Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rep. Miller Forced to Withdraw a Resolution Praising Henri Brooks.

The controversial county commissioner is still persona non grata for many in the General Assembly, where she once served.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 31, 2013 at 11:52 AM

Henri Brooks
  • JB
  • Henri Brooks
NASHVILLE -- The legend of Henri Brooks, now a member of the Shelby County Commission and formerly a member of the state House of Representatives, dies hard.

Very hard, as state Rep. Larry Miller discovered Thursday in Nashville. Last week, Miller had placed on the House consent calendar a routine resolution recognizing Brooks, who was recently one of a dozen Memphians cited for their achievements by The Commercial Appeal in an article entitled “Twelve Who Made a Difference.”

Resolutions of that sort on behalf of people in one’s district who are honored for this or that are common and are almost always made part of the consent calendar, which, as the name implies, is a compilation of uncontroversial matters, requiring a pro forma vote, normally unanimous by acclamation.

Brooks, however, is anything but uncontroversial. During her several terms in the legislature, she attracted the attention of her peers — and notably on one occasion, that of former longtime House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, who took umbrage — for her refusal to take part in the pledges of allegiance to the flag which began each day’s work in the House.

Brooks objects philosophically to the pledge, apparently because she regards it as symbolic of America’s failure to extend the full promise of human liberty to African Americans. She continues that objection as a member of the Commission, most often either standing mute when the pledge is recited by members of the Commission and audience or by taking her seat only when the pledge has been recited.

Though Brooks has always had her defenders, who note that her actions are protected by the Constitution, she has had her critics, too — and the number of them has been disproportionately greater.

So, even though Brooks, who left the House after the election of 2006, was an unknown quantity to most of the current members of the legislature, word of her predilections spread rapidly enough that, when Miller came to the floor on Thursday, he was informed by Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin), caucus chair of the majority Republicans, “Larry, we’re going to bump the Brooks resolution.” That meant the resolution would have to be the subject of debate — and vociferous debate at that.

Miller concluded the resolution was doomed for certain defeat after “a whole lot of angry discussion.”

He says he was informed that Rep. Joe Carr, a flamboyantly conoservative Republican from Rutherford County of independent and distinctive views himself (he has recently filed bills challenging federal authority in Tennessee, for example) had been one of the organizers of anti-Brooks sentiment. “He’s getting ready to run for Congress,” Miller notes, by way of explanation.

In any case, a resolution which Miller had regarded as routine would, he realized, became the focus of a floor fight, touching upon partisan and even racial differences and risking a general conflagration. “We would have voted for the resolution,” says Miller, meaning the House Democrats, “but they {Republicans] would have opposed it, and that could have become bitter.”

He says he was urged to make a fight of it by some of his colleagues but decided that something like that, this early in the legislative session, could adversely affect the temper of the body and derail consideration of urgent issues that required at least the semblance of bipartisan cooperation and respect.

Another course suggested by his colleagues was to retailiate by bumping every routine resolution on the consent calendar brought by a Republican member. Miller advised against that as well.

In the end, he deferred his resolution (“rolled” it, in legislative vernacular) until “the last calendar.”

That phrase normally means the very end of the legislative session, which this year will be in late April or early May. In this case, Miller concedes, "the last calendar" probably means never.

“It just wasn’t worth igniting a war over,” Miller said.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Even More Campfield: He Introduces 'Don't Say Gay II'

This time school officials could say it -- but only to the outed child's parents. All for his/her own good, of course.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2013 at 4:06 PM

Stacey Campfield
  • Stacey Campfield

NASHVILLE:

“The general assembly recognizes that certain subjects are particularly sensitive and are, therefore, best explained and discussed within the home. Because of its complex societal, scientific, psychological, and historical implications, human sexuality is one such subject. Human sexuality is best understood by children with sufficient maturity to grasp its complexity and implications….”

That pseudo-philosophical paragraph is the introduction to the latest bill introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly by one Stacey Campfield, the former state representative and freshly minted state senator from Knoxville who seems determined that his name will forever more be synonymous with the term “gay-bashing.”

