Monday, January 25, 2021

County Commission: Do the Ayes Still Have It?

Posted By on Mon, Jan 25, 2021 at 12:41 PM

The formal vocabulary of Shelby County Commission meetings is slowly gravitating from the antique and ornamental to current and ordinary forms of speech.

Until recently, as an example, meetings used to be opened by invocations by the sergeant-at-arms of the venerable Anglo-Norman phrase “oyez, oyez,” (except that the uniformed county officer serving in that role would pronounce the phrase “Oh yes, oh yes.”) These days, the officer says instead, “Hear ye, hear ye,” which happens to be what the archaic phrase “oyez, oyez,” still used in the U.S. Supreme Court and by numerous other tribunals, actually means.

A parallel phenomenon has been the attrition undergone by the archaic term “aye” as the traditional signifier of an affirmative vote. At some point in the early days of the Commission that was elected and installed in 2018, new Commissioner David Bradford, who represents Collierville and other suburban areas in east Shelby County, began saying simply “yes” when, in a roll call of Commissioners’ vote, he gave his okay to this or that measure.

The other members voting on his side of the issue would continue saying “aye,” an Anglo-Scottich term dating from the 16th century which has got itself lodged in parliamentary idiom ever since. Slowly, though, Bradford’s usage began catching on with other commissioners — fellow Republicans Mark Billingsley and Mick Wright, especially — who are now apt to say “yes” as often as “aye” when they vote in favor.

Though its dominion of the traditional term is slipping on the Commission, the ayes still have it, for the most part, as the word continues its general prevalence in roll calls. Oddly, the symmetrical equivalent to it, “nay,” goes totally unspoken in normal circumstances, except in the occasional summing up of a negative vote outcome, as in “the nays have it.”

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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Memphis Congressmen on Wednesday’s Vote to Impeach President Trump:

Posted By on Wed, Jan 13, 2021 at 6:13 PM

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-9th), Aye: “After President Trump was impeached but not convicted last year, Senator Susan Collins said ‘He’s learned a pretty big lesson. He was impeached.’ Then, last week, he brought his ‘It will be wild’ riotous television show that he produced for one person, Individual One. Intelligence reports indicate that the people he said he ‘loves’ and ‘are special’ are going to attack this city and attack this Capitol next week. He has not asked them not to do it. He has not told them to stand down. I most fear January 20th because I think he will try to go out with a bang and take attention away from Joe Biden.”

U.S. Rep. David Kustoff (R-8th), Nay: “There is no doubt every American was shocked by the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol Building last Wednesday. As our
 country is experiencing this time of turmoil and uncertainty, we must work together to reconcile our differences and heal our nation. Impeaching President Trump during his last seven days in office would only further divide us as Americans. That is why I do not support the removal of President Trump through impeachment. Our country is in the middle of a global pandemic and the American people are struggling. We must focus our efforts on unifying our country and supporting a peaceful transition of power on January 20th.”

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Thursday, January 7, 2021

Marsha Blackburn's Origin Story: When A Mob Invaded the State Capitol

Posted By on Thu, Jan 7, 2021 at 2:06 PM

On July 12, 2001, nearly 20 years before an angry multitude of Trump supporters flooded the U.S. Capitol, the Tennessee state Capitol building in Nashville was similarly invaded by a belligerent mob as legislators prepared to take up the issue of a state income tax.

Just as was the case in Washington on Wednesday, the assembled lawmakers were interrupted in the middle of vital deliberations. Law enforcement officers were overwhelmed, windows were broken, and various other forms of damage resulted as mobs roamed the hallways, screaming and pounding the building’s hastily locked oaken doors, trapping the legislators in their chambers and causing the hasty adjournment of the special session then under way.

One of the main actors in the drama was then state Senator Marsha Blackburn of Franklin, whose emailed alerts to income-tax opponents from the state Senate chamber had generated the first crowds to gather on Capitol grounds.

On Wednesday of this week, amid the mob violence in Washington, Blackburn, now a U.S. Senator, dropped her intent to vote against the ritual acceptance by Congress of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, as did Tennessee’s other Senator, the newly installed Bill Hagerty.

The state’s seven Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including David Kustoff of the 8th District, would follow through on their votes against accepting the election. The following article is a first-person account of the 2001 siege of the state Capitol, witten by Flyer politics editor Jackson Baker, who was on site for those events.

A Night to Remember: State Government Under Siege
Marsha Blackburn, from her Congressional days. - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Marsha Blackburn, from her Congressional days.


Jim Henry of Kingston in East Tennessee, who back in the '70s and '80s was a mover and shaker in the relatively sacrosanct Tennessee legislature of that time, was in Memphis Saturday to promote himself as a centrist Republican alternative to U.S. Rep. Van Hilleary, the Gingrich-style conservative who, many think, is close to having a lock on the Republican nomination for governor next year.

Henry — who is cast in the square-jawed, white-haired mold of several other 2002 hopefuls (gubernatorial wannabe Randy Nichols, the Knox County D.A., for example, or state Rep. Lincoln Davis, a Democratic aspirant for Hilleary's 4th District congressional seat) — talked about a number of things to the members of the monthly Dutch Treat Luncheon at the Audubon Cafe.

Among them were taxes (he's for reform and isn't ready either to endorse or to rule out any version of it, including the income tax), TennCare (he's for reforming it, too, but supports the state-run insurance program as a financial and medical boon for Tennessee's citizens), and fiscal policy in general (he came out for prioritizing state needs, raising enough revenue to pay for them, and then eliminating any excess money — presumably by tax cuts — before government thought up a way to spend it).

But the one thing that seemed to preoccupy Henry, both in his public remarks and in private conversation afterward, was the debacle in Nashville last Thursday night. The state capitol which had been his home base for so many years had been attacked by protesters as, coincidentally or not, the lawmakers inside forsook a last-ditch good-faith effort to produce a long- term budget.

They had instead hastily adopted a bare-bones no-new-taxes version which leaves many needs unspoken for and which may be vetoed by Governor Don Sundquist — leaving the funding process back where it started. (Actually somewhat further back, since mandated spending, cost-of-living increases, and the like have mounted.)

Not only epithets but rocks were thrown Thursday night by the throngs that materialized after repeated entreaties to do so by radio talk show hosts Phil Valentine and Steve Gill. Windows were broken in Governor Sundquist's first-floor office, and legislators were verbally abused and even manhandled.

Governor Don Sundquist, circa 2001 - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Governor Don Sundquist, circa 2001
Informed that Republican Senate Leader Ben Atchley, no supporter of the income-tax legislation that the crowd had turned out to protest, had been shoved two or three times as he made his way into the Senate chamber, Henry seemed especially troubled.

"That's dangerous for someone like Ben. He's had several bypass operations. We can't be having that," the GOP hopeful said, shaking his head and furrowing his brow. "I don't know how we're going to do it, but we've got to find a way that will let us deal with important questions and, at the same time, return civility to state government!"

Neither of those goals seems anything but remote after Thursday night. Reel backward in time from Henry's weekend remarks, back beyond Thursday night itself, and you reenter a time frame, perhaps a full six months worth, when it was fashionable not to show compassion for this General Assembly but to ridicule, even condemn it, for its general fecklessness.

