Monday, June 30, 2014

Here's the Judicial Poll That Counts! from the Memphis Bar Association

(Most) incumbents do very well indeed in this most reliable index of opinion: lawyers' verdicts on candidates for judgeships, clerkships, and other law-related offices in the election ending August 7. (And, yes, there are some surprises!)

Posted By on Mon, Jun 30, 2014 at 7:56 PM

There have been endorsements of various sort for candidates in the numerous judicial races on the Shelby County ballot, which has 81 candidates listed, altogether — more of them challengers or open-seat seekers tan incumbents.

But, to put it bluntly, most of the endorsements or polls heard from so far have been by self-serving organizations, some of them with little credibility to begin with and others which have diminished such credibility as they had by the manner and mode of their endorsements.

The one poll that almost everyone can take seriously — especially those who labor in the legal vineyards — was released Monday by the Memphis Bar Association.

The corresponding release from the MBA tells more:

The poll was sent to all licensed, practicing attorneys in Shelby County and 1383 attorneys participated. Participants were not required to answer every question. The poll asked attorneys to select the one candidate in each race whom they felt was best qualified to serve. If an attorney did not know the candidates’ qualifications or had no opinion, he/she was instructed to mark “no opinion.”

The poll also asked Shelby County attorneys to vote on whether the judges from the Western Section of the Tennessee Court of Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals, and the Tennessee Supreme Court should be retained in their current positions. Those retention elections will also be on the August ballot.

“The poll was distributed to all practicing attorneys and judges in Shelby County, and the response was outstanding,” said MBA President Kirk Caraway. “The results reflect the collective opinions of the poll participants, and the MBA is not taking a position regarding or endorsing any particular candidate,” he continued.

“The work of our judges ranks at the very top of importance for the stability of the American System of Justice. Lawyers appear every day in our courts and are best able to determine who is most qualified to preside over the cases brought by citizens seeking justice,” added David Wade, chair of the Judicial Practice & Procedures Committee which oversaw the poll.

Most of the incumbent judges seem to have done well enough to have earned endorsement from their legal colleagues. For that matter, the poll addresses the matter of all those appellate judges up for Yes/No votes on August 7, and they, too, seem to have done well. Also evaluated were the contestants for clerkships and other law-related offices.

Contestants in the open-seat races of all kinds are bunched more closely than those in incumbent/challenger situations, as is surely to be expected.

Without further ado, here is how the judicial poll came out. The poll results are also available at And the Flyer will publish them again in forthcoming print issues:

2014 Memphis Bar Association Judicial Qualification Poll — What candidate is best qualified to serve? Only contested and retention races were polled. 1383 active Shelby County attorneys participated in this survey. They were instructed if you do not know the candidates' qualifications or have no opinion as to whom is best qualified, please mark "no opinion".

Chancellor of Chancery Court, Part 1
Walter L. Evans 42.2%
Michael Richards 34.7%
No opinion 23.1%

Chancellor Chancery Court, Part 2
Ken Besser 4.3%
Jim Kyle 28.1%
Jim Newsom 35.3%
Paul A. Robinson, Jr. 3.2%
No opinion 29.1%

Judge of Circuit Court, Division 1
Julie Dichtel Byrd 8.2%
Felicia Corbin-Johnson 8.0%
Leah J. Roen 20.8%
Kyle Wiggins 34.2%
No opinion 28.8%

Judge of Circuit Court, Division 2
Kevin E. Reed 14.9%
James F. Russell 47.3%
Robert A. Wampler 21.7%
No opinion 16.1%

Judge of Circuit Court, Division 3
D'Army Bailey 36.0%
Lee Ann Pafford Dobson 42.0%
No opinion 22.0%

Judge of Circuit Court, Division 4
Gina Carol Higgins 55.5%
Matthew Steven Russell 19.5%
No opinion 25.0%

Judge of Circuit Court, Division 5
Joseph E. "Joe" Garrett 9.9%
Rhynette Northcross Hurd 59.7%
Dwight T. Moore 3.8%
No opinion 26.6%

Judge of Circuit Court, Division 8

Venita Martin Andrews 8.5%
Charles W. McDonald 3.5%
Robert "Bob" Weiss 66.4%
Cedrick D. Wooten 4.7%
No opinion 16.9%

Judge of Criminal Court, Division 1
Michael G. Floyd 3.1%
Nigel R. Lewis 5.8%
Paula Skahan 64.2%
No opinion 26.9%

Judge of Criminal Court, Division 3
Latonya Sue Burrow 15.8%
Bobby Carter 58.5%
No opinion 25.7%

Judge of Criminal Court, Division 5
Jim Lammey 62.8%
Mozella T. Ross 8.4%
No opinion 28.8%

Judge of Criminal Court, Division 6
John W. Campbell 62.0%
Alicia Howard 9.2%
No opinion 28.8%

Judge of Criminal Court, Division 7
Kenya Brooks 8.1%
Lee V. Coffee 63.4%
No opinion 28.5%

Judge of Criminal Court, Division 9
Christine Cane 6.0%
Mark Ward 72.4%
No opinion 21.6%

Judge of Probate Court, Division 1
Damita Dandridge 4.1%
Kathleen N. Gomes 60.7%
Richard Parks 4.6%
No opinion 30.6%

Judge of Probate Court, Division 2

Danny W. Kail 23.6%
Karen D. Webster 46.6%
No opinion 29.8%

Judge of General Sessions Civil Court, Division 1
Sheila Bruce-Renfroe 10.7%
Lynn Cobb 68.6%
No opinion 20.7%

Judge of General Sessions Civil Court, Division 2
Phyllis B. Gardner 82.4%
Myra May-Hamilton 4.8%
No opinion 12.8%

Judge of General Sessions Civil Court, Division 3
John A. Donald 49.9%
David L. Pool 25.4%
No opinion 24.7%

Judge of General Sessions Civil Court, Division 5
Ellen Fite 44.2%
Betty Thomas Moore 35.0%
No opinion 20.8

Judge of General Sessions Civil Court, Division 6
Christian Johnson 6.7%
Lonnie Thompson 64.3%
No opinion 29.0%

Judge of General Sessions Criminal Court, Division 7
Bill Anderson 53.1%
James Jones, Jr. 9.1%
No opinion 37.8%

Judge of General Sessions Criminal Court, Division 8
Tim J. Dwyer 77.0%
J. Nathan Toney 5.2%
No opinion 17.8%

Judge of General Sessions Criminal Court, Division 9
Melissa Boyd 3.0%
Joyce Broffitt 27.9%
Gerald Skahan 39.8%
No opinion 29.3%

Judge of General Sessions Criminal Court, Div. 10

Cathy Anderson-Kent 17.2%
Chris Turner 44.5%
No opinion 38.3%

Judge of General Sessions Criminal Court, Div. 11
Mischelle Alexander Best 14.2%
Karen Lynne Massey 44.2%
No opinion 41.6%

Judge of General Sessions Criminal Court, Div. 12
Bryan A. Davis 11.6%
S. Ronald Lucchesi 37.2%
Gwen Rooks 17.5%
No opinion 33.7%

Judge of General Sessions Criminal Court, Div. 14
Kim Gilmore-Sims 7.5%
Larry Potter 75.6%
No opinion 16.9%

Judge of Juvenile Court
Dan Holman Michael 47.6%
Tarik B. Sugarmon 31.3%
No opinion 21.1%

Shelby County District Attorney General
Joe Brown 15.3%
Amy Weirich 79.4%
No opinion 5.3%

Circuit Court Clerk
Rhonda Banks 8.3%
Jimmy Moore 70.5%
No opinion 21.2%

Criminal Court Clerk
Richard DeSaussure 52.4%
Wanda Halbert 14.6%
No opinion 33.0%

Probate Court Clerk
Paul Boyd 43.1%
William Chism 10.2%
No opinion 46.7%

Juvenile Court Clerk
Henri Brooks 6.0%
Morrie Noel 2.2%
Joy Touliatos 63.1%
No opinion 28.7%

Shall Cornelia A. Clark be retained as a Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court?