It will be remembered that Campfield was the author of the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” measure that passed the state Senate in 2011 and knocked around in the House all of last year before being shelved — an outcome that was assisted by Governor Bill Haslam’s tactful but firm suggestion that the bill, which forbade any mention of homosexuality in elementary schools and had attracted either contempt or ridicule in most of the Western world, was “unnecessary.”

The fact is: If Stacey Campfield had not existed, it might have been necessary to invent him. Not a day goes by on Capitol Hill in Nashville that Campfield doesn’t take some action designed to make his name a proverb.

Observe: On Wednesday, January 30, was born Son of Don’t Say Gay, or Don’t Say Gay II., beginning with the benign sociologese of the paragraph heretofore quoted, which is quickly followed by this:

“(b) At grade levels pre-K through eight (pre-K-8), any such classroom instruction, course materials or other informational resources that are inconsistent with natural human reproduction shall be classified as inappropriate for the intended student audience and, therefore, shall be prohibited."

Why prohibited? Why, for the good of the putatively or actually gay child, of course:

”A school counselor, nurse, principal or assistant principal “ may counsel anyone “who may be at risk of engaging in, behavior injurious to [one’s] physical or mental health and wellbeing … provided, that wherever possible such counseling shall be done in consultation with the student's parents or legal guardians. Parents or legal guardians of students who receive such counseling shall be notified as soon as practicable that such counseling has occurred....”

There is more to the bill, but you get the idea:. In other words, Say “gay” if you must, but say it out of the hearing of the Regular Kids and in a way that isolates the suspected or known outliers and makes them squirm. Call it Tough Love. Call it The Cure.

And that's not the worst of it.

Enter Jeff Woods, the incomparable “Pith in the Wind” sage of the Nashville Scene, who has happily reneged on the brief retirement his announced last year, and why not? With Campfield still on the loose, what choice did he have but to return to duty?

Woods reads the new bill to be “requiring schoolteachers and administrators to out gay children to their parent… for the child's own good, of course.” As he notes, Campfield's bill (called "the Classroom Protection Act") would, in its quarantined way, let "schoolteachers and administrators counsel gay students who are facing bullying or other problems, but the school then must report it to the child's parents.”

Like Woods, we find it impossible not to quote the response of Wonkette in an item which ends this way:

"Before we go, yr Wonkette (particularly this portion of yr Wonkette who actually happens to be a female lesbian) would like to cordially invite the Tennessee General Assembly to eat a bag of lightly-salted poison rat dicks. Enjoy! Choke!”

We will hazard here the prediction that Campfield’s newest philippic against the state of gaydom will ultimately meet the fate of his first effort, except that, unlike that first version of Don’t Say Gay, it is unlikely to receive the imprimatur of either Senate or House.

On second thought, let's make that a guess — not a prediction.

Additional

But is there another Stacey Campfield, a more thoughtful version of the smash-mouth iconcoclast -- a persona that doesn't get enough attention because the stunt-prone Campfield's inflammatory social legislation obscures it?

There is some evidence to suggest that the answer is yes.

It is Campfield's membership on the Senate Education Committee (as one its House equivalent beforehand) that has enabled him to be on the front end of his now-notorious gay-baiting legislation. But he can -- and does -- offer constructive contributions to school-related bills.

It was Campfield, for example, who took the lead last week in challenging the bona fides of Tennessee Virtual Academy, the fledgling online taxpayer-subsidized public-school service which was authorized by the 2011 General Assembly.

Representatives of TNVA had tappeared before the Senate Education Committee with a souped-up new-media version of their curriculum -- a dog-and-pony show,as some observers called it -- and were about to leave it at that when Campfield dug in and queried them sharply about the substandard scores achieved by TNVA students and the reasons for them.

This week the TNVA presneters got more of the same, on a bi-partisan basis, from members of the House Education Committee, and Governor Bill Haslam would announce his intention to limit the scope of TNVA pending better results.