The legislature, faced with an estimated $250 million deficit that would grow to $800 million next year, had been meeting since January, availing itself of a technicality that allowed it to continue its protracted deliberations into a new fiscal year. There it sat in the muggy Nashville heat of mid-July, still unable to agree on a budget that wouldn't even allow the state to meet its current needs, much less make a few modest improvements.

State Senator John Ford of Memphis, whose legislative achievements are often overlooked because of his sometimes outlandish private behavior, earned the admiration of many observers late in the session as he both tried to break the revenue impasse with a flat-tax version of the income tax and excoriated the leadership of his own party and his own Senate for not dealing with reality.

They needed to resign and step down if they wouldn't lead, he said in a memorable (and precedent-shattering) Sunday session. And, as the Senate bogged down Thursday and seemed likely to timidly accept some version of the bare-bones budget that they had more or less forced a frustrated House of Representatives to adopt because of the Senate's own inaction, Ford had had enough.

He stalked out of the chamber and strode down the long tunnel leading from the capitol back to his office, announcing, "I'm leaving. They're not going to do anything worth staying around for."

And the flamboyant senator, famous for his fast driving, was soon enough hastening down I-40 back to Memphis.

But meanwhile, something of a miracle occurred. A group of senators from both sides of the aisle, determined to save something of their chamber's reputation and to get a budget measure passed that would not force the state to gut vital programs (education and health services prominent among them), stirred themselves Thursday afternoon to putting together a workable formula.

Senator Bob Rochelle of Lebanon, the Democrat who is the Senate's (nay, the legislature's) leading exponent of an income tax, and Republican Sen. David Fowler of Signal Mountain, a conservative's conservative, began working on a compromise that would include Fowler's insistence on allowing a statewide vote of some sort before an income tax could be legitimized.

Over time, Governor Don Sundquist, among others, had concluded (reluctantly, to be sure) that true tax reform could probably not be achieved any other way. A sales-tax increase had proved unpassable because almost everybody saw that Tennessee's sales tax was already too high relative to its neighbor states, was based on an outmoded economy, and increasingly was incapable of accommodating the state's future revenue needs.

For months, various hodgepodge formulas involving other measures — services taxes, sales-tax extensions, "sin" taxes on alcohol and tobacco, car-tag increases, etc., etc. — had been shopped around and failed.|

That left only the income tax, and Rochelle, Fowler, and various others — thanks largely to the tireless helmsmanship of Sen. Jim Kyle, the Memphian who was co-chairman and motive force of the joint House-Senate committee charged with finding a solution — had come close at this 11th hour to an agreement.

The House had already signaled its willingness to accept an income tax. All the Senate had to do was find a formula. At one point, with 14 votes in the bag for some version of an income tax, Rochelle came off his insistence on a graduated version (Republicans traditionally favor the flat- tax principle) and agreed on a statewide referendum that would either validate or sunset the tax one year after its institution.

Fowler, Sen. Randy McNally of Oak Ridge, and Collierville's Sen. Mark Norris — who doubled as negotiators and as the three swing Republican voters who could make the proposal work — then conditionally accepted the proposition, according to Kyle, and agreed to take it back to their caucus for it to approve or reject.

It was at that point that Sen. Marsha Blackburn, who represents the elite Nashville suburb of Franklin and who functions as the poster girl for all populist right-wing causes, sat at her legislative desk and began batting out e-mails on her taxpayer-provided laptop, informing all members of her ideological network — including, crucially, Valentine and Gill — that the pointy-headed scoundrels were at it again. They were about to pass an income tax.

The broadcasters — competitors on the air but ideological allies — soon took to the airwaves and, as they had done repeatedly every time in the last two or three years that the legislature took such legislation up, called on their audiences to respond. In years before, the response had been pickets and caravans of horn-honkers surrounding the capitol. Now the protest would take a more direct form — mass invasion of the capitol grounds and its hallways.

The throngs began to gather even as the three Republican negotiators were running the plan by their party caucus. On a Senate telephone line, meanwhile, Lt. Governor John Wilder, who had been verbally savaged by Ford, his usual ally, for some undeniable back-and-forthing on the income tax, was trying to find the Memphis senator. It was an every-vote-counts situation.

He eventually reached the voice mail on the motoring Ford's busy cell phone, saying into the receiver, "John, this is John Wilder. You've got to be back here at 6:30 for us to vote. This is important. You've got to get back here." Under the circumstances, it was an Offer That Could Not Be Refused from the still-powerful 80-year-old presiding officer of the Senate. On his way up an escalator to the Senate chamber for the contemplated vote, Murfreesboro Democrat Larry Trail was accosted by three T- shirted youths who seemed to have come out of nowhere and looked out of place in the building (though, to be sure, they had the citizen's right to be there).

One of the young men warned Trail, formerly an income-tax opponent, not to waver on the issue. "If you do," he said, "I will make sure you lose in the next election. I will work to make sure you are defeated," his tone and demeanor more belligerent even than the words themselves.

"It's behavior like yours that makes me want to change my mind," the husky Trail responded in his best down-home Middle Tennessee brogue. "I don't take kindly to threats." With that, he turned his back and began walking briskly up the escalator steps. The scheduled vote was now only minutes away.

Behind Trail, as he entered the hallway leading to the capitol elevator that would take him to the second floor to the Senate chamber, the three young men seemed almost to multiply.

A trickle of citizens — most casually clad, others in suits, some of them moms and dads toting their small children, most of them visibly inflamed either by anger or by zeal — appeared instantly to have become a flood. The capitol building might have been some stricken Titanic which had suddenly sprung a leak.

Tennessee's elected senators and representatives (the House, too, had been summoned by its leader, Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, to stand ready for action) made their way as best they could to their chambers.

Instead of facing only the imperatives of a historic vote, though, they would soon be dealing with an unprecedented reaction from a fast- growing crowd which the conservative Republicans Fowler and Atchley would be the first to describe by another name: mob.
Tennessee's elected lawmakers would find themselves literally under siege.

Later on, it would get said that factors other than the pure intimidation of the mob caused the pending budget deal to break down in the state Senate Thursday night — before a vote could be taken on an income tax- cum-referendum package that would fund present state priorities, including education and the state-run program for the uninsured and uninsurables known as TennCare, and pave the way for future ones.

So many variants got told by this or that key legislator that it's hard to determine which straw might have broken the camel's back. Depending on who was doing the explaining, it was either Democrat Rochelle's insistence that an income tax be in effect for at least a year before a statewide vote on it could be taken, or the House Democrats' insistence on the same thing, or Republican Fowler's refusal to yield on having a referendum (alternately, a Constitutional Convention) come first, or the GOP Senate Caucus' negative reaction to the deal brought them by Fowler, McNally, and Norris, or something to do with TennCare, or — what you will.

Or maybe it wasn't a straw at all, maybe it was just hard for some to admit that they had been cowed by the sheer bludgeoning force of the huge and madding crowd that swarmed into and around the state capitol Thursday evening as the legislators were, in theory, scheduled to debate the income-tax issue like civics-text ladies and gentlemen and then vote on it.

