Friday, February 19, 2016

Cohen Touts Hillary at Opening of Local Campaign HQ

Congressman warns of threats to "middle class" from Republican presidential contenders, cautions Clinton supporters to avoid criticism of Sanders

Posted By on Fri, Feb 19, 2016 at 11:25 AM

Cohen at Clinton HQ opening. Note that the cardboard cut-out of Hillary (far right, back) appears to be smiling at the congressman's words of support. - JB
  • JB
  • Cohen at Clinton HQ opening. Note that the cardboard cut-out of Hillary (far right, back) appears to be smiling at the congressman's words of support.

If Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush goes looking for some kind of satisfaction this weekend, he may have to settle for a backhanded compliment from 9th District Democratic congressman Steve Cohen of Memphis.

Addressing Hillary Clinton supporters at the formal opening of local Clinton-for-President headquarters on Poplar Avenue Thursday night, Cohen gave a serious of harsh reviews of other GOP field presidential contenders (Example: “Marco Rubio, he’s a Barbie doll. They tell him what to say, and he smiles.”)

Then, by way of acknowledging that Bush, whose polling numbers have been consistently low, could be experiencing his last stand in this weekend’s Republican presidential primary in South Carolina, Cohen said, “It’s unfortunate that probably their best candidate is Jeb Bush.”

“Best of a bad lot” was roughly the connotation had in mind. In making the case for Clinton apropos the advent of early voting for the March 1 “Super Tuesday” primary in Tennessee and numerous other states, Cohen scourged the GOP presidential field in general as being threats to “women’s rights, voting rights, union rights, everything that has to with the fiber of the middle class , and the things we’ve fought for.”

The congressman was much kinder toward Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s opponent in the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination. Noting that Sanders, whose Memphis supporters have also opened a local office on Poplar, a short distance away, is making a race of it in the primaries, Cohen said, “Bernie Sanders is my friend, I’ve worked with him on many issues.”

He said that he and Sanders have co-sponsored a number of bills and made numerous joint appearances for various causes, but that, in most of those cases, “we haven’t been successful, because we see things in a big way,” and, given the realities in Congress, most of those things “are not going to happen.”

“Don’t say anything bad about Bernie Sanders,” Cohen cautioned the 75 or so Clinton supporters crowded into the office’s front room. “We want all those Sanders people to work with us, come the fall.”

Cohen began his remarks with the good tidings of an endorsement of candidate Clinton from U.S. Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, an African-American luminary and assistant Democratic leader in the House of Representatives.

The opening of the local Sanders office took place last Saturday and drew more than 100 people, many of them in the “millennial” age group. Matt Kuhn of the Sanders campaign had addressed that group.

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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Local Reactions to Passing of Justice Antonin Scalia

Consensus that the late jurist had been a major influence on the U.S. Supreme Court and on the legal issues of our time.

Posted By on Sat, Feb 13, 2016 at 5:32 PM

  • Antonin Scalia, 1936-2016
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a behemoth of the “originalist” or conservative persuasion, died Saturday in Texas, where he had gone on a hunting trip. He was 79.

Justice Scalia addressed a luncheon at The Peabody and an assembly of the University of Memphis Law School in late 2013; at both sites his comments were characteristically pithy. From the Flyer's review of that occasion:

"Every banana republic, every president-for-life could boast a bill of rights," Scalia said at the luncheon. "The former Evil Empire, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, had a wonderful bill of rights." It is the "distribution of power" which is the genius of the American system, he said. Again: "Gridlock is what the system is designed for, so that only good legislation can get passed."

Local figures whose careers have intersected with law and politics have begun to comment on Scalia's passing:

Former Shelby County Commissioner and assistant dean of the University of Memphis Law School Steve Mulroy:

Justice Scalia was one of the most influential Justices of the last century. Agree or disagree, his brilliance was beyond dispute. His passing will leave a large ideological hole on the Court.

Because he was a member of the conservative majority, his passing may prove to be truly momentous, giving a Democratic president a chance to change the Court from majority-conservative to majority liberal. Whether the GOP-controlled Senate would allow President Obama to appoint a successor in an election year seems doubtful. If not, it dramatizes the high stakes in the upcoming presidential election.

Former state Senator and current Shelby County Chancellor Jim Kyle

Since his appointment to the Supreme Court Justice Scalia played an important role in the most important issues of his day. His passing will change the Court for the next generation of Americans.

State Senate Majority Leader and constitutional lawyer Mark Norris:
It's a tremendous loss. He wasn't politically correct, but he was constitutionally correct. He was blunt and insightful and just what
jurisprudence needed as a reign on judicial activism.

He was an original and an originalist. He had a great sense of humor and a uniquely fine sense of culture. When it came to the Constitution, he believed in original intent, construing it reasonably "to contain all that it fairly means."

He was also a heck of a duck hunter. I miss him already.

Former Republican chairman, long-termRepublican national committeeman, and general counsel of the RNC John Ryder:
He was larger than life, an intellectual and legal giant whose views, even in dissent, influenced the direction of the Court. His impact on constitutional law will be felt for many generations. Jstice Scalia restored respect for the meaning of the words of the Constitution and the intent of the Framers. His advocacy for originalism has reshaped constitutional thinking over the past thirty years.

I have to note that he was a great lover of opera, and when he visited Memphis a few years ago those of us on the board of Opera Memphis presented him with a CD of our greatest hits, which he greatly appreciated.

9th District congressman Steve Cohen:

It brings the appointment of Justices to the forefront as to what is most at stake in the November election of the next President, as the Supreme Court is where long -time power resides in our system.

There are three remaining Justices who are in their late 70's or 80's, and the next President's appointments will determine what the future of our nation will be more than anything else she or he does or the Congress does.