It was a debate that Campfield was a prime mover in, but, understandably, his role in it -- one in which he could offer leadership in achieving a consensus -- was obscured by the new Don't Say Gay II bill and by another inflammatory proposal to cut welfare payments to families of under-performing students.

And that's nobody's fault but Campfield's.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Haslam Goes for Uplift in State-of-the-State Address

Governor leaves some blanks, which he fills with fun facts and feel-good sentiments.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 at 10:51 PM

A pensive Governor Haslam leaves the dock after his SOTS address.
  • JB
  • A pensive Governor Haslam leaves the dock after his SOTS address.
NASHVILLE -- Governor Bill Haslam, ever adept at walking political tightropes, managed several versions of the feat during his 2013 State-of-the-State address before a joint legislative session in the state House chamber and before whatever political junkies might have tuned in to a statewide multi-media simulcast.

On several key issues the governor expressed himself with studious ambiguity — notably on the still pending matter of Medicaid expansion under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. “Most of us in this room don’t like the Affordable Care act, but the decision to expand Medicaid isn’t as basic as saying, “No ObamaCare, No expansion,” he said. In other words, he was carefully weighing the issue.

On the one hand, “The federal government is famous for creating a program and then withdrawing the funds years later, which leaves state governments on the hook.” That was apropos conservative opponents’ expressed fears — embodied in new prohibitive legislation sponsored by state Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown).

But on the other hand, “There are hospitals across this state, many of them in rural communities, that are going to struggle if not close under the health care law without expansion….” For “hospitals,” read: sources of serious lobbying efforts for expansion.

And, regarding proposed legislation to enable state vouchers for use in private schools (including a far-reaching variant by the self-same Kelsey), Haslam was able to thread his way through the controversial l issue without ever even using the word “voucher” at all. Still, the governor left no doubt that he would be pushing a “school choice” proposal, one that focused on low-income students, and he balanced that with boasts that he had greatly increased financial support — $47 million, over and above annual funding”—for the struggling schools that might lose students through a voucher program.

What was interesting about the SOTS address from the standpoint of audience reaction in the Chamber was that, every time Governor Haslam mentioned this or that new expenditure — $51 million for “technology transition upgrades in schools across the state;” $16.5 million for workforce development programs; $45 million for a new Community Health Facility at the University of Memphis; $58 million for new jails and prisons, etc., etc. — he got substantial applause from the supposed supermajority of GOP tightwads.

True, too, however, that the governor stressed whenever possible anything he could refer to as a tax cut — in levies on groceries, for example; or in the state inheritance tax (which he, admirably, declines to call a “death tax);” or on gift taxes; or in the Hall Income Tax — and he got the same prolonged applause.

Haslam briefly boasted his educational reforms and improved student performance on standardized tests. He touted a variety of public-private partnerships in the marketplace, and an increase in the number of state jobs. He circled around a couple of problem areas — issues within the Department of children’s Services, for example, concerning which he spoke mainly of “upgrading nearly 200 case manager positions;” and “guns and schools,” which he morphed into a call for “a larger conversation about mental health issues, identifying warning signs and getting people the help they need."

One of Haslam’s strongest stands concerned his support for stability in the state’s procedures for making judicial appointment. He noted that a pending 2014 referendum calls for modest changes and said, “I…believe that it makes sense to preserve the current process until the people have a chance to vote …. Making changes in the meantime does nothing but confuse the situation further.”

At the very onset of his speech, Haslam hit one inescapable issue head-on: “I believe we have to begin this evening by addressing the elephant in the room — or I guess I should say the elephants in the room. There are a lot of expectations and preconceived notions about how our Republican supernajority is going to govern….As we go through this legislative session, I ask everyone in this chamber this evening to keep in mind what Senator [Howard] Baker said: ‘The other fellow may be right….’”

