Thursday, October 13, 2011

Curry Todd's Complicated Legacy, As of Now

Collierville legislator's arrest on DUI and handgun charges highlights his role(s) in recent Tennessee history.

Posted By on Thu, Oct 13, 2011 at 3:39 PM

Curry Todds booking photo
  • Curry Todd's booking photo
At least he didn’t say, “ I apologize if I offended anyone,” that staple of the disingenuously stubborn when they have to own up to something but do so only half-heartedly, making it look like their non-apology (for that is what it is) is just a generous concession to somebody else’s irrational sensitivity.

No, Curry Todd has screwed up big-time, and knows he did. And there was an appropriate abjectness in the Collierville state representative’s first public response to his embarrassing Tuesday night arrest in Nashville for DUI with a handgun charge added on, since he was packing a fully loaded weapon when stopped by Nashville Metro police.

"Let me begin by saying I am deeply sorry for the events of last evening,” the GOP legislator said upon having his bail made and gaining release from jail on Wednesday morning. He continued: “On the advice of legal counsel, I have decided not to make any public comments about the situation at this time.”

Except that the rest of his statement was an attempt to make several public comments: "Upon her return to the Capitol, I will have a conversation with Speaker [Beth] Harwell to determine whether it is in the best interest of the General Assembly for me to step aside as Chairman of the State and Local Government Committee. On a personal note, I am incredibly grateful for the calls of support from constituents, colleagues, and friends about this incident."

The gist of all that was an implicit plea for continued solidarity from those, in and out of power, whose political fortunes had been connected to his own. Understandable under the circumstances, but a Hail Mary all the same, one that smacked of irony, at best, and hypocrisy, at worst.

Given that Todd was front and center in the Tennessee legislature’s rush in recent years to strike down virtually any and all restrictions on carrying handguns— and specifically those laws prohibiting the possession of such ready-to-go weaponry in bars, he must now become necessarily the poster boy for the flaws — indeed, the dangers — of that hothouse legislation.

A former Memphis policeman himself, Todd had been well aware of the serious opposition mounted by the state’s law-enforcement agencies to passage of the liberalized new gun laws — especially those which might put itchy trigger fingers and liquid shots within hailing distance of each other.

I remember seeing Todd, proudly standing outside the doors of the House on the second floor of the state Capitol in 2009, accepting the congratulations of a National Rifle Association factotum for his role in passing the first version of the guns-in-bars bill. And I recall the provocative edge to his voice when he conveyed to the media his sentiments regarding then Governor Phil Bredesen’s veto (one which was destined to be overcome, as expected, by a simple majority vote): “"I want to tell you what the governor can do with that piece of paper he just sent."

Whatever the occasion, Todd was unusually quick to take umbrage, whether it was to publicly upbraid his then Republican House colleague Brian Kelsey in 2007 for “grandstanding” in calling district improvement grants “pork” or his ill-considered comparison just last year of the offspring of illegal immigrants to “rats.”

As the gap between those two occasions makes clear, Todd was not always to be found on one predictable side of the ideological divide. Though he was basically a GOP loyalist, he personally put a brake on one bill in a package, prefabricated by the national Chamber of Commerce, that was being rushed through the 2011 legislative session by his party’s leadership.

This bill, a one-sided proscription in advance of a variety of possible union tactics in hypothetical labor disputes with management, Todd condemned as unrelated to any situation likely to occur in Tennessee, and he used his chairmanship of the House State and Local Government committee to remove it from the calendar.

As his mea culpa this week acknowledged, Todd’s chairmanship is now threatened, and it may be that his membership in the House itself is in jeopardy.

All of this occurs at a time when his name is already indelibly attached to the Norris-Todd bill, a piece of legislation, passed earlier this year, that governs the merger of school systems in Shelby County and one whose implications for the rest of the state will doubtless make it a permanent and prominent part of Tennessee history.

For better or worse, they can’t take that away from him.

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