Sunday, July 22, 2018

Both Mayoral Candidates Wearing Well as Debates Continue

Posted By on Sun, Jul 22, 2018 at 12:10 PM

There are several factors that make the contest for Shelby County mayor hard to predict — not least the apparent parity demonstrated by the two candidates — Republican David Lenoir and Democrat Lee Harris — in the several public encounters they have had together.

The first two major debates between the two probably added up to a draw.

In the first one, at a Kiwanis Club meeting in June that was live-streamed on WREG-TV, Lenoir probably outshone his opponent by 1) being more clearly in sync with his immediate audience, composed of predominantly middle-of-
Harris (l) and Lenoir at Rotary...
  • Harris (l) and Lenoir at Rotary...
the-road business types; and 2) being willing to take on the role of aggressor, attacking Harris three times on what he perceived as one of Harris’s weak points, public safety, each time without any kind of response from the Democrat.

In the second debate, co-sponsored by the NAACP and the ad hoc Voting is Power901 (VIP901) group and held at the National Civil Rights Museum, Harris probably took the honors on the strength of having a playing field more congenial to his left-center views and on a new readiness to defend his positions and to mix it up with Lenoir on the attack front.

In a general sense, Lenoir carried into the general election race the kind of edge in financing that Republican nominees normally enjoy, while Harris has at his disposal the theoretical fact of a Democratic majority, based on the demographics of Shelby County. Inasmuch as the first of these advantages, the bounty of the GOP purse, is a consistent given in local elections, the election could hinge on the degree to which the county’s Democrats actually do manage to cohere and get their vote out — as, conspicuously, they have had trouble doing, except in presidential elections.

Hard to Call
As it happens, there does indeed seem to be a more defined and organized degree of focus among Shelby County Democrats this year, and more than a few Republicans worry about the prospect of misplaced complacency in local GOP ranks. But the fact remains: The mayoral race, like other one-on-ones on the August 2nd ballot, is hard to call, and two additional debates between Harris and Lenoir, held this past week, did little to resolve the matter.

Not that the candidates failed to measure up. Both performed well, and both, especially in the second of the two events — a forum focusing on neighborhood issues at Circuit Playhouse — indicated a familiarity with the issues and a developed sense of what to do about them.

The initial encounter of the week — a Tuesday debate before a Rotary Club luncheon at Clayborn Temple — set the tone and reaffirmed the precepts of the two mayoral campaigns.

The first question called for — and got — a self-definition from each of  the candidates.
...and at Circuit Playhouse - JB
  • JB
  • ...and at Circuit Playhouse

Lenoir, who has spent the last eight years as Shelby County trustee, a job requiring that he collect and manage the county’s fiscal assets, cast himself as “a problem-solver first and a public servant second.” Noting that he came to office in late 2010, in the middle of a still-raging recession, Lenoir claimed to have “made Shelby County stronger,” citing a reduction in the county’s debt, a rise in its savings, and a lower tax rate.

For his part, state Senator Harris declared his ability to “bring people together” and “work with anyone” and claimed to have “passed more bills than any Democrat in the state” — most of these measures sponsored or co-sponsored by the General Assembly’s dominant Republicans — all the while keeping the Democratic faith by striving to extend the benefits of health care and quality education.

When asked about specific issues, the two candidates responded with solutions and proposals that matched the character of their self-descriptions. For example, Harris not only called for the county to devote oversight and funding to the improvement of MATA, he maintained that developing a better mass transit system was “the easiest way to get people out of poverty.”

Lenoir cautioned about “double taxation,” noting that MATA’s purview was, for the most part, restricted to the area of Memphis proper and that city government was essentially responsible for its funding and management. Moderator Otis Sanford put enough of a finger on the scales to point out that specific bus routes extended beyond the city limits.

Differing Approaches
On the general question of how best to establish equality and social justice, the candidates also differed. Lenoir touted what he said had been his efforts as trustee to educate the public on fiscal issues, including an educational effort inside Juvenile Court to tap the entrepreneurial instincts of youthful offenders. He proposed “wealth creation, not wealth transfer” or “a radical, new wave, new agenda campaign” as the key to progress.

For his part, Harris said the problem required a “perspective that is social justice-oriented,” and recommended that, in replacing the current, outmoded facilities for juvenile detentions, provision be made for fewer, not more confinements. He supported the continuation of the federal oversight that was imposed on Juvenile Court in 2012, whereas Lenoir said he would defer to the opinions of current Mayor Mark Luttrell and Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael, who have sought to have the oversight terminated.

Both candidates paid homage to the principle of frugality, with Lenoir boasting the efforts of Shelby County government during his tenure to lower the county debt and Harris noting that he slept in his Senate office, “on the floor,” during overnights in Nashville.

Lenoir cited two occasions from Harris’ governmental record to refute Harris’ claims, as City Councilman and state senator, never to have voted for a tax increase, to which Harris retorted, “At least I have a record,” contrasting his hands-on involvement in budgetary and taxation matters in health care and in other areas with what he said was Lenoir’s total lack of such experience.

Harris stressed his active role in efforts that led up to the removal of Confederate statues from downtown parks, and Lenoir cited documentation to establish that rumors of his having opposed that process were ill-founded. Both candidates gave President Trump’s ongoing “zero tolerance” approach to immigration a wide berth.

In general, each candidate depicted his own background — Lenoir’s in the private financial sector and as “the county’s banker,” Harris’ as active legislator and as “leader” in public solutions — as better suited to guide county government for the foreseeable future. Lenoir got two late jabs in, suggesting that Harris, who had moved from the Memphis City Council to the legislature and was now ready to move on again, had a disinclination to finish the terms he was elected to, and he repeated allegations that specific votes by Harris indicated he was “soft on crime.”

Harris, who has in fact moved quickly through governmental ranks, disputed the first matter and made credible explanations of his voting record, converting the two allegations into proofs of his detailed — and more nuanced — experience with the range of public issues.

Two nights later, the argument was continued on the stage of Circuit Playhouse, where, for roughly an hour and a half, moderator Marc Fleischer and representatives of various neighborhood associations subjected the two contenders to what was probably their most detailed grilling yet on the issues.

Speaking in a sense for them both, Harris said the ordeal of campaigning was something like “drinking water out of a fire hose” and jested that in doing a recent sweep from Collierville to Cordova to downtown he had found himself “kissing a hand and shaking a baby.”

The proportion of ad hominem exchanges in the Thursday night encounter was considerably diminished, as Lenoir and Harris set out to demonstrate their familiarity with the several subject areas they were asked about and their ability to suggest hands-on solutions.

Hands-On Answers
The candidates were asked not just about MATA in the abstract, for example, but whether they had ridden the bus themselves, when they had, and what the routes were. Similarly, they were asked to detail what their associations with neighborhood associations had been. Lenoir got to drop the names of well-known activists like Janet Boscarini and Charlie Caswell that he had worked “shoulder-to-shoulder” with, removing blight or clearing property, and Harris alluded to his watchdog efforts, in tandem with Republican legislator Brian Kelsey, to put an end to TVA drilling at the Memphis aquifer that threatened to contaminate Memphis’ pristine drinking water.

Mere days before the current weekend’s “Roundhouse Revival” activities at the Fairgrounds site of the long-dormant Coliseum, both candidates waxed nostalgic and put themselves on record as lamenting the terms of the contract of the Grizzlies that kept the facility from serving as an arena.

Both weighed in on subjects as diverse as EDGE, Land Banks, Victorian Village, a proposed Juvenile Assessment Center, agreeing here, disagreeing there, but creating a sense that each was aware of the myriad issues confronting the county and each had some detailed and precise and often original notion of how to deal with it all. All in all, the debate served as something of a symposium, as a classroom of sorts for the audience.

There was something of a partisan divide, to be sure, both in the audience and between the two candidates themselves, but nothing like the unbridgeable chasms of our national politics at the moment. Each side might — and did — claim victory, but from an audience perspective, it was something of a win/win, generating a sense that, however this thing comes out on August 2nd, whoever wins will be adequately prepared and not closed off from the ideas of the opposition.

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Candidate M. LaTroy Williams' Case Came Alive Again (Briefly)

Posted By on Thu, Jul 12, 2018 at 4:48 PM

Though the recent dispute over early-voting sites has been resolved, the wheels of justice keptl grinding in Chancery Court for a while,over a matter having to do with the August 2nd election.
M. LaTroy Alexandria-Williams
  • M. LaTroy Alexandria-Williams

UPDATED. This was the case — Williams v. Goins et al. — in which perennial candidate M. Latroy Alexandria-Williams had been suing the state Democratic Party for declaring him ineligible to run in the Democratic primary against 9th District Congressman Steve Cohen. Chancellor Walter Evans ruled in Williams’ favor back in June, holding the party’s action in denying bona fides status to Williams (the subject of many disputes with party officials) was improper, but a state Court of Appeals overrode that ruling and remanded the issue back to Evans’ court.

