Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Cohen Takes Mild Umbrage at Lee's VoTech Plan

Posted By on Wed, Feb 6, 2019 at 8:27 AM

Rep. Cohen
  • Rep. Cohen
Memphis Democratic congressman Steve Cohen was decidedly lukewarm on Tuesday about the program of accelerated K-12 vo-tech education announced earlier in the day by Bill Lee just before the governor left Nashville for the State of the Union address in Washington.

That’s because the congressman has never been fond of state programs that have used lottery scholarship money for funding, and that’s precisely what the governor intends to do.

In releasing the broad outlines of his proposal to step up K-12 vo-tech programs in Tennessee, Lee did not reveal his estimate as to the program’s cost. “We know the real numbers,” he said, “ but we have to let the legislature see it. ... These funds will come from the same funding pool that the other programs funded from the lottery are."

The Tennessee Lottery was a project Cohen labored for more than two decades as a state senator to bring into being, and its original, and still chief, purpose was to provide HOPE scholarships for students needing a source of additional funding for their college education.

The text of the press release containing Cohen’s statement on the governor’s wish to tap the lottery fund follows: “Vocational and technical education are areas in which Tennessee lags, and they can help open job opportunities. But the people of Tennessee voted in 2002 for a Georgia-like HOPE scholarship that rewarded the more meritorious and the more needy. This is what scholarships should do, aim at merit and need. I ‘hope’ someone will recall that and increase HOPE and Aspire Award scholarships.”

All things considered, and Cohen being Cohen, that was fairly accommodating.
The “other programs” mentioned by Lee that have since tapped the lottery fund include Tennessee Promise, which pays for Tennesseans' community college tuition, and TNReconnect, a subsidy for adults continuing their suspended education, both programs cited by Lee as precedents. When the Haslam administration first proposed diverting lottery proceeds to fund these programs, Cohen was critical, insisting that the funds should remain committed solely to their original purpose. But his disapproval was expressed in a much more animated way than was his statement about Lee’s proposal on Tuesday.

The congressman’s reaction to Lee was almost one of resignation, as if he realized that, having lost battles regarding the earlier diversions, he was unlikely to prevail on this newest front of the funding war. Hence his concession regarding the value of increasing vo-tech education and his final sentence, expressing a wish for separate measures to increase the HOPE and Aspire scholarships.

It is still too early to forecast how things turn out. Lee can count on the “honeymoon” effect in expecting lawmakers to accede to his wishes. But few can be as determined as Cohen in pressing a case. It will likely take a while to work out a solution amendable to both officials, but on the strength of what was said by both of them on Tuesday, it can’t be considered impossible.

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Friday, February 1, 2019

The Trump Tariffs and the Memphis Electrolux Disaster

Posted By on Fri, Feb 1, 2019 at 12:17 PM

A Wednesday announcement by U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander of his co-sponsorship of a bill to return control of American tariff policy from the president to Congress ironically highlights the news, a day later, of the Electrolux Corporation’s decision to abandon its Memphis plant.

One section of Alexander’s press release analyzes the probable deleterious effects of President Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs on manufacturing plants in Tennessee:

“In general, steel and aluminum tariffs put in place for national security purposes are a big mistake. No state is likely to be more damaged by these tariffs than Tennessee, because in many ways we are the nation’s number one auto state. One third of the manufacturing jobs in Tennessee are auto jobs. We have more than 890 automotive suppliers — almost all of which use aluminum and steel — in 88 of our 95 counties.

“Just last year, the largest employer in Springfield, Tennessee — Electrolux, which makes home appliances — put a $250 million expansion on hold. Electrolux buys all of its steel from U.S. suppliers, but, of course, when you raise the price on imported steel, the price of U.S. steel also goes up, and Electrolux concluded that it could not be competitive in the U.S. market with these higher prices. Now, if we were moving toward a policy of reciprocity — do for us what we do for you — there would be zero tariffs, and the people of Springfield would have a $250 million plant expansion and the jobs that come with it instead of a 25 percent tax on the U.S. steel that Electrolux buys.”