Yes 78.3% No 7.3% No opinion 14.4%

Shall Sharon G. Lee be retained as a Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court?
Yes 78.2% No 7.0% No opinion 14.8%

Shall Gary R. Wade be retained as a Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court?
Yes 79.3% No 6.7% No opinion 14.0%

Shall J. Steven Stafford be retained as a Judge of the Tennessee Court of Appeals?
Yes 77.7% No 4.9% No opinion 17.4%

Shall Alan E. Glenn be retained as a Judge of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals?
Yes 77.6% No 3.2% No opinion 19.2%

Shall Roger A. Page be retained as a Judge of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals?
Yes 70.6% No 4.5% No opinion 24.9%

Shall Camille R. McMullen be retained as a Judge of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals?
Yes 70.4% No 8.6% No opinion 21.0%

Shall John Everett Williams be retained as a Judge of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals?
Yes 69.3% No 4.0% No opinion 26.7

Most Misleading (and Disappointing) Email of the Political Season

But at first it seemed like an intriguing way to do damage control. Oh well...

Posted By on Mon, Jun 30, 2014 at 2:57 PM


The following was the subject line (and I'm thinking, this is an unexpected political strategy!
Henri's Reserve Boutique French Champagnes are a Luxury Must Have for Summer Parties and Events

Then came the message; but toward the end of the following paragraph, I'm already beginning to think, Too good to be true:

Dear Jackson,

Summer is all about relaxing under the sun, enjoying the outdoors, and hosting fabulous get-togethers with your friends and family. All of the best networking events and mixers take place during the summer when people can dress up, eat delicious food, and drink to their heart's content. The sun-kissed days and warm weather gets everyone ready to socialize and partake in the season's festivities. Whether you are hosting or attending this summer's events and parties, look no further for the perfect Champagne to serve or gift to give. Henri's Reserve offers boutique French family estate Champagnes so delectable and exquisite that it will be the talk of the party leaving lasting impressions....

The "talk of the party," indeed. And yep, I know about those "lasting impressions," as well as Henri's "reserve." (A little irony never hurts.) But, sad to say, the balance of the email reveals it to be just another unsolicited come-on from a commercial vendor, not at all the confidential communication from the big-time news source whose billed "rally" this weekend I missed because of a disabled knee (since somewhat repaired).

Oh well, new week, new possibilities.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Howard Baker, 1925-2014: A Man of Word and Deed

The late Tennessee eminence played a major role in the histories of his state and nation.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 27, 2014 at 9:23 AM

Then gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam welcomes Howard Baker at a campaign appearance in Memphis in 2010.
  • JB
  • Then gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam welcomes Howard Baker at a campaign appearance in Memphis in 2010.
In the first blush of Thursday’s sad news about the death of Howard Baker at age 88, one utterance that is indelibly identified with the late Tennessee eminence got almost universal play in the media: “What did the President know, and when did he know it?”

That question, asked by Baker early on in the 1973 Senate Watergate hearings which Republican Baker co-chaired with venerable Democrat Sam Ervin, came to sum up the whole inquiry, and what is often overlooked is just how perfectly it hits the political and historical middle.

Baker, a GOP loyalist, initially phrased the line as a possible means of shielding Richard Nixon, whose knowledge of the sordid Watergate burglary at the Democratic National Committee’s offices it presumed to be almost as ex post facto as our own. But the evidence quickly began to indicate foreknowledge of some sort on the President’s part, and the rest, as they say, is history.

As the answer to his rhetorical question became ever clearer, Baker did not shy away from following it down the road to the inevitable conclusion. He is incorrectly remembered in most accounts as having been one of the President’s pursuers— and that sense, among Nixon’s diehard defenders, may have been the one most significant factor that doomed Baker’s own presidential ambitions — but he was really just a realist about the situation. And, if you will, a patriot.

It was appropriate in any number of ways — the standpoints of bipartisanship and national unity, among them — that Fred Thompson, the Baker hire who was then making his first appearance on the national scene as counsel for the Watergate committee’s Republicans, was the one allowed to ask the fateful question about a possible White House taping system of Nixon aide Alexander Butterfield. And do not imagine that Baker’s role in that moment was passive or incidental.

That was certainly one Howard Baker — the honest questioner, the negotiator, open to compromise and common purpose. But there was another Howard Baker, too — the Republican team player who made his own contributions to the ideology of the Right.

“Cut their pay, and send them home” — That was another Baker coinage, directed at what he saw as a boondoggling, bureaucratic-minded, big-spending Democratic majority in the Congress of his day. And it was a line that, as much as any other, kindled the early fires of what would become the Tea Party.

That was Howard Baker on the national scene, a transitional figure of some importance — whose post-Senatorial service as a second-term Chief of Staff for Ronald Reagan, the man who had defeated Baker and others in the 1980 Republican primaries, helped rescue that Presidency from the Iran-Contra scandal and preserve the sheen of the Reagan era for posterity.

Baker’s importance in Tennessee politics is even more central. It was he, a relatively unknown East Tennessee congressman serving in his father’s old seat, who launched the age of Republican dominance in Tennessee politics with his unexpected defeat of Democratic governor Frank Clement in a 1966 U.S. Senate race.

After that Baker victory — assisted in large measure by Memphis’ Lewis Donelson —there was no more use of the term “tantamount to victory” as a descriptor of statewide Democratic primaries. After him would come the ebb and flow — involving names like Winfield Dunn, Bill Brock, Lamar Alexander — that eventually became today’s Republican deluge statewide.

In recent times, many — including Baker mentor Donelson — have wondered out loud if Howard Baker could even get elected in today’s more zealously partisan political climate. The answer is, almost certainly, that he could. Like the current Tennessee governor, Bill Haslam, whose primary victory he assisted in 2010, Baker knew how to comfortably straddle “moderate” and conservative positions so as to advance ideological positions without alarming anybody.

He would do just fine.

Here are some of the ways others chose to remember him on Thursday:

Governor Bill Haslam: “Howard Baker made Tennesseans proud, and he taught me an important lesson when I worked for him 35 years ago. Anytime he was sitting across the desk from someone in disagreement, he told himself to keep in mind: You know — the other fellow might be right. Whether at home, in business or in politics, that is always good advice to consider.”

Senator Lamar Alexander: “Howard Baker was Tennessee’s favorite son, one of America’s finest leaders and for Honey and me an indispensable friend. He built our state’s two-party political system and inspired three generations to try to build a better state and country. It is difficult to express how much we honor his life and how much we will miss him.”

Senator Bob Corker: “Howard Baker was one of those people who had the unique ability to bring out the very best in those around him. He always put our country’s interests first, and lived a life of service that everyone in public office should aspire to emulate. I have cherished the privilege of being able to sit down and talk with Howard on many occasions, and I will always value his words of encouragement.”

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey: “Elected as the first Republican U.S. Senator since Reconstruction, Howard Baker served as a catalyst for the Republican revolution in Tennessee. No matter how high he rose as a leader of our nation and our party, he always stayed true to his strong roots in Scott County, Tennessee. A veteran, a patriot and a true statesman, his legacy will not be forgotten.”

Tennessee Republican Chairman Chris Devaney: “Howard Baker’s name is synonymous with ‘civility”…. His legacy will always be bigger than the Party. He was more than just a legend in Tennessee—he was a titan in American politics. Senator Baker will be missed.”