There it was on Thursday of last week, for a re-hearing, and once again Evans found for the plaintiff, issuing an injunction that his name appear on the ballot.

The problem was that early voting was scheduled to begin the next day at five sites, and absentee and military ballots lacking Williams’ name had already been sent out. The Shelby County Election Commission, which, along with the state election administrator’s office, was included in the suit as a defendant, filed a response in Evans’ court on Friday, maintaining that it would be physically impossible to execute a change in the ballot at this point.

In apparently acknowledgement of that reality, Williams' lawyer withdrew the suit.

Stay tuned.


Grading the NAACP's Mayoral Debate

Partisans will have judged the outcome between Republican David Lenoir and Democrat Lee Harris one way or the other. But how did it really go? Here are some key moments from the encounter at the National Civil Rights Museum.

Posted By on Thu, Jul 12, 2018 at 7:41 AM

Moderator Ajanaku (l) and debaters Harris and Lenoir at Civil Rights Museum - JB
  • JB
  • Moderator Ajanaku (l) and debaters Harris and Lenoir at Civil Rights Museum

So how did Tuesday night’s debate between candidates for Shelby County mayor go? The answer is: Well enough for both Trustee David Lenoir, the Republican nominee, and state Senator Lee Harris, the Democratic nominee, to claim victory for themselves. Others may have seen it one way or the other, depending on their partisanship. And it was theoretically possible to call it a draw.

In the Beginning: The debate kicked off, as is customary, with brief opening statements. Harris went first, maintaining, as he has before, that “poverty” is the biggest issue of the campaign, elaborating that county government had achieved “not enough progress fast enough.” Given that this was an NAACP-sponsored debate, in the National Civil Rights Museum, Harris’ contention was well attuned to his audience — much more so than when he named poverty and “segregation” as predominant issues in his June 13th debate with Lenoir before a predominantly white, middle-class group of Kiwanians.

Lenoir wasted no time dealing with the elephant in the room, which was the fact, obvious to attendees, that the originally scheduled moderator, veteran journalist Wendi Thomas, had been replaced by the Tri-State Defender editor Karanja Ajanaku. It was well known that Lenoir had originally balked at taking part if Thomas participated, on account of what he said (though he did not specifically identify) were Thomas' “biased public statements” on social media.

The NAACP then planned to have the debate with only Harris in attendance, before Thomas offered to step aside. Lenoir then changed his mind again and agreed to participate. He spun the situation by congratulating the NAACP and the other sponsors for being willing to make the change. Some subdued murmuring in the audience suggested the explanation was not a crowd-pleaser.

Aside from its underscoring what had been a Lenoir power play, the basic fact of this opening exchange was that it defined who was home and who was having to play an away game. Advantage Harris.

Definition of Aims: Early on, without stirring much reaction one way or another, Lenoir espoused his usual goals of “great schools, great jobs, and safe streets,” hailing the prospect of “growing the economy and building a bigger pot” for the sake of “women and minorities” and boasting his actions as Trustee in making large deposits at the black-owned Tri-State Bank.

State Senator Lee Harris - JB
  • JB
  • State Senator Lee Harris
Harris responded that “we’ve got to be watchful of the language,” that “growth is important,” but “sometimes at the expense of the folks at the bottom.” In other words, said Harris, “growth still means that we will continue with inequality. Those at the top get wealthier, and those at the bottom get a little bit of wealth.”

Both got to make their essential points, with Harris earning a bit of extra applause — both for the faintly incendiary nature of his allegation and in appreciation of its hint of originality. Lenoir would get a chance later on to expound on his “courage” and his purported successes in building up the county treasury for public purposes.

Education: Both candidates stood four-square for improvements in education, with Harris noting that he had endorsements from teachers’ groups and Stand for Children.
Lenoir got to repeat his plan for “an educational liaison” official and received some healthy applause for his plan to allocate capital construction carefully.

Clout in Nashville and Past Public Service: Lenoir boasted his connections in Nashville and his experience as an administrator and made a point of saying that he had “finished every term I was elected to.” That was a not-so-veiled shot at the upwardly mobile Harris, who, critics charge, is always sighting new jobs other than the one he has been elected to.

Harris quickly responded: “I served for three years on the Memphis City Council, and I ran for the state Senate because I was not satisfied with the incumbent [Ophelia Ford], and nobody else would run against her….God bless her heart; she was not doing a good job at that time, and I ran against her because it needed to be done. I’m serving my fourth and final year in the state Senate, and I’m giving up my seat so that new talent can come through door.”

So far, so good, and then Harris delivered the clencher to resounding applause that even forced an admiring smile from Lenoir: “And the problem is not that our politicians do not stay long enough. It is that they stay too long!” Several voices in the crowd mouthed those last two words along with him. Lenoir made an effort to recoup by once again stressing his experience as an administrator vis-a-vis an opponent who had “never run an operation.”

Crime: Harris drew an interesting parallel between the prospect of improved transportation as lever to create opportunities and dampen the prospect of crime. In his turn, Lenoir went for the gold, repeating a charge that had worked for him three times in their earlier Kiwanis debate, and had gone un-rebutted then by Harris. “My opponent is soft on violent crimes. He voted against a bill in Nashville that would toughen the sentencing for criminals with guns.” Further: “He wrote legislation that would reverse Representative Lois DeBerry’s drugs-around-our-schools bill.”

Harris replied, “It’s easy to criticize my record of leadership because I have a record of leadership. I have been on the forefront ... on every issue we have talked about so far, for the last seven years.” He described himself as being in favor of criminal justice reform and made an effort to characterize the bill that Lenoir had spoken of as being aimed at non-violent offenders who happened to have guns. More important, said Harris, were “the rapists, the murderers — and let’s stop giving these domestic abusers slaps on the wrists.”

It wasn’t perfect, but it was far more effective than had been Harris’ choosing to ignore the charge at the earlier debate. Lenoir would return to the “soft-on-violent-crime” theme and made a point of having the endorsements of the Deputy Sheriffs Association and the Memphis Police Association’s, “because they understand my position on crime, and they understand my opponent’s position, as well.”

Both made the case for the joint city/county Office of ReEntry for ex-offenders, but Lenoir charged that Harris, on the council, had voted against funding a Second Chance program that had similar aims. Both made much of their past cooperation with DeAndre Brown, whose “Lifeline to Success” program had eased ex-felons back into the mainstream of society.

Both candidates also made a point of questioning the credibility of the federal immigration agency I.C.E., Harris going a step further and suggesting the the county’s Public Defender should consider defending undocumented immigrants.

Redirects: Lenoir, in general, had kept pace with Harris in matters that obviously resonated with the audience in the Civil Rights Museum. He stumbled somewhat when, in speaking of the bridge shutdown protest two years ago, he suggested that emergency vehicles had been unable on that occasion to use the blocked span across the Mississippi. That drew shouts of denial from the audience, the one and only time there was heckling of sorts during the debate.

County Trustee David Lenoir
  • County Trustee David Lenoir
But Lenoir was able to use another question about a notable public controversy to redress a charge that has lingered against him since his appearance with two other Republicans in a GOP primary debate back in April. He and they — County Commissioner Terry Roland and Juvenile court clerk Joy Touliatos — had been asked about the city’s action in arranging the takedown of Confederate statues from parks downtown and the state legislature’s resultant punitive action in withdrawing a $250,000 grant for Memphis’ bicentennial celebrations next year.

Back then, all three Republican candidates had been dubious about the exact manner of the city’s manner of removing the statues (by selling the parks to a non-profit and then providing equipment and personnel to remove the statues from the parks at the non-profit’s request).

Roland, who had spoken first, seemed undisturbed by the state’s punitive attitude. “Until people quit thumbing their nose at Nashville, there’s nothing we an do,” he said, alleging that the city had acted “like a thief in the night.” Touliatos, too, had been accepting of the state’s reaction: “The statues were handled inappropriately…. If you’re going to go against state law, there are going to be repercussions.”

Lenoir, who had spoken second then, just after Roland, addressed the matter this way: ““First of all, I believe in limited government and local control. So in terms of decision-making, it should happen at the local level. I would agree with my colleague [Roland] with the way, specifically on the statues, with the way it occurred, late at night on a Friday night [it was actually a Wednesday night], under the cloak of darkness, it no doubt sent the wrong message — not only to many that lived in Shelby County but also in Nashville. But in terms of how to mitigate that, I believe that things ought to happen on a local level. In many ways we need less of Nashville in Shelby County business. That would be my response on that.”

The Trustee’s statement in April had been somewhat shaded against what the city had done, but technically he had not endorsed the state’s adverse reaction, and just as technically (and, to be sure, modestly) he had gone on record as favoring local prerogatives.

