Monday, November 30, 2009

Three Candidates Vie in GOP Showdown for House District 83

Posted By on Mon, Nov 30, 2009 at 1:51 AM

Pellicciotti, Porter, White
  • JB
  • Pellicciotti, Porter, White

Up to this point, it has almost been an afterthought to the more high-profile race between Republican Brian Kelsey and Democrat Adrienne Pakis-Gillon for the District 31 state Senate seat. But on Tuesday another major legislative race, and a potentially suspenseful one at that, will share billing with the Senate race.

This is the Republican primary for state House District 83, which was vacated early by Kelsey so as to ensure a turnover before the convening of the 2010 session of the legislature in January.

As with Senate District 31, House District 83 — spanning portions of East Memphis and Germantown — is historically Republican, and though the winner of the GOP primary will still have to worry about Democrat Guthrie Castle and independent John Andreucetti in the January 12 general election, the Republican who wins on Tuesday, December 1, will be heavily favored.

The GOP contestants are high-tech consultant John Pellicciotti, small-businessman and former teacher Mark White, and Michael Porter, an ex-Marine and former law enforcement officer who describes himself now as a real estate investor.

Last Tuesday, at a forum scheduled by the East Shelby Republican Club at Germantown’s Pickering Center, the three displayed themselves together for what would seem to have been the first and only time before this week’s primary. The ideological differences between them were few but illuminating.

Asked to name a role model, for example, White gave his answer as Ronald Reagan, Porter named Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and Pellicciotti named Jesus Christ — this after pointing out that “Ronald Reagan did a number of great things. He also spent a lot of money that we need to be aware of.”

All three declared themselves foes of big government and bureaucracy, and all expressed concern about the local crime rate, belief in the positive value of education, and a determination to cut state spending to the amount of already available revenue. Needless to say, all professed to be conservatives when asked to choose between that label and “liberal” and “moderate.”

All, too, put themselves on record as deploring President Obama’s currently evolving health-care package. “Washington,” in fact, was pinpointed as something of a potential adversary for anyone n state government, both for what the three principals agreed were too many unfunded mandates and, as White put it, “just about everything that’s going on there.”

Asked by audience members about such recondite subjects as the state sovereignty movement and the 10th amendment (which reserves power unspecified in the Constitution to the states), all three candidates expressed general solidarity with states’-rights attitudes without tying themselves to anything that might sound scofflaw or secessionist.

White suggested that the Constitution was “not a living document,” but a reliable framework prepared “in a more moral time.” And Porter considered the English language itself to be a bedrock value and the preservation of it as an official tongue to be one of his major goals.

Pellicciotti, like White an unsuccessful candidate in two previous tries for public office, was asked at one point by club member Bill Wood why he had seemingly dropped out of public party activity for the preceding several years.

He had concentrated on other kinds of contributions, Pellicciotti answered, naming his several board memberships related to civic activities and a philanthropic mission on behalf of impoverished people in Africa. White boasted a similar involvement, in the Global Children’s Education Foundation, an organization he co-founded.

Both Pellicciotti and White have abundant campaign signage out on major thoroughfares. In something of a twist, Pellicciotti has challenged what he describes as White’s penchant for campaign spending. Porter would seem to be a comparatively late starter in both expenditures and organization, with little public evidence of an organized campaign as such..

Saturday, November 28, 2009

State Rep. Larry Turner, Who Served for a Quarter Century, Dies

Posted By on Sat, Nov 28, 2009 at 1:49 PM

State Rep. Larry Turner
  • State Rep. Larry Turner
State Rep. Larry Turner (D-Memphis), who died Friday morning at age 70 after a prolonged illness, was about as beloved as a legislator who consistently votes contrarily can be.

In an age of polarized partisan politics and lockstep party voting, the long-serving Turner’s was the one vote that was never taken for granted by anybody. As the Knoxville News-Sentinel’s Tom Humphrey noted on his passing, Turner was not averse to being on the short end of a 98-1 vote in the state House of Representatives if an issue struck him as a matter of conscience or conscientiousness.

And yet there was no showboat in him. The diminutive ever-smiling Turner was about as mild-mannered and diffident in his self-presentation as it was possible to be. He never shamed a colleague, friend or foe, merely stated his case for the record and made his vote. He was the quiet man whose voice and vote carried far.

I cannot recall the issue now, but I remember being struck by Turner’s taking a holdout position on some vote during the early ‘90s, one that caused other members to look again at the matter and vote to reconsider it. I was so impressed by the transformation caused by this mighty mite that I wrote a column about Turner in which I jokingly compared him to Superman.

A reelection campaign or two later, I went to one of his events and saw that column mounted on a board with a cartoon image of Turner, in Superman costume and cape, superimposed on it. He had a famous sense of humor, too. To employ a standard that I have been able to use on only a handful of political figures, it was impossible to imagine anyone saying, “That damned Larry Turner!”

Even so, for an incumbent who lasted in the legislature as long as he did — almost a quarter century, having been elected and re-elected for a total of 12 terms — Turner seemed always to be drawing an opponent in his district, the southern-most in Memphis and Shelby County. He always won, easily.