Fowler was one of those who, hither and thither in the confusion of Thursday night, would suggest conventional parliamentary snafus as the key to the breakdown, but he expressed himself otherwise in the immediate aftermath of the failure, as Senator Kyle of Memphis (under urgent pressure from Lt. Governor Wilder, a realist's realist) finally had to cut his losses and rush through a resolution for a modified version of the same no-new-taxes stopgap budget passed by the House at the very end of the fiscal year almost two weeks earlier.

It was a plan that would spend Tennessee's entire portion of tobacco-settlement money in one year and still leave the state short of essential services, and it was taken for granted that the House — always readier to move forward in this session than the Senate — had passed it only to present a worst-case scenario to the other body and make it act.

Said Fowler on the floor to his colleagues and to the world at large, even as, amid a mounting cacophony out in the hallway, the final white- flag vote was about to be taken inside: "The activities of the talk-radio people and Senator Blackburn have killed the right of the people to vote. I think the mob effectively killed their opportunity to vote on this issue.'' (Norris would say that Blackburn's actions, in e-mailing her Paul Revere-like alarms to the denizens of the populist right, had been the legal equivalent of "yelling fire in a crowded theater.")

Fowler proceeded: "We discussed the possibility of a means by which people could have a say on the tax structure with their votes. Those people outside are protesting not knowing we were trying to give them a vote."

The "people outside" were at this point chanting "No Means No!" over and over and literally hammering at the heavy oak doors which — closed and manned now by highway patrolmen and city police, who were called in to augment the normal contingent of legislative door guards — were all that stood between them and the prospect of some unprecedented (for Tennessee) form of direct intervention.

Apologists for the demonstrators — and there were some — would see it all as pure participatory democracy, of course, and, indeed, for all the raucousness and shouting and booing and shoving and door-pounding and (later) window-breaking, most of the protesters kept a decorum of sorts.

A case in point: Well after the vote was taken and the parliamentary issue was settled in both the Senate and the House (which, resignedly this time, reenacted its similar vote of a week before), veteran Tennessean Capitol Hill reporter Duren Cheek and I decided to leave, eschewing the safety of the interior tunnel which, in the labyrinthine Capitol-Legislative Plaza complex, led back to the Plaza's press offices and, at a somewhat further remove, to the general vicinity where my car was parked. The unusual reason for this: Duren has a vision quirk whereby he simply sees better out of doors, night or day.

People began to bait us almost as soon as we showed up outside, demanding to know if we were legislators as we threaded our way through them down the capitol steps. I suppressed the urge to say something waggish like, "What? Don't you recognize Bob Rochelle?" This crowd had, after all, been brought to the emotional edge or it wouldn't have been where it was, doing what it was.

Then came a potentially chilling moment. Of a sudden, Duren, a portly man well into his middle years, went down on the hard concrete of the first landing, and five or six men from the crowd lunged toward where he lay.

In one of the alternative, multiple universes that the late French fictionist Alain Robbe-Grillet might have concocted from such an image, the outcome could have been sinister. The reality was, in fact, quite benign. The visually challenged Duren had just tripped and fallen, that was all, and the crowd members who reached for him did so as Good Samaritans. They helped him to his feet, firmly but gently.

Earlier, Senator Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) had played comic toreador with the crowd. At the height of its anger, he had entered the Senate chamber brandishing a large-size Planters can with the word "Nuts" in bold and held it high before the crowd, which howled in derision as Cohen, an incorrigible maverick, beamed.

The experience of the venerable Atchley of Knoxville lacked any such satisfying resolution. The fact that the Republican Senate Leader has been a consistent opponent of the income tax had put him in no good stead at all as he tried to make his way through the crowd. The suited and bespectacled Atchley could not be mistaken for anything but a legislator, almost an archetypal vision of one, and he had gotten shoved several times as he made his way through the crowds to get to the Senate chamber. "I don't mind expression, but that's mob rule," Atchley, a mild man normally given to understatement, would say later.

Elsewhere the crowd activity was even less gallant. After all, had these put-upon citizens of the (barely) middle class not heard, over and over again on talk radio, that an income tax would grab up fully 50 percent of their available funds? (And never mind that Senator Rochelle and others had released studies showing, for most Tennesseans, an income tax with corresponding reductions in the sales tax would result in a lesser tax burden overall.)

At some point, a few people in the crowd had begun throwing rocks and other ad hoc missiles, targeting the first-floor office of Governor Sundquist, who — with Senate Speaker Pro Tem Rochelle and House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh — constituted what to the members of this crowd was an unholy trio bent on taxing them into personal insolvency.

"Thieves" was a word frequently heard from callers to the incendiary talk shows presided over by Messrs. Valentine and Gill — which worthies continued to broadcast from the periphery of the capitol grounds Thursday night, with Valentine even suggesting to his auditors such questionable mischief as a nocturnal visit to the Lebanon residence of Senator Rochelle.

At some point in the evening, State Rep. John Mark Windle (D- Livingston) was in the capitol building walking back to his office when he was confronted by a rush of demonstrators. Thinking to find sanctuary, he stepped into the governor's first-floor suite and sat down on a couch in one of the inner offices. Then, as he would recall: "A rock came through the window about half the size of a football and landed at my feet. ... They were banging their fists on the windows and hollering. It was bizarre."

While all of this was going on, the normal inhabitant of the governor's office, Don Sundquist, was away making a speech at an economic development conference. Several times he was called away to the telephone to get an up-to-date report on the mayhem going on over at the capitol, and when a tobacco lobbyist in attendance at the governor's speech made ready to go over, out of curiosity, Sundquist bade him stay, advising that it wasn't safe.

The governor would eventually issue a statement: "I appreciate the right of all Americans to free speech and peaceful protest. I do not, however, approve of those who advocate violence and I regret that occurred at the capitol.

"State employees, legislators and law enforcement officers should be able to do their jobs in a safe, reasonable way. I am particularly critical of some radio talk show hosts and at least one legislator who encouraged disruptive behavior and destructive acts. I hope the budget debate will continue, but in a calm, reasonable way. My top priority has [been], and continues to be, the welfare of Tennessee's children."

If some of that sounded self-serving, it was a fact that Sundquist had for two years risked his political reputation to pursue tax reform and had, way back in February, proposed a widely admired education initiative. In the stopgap budget that got passed, not only was the plan itself utterly gutted, but short-term spending for the existing requirements of public education was threatened (not to mention its long-term prospects, since the $560 million tobacco windfall, once used up to fill out this year's bare-bones budget, would not be available for the year after).

State employees, who had lobbied hard for a cost-of-living pay raise, would get a modest increase of 2.5 percent. (Noting that the raise was being paid for during the next year with the one-time tobacco money, Norris said the pay raise might amount to so much "severance pay.")

TennCare would be held solvent for at least another year (after that, the wolf would be back at the door), and the Department of Transportation's roadbuilding funds — untouchable pork, even in these straitened times — would be preserved. But, all in all, a full $340 million had been cut from Sundquist's budget recommendations, and it wasn't over with. The governor would be required to find ways of paring at least another $100 million over the course of the coming year. The immediate word from Sundquist was that the budget was "a likely candidate" for a veto, and, in preparation for such an eventuality, both houses passed resolutions obliging them to return on August 6th for an override or other action in case of a veto or to come back in January, if no veto occurred.