State Senator Brian Kelsey, chairman of Senate Judiciary Committee:

Justice Scalia did more to uphold the original meaning of the constitution than any other justice in history. Our country lost a true patriot today. We currently have a balanced court. A judge with a liberal interpretation of the constitution could undermine our system of government for a generation. Leader McConnell and the Senate should stand strong for the appointment of a constitutional conservative.

Former Shelby County Chancellor and current Judge, Tennessee Court of Appeals, Arnold Goldin:

Justice Scalia was a charismatic and provocative individual and you always knew where he stood on issues of constitutional law.

Former Democratic chairman David Cocke:

The Republicans may be missing an opportunity to force the President to nominate a moderate Democrat. Their current 8-vote majority in the Senate is very likely to erode substantially in the upcoming election, and if a Democrat wins the presidency, they face the prospect of a much more liberal justice being appointed and approved by the Senate next year.

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Bill Clinton Touts His Wife’s Virtues in Memphis in Advance of Super Tuesday

The former president makes a point-by-point case at Whitehaven High for Hillary Clinton’s election as a pragmatic exponent of “the American dream” for everybody.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 12, 2016 at 7:30 AM

When you’re a major candidate for President of the United States and your spouse is both an ex-President and a superstar celebrity, you can 
The former President in Whitehaven - JB
  • JB
  • The former President in Whitehaven
be debating your primary opponent before one audience (a national one), while the aforesaid spouse is pleading your case before another audience (an important regional one).

That was the happy circumstance that Hillary Clinton availed herself of Thursday night. While the former Secretary of State was in Milwaukee tangling once more in a TV debate format with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, husband Bill Clinton was in Memphis talking her up before an overflow audience and an attentive local media at Whitehaven High School.

Memphis congressman Steve Cohen introduced the former President variously as “the greatest President this area has ever seen” and (reprising a onetime honorary title) as “the first black President” and (in a more accurate variation on that trope) as “a stand-in for the first black President.”

For, after all, Bill Clinton is not now and was not ever an actual African American — though in his own remarks he would invoke the “African genesis” theory of mankind’s evolution by way of supporting his theme that we are all one species, 99.5 percent the same in all important particulars, and thus beholden to come together in common cause.

There were less intellectual reasons — having to do with style points, mainly — for Clinton’s once having had that “first black president” tag bestowed on him. And they were a major reason for the former President’s being in Memphis, a substantially black city, less than a month before Tennessee and several other states will cast their ballots in the March 1 Super Tuesday primary that could prove decisive in the Democratic primary contest.

But Cohen’s jocular reference to Clinton as a “stand-in” was a reminder, intentional or not, of the important role Clinton played at the 2012 Democratic National Convention with an eloquent speech laying out the rationale for Barack Obama’s reelection as President.

In that sense, Clinton was back to being a stand-in again on Thursday night, this time on behalf of his wife’s chances in her second try for the Presidency.

The Tennessee Republican Party took note of the visit and responded with acerbic glee, as witness this statement from TNGOP executive director Brent Leatherwood:

"Any scenario where Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders leaves Tennessee with delegates is a loss for Hillary Clinton and they know it. In fact, it's gotten so bad the Clintons are concerned Tennessee may deal them a New Hampshire-sized defeat. But parachuting in Bill Clinton, hastily opening offices at the last minute, and trying to out-flank a Socialist aren't going to be enough. It looks increasingly likely that Tennessee is poised to deliver another loss to the Clinton campaign."

To say it is “likely” that Sanders will defeat Hillary Clinton in Tennessee on Super Tuesday is a bit of a stretch, but it is surely true that Bill Clinton’s visit signifies that the Clinton camp is taking no chances. Sanders, who ended in a virtual tie with Hillary in Iowa, routed her fairly easily in New Hampshire, a state whose primary she took in 2008 when it was Barack Obama getting the early drop on her.

The chances of Sanders replicating Obama’s march to the nomination through subsequent primaries seem fairly remote when you consider that, especially in Tennessee and other “SEC” states, the black vote, so important in Democratic constituencies, will, for obvious reasons, be less inclined to go for a white New Englander than is was in 2008 for a fellow African American from Chicago.

But, again, the Clintons are taking no chances. Sanders has begin courting black leaders of late, attracting to his standard such allies as former NAACP head Ben Jealous.

So a large part of Bill Clinton’s mission in Memphis was to demonstrate that, even on populist issues where Sanders’ campaign might have obvious appeal to African Americans, Hillary Clinton’s positions were equally compelling, if not superior.

A case in point was his denunciation, a la Sanders, of the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision opening the floodgates to unbridled campaign spending by PACs — thereby, as Clinton said, declaring both corporate monoliths and minimum-wage workers “equally free to spent what they want on elections.”

And the former President did not fail to note, as his wife has done of late, that the basis of the suit before the Court had been an extravagantly produced video philippic aimed at Hillary Clinton herself.

Clinton argued that his wife’s means-based plan for reducing tuition costs in college was more realistic than Sanders’ call for universal free tuition, and contended further that her proposals to build upon the already existing Affordable Care Act was economically feasible while the Vermonter’s espousal of “Medicare for all” was not.

He cited Hillary Clinton’s jobs proposals, coupled with stout raises in the minimum wage, as common-sense solutions to a stagnant consumer economy in which “somebody’s got to earn something to buy something.“ And he quoted Lyndon Johnson on the notion that anyone spurning “half a loaf” solutions is someone “who’s never been hungry.”

Clinton spent considerable time demonstrating his wife’s commitments to criminal justice reform and her intercessions, going as far back as her time in Arkansas, against federal funding for white-only schools.

He touted her as a leader able both to “stand her ground” on principle and to “seek common ground” on issues, noting that she had been able to team up with former Republican House leader Tom DeLay on legislation facilitating post-infant adoptions.