Hence, Lenoir was more or less within his rights to say, on Tuesday night at the Civil Rights Museum, “I’m happy to tackle this one, because local control, local decisions, the decision needs to be made at a local level. It was made at a local level. It was passed unanimously by the City Council. It was a decision that was made, and I’m glad I can clear the record, ‘cause there’s folks out there — it’s politics; I get it; I understand — but you will not find me on the record as saying that I thought it was a state issue. All the lies that are going on out there are just that — they’re lies. It’s a local decision, local control as far as the removal of those statues, and I think that's the way it should have happened.”

That answer somewhat overstated Lenoir's position back in April, but it was not inconsistent with it, and Lenoir probably gained from the opportunity to address the matter again, in much the way that Harris had gained from the chance to deal again with Lenoir’s charge about his alleged opposition to an anti-crime control vote in Nashville.

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Monday, July 9, 2018

Democrats, NAACP Prevail in Voting-Sites Matter

Chancellor mandates quicker opening, more full-time sites

Posted By on Mon, Jul 9, 2018 at 10:27 PM

After what turned out to be virtually an entire day’s worth of testimony from both sides on Monday, Chancellor JoeDae L Jenkins ruled for the plaintiffs
John Ryder (l), attorney for the Election Commission, and Alexander Wharton, attorney for the NAACP, joust over   a demographic map prepared by witness Steve Ross. Judge JoeDae L. Jenkins would rule for the Shelby County Democratic Party and the NAACP in a dispute over early-voting sites for the August 2 election. - JB
  • JB
  • John Ryder (l), attorney for the Election Commission, and Alexander Wharton, attorney for the NAACP, joust over a demographic map prepared by witness Steve Ross. Judge JoeDae L. Jenkins would rule for the Shelby County Democratic Party and the NAACP in a dispute over early-voting sites for the August 2 election.
and against the Election Commission, ordering that Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church and Frayser’s Ed Rice Community Center (or some similarly located venue) be added to the three early-voting sites scheduled to open on Friday of this week.

Judge Jenkins also enjoined that all the designated sites (numbering 27 in all, after tonight’s ruling) open on Monday, June 16th, instead of Wednesday, June 18th, as the Election Commission and Election Administrator Linda Phillips had planned, giving the Shelby County Democratic Party and the NAACP the essence of what they sought. The early-voting period is scheduled to last from June 13th to June 28th, with final voting to be held on the officiaL election day of August 2nd.

Monday’s decision was loaded with ironies. The Election Commission had ignited what became a county-wide controversy when it arbitrarily and without advance public notice announced in June that it was expanding the original list of 21 early-voting sites (the same as that employed for the May county primary), adding five new sites in what it termed “under-served” areas, most of them in historic Republican territory. The EC further designated the AgriCenter in Shelby Farms as a super-site, open for four extra days. (A "compromise" offer by the commission last Friday would have substituted three other extra-time sites, including one in a heavily Democratic area.)

Judge Jenkins turned that logic on its head, saying in his ruling from the bench that it was African-American areas that were under-served by the new configuration, and to arguments from Election Commission lawyer John Ryder and EC spokesperson Joe Young that there was no time left to effect any more changes or provide for an earlier availability for the sites, the Chancellor would rule that the commission had erred in the first place by springing its own changes on to the public without adequate notice or preparation.

All the parties will reconvene in Chancellor Jenkins’ courtroom on Tuesday at 10 a.m. to get written notice of the judge’s ruling, and attorneys for the Election Commission have indicated they will seek an interlocutory appeal and a stay of Jenkins’ injunction.

One set of plaintiffs on Monday consisted of Myron Lowery and the Shelby County Democratic Party and was represented by lawyer Julie Byrd Ashworth, the other was the NAACP, represented by brothers Alexander Wharton and Andre Wharton. Ryder did the honors for the Election Commission.

Highlights of the hearing were a lengthy cross-examination of Election Commission chairman Robert Meyers by Alexander Wharton and detailed testimony on the demographics of site selection by witness Steve Ross, who was put on the stand by the plaintiffs.

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Sunday, July 8, 2018

Democrats' Lawsuit on Early-Voting Issue Is Latest of Several Challenges

Litigation charges Election Commission's decision on sites and times was pre-arranged, favored Republicans, and disenfranchised Democrats and others. Expedited challenge asking return to May early-voting pattern to be heard in Chancery Court on Monday.

Posted By on Sun, Jul 8, 2018 at 9:25 AM

Shelby County Democratic chairman Corey Strong (right) and other Democrats announcing lawsuit at Friday press conference - JB
  • JB
  • Shelby County Democratic chairman Corey Strong (right) and other Democrats announcing lawsuit at Friday press conference

The two lawsuits filed in Chancery Court this week on behalf of Shelby County Democrats and the NAACP, respectively, are but the latest of several challenges to the election authorities of Shelby County in recent years.

The two suits are both scheduled for emergency hearing on Monday. One — filed by Myron Lowery and local Democratic chair Corey Strong — is slated for hearing by Chancellor JoeDale L. Jenkins at 10:30 a.m. The other, filed by the NAACP, is scheduled in the court of Chancellor Jim Kyle. When things are sorted out Monday, it is possible that the suits will be combined for joint hearing under a single chancellor.

Both suits merit expedited status because what is at stake are the rules under which early voting for the forthcoming county general election. The early voting period is July 13-July 28.

Like previous challenges over the years — notably a mass legal action filed by almost all of the party’s losing candidates in the county general election of 2010 — the suits filed Friday reflect a general skepticism regarding the electoral process and a disbelief in the fairness of the system at large.

That 2010 legal action, which ended without satisfaction for the plaintiffs, was accompanied by a series of mass protests and was launched in the aftermath of a vote that saw Republicans prevail in a virtual sweep despite a general consensus locally that Democrats had become the county’s majority party through demographic change. Except for isolated victories by a few Democrats, GOP sweeps of county elections have become the rule, not the exception, ever since.

This was despite the fact that in 2009, then county Republican chairman Lang Wiseman, believing GOP election domination had already passed its peak, floated the idea of petitioning the Election Commission to discontinue primaries for county office, which the Republican Party of Shelby County had inaugurated in 1992, forcing the Democrats to follow suit with their own county primaries two years later.

Talk in Republican circles of discontinuing local primaries subsided after the 2010 election results, and the simultaneous advent of a Republican majority statewide, after the legislative elections of 2008, had meanwhile resulted in a mandated 3-2 edge in favor of Republicans in all 95 of the state’s counties, including Shelby.

Beyond the unexpected domination of Republicans in countywide voting were several certifiable missteps that sullied the reputation of the county’s election authorities. As summarized in late 2013 in a Flyer article about a veritable deluge of errors:

...Among [them] are the Election Day glitch of August 2010 which resulted in hundreds of voters being incorrectly turned away as they arrived to vote; a failure in 2012 to provide correct ballots for local elections that jibed with post-census redistricting, resulting in a judicial invalidation of a Shelby County School Board race; a lack of responsiveness to public inquiries and an inefficient management of staff; and a recent audit report pinpointing improper cash management and a variety of other errors of commission or omission….

Since then numerous questions have been raised about the dependability of the election machinery in use in county elections, the motives and accuracy of various purges of the voter rolls, and the action of the state’s legislative Republican super-majority in establishing requirements for voters to show photo IDs prior to voting.

All of it bespeaks a pattern of official discrimination and of favoritism to Republicans, many Democrats believe; Republicans say the election results favoring the GOP speak for themselves, and the issue is one of better Republican candidates, capable of getting crossover votes from Democrats and independents.

The current imbroglio occurs amid talk of a Democratic “blue wave” both nationally and locally. The two lawsuits are directed against both a decision about the time and place of early voting sites announced at a June 21 meeting of the Election Commission and a change in that schedule made at a public meeting of last Friday at the EC’s Nixon Drive site in Shelby Farms.

The suits seek a judicial declaration that advance planning before the two meetings constituted “a violation of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act” and that consequently the “site list, days of operation and time of operation” should be voided and replaced by the early voting schedule in effect previous to the May 1, 2018 county primary election.

That May list was of 21 sites, all of which were open for the same number of days during early voting for the county primaries. At its meeting of June 21st the Election commission added five sites, a majority of which were in areas that habitually vote Republican and designated the AgriCenter in Shelby Farms as a central site which would be open for four more days than the other “satellite” sites.

That decision generated a barrage of criticism from Democrats — most of it recapitulated during a press conference on Friday announcing the lawsuits. The Election Commission should concern itself with only one purpose, local Democratic chair Corey Strong said on Friday — “to give people the vote.”

He said that a “compromise” solution reached last Friday naming two full-time early voting sites, one in a Democratic area, another in a Republican area, and a third in the EC’s Shelby Farms office itself was even more imbalanced in the GOP’s favor than the June 21st list, and he implied that the outcome had been pre-arranged via closed-door meetings.