There were also rumors that the governor, should he let this budget pass for the moment, would call the legislature back in special session sometime this fall. Sundquist had already called two special sessions to plead for tax reform, in 1999 and in 2000, and there was Nothing Doing both times.

Even so, and the very real merits of the case aside, a gubernatorial aide conceded that Sundquist, who was being mocked as irrelevant in some circles and whose name, if it was used at all, had fallen to the bottom of news accounts of the budget impasse, might have to do something hard-nosed just to remain a player.

Whatever it portended, few of the legislators — exhausted and, in some cases, shell-shocked — had the heart for any more protracted battles.

Wilder had concluded the bizarre climactic Senate session of Thursday night with a public prayer from the Speaker's podium in which, against the ironic background noise of the continuing crowd mayhem outside, he proffered his standard Panglossian tribute ("You are good") both to the Almighty and to the Senate as a body for the process just completed.

It is fair to say that most legislators were of another mind. Late Thursday night, a group of them were licking their wounds at the bar of the nearby Sheraton, a traditional oasis for members of the General Assembly, and Murfreesboro's Larry Trail, the same Larry Trail who had stood down one of the first protesters on the scene earlier in the evening, was musing out loud.

"I just don't like the way it looked, the way it made us look," he said of videotaped footage of the evening, which had been shown and reshown on TV in Nashville and elsewhere and was even then undergoing another replay on the big TV set overhanging the Sheraton's bar area.

"It made us look like we were afraid, that they made us back down," he said, and then looked down at the floor, as if contemplating a future that, if anything, might be even bleaker than the mortifying present tense just experienced.
Governor Don Sundquist and a bunny. A picture that the Flyer never missed a chance to put in the paper, back in the day. One more time for old time's sake. - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Governor Don Sundquist and a bunny. A picture that the Flyer never missed a chance to put in the paper, back in the day. One more time for old time's sake.

Abruptly, he brightened. "Let's go to Jimmy Kelly's," he suggested, naming the Vanderbilt-area watering hole where, from time immemorial, legislators had gathered in the late hours, to cut their deals or, as the case might be, to leave their troubles behind them. 

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Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Tennessee GOP Head on Capitol Riots

Posted By on Wed, Jan 6, 2021 at 5:21 PM

Scott Golden, chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, released the following statement late Wednesday:

"It’s an extremely emotional day for all of us that poured our hearts into President Trump’s campaign. We have the right to be heard, but not to the point of violence and destruction. The Republican Party is the party that supports law enforcement, rights, and the rule of law, and not defunding the police. Today’s perpetrators will be brought to justice and the truth will come to light. For now, let’s act responsibly, pray for our country and our leaders, and get ready to Make America Great Again.

Chairman Scott Golden

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Tennesesee Democrats Prepare to Select New Chair

Posted By on Thu, Dec 10, 2020 at 2:30 PM

Even as outrage mounts among Tennessee Democrats regarding the Republican state government’s involvement in a suit to overturn the presidential election, the Tennessee Democratic Party (TDP) is preparing to select a new leader for itself.

At least nine hopefuls have announced their candidacy for the chairmanship of the TDP in an election tentatively scheduled for mid-January, on the weekend after the state’s legislature reconvenes in Nashville.

Mary Mancini, who has guided the TDP for the past several years, has announced her retirement from the party helm, and the state Democratic executive committee will name a successor from the nine.

The contenders are: London Lamar, Theryn Bond, Wade Munday, Hendrell Remus, Frank Hundley, Robin Kimbrough Hayes, Jane George, Civil Miller Watkins, and Kate Craig.

The first five of those participated Wednesday night in a candidate forum sponsored by The Tennessee Holler on Zoom. Lamar, a state Representative from House District 91, and Bond are from Memphis, and Remus is a former Memphian.

A second forum is scheduled for Thursday night involving the other four candidates.

Wednesday night's participants in party chairmanship forum
  • Wednesday night's participants in party chairmanship forum

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Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Last Go-Round with Senator Lamar Alexander

Posted By on Tue, Dec 8, 2020 at 8:21 PM

Last week, Tennessee’s retiring senior U.S. senator, Lamar Alexander, delivered on a long-standing promise to make himself available to the Flyer for our version of an exit interview.

A very brief, edited version of that interview was published in this week’s hard-copy version of the Flyer. That version merely excerpted Alexander’s answers to our request that he describe Donald Trump and Joe Biden and that he comment on a recent installment of the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC recalling his early accession to the Tennessee governorship in 1978 to forestall the inevitability of predecessor Ray Blanton making illegal pardons (this in light of rumored pardons to come involving outgoing President Trump).

Here, minus a bit of small talk on both ends of the conversation, is the interview in its entirety, edited here and there only for clarity.

Now that you’re exiting the Senate, what are your plans?
I've deliberately not made a plan. I heard a sportscaster say about a basketball player, that could be a much better basketball player if he stopped trying too hard, and let the game come to him. And so that's what I plan to do. I'm going to move back to our home in East Tennessee with Honey, and see what comes. The life I've lived has been a fascinating life. For the last 50 years, I've had one of the best seats in the house. And I'm gonna turn the page and see what chapter breaks.

I know the one thing that in all the interviews you've had, and and for that matter in conversations you have with people, the one question that in one form or another always comes up is what I'm going to ask you now: Can you give a brief capsule of Donald Trump as you understand him to be?
The one thing that we can see certainly is, he is an effective communicator. Ronald Reagan was called a great communicator for his day, but in a completely different way. President Trump has mastered the internet democracy in a way no other public figure has.
Nobody else comes close to exciting 72 million people on Twitter to pay attention to what he says several times a day. So he's certainly a great communicator. He's self confident. He's gregarious when you're around him. He's ambitious.

I've seen him in private where he works very well on issues like the great American Outdoors Act, which would not have happened with without some key decisions that he made or efforts to lower insurance rates for people who don't have Obamacare subsidies. He's like a lot of people who've been in business and not in politics. He's thin-skinned and he's not accustomed to criticism.

And he has a style and behavior that's different than any of the presidents we've recently had, which sometimes obscure his considerable accomplishments, like lower taxes, conservative judges, fewer regulations, and probably the most remarkable of all, presiding over a government that produced a 95 percent effective COVID vaccine, and eight or nine months, instead of eight or nine years.”

Editor's note: The COVID vaccines currently being touted as effective were not created by the United States government, or even in the United States.

Can you provide a similar capsule for President-elect Joe Biden?
Joe is gregarious, decent, friendly. He's well known and well liked in the United States Senate. He has the advantage of knowing leaders all over the world. He was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee for a long time, and he has been vice president. So he should come to the presidency about as well prepared as anybody could. His biggest challenge is going to be the left wing of his own party. Because when they head off into socialism and defunding police, they lose more than half the country. And if he resists that, he'll be able to gain some significant Republican support, I think, and be an effective president.”