As Hillary Clinton herself has done of late, the former President made strenuous efforts to endorse the actions of the Obama presidency and to associate her with the President’s accomplishments, which are “far greater than he’s been given credit for.

Her goal, he said, was to make “the American dream” available to everybody, to people of all races, classes, and stations in life — “Yes, we can,” he said, invoking a well-known Obama phrase — and the course of her life, he proclaimed, had been one of “always making something good happen.”

There was more, much more, but in essence Bill Clinton did the same kind of earnest special pleading for his wife’s election in 2016 at Whitehaven High on Thursday night as he had done for Obama’s on the Convention stage in Charlotte in 2012.

We’ll find out on March 1 if he was as effective this time out.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The 'Charm' Component: Who Has it and Who Doesn't?

Bill Clinton has it (and will demonstrate it in Memphis on Thursday), Hillary Clinton may have it (in private, but not in public); and Bernie Sanders has it via his ideas.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 11, 2016 at 11:19 AM

EN ROUTE TO MEMPHIS FROM NEW HAMPSHIRE — Bill Clinton’s visit to Memphis on Thursday (6 p.m. at Whitehaven High School), during the early-voting run-up to the Super Tuesday primary of March 1, may have more than one purpose, but its overriding point is clearly that of a rescue mission for the suddenly endangered presidential campaign of his wife, Hillary Clinton.
Hillary in Henniker, N.H. last week - JB
  • JB
  • Hillary in Henniker, N.H. last week

Bill Clinton in Memphis last year - JB
  • JB
  • Bill Clinton in Memphis last year

By dint of having run successfully in the so-called SEC states of the Southeast during his own two presidential campaigns of 1992 and 1996, the former president has ample residual cachet in these parts, much of it stemming from his even earlier long-term reign as Governor of neighboring Arkansas.
Hillary Clinton’s base of support here? Not so much, though she, not Barack Obama, was clearly the consensus choice of Tennessee’s Democratic establishment in the 2008 presidential-primary campaign, and her defeat, coupled with Obama’s virtual bypass of the state’s electorate in his own two runs, may have been the decisive factor in the subsequent evaporation of the Tennessee Democratic Party.

Though Hillary Clinton still has a dedicated following in local party circles, she is subject here, as elsewhere, to a basic dilemma playing out among Democrats everywhere, where momentum for the rival primary candidacy of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, post-Iowa and New Hampshire, is clearly mounting.

While in New Hampshire this past week, I bumped into Bob Schieffer, the genial ex-host of CBS’ Face the Nation, for whom the lure of looking in on another presidential race seems to have been a lure out of his semi-retirement.

Schieffer (whose daughter Sharon worked for then Memphis congressman Harold Ford Jr. as he geared up for his near-thing 2006 Senate race) is nothing if not accessible, and I’ve been having brief conversations with him on the campaign trail ever since the 1988 Repubilcan National Convention in New Orleans.

This latest conversation was during a break in last weekend’s Republican candidates’ debate in Manchester. I reminded him that, in a 2008 interview with candidate Clinton during her first try for the presidency, he had more or less called her out on her habitual use of an extended and not very convincing mock laugh to fend off awkward moments in such interviews.

Schieffer chuckled at the recollection, then turned serious: “She’s got a lot of problems this time around. Real ones.”

It’s nothing he wouldn’t have said on air, of course, but I was struck by the fact that he would say it now, in casual conversation, and by the way he said it, not without a trace of sympathy — not political sympathy, just human sympathy. And, along with everything else, one political element that candidate Clinton lacks that her husband had (and has) in abundance is, to put it simply, charm.

But the fact is that, while the former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State seems cursed with some kind of emotional firewall in public (one reason the fake laugh doesn’t work), the universal testimony of those who’ve kicked back with her in relaxed one-on-one sessions (as opposed to formal interviews) is that she is warm, communicative, and even, they say, a bit of fun.

I fancy that I happened to capture this side of her in the photo that accompanies this article which shows her having what seems to have been a real, if brief, moment of connection with a well-wisher after a Q-and-A with students and guests at New England College at Henniker. (Contrast this image, if you will, with the customary wide-eyed, open-mouthed gape Clinton uses on so many customers at these affairs.)

And, for all I know, Bernie Sanders, who is in the process of becoming not only a political threat to Clinton but a folk hero to his growing army of followers, may be flinty and remote in private. What matters in public is that Sanders, a self-professed socialist and, until recently, a political Independent, has a set of issues that are themselves the source of charm to his supporters.

Free college tuition, Medicare for all, socking it to the billionaire class — all this and more in Sanders’ arsenal is working.

It seems to be the fact that democratic (that’s small ‘d’) socialism is a concept that, after decades of association with taboo ideas and foreign enemies (“the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, remember?) seems to have lost its politically lethal charge and seems to have found an audience out there in the mainstream. (‘Horrors!,' some will say; ‘About time,’ will say others.)

What Hillary Clinton has by way of countering Sanders’ suddenly respectable call to revolution is what critics would suggest is a mish-mash of pragmatisms and compromise positions and talking points, all aimed at special interest groups and maybe capable of rocking the boat of privilege that the Koch Brothers and their ilk travel on but not of overturning it.

The differential between the two candidates on the fundamental matter of reform is what, right now, is making Bernie’s smile a little broader that it may naturally be. Charm is where you find it, either in ideas or in personality.

Monday, February 8, 2016

New Hampshire: Some Impressions

The Republican and Democratic presidential candidates are all banging away at their own personal ceilings — and at their opponents —as Judgment Day in New Hampshire approaches.

Posted By on Mon, Feb 8, 2016 at 7:10 AM

A New Hampshire snowplow tries to make the world safe for democracy. - JB
  • JB
  • A New Hampshire snowplow tries to make the world safe for democracy.