Speaking in favor of the suits, London Lamar, president of the state’s Young Democrats said 21 sites employed for the May 1st election worked fine and had increased turnout and that the Election Commission’s change in early-voting sites “with two weeks to go” had been “a blatant form of voter disenfranchisement favoring the Republican Party.”

Another backer of the suits, state Representative G.A. Hardaway, invoked the principle of “one man, one vote” and said, “Let the people vote. It’s that simple!”

Friday, July 6, 2018

Activist Group Wants to See Text of "Mystery Memo"

Issue is whether replacement election can be held in November for departing Council members; Chairman Boyd and Council attorney Wade say no but have not released their legal basis.

Posted By on Fri, Jul 6, 2018 at 1:38 PM

UNDER CHALLENGE — Wade (left) and Boyd
  • UNDER CHALLENGE — Wade (left) and Boyd

Final voting for the county general election ballot is still four weeks away, on Thursday, August 2nd, but a serious battle is raging about the possible aftermath, as it affects three Memphis City Council seats.

Those are the seats now held by councilmembers Edmund Ford, Bill Morrison, and Janis Fullilove, candidates for Position 9 on the County Commission, Probate Court Clerk, and Juvenile Court Clerk, respectively. If any or all of the three win should win, the question then becomes one of how long the winning members will hold on to their council seats before resigning them.

Activists involved in the struggle to defeat a council-mandated referendum that would call off a scheduled trial of Ranked Choice Voting (aka Instant Runoff Voting) in the 2019 city election are taking on this issue as well: They want the three mentioned candidates to declare in advance their intent to vacate their council seats fairly immediately should they win their races.

The acrtivists, all members of Save IRV Memphis, fear that whichever seats are held onto by the winning council members for the full 90 days permitted by law before a resignation would then have to be replaced via appointment from the remaining members of the council.

That, as Save IRV Memphis sees it, would prevent a possible vote to fill the seat or seats on this year’s regular November election ballot.

An ambivalence on the point by the three council members in question is one problem confronting the activists seeking an early-resignation pledge by the three candidates; another problem has been the insistence by council chair Berlin Boyd, backed by council attorney Allan Wade, that scheduling a vote on any vacant council seat in November is precluded by the city charter, that such a vote would instead have to be held during the next regularly scheduled August election.

In effect, the Boyd/Wade formula would require any council seat made vacant as a result of this year’s county election to be filled by the aforementioned option of council appointment and to be voted on only during the regular city election of 2019. As the Save IRV Memphis activists see it, that would circumvent the people’s will and further overload the council with new members appointed by, and loyal to, a dominant council faction already too answerable to the Memphis Chamber of Commerce and the city’s business elite.

In a press release circulated Thursday by Save IRV Memphis, Carlos Ochoa sums up the fate of a public records request made by the group under the Freedom of Information Act for what they call a "Secret Mystery Memo."

“On June 19th, 2018, Chairman Boyd referred to a legal memo purporting to prove that City Council vacancy elections can only be held in August. A public records request was filed for a copy of this memo. Since then, the city has twice hinted that such a memo might not exist and finally stated that the memo was protected by attorney-client privilege:

“The attorney referenced is city council attorney, Allan Wade. And Chairman Boyd hides behind this secret, possibly nonexistent legal memo, written by the city council attorney. The city council attorney won't acknowledge whether the memo exists, but claims that at any rate it's secret. The city attorney and administration say they can't get involved to give an answer because it's a city council matter….”

The organization, which so far has not been the fount of a groundswell, hopes to become one. It urges:

“Save IRV Memphis is calling on all Memphians to contact their city council representatives and the mayor’s office to demand that Allan Wade and the city council confirm the existence of Boyd’s legal memo and to release its content to the public. We also call on Chairman Boyd to provide a copy of the memo.

“If the City will not provide the secret memo then they should provide a straight answer to whether a November election can be used to fill a council vacancy. If not, they should explain why not, given the unambiguous language of Ordinance No. 1852
[the mechanism by which the city council and its electoral means were enacted].”

Section 1 of that ordinance reads: "... on any vacancy occurring in the Council ... a successor shall be elected to fill out the remainder of the term ... in the same manner as now provided for filling vacancies on the Board of Commissioners, except that such special municipal election shall be held on the date of the next August or November election.”

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State Rep. Ron Lollar Dies Unexpectedly

Apparent heart attack claims ex-Marine and long-term legislator, who worked easily across partisan lines and also served on School Board.

Posted By on Fri, Jul 6, 2018 at 9:41 AM

The Flyer has learned that Ron Lollar, a fixture for several terms in the
Ron Lollar
  • Ron Lollar
Tennessee House of Representatives, died at home early Friday morning, from an apparent heart attack. He was 69, a month short of his 70th birthday.

At the time of his death, Lollar, who had won renomination in May, was running for reelection to his District 99 seat (Bartlett). Informed of Lollar's death, David Cambron, his Democratic opponent, expressed shock and issued this statement: "Like everyone in Tennessee, I was saddened to hear of the untimely passing of Representative Ron Lollar. He worked tirelessly for the citizens in District 99 and Shelby County. Our thoughts are with his family and friends. I am pausing my campaign activities for the time being out of respect for his service."

Presumably, the Shelby County Republican Party will have the opportunity to name a replacement candidate for the forthcoming November election.

Though he was a dedicated Republican, Lollar was an open-minded legislator who was respected and well-liked on both sides of the partisan line. A booster of public education, he served several terms on the old Shelby County Board of Education prior to his election to the House in 2006 and was a member of the Tennessee School Board Association's Boars of Directors.

Lollar was born on August 13, 1948 in Jackson, Tennessee, and was a graduate of Jackson State Community College, where he was president of the student body association. He would later graduate from Austin Peay State University, where he was president of the student government association.

He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1967 to 1971, with combat service in Vietnam, and served also in the Army National Guard from 1980 until 1982. He was the recipient of the Vietnam Gallantry Cross, the Navy Commendation Medal w/ "V" device, a Combat Action Ribbon with a Navy Unit citation, a Good Conduct Medal, a Meritorious Unit Citation, a Vietnamese Service Medal, and a Vietnamese Campaign Medal. Lollar also served as a White House gGuard.

In the House, Lollar served on the House Agriculture Committee, the House Education Committee, the House Higher Education Subcommittee, and the House Special Iniatives Subcommittee. For three terms, he represented the Second District on the Shelby County School Board. He served also as president of Future Farmers of America, as a Baptist deacon, as a Mason, and as a member of Gideons International.

David Pickler, former longtime chairman of the Shelby County Schools board, served for many years with Lollar on the board and called him "my best friend, a happy warrior, the kind you'd always want to share a foxhole with." State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, a fellow Republican who shared part of his jurisdiction with Lollar and worked often with him in bicameral ways, paid tribute to his good heart as well as to his toughness and said he was "a Marine to the end."

State House Speaker Beth Harwell commented, “I am heartbroken to hear of Ron’s passing. He was an important voice in the Tennessee General Assembly, and a leader in Bartlett and Shelby County. He served this country with distinction in the U.S. Marine Corps, and he served this state with his tireless advocacy for Tennessee students and agricultural issues. He was not only my colleague, but a dear friend. My thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”.

State Representative Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley, Democratic Leader in the state House, said, "For more than 10 years I served with Ron Lollar in the House of Representatives and found him to be a man of strong convictions and a heartfelt desire to serve his community. Ron was a decorated Marine Corps veteran, who I worked with in the Veterans Caucus and where I saw his commitment to Veterans issues. He also served on the Shelby County School Board and his passion for education was front and center during the legislation we passed earlier this year involving the TN Ready testing failures. He was one of the most vocal Representatives and voices for the teachers during that time. I will miss my friend and offer my sincere condolences to his family."

Said Democratic state Representative Antonio Parkinson of Memphis: "We are saddened to hear of the passing of our colleague State Representative Ron Lollar. He was a fellow Marine, fighter for teachers, and an independent thinker regardless of party lines. He will be missed. Our prayers go out to the Lollar family."

Lollar leaves his wife Brenda and three children. Visitation will be on Tuesday, July 10, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Faith Baptist Church on Germantown Road in Bartlett. Funeral services will be at Faith on 1 p.m. Wednesday, July 11.


Thursday, July 5, 2018

Fourth of July Highlight, 2018

Posted By on Thu, Jul 5, 2018 at 9:48 AM

AutoZone Park, July 4, 2018 - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • AutoZone Park, July 4, 2018

Frank Anderson, 104-year-old veteran of World War Two (center of picture, in blue shirt), is honored and applauded by attendees at 4th of July baseball game between Memphis Redbirds and Omaha Storm Chasers.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Appointees Shine in Judicial Qualification Poll

Wagner, Rudolph, Nichols, Dandridge win Shelby County lawyers' nods for judge positions on August 2 ballot. Leatherwood picked for Circuit Court Clerk.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 4, 2018 at 10:34 AM


The incumbents on the August 2 ballot who had received appointments to fill judicial positions in Shelby County have been endorsed for election in their own right by large margins in the Judicial Qualification Poll of the Memphis Bar Association.