He and his wife, longtime local NAACP head Johnnie Turner, had for decades been figures of crucial importance and large influence in local affairs.

The last time I took public note of his studied singularity on a major vote was in August 2007 during the course of a strenuous late-session showdown vote in the House over a tobacco tax pushed by Governor Phil Bredesen, with the proceeds intended for education. It was definitely a party-line issue. Republicans were against it as a bloc, and Democrats were expected to be for it — though Larry Turner and Mike Kernell, both Democrats, dissented, each for essentially the same reason.

Neither was opposed to the tax per se; each merely felt that the revenues raised from a tobacco tax should be allocated to health care and held out unsuccessfully for a bill that took that form.

Turner was not a spoiler, though. As late as 2007, the Democrats still commanded enough of a majority in the House that fellow Democrat Bredesen was able to get his bill through. Former Speaker Jimmy Naifeh noted on his passing, “You could always count on Larry.” Indeed, in the last full term that Democrats controlled the House (2007-8), Turner had risen to the rank of Deputy Speaker.

In more ways than one, Larry Turner made a difference.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ford vs. Gillibrand for New York Senate Seat?

Posted By on Wed, Nov 25, 2009 at 2:34 PM

Ford; Gillibrand
  • Ford; Gillibrand

The last time we suggested that Harold Ford Jr. was interested in the New York U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Hillary Clinton, it was when Clinton surrendered her seat to become Secretary of State. Sometime Memphian Ford denied any such hankering at the time, and Kirsten Gillibrand got the nod.

Now is saying that Ford, at least a part-time New York resident these days, is hankering hard and heavy and may indeed run against Gillibrand, — presumably in the 2012 Democratic primary.

Here’s the Politico story:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On an Acorn Fallen Pretty Far From the Tree

Posted By on Tue, Nov 24, 2009 at 2:00 AM

Wade Rathke
  • Wade Rathke
Life is full of surprises. I have followed the right wing’s recent propaganda war against ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) only casually and more sympathetically for ACORN than not.

I recall being holed up in a Little Rock hotel late one night in 1982 while I was working on an Arkansas political campaign and listening to a meeting of the group transpire either overhead or in an adjoining room. In whichever case, it was like I was right there, hearing every voice as a passionate argument went on between ACORN field reps over the best recruiting strategies to pursue in Arkansas.

What I recall most, beside the aforesaid passion, was the absolute sincerity and sense of commitment, even zeal, of the participants for doing something about the living conditions of the poor and powerless. That leaked through the partition, and, though it eventually became a drone that I went to sleep by, I was not unimpressed.

Well, here I was Monday morning looking at an email from the Tennessee Republican Party (being in the business, as it were, I’m on everybody’s send list) noting that one Wade Rathke was due to speak at the University of Memphis that night.

He was identified as ACORN’s co-founder and taken to task by the anonymous GOP scribe for concealing the embarrassing fact that his brother had embezzled almost $1 million from the group — a circumstance that supposedly prompted Rathke to resign from ACORN only last month.

I gather that the point of the email was to entice Republicans to go heckle Rathke or, at the very least, to monitor his activities. For myself, remembering the intensity and righteous energy I’d overheard in that Arkansas hotel way back when, I thought I would go give the ACORN man a fair hearing if circumstances permitted.

Later in the day, though, I got another email alerting me to an entry in the aforesaid Rathke’s personal blog. (Like I said, I’m in the business.)

Discussing a meeting sometime Sunday with “twenty community leaders” here in Memphis, Rathke went on to deal with a recent controversy involving developer Harold Buehler’s ultimately successful application, under a federal program, to acquire 140 vacant lots to develop rental property on.

Said Rathke: “I found a squib by Jackson Baker in something called the ‘political beat’ in the Memphis Flyer. Despite Baker’s bias in favor of Buehler and his contempt for Commissioner Henri Brooks, and anyone who opposes this project, his piece does confirm the facts behind the minister’s disgust and my new friends’ revulsion at this action.”

Whereupon he went on to quote several paragraphs from my coverage of a commission meeting, and, sure enough, those paragraphs could be used to support criticism of Buehler’s project. Or mayhap to support the project, for that matter. Or whatever one chose to think, really, since all I was aiming to do was, as Rathke would put it, to “confirm the facts” behind the controversy. Not to argue them one way or the other.

I own up to contributing “squibs” on a regular basis to “something called the ‘political beat’ in the Memphis Flyer” (that would be online) and to something else called “Politics” in the print edition of the Flyer. I disclaim, however, any “bias in favor of Buehler” and, most certainly, any “contempt for Commissioner Henri Brooks, and anyone who opposes this project.” Au contraire. I confess to a regard for several opponents of the project, and a genuine respect for Commissioner Brooks, especially for her determination to go it alone if need be on behalf of causes she holds dear. (Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act never had a more dedicated watchdog.)

What I have “contempt” for is someone who rolls into town and, on the basis of a single ex parte conversation and a hasty skimming (and misreading) of one article, becomes an instant authority on people, places, and things he knows not of. For the record, Rathke should know that most of the certifiable progressives on the commission, those who would be expected to underwrite the goals of organizations like, say, ACORN, voted with Buehler. Rightly or wrongly.