On Thursday, the day following the press release containing this analysis, residents and officials of Memphis were shocked by the news of a pending shutdown by Electrolux of its plant in Memphis, constructed under a 2010 contract calling for nearly $190 million in state and local government incentives without the protection to taxpayers of a “clawback” agreement.

The giant corporation’s plans were presumably affected by such other circumstances as the recent bankruptcy of Sears, for which Electrolux was a major supplier of home appliances. It seems clear that the same arguments put forth by Alexander regarding effects on the Springfield plant of Electrolux might also have had decisively adverse consequences on the company’s plans for the Memphis plant’s future.

The bill co-sponsored by Alexander would require Congressional approval of tariffs proposed by the president under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to address threats to national security.

As the Senator’s press release notes, Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress authority to regulate trade with foreign nations and to impose tariffs.

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Friday, January 25, 2019

ACLU, Governor Speaking “Same Language” on Justice Reform, Weinberg Says

Posted By on Fri, Jan 25, 2019 at 11:39 AM

Hedy Weinberg at Rotary Club of Memphis - JB
  • JB
  • Hedy Weinberg at Rotary Club of Memphis

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, wants it on the record: She is confident that Governor Bill Lee is “very committed to criminal justice reform” and that “we speak the same language” on that issue.

Weinberg made the declaration as part of an ACLU goals review on Tuesday of this week in a luncheon address to the Rotary Club of Memphis. And, after she had concluded her remarks, she submitted to a question-and-answer session and was asked by Rotarian Otis Sanford of The Daily Memphian and the University of Memphis if she was “confident” that Lee “will follow through on this and make a difference with this very ultra-conservative legislature.”

Weinberg answered in the affirmative: “I don’t agree with [him on] everything, but I do have confidence and will be very happy to partner with him.”

In his inauguration address last week, Lee addressed the goal of “safe neighborhoods” and promised to be “tough on crime and smart on crime at the same time.” He elaborated: “[H]ere’s the reality. 95 percent of the people in prison today are coming out. And today in Tennessee, half of them commit crimes again and return to prison within the first three years. We need to help non-violent criminals re-enter society, and not re-enter prison.”

In her remarks to the Rotarians, Weinberg praised Lee as well as the Tennessee County Services Association, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce,(the Tennessee Association of Goodwills, and the Beacon Center of Tennessee as partners committed to provide progressive remedies to issues of recidivism, non-violent crime, and what she termed Tennessee’s current policies of “over-incarceration.”

The General Assembly has in recent years seen an increasing incidence of cooperation between legislators of the left and right in bills aimed at criminal justice reform. Though she noted remaining islands of obstruction among legislators, Weinberg hailed what she saw as a dawning era of bipartisan agreement on reform issues.

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Covington’s Rose Easily Wins GOP Nomination for State Senate District 32

Posted By on Thu, Jan 24, 2019 at 10:41 PM

On a flood of Tipton County votes, most of them from 
THE AGONY OF DEFEAT: Lonnie Treadaway, who recently lost his bid to join the Memphis City Council, consoles Heidi Shafer as she confronts the numbers at her election-night party at Exline's Pizza on Stage Road. Shafer was one of three Shelby Countians to lag behind GOP nominee Paul Rose of Tipton County in voting for the Republican nomination for state Senate District 32. - JB
  • JB
  • THE AGONY OF DEFEAT: Lonnie Treadaway, who recently lost his bid to join the Memphis City Council, consoles Heidi Shafer as she confronts the numbers at her election-night party at Exline's Pizza on Stage Road. Shafer was one of three Shelby Countians to lag behind GOP nominee Paul Rose of Tipton County in voting for the Republican nomination for state Senate District 32.
early voting, Covington businessman/farmer Paul Rose easily won the Republican nomination to succeed federal judge Mark Norris in the vacated District 32 state Senate seat.

Three Shelby Countians —former County Commissioners George Chism and Heidi Shafer, and former state Representative Steve McManus — brought up the rear behind Rose, all trailing the Covington candidate even in Shelby County. In Tipton County, Rose’s margin was 83 percent. Cumulatively, he won something like two/thirds of the overall vote in both counties.