The poll, which was sent to all licensed, practicing attorneys in Shelby County,  whether they were members of the Bar Association or not, asked the recipients to select the one candidate in each race whom they felt was best qualified to serve. There was a “no opinion” option in each race.

Three of the endorsed incumbents were appointed to succeed retirees by Governor Bill Haslam — Judge Mary L. Wagner in Circuit Court, Division VII (succeeding Judge Donna Fields); Judge David Rudolph in Circuit Court, Division IX (succeeding Judge Robert L. "Butch" Childers); and Judge Jennifer Smith Nichols in Criminal Court, Division X (succeeding Judge James C. Beasley).

Patrick M. Dandridge, who was named by the Shelby County Commission to succeed the retiring Judge Larry Potter as Environment Court Judge (General Sessions, Division XIV), also prevailed with a majority of responding lawyers. Tom Leatherwood, the current Register of Deeds, was the lawyers; choice for the position of Circuit Court Clerk.

The poll questions and tabulated results were as follows:

Which candidate is best qualified to serve in Circuit Court, Division VII?

Michael G. Floyd 102 9.37%
Mary L. Wagner 781 71.72%
No Opinion 206 18.92%
TOTAL 1089

Which candidate is best qualified to serve in Circuit Court, Division IX?

Yolanda R. Kight 167 15.32%
David M. Rudolph 811 74.40%
No Opinion 112 10.28%
TOTAL 1090

Which candidate is best qualified to serve in Criminal Court, Division X?

Jennifer Johnson Mitchell 170 15.71%
Jennifer Smith Nichols 598 55.27%
No Opinion 314 29.02%
TOTAL 1082

Which candidate is best qualified to serve in General Sessions, Division XIV (Environmental Court)?

Patrick M. Dandridge 425 39.42%
Robert “Price” Harris 274 25.42%
No Opinion 379 35.16%
TOTAL 1078

Which candidate is best qualified to serve as Circuit Court Clerk?

Temiika D. Gipson 195 18.01%
Tom Leatherwood 715 66.02%
No opinion 173 15.97%
TOTAL 1083

Monday, July 2, 2018

Diane Black Gets a Little Help from Her Friends

The gubernatorial candidate gets props in Memphis from Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, and HUD Secretary Ben Carson, her co-panelist at a local meeting of the Conservative Political Action Caucus (CPAC).

Posted By on Mon, Jul 2, 2018 at 4:56 PM

When is a statewide political campaign also a natio nal campaign? Or perhaps that question is best turned around: How much do and should national
U.S. Rep. Diane Black and American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp, who endorsed her gubernatorial candidacy, engaged in some mutual admiration on Monday. - JB
  • JB
  • U.S. Rep. Diane Black and American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp, who endorsed her gubernatorial candidacy, engaged in some mutual admiration on Monday.
issues influence, or even become, the substance of statwewide campaigns?

The question is undeniably relevant to the current campaign for Governor of U.S. Representative Diane Black, a Republican who seems at times to be running a national campaign and who, perhaps not coincidentally, made Memphis appearances Monday in the company of Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, and Ben Carson, secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Schlapp, a familiar presence on national TV political talk shows, was at a Monday morning press conference with Black on Monday, where he endorsed her gubernatorial candidacy on behalf of the ACU, the nation’s oldest conservative lobbying organization, and Carson was a scheduled speaker, along with Black, at a Monday nighty panel discussion of the ACU’s Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) at FedEx Forum.

Schlapp said ACU had “been in the trenches” with Black for years, praised her work with the House budget committee, and avowed that there was “no better champion in the congress for our conservative values.”

Black reciprocated her pride in her high annual scores with ACU evaluations on issues and made the case that ACU values accorded well with Tennessee “core principles.” People from states like New york and California who come here and insist on less conservative concepts should be told, “that’s not how we do it here” and advised to “go back” to those states, said Black, who warned against Tennessee’s becoming a “purple” state like North Carolina next door.

During a brief meeting with local reporters, Black defended her solidarity with President Trump and her emphasis on such matters as immigration control at the nation’s southern border.

Issues like “sanctuary cities” and “in-state tuition” for illegals,” both of which she opposes, are important locally, Black said. “As Governor, I’d be responsible for making sure Tennessee is safe.” She added that her recent endorsements by the National Rifle Association and National Right to Life reflected the reality of these organizations’ issues as “concerns right here in our state.”

Asked about her showing in a recent Vanderbilt University poll, which gave her high name recognition statewide but included figures showing her unfavorable ratings higher than her favorable ones, Black answered, “What does the poll really mean? If you break those polls down, you see that they include liberals and moderates in there, and I’m obviously a conservative.”

She said it was “essential that I define who I am and what I’ve stood for over the last 20 years. I’m conservative, and I get things done.” She rejected opponents’ charges that she was a “career politician” and said, “What I really am is a career nurse,” as well as “a businesswoman, an educator," and someone vitally interested in public policy. “I’m a very well-rounded person,” she said.

More than any of her GOP primary opponents, including former state Economic Development Commissioner Randy Boyd, who has called her “D.C. Diane” Black identifies with President Trump, who has returned the favor by praising her, especially for her work as House budget chair.

“Tax reform and GDP growth. I’m very proud of that,” Black said. “The President has vision and is a strong negotiator.” She was somewhat more conditional on the subject of the President’s recent announcement of tariffs against American trading partners. “That’s something you don’t do when there’s no problem,” she said, mentioning the state’s agricultural producers as being potentially vulnerable to retaliation.

 “It could be difficult if it’s not done in a fair way,” she said of the new Trump hardline on tariffs. “But he is one who bargains and bargains well.”

Black would appear twice later on at the CPAC meeting, held in the lobby of FedEx Forum, first with both Schlapp and Carson in a panel in which she and the HUD secretary made much of their Horatio Alger-like rise from youthful poverty (both, as they told it, having been raised in public housing) and later, in a concluding panel with Schlapp, in which Black underscored her pro-life credentials and the two of them led what was by then a much-diminished crowd in a valedictory pledge-of-allegiance to the flag.

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Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Scramble for Position

Mum's the word on Trump at Master Meal; Lee, Tate, TNA nurse their hopes; Strickland works the black vote.

Posted By on Sun, Jul 1, 2018 at 1:19 PM

**The Shelby County Republicans’ Master Meal (this year re-christened as “Reagan Day Master Meal) went off as usual at the Great Hall of 
David Lillard at GOP Master Meal
  • David Lillard at GOP Master Meal
Germantown on Thursday night, but this year, the event, which featured state treasurer David Lillard as keynoter, was characterized by an unusual omission. Despite the presence, at the front of the mammoth hall, near the dais, of two life-sized cutouts, one of the Great Communicator and another of the current president, the event featured no mention — that’s zero mention — of Donald J. Trump, the POTUS. Well, there was one mention, technically, when Lee Mills, chairman of the Republican Party of Shelby County, informed the several hundred arriving celebrants they could, if they chose, be photographed with either of the two cutouts, After that, nada — not from Lillard not from two prior speakers, state Senator Brian Kelsey or state Representative Mark White.

Considering that the Master Meal is an annual party event rivaling the RPSC’s annual Lincoln Day banquet, usually held in February, that was downright unusual. Keynoter Lillard did brag of the fiscal achievements of “state government” (which is to say the Treasurer’s office, assisted by the GOP-dominated legislature) but did no boasting whatsoever of Trump, nor, for that matter, of Republican Governor Bill Haslam.

Outgoing County Mayor Mark Luttrell came in for some praise and was granted a curtain call for a farewell speech, but most of the rhetoric of the affair went toward praising the pedigrees and boosting the chances of the many local Republican office-holders and GOP candidates for reelection against challenges from what Kelsey acknowledged was a newly invigorated Democratic Party. Mayhap an omen in all this? Or merely an oversight?

As usual, Shelby County Republicans turned out in force for their annual Master Meal at Germantown's Great Hall. - CHRIS THOMAS
  • Chris Thomas
  • As usual, Shelby County Republicans turned out in force for their annual Master Meal at Germantown's Great Hall.