On the evidence of Mr. Rathke’s capacity for blatant prejudgment, I find myself at least leaning to the notion that the conscientious members of ACORN might be well rid of him, whatever his contributions of the past. And that’s the end of this squib.

Monday, November 23, 2009

GADFLY: Phone THIS home, cellulistas!

Posted By on Mon, Nov 23, 2009 at 5:20 PM

The Gadfly
  • The Gadfly

I have a question for all you cell phone addicts: do you find yourself shopping for a waterproof cell phone just so you don't miss any calls while you're in the shower? Amazingly,  there is at least one, though I doubt in-shower use was its motivation. Surely, my cellulista friends,  you cannot be disconnected from the outside world for a nanosecond, much less for the time it takes to shampoo your hair or wash your fanny. Cellphone-itis has gotten so bad, I've noticed walkers in my neighborhood on their phones as they encourage Fido to do his thing. Hey, “walkie talkies:” why not just invite your indispensable phone buddies to walk with you. Maybe you could put a leash on them (and pick up their poo) too, while you're at it.

Which is to say, my disgust with cell phone ubiquity (and the insufferableness of its users) is reaching critical mass. For some time I've been tempted to take the unacceptability of cell phone omnipresence into my own hands. There are a variety of tactics available to deal with the boors who think the world should revolve around their cell phone conversations, wherever they happen to be. My favorite tactic was demonstrated by one of my heros, Larry David (the creator of the iconic “Seinfeld” TV series), on his HBO series, “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Confronted with a restaurant patron sitting at the table next to his,  blabbing into one of those blue tooth earpieces that make it seem like you're talking to yourself, he (Larry) starts talking to himself, as though he's having a cell phone conversation. The tactic has the desired effect, with the oblivious phone monger, annoyed by David's imaginary conversation (“at least I'm talking to a real person”), leaving the restaurant in a huff.  I've found that it's even more effective if you repeat, verbatim and at an even higher decibel level, the conversation the obnoxious talker is having, in that annoying way children learn to repeat everything a split second after somone's said it. Some cell phone scolds have taken their grievances to a whole new level,  using the information they glean from loud-mouthed cell fiends against them.

If I had my druthers, though, I wouldn't leave home without my trusty cell phone jammer. Yes, for only about a hundred bucks you too can take back the space in your immediate vicinity by disabling cell phone communication for several feet in all directions. Even though they're illegal (go ahead, arrest me),  jammers are widely available on the internet<.  Oh, how I've fantasized about carrying one of these little wonders in my pocket when I go into a public place and am subjected to some inane (and oh-so-important) conversation within earshot. Just imagine the power this little gizmo gives you to take back your aural space in public places. Go ahead, cell phoner: make my day!

Cell phones have become a pox on society. And now, of course, as if talking on them wasn't obnoxious enough, we've had the explosion of using them to text message, as well as to “tweet.” Don't get me started on “tweeting.” Actually,  it's too late.   Had an amazing orgasm or an awesome fart? Tweet about it. Someone's bound to be interested. I am convinced that civilization, as we know it, will come to an end, if not by the vast, and increasing, disparity between the haves and the have-nots, then by our inability to go for minutes at a time without  “reaching out and touching” someone. I'm beginning to understand what Greta Garbo had in mind when she uttered  her trademark line.

Of course, there's little doubt using a communication device while driving is dangerous, estimates being that  cell phone users are responsible for thousands of injuries (and hundreds of deaths) each year, the result being that restrictions on texting, and even on conversing while driving, have become justifiably widespread. “Hang up and drive” is still very good advice. Unfortunately, cell phone addiction is finding  even newer ways to enable it, although, in a hopeful sign, the addicts are implementing their own  one-step version of a self-help program.

The ultimate comeuppance for cell phone addicts is the increasing body of evidence that cell phone usage may be hazardous to health. A  definitive study on this (which also debunks the industry's surprising “findings” to the contrary) has just recently been released.  And, the World Health Organization is reportedly ready to release the  report of a long-term study with a similar conclusion.  Of course, the cell phone manufacturers vehemently deny any causal connection, and though I am one of the few remaining skeptics who believes that if you condition a lab rat to do anything (sex?) frequently enough you'll find it causes cancer, I'm not stupid enough to deny that some behaviors are unacceptably risky (e.g., texting while driving). As for the cell phone industry's denial, remember how vehemently the tobacco industry denied their product's link to cancer.  It took nearly 50 years for the dangers of tobacco to become generally recognized.  The same for many other environmental toxins, including asbestos. And, don't think those silly looking blue tooth ear pieces offer any protection, or even that just carrying your phone on your hip avoids risks.

So, it appears that Darwinian principles may eventually kick in when it comes to cell phone users. Meantime, celluslistas: STFU when you're around me. Besides, you never know when I might be carrying that jammer.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

No Ordinary Joe!: Ford Elected Interim County Mayor as Votes Change Sides

Posted By on Tue, Nov 17, 2009 at 11:07 PM

Interim county mayor-elect Joe Ford
  • JB
  • Interim county mayor-elect Joe Ford
Criminal Court Judge Otis Higgs, who in past decades several times sought the office of city mayor, made the kind of lighthearted, warm-hearted, and stout-hearted speech that his friends from several decades of public life would have expected of him; yet when it was all over the unquestionably deserving public servant, ready to serve as a temporary county mayor during what he plans to be his retirement year, once again failed to get the bride, the bridesmaid, or the rice thrown at the wedding.

