Thursday, October 19, 2017

Fincher Ready to Take on "Career Politician" Blackburn in GOP Senate Primary

Hits ex-House colleague for inability to "see what's going on around us."

Posted By on Thu, Oct 19, 2017 at 11:54 AM

Former Rep. and likely Senate candidate Stephen Fincher - JB
  • JB
  • Former Rep. and likely Senate candidate Stephen Fincher

LIke the Governor’s race, the race for U.S. Senator in Tennessee is shaping up to be a real donneybrook in 2018, at least on the Republican side.

Stephen Fincher, the former 8th District congressman from Crockett County, was in Memphis this week as part of his statewide “listening tour,” and, during a stop by the Flyer office, he left little doubt that he’d long since heard enough to get him into the GOP primary for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican incumbent Bob Corker.

First elected to Congress in 2010, with a convincing win over Democrat Roy Herron, Fisher surprised most people with an abrupt announcement in 2016 that he wouldn’t be running for reelection that year. His 8th District seat was eventually captured by Memphis Republican David Kustoff, and it may have appeared that Fincher, a farmer and gospel singer from ultra-rural Frog Jump, was done for good with elective politics.

In fact, as he explained during his sit-down on Tuesday, he had left office because the brother who was then operating the family’s substantial farming enterprise had suffered a broken back, and, Fincher says, “I had to make the decision to stay in Congress or help on the farm. I couldn’t do both.”

The brother has made a full “100 percent” recovery, according to Fincher, and that fact frees him to return to Washington. “I love farming and the outdoors, and we’ve got a duck season coming up,” says Fincher, “but we also understood how important it is that Tennesseans have a good, solid conservative to represent them.”

His major GOP primary opponent, already declared for the Senate, is his onetime Congressional colleague Marsha Blackburn, who represents the adjacent 7th District in middle and West Tennessee and flies political colors at least as conservative, if not more so, than his own. What then would be the difference?

Fincher’s answer is multi-fold. He cites the four bills he managed to pass during his six years in Congress, and says, “Marsha and I are both very conservative, but our governing is very different.” And there are issue differences, one very glaring these days, in the wake of last weekend’s 60 Minutes citing of Blackburn as a major factor in the passage of a drug measure that, as the CBS program pointed out, contained loopholes providing scope for unscrupulous drug merchandisers to inflate the nation’s growing opioid-addiction problem.

Fincher says the opioid issue has loomed large on his listening tour, which started last week in Mountain City, on the state’s border with North Carolina, and has progressed through numerous towns, cities, and rural areas on his way westward into Memphis.

“Every mayor every sheriff has mentioned it. It’s the number one problem by a factor of 99.9 percent everywhere we’ve been,” Fincher says. “What we saw in the 60 Minutes piece is really troubling. People’s lives are being broken. How can anybody in our state not see what’s going on around us?”

In case that isn’t clear enough, Fincher reformulates: “How can you be a representative and not be able to recognize it?”

In her defense, Rep. Blackburn has pointed out that the ill-fated drug bill passed Congress by a unanimous-consent vote, and she maintains that Fincher, too, would have gone on the record for it had he been in Washington last year when it was passed.

Not so, says Fincher, whose absence from Congress at the time had been dictated by the same medical emergency involving his brother that would cause him not to run for reelection in 2016. “I would have voted against the bill,” he insists, emphatically.

He goes on: “People want somebody to represent us and not fall into the trap of status quo politics, caring only about the next rung up on the ladder. Marsha’s a career politician, a career candidate, used to being on Fox News every night. I’m just a farmer from Frog Jump, but I’m confident we will have the tools to win.”

Fincher says that he intends to be a “jobs guy” if successful in the Senate race. “My M.O. is to fix people’s problems. I want to make sure that West Tennessee and Memphis are growing. I want to make sure that we have jobs in Johnson City and Chattanooga and Jackson”

And, vows Fincher, “I intend to support President Trump. I think his policies are 100 percent spot-on.”

He was asked about the likelihood that he could end up running against potential general election opponent Phil Bredesen, a former Governor and conservative-leaning Democrat. Fincher shrugged: “The Democrats in Congress are an obstructionist party, and Bredesen, as a Democrat wou ld be llined up with them. He’d be going up there to work with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.”

On foreign-policy issues, Fincher sees his views as consistent with those of both Trump and outgoing Senator Corker in favoring military strength and in a disinclination to kowtow to foreign adversaries.

“People in Tennessee just want good solid honest people to go up there, and we have a history of sending good people to the Senate.” Though he hasn’t formally committed to a race yet, Fincher allows as how he’s “close” and leaves little doubt that he; wants to be in that number as well.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

On Politicians and Gannett's "Seat at the Table"

Pre-arranged "exclusive" announcements by Harris and Blackburn indicate a possible competitive advantage of chain journalism in a transformational time.

Posted By on Thu, Oct 5, 2017 at 2:33 PM

  • G. Crescoli, Unsplash
Clearly, it’s time to stop shedding tears for the poor, shrinking Tennessee newspapers on the Gannett chain. However reduced in scope and personnel, they are demonstrating an ability — and a willingness — to bargain successfully for first dibs on selected news items of arguable and actual consequence.

A case in point was the Commercial Appeal’s two-hour head start on state Senator Lee Harris’ Thursday announcement of candidacy for Shelby County Mayor. The CA’s scoop was the result of recent behind-the-scenes negotiations by Harris with various media, in which the then prospective candidate, in effect, initiated an R. F.P. (request-for-proposal) process in a quest for maximum exposure and, after direct consultation with C.A. management, awarded The Commercial Appeal with the initial news break on his announcement on Wednesday, issuing a press release to the rest of the media some hours later.

Underscoring the advantage thereby gained by the Memphis daily was this intimate-sounding line from the CA story, apropos a quote from Harris: “‘I’m not a politician that blows a lot of smoke,’ he said, sitting at his kitchen table.” A Seat at the Table, mind you, sans necessity for the venerable Smoke-Filled Room.

Scarcely a day later, another Gannett paper, the Tennessean of Nashville, was able to trumpet an “exclusive” announcement of the long-rumored candidacy of 7th District congressman Marsha Blackburn for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Bob Corker, who recently announced he would not seek reelection.