**The Tennessee Nurses Association, local members of which gathered in Memphis at Coletta’s Restaurant in Bartlett earlier Friday evening to hear updates from Crystal Walker of the UT College of Nursing and TNA executive director Tina Gerardi, has been trying hard to have sit-downs with each of the six major candidates for governor, hoping, among other things, to get endorsements for state-authorized Independent Practice for nurse practitioners. The TNA remains hopeful, despite being stiffed by the GOP’s Randy Boyd, Diane Black, and Beth Harwell, who have failed so far to arrange a rendezvous with TNA officials. The two Democratic candidates, Karl Dean and Craig Fitzhugh, have each indicated support for Independent Practice authority, however, and hopes were high at the Friday dinner for a positive encounter on Saturday with Republican candidate Bill Lee, who had responded eagerly to an invitation to meet with TNA members during his planned “Super Saturday” event on Saturday at his Shelby County headquarters on Poplar Avenue. Meanwhile, all the candidates have received copies of a TNA questionnaire, the results from which will at some point be publicized by the nurses’ organization.

Another guest of honor at the Tennessee Nurses Association bash on Thursday night was Sara Kyle, the District 30 state senator who, along with her Senate colleague Lee Harris (now a candidate for Shelby County Mayor), is on what can only be called a crusade to cast out yet another Shelby County senator, Reginald Tate of District 33, in favor of Democratic challenger Katrina Robinson. Tate’s sins are those of incessant collaboration with the Republican powers-that-be in Nashville, the fact of using important committee memberships — Education, Health & Welfare, Finance, Ways & Means, Judiciary — not for the aims and purposes of his constituents or party-mates but to advance Republican goals often regarded as antithetical to his District 33 base. In an effort to propitiate the ire of his fellow Democrats, Tate resigned his long-term affiliation with ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), the Koch-brothers-funded source of arch-Republican legislation, but allowed himself to be captured, on-mic, at a recent TV appearance as calling himself a “black Republican” and denouncing Democrats as “full of shit.”

Worst of all, Tate made no effort to oppose the legislative action to withdraw a previous $250,000 grant to Memphis for its 2019 bicentennial celebration as punishment for the city’s taking down Confederate statues in time for this year’s April 4th commemoration of Martin Luther King events, just as he had made no effort to oppose the Norris-Todd bill of 2011 that resulted in the sundering of a merged city/county school system and the creation of breakaway school districts in each of Shelby County’s suburban municipalities.
State Senator Sara Kyle with TNA members - JIM MCCARTER
  • Jim McCarter
  • State Senator Sara Kyle with TNA members
  Ironically, Tate had scheduled his headquarters opening at 3556 Mendenhall for Saturday afternoon, at the same time that Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee was having a “Super Saturday” bash at his headquarters at 5576 Poplar.

Though the word “Democrat” does not appear on the senator’s signage at his new headquarters, neither does the word “Republican.” Tate did, in fact, have some identifiable Democrats at the opening, and, when he was asked about the public disaffection from him of fellow Senate Democrats Kyle and Lee Harris, he handed out a flyer listing various benefits to Shelby County which he said were results of his Senate tenure, and he suggested that the coolness to his candidacy of various Democrats owed more to their envy of his achievements (alternatively, of his legislative committee assignments) than to any partisan apostasy on his part.

Reginald Tate (2nd from right) with friends atSaturday  headquarters opening.  Flanking are County Commissioner Willie Brooks and Young Democrat Alvin Crook, with former City Clerk Thomas Long nearby. - JB
  • JB
  • Reginald Tate (2nd from right) with friends atSaturday headquarters opening. Flanking are County Commissioner Willie Brooks and Young Democrat Alvin Crook, with former City Clerk Thomas Long nearby.

**As for the aforementioned gubernatorial candidate Lee, he had several members of the TNA at his “Super Saturday” affair (which was to have included some door-to-door campaigning in nearby locations, that had to be postponed, pending a break in some sudden rain showers).

Neither his questionnaire nor those of his gubernatorial opponents have as yet been received and tabulated by the TNA, but candidate Lee made a point of acknowledging his support for one of the key wish-list items wanted by the nurses’ association, legislation enabling independent practicing authority for nurse practitioners. One of his auditors on Saturday was TNA stalwart Connie McCarter, who pronounced herself pleased.
Another candidate for governor, U.S. Representative Diane Black, has invited members of the association to meet with her during the course of a CPAC event at FedExForum on Monday.

Gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee with friends at Lee's "Super Saturday" event. - JB
  • JB
  • Gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee with friends at Lee's "Super Saturday" event.

**Even as most local political attention is fixed on the races to be decided in the state and federal primaries and county general election August 2nd, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland made a major move to ready his reelection campaign for the city election of 2019. Strickland, who has been steadily been holding campaign fund-raisers, scheduled his most recent one for Tuesday of this week at the Beale Street Museum and Studio of the late Ernest Withers, the late revered photographic chronicler of the Civil Rights Revolution.

The crowded affair, at a minimum of $150 a head, drew a Who’s Who of influential black businessman and civil eminences, and suggested good tidings in 2019 for Strickland, whose 20915 upset victory over then Mayor A C Wharton, involved the draining away of significant African-American votes from Wharton. In his remarks to the group, Strickland did not fail to note that he had put himself on the line in the successful effort to buck state resistance in the removal of Confederate memorials downtown, that he had geometrically increased the amount of city contracts with black-owned businesses, and that he had addressed black voters’ concerns in numerous other ways.

It remains uncertain who Strickland’s opponents will be in 2919, though a former mayor, Willie Herenton, has proclaimed a wish to run, and Mike Williams, head of the Memphis Police Union, a fourth-place finisher in 2015, has already basically declared. Both are African-American. Strickland’s aim is clearly to stay a step ahead, and holding on to his impressive share of the black base is a key part of his strategy.
No, Elvis and BB, as famously pictured by Ernest Withers, are not quite life-size, but even if they were, they'd have had to defer, size-wise, to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, who held a successful fund-raiser in the Withers Museum and Studio on Thursday night. - JB
  • JB
  • No, Elvis and BB, as famously pictured by Ernest Withers, are not quite life-size, but even if they were, they'd have had to defer, size-wise, to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, who held a successful fund-raiser in the Withers Museum and Studio on Thursday night.

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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Election Commission Gives In, Gives Each Party an Umbrella Site for Early Voting

Agri-Center out as single meta-site; Abundant Grace and New Bethel are paired sites for partisan compromise.

Posted By on Sat, Jun 30, 2018 at 10:36 AM

Members of Election Commission listening intently to presentations at Friday's special called meeting - JB
  • JB
  • Members of Election Commission listening intently to presentations at Friday's special called meeting

Friday’s confrontation of the Shelby County Election Commission with aroused Democrats and other complainants about last-minute changes in early-voting sites for the August 2 election round reached its conclusion in a way that was easy to predict going in.

After two hours of argumentation by witnesses, punctuated by moments of genuine concern, passionate emotion, and some grandstanding as such, the Election Commission voted unanimously in favor of a motion by Democratic Commissioner Norma Lester to authorize four extra days of voting services at an easily accessible site in unmistakably Democratic territory, Abundant Grace Fellowship on Shelby Drive.

This site, previously listed as one of 26 satellite sites for early voting, would be balanced by assigning four extra days for voting services to an accessible site in the Republican hinterland, at New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church on Poplar Pike in Germantown. Losing its special status in the trade-off was the Agri-Center on Walnut Grove, which had previously been designated as the one central site to be open for all days in the forthcoming Early Voting span, which begins July 13 and ends on July 28.

Shelby County Democrats' chairman Corey Strong at the mic - JB
  • JB
  • Shelby County Democrats' chairman Corey Strong at the mic

Technically, there will be three sites open throughout the period of early-voting, since, as Election Administrator Linda Phillips said at the close of the meeting, state law apparently requires that one site connected with the administration of elections serve in that capacity. So, she said, the EC office on Nixon Drive at Shelby Farms, site of Friday's meeting, will also be an umbrella site for the entire early-voting period.

Voting in this second round of voting in 2018 will conclude on August 2, election day as such for the county general election, for selected suburban municipal positions, and for state and federal primaries.

Originally, the early-voting sites for this election round had been understood to be the same as for county primary voting, which ended in May after using 21 satellite sites for early-voting, with none of them scheduled to be open for extra days. (Election Administrator Linda Phillips would say on Friday that this had been an oversight, that the norm in local elections was to designate one site to be open for extra times though the early-voting period. That site was usually at the Election Commission’s downtown office.)

Last week, however, the EC announced five extra sites over the ones previously used in April for the May 1 election. Of these new sites, three were in disproportionately Republican areas, one in a “50/50”zone, and one in a Democratic area in South Memphis. That distribution — added for the sake of previously underserved areas, said Administrator Phillips and EC chairman Meyers — raised hackles among Democrats and others, as did the timing of the announced changes.

But the most provocative change proved to be the EC’s simultaneous designation of the Agri-Center as the one site that would be open and accessible throughout the early-voting period for Round Two, starting our days earlier than the rest of the satellite sites.