And in the spirit of that suggested bipartisanship, the only significant modification made by Haslam in his prepared text was an ad-libbed recognition of Memphis state Representative and former longtime House Speaker Pro Tem Lois DeBerry for her 40 years of service in the legislature. That drew a standing ovation, as did several other tributes to various state employees whom he recognized for their superior performance.

In one sense, Bill Haslam’s State of the State message left a lot of blanks to be filled. But in another sense he filled as many as he could with what seemed to be encouraging data and honest feel-good sentiments.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

In Defense of Lance Armstrong

His vilifiers are riding an easy but low road. Cancer survivors know better.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 24, 2013 at 1:38 PM

Lance_Armstrong.jpg
Here’s what I grant is a minority view on the Lance Armstrong matter, and please pardon my language:

If self-righteousness were bullshit (which, in large measure, it is) enough of it has been dumped on the matter of Lance Armstrong as to require an infinite number of shovels to deal with it and an almost unimaginable amount of disinfectant.

It is said that cyclist Armstrong “cheated” in his seven consecutive Tour de France victories by using such performance-enhancing additives as EPO, testosterone, cortisone, and steroids. This is a bit like contending that Such-and-Such a show-biz celebrity had “cheated” on a spouse. Granted, marriage for most people remains a monogamous sacrament (though such unions are increasingly more serial than otherwise), but it’s no secret that the doctrine of Open Marriage, which enjoyed a serious and respectable vogue in society at large not too long ago, has long been something of a norm among movie folks and suchlike.

In other words, it’s not “cheating” if what you’re doing is in conformity with the rules of the prevailing culture. To be sure, not every cyclist used drugs, but all the competitive ones seem to have, and it’s unfair and unreasonable to suggest that their use was the only, or even the main, reason for Armstrong’s standing above the field.

On what he described to Oprah Winfrey as a “level playing field,” Armstrong was certifiably the best of the best. It almost stands to reason that, if drugs could really have been kept out of racing, he still would have been so.

Okay, so Lance could play rough with members of his team or entourage —technical offenders themselves, it would seem — who threatened to expose his practices or who actually did so, thereby —what? —putting his career and reputation in jeopardy. Well, duh! At most, that’s what he’s accused of doing to them, reactively.

On the score of performance-enhancing additives, btw: What is the morning cup of coffee, if not that? What are one-a-day multiple vitamin capsules, if not that? How many of us, day in and day out, are in constant pursuit of, and consumption of, what amount to P.E.D.’s? They’re perfectly legal, for the most part, but much of what we ingest in the pursuit of self-improvement may be injurious to our health, as Armstrong’s P.E.D’s almost certainly are. Self-dosing is not quite a victimless crime; it’s just that the potential victim is oneself.

Beyond all of this, the main reason why all of the posturing and finger-pointing and scapegoating of Lance Armstrong is wrong-headed stems from what his doctor had to say about it.

I don’t mean any of the doctors who enabled his use of performance enhancers. I mean the physician who treated Armstrong for cancer in the mid-‘90s.

This is Dr. Lawrence Einhorn of Indianapolis, who helped save the life of Armstrong when the cyclist was suffering from a virulent, metastasizing third-stage cancer. It was Armstrong’s seemingly miraculous recovery that made him such an iconic figure to so many millions of people worldwide, very few of whom had paid the slightest attention to the sport of cycling then. Nor do so now.

From USA Today last week:

"Virtually 100 percent of my cancer patients all feel that (Armstrong) has done far more good than any damage he's done," said Einhorn, who works at the Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis.

Let him tell you about the mixed bag that will always be Lance Armstrong; a quandary perhaps only fully understand by those who have faced cancer. If a man helps them endure some of the darkest days of their lives, they won't turn on him because of how he won a bicycle race.

"If he didn't do doping, he would not have been competitive in his sport," Einhorn said. "There would have been no foundation. There would have been no cancer survivorship talk, if he had not entered the Tour de France, or (if he had) finished 17th or 18th. It doesn't mean that the ends justify the means."

But it's a dilemma?