Tennessee’s Gannett papers have severe deadline restrictions — even the Tennessean, which until recently maintained an advantage from being in Nashville, not only the state Capitol but the site of a Gannett design and editing clearing house. But those publishing facilities will henceforth be operated from elsewhere, and the Tennessean, too, will face an early-evening deadline that, in effect, transforms the timeliness of Gannett newspapers into that of the old afternoon dailies, a day late.

That fact and the continuing reduction of their reporting staffs to skeleton-crew status are serious handicaps, but what the recent rash of technical “exclusives” indicates is that being part of a network does indeed convey certain opportunities unavailable to individually run competitors.

And, it must be admitted, the shrunken Gannett news staffs do contain some quality reporters still.

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Haslam Out of Senate Race, Blackburn In

Governor, after pondering, says race would be a "distraction" from gubernatorial service; Congresswoman, meanwhile, says, "Bring it on."

Posted By on Thu, Oct 5, 2017 at 1:49 PM

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn
  • U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn

Thursday became a day of newsbreaks vis-a-vis the 2018 U.S. Senate race in Tennessee. First, Governor Bill Haslam announced that, after pondering the idea of a race for the Senate seat being vacated by Bob Corker, he had decided otherwise.

Said the Governor:
“While Crissy and I will always be grateful for all of the encouragement and support to run for the United States Senate, I am announcing today that I will not be a candidate for Senate in 2018. The primary reason is that I want to remain completely focused on my job as governor. I know that being a candidate for the Senate during my last 15 months as governor would be a distraction from the task at hand. And, while I have loved being a mayor and a governor, I don’t feel the same call to run for Senate at this point. At the end of my term, I will have been in public office for 15 years. I feel like I can be most helpful in my next service as a private citizen.”

Within an hour, there came news of a Senate candidacy from 7th District Congressman Marsha Blackburn, strongly rumored to be considering such a race ever since Corker’s recent announcement that he wouldn’t seek reelection.

In a video announcement, clearly prepared well in advance, Blackburn said, inter alia, "I know the left calls me a wingnut or a knuckle-dragging conservative. And you know what, I say that’s alright, bring it on….Courage comes in both genders and I'm running for the U.S. Senate because I'll fight every day to make our Republican majority act like one."

The Congressman (and, yes, she prefers that title to Congresswoman), made a point of singing the praises of President Trump, of calling for progress on the President’s wall project for the Mexican border, and of scourging Senate Republicans for failing to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Meanwhile, two Democrats of note — Mayor Andy Berke of Chattanooga and state Senator Jeff Yarbro of Nashville — are said to be contemplating entry into the Senate race, Nashville lawyer and Iraq war veteran James Mackler of Nashville is a Democrat already running.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Harris Ends Period of Lengthy Deliberation, Will Run for County Mayor

University of Memphis law professor will leave perch in state Senate, make try for third successive public office; had pondered, along with University law colleague Steve Mulroy, question of which of them would run.

Posted By on Wed, Oct 4, 2017 at 4:40 PM

Lee Harris - JB
  • JB
  • Lee Harris

The coin flip is a done deal, as of Wednesday afternoon. It’s heads-up for State Senator Lee Harris, who had been functioning for several weeks as part of a mutually supportive duo (Alphonse-Gaston act, is another way to put it) with fellow University of Memphis law professor Steve Mulroy as to which of them would seek the Democratic nomination for Shelby County Mayor.

Harris announced his candidacy via email Wednesday, more or less in the same time frame as his participation at the UM Law School in a forum on what to do about the controversial Confederate-statue issue. (Harris has been aggressive in his calls for removal of the downtown monuments to General Nathan Bedford Forrest and Confederate president Jefferson Davis.)

As recently as Saturday night, in a late-night chat after attending a showing at Theater Memphis of the play “12 Angry Jurors,” featuring his close friend Mulroy, Harris professed to be undecided about running but was clearly leaning that way.

He has run for several offices in rapid succesion, the City Council in 2011 and the state Senate (where he served as Leader of the 5-member Democreatic contingent) in 2014, while seriously considering a Congressional race against 9th District U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen in 2016 before dropping the idea.

He made a point, during the aforementioned weekend conversation, of distinguishing himself from politicians who seek particular offices for particular purposes. “I’ll serve wherever I can,” he said.

Right now, he hopes that will be the Vasco Smith County Administration Building, starting in the late fall of 2018.

Harris’ announcement statement is as follows:

For Immediate Release


Memphis, TN – Today, Lee Harris announced his campaign for county mayor: “I am running because I believe we can make our community a place where our kids want to stay, and a place where the best and brightest want to move. On the campaign trail, I plan to force a real conversation about creating more meaningful opportunities for our students and reducing poverty. It’ll be one of the first times that this has happened in this community.” Harris continued, “Despite the division in Washington, I really believe it’s time for all parts of our community to come together, time for the next generation of leaders to take the reins, and time for our community to start growing.”

About State Senator Lee Harris

In 2014, Lee Harris was elected to the State Senate, becoming the youngest senator in the state of Tennessee. Democratic senators selected him as Senate Minority Leader, making him the first African American Leader in the state of Tennessee. Prior to the 2014 election, Harris served on the Memphis City Council. Senator Harris is also a tenured full professor of law at the University of Memphis Law School. He earned his undergraduate degree from Morehouse and his law degree from Yale. Senator Harris is a proud product of our public schools. Senator Harris is married to Prof. Alena Allen. They have two children, Lee Allen Harris (12) and Claudia Harris (9), both of whom are public school students.

The press release concluded with the unusual flourish of a list of five supporters, who might be contacted about Harris, more or less in the manner of a job application.

Three well-known Republican figures -- County Trustee David Lenoir, Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland, and Juvenile Court Clerk Joy Touliator are vying for the GOP mayoral nomination.