No rice and no dice either for John Vergos, the former Memphis city councilman who sat hopefully in the county building auditorium last week and did so again Tuesday. Nor for Jack Sammons, still serving as acting CAO for departed county mayor A C Wharton, now residing as the newly elected Memphis mayor over at City Hall across the way.

Nor for county commissioner J.W. Gibson or his once-and-future colleague, commissioner and acting mayor Joyce Avery, who once again let themselves be nominated and took front row seats, prepared to wait it out the as their fellow commissioners voted again on appointing an interim Shelby county mayor.

Only there was no wait this time Nothing like the marathon 24 separate ballots that took place Monday of last week as Gibson and commissioner Joe Ford deadlocked over-and-over again with repeat vote totals of 5-to-5, interrupted only by the occasional spurt of tentative votes for someone else — Avery or commissioner George Flinn or county CAO Jim Huntzicker. But the stalemate never broke.

It did this time around. On the second ballot, commissioner James Harvey shifted away from Gibson and, in the manner of the talented Gridiron Show thespian he is, delivered a properly cadenced and dramatic apologia for reversing himself, all in the name of ending the commission’s ordeal, then cast his vote for commissioner Joe Ford, and — Bingo! There was your new county mayor for the next several months, the first member of his politically illustrious family to hold the executive title of mayor.

And there was celebration and jubilation all around, as much because there would be no ordeal like last week’s as because of Ford’s victory over Gibson. The palpable mood of deliverance would doubtless have been there had the nod gone to Gibson — who, as if anticipating the outcome, had earlier, in obligatory remarks making the case for himself, had pointedly, almost concessively, expressed gratitude merely for having been nominated.

Also having an earlier moment had been commissioner Steve Mulroy, a dedicated Ford supporter (and no mean thespian himself), who also seemed to have seen what was coming, making a speech renouncing whatever hopes he might privately have nursed of being a fallback mayoral choice.

Standing off to the side of the post-selection hoopla, eschewing any dramatics whatsoever, was commissioner Henri Brooks, who had really been the decision-maker on Tuesday. It was Brooks, an immovable Gibson vote last week, who had made the first break toward Ford, from the very first ballot. All Harvey had done was follow through on the implied offer he had made during last week’s session to cross over if he had company.

Why did Brooks provide the occasion? “I just listened to my constituents,” was her only explanation.

When Ford made an impromptu acceptance speech, he promised as mayor to institute the same kinds of “task forces” on this or that governmental issue as he had while serving as the commission’s chairman a few seasons back. And he could hardly be blamed for expressing a bit of resentment at the public venting that had been given his several personal problems — mainly financial — during this last week.

Ford advised his listeners to believe “very little” of what they saw on television and “nothing” they read in “the newspaper.”

Ah well, now that this showdown is over, maybe there’ll be an easing up of the odd polarization on the commission — one that owes nothing to either ideology or political party but rather to the kind of personal motives and ad hoc alliances you could expect to find on any organized body of people. Maybe commissioner Mike Carpenter, a co-chair of Memphis mayor Wharton’s transition team and the subject of nonstop rumors that he’s City Hall-bound himself will feel free now to make his move.

As for Ford, he maintained a poker face, even in triumph.. That eased up for good only when somebody remarked to him that, after all those years of people conjecturing about there being a “Mayor Ford,” meaning his brother Harold Sr., a former congressman now doing high-stakes lobbying from a base in Florida, there is one such. And this Mayor-elect Ford is named Joe.

At that thought he finally smiled.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ping-Pong Diplomacy Comes to the City Council!

Posted By on Mon, Nov 16, 2009 at 12:06 PM

With the Memphis City Council preparing to reorganize this week, what better means of resolving the council pecking order could there be than some organized mano-a-mano, ping pong?

In any case, Saturday night found current council chairman Harold Collins facing a challenge from colleague Jim Strickland. Strickland himself does not aspire to the chairmanship but has been known to cross swords with Collins on some issues and to have worked hand-in-glove with him on others. The outcome of their set-to Saturday night could well affect the balance of power.

As of Saturday night, there were rumors — taken seriously by Collins — that Myron Lowery, the former chairman who yielded the position to Collins when Lowery became acting mayor at the end of July, might want the job back now that his interim mayoral tenure is over. Lowery, however, did not compete in Strickland's garage Saturday night.

In any case, and whatever its import, the suspenseful Strickland-Collins match went down to the wire.

Commentators' voices on this video are those of Ed Ford Jr., and Jackson Baker. The score as given is shorthand (i.e., the video begins late in the game and a score of "eight," say, actually means 18. It saves breath to call it out that way. Or something. Quite the opposite of the prolix commentaries heard in your average city council meeting.)

For best effect, watch match in full screen mode.