I’ve worked with him easily. I told a story in my farewell address about that, how we were working on the 21st Century Cures legislation which has done so much among other things to speed the treatments in the vaccines that we see today. And I got stuck, and I called him and said, Joe — he was Vice President — I can't get the White House to move. I've got President Obama, personalized medicine, and the bill. I've got the Cancer Moonshot in there for you. Mitch McConnell wanted regenerative medicine, that's in there. Paul Ryan has figured out how to pay for it. But I can't get the White House to move — like the butler, standing outside the door of the Oval Office, where the order on a silver platter and no one will open the door and take the order. And Joe Biden said, if you want to feel like a butler, try being vice president. So I worked with him well.

On 21st Century Cures, he [Biden] played a big role in getting that done. And I've watched him work with Senator McConnell before on behalf of the Obama administration to come to some agreements about taxes.

It was interesting that, on the day after your farewell address to the Senate, you made a speech in tribute to Congressional staff members.
What I realized the was that, you know, the staff is absolutely crucial to the success of any senator. I couldn't possibly have shown proper courtesy or efficiency or understood the issues without some really talented, hard working staff. And I realized that if I tried to thank them during my farewell address, it would make the address too long to properly acknowledge that. Maybe the salute to the staff speech yesterday, will start a new tradition in the Senate. In addition to the main address when you arrive and the farewell address, when you leave, I think a salute to the staff speech would be a nice tradition in the Senate.

I asked you to characterize Trump and Biden. What about Kamala Harris? You had a chance to have a chance to get to know her.
She's only been there for two years and she's been running for president for most of the time, so I don't know her very well.

Okay, well, one more of those. Bernie Sanders was asked years ago what Republicans he respected and he named your name. That was the only name he mentioned, in fact. he said, “I like Lamar.” So let me ask you, what are your thoughts about Bernie?
Well, I like Bernie. I just don't agree with him. We've served on the same Labor Committee. We have to work together, which I do with all senators. And one thing we both agree on is the importance of community health centers. So even when you have as many differences as I do with Bernie Sanders, it’s possible to list find some things that you both agree on.

One of the things that you spoke of in your farewell address was filibusters. And as I understand it, the way filibuster rule still applies is that 60 votes are required for cloture of debate, except in the case of executive nominations and judicial nominees? Is that correct?
That's right. We used to have a requirement of 60 for a presidential nominee, but nobody ever did. I mean, not even Justice [Clarence] Thomas had to have 60 when he was nominated. He was 52 to 48. None of the senators who opposed him asked that there be a 60-vote requirement. But on legislation — not nominations, but legislation — what the rules require is that before you vote on it, you have to cut off debate and you’ve got to have 60 votes. You  can't just pick the Republican majority on something like The Every Child Succeeds Act and slap through a Republican fix. I've got to go sit down with Patty Murray, who's the ranking Democrat on the committee and say, 'Patty, I need to get to 60 votes on this.' So can we come to a broad bipartisan agreement on it? We did that. And in fact, 85 senators voted for it. And if we can come up with something that 85 of us can vote for and live with, then the country can live with it.

That's the same with civil rights, Medicare, Medicaid, the Panama Canal treaty. The real purpose of the Senate is to use to tackle tough problems and see if we can get a broad agreement. And the filibuster forces us to do that. But not all, just to run a freight train through the house and let the majority just steamroll the minority.

A subject was highlighted recently on The Rachel Maddow Show that I'm sure you've heard a lot about. This was the Blanton pardons causing your early accession to the office of governor. Do you see an analogy between the Blanton pardons, as scandalous as they were, and the prospect of President Trump pardoning a whole slew of people, including his relatives, and maybe himself?
No, I don't. I don't. What was happening in the Blanton years was evidence that people were paying cash for pardons in case for clemency. That was the problem. And the United States Attorney knew it. And he was a Democrat. He called me and asked me to be sworn in early to stop that. I haven't heard any kind of allegation that anyone's paying in order for a pardon or clemency. And it's certainly not unusual for a president or a governor to issue pardons or clemencies at the end of a term. President Clinton, President Bush? Well, I won't say ... I know President Clinton made pardons. Most presidents, most governors issue them during their time, and especially at the end of their time. The issue in Tennessee in 1978 was cash for clemency, not just clemency.

There has been speculation that there may be some cash involved.
Oh, there’s speculation all over the thing. What they had in Tennessee in 1978, the FBI had proof of it, and the U.S. Attorney knew it. And Blanton had said that he was going to pardon or grant clemencies to people that the FBI and the U.S. Attorney knew had paid cash for their release.

You were born and raised in East Tennessee, and even in in times of the domination of Tennessee by Democrats, East Tennessee was Republican. How much of your Republicanism do you think derives from the circumstances of your birth and how much is by choice?
Oh, a lot of it derives from the circumstances of my birth. My great grandfather, John Alexander, was a union officer in the Civil War, from Blount County, and he was asked his politics, and he said, “Republican. I got shot.” So when I started in politics, the Republicans in Tennessee were the Lincolnites, and the Lincolnites were the mountaineers who came from families have fought with the Union in the Civil War. And the black Republicans, which were the Lincoln league and Memphis, that was the Republican Party in the ‘50s, and ‘60s in Tennessee. And that gradually changed over the years. And the Democrats at that early time were people with Confederate ancestry. So the Civil War dominated the voting patterns in Tennessee until very recently.

Something that's kind of fascinating to me is that [Senator] Marsha Blackburn, who is certainly a very ideological Republican, hails from a Union county in Mississippi. That is probably how that twig got bent. You knew that, right?
Well, I did, I had heard that and and, and that that's the same as my one county where I'm from. The congressional district in which I grew up, and where I'm going to live after I retire from the Senate, has never elected a democrat to Congress since Lincoln was President.

Okay. As I told you, I'd be skipping around a bit. One thing you kept saying when you were running for president in 1996 was that, at every stop you mentioned how you lamented the passing of a time when school boys could take a pocket knife to school. I understood that to be an implicit metaphor, but I didn't quite grasp it. What did that mean to you, the pocket knife reference?
Well, what that meant to me is that standards and behavior have changed. When I was a kid, most boys carried a pocket knife to school, but we never thought about using it on each other. And if we had, we would have ended up in in very, very serious trouble. Nowadays, behavior is such that they don't allow pocket knives in schools. And I think that's a commentary on our family structure, on the pervasiveness of television, and the pervasiveness of social media, and a lowering of behavioral standards around the country. You’re right, it was a metaphor. But I think it was an important one. And what I was trying to say was, that wasn't a problem that Washington could fix and that if you want to save school, that you had to fix it in your own community.

Also, in 1996, when you were running for president, why did you want to abolish the Education Department which you had headed?
Well, I thought we didn't need it. If you if you remember in 1980 or '81, when I was governor, I asked for a meeting with President Reagan. And I proposed that to him: Why don't you get the federal government completely out of elementary and secondary education? And in exchange, why don't you take over Medicaid and get the states completely out of Medicaid, so we have accountability, so everybody will know the responsibility for making a good school lies with state and local government, and the responsibility for Medicaid lies with the federal government.

