Sunday, December 9, 2001



Posted By on Sun, Dec 9, 2001 at 4:00 AM

State Rep.Henri Brooks (D-Memphis), whose earnestly pursued legislative crusades have made her an isolated figure in the General Assembly, will have some company in her reelection race next year if a Memphis-area member of the Tennessee Firearms Association has anything to say about it.

David Waldrip, along with a colleague from the Association, attended Thursday night’s meeting of the executive committee of the Shelby County Democratic Party at the IBEW union building on Madison Avenue, to plead the case against Brooks, whom he described as an opponent of “the right to keep and bear arms.”

Waldrip then said he hopes to be able to recruit an opponent for Brooks from among the ranks of local Democrats.

To the mounting amusement of other committee members, the following dialogue then ensued between Waldrip and Bill Larsha, an executive committee member:

Larsha: “You folks are Republicans, aren’t you?”

Waldrip: “We’re bipartisan.”

Larsha: “You give a lot of money in the way of contributions, don’t you?”

Waldrip: “We do make a lot of contributions, yes.”

Larhsa: “Well, we’re open.”

In fact, Democrats as a rule have not been as open to appeals from Second Amendment groups as have Republicans, but that may change Ð especially as some Democrats are quite aware (as former state party chairman Doug Horne pointed out in his farewell message earlier this year) that active or passive support for gun control hurt party candidates in Tennessee from Al Gore on down.

In fact, also, an opponent for Brooks may already exist in the person of one Damita Swearengen, member of a locally prominent African-American family, though Brooks’ position on firearms has not figured as a reason.

Brooks won her seat in 1992 from former Representative Alvin King, who had alienated some of his base by his support of former Mayor Dick Hackett against then challenger (and now mayor) Willie Herenton in the 1991 Memphis mayor’s race.

From the time Brooks entered the legislature, she seemed oblivious to the go-along-to-get-along protocols that have long governed relationships in the General Assembly. She took revisionist positions on a number of matters, ranging from policy questions to the way in which female members should be addressed. (Almost unnoticed during her tenure, the form of address has metamorphosized from “Lady.So-and-so” to “Representative So-and-So.”) Last spring, she got on the wrong side of House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh (and much of the public) when she conspicuously declined to rise during the chamber’s daily morning recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

And she may now have run afoul of the head of the other legislative body, Lt. Governor John Wilder (D-Somerville), who presides over the Senate. A witness on behalf of her resolution to study compensation for victims of slavery made accusations this week against Wilder’s family, alleging to a House committee that the Wilders of Fayette County had stolen land from blacks well over a century ago, a circumstance allegedly resulting in the Senate Speaker’s wealth today.

In all fairness, there is no evidence yet that Brooks has associated herself with such accusations, but frontal assaults of that sort are characteristic of her. As one local wag has put it, “Henri was so dedicated to being a legislator and making sweeping changes that she skipped charm school altogether.”

What has failed to endear her to the gun lobby, of course, is her continued sponsorship of a measure to mandate the equipping of handguns with safety devices and lock combinations that would prevent anyone but the firearm's owner from using it.

"Obviously, if you have to deal with an unexpected intruder, you would see a crucial delay in your reaction time," says Waldrip, who now waits to see what the reaction is to his invitation for someone to become a challenger to Rep. Brooks.

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