Gubernatorial Straw Votes Greeted Skeptically

One at Knoxville, one at Kingsport draw raised eyebrows.

Posted By on Mon, Nov 16, 2009 at 12:56 AM

Two recent circumstances — one on the Republican side, one on the Democratic side — have crystallized skepticism concerning the value of straw votes, the kind usually taken at cattle-call receptions for candidates in this or that locality.

The Tennessee Conservative Union held one in Knoxville earlier this month in which the four major Republican gubernatorial candidates were measured. Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey of Blountville won that one with 123 votes; Knoxville Mayor bill Haslam had 80 votes, and Chattanooga congressman Zach Wamp had 70. Memphis’ GOP entry, District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, had one (count’ em, 1).

That might seem devastating for the Memphian, who also trails the others in fundraising, but, interestingly enough, Gibbons’ Republican rivals concurred at this past weekend’s Pasta & Politics Dinner in Memphis with his own skepticism toward the Knoxville straw poll’s possible meaning.

Most interestingly, Wamp, who has wondered out loud about Gibbons dropping out of the race, pooh-poohed the results as an indicator of Gibbons’ long-range potential.

“All these things don’t really matter in the big scheme of things,” said Wamp “Most often they’re a matter of how many tables a candidate buys, or how many tickets a candidate buys to an event.” The Chattanoogan said a “scientific survey” would give a better idea, and cited one he had done in July, which showed himself leading but the other three candidates — including Gibbons — bunched close behind.

“Gibbons actually was pretty strong in the Memphis media market, and this is a big county,” Wamp said.

He noted, as did the others (and, as had Gibbons himself) that the Memphis D.A. is not from the Knoxville area but will likely have a chance to get better known there.

Bill Haslam, who is from Knoxville and, in fact, serves as the city’s chief executive, said, “I think straw votes are valuable, but it’s always dangerous to read too much into them. They’re fun for everyone,but I wouldn’t read much into them. I wasn’t there, and Bill wasn’t there, either, and he’s not from there.”

Nor would Ramsey, who won that poll, draw too many conclusion ns from it. “I did well, and that’s all I care about,” he said.

And only this past weekend there was a straw poll for Democratic candidates that engendered more skepticism than credibility.

This one was held at a Democratic Party event in Kingsport that was scantily attended – most likely because of a University of Tennessee football game held at the same time on Saturday. Only three gubernatorial candidates attended – Memphis state senator Jim Kyle, Dresden state senator Roy Herron, and Nashville businessman Ward Cammack – and the number of people who gathered to hear them numbered no more than 50, at best.

Yet straw-vote results, based on tickets sold for the pot-luck affair, were given out as follows: Herron, 85; Jackson businessman Mike McWherter, 20; Kyle and Cammack, 12 each; and former state Rep. Kim McMillan, 9. There were 12 votes cast as undecided. All of that totals 150.

Cammack counted 149, and commented on his campaign website:” The Sullivan County Straw Poll. Amazing. 47 people in the room, yet 149 votes cast. And, all counted before the speeches. Hmm. Some attendees denied votes. Subtlety Rating: Unimpressive. And, not worth the drive.”

Kyle was similarly bemused by the announced vote totals and thought of passing along a tweet on the subject but was talked out of it by his aides.

As for Herron, he trumpeted the results in a press release which was headed “Roy Herron Wins 2nd Straight Straw Poll” and which included this sentiment: ““I am humbled and grateful to the voters of Sullivan County. The people here in northeast Tennessee are just like those I represent in middle and west Tennessee: hard-working, family-loving, God-fearing people. I’m grateful for their kindness to me today.”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

No Point in Debating, Says Candidate Kelsey

Posted By on Thu, Nov 12, 2009 at 8:27 PM

Candidates Kelsey; Pakis-Gillon
  • Candidates Kelsey; Pakis-Gillon
It is not unusual, in the course of one-on-one election campaigns, for one candidate — and sometimes both — to propose joint appearances in the form of debates or forums. And conventional wisdom holds that one of the two candidates — the one considered to be the favorite — is likely to decline, overtly or indirectly.

The reasoning for such a refusal is the obvious one: Why give an underdog a position of parity?

So when the Memphis/Shelby County League of Women Voters, roughly a month ago, sounded out both Adrienne Pakis-Gillon, the Democrat running in the December 1st special general election for state Senate District 31, and former state Rep. Brian Kelsey, her Republican opponent, about a joint appearance, it was not surprising that Pakis-Gillon should accept right away.

Nor was it extraordinary for Kelsey to put off giving a positive response. He, after all, was heavily favored — for reasons of name recognition, because of an impressive campaign war-chest, and, not least, because he was the Republican running in an area, centered on Germantown, that is historically Republican.

Neither the League nor Pakis-Gillon wanted to leave it at that, however. They persisted in trying to get a straight up-or-down answer from Kelsey.

It is fair to say that the response Kelsey gave to the Flyer Thursday night was fairly categorical: “Why should I waste my time with the League of Liberal Women Voters when I’m trying to deal with real voters?” Kelsey said, “Nobody’s been more accessible to the voters than I’ve been,” and he pointed out that early voting in the special-election race had started and said that he was spending considerable time every day at polling places greeting voters. “It’s too late to be talking about this now, anyhow,” he said.