I didn't think we needed an entire department to spend the federal dollars to help education. Except for about 8 or 9 percent, all the money that's spent for schools really is for low-income and disabled children. We could just have a check-writing operation that would send that out to parents or to school districts, to the schools where those children were. That was only a few years after the department was created. And what I said in the 1990s was the same thing I said, the 1980s.

And, and then more recently, when we fixed No Child Left Behind, in 2015, the whole purpose of it was to get Washington out of elementary and secondary education, and reduce its role. And the Wall Street Journal said, that was the biggest evolution of power from Washington to the states and 25 years. It just comes from a conviction I have that if you want good schools, you're going to have to create them yourself. And you can't expect people at a distance to improve student achievement in the third grade very much. It's gonna have to be the teacher and the parents in the community. Who makes that happen?

Well, you've answered what would have been my next question. I was going to ask the main difference between every the Every Child Succeeds Act, which you sponsored, and No Child Left Behind, which it replaced, but you sort of accounted for that.
That was the whole point of that — to restore to classroom teachers and local school boards and parents a lot of decisions that have been transferred to Washington and to what had, in effect, become a national school board, saying, ‘This is what you should teach. This is how you should define what a good teacher is. This is what you should do about a school that's in trouble. This is, this is how you should reward outstanding teaching.’ And my thought is that that can't be that can't be done from a distance it needs to be done locally.

I am interested in your reference to what you say you said to President Reagan about Medicaid. What are your thought as of now? You opposed the Affordable Care Act? What are your thoughts about it as of now going forward? And what do you think about the Medicare- for-All proposal?
I don't like Medicare-for-All, because what it does is take away your private insurance. And most people who have insurance on health insurance on the job like that insurance, and when they hear that Medicare for all means that if you've got insurance at FedEx, or if you got insurance in your small business, or wherever, that that's being taken away, and you're being put into Medicare, they don't like that idea. So I don't favor Medicare-for-All.

What I tried to do was to push more of the decisions about insurance policies back to the states, where they had been before so there could be a greater mix of policies offered, and people could be able to afford health insurance. I think the one thing that won't change is that of pre-existing conditions whereby we're past the point of having a country in which pre existing conditions aren't covered by insurance. So everybody who wants it should be able to buy a policy that covers pre existing conditions.

In your farewell address, you were also pretty eloquent about the virtues of the two party system. Is there a case to be made for a strong third party in this country?
I don't think so. Because I think the whole point of government is to deal with big problems, whether it's fixing schools or roads or health care or civil rights or racial justice, and come up with an agreement or a conclusion that most of us can live with. And if we get too splintered — we have three or four or five parties — it makes it harder to come up with a consensus. So I think we have it about right. In the United States Senate, you have two parties. And then you have a requirement that you've got to work with the other party to get to pass a major bill. And so if we ever succeed, then we've got an agreement that most of us can vote for and that most of the country can live with. And that agreement usually lasts for a long time. And I think a three-party system would jeopardize that.

I’ll boil things down to two last questions. And one of them is: What was or has been the main mistake of your political life, the one thing you wish you hadn't done? Or could correct?
The main mistake …[pauses]

You may have made one or two; most of us have.
I should have walked across the state in 1974 instead of 1978. That's one. That's one big mistake. I would have learned a lot more about the state and I would have been a lot better candidate and might have been elected that first time, and I would have been a lot better governor.

That’s an interesting answer. Now, what would you say is the main achievement of your political life?
Well, in general, I think I should let others figure that out. I mean, I've tried to leave footprints that are good for the state and good for the country. Now that I've had a chance to look back 40 or 45 years, the bringing the auto industry to Tennessee in the early 1980s probably has done the most to raise family incomes and improve our standard of living. In Tennessee in the early '80s, we had no auto jobs. And suddenly, over a period of time, we became in some ways the number-one auto state, with with the Saturn, Nissan, and Volkswagen plants, and nearly 1000 suppliers in virtually every county. And that came at a time when Tennessee was the third-poorest state,when many of our textile jobs were leaving. And these new jobs that arrived were better jobs, higher paying jobs, and better jobs for the future.

So helping to bring the auto industry in, which in turn, caused the three big road programs that I proposed, so we'd have the best four-lane highway system in the country, with zero debt. We paid for all that with taxes in order to bring the suppliers, so suppliers can make just-in-time delivery. Even the better Schools Program was a part of that, because I realized after a while that if we want to get better jobs, we needed better schools. But the short answer would probably be bringing in the auto industry.

Well, it looks like I've got maybe room for one more question: Did you have to take positions as a member of the Republican leadership that ran at all counter to your personal preferences?
Oh, I'm sure. I'm sure there were positions that I took for the entire Republican caucus that wouldn't have been the first thing out of my mouth if I'd only been speaking for myself. You know, I was selected chairman of the conference three times. And after a while, while I enjoyed it, and I thought I was good at it. I got tired of i, because it was all politics. It was political messaging. And I thought there's a better reason to be in the United States Senate than that.

It's hard to get here. Hard to stay here. And while you're here, you might as well try to accomplish something good for the country, and I was becoming chairman of a couple of important committees. So I left that political messaging job to work on the issues I care the most about, And the last nine years have been very satisfying. For me. I feel like I've gotten up almost every morning thinking I could do something good for the country, and gone to bed most nights thinking that I had.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Dispute Over Election Machines Remains Unsettled

Posted By on Wed, Nov 25, 2020 at 9:36 PM

The tug-of-war between Shelby County Election Administrator Linda Phillips and the adherents of paper-ballot voting over the purchase of new election machines continues apace.

The most recent development, detailed in a November 18th Flyer article, involved the administrator’s purchase of three new ballot-marking devices for the ongoing runoff elections in Collierville.

The machines are manufactured by the ES&S Company and are of a type previously preferred by a 4-1 vote of the Shelby County Election Commission but rejected for funding by the Shelby County Commision, which, in the interests of transparency, had established its own preference for handmarked paper-ballot devices in several prior votes.

The funding source for the three machines had been — publicly, at least — something of a mystery. According to SCEC sources, the machines were paid for by the office of the Secretary of State in Nashville

The purchase of the machines had been revealed last week in a formal SCEC press release, which contended that there had been no alternative to acquiring them, inasmuch as the old machines used by Collierville in the city's first round of elections earlier this month were tied up, pending certification this week of the November 3rd results.

Election Commissioner Bennie Smith - JB
  • JB
  • Election Commissioner Bennie Smith
Early voting for Collierville’s mandatory runoff period had meanwhile been scheduled to begin on Wednesday of last week.

Controversies remain: One of the reasons for the  county commission’s rejection of the SCEC’s preference for the ES&S machines (which had been selected over two other bidders) had to do with the commission’s aforementioned preference for devices enabling the use of paper ballots.
But another reason had been the county commission’s objection to additional costs for accessories added by the administrator’s office to the bids received from ES&S and two rival bidders.

At its meeting of October 23rd, the SCEC board voted to re-submit its request for county commission funding of the ES&S machines, minus the objected-to accessories. That expenditure would be something like $3.9 million, as against the sum of $5,815,405 requested beforehand.

