Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Council Approves Gray’s Creek Annexation in First Reading at Emergency Meeting

Posted By on Tue, Jan 31, 2012 at 7:50 PM

Mayor Wharton lays the case out to attentive council members
  • JB
  • Mayor Wharton lays the case out to attentive Council members

The members of the Memphis City Council’s committee on “personnel, intergovernmental, and annexation” met in the Council’s 5th floor committee room at City Hall Monday afternoon and did what the full Council did roughly a year ago — vote unanimously to oppose an aggressive move from Nashville against its sovereign interests.

In 2011, the issue was whether an action by state government could nullify or impede the efforts by the Memphis City Schools board to surrender the MCS charter, an action which required ratification by the council. On Monday afternoon the catalyst was newly proposed legislation that would abrogate a Memorandum of Understanding between Memphis and other Shelby County governments regarding their respective annexation spheres.

In both cases, Mayor A C Wharton joined the council in stating resolute opposition to the intrusions of state government, actual or potential.

Wharton began by saying that two bills proposed by the tandem of state senator Mark Norris and state representative Curry Todd — one that would require a referendum of any population about to be annexed; another removing the Gray ‘s Creek area from Mem phis’s annexation reserve — constituted “a matter no less serious than the future and the right of the City of Memphis to grow.”

The bills had been introduced “without even the courtesy of conversation with the bull sponsors and without regard to the standing annexation agreement signed by all Shelby County mayors in 1998,” Wharton said.

The mayor said the agreement, which was made in the aftermath of the “Toy Town” controversy of 1998, “was grounded in the recognition by all that the future growth and economic well-being of each community was benefited more from an agreement which allowed and afforded each an orderly, predictable, and acceptable opportunity to grow by annexation.”

Following the mayor’s remarks, Councilman Jim Strickland formally moved that the committee approve on first reading a resolution to annex the Gray’s Creek area. Before a vote was taken, Council c conversation revolved around two themes — (1) whether annexation was a judicious move in itself ; and (2) whet her a vote for the resolution was necessary to safeguard the city’s rights vis-à-vis Nashville.

The bringer of the motion, Strickland, was among those who was concerned about the efficacy of annexation (not only of Gray’s Creek but in general). So was Shea Flinn, who expressed what he saw as the need for “sober analysis” of the issue .

The newest Council member, Lee Harris, put the issue bluntly: “How fast can Nashville move? Can we move faster?”
Council attorney Allan Wade opined that “they could probably go faster,” and Wharton acknowledged that “There’s no way to outrun Nashville. They can undo what we do.”

The meeting, though conducted in a crisis atmosphere, was not without comic relief. During a brief discussion on the matter of whether recently annexed communities had received all the benefits which they been promised, Wharton said there were very few unresolved promises and, referencing one pending matter, told Chairman Collins, as if by an afterthought, “You’re getting Zodiac Park.”

A second bit of humor greeted Council Bill Boyd’s question as to whether the Council could de-annex the area if Nashville backed down. Attorney Wade said it could.

Collins and Commissioner Myron Lowery made strong arguments for action which, as the committee chairman put it, would put “the maker of the bills” (presumably Norris, with whom he had spoken) that “the city would protect its interests. Lowery raised the issue of “racism” as something to be considered regarding the proposed bills.

After all was said and done, the committee members, including those who had raised potential objections, voted to approve the annexation resolution on first reading. A second reading will be held at the Council meeting of February 7, and there was some talk about scheduling a second reading for the next day.

At the mayor’s suggestion, the members present took a second vote that, as Wharton put it, “everybody agrees that the Council objects to both bills.” This, too, was approved unanimously.

Monday, January 30, 2012

City of Memphis, Caught Off Guard by Legislative Effort to Curtail Annexation Rights, Moves to Catch Up.

Committee will rush Gray’s Creek ordinance to counter new “Norris-Todd” bills aimed at breaking countywide compact on annexation zones.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 30, 2012 at 9:24 PM

Council chair Morrison; Mayor Wharton
  • Council chair Morrison; Mayor Wharton
In an uncanny echo of the situation a year ago, when City of Memphis officials, threatened with state action to overpower local options on school merger, unified in opposition, Mayor A C Wharton and the City Council stand ready on Tuesday to expedite the emergency annexation of the still unincorporated Gray’s Creek suburban area.

The action, in response to two new bills introduced by Republican legislators Mark Norris and Curry Todd curtailing Memphis’ powers of annexation, will begin with a meeting of the Council’s personnel, intergovernmental, and annexation committee at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

That committee will consider “an Ordinance to extend the boundaries of the City Limits of the City of Memphis by annexing the Gray’s Creek Annexation Area and assigning said area to a Council District.”
The proposed annexation of the Gray ‘s Creek area would never have come up in the absence of the state action, said Councilman Jim Strickland, who had been leery of any further immediate annexations by Memphis but sees the City now having little choice.