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Brooks Ousted, But, Backed by Her Attorneys, Declines to Go, Gentle or Otherwise

Vacancy is made official, and replacement process approved, but, citing "due process" and with a new narrative about her address, beleaguered ex-Commissioner will fight matter in court.

Posted By on Wed, Jun 25, 2014 at 4:48 PM

Ousted Commissioner Henri Brooks consults with Commission ally Walter Bailey on Wednesday
  • jb
  • Ousted Commissioner Henri Brooks consults with Commission ally Walter Bailey on Wednesday

After a rough couple of hours at the County Commission's (that adjective cuts in several directions, btw), the Henri Brooks situation remains unsolved, but the errant Commissioner (that adjective does double duty, too) has established her narrative.

On the matter of residence (which is the only matter that can disqualify her Commission service — never mind Hispanic-baitings, sheets, implied epithets, parking-space hoggings, water-pourings, think-you’re-white-do-you’s), the story she and her lawyers tell goes something like the following:

She did live on Crump Ave. once upon a time, as the good friend of the man whose residence it was. They broke up, and she moved out, but the heart still calls his place home. Yes, she was often seen at a Cordova residence, but that was her daughter’s place, and who could begrudge her staying over once in a while? And she’s been keeping it on the Q.T., but all this while she’s actually been living on Mississippi Boulevard (which is in District 2), thanks to the good graces of an unidentified “elderly woman.”

If that sounds like a rejected plotline for “Days of Our Lives,” it is in reality a well-prepared legal counter to the prospect Brooks now faces — with only weeks to go in her term — of expulsion from her Council seat for the simple reason of non-residence in the district she was elected to represent.

For someone who uses the term “my constituents” as often and as possessively as most people say “my car,” “my job,” and er, “my home,” this is an especially painful prospect for Brooks, and it probably wouldn’t do her current campaign for the job of Juvenile Court Clerk much good, either.

Because it could conceivably provide the basis for a claim of intent, residence-wise, however, the story told up above could prove to be useful to Brooks in Chancery Court, though it is woefully short of concrete evidence — a term her attorney Michael Working found too legalistic, the same Michael Working who was prolific with exaggerated terms like “sentencing” to describe the Commission’s action Wednesday in approving a resolution to open up her seat for a replacement process on July 7.

One conspicuous thing missing from Wednesday’s pageant was the self-conscious smirk Brooks wore non-stop on the occasion of her recent arrest (for misdemeanor assault) and court appearance after the parking-lot altercation.

This is more serious: To give Brooks her due, she takes her self-declared role as a tribune for the African-American street seriously, even if, for the few weeks remaining in her term. it is a largely symbolic issue, and even if not everyone else on the Commission, black or white, sees her role that way.

What comes next is hard to say — but it most certainly involves some legal maneuvering. Her attorneys — Andre Wharton and the aforesaid Michael Working — are presenting her current jeopardy as a pure case of due process and the American system itself under threat.

To summarize what went on Wednesday. Brooks arrived at 9:30 as the Commission was considering a new ethics code presented by Steve Mulroy, took her seat and joined in the unanimous vote for the new code, and saw her vote promptly challenged by Chris Thomas (he of the “you in the sheet” taunt from Brooks last month).

A good deal of wrangling followed — moderated on one end by County Attorney Marcy Ingram and on the other by General Government committee chairman Justin Ford. Walter Bailey became Brooks’ surrogate spokesman on the Commission, but in the end (though it took the Commission’s overruling Ford) the Commission disallowed Brooks’ vote and amassed enough 7-4 tallies (Brooks, Ford, Bailey, Sidney Chism being the holdout 4) to approve the ouster and schedule the July 7 replacement process.

Stay tuned. Never mind the fat lady. It's the lean and hungry lady that hasn't sung yet.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Henri Brooks to Lose Commission Seat Immediately

County Attorney Ingram determines that Brooks' residence outside District 2 vacates her seat, prepares resolutions for Wednesday's previously called Commission meeting to facilitate interim appointment.

Posted By on Tue, Jun 24, 2014 at 5:29 PM

Former County Commissioner Henri Brooks
  • jb
  • Former County Commissioner Henri Brooks
The Flyer has learned that the County Attorney Marcy Ingram has concluded her investigation of the residential status of Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks and found that, as had been thought, Brooks lives outside the district to which she was elected and is thus ineligible, immediately and going forward, to hold Commission office.

In a letter to Commisson chairman James Harvey, Ingram said she has prepared the necessary resolutions for the Commission at its special called meeting on Wednesday to officially declare Brooks’ District 2 seat vacant and to appoint an interim Commissioner.

Commissioner Mike Ritz has already indicated he will introduce the necessary resolutions as add-ons at Wednesday’s meeting, which was originally called to settle several pieces of unfinished Commission business.

Although Brooks will presumably appeal, probably in Chancery Court, she will not be allowed to vote on any matter at Wednesday’s meeting, and the Commission intends to expedite the process of advertising the vacancy and concluding interviews so that an interim Commissioner will be able to vote on the 2014-15 tax rate at the Commission’s forthcoming July 7 meeting.

The text of Ingram's letter to Chairman Harvey is as follows:

Chairman Harvey:

Good afternoon. Please be advised that we have concluded our investigation and determined that Commissioner Brooks resides somewhere other than County Commission District 2 where she was elected (see attached investigation findings). As mentioned previously, when it has been determined that an elected official has "ceas[ed] to be a resident of the .district . for which [she] was elected," her seat is vacated pursuant to state law. T.C.A. §8-48-101 (3). The Charter also says that the seat is forfeited immediately upon a voluntary change of residence outside the district. Shelby County Charter Section 5.10 A (Emphasis added). The Tennessee Attorney General has said that "no judicial determination" is necessary when the elected official does not reside in the district which elected her. Op. Atty. Gen. No. 12-79 citing Bailey v. Greer, 468 S.W.2d 327 (1971) (Emphasis added). Therefore, the Commission should immediately declare the seat vacant, all salary and benefits must cease, and the Commissioner is no longer entitled to perform the functions of such office.

As requested at the June 16, 2014 Commission meeting, I have already prepared the resolutions to notice the vacancy and appoint an interim commissioner. Please advise if I can be of further assistance. Marcy

With kindest regards,

Marcy Ingram
County Attorney
Shelby County Government

Brooks' residence outside her district was discovered recently by a Channel 24 reporter who went to her household of record to request an interview regarding the Commissioner's altercation with another driver on the parking lot of Methodist Hospital Central, where Brooks worked. (Hospital authorities have since announced her resignation.)

Neighbors informed the reporter that Brooks was not a resident of her claimed address, and it was subsequently found that the Commissioner lived in Cordova, a considerable distance away from District 2.

This discovery began the latest in a series of rapid-fire crises involving Brooks, who has vowed to continue her ongoing campaign as Democratic nominee for Juvenile Court Clerk, come what may.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Malone, Weirich Hone Their Electoral Messages

The Democratic nominee for mayor and the Republican incumbent D.A. found receptive audiences last week.

Posted By on Mon, Jun 23, 2014 at 10:07 AM

Weirich (l), Malone in action last week
  • JB
  • Weirich (l), Malone in action last week

Two women — one an incumbent hoping to remain in office, the other a challenger wishing to gain in office — are increasingly visible as the campaign year wears on.

Deidre Malone, who as the Democratic Party nominee for Shelby County Mayor is contesting the reelection of incumbent County Mayor Mark Luttrell, a Republican, continues to explore legitimate opportunities to confront Luttrell.

Such was the case last Wednesday when the ad hoc group “100 Women for Deidre” held an upbeat testimonial to the Democratic candidate at the XX on South Main.