As for debating Pakis-Gillon, Kelsey said, “What’s to debate? She’s a Barack Obama big-spending liberal, and I’m a conservative in tune with the conservative sentiments of this district.”

In short: No to the idea of debating.

Peg Watkins, president of the MSCLWV, professed to find Kelsey’s characterization of her organization “amazing,” maintaining that the League was formally non-partisan and studiedly neutral concerning elections. “I’d be happy to send him a copy of our mission statement,” she said.

And, indeed, when Kelsey was reminded that the immediate past president of the League, Dee Nollner, was a Republican, he grudgingly acknowledged the fact. “Okay, there are a few, but mainly they’re the League of Liberal Women Voters, and I don’t have time for them.”

For her part, Pakis-Gillon said that she intended to represent the entire community, Democrats and Republicans. “I don’t put a label on myself,” she said. “I’ve worked with members of both parties on community projects, and they’re all entitled to representation in the Senate.”

The December 1st election will determine who fills the seat vacated by former state Senator Paul Stanley, who resigned last summer after becoming involved in a sex-and-blackmail scandal involving his legislative intern.

Wharton Responds Testily to Joe Ford's Criticism of "Former" County Administration

Says remarks were political and commissioner "doesn't know enough" about county's finances...

Posted By on Thu, Nov 12, 2009 at 1:54 AM

Mayor A C Wharton exchanged business cards with 91-year-old veteran Frank Mullinax after ceremony at West Tennessee Veterans Cenmetary in Germantown.
  • JB
  • Mayor A C Wharton exchanged business cards with 91-year-old veteran Frank Mullinax after ceremony at West Tennessee Veterans Cenmetary in Germantown.

Memphis mayor A C Wharton got in some smack talk Wednesday in response to Shelby County Commissioner Joe Ford’s critical remarks Monday about the financial prowess of Wharton’s recent administration as county mayor. Ford made the remarks in the course of his still unresolved contest with fellow commissioner J.W. Gibson to become interim county mayor.

Midway of the nearly 30 ballot-marathon that failed to produce a winner, both Ford and Gibson bridled at Commissioner Deidre Malone’s attempt to break a recurring 5-5 impasse in the voting by nominating a would-be compromise candidate, current county CAO and finance director Jim Huntzicker, who occupied that position under Wharton.

Gibson, the beneficiary of Malone’s votes up to that point (and later) seemed mildly put out, saying to Malone, “You never cease to amaze me.” But Ford used stronger language, suggesting that the “former administration” was guilty of outright fiscal mismanagement that could result in “disaster” if its financial practices were to be continued for the next several months.

Asked his reaction following a Veteran’s Day ceremony Wednesday, Wharton said Ford was off base with the criticism, which he said showed little understanding of the facts. “That’s one place he should never have gone,” Wharton said, suggesting that Ford’s remarks were made for political effect and nothing else.

Wharton was asked if Ford’s criticism should therefore be regarded as “ill-founded,” and responded, smiling wryly, “He doesn’t even know enough about the question to have any idea whether what he’s saying is ill-founded or well-founded or whatever.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mulroy Hams It Up at Fundraiser/ Reception

Posted By on Wed, Nov 11, 2009 at 7:25 AM

Elections may come and go, but it's always fundraising season. Politicians greet their supporters in various ways at such affairs — some with long speeches, some with short speeches, some with no speeches at all. Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy, a professor of law at the University of Memphis, finds it hard to suppress his theatric/literary bent.

Here's how Mulroy did it at his most recent fundraiser/reception at a "House Party to Re-elect Steve Mulroy in 2010" at the Midtown home of Jonathan Cole & Paul Linxwiler.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ford and Gibson Battle Through 24 Ballots, But There's No Winner for Interim County Mayor

Posted By on Tue, Nov 10, 2009 at 1:29 AM

Really, it lasted less than five hours from beginning to end, but Monday's meeting of the Shelby County Commission — the core of which was an effort to name an interim county mayor to serve until the general election next August — had the feel of a marathon.

The wear and tear was such that even the two commissioners — acting chairman Sidney Chism and Henri Brooks — who had vowed midway of the event to continue all night if necessary to get a winner, were content by late afternoon to accept a postponement until a special meeting of Tuesday, November 17, when those members of the commission eligible to vote will try again.

Though commissioner George Flinn and county CAO Jim Huntzicker (both briefly) and erstwhile commission chair and acting mayor Joyce Avery (intermittently) were also candidates, Monday’s session was essentially an unyielding standoff between commissioners Joe Ford and J.W. Gibson.

Both are Democrats, though each would boast — and maintain — support across political boundaries. Their support was indeed perfectly balanced. Except on those few occasions when Avery or Flinn or Huntzicker could claim a vote or two, the final tally for each of the 24 ballots was an unvarying 5 to 5.

Ford was supported by Democrats Matt Kuhn, Steve Mulroy, and Chism and by Republicans Mike Ritz and Wyatt Bunker. Gibson's backers were Democrats Deidre Malone, James Harvey, and Brooks, and Republicans Flinn and Mike Carpenter. Not only was party not a major factor, neither was ideology, as each support group ran the gamut from right to left.