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Friday, September 29, 2017

Gubernatorial Candidate Diane Black Meets, Greets Republicans in Memphis

6th District Congresswoman, regarded by some as possible frontrunner in Governor's race, is breakfast speaker at Owen Brennan’s Restaurant, stresses theme of localism.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 29, 2017 at 3:44 PM

Rep. Black waits for chance to speak to GOP breakfasters as John Ryder introduces her. - JB
  • JB
  • Rep. Black waits for chance to speak to GOP breakfasters as John Ryder introduces her.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Diane Black, the U.S. Representative from Tennessee’s 6th congressional district (suburban Nashville and parts east of the state capital), was in Memphis this morning, speaking to a crowd of some 50 to 75 people, including numerous mainstream Republicans, at a meet-and-greet breakfast at Owen Brennan's Restaurant

On the basis of her current political position, personal wealth, and the kind of support that ensures you can raise significant money, many observers believe she’s the front-runner in the GOP primary field, though, in an interview before she addressed the breakfast group, Black professed an appropriate humility on the point, saying, “I don’t ever want to think of myself that way.”.

She was introduced by John Ryder, the longtime GOP national committeeman and former general counsel for the Republican National Committee, who said that Black was ““one of the smartest, toughest, solid conservative office-holders I have ever known, and I’m proud to support her for Governor.”

Black spoke at some length, beginning with a self-introduction containing details of a modest upbringing in Maryland, in a “good Christian home” with hard-working parents who had to make do with grade-school educations but who have survived, at age 92 each, to see their daughter on the cusp of her latest political milestone.

The congresswoman earned a nursing degree and came to the Nashville area 32 years ago with her husband, a toxicologist. As she noted, she has served, sequentially, six years in the Tennessee House, six years in the state Senate, and seven years in the Congress.

Black stressed the importance of “values” and suggested that two of her opponents, unnamed, had “picked up on” her emphasis on the theme. Although she maintained that Tennessee was “in good shape” overall, she thought it could still do better (noting that the state possessed 10 of the country’s most poverty-stricken counties) and should aspire to a place “in the Top Ten of states where people want to come.”

Apropos the state’s need to attract sources of economic development, Black said she made it a point when traveling in-state to catch broadcasts of the local news, and when she spoke of watching an hour’s worth of Memphis news on TV, her audience groaned sympathetically with her pained expression —the implication being that what she’d seen had been heavily salted with crime news, although she went on to mention an “uplifting” item about St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “Those are the kinds of things I want to hear,” she said.

On health care in general , she said she thought Tennessee should think “out of the box” and proclaimed her view that the state’s Medicaid system, TennCare, had “decimated the public health system” by undermining local health departments.

Black made much of her belief in localism and stated that as the focus of her current statewide tour.. “I want to make sure I hear what needs to be done. I think local is the best that you can get. I’m not going to come in and tell locals what to do — as long as it’s legal and moral.

Asked by Germantown School Board member Amy Eoff about what Eoff saw as an ongoing “politicization of education” by both federal and state governments, Black seemed to concur. “I want schools to be local, to do what they need to do within their community,” she said. Vouchers might work in one place but not another. Ditto with charter schools. “ I don’t like to pigeonhole any particular area. Is that the thing that works for that particular area? What I don’t want to do is shove it down anybody’s throat and say that’s what you’ve got to do.”

Empathy with local concerns was something of a leitmotif in Black’s remarks. She embraced attendees’ expressed disappointment about delays in completing Interstate 69 and developing the West Tennessee megasite, as well as a sense that the state is defaulting on its funding obligations under the Basic Education Plan (BEP).

Black said she would be unable to attend a gubernatorial forum scheduled for Saturday evening at the Germantown home of John Williams under the auspices of the Shelby County Republican Women.

David Lenoir Makes It Official: He's a Candidate for County Mayor

County Trustee makes long-awaited entry in race, boasting his record and a tax-cutting agenda, and meanwhile signaling an intent to ignore any provocations from an opponent — specifically those of Terry Roland.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 29, 2017 at 8:56 AM

Trustee Lanier, announcing for Shelby County Mayor on Thursday - JB
  • JB
  • Trustee Lanier, announcing for Shelby County Mayor on Thursday

County Trustee David Lenoir, wearing a dark business suit, cap-toed shoes, and a composed, no-nonsense mien to match, strode to the lectern set up in the lobby of Crye-Leike Realtors on Poplar, acknowledged the generous introduction of him by host Dick Leike, nodded appreciatively to a heartily applauding gathering of supporters, many of them prominent members of the business community or the local Republican rank and file, and proceeded to present the case for his election as Shelby County Mayor.

He began by characterizing himself as “the county’s banker” and as a “bottom-line kind of guy.” He spoke of boyhood experiences cutting grass and helping his parents with a start-up business, of going to the University of Alabama on a football scholarship and getting an accounting degree, and later operating three small businesses of his own, while his wife Shannon, who had been his sweetheart both in high school and at ‘Bama, would end up as a small-business owner herself.

A little bit of Horatio Alger that, updated to the 21st Century standards of the nuclear family (the Lenoirs have sons, “our two young men).

Lenoir said three objectives — or “issues,” as he referred to them — should predominate in the mayoral campaign: “great schools, great jobs, and a mayor who understands how to run an efficient operation and can reduce the tax burden.”

If the last part of that triad was meant to indicate either of his two GOP primary opponents — Millington County Commissioner Terry Roland or Juvenile Court Clerk Joy Touliatos — it did so very obliquely.

In fact, Lenoir seems to be proceeding on the assumption that his record of low-keyed professional competence in his two terms as Trustee (involving a progressive shrinkage of the county debt from $1,800 per capita to $1,000) and his status as a mainstream, vaguely middle-of-the-road Republican should speak for themselves. And, in particular, he apparently intends to ignore the ad hominem provocations of opponent Roland.

Two facts in evidence of that: 1) It was clear to all observers during the County Commission’s climactic budget sessions in early summer that Roland meant to indict Lenoir’s performance with his highly public proposal to re-designate for other purposes money earmarked for lawyer Lang Wiseman, an employee of the Trustee’s office. “He don’t show up for work!” Roland claimed via his characteristic vernacular. (He also challenged the line items of Juvenile Court clerk Touliatos.)

For his part, Lenoir ignored the obvious political context and professed an ignorance of Roland’s charges when he turned up at a later commission budget session and simply made a detailed, mathematically based explanation of his employees’ salaries and workloads, including Wiseman’s. He kept all his budgeted money.