After paying homage to former City Council member and mayoral candidate Carol Chumney and former School Board member Tomeka Hart as “trailblazers,” Malone named several issues on which she found the incumbent GOP mayor’s actions insufficient.

First, she made an effort to portray Luttrell as inefficient and vulnerable.

“What has he done for Shelby County? I can beat him. We need and deserve a better leader,” Malone said. “He’s a little nervous. I can tell you, because we see him everywhere….He’s a nice guy, but what has he done for our county?”

After asserting that Luttrell had “played politics with the property tax” during the lead-up to the fiscal 2014-15 county budget, Malone took on Luttrell for his willingness to sacrifice what had been county government’s oversight of the local Head Start program. He forsook a $23 million federal grant and let Shelby County Schools have the program, Malone said. “He didn’t care.”

She contrasted what she indicated was resolute if belated action by city government and by Sheriff Bill Oldham to clear up the now scandalous backlog of untested rape kits with what she said had been inaction on Luttrell’s part.,
“There are still about 500 or so [untested kits] left from when Mark was Sheri

ff,” Malone said, contending further, “He had an opportunity in 2003 to apply for funding for testing and didn’t.”
And, though she didn’t dwell on it, Malone reminded her audience of the continuing controversy over the Luttrell administration’s decision in 2011 to cast its lot with the currently distressed Christ Community Health Services, rather than Planned Parenthood, as the county’s partner to administer women’s health services with Title X federal funding
The ebullient challenger even made an effort to convert a political reverse into a triumph, telling her supporters that, though she had not received the endorsement of the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce, officers for the group made a point of telling her how impressed they were with her interview.

“I looked at them and said, ‘it’s going to be a lot closer than you think, and they looked at me and said, ‘Yeah,;” said Malone.

But the Democratic nominee, mindful of her party’s unexpected reverse in the elections of four years ago, cautioned her listeners, ““If 2010 taught us anything, it taught us that some Democrats are not voting, or they voted for a Republican.”

•Meanwhile, one GOP office-holder who did not participate in that Republican sweep but hopes to take part in a 2014 reprise was on the move.

District Attorney General Amy Weirich was a subsequent appointee of Governor Bill Haslam when then District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, her boss, was named state Commissioner of Safety and Homeland Security. Having won a part-term in her own right, now she wants a full one, and her campaign rests essentially on the premise that as D.A. she has combined pragmatism and compassion with strict law enforcement.

Weirich, who is opposed by Democratic nominee Joe Brown, the former Criminal Court judge and TV veteran of the eponymous “Joe Brown Show,” took her message to the Frayser Exchange Club at Sara Lee’s Restaurant on North Watkins on Thursday, a Democratic enclave where she found an audience seemingly open-minded to what she had to say.

One of Weirich’s first statements was to remind her listeners of her office’s innovative truancy program in 13 schools and of last month’s awarding, with help from the Hyde Foundation locally, of free bicycles to 344 students who had gone through the academic year with a perfect attendance record.

Preaching a carrot-and-stick doctrine, the incumbent D.A. focused on public services performed by her office that, she said, were about “so much more than government and taxes.”
She boasted her efforts to secure passage of liberalized state legislation on expungement of crimes committed by non-habitual offenders, as well as of a law that responded to a ruling by state Attorney General Robert Cooper limiting direct prosecution of pregnant women who were drug offenders and were in danger of passing on their addiction to newborns.

“Women were bawling, asking us not to dismiss charges. You don’t see that much at 201 Poplar,” Weirich said. Accordingly, she pressed for legislation allowing for “the velvet hammer of prosecution,” post-natally, in the form of sentencing to Shelby County’s Drug Court.

On the drug front, Weirich touted her office’s shut-down of a Frayser “tire shop” that had been functioning more or less as a retail source for controlled substances.

In a question-and-answer period, the D.A. faced a series of questions about the age-old expedient of plea bargaining. Several questioners were skeptical of the process, which results in reduced charges for defendants as the reward for pleading guilty to a lesser offense to avoid the bother and expense of a public trial.

Weirich noted the twin problems of a caseload backup and limited space for incarceration. The process of arranging trials, scheduling dockets, and finding available judges to hear cases, involved “a lot of moving parts,” she said. Claiming a “need to focus resources,” Weirich said, “There is no way to get everybody a trial tomorrow….We dismiss more charges than we get convictions for.”

Asked about “victimless crimes” like vagrancy, the D.A. was quick to concur that such offenses belonged to a class of relatively low-priority cases that were “cleared off the docket the next day.” Also in this category were most instances of people driving with revoked licenses.

On that issue, as well as expungements, Weirich said her office was prepared to move defendants through the process expeditiously . “Don’t pay a lawyer to do it,” she said

Monday, June 16, 2014

Brooks Situation Deteriorates Further with Evidence of False Residence Claim

Beleaguered Juvenile Court candidate in danger of losing seat on County Commission

Posted By on Mon, Jun 16, 2014 at 8:52 PM

Roland (l) and Brooks on Monday
  • JB
  • Roland (l) and Brooks on Monday

The Henri Brooks meltdown — really, there’s no better word for it — accelerated over the weekend and reached a crisis point on Monday afternoon that could end up divesting the Juvenile Court clerk candidate of her seat on the Shelby County Commission. And in very short order.

Brooks’ once promising electoral situation began deteriorating last month when her bizarre behavior toward an Hispanic witness and two colleagues at a Commission meeting earned her accusations of racism.

She next earned negative attention when she was involved Thursday morning in an altercation with another driver over a parking space in a parking lot at Methodist Hospital Central, where Brooks works. Identified by witnesses as the instigator, Brooks allegedly used racial slurs and abused the woman by bruising her and throwing water at her. That episode earned her an assault charge and a July court date.

The latest issue arose when a reporter for WPTY-TV, Channel 24, went by Brooks’ listed home address on Crump Avenue to get a reaction from her on the previous incident and was told by neighbors that Brooks had never lived at the address, which was well within the constituent area served by her District 2 Position 2 Commission seat.

It was later discovered that Brooks actually lives on a cove in Cordova, which is many miles distant from the district formally served by the Commissioner, who regards herself as a spokesperson for African Americans and justifies her often abrasive attitude on the Commission by saying she is looking out for her “constituents” in District 2.

The weekend buzz caused by this discovery was enormously amplified Monday when, during crucial votes by Commissioners on two competing tax-rate resolutions, Commissioner Terry Roland cited a provision of the county charter which apparently mandates that any commissioner moving out of district that he or she was elected from or who cannot be proved to live there must vacate the seat.

Unlike other verbal broadsides fired by Roland, including a couple after the parking lot incident that challenged Democrats to do something about Brooks, this one was stated almost matter-of-factly, if firmly, in a non-contentious manner, and there seemed to be no real disagreement with it on the Commission.

Indeed, as the meeting meandered to a close, after indecisive votes on several issues, including the county’s tax rate for 2014-15, that must be resolved by the end of the fiscal year, it was not Roland but Commissioner Mike Ritz who pressed for a special called meeting to deal with the matter before the next regular Commission meeting of July7, which straddles the change of fiscal years.

Observing that neither of two tallies for competing tax-rate solutions, one by Heidi Shafer, another by Steve Mulroy, had achieved the necessary majority on the second reading for each, Ritz said that, without 13 valid votes on the Commission, “I don’t think we can get a tax rate.”

The Commission had already voted for a called meeting on January 26 to deal with several other unresolved issues, and when County Attorney Marcy Ingram confirmed that a failure to vote a definite tax rate by July 7 could endanger the county’s eligibility for federal funding, the Commission voted to add the Brooks residence question to the special-meeting agenda on June 26, so as to advertise a Commission vacancy, if need be, and elect a valid 13th member before the July 7 meeting.