In complaints that made the rounds of social media, at a press conference held at the County Building early in the week, and finally at a raucous public hearing on Wednesday at the County Commission, protesters said the changes had been sudden and blindsiding, clearly favored Republicans, had not taken without consulting the public, and erred especially by the designation as an umbrella location of the Agri-Center, which is situated in suburbia and cannot be accessed by public transportation.

The furor made necessary Friday’s specially called meeting of the Election Commission, where the same sorts of accusations were made, in quantity. Prominent local Democrats, like the party’s Shelby County chair Corey Strong, County Commissioner Eddie Jones, and longtime School Board member Sara Lewis, had their say, with Strong insisting that the overriding issue the Election Commission should be concerned about was “getting people to the polls, nothing else.”

In style, the protests ran the gamut from the precise and logical to the agitated and the emotional. At one point, there was a brief but energetic chant from the audience of “All Sites!/ All Days!” — the chant signifying the opinion of many attendees that the proper solution of the controversy would be to assign the four extra days of accessibility to all of the early-voting sites, not just one or two.

The highlight of the 
South Africa native Ann Rief (at left) made the meeting's most passionate  request for change, then bashfully withdrew  to the periphery, shunning further attention. - JB
  • JB
  • South Africa native Ann Rief (at left) made the meeting's most passionate request for change, then bashfully withdrew to the periphery, shunning further attention.
 meeting seemed, to many observers, to come from Anne Rief, a Shelby Countian who had immigrated from South Africa. Her expression of devotion to her adopted country and her highly passionate expression of a palpable fear that some version of apartheid might be lurking in the revised schedule of early-voting sites visibly affected significant numbers of the attendees and members of the Election Commission as well.

EC Chairman Meyers had opened the meeting by insisting that the Election Commission made its decisions in a “50-50” manner and that, “We try very hard to be bipartisan.” Though he was to be greeted with jibes here and there in the crowd, Lester attempted to corroborate that sentiment, though she made it clear that she had been on vacation and had not been present when the EC voted the changes to the early-voting site schedule and that, had she been there, “my voice would have been heard.”

Democrat Lester said she would have opposed the designation of Agri-Center as an umbrella site, though she had been relatively untroubled by the disproportionately Republican nature of the newly added satellites, noting that the original list of 21 satellite sites had tilted in favor of Democrats. The main issue of the whole affair, she said, was one of perception, and “we owe the public an apology.”

What the public got was that, plus a fix that whose approximate terms could have been predicted from the onset of the controversy.

Democratic chair Strong was among several Democrats who couldn't be persuaded, either that the outcome was, in fact, a legitimate compromise, or that it resolved essential issues of turnout. In an online post, Strong had this to say:

"No matter what the Election Commission has done, the Democratic ticket needs 15k+ non-August Democrats to show up and moderate/suburban Dems to not cross over and vote for the demonstrably racist, homophobic, unethical, and unqualified Republican nominees. There is no press release, lawsuit, or other protest that will get those voters to the poll. If you aren't identifying your share of that 15 k to get to the polls, then start NOW!"

To which Strong's GOP counterpart, RPSC chair Lee Mills responded:

"The Republican Party of Shelby County calls upon Democrats around the county, state and country to condemn the statements of Shelby County Democrat Chairman Corey Strong.

As usual, the Democrat Party leads the race to the bottom by name calling, labeling and outright lying about Republican candidates and their views.

This type of tactic should be condemned in the strongest possible terms."

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Possible Consensus Looming in Early Voting Controversy

After a stormy day of arguments and protests over the location of voting sites for the August 2 election round, the Election Commission and its critics find possible light at the end of the tunnel.

Posted By on Wed, Jun 27, 2018 at 4:17 PM

Testifying at County Commission on early voting site controversy on Wednesday were (l to r) Norma Lester, Democratic member of the Election Commission, Election Administrator Linda Phillips, Election Commission chairman Robert Meyers, and Corey Strong, chairman of Shelby County Democratic Party. - JB
  • JB
  • Testifying at County Commission on early voting site controversy on Wednesday were (l to r) Norma Lester, Democratic member of the Election Commission, Election Administrator Linda Phillips, Election Commission chairman Robert Meyers, and Corey Strong, chairman of Shelby County Democratic Party.

After a stormy day of arguments and protests over the location of voting sites for the August 2nd election round, the Election Commission and its critics found possible light at the end of the tunnel.

A mushrooming controversy regarding the Shelby County Election Commission’s provision of a new Early Voting schedule for the August 2nd election round was taken up — and perhaps put on a path to resolution — by the Shelby County Commission on Wednesday, shortly after a press conference in the Vasco Smith County Building by Shelby County Democrats, who denounced the changes.

The Democratic contingent, spearheaded by county party chairman Corey Strong and state Young Democrats president London Lamar, summed up several days of simmering resentment, charging that the majority-Republican EC was catering preferentially to the GOP by the selection of the Agricenter in East Memphis as an umbrella site for for extra days of early voting. Previously that role had been bestowed on a downtown site, more accessible to residents of the inner city.

An additional focus of the Democrats' displeasure was the EC’s decision to add five new early voting sites to those previously advertised and employed for the county primary elections in May. As Strong would say in later testimony to the County Commission, three of the new sites were in strongly Republican areas, one was in “purple” territory, neither Democratic nor Republican, and the fifth was “a bone thrown to us” in South Memphis.

Yet a third point was at issue — a rumor that early voting sites in the eastern — or GOP-oriented — portions of the county had been provided with newer, more user-friendly election machines and materials than those provided for the inner city.

On that final point, for which no evidence had been presented, the answer given convincingly in a later ad hoc session of the county commission by several different sources, including Norma Lester, one of two Democrats on the Election Commission, was that all voting sites were provided with election machines of the same model and vintage. (There was further uniformity, seconded heartily by Republican Commissioner Terry Roland, that all the machines had reached the end of their life cycles and would be due for replacement in the near future.)

The other issues were not resolved so easily. Both Robert Meyers, the Republican chairman of the Election Commission, and election administrator Linda Phillips said that the newly added voting sites were chosen for the convenience of previously underserved areas and that the Agricenter, in Shelby Farms, was selected as an umbrella site, open for four more days than the other sites, because of its centra location in Shelby County.
Lamar and Strong with media at Democrats' press conference - JB
  • JB
  • Lamar and Strong with media at Democrats' press conference

Democratic members of the audience and of the county commission (which had and has no prescribed oversight of the EC, serving only a referee function on Wednesday) were skeptical, pointing out, for example, that the Agricenter site is not served by public transportation, a fact making it inconvenient for certain classes of working people.
After a fair amount of to and fro in argumentation, there seemed to emerge a consensus that changes could yet be made in the provision of sites for early voting, due to start on Friday, July 13th, and to end on Saturday, July 28, at 26 locations.

Complicating that search for consensus had been some evident contradictions, perhaps incidental or unintentional ones. Just before the commission convened for what would turn out to be its ad hoc session on the site issues, county election administrator Linda Phillips was asked who had made the determination on the location of the new sites.

“The Election Commission,” she said, decisively. As various testimony before the county commission — hers, as well as Election Commission chairman Robert Meyers — would indicate, however, that answer was only technically true. The new sites were among several selected by the administrator’s office, from which the Election Commission would pick and choose.

Another, more fundamental contradiction seemed to emerge from Meyers’ testimony before the county commission. In his explanation of the logic that went into the site selection, he said that pin-pointing previously underserved areas was the only criterion and that, specifically, questions of partisan orientation had not figured in the selection.

In later testimony, however, responding to suggestions from county commissioners, as well as audience members, that most of the newly added early-voting sites were in Republican areas, Meyers went down the list of preexisting sites and identified them by party, with most of those he mentioned being Democratic rather than Republican, then said that all the Election Commissionsion had done was to try to provide some “balance.”
EC Chairman Meyers under the lights - JB
  • JB
  • EC Chairman Meyers under the lights

In any case, all may end well. Two proposals for remedying the situation were made — one to make all sites open on the same days and for the same time intervals; another to assign a more central site the same extra days and hours as those now provided for the Agricenter, so that two sites would be available for extra days and hours. Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, on Bellevue Boulevard in Midtown, was one suggestion for the second site.

To judge by the applause that greeted the all-sites-open-all-days proposal, that was the audience favorite. County Commissioner Reginald Milton further proposed that 11 o’clock starting times be moved back to 10 a.m.

Meyers said “perhaps” when asked if such changes could be made by the Election Commission, later clarifying that conditional answer to mean that it could be done if a majority of the five-member Election Commission conferred approval.

Democratic Election Commissioner Lester, who had been the only member absent when the commission voted 4-0 to approve the new sites, quickly said she would call for an Election Commission meeting, and Meyers agreed to set one on an ASAP basis. (Lester said Wednesday she would have opposed the designation of the Agricenter as an umbrella site but praised administrator Phillips as an objective, unbiased official.)

And that soon-to-be special session of the Election Commission is where the next move in the Early Voting matter will occur, and where the controversy will be resolved. Or not.