The Republicans

Yes, before it’s all over on Tuesday night, Donald J. Trump will no doubt play a significant character role in my soon-to-be-published chronicle of the New Hampshire primary (scheduled for the Flyer issue of February 18), just as he has in so much national media coverage of the presidential-election season to date.

I plan to check out his last major rally in Manchester on Monday night, primary eve, and that should allow me to hazard some sort of serious eyewitness take on The Donald.
New Jersy Governor Christie (aka Brom Bones) loomed menadingly over media onlookers (and Marco Rubio) at Saturday's debate. - JB
  • JB
  • New Jersy Governor Christie (aka Brom Bones) loomed menadingly over media onlookers (and Marco Rubio) at Saturday's debate.

But for all the polls that still have Trump way ahead of his GOP rivals — by something like 20 points, at last reckoning — I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up suffering another major embarrassment like that which befell him in his second-place finish to Ted Cruz in Iowa last week.

So far I’ve only seen him in action in Saturday night’s debate of the remaining Republican contenders in Bedford, and, in all honesty, it was difficult to see Trump as a major figure in that event, or , for that matter, retrospectively over the course of the debates and cattle-call forums to date. More about that in the aforesaid February 18 issue.

Front-runner Trump may still be (at least in New Hampshire and possibly, tenuously elsewhere), but, up until Saturday night’s debate, I thought there was a fair chance of his being overtaken in New Hampshire by Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who entered this last week of the primary on a roll, after finishing third in the Iowa caucuses and coming close there to catching Trump for the silver.
Jeb Bush (like all the governors) is trying to make a point of his administrative know-how while he still can. - JB
  • JB
  • Jeb Bush (like all the governors) is trying to make a point of his administrative know-how while he still can.

But that was before Rubio and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie did their impromptu version, at the weekend debate, of a well-known Washington Irving short story, the one in which schoolmaster Ichabod Crane has been dazzling everybody as a fine young dandy until village bully Brom Bones, played in this case by Chris Christie, runs him right off the reservation.

Maybe that’s overstated as a comparison to the verbal pummeling Christie, obviously desperate to keep his own diminishing hopes as a suitor alive, gave to Rubio on the score of the latter’s talking points, rote-sounding to the point of self-parody, but it was pretty brutal. A thought: anybody who went to high school in New Jersey with Christie and fancied the same girl that he did was ipso facto risking a serious ass-kicking.

But there was a serious point to the mayhem, which Christie duly made. And that was that the GOP field’s three governors — Christie, John Kasich of Ohio, and Jeb Bush of Florida — were all seasoned in actual administration rather than in the kind of parliamentary fencing that both Rubio and Cruz were skillful at.
Marco Rubio threw a Super Bowl Party for his voters. - JB
  • JB
  • Marco Rubio threw a Super Bowl Party for his voters.

It remains to be seen, in fact, whether New Hampshire becomes a turning point in how actual voters see the matter. Up to now the gubernatorial types have been puffing hard trying to stay within hailing distance, not only of the two  clever young Senators, but also of such untutored originals as Trump and Dr.Ben Carson.

Kasich inevitably talks a good civics-class game in public, and, after attending a Bush town hall on Sunday morning, I found myself more impressed with his comprehensiveness than I had expected to be (hey, he even acknowledged the reality of man-made climate change, albeit somewhat left-handedly in response to an attendee’s question).

The guvs are running out of time, however, and should probably all step it up, a la Christie. It should be said that Bush’s SuperPac, Right to Rise, has been running expensive and vigorous ad campaigns against Rubio and anyone else perceived as standing between Bush and the voters he wants —but who so far haven’t wanted him.

The Democrats

Now, this one’s a real doozy — a bona fide one-on-one contest between a crafty and experienced pragmatist, Hillary Clinton, and an inspiring ideologue…nay, a revolutionary, Bernie Sanders. There is little 
In give-and-take sessions, Hillary Clinton can be persuasive, even charming. - JB
  • JB
  • In give-and-take sessions, Hillary Clinton can be persuasive, even charming.
doubt that New Hampshire is Bernie’s, but real (if somewhat diminishing) doubt that the energies he has tapped are enough to be a concern to Hillary elsewhere as the primary season wears on.

The Democrats should really take heart that they have two candidates with significant followings, and that Thursday night’s debate between the two of them, beginning with such blazing dissonance, should have ended on a note of genuine mutual respect.

When I saw Bernie at a rally at Great Bay Community College at Portsmouth on Sunday, it was precisely what I expected — an overflow crowd not only composed of today’s youth (lots of them) but one significantly leavened by graying ex-hippies from another time.

Pundits keep comparing Vermont Senator Sanders to the charismatic Obama of 2008 or even, in his populist appeal, to Trump. But he is neither an inspiring New Thing like the former nor an exciting celebrity scofflaw like the latter. He is a bona fide revolutionary with 
Bernie and friends at Portsmouth: This about says it. - JB
  • JB
  • Bernie and friends at Portsmouth: This about says it.
a program that is authentically Socialist — free college, state-supported medical care for everybody, guaranteed living wage for all workers, sticking it to the too-big-to-fail corporations.

A program of reform that attacks economic inequality directly and isn’t, like so much liberalism of the present, siphoned off into purely social issues, a la what Marcuse called repressive desublimation. (Although Bernie endorses the social issues, too.)

Still, Hillary’s IOUs and a skill-set that shines through in extended give-and-take sessions like one I witnessed at New England College in Henniker are built for the long haul. We’ll see.

The Weather Factor
Ted Cruz drew big in a blizzard. Here he's either being stroked or being hectored. (Both things happen to him.) - JB
  • JB
  • Ted Cruz drew big in a blizzard. Here he's either being stroked or being hectored. (Both things happen to him.)
Like Iowans, the residents of New Hampshire understand their importance in the quadrennial screening process for would-be American presidents — a task which culminates in mid-winter — and they are downright intrepid in dealing with the elements.