Asked afterward if he thought that various past Commission votes could be invalidated by Brooks’ failure to maintain a residence in her district, a state of affairs which has apparently existed for the almost eight years she has held her seat, Roland said that might be the case but said he doubted the Commission would risk chaos by examining each and every instance where Brooks’ vote might directly have affected the outcome.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Brooks Charged with Misdemeanor Assault; Trial Set For July 25

Judge Bill Anderson, Jr., recuses himself, necessitating appointment of a special judge to hear the case next month; incident further complicates election picture for Brooks, others.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 13, 2014 at 11:59 AM

Still wearing the same odd smile she had when turning herself in Thursday night, Brooks, accompanied by an unidentified supporter (left) and her attorney, Andre Wharton, prepared to enter the courtroom of General Sessions Judge Bill Anderson, Jr.
  • Shawn Jones, FOX 13
  • Still wearing the same odd smile she had when turning herself in Thursday night, Brooks, accompanied by an unidentified supporter (left) and her attorney, Andre Wharton, prepared to enter the courtroom of General Sessions Judge Bill Anderson, Jr.

Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks was formally charged with misdemeanor assault in General Sessions Court Friday morning, and her trial was set by presiding Judge Bill Anderson, Jr., for July 25.

Anderson recused himself from the case, however — presumably because both he and Brooks are associated with county government, creating a technical conflict. A special judge will be appointed to hear the case.

The charge against Brooks stems from an incident Thursday morning in the parking lot of Methodist Hospital Central, where Brooks works. In the aftermath of an argument with another driver over an available parking space, Brooks was identified by witnesses as the instigator, according to the official police report.

The encounter became physical, according to the report, when Brooks grabbed at the cell phone of the other driver, identified as Liese Nichols, bruising her in the process, and subsequently emptying a bottle of water at Nichols.

On a cell-phone video made by one of the eyewitnesses of the incident, Nichols is heard talking to someone on her own cellphone, explaining what happened this way, in part: "She got into me for being, she goes, do you think you're white or something? And my jaw dropped because I'm mixed, and I'm like, are you kidding me?"

Nichols told police that Brooks had moved without warning into the space that she, Nichols, was about to park in, forcing her car off a curb and causing her bumper to collide with a tree.

Brooks declined to speak to media Friday after court, but her attorney, Andre Wharton, said it was uncertain if an actual crime had been committed, or, if so, whether the right person was charged. He indicated that Brooks might file charges against Nichols.

This newest imbroglio involving Brooks further complicates her current candidacy as Democratic nominee for Juvenile Court Judge in the county election ending August 7. It also could impact the fortunes of other members of the Democratic countywide slate.

Brooks attracted considerable notoriety last month when she upbraided an Hispanic witness before the Commission in a manner which many deemed offensive, even racist.

Despite indications at the time that either the Commission itself or the Shelby County Democratic Party, or both, might consider some kind of formal reprimand of Brooks, no action was taken.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Shelby County’s Wacky Political Week for Dummies

Featuring Henri Brooks in jail, the local electoral outlook for the two major parties, and the sudden prospect of a real contest for the U.S. Senate.

Posted By on Thu, Jun 12, 2014 at 11:06 PM

Brooks on the way to jail Thursday night, We know why Channel 5s Jason Mles is smirking. But for Gods sake why is she?
  • WMC-TV
  • Brooks on the way to jail Thursday night, We know why Channel 5's Jason Mles is smirking. But for God's sake why is she?

It has not been a good time lately for the Shelby County Democratic Party, and things just got worse. The party already faced a prolonged challenge over the outcome of a County Commission primary race and has endured both public ridicule and internal second-guessing over the Democratic executive committee’s rowdy meeting last week to endorse local judicial candidates. And then, late this week, local Democrats suffered two new embarrassments.

On Thursday evening, Shelby County Democratic chairman Bryan Carson was arrested on a bench warrant issued for his failure to pay a long overdue fine in environmental court. Gamely tweeting while handcuffed, Carson (since released on bond) seemed to be implying that the act of his arrest was somehow related to last week’s party endorsements, which had not included General Sessions environmental-court judge Larry Potter.

Then on Friday morning, County Commissioner Henri Brooks, now the Democratic nominee for Juvenile Court clerk, saw an already shaky electoral position worsen when witnesses identified her as the aggressor in a battle over a space in the parking lot of Methodist Hospital, where Brooks works.

In the altercation, the end portion of which was captured in a bystander’s cellphone video, Brooks, who sees herself as a kind of proconsul for African Americans, allegedly hurled racial insults at the woman driving the other car, bruised her when snatching away the other driver’s own cellphone and then poured the contents of a water bottle on the woman. Brooks, who has a history of volatility and contentious racial advocacy stretching back to her years as a state Representative, was already under fire for abusing an Hispanic witness during a recent Commission debate over a roofing contract which Brooks said favored Hispanic workers over blacks.

In the same meeting, she had accused a white colleague, Chris Thomas, of wearing a “sheet” and all but cursed out another colleague, Mike Ritz, letting a brief but pointed silence substitute for the crude expletive in a well-known idiomatic insult.

Though there had been a flurry of behind-the-scenes discussion both among members of the County Commission (censure of Brooks was briefly considered) and members of the local Democratic leadership, in the end both groups temporized in the apparent hope that memories would dim and the Henri Brooks problem would somehow go away over time.

Meanwhile, clear and probably irrevocable damage had been done to Brooks’ own once-promising campaign for Juvenile Court clerk, which had initially been buoyed by her well-known role in pressuring the Department of Justice to mandate reforms in the Court and was managed by no less a personage than attorney Ruby Wharton, wife of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton.

The fear remained among Democrats that the party’s entire slate might suffer from association with Brooks and incur a total shutout like that which Republicans, theoretically the minority party in Shelby County, had inflicted on Democratic candidates in the county election of 2010.

With assault charges now pending against Brooks as a result of the parking-lot incident (she turned herself in at Jail East on Thursday night), that fear has redoubled, and, even though some punitive action against Brooks now seems at least possible, imposed by the court system if not by the Commission or the Democratic Party apparatus, local Democrats have become fatalistic and privately discuss scenarios in which at least one party nominee — well-regarded Assessor Cheyenne Johnson — might hold on to win.

In particular, the Democratic candidacies of former County Commissioner Deidre Malone for Shelby County Mayor and Joe Brown (the onetime Criminal Court Judge who gained fame on the TV arbitration show “Judge Joe Brown”) seemed to be losing ground against the entrenched GOP incumbencies of Mayor Mark Luttrell and District Attorney General Amy Weirich, respectively.

Joe _Brown.png
• Brown, a controversial figure in his own right, is still regarded in some local Democratic circles as a potential party savior, even a “boss,” despite the fact that contempt-of-court charges against him, stemming from a March incident in Juvenile Court in which he upbraided the presiding magistrate in a child-support case, remain unsettled.

Though he has kept a low profile of late, Brown plays the role of elder statesman at party conclaves, intervening at moments of impasse to suggest possible strategies or policy directions. Most of his endorsees in last month’s Democratic primary for countywide positions failed to make it, but he was given credit for trying to foster a “Big Tent” party slate, diversified as to race and gender.

Brown’s lingering celebrity from his decade and a half on syndicated national TV still attracts crowds of autographed seekers and is a possible magnet at the polls (drawing out both Democratic voters and concerned Republicans), but what increasingly interests organization Democrats is the state of Brown’s bankroll and curiosity over how much of it survived divorce and the cancellation of his show last year, as well as how much of that remainder he might be willing to commit to an all-out Democratic push before early voting in mid-July and the August 7 general election.