"Exactly. I've always told (Armstrong) for many, many years that his legacy is going to be his legacy as a cancer survivor and what he's meant to the cancer community."

Last week when I was in Washington for the Inaugural of President Obama, I stopped by the office of 9th District congressman Steve Cohen. While there I had a lengthy and informative chat with Beanie Self, one of the congressman’s ultra-helpful aides.

Beanie is a cancer survivor, one who still requires ameliorative medical treatment several years after being originally treated for breast cancer. Independently of the remarks of Dr. Einhorn, which she hadn’t known about, she proclaimed continued admiration for Armstrong’s work with the Livestrong organization, a creation of his which has raised both world-wide consciousness and enormous funding to combat cancer.

More than that, as Beanie pointed out, Armstrong’s own example will continue to inspire victims of the disease. He will inspire them for the simple reason of his survival. His phenomenal successes as an athlete are the cherry on top. Besides being a champion, might he also have been something of a rascal, a rogue — even, as so many are insisting, a villain?

Eureka!, the cancer survivor might respond. That he survived to become any or all of those things, that he survived, for better or for worse, to win races, to kick asses or take names, to cut corners or race up mountains, is a miracle. All the more so for manifestly remaining a human like the rest of us, a fully rounded character, with vices and virtues alike.

Dr. Einhorn is right about Lance Armstrong, not his ultra-vilifiers, who are doing their own riding on an easy but low road. And indulging in their own kind of cheating.

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The Political Gospel of State Senator Reginald Tate

“I’m not dancing to the music,” says Memphis Democrat, at odds with party leadership and openly chummy with the GOP powers-that-be.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 24, 2013 at 11:23 AM

State Senator Reginald Tate
  • JB
  • State Senator Reginald Tate
Given the fact of Republican super-majorities in both the state Senate and state House as the 2013 session of the Tennessee General Assembly begins, much of the talk around Legislative Plaza has concerned whether there might be a schism in Republican ranks on this or that issue — guns, school vouchers, health care, or what-have-you.

What has received less attention is dissension within Democratic ranks, for the simple reasons that in terms of legislative arithmetic, Democrats are now too small a minority in both chambers to have much day-to-day impact, though they could still affect borderline votes.

A symbolic figure of the current Democratic situation might be state Senator Reginald Tate of the majority-black District 33 in south Shelby County. More than most Democrats, Tate has been open to Republican influence and less inclined to partisan loyalty per se.

And Tate has made a point of confronting the existing Democratic hierarchy —what remains of it, anyhow. There are only 7 Democrats in the 33-member state Senate — a rump group, all things considered—and late last year Tate challenged state Senator Jim Kyle, also of Memphis, for Senate Democratic leader, a position Kyle had held for several sessions.

Kyle won, 4-3 — an outcome Tate blames on another Memphian, fellow African-American senator Ophelia Ford, an apparent Kyle voter. “There are not but three blacks that vote in the Senate. Why wouldn’t I expect her vote?” said Tate, who was interviewed after a Wednesday night meeting of the Germantown Democratic Club at Coletta’s in Bartlett.

Tate got some measure of requital earlier this month, when he was elected chairman of the Shelby County legislative delegation 10-9 (“Always one vote,” he laughs.). As it happens,Tate was nominated for delegation chairman by GOP Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, while Parkinson was nominated by Democratic leader Kyle.

Acknowledging that it was likely he got the votes of all the Republicans in the delegation, while the Democrats voted for his rival, state Rep. Antonio Parkinson. Tate shrugs: “I may have gotten one or two Democrats.”

Tate is aware that some of his fellow Democrats consider him too tight with Republicans, especially with Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, Speaker of the state Senate, who recently awarded him with prestigious committee assignments. But he denies that any strings were attached and says, “I never asked to be vice-chair of the Education committee. I never asked to be on Fiscal Review.”