Take the massive turn-out for right-wing poster boy Cruz in Salem on Friday night — a moonless sub-freezing night with iced-over streets and several feet of freshly fallen snow for the town’s fleet of snowplows to contend against. Parking at this and all other events was hard to come by.

Monday is everybody’s last shot at making good here, and some of the Republicans may not go any further. More about that later. And, btw, this visit to the New Hampshire primary is my seventh rodeo (1992 was my first.) It never gets old.

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Monday, February 1, 2016

Fincher Making Surprise Exit; Flinn, Kustoff, Leatherwood, Kelsey, Basar Among Challengers So Far

8th District incumbent to bow out of reelection effort; even more contestants are likely to enter race

Posted By on Mon, Feb 1, 2016 at 2:42 PM

In rapid-fire succession on Monday, the outlook for this year’s race for the 8th District congressional seat transformed itself from a ho-hum incumbency-reelection effort into what is certain to be a hard-fought free-for-all.

Rep. Fincher - JB
  • JB
  • Rep. Fincher
First came word from Washington that the surprise announcement that incumbent Republican congressman Stephen Fincher would be bowing out after completing the present term, his third.

Said Fincher: “I have decided not to seek re-election to the 8th Congressional District seat this year,” the three-term Republican congressman said in a statement. “I am humbled by the opportunity to serve the people of West Tennessee, but I never intended to become a career politician. The last six years have been the opportunity of a lifetime, and I am honored to have been given the chance to serve.”

Then, almost instantaneously, came an announcement from radiologist/radio magnate George Flinn, who has sought the seat before, that he would be a candidate in the 8th this year.

Said Flinn, a former Shelby County Commissioner who would confide that he had intended to challenge for the seat even before Fincher’s announcement of withdrawal: “I have been traveling in West Tennessee for the past few months and listening to citizens talk about their lives
Clockwise,from top left: Flinn, Kustoff, Kelsey, Leatherwood - JB
  • JB
  • Clockwise,from top left: Flinn, Kustoff, Kelsey, Leatherwood
and what is happening in our community. The overwhelming facts are that Congress has not been doing enough to address our needs. I have heard all of our concerns and I am convinced that we must act. We are headed in the wrong direction, but we can fix things. That is why I am running for US Congress in the 8th District of Tennessee.”

And, within minutes of that announcement,came one from former U.S. Atttorney David Kustoff, who had previously sought the 7th District congressional seat:

"I want to thank Congressman Fincher for his service to our country and for fighting for conservative values in Washington. I strongly believe our State deserves a Congressman who will continue the fight for Tennessee values and principles, and that is why I will be candidate for the 8th Congressional District. "

And, not long after that, came word from Shelby County Registrar Tom Leatherwood, who had also previously sought election from the 7th.

Said Leatherwood: "I am throwing my hat into the ring for the 8th congressional seat. I believe I have a very strong, proven conservative record which will resonate in the district, having served two terms in the state Senate, where I helped kill a state icome tax twice. I also served on the Senate Finance Committee, where we had to tell people No in order to balance the budget. This is the type of discipline I can bring to 
Basar - JB
  • JB
  • Basar

And, not too long after that, came word that state Senator Brian Kelsey and Shelby County Commissioner Steve Basar intend to seek the seat as well. It seems likely there may be more to be heard from other would-be claimants of the seat.

Neither Flinn's entry nor Kustoff's nor Leatherwood's might have been unexpected, given their prior attempts at congressional service. And Kelsey has long been expected to seek an open congressional seat. And Basar, who had already floated a trial balloon for a candidacy in the 90th District agaist incunbent Steve Cohen, a Democrat, said a race in the 8th, where his domicile is, seemed a more obvious route to Congress.

Besides running in the 8th District in 2010, when he finished third in a three-way GOP primary race, Flinn ran unsuccessfully in 2012 as the GOP nominee against 9th District incumbent Steve Cohen, a Democrat.
For his part, Kustoff sought the 7th District seat in a four-way GOP primary in 2002 that was won by current incumbent Marsha Blackburn. Reapportionment after 2010 transferred most of the Shelby County portion of the 7th district into the 8th.

Leatherwood points out that he won 62 percent of the Shelby County vote in a 2008 direct primary challenge to Rep. Blackburn and that his Senate district included Tipton and Lauderdale counties, which also are within the 8th District.

Stay tuned for more announcements and more updates from and about candidates.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Scandal Comes to Capitol Hill in Nashville: The Durham Case

Posted By on Thu, Jan 28, 2016 at 3:51 PM

Jeremy  Durham: Why is this man smiling?
  • Jeremy Durham: Why is this man smiling?
There’s a difference between a lynching and execution by due process. That distinction (which is apparently about to receive a  practical demonstration in our state capital) may not make much of a difference to beleaguered state Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin), who seems about to experience the officially ordered death, not of his person, but of his political career.

Durham is the legislator who burst into the news big-time in the current session of the General Assembly when the House Republican Caucus met in closed session early on amid a host of mysterious and unclarified rumors and voted to allow Durham to remain as majority whip. The GOP caucus would shortly reverse itself when published reports appeared confirming that Durham had sent “inappropriate” emails to several unnamed women (interns, one hears) asking for “pictures.”

Details have been scanty, but so were the pictures Durham requested, apparently. He was not, it seems clear, asking for graduation photos.

Now, Durham is also being held accountable for an unseemly relationship with a female state representative who, according to state Senate Speaker and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, was moved to resign because of it.

It was Ramsey who used the expression “lynching” in relation to the fate of Durham, who is being publicly urged by Ramsey himself, by House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville), by Governor Bill Haslam, and by a growing chorus of other party-mates to get out of the legislature of his own accord while the getting is good.