More recently: 2) Roland suggested at a recent fundraiser that Lenoir was the candidate of the county’s political/financial establishment and made it all sound like the machinations of a cabal. Alluding to the banker character in “The Beverly Hillbillies” TV sitcom, the Commissioner affected a shucksy mode and said, “I didn’t know I was going to be running against Mr. Drysdale, but I guess I am.”

Asked about that after his announcement on Thursday, Lenoir maintained a poker face and said, “I don’t know his comment. I’m proud of my background… I worked in the business community for 20 years. As far as his comments, I’m not familiar with them.”

Maybe so, maybe no. But it seems clear that Lenoir in any case has no intention of responding to Roland on the commissioner’s own terms. And, in fact, the basic line of Lenoir’s campaign staff, as expressed by one of its prominent members on Thursday, is: “We see our main opponent to be Touliatos.”

Again: maybe so, maybe no — though another of Lenoir’s statements Thursday, that the next mayor should be someone “tested in various arenas and cool under pressure,” would seem to be directed elsewhere.

As did Lenoir’s skepticism, during a Q-and-A with reporters, that the tax-rate reduction achieved this year by the County Commission (a point regularly touted by Roland) did not necessarily equate to an actual reduction of the tax load.

In any case Lenoir’s long-awaited declaration of mayoral candidacy is now official, he will definitely have significant financial and GOP-network support, and his major task now, one shared with Touliatos, is that of profile-raising. Roland long ago succeeded, for better or for worse, in getting people to know who he was.

It’s up to both Lenoir and Touliatos to achieve a wider degree of public awareness ,too. There’s little doubting that David Lenoir will have the means and the opportunity to do that.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Politics and Politicians on the Move

Posted By on Thu, Sep 28, 2017 at 12:52 PM

As indicated in this week’s regular “Politics” column on the "Drysdale Effect," the pace of pre-election activity is picking up. Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir, whose candidacy for County Mayor has been a given for months, was scheduled to make it official on Thursday afternoon with an announcement in the offices of Crye-Leike on Quail Hollow Road. (Posting on that to come).

Meanwhile, other candidates and candidacies (and potential candidacies) were on the front burner.

On Wednesday evening, City Councilman Edmund Ford had a well-attended fundraiser in East Memphis for his candidacy for the District 9 County Commission seat now held by his term-limited cousin Justin Ford. Among the dignitaries present was the well-wisher pictured here, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.


A little further north on Wednesday, at Colleta’s Restaurant on Highway 64, two other hopefuls were on display at the Germantown Democratic Club — outgoing County Commissioner Melvin Burgess Jr., who is running for Assessor (pictured here after making his remarks), and state Senator Lee Harris, who is still meditating on a possible race for County Mayor. He's pictured here taking a question from Germantown Democrat Diane Cambron.



The names are dropping into the hat bigtime apropos the forthcoming race to succeed U.S. Senator Bob Corker, who announced this week that he would not be seeking reelection. More on that later.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Corker Ends the Suspense, Won't Seek Reelection

Posted By on Tue, Sep 26, 2017 at 3:38 PM

Senator Corker - JB
  • JB
  • Senator Corker

The junior of Tennessee’s two high-profile U.S. Senators, Bob Corker, resolved the long-running suspense about his 2018 intentions on Tuesday with a formal announcement that he will not be seeking reelection.

The Senator’s announcement made no reference to any alternative political plans for the future, though there has been a good deal of conjecture over the years that, whatever he chose to do about reelection, he has considered making a run for the Presidency at some point.

Corker’s only reference to the future was in a portion of the statement averring that “the most important service I have to offer our country could well occur over the next 15 months, and I want to be able to do that as thoughtfully and independently as I did the first 10 years and nine months of my Senate career.”

That, of course, seems to cover only the remaining portion of his most recent Senate term, his second, which will end at the close of 2018.

After a highly successful career as a builder and businessman in Chattanooga, Corker made his first bid for public office in an unsuccessful race for the Senate in 1994, finishing second in that year’s Republican primary to eventual winner Bill Frist.

He would then serve as spell as Commissioner of Finance for Governor Don Sundquist and would later run successfully for Mayor of Chattanooga, serving from 2001-2005. In 2006 he tried again for the Senate and, as the Republican nominee, defeated then Congressman Harold Ford of Memphis in a close race that drew considerable national attention.

As Senator he developed a reputation for expertise in both financial and foreign issues, serving on the Senate banking committee and on the Senate foreign relations committee, which he now chairs. Corker also made a point of his willingness to work across the aisle with Democrats and maintained an independent voice on specific issues.

It was this last penchant that drew the ire of right-wingers in his party and made it inevitable that any bid for reelection next year would be contested in the GOP primary.

Most recently Corker created something of a sensation in the national media when he said publicly, in the wake of President Trump’s controversially even-handed reaction to neo-Nazi and Klan activity in Charlottesville, Virginia, that the President seemed to lack the “stability and competence” required by his office.

The Senator’s withdrawal opened the way for a competitibe primary next year among Republicans. A Democrat, James Mackler of Nashville, has already begun campaigning for the seat as well.

Senator Corker’s announcement reads as follows:

“After much thought, consideration and family discussion over the past year, Elizabeth and I have decided that I will leave the United States Senate when my term expires at the end of 2018.

“When I ran for the Senate in 2006, I told people that I couldn’t imagine serving for more than two terms. Understandably, as we have gained influence, that decision has become more difficult. But I have always been drawn to the citizen legislator model, and while I realize it is not for everyone, I believe with the kind of service I provide, it is the right one for me.

“I also believe the most important public service I have to offer our country could well occur over the next 15 months, and I want to be able to do that as thoughtfully and independently as I did the first 10 years and nine months of my Senate career.

“Serving the people of Tennessee in this capacity has been the greatest privilege of my life. And as I spent the month of August traveling across our great state, I was reminded that we live in a unique place full of people who care deeply about the direction of our country.

