A world of symbolic meaning was encapsulated in a bit of routine Wednesday-lunch business last week when the Shelby County legislative delegation met at the Tennessee Municipal League building, two blocks from the Capitol, to elect new officers for the current legislative session.
The returning chairman was Republican state representative Curry Todd of Collierville, who had become the fill-in chairman last year when Democratic state rep Gary Rowe, who held the position, unexpectedly fell ill (of cancer) and died. Todd wanted a full term in his own right for what is, after all, traditionally an honorific office.
But he drew opposition from an unexpected source - Jim Kyle, the Senate Democratic leader and prospective candidate in 2010 for either Shelby County mayor or Tennessee governor. More than a few delegation members, curious as to Kyle's reasons for seeking the post, speculated wryly along the lines of "He wants to be in charge of something!"
Other possibilities: (1) The position will give aspiring candidate Kyle greater visibility. (2) It might give him an edge up on consolidating delegation support for this or that legislation he chooses to push; (3) It might allow Governor Phil Bredesen, his patron, a little more leeway with the large Shelby contingent; (4) All of the above.
In any case, Kyle went on to win - no doubt on a party-line vote. (The totals weren't announced.)
The fun would come later. Todd, who exchanged gracious speeches with Kyle, was elected vice chairman by acclamation. (State Senator Beverly Marrero, in seconding the nomination of the conservative Todd: "And we know how he feels about vice!")
And when nominations were sought for delegation secretary, the following dialogue ensued:
Republican State Representative Brian Kelsey: "I'd like to nominate my good friend G.A. Hardaway."
Democratic State Representative Ulysses Jones (pretending to mishear): "Your new friend? How many does that make? Three?"
Kelsey: "Oh, I'm up to at least six!"
The laughter around the linked, semi-circular tables was both spontaneous and bi-partisan - but decidedly nervous.
And, oh yes, State Representative Hardaway, a Democratic counterpart of sorts to GOP provocateur Kelsey, won.