• All the news has not been bad for Democrats. The ill wind (for Republicans) that has blown down U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Virginia party primary and is on the verge of doing the same to Mississippi’s venerable U.S. Senator Thad Cochran has inspired hopes among Democrats of a comeback of sorts at the state level.

Unquestionably, the political landscape has been shifted by the twin shocks of Tea Part state Senator Chris McDaniel over Cochran and the actual upset victory of previously unheralded Tea Partier David Brat over Cantor

In the immediate aftermath state Rep. Joe Carr (R-Lascallas), , was predictably exultant, hailing what he saw as a “transformational change from Virginia to Mississippi” among GOP voters and expressing a hope that his own primary challenge to Tennessee U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander would be correspondingly lifted. And, indeed, the nearly $500,000 raised for Carr’s campaign so far might look puny compared to the $7 million or so in Alexsander’s warchest, but Brat’s $100,000 campaign had been even more ill-matched against Cantor’s $5.7 million.

(And don’t forget George Flinn, the wealthy Memphis radio magnate/radiologist who served on the Shelby County Commission and has hazarded several other unsuccessful but handsomely self-financed races. Flinn’s current desultory U.S. Senate campaign, structured as an infomercial of sorts for Flinn’s own alternative to Obamacare , could metamorphosize into something else.)

The famed Koch brothers of Wichita and other underwriters of national Tea Party rebellion have not been much in evidence in Tennessee up until now, but not only Carr but other Tennessee Tea Partiers are actively hopeful that the Kochs et al. will redirect their attentions in Tennessee’s direction and that the state will become the site of the next showdown between the Republican establishment and a resurgent Tea Party.

The prospect of that happening and a newly glimpsed vision, however hazy at this point, that Alexander could lose or become damaged goods has rejuvenated Democratic hopes that what was already becoming an unusually active U.S. Senate primary race between Knoxville lawyers Gordon Ball and Terry Adams could actually land the victor of that contest in a competitive matchup against either Carr or a banged-up Alexander.

•Democrats in Shelby County, as elsewhere, are under pressure to choose sides. Ball has personal wealth from his trial victories over corporations and, for all his Steve Forbes-like fascination with the flat-tax idea, hews fairly closely to a moderate version of core Democratic concepts, including a pro-choice position on abortion and open-mindedness toward ultimate legalization of same-sex marriage.

Ball is distrusted in some party circles for his past involvement as a supportive Democrat in Alexander’s Senate campaigns and Haslam’s 2010 gubernatorial race. And these skeptics (who include Bob Tuke and Mike McWherter, the most recent Democratic losers to Alexander and Haslam, respectively) have thrown in with Adams, who carries the text of Thomas Piketty’s radical economic critique Capital in the 21t Century on his cell phone, campaigns on the theme of inequality, and in general appeals to progressive Democrats.

Both campaigns are beginning to solidify. Adams has fund-raising heavyweights like Doug Horne of Knoxville and Bill Freeman of Nashville working for him, and Ball has lately signed on the respected Steven Reid of Memphis’ Sutton Reid agency to handle his strategy and advertising.

Balls hire could be a two-edged sword, in that the politically ambidextrous Reid has managed several high-profile Republican campaigns locally, including that for District Attorney Amy Weirich, Joe Brown’s Republican opponent, and that fact could enable Adams to pry loose some cadres leaning to Ball.

But Reid made it clear in an interview with the Flyer that he sees the failure of statewide Democratic campaigns in recent years to lie in over-timid party efforts to sound like Republicans and avoid forthright expressions of traditional Democratic ideas. He cites former Arkansas U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers, an unambiguously progressive Democrat, as an ideal political figure.

A bottom line: For the next two months, both the Republican and Democratic primaries for U.S. Senate could heat up and become truly interesting contests. And, to borrow from a well-remembered Beatles lyric, you know that can’t be bad.

Call This a Debate? Candidate Endorses His Opponent in Commission District 12

But dropout candidate Alvin Crook, yielding to Van Turner, tells Latino Memphis forum he plans city race next year and says, "I'm not the only 'crook' in politics. but I'm the only Crook you can trust."

Posted By on Thu, Jun 12, 2014 at 1:03 PM

Crook praises opponent Turner while Turner takes it all in at Latino Memphis forum.
  • JB
  • Crook praises opponent Turner while Turner takes it all in at Latino Memphis forum.

Keep your eye on one Alvin Theo Crook III, independent candidate for the District 12 County Commission seat.
Crook, something of a political unknown, to say the least, distinguished himself in two ways on Wednesday at a Latino Memphis candidate forum.

First, he wasted very little time in moving beyond mere courtesy nods to his opponent of record, Democratic nominee (and former party chairman) Van Turner. He gave an outright endorsement to Turner, and in extravagant terms.

After explaining at some length that he had filed for the Commission seat because he was “tired and mad” about X, Y, and Z that was going on in politics and the fact that local government wasn’t seeing to the needs of his district, Crook said, “After long arguments and heated debates with my good friend Van Turner, I came to realize that we had the same views….Yes, I pulled a petition, but I want all y’all to go out and vote for my good friend Van Turner. He will be the voice on the County Commission that we need.”

There followed a series of additional dithyrambs in praise of Turner, who could only sit and smile while the audience passed through several stages of amazement. Amazement not only at the fact of one candidate’s endorsing his opponent in quasi-debate situation, but amazement at the sheer verve of the previously unknown Crook.

Crook was yet to reach the apex of his authority, though. After promising that he would be a candidate in his own right again, probably in the Memphis city election of 2015 (“and that’s a dogfight I will not get out of”), he achieved his second point of distinction with a slogan that had the audience simultaneously laughing and applauding.

“I see a lot of people laughing and joking about my last name being ‘Crook.’ They say, ‘why would you elect a crook into politics’”” Without pausing for breath, the once and future candidate went on. “Well, I got news for you. I’m not the only crook in politics, but I’m the only Crook you can trust!”

And when he was done, an upstaged but grateful Van Turner hugged Crook and then made his own, somewhat more conventional, campaign pitch,

Indeed, except for Crook’s, most of the statements made by candidates by Wednesday’s forum were of a fairly standard sort.

The event, held in the Latino Memphis offices in Southeast Memphis, paired off mayoral candidates Mark Luttrell and Deidre Malone, sheriff candidates Bill Oldham and Bennie Cobb, and surrogates Jose Leon (who spoke in both Spanish and English) and Carmen Johnson for District Attorney General candidates Amy Weirich and Joe Brown, respectively. (Luttrell, Oldham, and Weirich, all Republicans, are the incumbents. Malone, Cobb, and Brown are Democratic challengers.

There were pairings in a few other Commission races, as well. The most interesting, probably, was that involving Republican Steve Basar, a Commission incumbent, and Dr. Manoj Jain, his opponent for the Commission’s new District 13 seat. Basar stressed his experience, both on the Commission and in business, while Jain, a native of India, made an appeal based on diversity and styled the race as one between a “pharmaceutical executive and a local doctor.”

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Trojan Horse Politics: Two Pols Who Invade the Other Party's Turf

The GOP's Paul Boyd wants everybody to know "their clerk;" the Democrats' Manoj Jain is interested in an "exchange of views." Both turn up regularly at their opposite numbers' shindigs.

Posted By on Wed, Jun 11, 2014 at 10:39 AM

Boyd (l) and Jain meet at GOP pidnic. All smiles here.
  • JB
  • Boyd (l) and Jain meet at GOP pidnic. All smiles here.
During a political campaign season, there are public meetings (candidate forums sponsored by third-party groups, for example) that anybody can attend, and there are specifically partisan gatherings open only to the political organizations — Republican and Democratic, in the main — that call them. Right?

