after departing his position as District Attorney General for Shelby County to become state Commissioner of Safety and Homeland Security. Bill Gibbons has come home. And, as before, he will be at the forefront of local crime-control efforts.

This time, however, his title will be the dual one of president of the non-profit Memphis Shelby Crime Commission and director of the new Public Safety Institute, to be housed in the University of Memphis School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy.

The announcement of Gibbons’ new position had been contained in a news release on Wednesday from the office of Governor Bill Haslam, who had hired Gibbons away for his state duty in 2011, and it was made official in a Thursday-afternoon ceremony at the Urban Child Institute in the presence of numerous representatives of local government and law enforcement and of the University.

Gibbons will continue in his state office through August 31 and will assume his new duties on September 1.

In a press release passed out to the media, UM president M. David Rudd expressed pride in the new partnership with the Crime Commission and noted, “The U of M has a strong history of research using technology and analytics to pioneer new ways to prevent and solve crime. We are excited to be able to contribute to a reduction in crime in the Memphis area. This is an important step in advancing the growth and development of our community.”

More informally, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, who had been involved in the joint discussions leading to the creation of Gibbons’ new positon, resorted to an athletic metaphor in remarks at the ceremony. Noting that the University had apparently scored previous coups in its engagement of highly touted new football and basketball coaches, Strickland called the hiring a “home run,” and, in relation to the other hires, a “triple play.”

(Parenthetically and coincidentally, this week’s Flyer editorial took note of the previous University hires in similar fashion.)

Subsequent speakers among the numerous officials celebrating the Gibbons appointment kept to the “home run” metaphor as a legitimate indicator of the group enthusiasm.

In his own remarks, Gibbons expressed gratitude to Governor Haslam for allowing him to serve at the state level, where, in addition to heading the Department of Safety, he also chaired the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet. “I love my job,” he said, but was looking forward to his new duties, which, he hoped, would allow him to have a continuing relationship with his erstwhile colleagues in state government.

Gibbons paid tribute to President Rudd as a “can-do” leader and to the University as a progressive, forward-looking force in a Memphis community that, he said, “I care about more than any other place in the world.” He made reference to Strickland’s emphasis on crime control as a primary issue locally and said he was in full agreement. He said he “rejected” the notion that the city’s current crime rate was something the community had to accept as a norm.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Holly McCall, Would-Be Opponent of Disgraced Legislator Durham, in Memphis Fundraiser

Candidate in state House District 65 served as Tennessee press representative for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

Posted By on Fri, May 6, 2016 at 12:29 PM

Legislative candidate Holly McCall (r) at her Thursday night event in Memphis. - JB
  • JB
  • Legislative candidate Holly McCall (r) at her Thursday night event in Memphis.
Holly McCall, running as a Democrat in District 65 (Williamson County) with the hope of having as a fall opponent disgraced GOP incumbent Jeremy Durham, took her campaign to Memphis Thursday night for a reception/fundraiser at the Jay Etkin Gallery in the Cooper-Young entertainment district.

The special drink offered guests at the bar was a “Rachel Jackson,” a champagne-based drink, chosen to remind guests that House Speaker Beth Harwell had reacted to alleged serial acts of misconduct by Durham (and an adverse finding by state Attorney General Herb Slatery that the legislator presented a hazard to “unsuspectring women” ) by relocating his office from the War Memorial building to the Rachel Jackson Building, across the street from the Capitol.

Durham was also subjected by Harwell to severe restrictions including a prohibition against speaking with staff members or interns (especially female ones) without supervision and a ban on his presence in Legislative Plaza or the Capitol when the legislature is not meeting.

Despite these unusual constraints and despite the fact that virtually every prominent leader of his own Republican Party has called on him to resign, Durham has filed for reelection, though he has two GOP primary opponents.

McCall, like Durham a Franklin resident, is a longtime Democratic activist who served most recently as press representative for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in Tennessee.

Kelsey, Norris Lukewarm on House Health-Care "Road Show"

At NFIB "State Issues Roundtable," the two GOP state senators express skepticism regarding House Speaker Beth Harwell's task force on Medicaid expansion, due for a Memphis hearing on Tuesday.

Posted By on Fri, May 6, 2016 at 9:40 AM

State Senator Brian Kelsey (standing) took his turn addressing local NFIB members on Wednesday, while state Senator Mark Norris and state Representative Mark White waited their turn. At left is state NFIB director Jim Brown, who moderated the "State Issues Roundtable." - JB
  • JB
  • State Senator Brian Kelsey (standing) took his turn addressing local NFIB members on Wednesday, while state Senator Mark Norris and state Representative Mark White waited their turn. At left is state NFIB director Jim Brown, who moderated the "State Issues Roundtable."

 At a “State Issues Roundtable” sponsored by the National Federation of Independent Businesses at the Regents Bank Building in Memphis on Wednesday, the three featured GOP legislators — state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Senate Judiciary chair Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), and House Education chair Mark White (R-Memphis) — took turns pointing with pride and viewing with alarm.

