Friday, September 30, 2005

Triple Jeopardy

Fields' action on behalf of GOP complainant Roland provokes an ouster move by local Dems.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 30, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Exit Fields? Pity the Shelby County Democrats, if you will. They just barely managed a show of unity two months ago after the election of a new chairman (compromise candidate Matt Kuhn) amid a three-way power struggle. And in a special election two weeks ago, they held on to John Ford's old state Senate seat by the squeaker margin of 13 votes for Ford's sister Ophelia.

Now they have new worries. Richard Fields, an influential Democrat who won a seat on the party's executive committee back in July, is in danger of losing it this month. The reason? Lawyer Fields has had the temerity to provide pro bono representation to Republican Terry Roland in Roland's ongoing legal challenge to Ophelia Ford's victory, which was formally certified Monday by the county Election Commission along 3-2 party lines.

In doing so, Fields may have transgressed against party bylaws. Or so maintains fellow committeeman Del Gill who has filed a resolution forcing a vote on whether to expel Fields at next week's regular monthly meeting of the executive committee.

Gill's resolution, which chairman Kuhn has agreed to put on the next week's regular agenda of the executive committee, would present Fields with three choices:

1) He can "repudiate his support" of Roland and "dissociate his legal representation."

2) He can voluntarily resign from the committee and remain a "bona fide Democrat."

3) He can face a committee vote to remove him, which, if successful, would cause the term "none bona fide Democrat" to be attached to his name.

Gill's co-signers on the resolution include William Larsha, Derrick Harris, and party vice chair Cherry Davis. More importantly, a brief survey of opinion indicates that he may have at least the tacit support of a broad array of Democrats, cutting across the usual party dividing lines.

The local party bylaw, Article III, cited by Gill could be subject to some legal parsing, however. While it prohibits, on pain of expulsion, "supporting candidates running against Democrats in General Elections," either financially or otherwise, it makes no specific reference to legal representation.

Enter Loeffel. A month or two back, Debbie Stamson, an assistant and protégé to retiring Shelby County clerk Jayne Creson, was attending a meeting of the Shelby County Commission and wondered out loud if commission member Marilyn Loeffel still harbored ambitions of running for Creson's job next year.

At the time, the commissioner, though not a signatory to the anti-term-limits suit pressed by three of her colleagues, must surely have been wondering if the courts would permit her to run again, if she chose to, in her Cordova district. So far they hadn't, and, when asked, Loeffel confirmed that she had an undiminished interest in running for the clerk's position.

That was despite the fact that Stamson had just held a well-attended monster fund-raiser at the Germantown home of supporter Wayne Mashburn, son of semi-legendary former clerk "Sonny" Mashburn.

Loeffel was undeterred by that show of force. The commissioner, who was first elected in 1998 on a tide of socially conservative votes, remains confident that that army will rise again to support her in what shapes up as a hotly competitive Republican primary campaign against Stamson, whose husband Steve will simultaneously be running for reelection as Juvenile Court clerk.

In her official announcement of candidacy Monday, Loeffel made brief reference to her two terms as a part-time commissioner and said: "I've chosen to ask Shelby County residents for the opportunity to serve them in a full-time capacity."

Meanwhile, sometime radio talk-show host and former City Court clerk candidate Janis Fullilove looms as a potential Democratic opponent for either Loeffel or Stamson.

Enter Thaddeus. Another entry in next year's political sweepstakes is broadcaster/blogger Thaddeus Matthews, the scourge of numerous politicians, including all members of the Ford family and, from time to time, Mayor Willie Herenton.

Matthews announced last week that he would seek the District 3 County Commission seat now held by the outgoing Michael Hooks, who has the misfortune of being both term-limited and indicted in the Tennessee Waltz extortion scandal.• Gibbons fund-raiser: District Attorney General Bill Gibbons filled the upstairs room at the downtown Rendezvous restaurant Tuesday night for a fund-raiser/reception that drew many of Gibbons' fellow luminaries in addition to a large crowd of other supporters.

Among those attending in support of Gibbons' 2006 reelection effort were both Memphis mayor Herenton and Shelby County mayor A C Wharton. Reaffirming his previously announced endorsement of Gibbons, the often-controversial Herenton joked, "I hope I do him more good than harm." • It only hurts when he laughs: At a fund-raiser here last week at the home of city councilman Jack Sammons, Governor Phil Bredesen kept a smiling and relaxed demeanor despite the presence across the street of demonstrators protesting his paring of the TennCare rolls, a move he has defended as necessary for budgetary reasons.

"Inviting me is one way to get demonstrators to show up at the end of your driveway," joked the governor, who said he had spoken with several of the protesters and urged the attendees at the fund-raiser to do so. "These are good people," he said.• Focus on lobbyists: The governor's appearance in Memphis came at the end of a day in which the members of his recently appointed Citizens Advisory Panel on Ethics held the last of several statewide meetings at the University of Memphis' Fogelman Center.

Presided over by former state attorney general Mike Cody and former state senator Ben Atchley of Knoxville, the meeting was attended by several local legislators, including state senators Steve Cohen of Memphis and Roy Herron of Dresden and state representatives Paul Stanley and Brian Kelsey of Germantown and Dolores Grisham of Covington.

Cohen called for ratcheting up the current "cup-of-coffee" law to eliminate all lobbyist-funded favors for members of the General Assembly -- a point that was seconded by Stanley and Kelsey. Asked how much legislation was initiated by lobbyists rather than members of the Assembly, Cohen answered bluntly, "Almost all of it."

Grisham, who said she and two other relatively short-term Republican legislators shared the services of a single staffer, called the absence of adequate staffing for legislators "unacceptable." It meant, she said, that increasingly legislators are forced to use lobbyists as sources of advice on legislation. "The good ones will give you both sides," she said.

Current lobbyist and former legislator Rufus Jones of Memphis got the day's best laugh when asked what the duties of a lobbyist were.

"The first thing you've got to do is get a client," Jones said. "You can go up there and lobby all day long, but if you don't have a client, you're in trouble!"

The panel is scheduled to report its recommendations to Bredesen this week.• Taking the bitter with the sweet: Two Tennesseans hopeful of advancing themselves politically faced criticism last week.

Ninth District congressman Harold Ford Jr., who aspires to the U.S. Senate, was named "worst black congressman" by the "CBC Monitor," a group that performed an analysis of the voting records of members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Ford was assigned a 5 percent satisfactory rate on nine selected "bright line" issues, including his vote for the stringent bankruptcy bill passed by Congress this past spring.

Tennessee senator Bill Frist faces insider-trading inquiries from both the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission concerning his sale of Hospital Corporation of America stock just before it took a nosedive on the stock market.

HCA was founded by Frist's extended Nashville family, but Frist has said he had "no information about HCA or its performance that was not publicly available," and supporters maintain that his action was related to a need to avoid potential conflicts of interest prior to his presidential run.

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