It was easy for the winners to smile last Thursday night, and there were lots of smiles on display — ranging from the laid-black smile of satisfaction affected by George Flinn after the radiologist/radio magnate, a former Shelby County commissioner, easily won the GOP nomination for Congress in the 9th District, to the whoop of joy that exploded on the face of Unified School Board candidate Chris Caldwell when he learned he'd edged out Freda Williams and Noel Hutchison in District 1.
It had to be more difficult for the losers. Especially maybe for defeated D.A. candidate Carol Chumney, the former state legislator and city council member who finished a strong second in a Memphis mayoral race as recently as 2007. But Chumney was able to muster surprising good cheer at her election-night gathering at Raffe's on Poplar.
It was hard not to feel Chumney's pain — and that of her ever-supportive parents — after a one-sided loss, the fourth in succession, that all three of them knew would mean the end of her political ambitions. "I'm going to focus on my law practice," Chumney said stoically. "No more politics." She was reminded of the old saw about "never say never." She shook her head. "No," she said firmly. No denial here.
Nor was there any bitterness or self-pity in her analysis of her loss. It was a lack of money, mainly, she said. No mention of the conspicuous failure of certain Democrats to support her, nor of the others who were counted on GOP incumbent Amy Weirich's side of the line.
Jim Chumney, her father, exuded the same sense of loss and quiet acceptance. Sarah Chumney, her mother and a longtime toiler in the service of county government, was less forgiving toward the Democrats who withheld their support and toward a media that she thought had not given her daughter her proper share of attention. And she, too, mentioned the overwhelming financial support available to Weirich.
Supporters of the victorious incumbent had no apologies. There was no dearth of them, either at the Swanky's Taco Shop in Germantown or at the local Republican headquarters, one door down in the Carrefour Shopping Center, from which a steady stream of them flowed in Weirich's direction. They were calmly certain that Weirich's advantages were natural ones, owing to her successful tenure as the county's chief prosecutor during the year and a half since her appointment by Governor Haslam to replace her long-time boss Bill Gibbons.
For her part, Weirich was elated but gracious, clearly pleased with the dimensions of her victory and ready to celebrate but also conveying a nice combination of modesty and confidence. No gloating, in any case.
• Steve Ross, the Democratic nominee for the District 1, Position 3 county commission seat now held by interim commissioner Brent Taylor, was certainly able to raise his profile and spark a potential political future with his relentless exposure of early-voting glitches (along with fellow Democratic activist Joe Weinberg).
But nobody seriously thought Ross could prevail in the overwhelmingly Republican district over businessman Steve Basar, a Mr. Clean Republican and an appropriate successor to Mike Carpenter, the GOP moderate who vacated the seat last year to work with the Students First organization in Nashville.
As expected, Basar won comfortably, and at his low-key celebration at the Ciao Bella Restaurant in East Memphis, the signs of Christmas Future were very much on display. One well-wisher was Homer "Scrappy" Brannan, once a regular fixture at commission meetings as a lawyer for various developers and a would-be omen on election night of a stepped-up economic future. Enough current commission members showed up at Ciao Bella to call a quorum and have a meeting. Taylor, Steve Mulroy, Wyatt Bunker, Chris Thomas, newly elected chairman Mike Ritz, Heidi Shafer, and Terry Roland were all there at the same time, and, true to form, there was a bit of (good-natured) competition for attention between Democrat Mulroy and Republican Roland.
• There were instances elsewhere in Tennessee of established Republican legislators losing their seats — the most eyebrow-raising of which was the "crucifixion" the National Rifle Association had promised state representative Debra Maggart of Hendersonville, the House GOP caucus leader, no less. Maggart's crime was to vote against the notorious bill, backed by the N.R.A. but opposed by big business, allowing guns to be parked in locked cars in parking lots. Maggart was beaten by a well-funded challenger, Courtney Rogers.
But all GOP incumbents in Shelby County kept their seats, though several — state representatives Steve McManus and Ron Lollar and state senator Mark Norris — had primary challengers, all finding space to run against them from the right. Three Democrats bit the dust, however — all incumbents paired by the hard reality of Republican-sponsored reapportionment against other Democratic incumbents. G.A. Hardaway, whose former District 92 had disappeared into Middle Tennessee, ran against veteran Mike Kernell in District 93 and won. Jeanne Richardson, whose District 89 was similarly disappeared, was less fortunate in her attempt to unseat John DeBerry in District 90.
And Jim Kyle dispatched fellow state senator Beverly Marrero in state Senate District 30. Kyle, the leader of an ever-diminishing band of Democrats in the Senate, nevertheless expressed optimism about the forthcoming 2013 legislative session, one in which his party could be reduced to single digits in the 33-member Senate and to 20-something in the 99-member House. "We're going to have fun," Kyle promised.
• At least one Democrat, 9th District congressman Steve Cohen, would seem to have ample political breathing room for the political future. Cohen took care of his latest primary challenger, Tomeka Hart — once considered formidable by virtue of her erstwhile prominence on the Memphis City Schools board and her leadership of the local Urban League — by the unheard-of margin of nine-to-one. And sports enthusiast Cohen seems actually to be looking forward to his forthcoming showdown with the deep-pocketed Flinn.
Invincible though Cohen seems to be, he cannot yet claim godfather status. Four of the endorsees on the ballot he distributed for this election were defeated, though two — General Sessions clerk Ed Stanton Jr. and Assessor Cheyenne Johnson overcame GOP opponents who were doubtless hoping for a lift from the tide of suburban voters voting for municipal schools.
• As surely everyone expected, the vote in all six affected suburban municipalities — Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Lakeland, Arlington, and Millington — was overwhelmingly in favor of independent school systems, though there was much less agreement about the half-cent sales tax to pay for them that was also on the ballot. The Millington vote, in fact, was adverse — but just barely — and seemingly headed for a recount.
And consider: Two members of the newly elected Unified School Board, which owes its very reason for being to the prospect of city/county consolidation, are pledged to the creation of those independent municipal school districts outside the direct jurisdictional framework of the Unified District.
Appearing along with Unified Board chairman Billy Orgel on last week's installment of the WKNO program Behind the Headlines, I asked the chairman (an unopposed election winner himself, in District 7) if this was not a bit like Robert E. Lee's serving in the "union legislature" (i.e., the U.S. Senate or the House of Representatives) during the vintage unpleasantness known to history as the Civil War.
The question was apropos David Pickler, winner from the Germantown-Collierville area, and David Reaves, who hails from Bartlett — arguably, thanks to tireless Mayor Keith McDonald, the epicenter of educational independence. Orgel was optimistic and took the Big Tent approach to the board's likely diversity. The once and perhaps future board chairman noted that several of last week's incumbent losers — notably Memphis City Schools holdover Kenneth Whalum Jr., whom he said he'd miss — would still be on the board for another year. And Whalum, whose defeat by Kevin Woods could be overturned by a recount, might indeed be around for even longer.
Orgel was hopeful that Raphael McInnis, an interim appointee who was defeated by Reaves, might be re-appointed by the county commission to one of the vacancies created by last week's reshuffling result (don't ask) or to one of the six new seats the commission intends to add when it expands the Unified Board to 13. MCS holdover Martavius Jones, who didn't run this time, will seek one of those positions, as well.
UPDATE: While I stand by my report of defeated candidate Carol Chumney's post-election remarks and general deportment, I have received several emails from Chumney in the last couple of days stating that, after all, she is not necessarily ready to write finis on running for political office and intends to continue "to be involved in our community whether in elective office or not." -- JB