“I am grateful to the people of Tennessee for the opportunity to serve my state and country. I have been fortunate to do so with an extraordinary staff, and I want to thank them for their incredible dedication. I know that we will continue to have an impact for the remainder of our term, and I look forward to finding other ways to make a difference in the future.

“Finally, I want to thank my wife, Elizabeth, and our family, who have made many sacrifices in allowing me to serve. Nothing I have done would have been possible without their love and support.”

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Another Big Shoe Drops with Lane's Entry in Sheriff's Race

County Homeland Security director holds kickoff rally in Millington; considered major contender for GOP nomination.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 13, 2017 at 10:24 AM

The voice on the other end of Dale Lane's cell phone is his chief endorser, County Mayor Mark Luttrell, tied up in Nashville but eager to speak, via microphone,  to Lane's kickoff crowd. - JB
  • JB
  • The voice on the other end of Dale Lane's cell phone is his chief endorser, County Mayor Mark Luttrell, tied up in Nashville but eager to speak, via microphone, to Lane's kickoff crowd.

Close on the heels of Democratic candidate Floyd Bonner’s kickoff of his campaign for Sheriff two weeks ago at the Racquet Club, another big shoe dropped last Thursday when county Homeland Security director Dale Lane, a leading Republican candidate for trhe office, had his own kickoff affair in Millington.

Lane’s was a homier affair, held at the Mid-South Auction Group & Marketplace in Millington, but, like current chief Deputy Bonner, who was endorsed by his boss, outgoing Sheriff Bill Oldham, Lane had some bigtime backing, too. His came from County Mayor Luttrell, who served two terms as Sheriff himself before his election as Mayor in 2010.

An obstacle to Lane’s announcement of the Luttrell endorsement was the fact that the Mayor had been in Nashville and was still en route back to Memphis. That logistical problem was solved via some everyday technology: Lane got Luttrell on his cell phone and had him speak to the assembled crowd by holding the phone to a microphone.
Candidate Lane also gets a boost from wife, Karen, and baby grandson Braxton Allen Lane. - JB
  • JB
  • Candidate Lane also gets a boost from wife, Karen, and baby grandson Braxton Allen Lane.

Luttrell noted the candidate’s impressive credentials, which included several important command positions, including that of chief inspector of the Department’s patrol division and supervision of the Department’s swat team and its training division.

And finally, the Mayor said, Lane had served “as our point person in Shelby County,” as director of preparedness and Homeland Security.

In his own remarks, Lane, a devout Christian, made a point of proclaiming, as he always does in his public appearances, the chief importance in his life of his faith and his family. He reminisced about having begun his law enforcement career 30 years ago as a member of the Millington police force.

Lane said one of his chief preoccupations as Sheriff would be that of youth violence, for which he proposed a multi-layered approach involving partnership with the faith-based and business communities, intervention via youth activities, and direct suppression, by means of street-level enforcement.

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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Author of Heritage Protection Act Cautions City About 'Consequences'

In Memphis, Rep. Steve McDaniel warns that violators of state law on statue removal can be "prosecuted for felonies."

Posted By on Thu, Sep 7, 2017 at 12:16 PM

State Rep. Steve McDaniel - JB
  • JB
  • State Rep. Steve McDaniel
One day after the City Council agreed unanimously to adopt an ordinance allowing relocation of local statues of Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis regardless of whether formal state ap proval can be obtained, the author of the state’s Heritage Protection Act weighed in with words of caution.

“That’s against the law. They’d be prosecuted for felonies for destroying public property. Or if somebody vandalizes the property, they’d have to suffer the consequences,” said
State Rep. Steve McDaniel (R-Parkers Crossroads) in Memphis on Wednesday.

McDaniel was in town to address a Kiwanis luncheon at the University Club and discussed the matter of preserving Civil War history both during and after his remarks to the club. He made the statement about “consequences” when, in the course of an interview after his speech he was reminded that the Heritage Protection Act prescribes no specific penalties for violators of it.

“We did that on purpose,” said Rep. McDaniel, who also functions as Deputy Speaker of the state House of Representatives. In theory, there would be no need to prescribe specific penalties, he said. “We expected governments to follow the law. That’s why we have no penalties.”

But he repeated: “ If [people] don’t follow the law, then they have to suffer the consequences….We’re one of the few states that has a process through law that if you want to move or remove monuments, there’s a process to follow.”

McDaniel was clear about his own outlook. “I disagree with moving the statue. I fully support that statue staying here in Memphis at its current location. I think his and all the statues need to stay where they are.”

A longtime Civil War buff, McDaniel has been city manager of Parkers Crossroads since the Henderson County town was first incorporated in 1981.

That role also gives him direct supervision of the town’s major industry, the large and expanding park and museum area which sprawls on both sides of Interstate 40 at mile-marker 108 and commemorates the Battle of Parkers Crossroads.

The battle, which took place on December 31, 1862, was, as McDaniel explained to the Kiwanians, one of the first encounters which earned distinction for Confederate General Forrest, whom the legislator referred to wryly as “a man you see in the news sometimes now, especially in Memphis.”

Forrest, a commander of cavalry, was in the Parkers Crossroads area as part of a mission to harass Union forces in West Tennessee and to interdict the movement of troops and supplies via railroad. As McDaniel explained, he was surprised at Parkers Crossroads and flanked on both sides by separate Union Army contingents but escaped the potential trap by a bold decision to “charge ‘em both ways.”

McDaniel takes part in periodic reenactments of the Battle of Parkers Crossroads, but as a mere private, letting someone else play the part of Forrest. “I don’t want to be in charge of things,” he says.

He described Forrest as a “natural born military tactician,” who deserved recognition for his feats, though “he gets weighed down by other things.”

Among those “other things” are the fact that Forrest was a slave trader in Memphis before the war, was accused during the war of a massacre of surrendering black Union troops at Fort Pillow, and was Grand Dragon of the newly formed Ku Klux Klan after the war.

McDaniel did not discuss those matters directly during his luncheon remarks, but in the interview afterward alluded to the last charge.

After repeating that Forrest was a “natural born military tactician" and suggesting that “people ought to focus on the positive,” McDaniel said, “This other activity that he got involved in, once he saw what was bad about it, he disbanded it….You can find something bad on anybody We wouldn’t agree with what he did after the war, but he did a lot of good things.”