Commissioners Gibson and Ford listen as acting county mayor Joyce Avery makes the case for herself.
  • JB
  • Commissioners Gibson and Ford listen as acting county mayor Joyce Avery makes the case for herself.

What did figure were complex personal relationships (both pro and con), paybacks for previous alliances, patently opportunistic calculations on the part of some commissioners, and suchlike. The only time the standoff became heated was when Huntzicker was nominated by Malone as an expedient to break the impasse.

In addressing the commission for the nth time on behalf of his candidacy, Ford denounced the "former administration" (current Memphis mayor A C Wharton's as much as Huntzicker's) for fiscal irresponsibility. In his turn, Gibon took verbal potshots at the "negative old politics," which he linked to Ford by name.

Malone was not the only one who tried to end the stalemate. At one point, Harvey implied unmistakably that he might consider going over to the other side if another Gibson advocate would go with him. None did. So Harvey, too, stayed put.

Former Memphis city councilman John Vergos was a presence in the county auditorium through Monday's session, and he made it clear that he hoped to be considered as a compromise candidate. His time didn't come Monday, and it may never.

Between now and next week, other third-party names will be considered, and the partisans of Messrs. Ford and Gibson (and mayhap of Avery and Flinn as well) will sound out their colleagues on such deals (Sunshine Law or no Sunshine Law) as may break the tie and produce a winner.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

It's For Real This Time: Avery Is an Active Candidate for Interim County Mayor on Monday

Posted By on Sun, Nov 8, 2009 at 8:52 PM

Joyce Avery: Im going for it.
  • JB
  • Acting county mayor Joyce Avery: "I'm going for it."
Acting Shelby County Mayor Joyce Avery, who admits to thinking it was “disrespectful” for fellow commissioner — and fellow Republican — Mike Ritz to have moved for an early decision by the commission on a fulltime interim mayor, now intends, after a period of indecision, to have her name put in nomination for the job on Monday.

And she says her name will be placed in nomination by another GOP colleague, George Flinn, who had previously indicated that he himself would be an active candidate for interim mayor — a position that will be held by somebody until the election of a permanent mayor in the regular countywide election cycle next August.

As for Flinn’s own ambitions, they would apparently be shelved — at least until the late rounds of what could be extended balloting by commission members on Monday.

“He said he’ll see how it goes,” Avery said on Sunday, taking a break from a reception in her honor at her Arlington home. In any case, “George is going to nominate me. And he has never said anything to me that he hasn’t followed through on.”

Avery had told the Flyer last week that she would be a candidate for interim mayor but later amended that to say that she would only be available as a fallback possibility in case of a deadlock between other candidates. That reticence is over with now.

”I’ve really been praying about this,” Avery said on Sunday. “I’ve had so much feedback, from both Republicans and Democrats who have encouraged me to seek the office. I’m going for it tomorrow.” She noted that she was “the first sitting county commissioner to be invited on The Med board” and said that primary goal would be to “really push funding for The Med.”

Avery, who had been serving as the current commission chair, is currently eligible to be acting mayor for up to 45 days from the date of her temporary accession on Monday, October 26, the day A C Wharton resigned as county mayor to take over the job of city mayor that he was elected to last month.

That means she could have easily served as acting mayor until the second week of December before an interim mayor had to be named according to the terms of the county charter.

Avery doesn’t pretend to understand the reasons for a rush to name someone earlier. “I had barely sat in my chair for an hour before Ritz brought forth a resolution,” she says.

But, while considering the rush to judgment “disrespectful,” she says she asked both Ritz and another GOP commissioner, Wyatt Bunker, for their support in case the candidate both are supporting at this point, Democratic commissioner Joe Ford, doesn’t make it.

With Flinn’s apparent withdrawal from the nominating process (though not necessarily from late-ballot consideration), the likely active nominees on Monday are Ford, fellow Democratic commissioner J.W. Gibson, former Collierville mayor Linda Kerley, and now Avery.

Flinn’s change of status would also change the numbers from a partisan point of view. Active nominees on the commission are precluded from voting, as is Avery as acting mayor. On a body now constituted, at full strength, of eight Democrats and five Republican, that means six Democrats and four Republicans will be eligible to vote.

If Flinn should be nominated, the numbers of those eligible would be six Democrats and three Republicans. Flinn’s participation in the voting could be considerable indeed.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ruling on Voting Machine Law Leaves Wiggle Room on Both Sides

Posted By on Thu, Nov 5, 2009 at 9:23 PM

Chancellor Perkins
  • Chancellor Perkins
Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett and state Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins may have dodged the bullet, but it would appear from a ruling Thursday by Chancellor Russell T. Perkins in Nashville that a pistol is still pointed at them on the matter of enforcing the 2008 Tennessee Voter Confidence Act (TVCA).

Chancellor Perkins denied the immediate injunctive relief sought by Common Cause of Tennessee and associated counsel, including University of Memphis law professor and county commissioner Steve Mulroy, but explicitly invalidated the persistent claim by defendants Hargett and Goins that no acceptable voting machines are available to carry out the act’s mandates.