Not necessarily. There are a couple of innovators out there — Paul Boyd, the incumbent Probate Court clerk, and Dr. Manoj Jain, a candidate for the Shelby County Commission, who seem determined to change that last part.

Boyd is one of the Republicans who was elected in the GOP countywide sweep of 2010; Jain is the Democratic nominee for the newly configured District 13 Shelby County Commission seat.

Boyd has made it a point to attend expressly Democratic events in addition to the ones held under Republican or neutral auspices. Why? “I just want everybody to know that, regardless of party, I’m their clerk,” he says.

Likewise, Jain fairly routinely turns up at GOP events. In fact, he goes out of his way to do so. Why? “I want to learn as much as I can,” says the first-time candidate. “I want to exchange views with as many people as possible.”

Given the frequency of political meetings during a campaign year, the two have often been at the same place at the same time. On Monday evening, they were both at the Wyndike Country Club, site of the annual spring picnic of the Shelby County Republican Women. During campaign years like this one, the gathering doubles as an organized rally for party candidates.

Jain arrived late, looking amiable and sunny, as always. (He once stifled a brewing quarrel among feuding and shouting members of the local Democratic executive committee by leading the group in a meditative chant.)

He listened as this or that Republican candidate or incumbent was introduced and made a speech and seemed not to notice, or be bothered by, the decidedly un-sunny inquisitive looks he was getting from Steve Basar, a GOP incumbent on the County Commission and his opponent for the District 13 seat.

Jain interacts with County Trustee David Lenoir and County Commissioner Terry Roland, while his bemused election opponent Steve Basar looks on. - JB
  • JB
  • Jain interacts with County Trustee David Lenoir and County Commissioner Terry Roland, while his bemused election opponent Steve Basar looks on.

When the speeches were over, Jain circulated, presumably in order to achieve the exchange of views he had spoken of. He managed a few, apparently untroubled conversations with some of the Republicans present, though not with Basar, who continued to regard him suspiciously and would say, when asked, that he thought Jain’s visit was inappropriate.

At some point, Jain and Boyd encountered each other and exchanged views about their respective acts of interloping on the other party’s turf. That meeting looked friendly enough. Perhaps they also exchanged tips.

Boyd, for his part, has not been challenged at Democratic meetings, nor has he yet intersected directly with his election opponent, William Chism Jr. He’s on the same level in that respect as most Democratic activists, for whom Chism, a surprise winner in last month’s party primary, remains something of an Unknown Quantity.

In any case, both Boyd and Jain intend to keep on keeping on with their extra-mural visits, and it remains to be seen what might happen if either of them should meet with serious resistance by a partisan of the other party.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean Answers "Summons to Memphis" on Friday

Capital city's chief execuive is second in speaking series sponsored by Memphis Magazine. Event is at University of Memphis Holiday Inn at 11 a.m. What do Elvis and Jack Daniels have in common? The mayor can explain.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 6, 2014 at 6:21 AM

Excerpt from preliminary interview last month

As Nashville Mayor Karl Dean prepared last month for his “Summons to Memphis” experience on Friday, June 6, from 11 a.m. o 1 p.m.. at the University of Memphis Holiday Inn, he found some interesting comparisons between his own and his host city and the relationship of each to the rest of Tennessee.

To put that another way (referencing one of the topics he mentions), what do Elvis and Jack Daniels have in common?

Mayor Dean’s appearance, sponsored by Memphis Magazine, is the second in the “Summons to Memphis” series sponsored by the magazine. Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans was the inaugural speaker last year.

Tickets to "Summons to Memphis" are $50 per person, and a table for 10 people may be reserved for $450. They can be purchased at

Monday, June 2, 2014

Cohen Gets Goin’ at Headquarters Opening

9th District congressman touts “experience” in launching reelection bid; supporter warns of “mud-slinging” campaign by challenger's camp.

Posted By on Mon, Jun 2, 2014 at 11:38 AM

Cohen addressing the troops at Saturday HQ opening

Greeting a large crowd of supporters and other attendees, including numerous local officials, at the formal opening of his newest campaign headquarters at Poplar and Collins on Saturday. 9th District congressman Steve Cohen said, “I get better at my job every day,” recounted a list of achievements for the district, and rebutted a charge from the camp of Democratic primary opponent Ricky Wilkins that he isn’t “local” enough.

“Even if I weren’t the candidate, it makes no sense not to keep ‘goin’ with Cohen,’” the congressman said, contending that “in Congress, experience counts.” Noting that his own campaign slogan is subject to re-use in campaign after campaign, Cohen teased Wilkins for “being smart enough to copy us” with billboards that proclaim “Our Next Congressman.”

Said Cohen to appreciative laughter from the crowd, “He can use those again and again and again!”

Focusing on his work in Washington and his relationship with President Obama, who has endorsed him, Cohen said his good relations across the aisle with Republicans like Appropriations Committee chairman Frank Wolf had allowed him to add $5 million to the federal budget for local rape-kit testing. He said he had received a call at the time from Mayor A C Wharton who was with a group of women “singing my praises” for doing so.

Cohen also cited his efforts on behalf of minimum wage and unemployment insurance legislation, on drug sentencing reform, and on his success in securing funding for local projects as a member of the House Transportation Committee.

A congressman’s main task, Cohen said, is to keep local officials supplied with federal funding, “the tools they need,” to support projects of their own devising. “Congressional people don’t administer We can’t tell them [local officials] what to do,” he said, adding to applause, “If you want a political boss, we can bring back Crump!”

Settling a score of sorts with his former district director Randy Wade, now a cog in the Wilkins campaign, Cohen recounted a conversation between the two at a time when a local tax-refund company was in legal trouble. “When Mo Money Taxes was ripping people off in his co0mmjunity, my district director came to me and said ‘don’t mess with that, that’s so and so’s nephew.’ I said I don’t care whose nephew it is. They’re messing with our people….Now they’re no longer in the tax business and they won’t rip off anybody.”

Cohen also said he had resisted pressure to get aboard the charter-surrender bandwagon at the onset of the local school-merger crisis in 2010. “You don’t get on the Titanic,” he said, contending that supporters of the Memphis City Schools charter surrender “shouldn’t have got involved with ‘local issues’ because they were working for lawyers, who made millions and millions of dollars and have messed up our city schools.”

That last thrust doubled as a hat-tip to the Rev. Kenneth Whalum Jr., who had stoutly resisted the charter surrender as an MCS board member. Whalum, a long-time supporter of Cohen, had introduced the congressman on Saturday with a spirited endorsement that included a warning to the crowd.

“Be cognizant of a real truth in this city,” Whalum had said, predicting “one of the most mud-slinging races we’ve seen in the 9th District in a long time, particularly among African-American ministers,” based on “the red herring that a Jew cannot effectively represent the black community in Memphis.”

This was “disingenuous, especially in Memphis, Tennessee, for a group of Christian African-American ministers,” said Whalum. “We preachers get in the pulpit every Sunday and preach about how a Jew is effectively representing us in Heaven for 2000 years!”

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Christie Songsheet: Will It Play for Lamar in Tennessee?

New Jersey presidential hopeful puts his celebrity on the line for Alexander's reelection, preaching a gospel of political tolerance to GOP "choirs" in Memphis and Nashville.

Posted By on Sun, Jun 1, 2014 at 7:44 PM

Governor Christie at Senator Alexander's HQ opening

So Chris Christie, the gregarious, self-confident Republican governor of mainly Democratic New Jersey, was in Tennessee on Friday — first in Memphis, then in Nashville — and did he, like Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte, two of the governmental role models he cited (jokingly we think) come, see, and conquer?