McDaniel rushed one version of the Heritage Protection Act through the legislature in 2013 in an effort (too late as it turned out) to prevent the Memphis City Council from changing the names of three downtown parks with Confederate associations, including Forrest Park (now Health Sciences Park).

In 2016, he successfully sponsored a stronger version of the Act, mandating that a change in the status of monuments can only be approved by a two-thirds vote of the 29-member state Historical Association. The City of Memphis will seek a waiver from that body when the Association next meets in Nashville in October.

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Alexander for DACA, Still Wants to "Repair" Affordable Care Act

In interview with MSNBC, Tennessee's senior GOP Senator also expresses himself on colleague Corker's relationship with Trump.

Posted By on Thu, Sep 7, 2017 at 10:54 AM

MSNBC's Chuck Todd (l) with Senator Alexander
  • MSNBC's Chuck Todd (l) with Senator Alexander

NBC News political director Chuck Todd interviewed Tennessee’s senior Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health Committee, on the “Meet the Press” daily installment on MSNBC on Wednesday, and covered several subjects, including the Affordable Care Act (which Alexander concedes is the law of the land but still wants to “repair;” DACA, which Alexander supports in principle; and the peculiarities of Donald Trump.

Below, courtesy of NBC, is a synopsis of some of the exchanges between Todd and Alexander, followed by the complete transcript of the interview:


TODD: What have you learned now through all this? You made the – you guys made the six month effort to- repeal a major piece of this legislation. It expires at the end of the month. I assume— your ability to change the law with 50 votes, that you guys are going to let that expire?

ALEXANDER: Well, Senator McConnell says it's still on the table.
TODD: But on September 30th –

ALEXANDER: But it's a longshot. September 30th, it – that opportunity's gone.
TODD: Are you comfortable with that?

ALEXANDER: I don't like it. I voted innumerable times to change it. I mean, the fundamental problem was that too many decisions are made in Washington and it increased the cost of insurance. We wanted to move decisions back to the states, increase the number of choices, lower the costs. And that was the difference of opinion we've had for seven years of a political stalemate.


TODD: You just said there's no U.S. senator the president speaks with more than Bob Corker –


TODD: - then what does that statement say?

ALEXANDER: To me it's probably advice the president would be well-advised to listen to. My suggestion was the president and Corker should go play another round of golf and talk to each other.


ALEXANDER: This gives President Trump an opportunity to do for immigration what President Nixon did for China.

TODD: How do you sell this in Tennessee? How do you sell DACA in Tennessee, the idea of protecting these folks who came over here, you know, as children? How do you sell that and say, "You know what, we're going to give them amnesty essentially, a form of amnesty" - and I know everybody defines amnesty in a different way, but how do you sell this in Tennessee?

ALEXANDER: What you’ve got to say: "Their parents brought them here." And what we're got to say is, "You grew up here. This is the only country you know." We usually don't visit the sins of the parents on the children. So, they're law-abiding. If they graduate from high school, if they - if they're enrolled in college or the military, we'll give them a status here. I - that makes a lot of sense to me. I voted for that exact formula in 2013. I was reelected in 2014.


CHUCK TODD: Let me start with a simple broad question. Is Obamacare the law of the land in perpetuity?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER: It's the law of the land until it's changed. And we have to change it because we're talking about 18 million Americans in this individual market. They don't get their insurance from the government. They don't get it on the job. And their premiums are going up. And in some cases, if we don't act, they may not be able to buy insurance next year. So we have to change it.

TODD: When you say - it was always interesting to me - you, throughout this process, have tried not to use the word "repeal." You were somebody that kept trying to use the word "repair" when it came to Obamacare.


TODD: Why?

ALEXANDER: Well, first, it's not accurate, because we need 60 votes to repeal. And we didn't even get 51. So we were using a process that was limited. So, the truth, we were repealing major parts of Obamacare, that was the Republican effort, and replacing it with major parts. So, it wasn't accurate to say it's repealing the whole thing.

TODD: So that's why you always wanted to use the word "repair"?


TODD: But it also seemed to me like an outreach effort, that that was – if you said "repair," Democrats were more likely to listen to ya than if you said "repeal."

ALEXANDER: That's probably true. I mean, I was a governor. So, you know, my job as governor and the president's job, really, is to persuade at least half the people we're right. And that means some Democrats and Independents. So, I'm – I'm always working to try to get a result. In the Senate, that means 60 votes. In the country, that means at least half the people. And in the Republican Party or among the conservative base, maybe we've got a third. So, I'm always reaching out.

TODD: What have you learned now through all this? You made the – you guys made the six month effort to- repeal a major piece of this legislation. It expires at the end of the month. I assume— your ability to change the law with 50 votes, that you guys are gonna let that expire?

ALEXANDER: Well, Senator McConnell says it's still on the table.

TODD: But on September 30th –

ALEXANDER: But it's a longshot. September 30th, it – that opportunity's gone.

TODD: Are you comfortable with that?

ALEXANDER: I don't like it. I voted innumerable times to change it. I mean, the fundamental problem was that too many decisions are made in Washington and it increased the cost of insurance. We wanted to move decisions back to the states, increase the number of choices, lower the costs. And that was the difference of opinion we've had for seven years of a political stalemate.

TODD: So on October 1st, what does this look like?

ALEXANDER: Well, if we're fortunate between now and the end of the month, we'll have a small bipartisan agreement that will lower premiums in 2018 or at least keep them from going up much - and then lower them more in 2019 in this very small part of the insurance market. What people don't realize is, that the whole so-called "Obamacare debate" is mostly about 6% of the people with insurance. Nearly 300 million of us have health insurance. We're arguing about the people who don't have, who have individual insurance.

TODD: Let me move onto the summer of attacks that President Trump went after Mitch McConnell, other Republicans. What kind of – what kind of repercussions is that, could that lead to this month? Is that just, you know - how bruised are the feelings around here?

ALEXANDER: Oh, the people - you know, Senator McConnell's been here a while. He and the president met this week. I think they get along fine. McConnell's very professional. He knows he's got a job to do. He's got an institution to make work. And the president is, you know - he just does things in a different way. He doesn't do things the way I do it or say the things that I would say, but he was elected to the people so my job is to work with him and when I can - as I hope to do on this healthcare this month - we'll try to make the country better.

