News on Tuesday of the death of former state representative Joyce Hassell constituted something of a continuum and a contrast to the previous week's special-election news. Hassell had been a longtime member of the state House of Representatives, until she was defeated in the 2000 Republican primary by Paul Stanley, who went on to hold the seat until he won a race for the state Senate in 2006.
That Senate seat, which Stanley relinquished after becoming the center of a sex-blackmail scandal earlier this year, is the same one secured last week by Brian Kelsey, whose archconservative political views reflect those of Stanley and, no doubt, of Senate District 31 itself, which stretches across portions of East Memphis, Cordova, and Germantown.
The previous holder of the Stanley-Kelsey seat was Curtis Person, who was first elected to the legislature in 1966 as a Democrat. He later became a Republican and was himself a conservative — though of the sort who could and did cooperate in bipartisan measures and enjoyed warm collegial relations across party lines. Person now serves as Juvenile Court judge, a post he ran for and was elected to in that same transitional year of 2006 — coincidentally or not, after Stanley had indicated he intended to run for Person's Senate seat. Stanley was thus directly or indirectly involved in the exit from the legislature of both Hassell and Person.
To give Stanley his due, he was best known, before the mishaps that became public last summer, as an intractable partisan of the right — a purist, as it were — and Kelsey has served notice that he will continue in that vein.
For better or for worse, Republicanism in the era of Person and Hassell was of a more open-minded persuasion. Just as Person got in trouble with his party-mates for his close connections across the aisle — notably for his string of votes to reelect long-serving Democrat John Wilder as Senate speaker and lieutenant governor — so did Hassell run afoul of the new-wave Republicans for her closeness to Governor Don Sundquist, a moderate Republican whose efforts on behalf of a state income tax made him anathema to his party's right wing.
Hassell, indeed, was as much a symbol of a vanished bipartisanship in the legislature as anybody. That, and her native sweetness, which co-existed with a feisty, independent spirit, will forever endear her to those who remember her years of faithful, conscientious service.
A postscript of sorts: Yet another reminder of a bygone, less fanatical time came this week when Arlington supervisor Ed Haley, himself a former Republican state representative of the Person-Hassell era, apparently took the initiative in disavowing insulting references to President Barack Obama made by Arlington mayor Russell Wiseman.
Haley was largely responsible for the public notice which appeared on the Town of Arlington website officially renouncing Wiseman's views on behalf of the municipality, embracing the principle of nondiscrimination, and respectfully acknowledging Obama as this nation's elected leader.
We commend Haley and the other Arlington officials who joined in taking this step.