Granted, while serving on the Senate Education committee during the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions, Tate had voted with suburban Republicans from Shelby County rather than with Democrats on issues relating to the enabling of suburban school districts in the county, but he explains that by referring to the fact of Memphis being so largely a black city and perhaps needing at some point to practice its own form of exclusivity.

“In the long run why woudn’t I vote fot that bill because it gives them the option to do what they want?” he says, seeming to make an argument for turnabout being fair play.

And he is frank to aver that Realpolitik influences his relations with the Republican majority, who, after all, have the power. “It just so happens that I’m not dancing to the music. If I can’t get you to help me, then I’m going to get somebody else to help me.”

Yes, he is friendly with Ramsey, but that’s because “he wants to reach out to the Democratic side.” Anyhow, “If I’m not dancing to Kyle’s music, what makes anybody think I’d dance to Ramsey’s music?”

In a series of comments, Tate seems to suggest that his differences with Democratic leader Kyle have progressed to the point of irreconilabiity “If Kyle cals a press conferfence and I don’t know what it’s about, then that’s rude….We don’t have a caucus….If I ask for something in my own caucus, it’s tampered with….Kyle has displayed everything that is personal and nothing about us...Every move has been personal.”

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Corker Named Ranking Member on Foreign Relations

Tennessee Republican senator has long been watchdog on military commitments abroad.

Posted By on Tue, Jan 22, 2013 at 12:38 PM

U.S. Senator Bob Corker
  • JB
  • U.S. Senator Bob Corker

WASHINGTON -- What promises to be an eventful work week for the Senate Foreign Relations Commmittee in Washington began Tuesday with an announcement that U.S. Senator Bob Corker (D-TN) has ecome the ranking Republican member of the Committee.

The Tennessee /Repubican has very prominently (and very unusually) worn two hats during his tenure in the Senate, which began with his election in 2006 over Democratic opponent Harold Ford Jr., then a Memphis congressman.

As a member of the Senate’s Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, Corker has long been a forceful advocate of retrenchment in government spending and has proposed legislation to that end.

And as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, he has served as a skeptic and watchdog on the excesses of American military commitments in the Mid-East, notably in the case of both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

As Coker assumes his new position as ranking member, the Foreign Relations Committee will conduct two important hearings this week. ON Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will testify before the Committee regarding the the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) at 9:00 a.m. ET, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will testify before the committee about the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

And on Thursday, the committee will hold a hearing on President Obama’s nomination ofSenator John Kerry (D-Mass.) as the next Secretary of State, to succeed the retiring Clinton.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Rep. Todd Cops Guilty Plea on DUI, Gun Possession

Collierville legislator sentenced in Nashville to modest jail time, probation, and community service.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 18, 2013 at 11:46 AM

State Rep. Curry Todd
  • State Rep. Curry Todd
State Rep. Curry Todd (R-Collierville), pleaded guilty in a Nashville court Friday to DUI and gun possesseion charges relating to a 2011 traffic arrest in the state capital and was sentenced to 48 hours in jail and 24 hours of community service.

As additional punishment, Todd, a former sponsor of guns-in-bars legislation, forfeits the right to carry a gun anywhere during a year of court-imposed probation. He was also fined $ 350.

Along with state Senator Mark Norris, his fellow Collierville Republican, Todd was a sponsor the 2011 bill, familiarly known as Norris-Todd, which provided a framework for city-county school merger in Shelby County.

Follow-up legislation by Norris and Todd , expediting the creation of suburban municipal school districts in Shelby County, was found unconstitutional last year by U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays, who has yet to rule on a provison of Norris-Todd that enabled the suburban districts in the first place.

Todd was arrested by Nashville police on the night of October 11, 2011, ater being spotted weaving in traffic. He refused a breath alcoholic test on the spot.

After being charged on that occasion, Todd stepped down as chairman of the House State and Local Government committee, though he retains membership on that committee, as well as on the House business and ulitities committee.

Todd also attained some national notoriety in 2010 when he referred to Mexican immigrants multiplying like “rats” during the course of a legislative hearing on health care benefits.

