Friday, March 11, 2005

Tales of Two Women

Representative Bowers responds to a daughter's tell-all; Senator Kurita guns for the U.S. race.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 11, 2005 at 4:00 AM

It is well established, via a famous cliché, that politics ain't beanbag.

The latest evidence of that was delivered last Friday night on WMC-TV Channel 5, when reporter Darrell Phillips reported on, of all things, a memoir written by the daughter of an active local political candidate.

The book, entitled The Prodigal Daughter and published locally by Reginald Martin Books, is by Desiree Bowers, whose mother, state representative Kathryn Bowers, is a candidate for the District 33 state Senate seat recently vacated by Roscoe Dixon, now an aide to Shelby County mayor A C Wharton.

Stated simply, the book, which purports to be the author's account of her spiritual regeneration, presents Representative Bowers as a negligent mother preoccupied with "saving the world." The book asserts that the senior Bowers, though a Catholic, arranged for the author to have at least one abortion, which came when the younger Bowers was only 13 and already embarked on a career of prostitution. Her mother was heavily engaged in civil and community affairs at the time.

Bowers has several opponents in the March 24th Democratic primary, which is very probably going to be the decisive vote, rather than the special general election on May 10th. District 33, spreading across the southern edge of Shelby County, is predominantly black and overwhelmingly Democratic. That fact creates a steep climb indeed for the four Republicans and two independents also running.

Practically speaking, the Democratic primary race is considered as being between Shelby County Commission chairman Michael Hooks and Bowers, who made it clear Saturday, after she had spoken briefly before the Germantown Democratic Club, that she suspected foul play on the part of her major opponent.

Pleading another commitment, Bowers had not been present Friday night for a candidate forum at Methodist Hospital South -- one that got started less than an hour after Phillips told his tale on the 6 p.m. news.

One of the questions fielded by the four candidates at that forum was whether the details of a candidate's private life should have a bearing on their fitness for office or should figure in election campaigns. The four candidates on hand -- Republicans Barry Sterling and Jason Hernandez, independent Ian Randolph, and Hooks -- all answered in the affirmative on both counts. (Absent were Bowers, Republicans Mary Ann Chaney McNeil and Mary Lynn Flood, and independent Mary Taylor Shelby.)

The public had a "right to know," said Sterling. Hernandez said a candidate was obliged to be a "role model" and added that private behavior was an indicator of public performance. Randolph said office-holders should reflect the values of their community.

For his part, Hooks, who made an indirect reference to his conviction some years ago on a drug charge and subsequent rehabilitation, proclaimed his life "an open book" and said every candidate's should be.

After the Channel 5 newscast, which was followed by a posting on Phillips' personal blog, Bowers evidently made the judgment that, now that her daughter's book and her own life had been opened to public scrutiny, she needed to hit the issue head on.

Accordingly, she brought the matter up when she was asked to say a few words at a Saturday morning meeting of the Germantown Democrats. Asking for members' prayers in a difficult time, Bowers said she intended to handle the issue of the book with "love and forgiveness" and said her chief concerns were with the "children" -- meaning her own, including Desiree, and several grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Acknowledging that at various times she may in fact have appeared to be "trying to save the world," Bowers then segued into some of her legislative concerns -- notably her determination to resist Governor Phil Bredesen's proposed eliminations of some 323,000 Tennesseans from the TennCare rolls. "Health care and economic development: That's what I do," she concluded.

Asked about her daughter's book afterward, Bowers said she hadn't read it but had owned a copy since its publication, roughly a year ago. "Of course," she answered, when asked if she thought the surfacing of the issue now was politically inspired.

Without specifying what parts of the book she might mean, Bowers said it was "not necessarily all nonfiction," though she did acknowledge that she had arranged an abortion when Desiree Bowers had become pregnant at the age of 13 and "didn't know who the father was."

No reconciliation was necessary with her daughter, said Bowers, because "we never fell out" in the first place. "But she has made her choices, and I have made mine."

Representative Bowers said she had been up "all night long" following Friday night's telecast, receiving phone calls from well-wishers. Certainly, there was nothing stinted about the hand she got from the Germantown members, who roundly applauded her remarks.

Madame Senator?

It's no secret that 9th District U.S. representative Harold Ford is the odds-on favorite to be the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in 2006 -- should he choose to run. But it won't be a free ride. He can expect determined opposition from a Nashville-area legislator and self-styled "straight shooter" who proudly says she is used to running hard in contested elections and modestly avers, "I've won a few."

This is state senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, the Middle Tennessee city, just north of Nashville, which includes a portion of the Fort Campbell (Ky.) military complex and numerous military personnel among its residents. She has just begun her third term as senator from District 22 (Cheatham, Houston, and Montgomery counties). Says the 57-year-old Kurita: "It's a conservative district that Bush won. I keep turning away Republican challengers, and I beat a Republican incumbent eight years ago to get in." She adds: "Tennessee Democrats are Bubbas. I'm a Bubba!"

As one proof of that, Kurita cites her prowess in skeet-shooting, a pastime in which she competes and has won several awards. Several years ago she accepted a challenge to a one-on-one match from the chief state lobbyist of the National Rifle Association. She won -- a fact that didn't keep her from getting the NRA's endorsement at election time.

She expects to have it in the future too, and that's one of the facts that she says will make her candidacy amenable to Tennesseans at large. In her reelection campaign last year, she used a TV ad that showed her firing her modified Browning shotgun on the skeet range and featured her stands in opposition to a state income tax, partial birth abortion, and gay marriage. She also supports the Bush administration's policy on Iraq. On Social Security, though, she thinks the president has created an artificial crisis and finds his proposals for privatization "frightening."

"The Republicans have thrown everything at me that they could, and I've always been able to raise enough money to take 'em on," says Kurita, a former Montgomery County commissioner who vows to have enough on hand to handle both the primary race and, if successful, the general election contest.

Kurita, a former nurse and mother of three whose husband is a pediatrician, grew up in Midland, Texas, where she was a schoolmate of Laura Bush and her father was the local Republican chairman. Why did she change parties? "Republicans have to be of one mind and walk with one step. Democrats let you be who you want to be," she says.

Though the senator is a slightly built woman, she is a figure to be reckoned with in legislative councils. After a single-handed struggle of some years, she managed last year to get smoking banned outright in the state Capitol, including the smokers' last bastions of the House and Senate chambers.

"She doesn't take no for an answer very easily," notes Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle of Memphis.

"I don't expect to have to," she says about the 2006 election.

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