“Obviously we don’t want the press lynching anybody, but nobody forced, the press didn’t force somebody to send text messages after midnight asking for pictures,” Ramsey said to reporters at a meeting of the Tennessee Press Association in Nashville on Thursday. The Lt. Governor also said enough, without naming names, to invite media speculation about former GOP Rep. Leigh Wilburn of Somerville, a legislator who abruptly resigned late last year,

The Democratic remnant on Capitol Hill had chastised the Republican leadership for moving too slow in the Durham case, but Ramsey and Harwell are moving very fast of late. Whether or not events have forced their had, both Speakers have now moved beyond requests for Durham’s resignation and are talking up the process of expulsion.

On Thursday afternoon Harwell requested a formal investigation of Durham’s conduct by state Attorney General Herb Slatery and said she would use the “findings” in any forthcoming expulsion proceedings.
Durham himself, who has accepted “separation” from the Republican caucus but has declined so far to resign his House membership, said through a intermediary that he had “no further comments.”

We bet that’ll change. Stay tuned. This is one time when the legislature process is not moving at a snail’s pace.
Ramsey and Harwell at inaugural activities in 2015. Events may have forced their hand. - JB
  • JB
  • Ramsey and Harwell at inaugural activities in 2015. Events may have forced their hand.

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State Senate, House Reach Agreement on Appellate Judges

Conference committee calls for joint action on approvial but establishes threshold allowing either chamber to block a gubernatorial nominee.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 28, 2016 at 2:07 PM

The unexpectedly complicated sequel to the passage last year of a constitutional amendment on judicial conformation seems to have ended finally with an agreement hammered out in the General Assembly.
state Sen. Brian Kelsey - JB
  • JB
  • state Sen. Brian Kelsey
The amendment called for appointment by the Governor of state appellate judges, followed by confirmation by the legislature. Given that the legislature is composed of two chambers, which occasionally have differing points of view, some controversy had swirled around just what was involved in legislative confirmation — whether the two chambers might should express themselves jointly or separately and whether one chamber could offset the opinion of the other.

A conference committee of the state House and state Senate reached a compromise solution allowing separate initial considerations of an appellate nominee by either chamber, followed by a joint vote, and allowing either chamber to block an appointment by a two-thirds vote. 

The solution is addressed in the following news release about Senate Bill 1, sponsored by state Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), who is also chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee and was the sponsor of the original constitutional amendment.

(NASHVILLE) – The Senate and House of Representatives have adopted a conference committee report on Senate Bill 1 which puts into place a framework on how the state’s appellate judges should be confirmed or rejected under the new constitutional mandate adopted by voters in 2014. The bill is sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown).

Under the constitutional amendment, appellate judges are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the legislature. The voters of Tennessee have the ability to vote to retain or not retain judges at the end of their 8-year terms or, if an appointment is to fill a vacancy, at the next even year August election.

“I am thrilled the agreement passed the Senate and House with overwhelming majorities,” said Kelsey. The Senate passed it unanimously (33-0) and the House tally was 86-5. “I look forward to holding the first ever confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee in the coming weeks. We are setting precedent for quality judges in Tennessee for the next hundred years.”

Under the agreement, the Senate Judiciary Committee and its House counterpart will each hold a meeting to hear from the appointee. Following the hearing the committee will vote to recommend confirmation or rejection of the appointee to the full Senate. Next, the Senate and House of Representatives will meet in joint session to either confirm or reject the governor’s appointee.

If both chambers vote to confirm, the appointee is confirmed. If both chambers vote to reject, the appointee is rejected. Also, one chamber may reject the appointee by a two thirds vote.

On January 7, Governor Bill Haslam appointed Judge Roger Page of Jackson to the Tennessee Supreme Court, replacing Justice Gary Wade, who retired in September. Upon being signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam, the process laid out in the bill will be used when lawmakers consider his nomination.

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Monday, January 25, 2016

John Jay Hooker, Statesman at Large

Two-time gubernatorial candidate and champion of numerous causes succumbs to cancer at 85. His last crusade was for assisted-suicide bill.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 25, 2016 at 10:10 PM

Tennessee has lost John Jay Hooker, the flamboyant, charismatic, and determined figure who was twice a candidate for governor and who, even in political decline, continued to represent issues close to his heart.

The most recent cause pushed by Hooker, literally to his dying breath, was a bill, characterized as Death with Dignity, which would allow assisted suicide in Tennessee.
John Jay Hooker
  • John Jay Hooker
Hooker advocated the measure in response to his diagnosis in January 2015 as having four metastatic melanomas. He spent the last year of his life campaigning for such a bill with the same intensity, health permitting, as he had evinced in pursuing other causes, such as judicial-election reform.

Hooker died in Nashville on Sunday, from the effects of his cancer. He was 85.

A Democrat, a friend of the Kennedys, and as gifted an orator as the late Governor Frank Clement was, Hooker failed to reach the statehouse in two tries — the first foiled in the Democratic primary in 1966 by Buford Ellington during the period of a “leap-frog” arrangement with Clement whereby the two establishment politicians took turns holding the office; the second as Democratic nominee in 1970, when Hooker was upset by Republican Winfield Dunn of Memphis.

That second defeat owed much to negative publicity accruing to questions regarding the financial collapse of the Minnie Pearl chicken chain during a time of Hooker’s proprietorship.

The youthful firebrand eventually became an old soldier at the political game, never quite regaining his onetime promise but never fading away, either. Up through his last year, he was a familiar presence in Nashville’s Legislative Plaza —a tall, dignified, gregarious figure dressed in an old-style politician’s frock-coat and hat, lobbying for this issue or that.

He advocated for other personages, too — for Jesse Jackson as a presidential candidate, for Muhammad Ali during the champion’s time of exile from boxing. Quite literally, Hooker became a statesman at large.