“I hope the people in the suburbs who think their interests are being served by the bills proposed up there realize that this annexation is being forced, not by Memphis, but by Nashville,” said Strickland, who said further he saw the battle over school merger to be the proximate cause of the new Norris-Todd bills — one of which would require a referendum of affected residents in a proposed annexation area and another which would specifically remove Gray’s Creek from Memphis’ assigned annexation areas.

“They don’t have enough students to pay for the school districts they‘re trying to set up, so they’re going to try to go out and annex some more students,” said Strickland, who says that the proposed legislation in Nashville will be found unconstitutional, even should it win a race with the Council and get the new Norris-Todd bills passed before the Council can act on annexation.

Memphis and the county’s suburban municipalities had reached formal agreement on their respective annexation areas in 1998 as a result of the then volatile dispute over “Toy Town legislation that, before being declared unconstitutional, would have hemmed Memphis in with a flood of newly incorporated “cities.”

Strickland said the new legislation would “interfere with a parties contract,” and it improperly would be attempting to apply a major change in the law to one county and one county only.

It was at this point last year that the original Norris-Todd bill was introduced by state Senator Norris and state Representative Todd, both of Collierville, and pushed through a compliant Republican-dominated Legislature on what amounted to a party —line vote. The bill in theory accepted the fait accompli of Memphis City School’s surrendered charter — a move that would force merger of MCS with Shelby County Schools, but it imposed a two-year delay on that merger and enabled the creation of new school districts within suburban Shelby County at the time, in August 2013, when the merger was scheduled to take place.

With modifications, the terms of Norris-Todd were approved by federal Judge Hardy Mays in adjudicating several overlapping litigations last summer. Mays still maintains effective jurisdiction over the terms of city-county school merger.

Councilman Shea Flinn, who learned of the proposed legislation upon arriving back in Memphis Monday after being out of town, noted, “This should put an end to all those protestations from Republicans that they believe in local government.” Flinn said last year’s legislative session and this one so far have made it obvious that the GOP-dominated state government will run roughshod over local interests whenever it chooses.

Council chairman Bill Morrison and Mayor A C Wharton issued a joint press release Monday that said in part:

“…These proposals, put forth without even a courtesy call to local government, single out the City of Memphis at a time when other municipalities have recently used the…1998 agreement — without argument or interference — to annex their reserve areas. It’s a move that smacks of racism, classism, and schoolyard bullying.

“Last year, we saw these same legislators try to leapfrog over the will of our citizens to surrender the charter of Memphis City Schools and to establish a unified Shelby County school system.

“This is a continued all-out assault on Memphis and its right to govern itself. We are calling upon all of our local leaders — whether they be leaders in politics, business, or the philanthropic arena — and the residents of Memphis to let their state representatives know that this will not stand.
If need be, we will meet this challenge in court.”

The resource to legal remedies is one believed in by Strickland and Flinn as well as by the Mayor and chair. “It’s really not all that important who wins a race to the finish line — us or the Legislature,” Strickland said. “We’ll win in the end.”

In the meantime, though, there are sure to be efforts to expedite the Gray’s Creek annexation ordinance. “I am confident it will be approved out of committee tomorrow [Tuesday] and on the Council agenda for next Tuesday," the Council chair said.

Morrison, who posited the goal of getting at new sales tax revenue as yet another reason for the proposed state legislation, said at first he thought it might be hypothetically possible to hold the required three readings of the city ordinance within a single week. Upon checking on procedure, he modified that estimate. “We can do it from beginning to end in 15 days, and that includes the required plans of service,” he said.

Federal Panel Rejects David Kernell's Appeal of Obstruction-of-Justice Charge

Posted By on Mon, Jan 30, 2012 at 2:10 PM

David Kernell
  • David Kernell
A federal appeals court in Knoxville has upheld an obstruction-of-justice verdict against David Kernell, the former University of Tennessee student who was convicted of two counts in connection with hacking then vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s personal email account in 2008.

Kernell, the son of longtime Tennessee state Representative Mike Kernell (D-Memphis), had appealed the obstruction-of-justice conviction, a felony, but not the other verdict, which pertained to his unauthorized access of electronic information belonging to Palin and had the status of a misdemeanor.

A Knoxville jury had convicted Kernell of the two charges in April. The jury deadlocked on a charge that Kernell had committed identity theft and acquitted him on a charge of wire fraud. Kernell was released from prison after serving less than all months for his two convictions.

The appeal of the obstruction-of-justice charge, which was heard by a three-judge panel, was based on Kernell’s claims that the portion of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act under which he was convicted was “unconstitutionally vague” and that there had been insufficient evidence to obtain a conviction. While granting Kernell standing to make the appeal, it rejected his claims.

The judges’ opinion sets forth in some details the means by which Kernell was able to hack Palin’s email account — essentially by guessing the answer to some identity questions and securing thereby the right to change her password so as to access it and later to publish some of the contents online.

The opinion also details the steps taken by Kernell to fend off possible investigation by the FBI, and it was these which resulted in his conviction of the obstruction-of-justice charge and in the rejection of his appeal.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Cohen Back on Track Quote-Wise: Politico Features him on SOTU

Posted By on Wed, Jan 25, 2012 at 6:54 PM

9th District congressman Steve Cohen, who set unofficial records during his first two terms as someone considered quoteworthy in the political press, might have slowed down a bit since, but is back on the boards. The highly modish site Politico.com used his observation about President Obama's State of the Union address as a tease to its general coverage on Wednesday.

Here's the home-page tease:


And here's Cohen's full comment as quoted by Politico:


Kemp Conrad Acknowledges Prospect of 8th District Bid

City Councilman becomes first from Shelby County to openly consider contest for newly reconfigured congressional district.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 25, 2012 at 8:25 AM

Kemp Conrad
  • Kemp Conrad
Fallout from legislative and congressional redistricting continues.

The extension of congressional District 8 into a sizeable hunk of eastern Shelby County has prompted a good deal of speculation about possible competition from local Republicans for incumbent 8th District congressman Stephen Fincher of Frog Jump in Crockett County. Memphis city councilman Kemp Conrad acknowledged to the Flyer that he’s had encouragement to run and is considering a bid.

Others whose names have figured in speculation include former 8th District candidate and ex-Shelby County Commissioner George Flinn; former U.S. Attorney David Kustoff, who ran for Congress in the7th District in 2002; state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris; and state Senator Brian Kelsey.

And, as noted earlier in this space, as a result of the final redrawing of legislative maps, Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle of Memphis finds himself in state Senate District 30, along with incumbent Democrat Beverly Marrero. Kyle points out that much of District 30 — notably in Frayser and Raleigh and elsewhere north of Summer — coincides with his former District 28, while Marrero notes, similarly, that significant portions of her former House District 89 lie within the newly configured Senate district.

While the two Democrats muse on their forthcoming showdown, G.A. Hardaway, whose House District 92 has been merged into fellow African-American Democrat Barbara Cooper’s District 86, is getting mention as a possible candidate in Senate District 30, which has a 60 percent African-American constituency. For the moment, though, Hardaway says he’s focused on pressing forward as a party to litigation against the overall redistricting plan.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Kyle vs. Marrero: One of the Consequences of Reapportionment

Both Democratic state senators now find themselves in District 30.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 23, 2012 at 1:47 AM

Senators Kyle (l) and Marrero
  • Senators Kyle (l) and Marrero
To no one’s surprise, the legislative and congressional maps laid out week before last by the leadership of the Republican-dominated Tennessee legislature settled partisan scores and greased the skids for members of the GOP.

“Gerrymandering,” such a thing is callled, and Republicans got to do it — for the first time, reallly — in much the way Democrats have always done it.

Were there injustices? Of course. (Although there were also some conscientious efforts to make amends if that could be done without inconvenience to the aforementioned Republican majority.)

Several legislators — both Democrats and Republicans — did what they could to ease their own predicaments. And that meant cutting deals — or trying to — with ranking members of the GOP.

At least two Democratic members of the state Senate were able to work out something. Andy Berke of Chattanooga, a rising Democratic star, was able to extend the number of traditional Democratic and Chattanooga-based precincts in his district (though he did have to keep much of the heavily Republican adjacent county of Bradley that he’d been newly given).

And Jim Kyle of Memphis had some serious adventures — and misadventures —before he finally ended up within a district where his reelection prospects were at least tenable.

To begin with, Kyle, the Senate’s Democratic leader, had seen his District 28 radically transformed so that it included only a few bare precincts familiar to Kyle (including his own residence, of course), while much of the newly configured district belonged to the Germantown/Collierville bailiwick of Republican senator Brian Kelsey.

Kelsey’s district had formerly been District 31, but that number had been transferred to the south Shelby County district of Reginald Tate, a Democrat, whose former District 33 was now assigned to a newly created district in Middle Tennessee. (Shelby County was due to lose a seat in reapportionment because the 2010 Census showed its population growth had not kept up with that of other parts of the state.)

Reportedly, Kelsey, whose odd-numbered district would have been up for election until 2014, had volunteered for the even-numbered District 28 (now an overwhelmingly GOP-dominated area where his prospects were considered slam-dunk). In 2012 even-numbered districts were scheduled for election; the odd-number ones will be voted on again in 2014.

For a variety of reasons, however, the number-switching of several districts proved unwieldy, and a revised plan was shortly prepared which re-numbered the Kyle-Kelsey district as 31. That meant, among other things that Kelsey would not be required to run until 2014, after all, and Kyle could not run anyplace at all in 2012. He would be out of the legislature when the 2012 elections were over.

But he worked something out. The Republican leadership was persuaded that, if changes were made that did not affect Republican dominance nor tamper unduly with preponderantly GOP districts, aggrieved Democrats like Kyle and Berke might be accommodated after all.

So it was that in the final redistricting plan, by virtue of a modest flexing of the district lines, Kyle ended up in District 30 — one which, as he noted , contained several areas in Frayser and Raleigh and elsewhere north of Summer that had once belonged to his erstwhile District 28. And District 30 was an even-numbered district he could run in right away.

The problem was that District 30, as previously numbered, had been the bailiwick of Senator Beverly Marrero, another Democrat — though, as newly constituted by the Republican cartographers, it contained a scant few of the precincts she had served before. It did, however, contain a significant portion of the area which she had formerly served as a state representative for the Midtown-based District 89.

The bottom line is that the two Democrats are now pitted against each other.

Says Marrero: “Raleigh and Frayser were not areas I particularly represented, but I represent women and working people and children, and people with special needs, and those areas have lots of those. I’m definitely going to run. District 30 is my district, no matter where it turns out to be. I don’t intend to defer to Jim Kyle.”

As she sees it, “I had a district, Jim Kyle didn’t have a district. Now he does. I guess he made a deal. Jim Kyle did what he thought was in his best interest.”

Kyle says he had been candid about what was going on. “I told the Democratic caucus that, ultimately, Beverly and I would have the same district if I was going to have a district to run in.” (Marrero remembers having little notice of the changes before the final redistricting plan came to the Senate floor for a vote last week.)

There is yet another factor potentially affecting what would seem to be a Kyle-Marrero showdown. District 30 is now 60 percent African-American, and a name black candidate would seem to have good prospects in a Democratic primary, given the likelihood of a split vote between Kyle and Marrero.

A possible third candidate mentioned by both Kyle and Marrero is State Representative G.A. Hardaway, whose District 92 has been folded in, more or less, with the District 86 now served by fellow African-American Democrat Barbara Cooper.

But Hardaway says he hasn’t contemplated such a prospect yet, that he’s fixated on a current court challenge to the redistricting process that he’s signed on to.

But, two-way or three-way , District 30, thanks to reapportionment, will be the site this year of an elimination contest between sitting Democrats. That’s one of the consequences of the dramatic shift to Republican dominance brought about by the 2008 and 2010 elections in Tennessee.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

County Commission in Virtual Civil War over Redistricting

Posted By on Wed, Jan 18, 2012 at 3:21 PM

Brent Taylor asks for censure of colleagues Terry Roland and Mike Ritz. See additional videos below story text.

The Shelby County Commission’s ongoing disagreement over rival redistricting plans has edged over into outright civil war this week.

First came Tuesday night’s volatile meeting of the Collierville Republican Club, at which Commissioner Terry Roland, the featured speaker whose subject was redistricting, had the police called on him following an apparent threat against another commissioner who was present; then, on Wednesday, the Commission’s General Government Committee voted to censure both Roland and Commissioner Mike Ritz.

The censure vote was in response to a request from that committee’s chairman, Brent Taylor, who objected to Roland and Ritz publicly using the word “bribe” to describe the contents of a would-be compromise redistricting plan he had offered.

But the fireworks weren’t over yet. Next came an incendiary resolution from Commissioner Wyatt Bunker (who, though the target of Roland’s threat on Tuesday night, had called the police. Bunker offered a resolution modifying the Commission’s Rules of Order to allow a simple majority of the Commission to replace the body’s chairman.

After debate, during which Commissioner Walter Bailey charged that the resolution was designed to intimidate Chism into dropping his resistance to a “continuity” redistricting plan offered by Bunker and others, the committee voted 6 ayes, 5 nays, and one abstention, to approve the resolution by action by the full Commission on Monday. The censure resolution, which had passed 7-3-1, will also be on the agenda Monday.

It is thought likely that if the “Continuity Plan” (also known as “the Ford plan” and as 3-C), which currently has either 7 or 8 votes pledged to it, does not receive the 9 votes required for passage Monday, there will be a vote on deposing Chism. (A preliminary vote topped out at 7 during a special meeting Tuesday afernoon, good enough for a pass on first reading but two votes away from the final goal. ) The vote on Chism's status is, of course, dependent on whether the resolution permitting his removal will have received the full Commission’s approval at the Monday meeting.

Wednesday’s committee meeting removed the veil from various other conflicts which had simmered but had not yet burst openly into public consciousness.

As one example, Chism, in the course of defending himself at what he plainly saw as a coup attempt in the Bunker resolution, suggested that racial and political issues were at the root of the effort. That drew a retort, however, from Commissioner Henri Brooks, an African-American Democrat like the chairman, who announced her support for the Bunker resolution and complained that the Commission under Chism had suffered from a lack of decorum and that she, in particular, had been deprived of proper respect and appropriate committee memberships.

In response, Chism told Brooks that “85 percent” of the Commission’s membership had complained to him about her often abrasive manner of speaking at meetings and that she had absented herself from at least one committee besides the one on the Core City which she chairs.

Another developing feud was continued when Commissioner Justin Ford, the body’s junior member and another African American, also announced his support for the Bunker resolution and attacked Bailey for “hypocrisy” and suggested it was time “to clean house” at the Commission. (Ford is also a supporter of the “continuity” plan which bears his name as an alternate title.)

The “continuity” plan is an updated version of the scheme under which the Commission has operated for the past decade. It posits four three-member districts and one single-member district. Opponents, including Chism, Roland, Ritz, and others prefer either a system of 13 single-member districts or one with six two-member districts and one single-member district.

Involved in this disagreement are complex arguments involving both personal and political considerations, but members of both parties and both races are to be found on either side of the issue.

Taylor completes his call for censure after discussing Roland's alleged threat to use a local newspaper to pressure him.

Chairman Chism angrily defends himself against potential removal.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Police Called as County Commissioners Quarrel Over Redistricting in Collierville

Posted By on Tue, Jan 17, 2012 at 10:35 PM

Commissioner Terry Roland threatens colleague Chris Thomas midway of an attack on colleague Brent Taylor

As the issue of redistricting the Shelby County Commission remains unresolved and bounces back and forth between a divided commission and Chancery Court, nerves of commissioners are fraying and disagreements hit the danger level.

A few days after Commissioner Terry Roland was confronted by several of his Republican colleagues at a meeting of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, a reprise of sorts occurred Tuesday night at a meeting of the Collierville Republican Club at the La Hacienda Restaurant on Highway 72/Poplar Avenue in Collierville.

Roland, the club's featured speaker Tuesday night and a proponent of a two-member district plan, had barely launched into his remarks when he ran into vocal challenges from fellow Republican commissioners Wyatt Bunker, Chris Thomas, and Heidi Shafer, all of whom took exception to Roland's account of how the disagreement came about and what its meaning was.

The word "lie" was hurled repeatedly at Roland by the others before club officials restored a semblance of order, but a running dialogue between Roland and his fellow commissioners continued and became heated.

In the clip above, Roland appears to blame his new interim colleague Brent Taylor (who was also present) for the current impasse between Roland himself and h is allies, on the one hand, and several GOP colleagues who prefer a three-member district plan, on the other. Midway of his allegations against Taylor, however, Roland apparently thought Thomas muttered something disrespectful about his father or perhaps rolled his eyes as Roland began telling a story about taking Taylor with him to visit the grave of the senior Roland, who was recently deceased.

Whatever the pretext, Roland theatened Thomas that he would "knock you out of that chair," but quickly moved on to the case he was building against Taylor.

At some point, however, Commissioner Bunker tried to convince Thomas that he should charge Roland with assault and, on his own, called Collierville police. Four policemen would shortly arrive in two police cars and, upon the conclusion of the meeting (which continued with bitter disagreements hurled back and forth) interrogated Roland about the incident and apparently asked Thomas if he wanted to press charges. Thomas declined to.

The subject of redistricting will be taken up yet one more time during committee hearings Wednesday.

The essential disagreement between Roland and his GOP colleagues is apparently based on their preference for a plan more congenial to Republicans. Roland, who maintains that his plan guarantees four suburban members of the Commission, insists that his plan is equally GOP-friendly.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Democrats Take Their Lumps in New Redistricting Plans

Posted By on Fri, Jan 6, 2012 at 4:01 PM

Even as the Shelby County Commission heads into Chancellor Arnold Goldin’s court to resolve its redistricting issues, the final shoe has dropped from the point of view of state redistricting responsibilities.

On Friday afternoon, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, Speaker of the Senate, released the details of statewide congressional redistricting agreed upon by himself and House Speaker Beth Harwell. Added to their redistricting maps for the state Senate and state House, that puts a full meal on the plate of the legislature, which convenes next week and is expected to approve the arrangements, with possible minor adjustments.

Proposed congressional districts
  • Proposed congressional districts

CONGRESSIONAL: From Shelby County’s point of view, there’s a whole new look: The 9th Congressional district, currently served by Democrat Steve Cohen, is still contained wholly within the county’s boundaries but now occupies the entire western two-thirds of the county, from north to south, leaving the eastern third to the 8th congressional District, now held by Republican Stephen Fincher of Frog Jump in Crockett County.

Fincher's 8th District would now extend from the Tipton County line to the Mississippi state line, taking in Shelby County's eastern suburbs. The 7th District, now represented by Republican Marsha Blackburn, formerly reached into those suburbs and even into Memphis itself and has seen its western border advanced all the way over to Hardeman County, with Fayette County also absorbed into the 8th District.

The upshot of all this is that the 9th District remains solidly Democratic, with the same 60 percent African-American majority as before.. The 8th District, meanwhile, becomes so much more a Shelby County affair than before that it may encourage local Republicans to make challenges with real hopes of success.

Proposed state Senate districts, Shelby County
  • Proposed state Senate districts, Shelby County

STATE SENATE: Because its population growth has lagged behind that of other parts of the state, notably Middle Tennessee, Shelby County will see a loss of one of its current six state Senate seats.

In essence, five of the existing districts have been rearranged, while the number of one — District 33 — formerly thar od a Whitehaven/South Memphis district held by Democrat Reginald Tate, has been shifted all the way into middle Tennessee to become a new district there. Tate’s district — or the one where he resides — is now District 31. Presumably the newly numvereed district, substantially the same in its demographic and geographic character, remains Tate's bailiwick without further complication -- though it should be noted that there is confusion on the score in some quarters.

The area of the former District 31 finds itself now, for the most part, within District 28, which contains that remnant of the former District 28 wherein resides incumbent Democrat Jim Kyle&. Kyle thus finds himself matched this year in a hypothetical race against current District 31 incumbent Brian Kelsey, a Republican, who is at mid-term of his four-year term but volunteered to run again in the newly re-numbered district.

District 29, now held by Democrat Ophelia Ford, now stretches from the Tipton County line to the Mississippi state line, while District 30, represented at present by Midtown Democrat Beverly Marrero, though more of an African-American district than before, is still predominantly Democratic. District 32, currently held by Republican Majority Leader Mark Norris, would now stretch from the eastern and northeastern parts of Shelby County upward to include all of Tipton County.

Given the predominance of Republicans in the new District 28, the likelihood is that the loss of one Senator from Shelby County could equate to the loss of a Democratic Senator. At the very least, Senate Democratic leader Kyle will find himself hard pressed.

Proposed state House districts, Shelby County
  • Proposed state House districts, Shelby County

STATE HOUSE: The number of state representatives apportioned to Shelby County has shrunk from 17 to 15, and the shrinkage has resulted in the combination of four serving Democrats into two newly configured districts. Reps. Antonio Parkinson and Jeanne Richardson, both Democrats, are paired in one, and Reps. Barbara Cooper and G.A. Hardaway, also Democrats, are paired in another.

Net loss to Shelby County: two seats and two Democrats.

ANANLYSIS AND FURTHER DETAILS TO COME. (Note: some modifications have been made in this analysis since it first appeared.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Three Commissioners Sue to Force Redistricting Issue Into Chancery

Posted By on Wed, Jan 4, 2012 at 8:27 AM

The fat, as they say, is in the fire. Three members of the Shelby County Commission have filed suit in Chancery Court to force a resolution of the current impasse on a redistricting plan for the Commission.

Plaintiffs in the suit filed Tuesday are Commissioners Terry Roland, Mike Ritz, and Walter Bailey. Defendants, technically, are the Commission itself and the State of Tennessee. The suit seeks a declaratory judgment that the current districting plan violates both the state and federal constitutions and seeks “an Order requiring Defendants to immediately conference and expeditiously accomplish a new redistricting plan that complies with the equal protection principle of ‘one person-one vote.’”

Just before Christmas, the Commission found itself hopelessly divided on competing redistricting plans, with seven members committed to a revamped version of the current plan which has four three-member districts and one single-member district. Five other commissioners, including the plaintiffs, are adamantly opposed to such a plan, preferring either a system of 13 single-member districts or one involving six two-member districts and one single-member one.

A 13th commissioner, James Harvey, has been out of town on business and has not signaled his wishes.
The matter of redistricting could come up Wednesday as the Commission holds its regular bi-weekly committee meetings, but it is not on the committee agenda per se.

Almost certainly, there will be discussion of the redistricting issue, however — whether formally or informally.

The current stalemate, which found the Commission missing its reapportionment deadline of December 31, is the result of several cross purposes, some of them perhaps personal, others reflecting philosophical disagreement. What is interesting is that the differences cross racial, political, and geographical lines, with blacks, whites, Republicans, Democrats, city residents, and county residents on both sides of the dispute.

As an example, the groups of plaintiffs includes two white Republicans, Roland and Ritz, and one African-American Democrat, Bailey, whose firm prepared the suit. Roland represents an outer-county district at present, while Ritz represents one that straddles city and county, and Bailey represents an inner-city district.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Notes on a Sojourn in Iowa

How things look with the GOP candidates as Vote Number One in the presidential race takes place.

Posted By on Tue, Jan 3, 2012 at 11:50 AM

Santorum, Paul, Romney and Wife Ann in Iowa
  • jb
  • Santorum, Paul, Romney and Wife Ann in Iowa

A Memphis friend seemed to look at me as if I might be crazy when, at a New Year’s gathering, I suggested that former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum might finish in first place among Republican presidential contenders in this week’s Iowa caucuses. Or maybe she was just horrified.

Actually, I hedged a bit on my forecast, saying that either Santorum or former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney could come out ahead, with the other in second place, a hair above Texas libertarian congressman Ron Paul, a feisty septuagenarian who has a dedicated following that carries over from presidential season to presidential season, looking cultish or mainstream as the times define.

This year the latter was the case, as Dr. Paul (both he and commentators periodically emphasize his medical background) went into the final week looking like a possible winner himself. Accordingly, he did what every other candidate has done whenever they began to look viable. He moved toward the center.

When I saw him at a Sioux City rally last Friday night, Rep. Paul was not playing take-back with any of his somewhat idiosyncratic assertions (regarding the villainy of the Federal Reserve system, for example), but his rhetoric was shaded more toward the forefathers and their regard for liberty — almost as if he was angling for his own place on a coin (preferably a gold one, given his predilections for a return to the gold standard).

One last note about Paul: his potential for winning was dimmed somewhat by the media revelations this past week that a political/economic newsletter he once published had proclaimed sentiments that were racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, and redolent of 9/11 conspiracy theory. (For the record, Paul disclaimed personal authorship.)

Yet his residual potential was advertised by the fact that, as the crowd gathered for a Romney rally in West Des Moines that morning, a man and a woman wearing Romney stickers and standing just behind me were spending much of their time extolling Ron Paul and his minimal-government c redo, as if their hearts belonged with the Good Doctor even as their heads inclined toward presumed national frontrunner Romney as their party’s best bet for beating President Obama.

Interestingly, too, these two Iowans seemed to side with Paul in his antagonism toward foreign military commitments — an indication that not just Democrats and commentators but some heartland GOP voters themselves are intrigued by this aspect of the Paul canon.

So why, as we were saying, Santorum and Romney? Romney first: He has a personal fortune and the largest war-chest of any candidate, inasmuch as he’s been running for president since losing out to John McCain for the Republican nomination in 2008. He has used those resources to create a Super-PAC (a term of the nonce) called “Restore Our Future” which has pumped out attack ads against any candidate who threatened to rival or exceed him.

In sequence, that has been Minnesota congresswoman Michelle Bachman (who won the August Iowa Straw Poll); Texas governor Rick Perry (who entered the contest on a white stallion last summer, then promptly fell off his mount via non-stop gaffes in candidate debates) , ex-Godfather Pizza chief Herman Cain, this season’s novelty candidate who ended up with so many female co-respondents going public as to make Bill Clinton look like a Trappist monk and had to drop out; and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, whose campaign had first self-destructed, then rose to dramatic heights just within the last month, then was torpedoed into relative insignificance again by attack ads from Romney and virtually everybody else concerning his personal peccadilloes and multiple deviations from Republican orthodoxy.

Romney seems not to have suffered by virtue of his heterodox religion, Mormonism, though this is conceivably a latent issue. He has held steadiest of all the candidates in various pollings, with few dramatic ups and downs. He has always been at or near the top. That is partly due to his juggernaut of an organization, but partly, also, to a political rhetoric that is clearly crafted to be all things to all people. Not quite a moderate, Romney has been a chameleon, and the rap against him is that, despite a record of success as a chief executive in and out of politics, he lacks core convictions.

The chief exhibit for this shortcoming is perhaps the disingenuous dance he has had to do to join the rest of the GOP candidates in denouncing “Obamacare” even though the President’s health-care plan is virtually the spitting image of one crafted by Romney himself as governor of Massachusetts.

Yet, to give him his due, Romney, more than the others, has pledged to work across the political aisle to get results. He did so again at the West Des Moines rally.

But so has Santorum, fairly consistently, though his declarations to that effect during the endless series of GOP candidate debates were generally overlooked — due both to his clear second-tier status during those affairs and to the sometimes shrill emphasis he gave his hard-core social conservative views. This is the man who once affrighted a reporter some years ago by going ballistic and proclaiming the specter of “man-on-dog” sex during a philippic against the decline of sexual mores in our time. `

But, uniquely among the Republicans in this presidential field, Santorum deigns to add the suffix “-ic” to the name of the political opposition party and makes much of the fact that, before losing his Senate seat badly in 2006, he had prevailed in two prior elections in heavily Democratic Pennsylvania. And he could legitimately point to bills he had co-sponsored with Democrats.

In a well-attended appearance last Thursday in Muscatine, a suburb of Davenport, Santorum won praise for his performance from no less an attendee than Ed Schulz, the firebrand commentator who toils for MSNBC, the “liberal” cable channel. On that occasion, conscious that he had somehow, miraculously won a place on the pendulum swing at just the right time (his chief arch-conservative rivals having all fallen away), Santorum seemed intent on looking as mainstream as possible.

He had even engaged in a gentlemanly dialogue with a woman, evidently a Lesbian activist, who baited him on his stand against same-sex marriage. After making his usual fervent defense of traditional marriage and positing it as a necessary element to generate a strong economy, Santorum actually congratulated the woman for advancing her position and entering into a dialogue on the matter.

Yet he is still far to the right on the social spectrum, and evangelical Iowans know that. Hence his current standing in their eyes as an alternative to Romney, whom they clearly do not trust.

Quickly regarding the rest of the field: Gingrich has crested, and his curve is down, though he appears intent on soldiering on into New Hampshire, which holds the first primary next week. Perry may be there, too, as much on the strength of his still-considerable campaign treasury and his matinee-idol looks (giving him good crowds and an abundance of autograph-seekers) as anything else. He may even come in for a little bump upward in the Iowa results.

The most obvious loser in Iowa is Michelle Bachmann, a candidate who has dropped steadily since her straw-poll victory there in August and an arch-conservative who seems incapable of even faking any mainstream sentiments. (A recent talking point: a proposed bill to strip American-born children of illegal aliens of their citizenship rights.) At her stops last week, the diminutive Bachmann drew almost no onlookers except for a media remnant that badgered her about when and how she would bring her campaign to an end.

“No softballs? She couldn’t get even a single softball?” a dazed campaign aide exclaimed at the close of such a press battering in the west Iowa hamlet of Early. And that said it all.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Illegal? A Bribe? Or Just Another Failed Redistricting Plan?

Interim Shelby County Commissioner Brent Taylor tries his hand at deal-making but finds no takers.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 2, 2012 at 6:38 PM

Brent Taylor
  • Brent Taylor
Over the holidays, yet another attempt to break the Shelby County Commission’s stalemate on redistricting has been floated, and it, too, has floundered. But, unlike the proffered plans which preceded it, this one — called the “Distributive Representation Plan” by its author, interim District 1 Commissioner Brent Taylor, a Republican — has resulted in charges that it is “illegal” and constitutes a “bribe.”

The first accusation came from current District 4 Commissioner Terry Roland, a Millington Republican, who rejected a proposed supportive statement for the plan in his name, written by Taylor but forwarded to Roland for his approval.

Said Roland in his response to Taylor: “I find it extremely inappropriate and I strongly denounce the proposition because it is highly illegal and I do not want anything to do with it. As you know when I ran for Senate in District 29 my campaign slogan was ‘Not for Sale.’ It is the same now as it was then, I’m Not for Sale! I will always do what I think is the best for the people of Shelby County.”

The adjective “illegal” was apparently directed by Roland to a section of the plan which, like other particulars in Taylor’s proposed framework, hypothetically was to be approved by Commissioner Justin Ford, a Memphis Democrat who has been at odds with Roland over competing redistricting plans.

Ford has been the author of the last few versions of a plan that would keep the current system of four three-member districts and one single-member district. At present, seven members, a mix of Republicans and Democrats, as of blacks and whites, are committed to such a plan. Five other politically and racailly diverse commissioners, including Roland, have favored versions of a plan for six two-member districts plus a single-member district, or a plan for 13 single-member districts proposed by Memphis Democrat Steve Mulroy.

The section found offensive by Roland would attach to the final redistricting plan “a resolution requesting the Administration to create a Suburban Economic Development Aid Package (SEDAP) of roughly $200,000 which is a continuation of funding started last year under my [i.e., Roland’s] leadership. This will allow the suburban communities to be less reliant on the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce for economic development opportunities that are specific to the suburban communities.”

Other commissioners besides Roland have had their hackles raised by this suggestion, and Commissioner Mike Ritz, another District 1 Republican, used the term “bribe” to describe the addition of the grant resolution.

Taylor, a former Memphis City Councilman, dismissed the charge, however, saying such trade-offs were “a normal part of the legislative process.”

Besides the tie-in to a resolution supporting a SEDAP grant, Taylor’s plan also featured a provision to sub-divide District 4, Roland’s district, which, as drawn in the plan, sprawls across almost half of Shelby County’s geographic mass and takes in most of the county which does not lie within Memphis’ city limits.

Under the plan, District 4 would be divided into three components — a northern one, incorporating Roland’s residence in Millington; a central one, including portions of Germantown and Cordova; and a southeastern one, focused on Collierville. All residents of District 4 would have a vote for all three commissioners, but the elected commissioners would have to live in the sub-district they represented.

That provision would satisfy what many of Roland’s colleagues believe (and he denies) looms large in his thinking — a need to have a reelection district confined to the area around Millington. The plan as a whole, however, lacks what Roland has termed ultra-important, a guarantee of four commissioners from areas outside Memphis.

Taylor was frank to say that it was impossible to draw up a plan guaranteeing four suburban commissioners while also guaranteeing election prospects for six Republicans on the 13-member Commission. “That’s why some of the Republicans won’t go for the two-member districts,” Taylor said.

All of the plans would seem to guarantee the opportunity for African-American domination of the Commission, consistent with the 2010 census figures, but Ford says his plan would best see to that end.

While Taylor’s plan was based in its general outlines on what has been called the Ford Plan, a third provision within it called for dropping that particular appellation.

Ford said he had seen the Taylor plan, but only after its preparation and apparently, too, after Roland had already rejected it. “I didn’t think it improved on the plan I already had presented,” he said.

With the failure of Taylor’s attempt at deal-making it appears more likely than not that the impasse on redistricting will go unresolved when the Commission next meets on Wednesday. Ford contends that he has seven, maybe eight votes, for his plan. But the two-member district plan generally credited to Roland and Memphis Democrat Walter Bailey, jointly, has five apparent solid and unyielding votes.

Increasingly, members on both sides of the dispute are expressing a belief that Chancery Court, not the Commission itself, will end up as the final arbiter of a redistricting plan for the Commission.


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