What the Act, passed by the Tennessee legislature with virtual bi-partisan unanimity in 2008, calls for is that all 95 Tennessee counties be outfitted with optical-scan voting machines in time for the 2010 election cycle. The machines would electronically process paper ballots.
Hargett and Goins have raised several objections — the most noteworthy being that the Act requires machines meeting 2005 standards of the Federal Election Assistance Commission, a monitoring body established under the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA). In his ruling after Thursday’s ruling on a motion by Common Cause to require immediate action by Hargett and Goins, Chancellor Perkins summarized the key points this way:

“The TVCA does not require the voting system to be implemented by the State of Tennessee to meet 2005 standards. The Court determines that the State is obligated to take prompt, effective steps to meet the statutory deadline using compliant voting systems.

“Without making a direct ruling at this early stage about what HAVA requires, the Court determines that the State has discretion in determining whether to utilize the 2002 or 2005 standards, as long as this choice of standards does not jeopardize meeting the legislative mandate to implement a voting system that uses compliant precinct-based optical scanners on or before the November 2010 general election….”

Chancellor Perkins declined at this point, however, to find that the defendants in the suit had “wrongfully” intended to obstruct implementation of the act, and the sentence granting them “discretion” on the matter of standards weighs in the defendants’ favor, just as his warning that they may not “jeopardize” implementation of the Act weighs in favor of the plaintiffs.

The bottom line is that both sides appear to have enough wiggle room to continue a protracted struggle that has taken on discernibly partisan outlines.

In his statement on the ruling, Secretary of State Hargett invoked another major argument against immediate implementation of TVCA — that of exorbitant expense, concluding: “…Responsible legislators argue with these hard economic times upon us, it is not the time for additional taxes or government spending. As I stated earlier, we are preparing to go back to paper ballots as directed under current law by the November 2010 election. We understand this debate will continue in the next legislative session."

While Hargett’s statement would appear to be guardedly compliant with the Act and Thursday’s ruling, the references to “current law” and to the prospect that “this debate will continue in the next legislative session” would seem to validate the fears of TVCA supporters that Hargett andf Goins mean to postpone any effort to implement the TVCA in the hope that the General Assembly, meeting in January, will amend the Act, negate it, or postpone the date of its implementation.

The unspoken premise of the showdown — which, in political terms, matches key Republicans like Hargett and Goins against Democratic spokespersons — is that next year’s elections will determine the shape of federal and state reapportionment in the elections of the next decade. Demcorats have been outspoken that only a “paper trail” can prevent electronic hacking or other potential distortions of election results.

Various proponents of the Act have rebutted claims, asserted by Hargett, Goins, and others, that the Act would impose prohibitive expenses on the 95 Tennessee counties, maintaining that $35 million in federal HAVA funds already dispensed to the state are more than enough to offset the costs of implementation.

Mulroy issued a lengthy statement interpreting Chancellor Edwards’s ruling as a qualified victory for the plaintiffs and said, “If the Defendants do not promptly implement, the Plaintiffs will have an additional opportunity to seek relief from the court.”

State Rep. Gary Odom of Nashville, Democratic leader in the state House, said in a statement, “…The court has ruled that it is time for the secretary of state’s office to stop dragging its feet and to provide for paper balloting for all of our voting machines in Tennessee elections by 2010.”

And state Senator Roy Herron (D-Dresden), a candidate for governor, said, “…I call on Secretary Hargett to implement the Voter Confidence Act and begin purchasing new voting machines with paper ballots without delay. The time to protect our vote is now….”

A statement by Tennessee Democratic Party chairman Chip Forrester included this assertion: "...Mr. Hargett cannot use the bogus claim anymore that the machines do not exist. Now maybe he will follow the law and do the job he was sworn to do."

But all indications were that, pending another court test or ruling in the next two months, the battle may well continue into the General Assembly in January before anything definitive is done.

Another statement by Hargett suggests as much by indicating that the shape of a "request for proposal" (an invitation by the state for competitive bidding to supply the machines) cannot be determined until December or January and that "[a]t that time, we will issue a RFP to purchase machines certified to the strongest standards."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

On Push Polls

Posted By on Tue, Nov 3, 2009 at 10:22 PM

Mike McWherter
  • Mike McWherter
A local physician friend of ours reports having recently received a phone call from a pollster who began asking him about various Democratic candidates for governor. All seemed on the square until the pollster began asking a series of leading questions regarding one candidate in particular, Jackson businessman Mike McWherter.

The questions all took some such form as “Would you tend to look favorably on Mike McWherter, knowing he is…” The son of a former governor. Someone who knows business and how the banking system works. A pioneer in the field of green technology. Etc., etc., etc.

In short, the good doctor had been on the receiving end of a “push poll,” one designed more to influence answers than to solicit them. And candidate McWherter will not be the first nor the last to employ such polls in the 2010 election cycle.

McWherter may indeed be all of the fine things indicated by his pollster’s questions. But have your salt shaker ready to pour out a few grains when his or anybody else’s home-grown poll results are published.


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