Hooker’s last political hurrah as a candidate in his own right had been in 1998, when he won the Democratic nomination again, almost without opposition, and unsuccessfully opposed Republican incumbent Governor Don Sundquist. Though his time had long passed, he was still able to make an enthralling speech and delivered one that year to an assembly of Flyer employees packed into a conference room.

For all the controversy that attended Hooker during his lifetime, it is fair to say that he was universally beloved in death, or as close to that state of things as a politician can be. 

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Tennessee Legislators Act to Disqualify Cruz for Presidency

Yarbro, Powell introduce bill banning any candidate why is not "natural born" from ballot or from receiving electoral votes.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 25, 2016 at 9:50 AM

Sen. Yarbro (l); Rep. Powell
  • Sen. Yarbro (l); Rep. Powell

If two Tennessee legislators, both Democrats, have their way, the prospect of a Ted Cruz presidency would be lessened — at least insofar as the Volunteer State’s 11 electorate votes are concerned.

State Senator Jeff Yarbro and state Representative Jason Powell have co-sponsored a bill, HB2595/SB2625, that would effectively nullify Cruz’s presidential candidacy in Tennessee.

The bill reads as follows in its entirety:

AN ACT to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 2, Chapter 15 and Title 2, Chapter 5, relative ro elections.

SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 2-5-208(h), is amended by adding the following language at the end of the subsection:

The secretary of state shall not place the name of any presidential or vice presidential candidate, even if nominated by a political party, on the ballot unless the candidate is a natural born citizen of the United States.

SECTION 2. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 2-15-104©, is amended by adding the following as a new subdivision:

(4) Notwithstanding this subsection (c) to the contrary, the electors are prohibited from casting their ballot for any candidate who is not a natural born citizen.

SECTION 3. This act shall take effect upon becoming a law, the public welfare requiring it.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Harris Reportedly Out of Congressional Race

Has so informed Rep. Cohen, the Flyer has learned.

Posted By on Sat, Jan 23, 2016 at 2:00 PM

Lee Harris
  • Lee Harris
The Flyer has learned that Lee Harris, the law professor and state Senate minority leader who had floated a trial balloon about running for Congress against 9th District U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, has changed his mind and has so informed Cohen.

Efforts to reach Harris for confirmation have not yet succeeded, but Cohen, who said he would defer to Harris concerning any statement on the matter, acknowledged having received a message from Harris.

More information as it is received.


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Friday, January 22, 2016

The Big Blizzard Was a Bust in Memphis, but Lookee Here!

This is something it left behind, and I'm not complaining.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 22, 2016 at 11:50 PM

  • JB
Folks, I know this post isn't, technically speaking, about politics. It's just what I saw, looking out my home office window today (Friday, 1-22-15).

It's not really a field of poppies, of course, nor is it a cotton patch. It's just what happened when the snow landed on an azalea bush.

And it sure as hell reminds me of a better world. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Education, Sentencing Reform, Handguns, and Fetal Remains Figure in New Haslam Agenda

Governor announces his priorities for 2016 legislative session.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 21, 2016 at 4:37 PM

Gov. Haslam - JB
  • JB
  • Gov. Haslam
Governor Bill Haslam set forth this agenda for the current legislative sesson on Thursday. It follows, in this release from the Governor's office:

Legislation focuses on education, public safety, efficient and effective state government

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced his legislative agenda for the 2016 session, continuing his focus on education, public safety and efficient and effective state government.

“A major focus this session will be on the next step in the Drive to 55: making sure our colleges and universities are organized and empowered in the best way to increase student success and the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or credential,” Haslam said. “You’ll also see a focus on public safety with legislation that makes smarter use of prison bed space and stiffens penalties for the most serious offenses driving Tennessee’s violent crime rate, including continuing to address domestic violence in Tennessee.”

The governor’s legislation, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga), includes:

The Focus On College and University Success (FOCUS) Act is the next step in the Drive to 55: ensuring that Tennessee’s public colleges and universities are organized, supported and empowered in their efforts to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary credential to 55 percent by 2025. To enhance student success across higher education, the legislation provides more focused support for the Tennessee Board of Regents’ (TBR) 13 community and 27 technical colleges; increases autonomy by creating local boards for Austin Peay State University, East Tennessee State University, Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee State University, Tennessee Technological University and the University of Memphis; and strengthens the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC).

The Higher Education Authorization Act aligns the for-profit higher education sector with the Drive to 55 by reshaping its regulatory framework, providing fast-track authorization for currently accredited institutions and directing THEC to redesign regulation for non-accredited institutions. This statute was last updated in 1974, and these changes will transform a cumbersome and outdated structure in order to increase productivity and modernize consumer protections.

The Public Safety Act of 2016 is an initial step in implementing recommendations by the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism. Of the 12,588 people entering state prison last year, 5,061 – or 40 percent – were probationers or parolees sent to prison because they violated supervision conditions. The bill retools community supervision to reduce the number of people returning to prison for probation and parole violations when their noncompliance does not rise to the level of a new criminal offense. This legislation also addresses the most serious offenses driving Tennessee’s violent crime rate by establishing mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of three or more charges of aggravated burglary, especially aggravated burglary, or drug trafficking and increasing the penalty for three or more domestic violence convictions to a Class E felony. The legislation would also allow law enforcement to seek an order of protection on a domestic violence victim’s behalf.

To address concerns raised regarding the selling of human fetal tissue, the Fetal Remains Act requires increased reporting of the disposition of fetal remains, prohibits reimbursement of any costs associated with shipping an aborted fetus or fetal remains and establishes a mandatory interim assessment process for an ambulatory surgical treatment center performing more than 50 abortions annually.