But, said Brent Taylor and Frank Uhlhorn, two members of the three-member SCEC Republican majority, this “skinny” version of the prior request would not include money for accessories needed to facilitate the option of paper-ballot voting for those who wanted it. As part of its selection process, the SCEC board had previously voted to provide the option, and its deletion now further imperils the prospects of county commission approval.

In the meantime, Election Commission Democratic member Bennie Smith has cried foul about the commission’s promised provision for paper-ballot voting during the Collierville runoffs.

Smith and members of his family are residents of Collierville and recently went to vote in one of the three available voting locations, trusting, said Smith, to this statement in the SCEC press release: "There will be a ballot-on-demand printer capable of printing ballots on-demand for those who want to use hand marked paper ballots. If a voter would prefer to vote on paper, that ballot will be printed on the spot."

Instead of being offered that option, though, Smith said he and his family members were not informed of its availability and were able to vote by paper ballot only upon having to insist on it.

Complaining about this to Phillips, Smith received an email containing the following statement: “We aren’t offering the paper ballot option because at this moment it isn’t an option going forward. This was discussed in the October 23rd SCEC meeting; when the decision was made to go forward with the skinny resolution, it also eliminated the paper ballot option since the accessories included the BOD printers necessary to offer that option in Early Voting.”

The circumstances behind this standoff are either complicated or simple, depending one one’s perspective, but the bottom line is that the twain are nowhere close to meeting just yet.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Hagerty, Bradshaw Round Out Shelby Campaigns

Posted By on Tue, Nov 3, 2020 at 8:35 AM

As Election 2020 was coming finally to an end, the candidates for U.S. Senate, among others, were making their final pitches in Shelby County. Republican Bill Hagerty (right) turned up last week at the Eads home of Brent Taylor to address local Republicans.

Meanwhile (bottom pic), Democrat Marquita Bradshaw had a Monday night rally at her Lamar Avenue headquarters. Inside, Brandon Dahlberg (seated), Bradshaw's deputy director of field operations, was conducting a training session for campaign volunteers.

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Monday, October 26, 2020

The Joke That Did Not Kill and Would Not Die

Posted By on Mon, Oct 26, 2020 at 1:54 PM

GOP Chair Chris Tutor
  • GOP Chair Chris Tutor
Make of it what you will, but President Trump’s apparently jesting suggestion of some weeks ago that Republicans should attempt to vote twice has seemingly left a lasting residue among GOP cadres.

At the Shelby County party’s annual Lincoln Day banquet, held Friday night at the Grove facility in Germantown, Cary Vaughn, the local party’s second vice chair, roused attendees early on by asking from the dais, “How many of you in the audience have already voted?” Upon a show of hands, he asked, “Can you go vote again, one more time?”

Party executive director Kristina Garner, who was standing alongside
Vaughn, stage-whispered to him, “We’re not Democrats!” To which Vaughn responded, “My apology, my apology.”

Evidently Shelby GOP chair Chris Tutor felt that the routine deserved a reprise. Later on, after a speech by 8th District Congressman David Kustoff and just prior to his introduction of Senatorial candidate Bill Hagerty, the event’s final speaker, Tutor looked back at Kustoff and said, “Thank you, Congressman. You got me fired up. You got me real fired up. I wish I could go back to the ballot box and vote again. [Pause for faint audience chuckle] I hear I’d get in trouble.”

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Thursday, October 22, 2020

AG Barr, in Memphis, Touts Operation LeGend, Is Protested

Posted By on Thu, Oct 22, 2020 at 2:10 PM

Attorney General Barr
  • Attorney General Barr
On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who normally makes news pushing legal agendas backed by President Donald Trump, came to Memphis and, in the presence of local law-enforcement officials, touted Operation LeGend, a joint federal-local operation in which Memphis is one of several high-crime cities targeted by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

Speaking at the Memphis Police Department's Ridgeway Station, Barr began with a tribute to the law-enforcement profession in general.

“Today, it's probably ten times harder than it's ever been.” he said. “Part of that climate is characterized by media coverage that often distorts the world and somehow has taken some very unfortunate incidents and and used them to create a false narrative in which you were the bad guys.”

Barr said that, despite a general impression that law enforcement was “on a treadmill,” discernible progress had been made.

“I was Attorney General 30 years ago when crime was at its peak. Victimization rates in 1991 and 1992 were 70 per 1,000 persons. Today it’s more like 30.”

Protesters at the event
  • Protesters at the event

"Thousands and thousands of lives” had been saved by carefully applied law enforcement, Barr said.

“A lot of that progress was getting back to basics and going after violent offenders who were responsible for a disproportionate number of crimes," he said. “We can acknowledge that we're not the only solution, but I think people have to recognize there can't be the solution without us.”

The Attorney General then gave a rundown on the effects of Operation LeGend, in which the Justice Department decided to intervene with agents and other forms of support.

“That's why we came to Memphis, we put in 96 additional federal agents, $9.5 million, approximately, to support 50 additional police positions, additional monies for technology upgrades and brought in additional forensic specialists and investigators to work on crimes.”


He boasted good results.

“In just several months, in just a couple of months, we've had over 5500 arrests nationwide. And 1100 of those were charged federally. Here in Memphis, we've had 64 suspects charged. I know, in Memphis, some of the crime has proven to be particularly stubborn. The homicide rate is still very high.”

But he said, there had been significant abatement in other areas like robbery and rape.

“And leads developed for over 1500 gun crimes.”

Barr concluded his brief remarks by saying, “We look forward to continued joint operations.”

Not looking forward to that prospect at all was Hunter Demster, one of several local activists protesting the occasion, who said of their demonstration, “Decarcerate Memphis is hosting this event in response to William Barr coming in town and pushing the harmful Trump policies and using Memphis as a testing ground for these federal agencies.”

Demster said his group had “major concerns” about Operation Relentless Pursuit and LeGend.

“We have major concerns around these task forces in general and with their accountability and purpose — Memphis being as poor as it is and people being food-insecure, job-insecure, health-insecure. Memphis needs help and it's not more police. So we want them to redistribute the money they're using for these federal operations into social services that actually prevent crime and address people's basic needs.”

Demster was critical also of Mayor Jim Strickland for cooperating with Operation LeGend and, he said, with the objectives of the Trump administration.

“It fits right in line with Mayor Strickland's policies the entire time, he's invited [former Attorney General] Jeff Sessions with open arms. He's invited William Barr with open arms, he's invited [U.S. Senator] Marsha Blackburn with open arms. … I think it's a ploy to to make it look like the Trump administration is doing something significant, when in actuality they're doing more harm.”

The remarks by Demster, who was later taken into custody by police, paralleled those made in a recent article in MLK50 by University of Memphis professor Tony Velasco, who also saw a synchronicity of sorts in the policies of the Memphis Mayor and the President.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Dumping on DeBerry

Posted By on Wed, Oct 14, 2020 at 10:01 PM

The yard sign.
  • The yard sign.
Are we to believe that state Representative John DeBerry, who is having to run for re-election as an independent in House District 90 because he was removed from the Democratic party ballot, is now campaigning with large yard signs boasting his picture alongside that of Donald Trump?