None of the Shelby County candidates had anything but marginal vote totals in Tipton. Rose won 4,132 of the 4,632 votes cast there. In Shelby the vote went this way: Rose, 2,266; Chism, 1,512; Shafer, 1,322; McManus, 1,055.

Given the fact of the much larger overall pool of voters in Shelby County, it would seem obvious that a much higher turnout rate in Tipton County, coupled with an apparent determination of voters there to elect one of their own, figured large in the outcome.

Democrat Eric R. Coleman, with 377 votes in Shelby County and 166 in Tipton County won his nomination without opposition and will be matched against Rose on the March 12th general election ballot.

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Saturday, January 19, 2019

In Brief Address, Governor Bill Lee Takes the Oath in Nashville

Posted By on Sat, Jan 19, 2019 at 2:16 PM

Franklin businessman Bill Lee was sworn in as Tennessee’s new Governor on a rainy Saturday in War Memorial Auditorium and delivered a brief inaugural address that reflected his modest, down-to-earth gubernatorial campaIgn.

After thanking his predecessor, Bill Haslam, for leaving him “a foundation to build on,” Lee said Tennessee was “the envy of many states” for the progress of its institutions. He then paid homage to family relations ranging from his wife, Maria, to an ancestor, Charles Braxton Lee, one of Tennessee’s earliest settlers, and vowed to meet the state’s challenges and further its goals.

And he offered a dutiful tribute to “the favor of God Himself.” (One of the hallmarks of his address was the aforesaid brevity; all things considered, it was not much longer than the official prayers: the invocation, offered by Pastor Steve Berger, and the benediction, which included an authentic chant in Hebrew from Dr. Don Finto.)

Lee provided summary once-overs rather than detailed positions, as he set forth a minimalist concept of state government, the purpose of which, he said, was “to protect our rights, our safety, and our freedom.”

He promised to lift Tennessee to “the top tier of states” in education and to combat such social ills as the currently raging opioid epidemic and the rising rate of violent crime. (As for non-violent crime, Lee endorsed the currently modish view that advocates preparing nonviolent offenders for re-entry into society rather than imprisoning them.)

The new governor concluded his address with the words “Thank you for this honor. God bless each one of you, and God bless the great state of Tennessee.”

The inaugural ceremonies were followed by numerous receptions around the capital, including one at B.B. King’s of Nashville sponsored by “the Memphis and Shelby County legislative delegation, cabinet members, deputy to the governor Lang Wiseman, and Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Jennifer Nichols.

Sponsors of the reception included Memphis City Council chair Kemp Conrad, state Senator Brian Kelsey, state Reps. Mark White and Joe Towns, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, FedEx president and CEO Richard Smith, and David Upton.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

No Surprise: Strickland Announces for Reelection

Brandishing a new and favorable poll, Memphis' mayor says he'll have another go at it in the city election of 2019.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2019 at 12:43 PM

Mayor Strickland - JB
  • JB
  • Mayor Strickland

The least surprising piece of news, surely, of this still young century was officially communicated to the Memphis public Tuesday morning with the announcement that Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland will … run again.

The word “officially” is no metaphor. Strickland’s intent to seek reelection was delivered via a full-page (and front-page) article in The Commercial Appeal complete with a flattering portrait-sized photograph and a respectful recitation of the mayor’s claimed accomplishments in office that might as well have been written by His Honor himself. The total effect was that of a souvenir guide to a ceremonial coronation.

This is not a “sour grapes” response. Regret at not being first with a significant announcement — even a long-anticipated one — is an acknowledgment of the inherent priorities of the news-gathering profession. Nor is it a dis of the lucky reporter who harvested this item; a capable pursuer of information, she is not to be faulted merely because this story was delivered to her via the proverbial silver platter. When asked at a lunch meeting with this runner-up scribe later on why he opted for this means of revelation — as against, say, an open-to-all-comers press availability  — Strickland answered simply, “We judged this to be the best way of getting our story out.”