Friday, June 15, 2018

In First General Election Debate, Lenoir Hits Harris on Safety Issue

Issue is Democratic County Mayor nominee's No vote on Norris "Crooks with Guns" bill.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 15, 2018 at 11:01 AM

Democrat Lee Harris - JB
  • JB
  • Democrat Lee Harris
Republican David Lenoir and Democrat Lee Harris squared off on Wednesday for their first one-on-one debate in the Shelby County Mayor’s race. The encounter was before a luncheon of the downtown Kiwanis Club of Memphis and was streamed live by WREG-TV, News Channel 3.

A close contest has been anticipated in this match between Lenoir, a fairly non-ideological Republican (“moderate” is probably too strong a term), and Harris, a polished Yale-
Republican David Lenoir - JB
  • JB
  • Republican David Lenoir
educated lawyer and state Senator whose theoretical crossover potential has augured for a possible recapture of white Democrats who have defecred to Republican candidates in the last several county elections.

But Lenoir would use the occasion of the debate to open up a line of attack potentially troublesome to Harris.

The GOP candidate focused on his background both in the financial industry and as County Trustee and on the talking points {“great schools, great job opportunities, safe streets”) he used successfully in the GOP primary. Harris touted his experience as City Councilman and legislator an, somewhat surprisingly, given the predominantly Caucasian, white-collar cast of the Kiwanis audience, announced that the focus of his “multi-racial” campaign would be “poverty, inequality, and segregation.”

Lenoir had described himself in his opening as “someone who’s willing to be tough on violent crime” and availed himself of an early question from a question from moderator Stephanie Scurlock of WREG about school security to propose more “security officers” and to charge that “my opponent voted against a law providing stiffer penalties for criminals with guns.”

Though most attendees probably assumed that Harris would attempt to answer the charge, one way or another, in his own response to the question, he didn’t, emphasizing instead that it was the duty of county clerks to make sure records of lawbreakers seeking to purchase weapons were up to date and well reported.

The bill referred to by Lenoir was SB 1241 by state Senator Mark Norris, a measure backed fairly overhwelmingly by the Shelby county Crime Commission and the local law enforcement community, approved with virtual unanimity in the 2017 session, and later to become Public chapter 475, with Harris being the solitary No vote against the measure in its passage through the Judiciary Committee.Lenoir would repeat his accusation two more times during the course of the debate, and Harris both times declined again to respond to the charge.

Asked about the matter after the debate, Harris professed not to know “what he [Lenoir] was talking about.” His campaign would put out a press release later in which his campaign manager Danielle Inez, would say, “It’s not a time for engaging in the style of politics that is too prevalent in Washington.Unfortunately, though, in the debate today David Lenoir decided his only route to victory is by negative attacks. It’s a shame. It’s desperate.”

Harris had two other moments in the debate ("unforced errors," one observer would call them) that seemed potentially problematic. At one point, apparently attempting to establish a personal connection to his announced themes regarding injustice, Harris made an off-handed remark about his having been “thrown into the back of a police car” as a youth, offering no further information about the matter.

At another point of the debate, regarding gun violence in general, Lenoir made a fairly conventional response acknowledging himself to be a gun owner but expressing his concern about the issue, with Harris beginning his response with a contrasting statement that he didn’t own a firearm and, in fact, had never fired one. While arguably commendable as.a fact, the admission seemed to some to distance Harris from the issue in terms of knowledgeability.

In the aforementioned press release from campaign manager Inez, the statement was made about Thursday's debate that Harris had “rocked it.” Indeed, in most ways and on most issues he held his own and performed well, but it seemed obvious that Lenoir will challenge him again and again on the safety issue along the lines introduced and developed on Thursday.

In addition to his position on Norris' "Crooks with Guns" legislation, Harris took a strong stand in the Senate against the present form of school-zone drug laws, which raise the penalty level foe offenses committed within 1000 yards of schools, parks, and other locations where children might gather.

Harris and other opponents have argued that — for basis geographical, not legal reasons — the laws have a disproportionate racial impact on minority offenders. The question of unintended consequences of such increased penalties was one of the subjects raised of gubernatorial candidates at Thursday's legal forum at The Peabody.

Friday, June 1, 2018

“X Factor” Bill Lee Takes Gubernatorial Campaign to Cordova

A frequent visitor to Shelby County, the man from Franklin (and possible fallback candidate for Republicans) remains an unknown factor in many ways.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 1, 2018 at 9:03 AM

Lee at Houston Levee Community Center in Cordova on Thursday - JB
  • JB
  • Lee at Houston Levee Community Center in Cordova on Thursday

Bill Lee is in many ways the image of a successful political candidate — square-jawed, polished, personally agreeable, possessor of a successful business and one of the great smiles, to boot. The Republican gubernatorial candidate from Williamson County in Middle Tennessee also has a backstory that is both touching and, here and there, inspiring.

As he has related countless times in various appearances around the state the past year, and as he spells out in detail in a self-published autobiographical volume he passes out on the stump, This Road I’m On, Lee suffered the loss of his first wife in a tragic equestrian accident some years ago. Through reliance on a Christian faith he obviously takes quite seriously, coupled with his immersion in various acts of personal ministration to others, Lee says he has emerged stronger, with a determination to perform public service.

Lee has made that clear. What is less clear is what he intends to do and how he’ll go about it. Last year, early in his race for governor, Lee issued, with a good deal of fanfare, something called a “Commitment to Memphis and Shelby County,” a list, he said, of “ten commitments I’m making to Memphis and Shelby County that I’ll keep when I become governor of Tennessee.”

Examples from the list were commitments “that Memphis and Shelby County will play a significant role in our efforts to improve education, economic development, and enhancing public safety across West Tennessee,” to “working with local leaders to find tailored solutions for the challenges of Memphis and Shelby County,” and “to give law enforcement and prosecutors the support and resources they need to protect public safety.”

That that there was a certain lack of specificity to those and other points in the list did not cancel out a sense that Lee had sincerity and good intentions. Certainly, his frequent visits to Memphis since then — often in the company of his engaging second wife Maria — are a vindication of his commitment to “being present in Shelby County and to make Shelby County a focus of my administration’s vision for our state.”

But the question remains: What in particular would Bill Lee do for Memphis and Shelby County — or for other parts of Tennessee, for that matter? The matter is hardly academic, since various polls indicate that the outlier from Franklin, though lacking the indicators from previous governmental service that his GOP rivals possess, is right up there with the leaders in the pack.

Nor did Lee’s latest local appearance, at a “town hall” in Cordova on Thursday morning, shed much light on his purposes, other than to underscore the importance of his personal faith and his plan to create a new state office focusing on faith-based approaches to governance.

After the audience at the Houston Levee Community Center (in a building gifted by the adjacent Calvary Church of the Nazarene) had seen a brief video provided by the Lee campaign, followed by brief remarks by the candidate, Lee engaged in a Q-and-A session.
One exchange was typical. Asked to propose an initiative “” for curtailing gun violence consistent with the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right to gun ownership," Lee answered: “I believe the ‘initiative’ would be to protect our constitutional rights … to protect them and defend them.” To curtail ownership rights, Lee said, would be to penalize ordinary citizens for the actions of criminals.

In the same way, Lee’s assertion that “teachers are not supported in the way they ought to be” and his promise to remedy that omission faded into vagueness when he was asked afterward about his means for doing so. He was emphatic that he was “not an advocate for expanding teachers’ unions” but for creating “an environment in which they [the teachers] can thrive,” along with providing them with pay equivalent to the most generous communities around — the modus for which was not spelled out.

Still, it would be disingenuous not to acknowledge Lee’s point of view — conservative, traditional, but turned a bit on the angle-of-vision axis, and decidedly unsentimental.
Two weeks ago, during a gubernatorial forum at Nashville’s Lipscomb College, he was the only one of five participating candidates (two Democrats and three Republicans, including himself) to answer in the negative a lightning-round question about whether the proselytizing effect of the Parkland, Florida high school students, post-gun massacre, had been a good thing or a bad thing.

He has a ready supply of right-tilting obiter dicta that suggest more than they say, although what they say seems clear enough. Examples: “Hope is not a strategy. It fuels a strategy;” “Sanctuary cities are, by definition, lawlessness;” “The taste of bittersweet is better than sweet.”

The interesting thing about Lee’s candidacy is that the verbal markers he throws down — which is the best way, perhaps, of describing his views — are every bit as conservative as, say, Diane Black’s, but lack the edge of what she says. It is a fact, too, that, as Lee frequently mentions to audiences, he has mentored at-risk children and done hands-on work in transitioning back to society people just released from prison.

He is, in short, still something of an X factor, his point of view dogmatically hardening a bit in the public consciousness but still ambivalent enough to keep alive his potential status as a fallback candidate, at least for Republicans.

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