TODD: I am curious of what your reaction was when your Tennessee colleague Bob Corker said this to the president. "The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability or some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful."

ALEXANDER: I’m not very surprised by that because Senator Corker always says what he thinks, even about me or President Trump. What most people don't know is there's not a single Republican senator who President Trump talks with more than Bob Corker.

TODD: That’s interesting.

ALEXANDER: I mean, they talk a lot. The president will call him for advice.

TODD: What does that mean to you then? If he's saying that, if Bob Corker – you just said there's no U.S. senator the president speaks with more than Bob Corker –


TODD: - then what does that statement say?

ALEXANDER: To me it's probably advice the president would be well-advised to listen to. My suggestion was the president and Corker should go play another round of golf and talk to each other.

TODD: Let ask you about DACA. Where are you on it? Do you think this is something - if this comes on the floor of the United States Senate - first of all, do you think it should be standalone? Or would you support having it linked to other bills if necessary?

ALEXANDER: Here's what I think. I think after we finish tax reform - the president said six months - I think this gives President Trump an opportunity to do for immigration what President Nixon did for China. I mean, President Trump might be the only president who could take this very contentious issue and say to the American people, "Okay, I've got a proposal. Let's secure the borders. Let's develop a legal immigration system. And let's take care of the problems of people without status, like the children who came here with their parents. I don't know any other president who could cause that to happen. If he'd make a proposal like that, I would work with him on it. I voted for something much like that in 2013. Sixty-eight senators did. So, I hope he does that. I hope - I think it's a chance for him to provide extraordinary leadership of which he'd be very proud when it was over.

TODD: How do you sell this in Tennessee? How do you sell DACA in Tennessee, the idea of protecting these folks who came over here, you know, as children? How do you sell that and say, "You know what, we're gonna give them amnesty essentially, a form of amnesty" - and I know everybody defines amnesty in a different way, but how do you sell this in Tennessee?

ALEXANDER: What you’ve got to say: "Their parents brought them here." And what we're gonna say is, "You grew up here. This is the only country you know." We usually don't visit the sins of the parents on the children. So, they're law-abiding. If they graduate from high school, if they - if they're enrolled in college or the military, we'll give them a status here. I - that makes a lot of sense to me. I voted for that exact formula in 2013. I was reelected in 2014.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Democrat Bonner Kicks Off His Sheriff’s Race

Huge crowd sees GOP incumbent Oldham embrace and endorse his chief deputy.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 29, 2017 at 8:40 PM

Candidate Bonner addresses his large crowd at the Racquet Club. - JB
  • JB
  • Candidate Bonner addresses his large crowd at the Racquet Club.

One political race that looms before the voters of Shelby County as more than usually competitive is that for Sheriff, and, though more candidates, both Republican and Democratic, are sure to make a claim upon the job in the 2018 election, there is general consensus on the front end that the candidates to beat are Republican Dale Lane and Democrat Floyd Bonner, both highly credentialed..

Lane, a former Deputy Sheriff, is current director of the Shelby County Office of Preparedness, while Bonner is Chief Deputy Sheriff, the first African American to hold that office.

In a reversal of the cross-party situation in 2014 when incumbent Sheriff Bill Oldham, a Republican, was assisted in his reelection bid by a prominent Democrat, longtime political broker Sidney Chism, this time Democrat Bonner can count on the public support of a major figure from the other party, no less than term-limited Sheriff Oldham himself.
Bonner with incumbent Sheriff Bill Oldham,who endorsed him. - JB
  • JB
  • Bonner with incumbent Sheriff Bill Oldham,who endorsed him.
Introducing Bonner to a massive and diverse crowd of several hundred at a combination fundraiser/campaign kickoff in the Racquet Club Tuesday night, Oldham lavished praise upon his chief deputy for his career progress through the ranks and his accomplishments and proclaimed, “I’m going to do something that my predecessor [then Sheriff, now County Mayor Mark Luttrell] didn’t do for me, I’m going to fully endorse Floyd Bonner.” The crowd anticipated Oldham and, before his sentence was halfway through, interrupted him with loud and sustained applause.”

Continuing his introduction with a vow to “put the right man in that chair at 201 Poplar,” Oldham then beckoned Bonner, and the two men embraced before Bonner made his own remarks, beginning with a reciprocal tip of the hat to Oldham, acknowledgment of his family members who were present, and a statement of gratitude at the turnout, making special note of  the clergy in attendance (no small factor, inasmuch as Lane, too, can boast of support from the religious community).

“I love coming to work every day. There’s no other place that I’ve ever thought about working at but the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office,” said Bonner, a veteran of 37 years in the Department. “I’m not tired yet, I’ve still got a little in the tank, and I enjoy getting up every day.”

Bonner mentioned his role in “being in on the ground floor” of the Department’s expanding responsibility for Juvenile Court detention and noted that he had started his ascension in the Department all those years ago with service in the County Jail, nobody’s idea of a glamor assignment and a piece of experience that he cites by way of encouraging new recruits.

“I tell them now, ‘I started just like you did, I started out slick-sleeved and wild-eyed and didn’t know what to expect….But I’ve had a great career, I love what I do….There’s nobody in this race with more experience than me,” said Bonner, who concluded optimistically, “You know, we are going to win!”

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Monday, August 28, 2017

Reginald Milton's Birthday Surprise

The first-term Shelby County Commissioner did indeed have a "major announcement" to make to a generous number of attendees.

Posted By on Mon, Aug 28, 2017 at 8:21 AM

There was real mystery when County Commissioner Reginald Milton issued an online invitation to a generous number of his friends, who cross all sorts of race, social, political, and gender lines but have one thing in common: A disproportionate number of them are movers and shakers in Memphis and Shelby County.
Reginald Milton and friends - JB
  • JB
  • Reginald Milton and friends

The invitation was to a birthday party at the Stax Museum on McLemore, where, said the invite, a “major announcement” would be made. Immediately the politically inclined among the invitees began to speculate on what race it was Milton was choosing to announce for? President? After all, he is by profession a community organizer, just like the past previous President, Barack Obama. State Representative? State Senator? Governor? Mayor? And, if the latter, which kind of Mayor? City? County?