The Efficiency in Handgun Permitting Act improves the process for gun owners and lowers the fee associated with obtaining a handgun carry permit. It extends the current five-year handgun carry permit to eight years, lowers the initial handgun permit fee from $115 for five years to $100 for eight years and expands the renewal cycle from six months to eight years after the expiration of a permit before a person must reapply as a “new” applicant. Under this proposal background checks will continue to be conducted at the time of initial issuance and at the time of renewal. Additionally, an internal background check will be conducted in the fourth year of the eight-year permit.

“The Fetal Remains Act strengthens accountability and transparency for surgery centers performing abortions,” Haslam said. “The procedure for obtaining a handgun carry permit can be more customer friendly without harming the integrity of the permitting process, and this legislation achieves that.”

The governor will also have legislation around a budget-related initiative in education.

A total of 42 bills have been filed on behalf of the administration, but the above pieces of legislation represent the governor’s priorities.

For more information on the governor's bills, visit


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Bartlett’s Coley was Lone Vote for Anti-Gay Marriage Bill

GOP state representative regarded as moderate explains his action in subcommittee.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 21, 2016 at 12:24 PM

State Rep. Jim Coley
  • State Rep. Jim Coley

The morning after a key vote in a subcommittee of the Tennessee General Assembly, there is something of a buzz, both within Legislative Plaza and in Shelby County, regarding the identity of the lone voter for a bill to enable flouting of last year’s decision of the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage.

That voter was Jim Coley, a longtime Republican state representative from District 97, which takes in Bartlett and other parts of eastern Shelby County. Coley chairs the Civil Justice subcommittee which on Wednesday rejected HB 1412, the “Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act,” sponsored by state Rep. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) and state Senator Mae Beavers (R-t. Juliet).

The buzz is based on the fact that Coley, a teacher at Bolton High School, is widely regarded as one of the Republican super-majority’s few bona fide moderates.

As reported earlier by Bianca Phillips, the Pody-Beavers bill would have provided legal shelter by the state to county court clerks in Tennessee who declined to acknowledge and certify same-sex marriage. The subcommittee’s two Democrats — Bill Beck and Sherry Jones, both of Nashville, voted no on a voice vote, as did the two other Republicans — Mike Carter of Ooltewah, a suburb of Chattanooga, and Jon Lundberg of Bristol, in northeast Tennessee.

Carter and Lundberg expressed themselves as seeing the bill as endorsing nullification, a doctrine that from pre-Civil War times on, has been resoundingly rejected. Carter equated nullification with “anarchy,” and even former legislator David Fowler, now president of the Tennessee Family Action Council, which vehemently opposes same-sex marriage, testified that the Pody-Beavers bill was unenforceable.

Coley, a teacher at Bolton High School who acknowledges that he is probably rightly considered “moderate to conservative,” says that his vote, while expressing his own point of view, was primarily meant to convey the attitude of his constituents.

“One of the largest and most active churches in Tennessee, Bellevue Baptist, is in my district,” he pointed out. He said there had been numerous communications from his district, “both pro and con,” but that he concurred with proponents of the bill that some statement needed to be made in defense of the traditional one man-one woman view of marriage.

“When you think about it, for a 5-4 decision by a court to strike down an institution that had existed for thousands of years in that form and, without doubt, is still supported by a vast majority of people in this culture is highly undemocratic,” Coley said. He noted that a constitutional amendment against gay marriage, authored by then Rep. Fowler, had received 81 percent approval from the state’s voters in 2006.

Coley says that he will likely stick to his guns in the event of new legislation against same-sex marriage. A new bill to accomplish that end is supposedly forthcoming from state Rep. Susan Lynn, and Pody and Beavers have another one coming that would prohibit state and local officials from enforcing any federal order that is inconsistent with the “the public policy of the state.” 

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Local Officials in Washington React to Obama's SOTU

Focus is on how much can get done and whether the two parties can work together to do it.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 13, 2016 at 8:13 AM


Here are some reactions by public officials to President Obama’s State-of-the-Union address Tuesday night:

9th District Congressman Steve Cohen: “Tonight, President Obama spoke directly to the American people to lay out his vision for the future of our country. I was particularly pleased the President spoke about the need to give everyone a fair shot at opportunity by raising the minimum wage. He was also correct that we need strengthen Social Security and Medicare, not weaken them, and to invest in medical research to cure diseases like cancer. I know he is also committed to criminal justice reform, and I hope my colleagues will work together to put meaningful reform on his desk. Our nation’s prison population has grown 500% in the last thirty years. More than 60% of this population are racial and ethnic minorities. For African American males in their thirties, 1 in 10 is in prison or jail on any given day. This is unconscionable. There is a real bipartisan opportunity this year in Congress for progress, and we cannot afford to let it pass.”

8th District Congressman Stephen Fincher (via tweet): "We need a plan to keep America safe and make America strong. I did not hear that from the President tonight."

Senator Bob Corker: "While I know the tradition is that the president updates the American people each year in this way, I don’t read too much into these speeches. I attend these addresses out of respect, but I will be paying a lot closer attention to the actions that come afterwards. To really strengthen the state of our union, the president should use his final year in office to work with Congress on growing the economy, repairing our fiscal house, and confronting the threats we face both at home and abroad.”‎

Senator Lamar Alexander
(via online video): Last year the Republican Senate majority made a real difference by passing several pieces of legislation that will help American families, including the first major educational reform since 2002 that fixes No Child Left Behind. This record shows that if President. Obama focuses on what he agrees on with Congress instead of what we disagree on there’s quite a bit we can get done in 2016. The President has plenty of opportunities to work with the Republican majority to get things done that the American people want done.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland
(via tweet from Washington): “We had a productive day meeting with all of our representatives, and I’m thankful to @RepCohen for his invitation to the State of the Union. Listening to President Obama tonight, I particularly appreciated his call for us to work together — and for our politics to reflect the best in us, not the worst.”

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