Which is something to keep in mind the next time we are expected to cluck away in compassionate sorrow at the supposedly dwindling fortunes of our city’s long-lived morning daily — still in possession, apparently, of a circulation list to be envied, and shepherded by the big-bucked Gannett operation against the prospect of corporate adversity.

And despair not. The rest of us will still have some scraps to share — like the poll results of a fresh sampling of voter opinion taken for the mayor by Public Opinion Strategies.

Among its findings:

*That, contrary to what might be assumed, this male white mayor has his lowest approval rating — at 68 percent — among white men and his highest among African-American women, at 74 percent. (Other approval numbers: 73 percent among white women; 72 percent, among black men).

*That Strickland’s “job rating” is adjudged at essentially the same level of approval by almost all sectors of the population. To wit: 71 percent by Republicans, 73 percent by independents, and 72 percent by Democrats; 67 percent by conservatives, 78 percent by moderates; and 66 percent by liberals; 71 percent by Memphians with no college experience and 73 percent by those who have such experience; 72 percent by those whose origins are in the North and 72 percent among native Southerners.

The poll also assigns an ever-rising percentage figure, from 2014 onward, to those who regard Strickland favorably: 33 percent in November 2014; 45 percent in August 2015; 48 percent on September 8, 2015; 56 percent on September 22, 2015 (these last two figures were arrived at just before Strickland’s first election as mayor); and 78 percent in December of 2018.

The Public Opinion Strategies poll was taken of 400 likely voters between December 11th and December 14th and claims a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.9 percent. The polling group is the same one that provided what turned out to be on-target samplings for Strickland four years ago, and it was arranged, as in 2015, through the auspices of consultant Steven Reid.

In lunch conversation on Tuesday, both Strickland and Reid laid special stress on such talking points as the upward trend of police and fire hires and the administration's plans to achieve universal pre-K instruction within two years without need of a tax increase.

For all his polling numbers, Strickland seems to have maintained an unassuming attitude toward his image in the community. Asked whether he thought he was readily identifiable by the public, he gave the matter a test, asking the waitress at Tug’s, where we ate, if she knew what he did for a living. “You’re the mayor of Memphis,” she answered, bearing the smile of one who had just answered successfully on a quiz show.

Strickland seemed pleased, but not overly so. He reiterated a statement he has made previously — to the effect that he rarely reads the resident media, except in the case of informed commentary regarding an issue laid before him for action. And he maintains that he never reads social media at all.

That means he would have missed a Facebook thread from last week, one featuring a chorus of criticism from a corps of the the mayor's designated dissenters. In the case at hand, their complaint was not so much with Strickland per se, as with the reportage of what he said at his annual New Year’s Eve prayer breakfast — specifically the mayor’s verbal embrace of causes and occasions close to the hearts of many of his African-American constituents.

To the dissenters, this was all malarkey, and to report it without a litany of clarifying dispraise amounted to giving Strickland, in the words of one kibitzer, a “big wet sloppy kiss.” If the Public Opinion Strategies poll is as accurate an eye on reality as those done by the same firm for Strickland during his successful campaign of 2015, the would-be debunkers might owe the world a re-think.

They will, of course, have the available put-up-or-shut-up remedy of disproving the poll by providing a viable opposing candidate to Strickland, who vows that this year’s election contest will be his last one, ever.

We’re open to being convinced as to alternate outcomes. And, as noted in its opening paragraphs, this article does not purport to be an official or semi-official account from the horse’s mouth. To embroider upon the elegant metaphor of the aforementioned critic, it is but a case — with no salacity intended — of sloppy seconds.

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Monday, January 7, 2019

Caught in the Act...

Posted By on Mon, Jan 7, 2019 at 7:07 PM

img_0412.jpg he surely meant to be, was 9th District Congressman Steve Cohen, who once again (as he always seems to do for affairs of state in the House chamber) had an aisle seat when California Rep. Nancy Pelosi came down the aisle last week to be sworn in as Speaker. And the Memphis congressman was waiting with a congratulatory kiss.