Or that DeBerry legitimately belongs to something called “The Republican Club,” the heading of a handout flyer that includes his picture, along with those of bona fide GOP candidates, under this description: “Eliminate Public School Funding; Remove Woman’s Choices; No Masks Needed; Pro-Life; remove Voice of Protestors; Limit Healthcare; No Unions; Easy Access fo Guns; Voter Restrictions”?

Clearly, neither DeBerry nor the actual Republican candidates pictured along with him would publicly identify with the premises of such a handout. As for the yard sign, it is highly unlikely that voters in the ultra-Democratic District 90 would respond favorably to a candidate’s so blatantly coupling himself with Republican Trump.
The handout flyer.
  • The handout flyer.

Both these exhibits, in other words, are clearly attempts to mislead voters, or to suggest a common purpose linking DeBerry to official Republican Party purposes. (By contrast, the other side of the handout flyer, whose authorship is not claimed by any organization, pictures Democratic officials under the heading, “Vote Democrat Up and Down the Ballot.”)

To be sure, DeBerry was expunged from the Democratic ballot earlier this year by the state Democratic Committee because of his alleged affinity with Republican views on abortion and school vouchers. It is also true that DeBerry has incurred favorable mention at Republican rallies and has at least once addressed a Republican club during this campaign year. (In doing so, however, he did not identify with the GOP but merely made a pitch for his own candidacy. As he says, “I don’t have a party label. I have to make speeches where I’m invited to.”)

The reality is that negative advertising of one sort or another is unusually prevalent in this campaign year, and it is not the province of a single political party. DeBerry is opposed on the November 3rd ballot by Democratic nominee Torrey Harris.

flip side of the handout
  • flip side of the handout

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Political Trick-or-Treating

Posted By on Wed, Oct 14, 2020 at 2:22 PM

We know it's the fashion in this age of Photoshop to doctor photographs, but this is ridiculous. Behold what happens to a harmless, even wholesome, snapshot (below, top) of Jerri Green, Democratic candidate for state House District 83, shown with Democratic state Rep. Dwayne Thompson of District 96 at last year's Germantown Christmas Parade,

Those cut-ups at the House Republican Caucus got ahold of the picture and transformed it, for advertising purposes, into a shot (below) of Green as a Satanic eminence of some kind, posing gleefully in a scene of fiery destruction. The most remarkable question raised by the doctored photo is this: Who is the dude in the hat who shows up as a shadow across Green's face? And how would the purported flames behind her create a shadow in front of her?

As for the allegations in the ad's text, Green doesn't remember calling anybody in legitimate law enforcement a "stormtrooper" but stands by her horror at the border camps where infants were separated from their would-be immigrant parents.

Green's opponent in the November 3rd election is GOP state Rep. Mark White.

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Thursday, October 8, 2020

Bid-Rigging for County Election Machinery?

Posted By on Thu, Oct 8, 2020 at 3:52 PM

Appearing to confirm earlier reports from Shelby County Election Commissioner Bennie Smith that manufacturers’ bids to supply new voting machinery for the county were adjusted locally to favor the ES&S Company, officials of Hart Intercivic, one of the bidders, charged that unnecessary costs were added to their company’s bid after it was received by the office of County Election Administrator Linda Phillips.

The charge of post-submission bid-rigging was made in a letter to Shelby County officials dated Monday, October 5th, and signed by Hart president/CEO Julie Mathis and her regional sales director Bob Heisner. Hart was, along with ES&S and Dominion Voting Systems, one of the three bidders for the Shelby County contract.

A bid from ES&S to supply new election scanning machinery at a cost of $5,815,405 was approved by the Election Commission last month and submitted on Monday, September 28th, to the county commission, which would be responsible for approving the purchases.

Amid serious skepticism among county commissioners, who have several times expressed a preference for hand-marked voting devices rather than the ballot-marking devices marketed by ES&S, the matter was deferred until the next regular meeting of the county commission on this coming Monday, October 12th.

Indications are that the ES&S bid might be rejected and that the county commission could instead adopt a stopgap measure to rent additional scanning machines so as to handle an anticipated increase in mail-in ballots for the November election.

The letter from Hart complained of “major discrepancies in the vendor pricing comparisons that were presented to the Election Commission” and listed $2.7 million of unsubmitted and unnecessary costs that were added on to its bid to inflate the apparent expense of its equipment. The letter contends also that Hart’s estimates for hand-marked paper-ballot devices per se were not even scored.

(Bidders had been asked to supply cost estimates for both ballot-marking devices and hand-marked paper-ballot devices.)

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Saturday, October 3, 2020

Bogus-Ballot Entrepreneurs Get (Suspended) Jail Time

Posted By on Sat, Oct 3, 2020 at 9:47 AM

If either M. Latroy Wiilliams or Greg Grant had been harboring any plans to put out a version of their candidate tout sheets (a.k.a. “bogus ballots”) in time for the November election, they were advised Friday that it could cost their their freedom, in the form of 10 days in jail.

Judge Acree
  • Judge Acree

That was the sentence meted out by special judge Bill Acree in the contempt case brought against the two habitual purveyors of such pay-for-play ballots by attorneys Jake Brown and Bruce Kramer, who represented variants of the Democratic Party.

Both Grant and Williams had been enjoined by Judge Acree to cease and desist from publishing and distributing tout sheets in prior elections that all too closely resembled recommendations made by the Democratic Party or its official offshoots.

One of the ballots not only seemed to falsify a party origin, it actually bore a headline streamer that misrepresented a previous judicial finding and even misspelled the name of the candidate (Williams) it was meant to boost: “JUDGE ORDERED M. LATORY [sic] ALEXANDRIA-WILLIAMS ON BALLOT AS DEMOCRAT NO ‘JIM CROW’”.

Brown and Kramer renewed a legal action against Grant and Williams after both offenders had openly flouted Acree’s previous injunction against their attempting to invoke the Democratic Party’s credibility in previous pay-for-play ballots — on which the “recommended” candidates had paid for the privilege of having their names included.

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Monday, September 28, 2020

County Commission to Look At Voting-Machine Costs

Posted By on Mon, Sep 28, 2020 at 1:14 PM


UPDATED. Anybody who has followed county government processes knows how easy it is to get lost in the weeds of complex numeral series. Such was the case with the Shelby County Commission’s budget negotiations earlier this year, and such is the case with a key matter before the commission today, Monday, September 28th.

The commission is scheduled to take up the matter of new voting devices for Shelby County. This is an in issue that has been simmering for well over a year, and, amid a bidding process that engendered no meager amount of controversy, county election administrator Linda Phillips ultimately has recommended, and the Shelby County Election Commission has confirmed, the selection of new ballot-marking machinery from the ES&S Company, which dominates the election-machinery field.

The actual scheduled vote on Monday was for $5,815,405.00 for equipment including scanning equipment for prospective immediate use in regard absentee votes, with $2,410,000.00 of that offset from expected reimbursement funds from the State of Tennessee.(After some debate, the Commission voted 7-6 to defer the item until its next regular meeting).

A variety of other numbers figure into the respective bids, as well, and the expertise of the County Commission, the ultimate paymaster, in working with conflicting columns of numbers could be called on again at the Monday meeting. There are ample weeds to be dealt with.

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