Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained 

Both parties have candidates taking their best (long) shot on August 2nd.

(Right) Steve Ross and Tim Dixon and (left) Candis Schoenberger and David Cambron at a recent fund-raiser for Democratic candidates in Cordova

Jackson Baker

(Right) Steve Ross and Tim Dixon and (left) Candis Schoenberger and David Cambron at a recent fund-raiser for Democratic candidates in Cordova

An event held week before last in Cordova emphasized not only the current fact of Republican domination of suburban Shelby County but of the never-say-die attitude of core Democrats in that neck of the woods.

A fund-raiser for County Commission District 1, Position 3 candidate Steve Ross at the home of David and Diane Cambron morphed into a show-and-tell for Ross and two other long-odds Democratic hopefuls — Tim Dixon, a candidate in the Democratic primary for Congress in the 8th District; and Candis Schoenberger, who is seeking something even chancier: her party's nomination as a write-in candidate to oppose incumbent state representative Curry Todd in District 95 (East Shelby County).

It is no secret that Ross, an audio-visual technician and well-known blogger/activist, had hoped to be matched against former Commissioner Marilyn Loeffel, whose previous eight-year tenure and history as a Christian Right activist had made her controversial, and not businessman Steve Basar, a political newcomer with strong appeal in the Poplar Corridor. But Basar, whose profile is as unblemished as Ross' is and who has done considerable fund-raising to boot, won the GOP primary and is heavily favored in the August 2nd general election.

Dixon, an automotive engineering consultant, is one of three candidates for his party's nomination, and, if successful in the August election, will face Stephen Fincher, a second-term Republican from Crockett County, whose hold on his party's donors is such that Shelby County GOP hopefuls were unable to raise any money for a primary challenge.

And Schoenberger, a longtime activist, faces a difficult task that began with her having to register as a write-in candidate with the election commission 50 days in advance of the primary date. In theory, her task, as someone starting from scratch, is more difficult than that of either Ross or Dixon, but at least she has in Todd an opponent who has, in the last year, come in for some tarnish — most recently in being indicted for DUI and gun charges. (Todd is, however, unopposed in the Republican primary.)

• Democrats aren't the only ones making long-odds races. Three established Republican legislators — state senator Mark Norris of Collierville (District 32) and state representatives Ron Lollar and Steve McManus of Bartlett (District 99 and Cordova District 96), respectively, face primary opposition and scheduled a joint fund-raiser for Tuesday night of this week.

Norris is opposed by Woody Degan, Lollar by Tom Stephens, and McManus by Jim Harrell.  

• As visitors to the Flyer website must have noticed on Tuesday, the day after U.S. district judge Hardy Mays held his status conference with attorneys on the school-merger issue and scheduled a hearing for Thursday, there was a sense among our regular online commenters that the game was nearing a climax point.

Mays communicated a mood of reluctance but one coupled, paradoxically, with a sense of urgency in setting Wednesday afternoon as a quick deadline for attorneys' filings and Thursday morning for a hearing on a Shelby County Commission suit to halt the suburban referenda on municipal school districts now set for August 2nd.

"If we don't get something done this week, my inclination is not to do anything," Mays told the lawyers, noting that absentee voting (but not vote-counting) seems to have already begun, with early voting set to commence next week and the election itself less than a month away.

Mays discounted the idea of a temporary restraining order, saying his decision would be on whether or not to enjoin the referenda altogether.

"No judge in his right mind wants to enjoin an election, but, on the other hand, to let it go forward [without statutory authority] would be a mockery," Mays said, but he carefully limited the substance of this week's hearing to issues of the standing of the parties and whether 2012 legislation enabling next month's referenda improperly singled out Shelby County.

The first of those matters has to do with an allegation by Tom Cates, lawyer for the suburban municipalities, that the seven members of the county commission who brought the suit did so without proper notice, in violation of the state Sunshine Law, and without taking a vote of the full commission. The second has to do with the plaintiffs' contention that two bills passed by state senator Mark Norris fail to apply statewide and are thus unconstitutional.

Mays made it clear that a second allegation by the plaintiffs, that the referenda would tend to cause school resegregation, could not be argued in less than two months' time.

"There's no way that a court ... can decide on discriminatory effects without hearing proof," the judge said, and Leo Bearman, attorney for the commission plaintiffs, would respond that "if we don't persuade Your Honor" on the grounds to be dealt with this week, he would attempt to offer persuasion on the matter of resegregation later on.

Attorneys for the state of Tennessee, the city of Memphis, the Memphis City Council, and the Memphis Education Association were among those present and taking part in the status conference, but the main arguments were borne by Bearman and Cates.

At a town meeting on the schools matter held later at the Bartlett Municipal Center, Bartlett mayor Keith McDonald, addressed the issue of whether this year's Norris legislation, which set population limits under which only Shelby County could qualify at the moment, might come to apply to other Tennessee counties later on.

"It is my belief, and our attorney's belief, that it could apply in several of the counties," McDonald said.

Other counties may not be able just yet to reach the threshold of 1,500-2,000 schoolchildren specified in this year's legislation to qualify for municipal school districts, but, according to McDonald, "some of those communities, of 500, 600, or 700 people, if they had some kind of business come into that county [and] open up all these jobs, those communities could grow, and the number of schoolchildren would grow, and then that number would apply to them."

McDonald, who has largely spearheaded the move toward suburban school systems, went on to say, "My take on his [Mays'] comments today is that he's very hesitant not to let the election go forward."

The Bartlett mayor said that not only have absentee ballots gone out, "some of them have been returned."

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      The Shelby County Commission defers action, political parties party, and two candidates make their move.
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      The tiny but reorganized Democratic leaderships in the House and Senate could be just the help that Governor Haslam needs.

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