Wednesday, May 22, 2002


George Flinn, the GOP's surprise mayoral nominee, believes he can unify his party.

Posted By on Wed, May 22, 2002 at 4:00 AM

THE 'ACCOUNTABILITY' MAN To start with an issue that became moot the day after the election: the new NBA arena-to-be. That figured in a lot of the election outcomes. What has been your thinking on it? I am a booster for the area and anything that improves the mood or the prospects of the area. So I’m a Grizzlies fan, I have season tickets to see the games. I take my mother there all the time. And I made a successful bid to carry the Grizzlies’ games on one of my radio stations (WHBQ, 56 A.M.) I’m a Grizzlies fan. But the fact is that I was always opposed to public funding for the arena, particularly if the public had no say in the decision. think the people who do want to support the Grizzlies, which is a great number of people, I think they should have been the ones supporting the arena, and the businesses that will be benefiting from the increased visbility of the area. That’s out of the way now, of course. Yes, it is. And you’re probably relieved. I am -- very relieved. During the campaign against [GOP rival State Rep.] Larry Scroggs, several Republicans maintained that your ads were misleading, those which made him out to be a big-time taxer. What is your attittude toward that, and what is your relationship with Scroggs today? First of all, I consider Larry Scroggs to be a fine person. I know him, I know his family, I think they’re great people, I think they’re dedicated people. My campaign emphasized holding the line on taxes, and I didn’t see it as attacking him personally. I think personally he’s a great guy., and he’s serving us well in the statehouse. But I don’t think anybody can say that we didn’t vary on how we see the issue of taxation. That was the difference, and pointing out differences -- or even dramatizing them --is nothing new in political campaigning. But personally I do not see that as an attack on him. And, as far as what some people call “negative campaigning” goes, I didn’t initiate the “attacks.” Larry did, in that press conference he called accusing me of running two-bit radio stations and trying to buy the election and not being honorable and a real Republican and all that. That was before I ran a single ad, and I hadn’t said anything unkind about him at all. I didn’t much care for all that -- Iw as kind of shocked, in fact -- and if it comes down to it, it was unfair But I just chalked it up to how the game is played, and I don’t have any hard feelings about it. I do think we ought to have a single standard about how we see such things. Well, do you have a point of view toward how the legislature solves the state tax problem? I am concerned about holding the line at the state level, too, but in such a way that we are not penalized at our own local-government level. My main concern is that Shelby County continue to receive the funding from the state that it is due, because Shelby County’s budget -- which is in a tight way itself -- is dependent on the receiving of those funds, and we should not do anything to upset the balance. Because in looking at the budget we’re dependent on those funds to hold our tax rate. Shelby County will, I think, be very well represented by its legislators, people like Paul Stanley, Larry Scroggs, Curtis Person, Mark Norris, and , really, all the rest. I think they will have Shelby County’s best interests at heart when they vote. I think they’ll look very closely at what this might do to Shelby County, and what it might do to the citizens of the state of Tennessee., and I will depend on their judgment. So you don’t want to recommend a particular solution or attitude in Nashville? When it’s outside my purview I think I want to do whatever’s best for Shelby County., I want Shelby County. to be able to maintain its funding. Whatever is best for Shelby County. is ,my concern. Once again, then, what were your differences with Larry Scroggs? LarryScroggs and I were 95 to 99 percent the same. Our few differences were the ones that were aired. That’s the reason the Republican Party is coming back together so rapidly. We in the Republican Party are 99and 44/100th percent the same. We share the same thoughts and beliefs. The differences will be somewhat larger in the general election. between A C Wharton the Democrat and George Flinn the Republican. But these differences can be articulated and debated in a friendly manner. I think we can shake hands and smile at each other, and let the voters choose. The voters need to be presented the differences in candidates’ philosophies. I think we owe it to the voters to be candid about the different approaches and philosophies we would bring to governing Shelby County. What are the basic differences between yourself and A C Wharton? I understand that his position, as a Democrat, would be weighted more heavily to government intervention and possibly more taxes, while my position would be that