So what did the invitees find when they arrived? Here is the post-event reveal from Milton himself, on his Facebook page:

I want to say how much I truly enjoyed sharing my special day with all my dear friends. The party was a blast.
For those who were not at my Birthday Bash and wanted to know what the "big" announcement was, it involves my nonprofit, SMA. We have secured additional funding and are moving forward with converting a 57,000 sq. ft. warehouse into a multi-purpose center. Plans for the "Urban Warehouse" include a technical college, a nonprofit incubator, a youth development/mentoring center, and a foster care support agency. Oh, by the way, yes I do plan to run for re-election for Shelby County Commission - District 10. Thank you all!

The secret revealed: plans for the "Urban Warehouse: - JB
  • JB
  • The secret revealed: plans for the "Urban Warehouse:

Milton was certainly right about the party’s being a blast. Good food, a bar, good company, a band, dancing, and this was Stax, after all, where the walls teem with exhilarating exhibits from Memphis’ musical past.

There was a “show and tell” by Milton of the plans for his forthcoming Urban Warehouse project. There were endless opportunities for group pics and selfies by an endless number of smart-phone photographers, who placed the results on their Facebook pages..

And — piece de resistance! — there was cake, of course, as what well-attended birthday party should not have cake? Everybody got a piece; there was no resistance.

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Touliatos Announces for Shelby County Mayor

Entry of Juvenile Court clerk creates prospect of three-way GOP primary race with County Commissioner Terry Roland and County Trustee David Lenoir.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 24, 2017 at 12:52 PM

Joy Touliatos announces for County Mayor as prominent backers John Bobango and Brent Taylor look on. - JB
  • JB
  • Joy Touliatos announces for County Mayor as prominent backers John Bobango and Brent Taylor look on.

As of Thursday, there's a race on for the Republican nomination for Shelby County Mayor. With conspicuous backing from some GOP luminaries of the past and present, two-term Juvenile Court Clerk Joy Touliatos, stressing the issues of public safety, taxes, and education,  announced for Mayor at a press conference at Waterford Plaza.

Among the family and well-wishers looking on were former Memphis City councilman and Shelby County Commissioner Brent Taylor and former Councilman John Bobango, both of whom will have major roles in the Touliatos campaign (as treasurer and co-chair, respectively), her political consultant Steven Reid, and Shelby County Clerk Wayne Washburn.

In her announcement statement, Touliatos had this to say about her major  campaign priorities: "First and foremost crime and public safety will be the most important priority of my administration. Second, we need to lower property taxes by making Shelby County Government smaller and more efficient. Third, we must attract new business and create new jobs. And that requires an education system that prepares our kids for college but also recognizes the need to prepare young adults for the workforce. "

Acknowledging the head start, campaign-wise, of Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland, who announced for mayor more than a year ago and maintains a high public profile, Touliatos expressed confidence in her ability to bridge the name-recognition gap.

It has long been assumed that County Trustee David Lenoir will also be a candidate for County Mayor, though Lenoir has not yet announced and is rumored also to be looking at the state Senate seat currently held by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, who has been nominated for a federal judgeship by President Trump.

It is probably not coincidental that, during the course of budget negotiations on the County Commission this year, Roland found occasion to fault the spending priorities of both the Trustee's office and the Juvenile Court Clerk's office.

In a three-way contest with Roland and Lenoir, both high-powered political figures with presumed support in influential Republican Party circles, Touliatos, who can make claims of her own on GOP loyalists, would conceivably have an advantage with female Republican voters.

Meanwhile, as the blanks are being filled in on the Republican side, the picture among potential Democratic aspirants is more opaque, Former County Commissioner and erstwhile political broker Sidney Chism has advertised his likely candidacy, and outgoing Commission chairman Melvin Burgess has also expressed an interest in running.

Two other possible Democratic candidates, University of Memphis law professor and former County Commissioner Steve Mulroy and state Senator Lee Harris, are apparently both deliberating on an entry into th e mayoral race. Whichever one makes the plunge can count on the support of the other.

And there could be a Democratic wild card — former City Councilman and current Chamber of Commerce vice president Shea Flinn, whose name was prominent among those of candidates being asked about in a recently run telephone robo-poll.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Angry Mayor Responds to Critics on Statue Removal

Strickland defends record on minority issues and says that criticism is "an attempt to divide this city."

Posted By on Mon, Aug 21, 2017 at 2:31 PM

Mayor Strickland
  • Mayor Strickland

 Mayor Jim Strickland, who is on record as favoring the removal of the Jefferson David statue and Nathan Bedford Forrest statue and grave from downtown parks but is restrained by state law from direct action without going through channels, is under pressure from citizens who want the memorials gone now.

And the Mayor is fuming at what he regards as insults from some of the more demanding and impatient of those citizens. Responding Monday morning to a Commercial Appeal article, Strickland posted a response on his Facebook page:

I want every Memphian to read this article.

I want every Memphian to see the divisive, empty rhetoric that the media chooses to highlight. I want every Memphian to see the absurdity of someone accusing a mayor who is actually working on removing Confederate statues as being an apologist for white supremacists.

Think about that for a minute. I want every Memphian to know what I have been doing. I am a life member of the NAACP. I’ve volunteered to feed the homeless for 30 years. I mentor a kid. My administration has improved our minority business performance by 69 percent. My administration has improved opportunities for young people. My administration has connected people to jobs. My administration is working to reduce crime.

And my administration has worked to find a lawful method to remove these statues, which have no place in our city. My administration is the only one in the history of Memphis to not only vote to remove these statues — but to take real action to do it. We don’t see interviews with members of the legislature, or members of the Tennessee Historical Commission, or our partners working to find a real solution.

We do, however, see people criticize the very mayor who is on their side.

To make the statements made in this article is insulting to the hard work of our staff and is an affront to all of our citizens. The comments in this article are a lie at best. At worst, they are an attempt to divide this city with the kind of racial politics that we should all reject."


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