The question, as always, remains: Why do the people of the suburbs put themselves in harm's way? "Harm" being defined, of course, as the latest depredation to be imposed on them by the putatively wicked, unsafe city — whether a tax burden or a government of dangerous strangers or the presumed social leveling of Common Core education or nameless dread or whatever the latest menace from Memphis is supposed to be.
This was the thought that kept recurring after following the debate in the state House of Representatives Monday night, in which, once again, as in the now vanished time of the "Toy Towns" or in the more recent heyday of "Norris-Todd," the elected representatives of people living on the rim of Memphis — or, in this case, actually within it — sought relief and rescue from it through the intercession of state government.
The bill is HB0779/SB0749, which, if enacted, would allow residents of those portions of Memphis annexed since 1998 to de-annex themselves by the simple expedient of having 10 percent of the population of a given area petitioning for a referendum to that effect and then passing it by a majority vote.
The House sponsor of the measure, Representative Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah), stood in the well for the better part of three hours fending off verbal attacks on the measure by anguished and, in some cases, outraged House members from Memphis, abetted by Democratic caucus chair Mike Stewart of Nashville and Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley.
As foes of the bill kept insisting that the measure, which applies to six mostly urban areas in Tennessee, was prejudicial or unfair or untimely or financially ruinous, especially to Memphis, clearly the prime target, Carter kept defending it as an antidote and corrective to the "egregious" annexations that had occurred in recent years against the will of people in the affected communities.
He had verbal help Shelby Countian state Representative Mark White, whose District 83 overlaps Memphis, Germantown, and Collierville, and Curry Todd, whose District 95 is in the latter two communities.
Once again: How and why did these oppressed citizens come to put themselves in such jeopardy as to be on the very lip's edge of the slavering metropolis at feeding time?
The answer, of course, may be that, as the legislative defenders of Memphis will at some point in the forthcoming Senate debate surely be pointing out, the suburban folks live where they do — in areas specifically designated by compromise legislation in 1998, the landmark year, as Memphis' annexation reserve — because of jobs or amenities or services they may wish to avail themselves of in the big magnet city on the Mississippi. An unkind way of putting that might be that, well, they want to have their cake and eat it, too. They want access to Memphis without obligation to it.
A kinder way would be to say, as Carter did in so many words, that Memphis and the other liable cities — Knoxville and Chattanooga notable among them — had overreached, poaching adjacent areas as a means of paying their bills.
That was the view that ultimately prevailed Monday night, by a vote of 65 to 24 — roughly the same proportion as on votes that defeated 16 or so amendments deemed "unfriendly" by Carter. That bit of parliamentary jargon enraged Representative Joe Towns of Memphis, who declaimed, "You're being 'unfriendly' to my city! [It's a] landgrab and money grab!" and added that the bill's sponsors had "blood" on their hands.
Governor Bill Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor, had been more reserved, calling the bill "concerning" and questioning its constitutionality. It's unclear what that's worth, if anything, to a GOP super-majority that seemingly ignores the Republican chief executive whenever it chooses.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, who planned an emergency visit to Legislative Plaza this week, allowed that he was "disappointed" by the House vote on the bill, given the "devastating effects it could have, not only on Memphis but on our entire region." In a statement to the press he toted up the possible effects as "$79 million (sales plus total property taxes) in potential impact to a $658 million annual budget."
And you had to wonder if Strickland had in mind to challenge the legislation in the same way that one of his predecessors, Willie Herenton, did in 1997, when the aforementioned "Toy Town" bill was passed, allowing virtually every neighborhood on the periphery of Memphis to incorporate, choking off any possible expansion by the big city.
Herenton fought that one all the way to the state Supreme Court, which ruled in his — and Memphis' — favor.
There's more to the matter than is suggested by this rollover synopsis, I grant, but stay tuned. We're going to be looking into this one big-time. It's important. And it ain't over. The state Senate has yet to have its say. And maybe a court or two.
• A poll completed by the Remington Research Group of Kansas City shows Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell with a commanding lead over other Shelby County candidates in the 8th Congressional District Republican primary.
The poll, conducted on February 29th and March 1st, involved "686 likely Republican primary voters," with a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent, according to Remington director Titus Bond.
Below is the tabulated response to the question, "If the candidates in the Republican primary election for United States Congress were Brian Kelsey, David Kustoff, Luttrell, George Flinn, Tom Leatherwood, and Steve Basar, for whom would you vote?"
Mark Luttrell: 26%
George Flinn: 11%
Brian Kelsey: 9%
David Kustoff: 8%
Tom Leatherwood: 7%
Steve Basar: 1%
The press release announcing these results said further: "In addition to his ballot strength, Luttrell possesses the strongest image rating of all the potential Republican candidates; 43 percent of likely Republican primary voters view him favorably with only 5 percent viewing him unfavorably. This is by far the strongest image rating of the field by more than double his nearest competitor.
"Luttrell enjoys massive support in the Memphis media market where he receives 33 percent support. The Memphis media market anchors the district, comprising more than 71 percent of Republican primary voters."
Asked the obvious question about the poll — whether he or his campaign had commissioned it — Luttrell said no.
• The Shelby County Democratic Party, which in the recent past has put on fund-raising "roasts" for such party luminaries as former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and Chancellor Jim Kyle, is piling it on next with the latest "Roast and Toast" — a tribute to former state Senator Beverly Marrero, former City Councilman Myron Lowery, and long-serving Shelby County Commissioner Walter Bailey. The affair will be held at the National Civil Rights Museum on Saturday night, March 19th, with a VIP reception from 6 to 7 p.m., followed by dinner from 7 to 9 p.m. Ticket prices are $60 for individuals and $600 for a table of 10.
• For the second time within a year, 9th District Representative Steve Cohen will be visiting Cuba. He's going next week, as an official representative of the United States. Cohen, a longtime advocate of normalizing relations with Cuba, was a member of a bipartisan delegation to the island nation last August that, along with Secretary of State John Kerry, formally reopened the American embassy in Havana.
This time Cohen will accompany President Obama and a bipartisan group of U.S. senators and representatives. Obama will be the first president to visit Cuba in 88 years, after announcing in 2014 that he intended to reestablish diplomatic relations with the country.