of doing a few things and doing them very well, and holding the line on taxes and ensuring accountability, on scrubbing the budget, looking at it, and seeing if every dollar is being spent wisely. How do you feel abut the rest of the Republican ticket you’ll be running with? I feel great about the ticket. [County trustee] Bob Patterson is a treasure. My friend [newly elected county commissioner] John Willingham is very cost-conscious and is all about accountability. Bruce Thompson [a nominee for commissioner] is all about business and accountability.. And Mark Luttrell, the nominee for sheriff, is going to be great. I’ve talked to him several times. I’m going to enjoy working with him, because he, too, is all about cost-cutting and efficient management and accountability. I think we’ve got a perfect ticket, from top to bottom, to present to the people, one that will hold the line and/or decrease taxes and make the government much more accountable. You actually think it’s possible to decrease taxes? That’s my goal. Back to the feeling that you mentioned that some people thought you “bought” the election: What’s your response to that? All I did was spend enough to make sure we got our message out, and I thnk, as we go through the general election cycle, I think it’s going to be beneficial to the entire Republican ticket to have that message -- the Republican one of accountability -- presented for a full hearing. I think, in general, my message -- which includes a good deal of skepticism about the value of countywide consolidation, at least as it’s been talked about -- is the same as the entire ticket’s. But accountability, based on fairness, that’s what the message really is. That, plus public safety, and job creation. And education. That’s what we were able to make the voters aware of in the primary. They voted for it, not especially for me -- although I’m glad to be the messenger. One more thing about this “buying an election” stuff. In radio, we say that the worst thing you can do is advertise a bad product. If you advertise something good, you win with it; if it’s a bad product, you’re going to go bust. No doubt cost-cutting and “accountability” will play well in certain areas -- the suburbs, fr example -- but your opponent is a well-regarded African American who hopes to cross political boundaries with his appeal. Meanwhile, what do you offer that’s attractive to his base? Well, I have an office in the inner city -- my main office. I’ve been there for 27 years. I talk to inner city Memphians every day. I know their deepest concerns. When someone’s sick, their deepest concerns come out. I’m very attuned to that. The main thing is that those Memphians are not abandoned, that the services they are used to continue to be offered to them. I am no less disposed to listen to them than I am to the folks in the suburbs and those out in the county. I’m balanced between everybody’s needs, the way I think government should be. But can you maintain a good level of social services and cut taxes, too? I think we can, by being accountable and making certain that the services we provide them are the ones they need. Often times we try to provide services that they don’t need. And don’t get. I know the services they need, because those are the ones they tell me about, and I’m very attuned to the inner city, as I am to the county at large. To say the least, you’ve mentioned the word “accountable” a fair number of times. What exactly do you mean by it? Exactly what it sounds like: The word means that you owe an accounting to the people who hire you to run their public affairs and spend their tax money. That means you make responsible allocations to agreed-upon purposes based on dependable revenue sources. And that you do it year after year in the most exacting way. “Accounting” contains another word: “count.” You have to be able to count accurately, and project your numbers. I’ve had a good deal of experience with that . In the primary campaign, you had to deal with a good deal of speculation that you were unfamiliar with the issues. What is the state of your familiarity with them? I have a broad experience in business and as a physician. I am a quick study.I have bee studying.[the issues], and I will continue to study. And I will know the issues better than most. As a matter of fact, I already know the issues, most of those someone might bring up, and I know them upwards and downwards.I would challenge those who want to promulgate the idea that I don’t know the issues: Try me. And the main thing is that I know the people, and I know the area. I’m one of those who grew up listening to Dewey Phillips! I went to Central High School like my father, and I know every one of our local landmarks like the back of my hand. The real issue, when you get down to it, is how the people feel about things. They’ll always tell you what the issues are. And I’d rather listen to them than second-guess them.

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