Surprisingly, several hosannas were thrown in the direction of Democrats. State NFIB director Jim Brown made a point of telling the local NFIB members that two Democrats — state Rep. John DeBerry (D-Memphis) and state Senator Reginald Tate (D-Memphis) “did great” in annual evaluations done by his conservative organization. And in an animated discussion of health care issues, former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen got praised while current Republican Governor Bill Haslam did not. (Haslam did get cited for leadership in education reform.)

“Governor Bredesen, a Democratic Governor, figured this thing out better than any of us,” said Norris, citing Bredesen’s severe pruning of the TennCare rolls, especially of “able-bodied, childless adults,” a decade ago. Both Senators made it clear that they were no fans of the House “task force” on health-care solutions appointed by House Speaker Beth Harwell and now conducting hearings around the state. The predominantly Republican, bi-partisan group will be in Memphis on Tuesday.

“It remains to be seen how serious this is as a task force,” said Kelsey to the NFIB group, while Norris, after recalling the House’s taking a back seat to the Senate in vetting Haslam’s ill-fated “Insure Tennessee” proposal, opined to the group, “I find it curious that the House now has this road show.” Both Kelsey and Norris made it clear they thought no further action should be taken on Medicaid-expansion issues until after the presidential election, and, in brief interviews afterward, both characterized the House task force’s activities as being a likely waste of time and resources.

(In his public remarks about holding off on dealing with Medicaid-expansion until after the election, Kelsey suggested that the issue would ultimately be resolved on the federal end and converted that into a plug for his current candidacy for Congress in the 8th District.)

White emphasized the importance of timely communication by constituent groups of their sentiments on pending legislative issues, noting that in the session just concluded a de-annexation bill had been rushed through the House, garnering his and other members’ votes, before representatives of the City of Memphis made their objections to the bill’s terms clear and explicit. (The bill would get an extended vetting in the Senate State and Local Government committee, which remanded it to summer study.)

All three GOP legislators made clear their sympathy with the NFIB’s distrustful view of governmental expansion, and Norris made a point of touting the passage in the 2016 session of SB2389/HB2068, now Public Chapter 859, placing public agencies under strict legislative oversight, limiting their powers to those “conferred on them by statute or by the federal and state constitutions” and requiring them to justify the continuation existing rules and procedures.

Friday, April 29, 2016

“Scrapping the Test” and Starting Over

Rep. Parkinson calls for extended ASD moratorium, re-evaluation of procedures after failure of state’s testing vendor; Harris, Love concur on need for change.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 29, 2016 at 12:37 AM

Love, Parkinson, and Harris at the press conference on TNReady's failure - JB
  • JB
  • Love, Parkinson, and Harris at the press conference on TNReady's failure
Three local public figures concerned with public education appeared together at a press conference in Raleigh on Thursday to deal with the fallout from the cancellation of the state’s contract with Measurement, Inc., the North Carolina firm that proved unable to deliver this year on its educational testing regimen — meant to assist the new TNReady program for judging the performance of both public-school students and their teachers.

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, who led the discussion, called for extending to three years the current moratorium on expansion of the state’s Achievement School District and for a “hold harmless” process of thoroughly revamping TNReady school-testing procedures during the same period.

He was backed up by state Senator Lee Harris, who slammed the failure of the state’s vetting process to uncover a record of past performance deficiencies on Measurement, Inc.’s part, and by Shelby County Schools board member Stephanie Love, who called on parents to have their children boycott further testing this year.

Harris also professed to be aghast at the amount of time devoted to testing in state schools, as much as “six whole weeks.” He said the process clearly could be streamlined and recommended other methods for evaluating teachers, like the kind of peer review process employed at the University of Memphis Law School, where he is a faculty member.

Parkinson made a point of exempting new Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen from responsibility for the Measurement, Inc. debacle, but he said the DOE was faced with a need for “restoring trust at the top.”

The state’s contract cancellation earlier this week came about because of the vendor’s failure to deliver the promised testing materials for grades 3 through 8. The Measurement, Inc. firm had succeeded in delivering materials to test high school students, but, as Parkinson noted, with the contract cancelled, there was nobody to grade the results.

TNReady, the state’s home-grown effort to supplant the unpopular Common Core evaluation regimen, “has never been ready,” Love said. She said her own 10th-grade child would not be taking the Measurement Inc. test this spring and advised other parents to follow suit.

Parkinson made an effort to locate the Measurement Inc. failure within a pattern of other DOE miscues, including forced closures of schools, a too-rapid acceleration of school takeovers, interference with local school-improvement efforts like SCS’s IZone curriculum, and turnovers in the administration of both the Department and the ASD program.

Another issue underscored by both Parkinson and Memphis Education Association executive director Keith Williams, who attended the press conference, was the need to determine how much taxpayer money had gone down the drain in the relationship with Measurement, Inc., and how much might be recoverable.
Parkinson, who has requested the assistance of state Comptroller Justin Wilson’s office in making such determinations, estimated that the state had so far expended some $46 million against the original $108 million contract.

He expressed a general sympathy, too, with Williams’ lament that the state had chosen to our-source the testing process rather than to use the educational experts available in such state institutions as Vanderbilt University, the University of Tennessee, and the University of Memphis.

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