He would subsequently tell his House colleagues during a committee hearing that suffered from a slow-growing variety of lymphoma, and, for all his sudden notoriety, he was not opposed for reelection in 2012.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Shunning Party Label, Tate Elected to Head Shelby Delegation

“Not an R or a D,” says GOP-friendly nominal Democrat from state Senate District 33.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 10, 2013 at 6:10 PM

State Senator Regionald Tate of District 33
  • State Senator Regionald Tate of District 33
Here’s a daisy chain for you:

State Senator Reginald Tate, who represents District 33 in southern Shelby County, has long had various Democratic members of the county’s legislative delegation privately chafing on account of Tate’s GOP-friendly votes and close relations with Republican legislators, including Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, the Senate’s Speaker.

During debate on 2011’s Norris-Todd bill and subsequent measures favoring the creation of suburban municipal school districts in Shelby County, Tate did not join other inner-city Democrats in opposition. And Tate was the only Democratic member of the Shelby delegation member to be appointed this week by Ramsey to the key educaton committee.

On Wednesday, when the Shelby County legislative delegation met in Nashville to elect officers, Tate became a last-minute candidate for delegation chairman, nominated by Rep. Curry Todd and Senate majority leader Mark Norris, both Republicans. By a 10-9 margin, he defeated Rep. Antonio Parkinson, who had long campaigned for the position of chairman and was nominated by Rep. Larry Miller and Senate minority leader Jim Kyle, both Democrats.

The vote was by secret ballot, but Parkinson’s supporters (most of the Democrats) tend to believe the delegation's Republicans cast their votes for Tate.

In other voting earlier in the week, Tate had been one of only two Democrats (the other was Charlotte Burks of Monterey) to cast votes for Ramsey as Speaker. Four Democrats supported Kyle -- even though, by prior decision of the party caucus, he had not been formally nominated -- while another Democrat, the venerable Doug Henry of Nashville, had abstained from voting.

Asked why he did not discourage pro forma support for the Speakership by Democratic members, who are out-numbered in the Senate 26 to 7 by Republicans, Kyle said, “There are still lots of Democrats throughout the state. We don’t need to look like we’re collapsing or capitulating.”

That contrasts with Tate’s remarks to the Shelby delegation on the occasion of the chairmanship vote: “I’m not an R or a D, or a W or a B — Republican, Democrat, white, black. I look at issues as they come.”

In an even earlier vote, held last month, Tate had unsuccessfully challenged Kyle's reelection as leader of the Senate Democrats, who now number only 7 of the body's 33 members. The vote in favor of Kyle was by a razor-thin 4-3 margin.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Praise-Fest Kicks Off the New Year

Local officials engage in “marriage” of minds at annual Myron Lowery breakfast.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 2, 2013 at 8:33 AM

Mayors Luttrell (left) and Wharton dispensed generous rations of Kumbaya on Tuesday.
  • JB
  • Mayors Luttrell (left) and Wharton dispensed generous rations of Kumbaya on Tuesday.

The desire of Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton to work together hand-in-glove was already sufficiently well known, but, in his remarks at City Councilman Myron Lowery’s annual New Year’s prayer breakfast on Tuesday, Luttrell did his best to make that explicit.

Referring to “my partner, Mayor Wharton,” Luttrell told the sizeable audience at the Airport Hotel, “We have what I call a good marriage…. You give a little bit and take a little bit. You work with each other for the common good…A marriage is where you get together and work out your differences."

?

Following a little more elaboration on the point, the county mayor turned to his seated city counterpart and reaffirmed the nuptial metaphor: “Mayor Wharton, I want to thank you for a good marriage.”

After touting his administration’s efforts to pay down the county’s debts and its success in upholding the county’s bond rating, Luttrell shifted into another gear with the line, “A government that just maintains is not necessarily a progressive government.”

From that point on, in stressing his determination to be a bridge between urban and suburban realms on school matters, in associating himself with the critical U.S. Department of Justice report which found problems within Juvenile Court, and in addressing issues of mental health, poverty, and homelessness, Luttrell hewed to lines that, in the secular sense, were broadly ecumenical.