Well, if nothing else, he disarmed. The suspected bully-boy of the George Washington Bridge scandal, the take-no-prisoners chief executive, the presumed stalker of the presidency in 2016, laid on more charm than sarcasm or effrontery or rude ambition on his trip down south, and it’s easy to see how Christie, during his high school and collegiate growing up, was a serial student-body president.

And chutzpah? The man has lots of that, too. Unlike Lamar Alexander, the Volunteer State’s senior senator, to whom he gave a foursquare endorsement on Friday, Christie is not facing any immediate opposition from the hard Tea Part right of his party, but surely the White House aspirant knew he was being vetted from that quarter,

But, at both Alexander’s headquarters opening in East Memphis and before 1700 Republicans at the state GOP’s annual Statesman’s Dinner bash in Nashville, Christie refrained from doling out any fire-stoked red meat. Instead, he served a well-tempered smorgasbord of diversity, outreach, and collaboration across the political aisle.

And, to give Alexander his due, so did the home-state Senator, who, in introducing the visiting Christie before an enthusiastic crowd at his packed headquarters at the Carrefour Center on Poplar, chose to idealize the GOP as a big-tent party: “We’ve kept an open door, tolerated differences of opinion, and listened to everybody.”

That may not be exactly how Alexander’s primary opponent, state Rep. Joe Carr, an arch-conservative from Lascassas in Middle Tennessee, sees things.

And here’s how Alexander described Christie: “He’s proud to be a Republican, but he also is a good enough governor to earn the respect and support and votes of independents, Democrats, and Republicans, just as our candidates do in Tennessee.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this kind of moderate, middle-of-the-road rhetoric is generally what you hear from candidates who already own their party’s nomination and are competing for swing voters with someone from the other party.

And Christie, who spent a good deal of time encouraging his Republican listeners to do missionary work in “places where we don’t feel comfortable” and telling droll stories about co-exiting with Democrats in blue-state New Jersey, gave it right back in his own remarks at the headquarters opening:

“I want to stand next to people like Lamar Alexander as often as I can to remind Republicans, independent, and Democrats that the problems in our country are not partisan problems, they’re American problems, and we need to come together as a country to fix them. And we’re not going to do it by continuing to have the kind of divisive activity you see by some folks in both parties in Washington, D.C.

“The good news for Tennessee is, all of you are smart enough not to send anybody like that to the United States Senate… [Do you hear that, Joe Carr?] ….And let’s not start getting dumb like that now, okay? [applause] We don’t need to do that. Let’s not sgtart getting dumb now. Let’s stay smart, and Senator Alexander is somebody who brings people together.”

In a joint availability with Alexander, held afterward for Memphis reporters, Christie reinforced his basic message for Republicans (“We need to broaden our outlook to folks. Let the folks get to see you and know you”). The governor was asked to react to the fact that his appearance at the Statesman’s Dinner would be boycotted by some right-wing Republicans (notably state Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden, who publicly called Christie a “questionable political figure.”

Christie briefly flashed a hint of the scowl he reserves for those who challenge him directly but answered evenly: “I love a party where everybody’s allowed to have diverse opponents I think we’ll have a pretty good crowd there tonight, so I’m not worried.”

On to Nashville

And indeed, when it came time for him to face the Statesman’s Dinner audience in one of the several enormous ballrooms of the lavish new Music City Center convention complex Friday night, Christie gave the same sort of broad-based conciliatory message that he had in Memphis.

He explained how he befriended a Democratic adversary in the legislature, a Steelworkers Union president named Steve Sweeney, the very critic who had charged him with acting like Caesar or Napoleon (“all those great leaders of the past I admired so much,” Christie said, tongue in cheek), and how Sweeney became his partner in passing emergency economy measures.

“I don’t know when compromise became capitulation,” Christie said. “I don’t know when it became wrong to talk to the people on the other side of the aisle and become their friends.” Government functioned on the basis of “relationships,” he said. And that meant some give-and-take.

In telling how impasse was avoided in New Jersey, Christie chided those who had been ready, as he put it, to “shut down the government” rather than compromise. He worked on that theme for a while, keeping the focus on New Jersey, but it was clear that he meant also to reference the situation of last year in the Congress when Tea Party Representatives and Senators seemed prepared to shut down the U.S. government.

There was a curious division of rhetoric from the dais at the Statesman’s Dinner. The speakers who had preceded Christie — including Alexander, Senator Bob Corker, and Governor Bill Haslam (who introduced Christie) had pressed some of the usual conservative hot buttons and Corker, especially, permitted himself some critical remarks about President Obama (some of these, indeed, were echoed by Christie, who accused the President of indecisiveness and of being willing to fight for Obamacare “and not much else”).

But the tone of these early speeches did not seem hard-edged or didactically ideological. Alexander, in fact, reprised some of his open-ended sentiments from earlier in Memphis: “We opened doors, we tolerated differences of opinion, we welcomed everybody, and we gave good government. That’s how we got there [in positions of power in Tennessee] and that’s how we’re going to stay there.”

All of that led straight into Christie and his message of — what to call it? Muscular moderation, maybe. But after the New Jersey governor had finished, there would be a shift toward more dogmatic and contentious attitudes.

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, for one, took the stage to argue for his current campaign to purge three Democratically appointed members of the state Supreme Court in August 7 retention elections And 7th District Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn laid out a congressional agenda that was pure Talking Points: Fix the V.A. “mess;” get to the bottom of “Bengazi” (a term that, believe it or not, had not been mentioned until then, virtually at the point of adjournment); and get rid of “Obamacare.”

The upshot of Christie's visit?

So which is the real Tennessee Republican Party? The pragmatic organization spoken to by Alexander and Christie, open to diversity and bipartisanship as a means to effective government? Or the vehicle for partisanship and radical change symbolized by Ramsey and Blackburn?

Toward the end of his remarks, Christie had looked out over the sea of people in Music City Center and confessed (or affected) some awe at the idea of “preaching to the choir” of some 1700 reported attendees. “Imagine a guy from New Jersey coming to Tennessee to preach to the choir,” he said. “But I’m here.”

Plainly enjoying himself, Christie — who has slimmed down considerably after undergoing a well-publicized stomach bypass operation a year or so ago — told the audience about how he’d been approached by two women that day, one in Memphis and another in Nashville, who greeted him the same way: “Governor Christie, my goodness, you’re so much better looking in person!”

Christie related how he’d sent a text message about those encounters to his wife at home in New Jersey, who had texted back tersely, “Good. Stay there!”

Lowering his voice to a stage whisper, the governor said, “I hope she was kidding,” and got the expected laugh.

There was just enough in this tease to remind one of the Clinton presidency and how that president’s sexual peccadilloes had worked for him in a curious way — giving him a -human dimension that lingered after the righteous head-shaking and disgrace began to wear off.

In a similar way, now that the shadow of the George Washington Bridge has begun to lift, the suspicion, even the intimations of outright evidence, that Chris Christie is not averse to playing it down and dirty, is hardly the worst trait one could imagine for an American chief executive in the age of Vladimir Putin and bad actors elsewhere in the world.

In any case, a very human Chris Christie had indeed been here in Tennessee, preaching a gospel of political toleration. The faint splashes of blue that are left in the political spectrum of Tennessee are, of course, not comparable to the darker hues that Governor Christie spoke of as representing New Jersey.

Yet here was Lamar Alexander sounding the same conciliatory notes in red-state Tennessee. Carr and Holt and other exponents of a harder Republican line wasted little time in denouncing what got said in Memphis and Nashville, and it’s going to be interesting to see how all of this turns out.


Most Commented On

© 1996-2020

Contemporary Media
65 Union, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation