Senate Free-for-All

The announcement this week from state Senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville that she intends to seek the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2006 means that 9th District congressman Harold Ford of Memphis will not have a free run, as he had surely hoped, in the Democratic primary. In a larger sense, it ensures an unprecedentedly diverse field of candidates for the seat that Majority Leader Bill Frist intends to vacate in order to prepare a presidential run in 2008.

Coupled with last week’s announcement of candidacy from State Rep. Beth Halteman Harwell, the outgoing chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, Kurita’s run means that women will be serious challengers in both major-party primaries. (Still undeclared, but a distinct possibility to make a bid, is 7th District GOP congressman Marsha Blackburn.)

Ford, of course, is an African American whose essentially centrist positions on a number of public issues afford him a unique position in the spectrum. And the GOP field -- so far including, besides Harwell, former 7th District congressman Ed Bryant, a conservative, and Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker, a presumed moderate -- will offer further variety.

Both primaries will likely see further entrants. Considering the rough-and-tumble to come, it is probably inaccurate to use a phrase like “the more the merrier.” But our attention -- and presumably that of both Tennessee voters and national political observers -- has certainly been piqued.

A C’s Initiative

Both those who consider Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton the epitome of political consensus and those who regard him as essentially a front man for established interests might withhold further judgment pending the outcome of his current campaign to revamp Shelby County’s revenue options.

In proposing a three-tiered set of options to the property tax, each involving a different segment of the county’s developmental infrastructure, the county mayor hopes to break loose the logjam that has long forestalled any fundamental change in the tax system. Though he himself would not choose to put it this way, Wharton’s initiative seems aimed at creating fissures in a potential solid front of opposition to tax overhaul amongst the county’s realtors, home builders, and developers.

On Monday, the 13-member county commission mustered eight votes to endorse legislative consideration of a real estate transfer tax, to be assessed on sales of real property, while deferring action on two other proposed levies, an impact fee and a so-called “adequate facilities tax.” Realtors would be most directly affected by the real estate transfer tax, while the burden of the other two would fall, to varying degree, on homebuilders and developers.

Although spokesmen for the three local industries were on hand Monday to express an across-the-board resistance to all the proposals, intense negotiations were under way behind the scenes, with at least one prominent developer, “Rusty” Hyneman, said to be playing a leading role. At some point between now and the commission’s next meeting on January 10th, a consensus is likely to emerge behind one of the three proposals. The key to that was signaled in a parliamentary move made Monday, when commissioners accepted an amendment from David Lillard to confine potential new revenues from the proposed transfer tax for to use for educational purposes.

If sentiment should shift to one of the other proposed taxes, a similar provision would likely be appended to it.

Though legislative opponents of a new tax pointed to the relative narrowness of Monday’s vote, the fact remains that it crossed party lines, and the Tennessee General Assembly, which must approve any of the proposed plans, might well look with favor on a revenue option earmarked for education.


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