On only one issue did he state a position that could be taken as somewhat distinct from his city counterpart. That was in relation to the recent tragedy in Newtown and what it meant for the rest of society. Luttrell advised his listeners not to “limit our concern to the issue of guns” and cited mental health needs and more general problems relating to “the culture of violence,” such as video games with over-the-top themes.

When it came his time to address the issue of violence, Mayor Wharton, who spoke next, emphasized much more directly the prospect of weapon control — promising in unspecified ways to work with the state legislature and District Attorney General Amy Weirich` ”on some really aggressive measures to get the guns out of the hands of criminals on our streets.”

Referring to his upscale South Parkway residence as located in “western Orange Mound,” Wharton lamented, “In my neighborhood there’s just terrible gunfire at midnight,” and spoke of receiving disturbing information about the shootings of two minor children the night before as he and his wife attended a showing of Django Unchained.

By contrast, the mayor alluded to a pattern of gun control and an alternate way of settling disputes in Australia, which he’d recently visited. “They have horrible barroom fights. You see a lot of ugly men, but they’re not dead.”

Referring to the recent closing of a troubled Beale Street club Crave, Wharton said, “If you’re killing folks in a club in this town, we’re just going to shut you down. There’s no color lines. There’s no ‘black life,’ no ‘white life.’ God made all life precious.”

As Luttrell had done, Wharton toted up some pluses — ranging from his successful effort in getting city library cards legitimized as IDs for voting to the institution of a 311 phone-dial system for accessing a variety of city services to the fact that, as a result of school merger, “we will not be funding schools this year,” and can allocate more spending on public safety issues and personnel.

“We are a good strong city,” Wharton concluded.

The scheduled keynote speaker for the event had been 9th district congressman Steve Cohen, who had been called back to Washington to vote on an eleventh-hour plan to resolve the pending “fiscal-cliff” crisis.

Though unavoidably absent, Cohen, too, benefited from the spirit of general kumbaya at the breakfast. He was referred to by Wharton as “the conscience of Congress” and was similarly lauded by Lowery, who established a cell-phone hookup to Washington and held his phone (actually, Cohen aide Randy Wade's) up to a mike, allowing Cohen to make brief remarks to the assembled crowd.

Cohen spoke of the successes that he, working with Mayors Luttrell and Wharton, had enjoyed in securing high-dollar program to benefit the Memphis area. Like Wharton, he bore down on the guns issue and expressed support for an assault-weapons ban.

The congressman said he was hopeful of setting up a “model program” to deal with Juvenile Court issues, and he pledged his vote to the fiscal-cliff compromise arranged between President Obama and congressional leaders. There were “some things I don’t like, but I will support it,” the congressman said. (The House would follow the Senate in approving the plan later on Tuesday.)

In conferring praise on those who took part in Tuesday’s breakfast, Lowery did not omit himself. “I trust me,” he said, attesting to the likelihood of running for another Council term in 2015. “I know I’m going to make a good decision."

There were an ample number of light moments at the breakfast. Kent Ritchey of Landers Ford, a major sponsor of the event, went through a list of modest Ford Motor Company cars Mayor Wharton might have purchased to avoid the criticism he unleashed in some quarters recently when the city arranged to lease a new Cadillac for the mayor’s use.

And there had been an embarrassing moment for Luttrell when, during his remarks, he brought up an old rhetorical chestnut. “We have a lot of men and women of faith here, so I need witnesses,” the county mayor said. “What is the chapter and book of the Bible that talks about, ‘you give a man a fish and feed him for a day, you teach him to fish, he eats for a lifetime’?”

There was a period of awkward silence, followed by someone in the crowd saying, “It’s not in the Bible!”

Amid some good-natured general laughter, Luttrell said, “It’s not a scripture? Well, it is a story, isn’t it?”

He was assured that it was.

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