Cohen has been a backer of Pelosi throughout his 12 years so far in the House. He is loyal to the point of putting aside the Articles of Impeachment he introduced last year upon Pelosi's advising that such a strategy (for any Democrat just now) would be premature and possibly counter-productive.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Myron Lowery for City Council (Again)?

After Cohen and Harris dis the current Council, the former Councilman teases the idea of a return at the annual New Year’s prayer breakfast, presided over this year by son Mickell, a County Commissioner.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 2, 2019 at 11:57 AM

FATHER-SON COMBO: Once and possibly future  City Councilman Myron Lowery (l) with current County Commissioner Mickell Lowery, his son, at the Lowerys' annual New Year's prayer breakfast. - JB
  • JB
  • FATHER-SON COMBO: Once and possibly future City Councilman Myron Lowery (l) with current County Commissioner Mickell Lowery, his son, at the Lowerys' annual New Year's prayer breakfast.

The Memphis City Council took some serious licks Tuesday at the annual New Year’s prayer breakfast, presided over for a quarter-century by former Councilman Myron Lowery, and this year, by County Commissioner Mickell Lowery, his son.

The upshot was that several of the event’s principal speakers — 9th District Congressman Steve Cohen, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, and finally former Councilman Lowery himself — expressed some of the negative views that have been circulating in the community at large during weeks of gridlock over the appointment of new council members, following months of other questionable actions by the council.

Part of the fallout was the suggestion by the senior Lowery at the event’s conclusion that he had given thought to putting his name up for appointment to the “fractured” council, now three members short. Lowry went on to say he had discarded the idea, but added, as a parting tease: "I am giving consideration perhaps to another run this year.”

Earlier, Cohen had included a dig at the council amid kudos for County Mayor Harris and members of the Shelby County Commission in attendance: “The county commission seems to be doing a little better than the city council,” the Congressman said.

When it came his time to speak, Harris extolled both Lowerys for their service and quipped, “Some of y’all remember when we had a city council in Memphis.”

All of which led to the piece de resistance, Myron Lowery’s floated idea of another council run.

Continue reading »

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Monday, December 31, 2018

Strickland Issues Call for More Citizen Involvement

Posted By on Mon, Dec 31, 2018 at 3:41 PM

Mayot Strickland - JB
  • JB
  • Mayot Strickland
Politics as such went largely unspoken of at Mayor Jim Strickland’s annual New Year’s prayer breakfast on Monday morning — the 2019 edition on New Year’s Eve, actually — at the University of Memphis-area Holiday Inn on Central Avenue. 

Dignitaries of all sorts — past, present, and on-the-way-to-being-future — were on hand for the event, which included some extraordinary singing and preaching, the latter notably including a passionate impromptu sermon on the value of persistence through adversity from the Rev. J. Lawrence Turner of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, who was filling in for the absent Rev. LaSimba Gray.

Another absentee was former Mayor Willie Herenton, who was the keynote speaker and guest-of-honor two years ago at Strickland’s New Year’s event, where Herenton called for “10,000 black men” to serve as mentors for the city’s youth population. Two years later, the call for mentors was reiterated by Strickland, who in brief remarks asked for volunteers to commit “one hour a week” to a variety of uplift activities, including “Team Read” and “Rise to Read," two programs aimed at increasing youth literacy.

The 79-year-old Herenton, meanwhile, has demonstrated his own persistence by becoming a declared challenger for the mayoralty again in this year of city elections. The only reference Strickland made on Monday to any previous mayor was indirect and early in his remarks, when he was celebrating the contributions to the city by its faith community, members of which, he noted, had been key supporters of those who “struck against my predecessor [Henry Loeb] 50 years ago.”

By such verbal means, the current mayor deftly put himself on the side of the angels — which is to say, in line with the aspirations of the city’s African-American majority, whom Strickland, who is white, successfully courted in his 2015 victory over then-incumbent Mayor A C Wharton.

The courtship continued through part one of Strickland’s address on Monday, the aforementioned celebration of the Memphis faith community — on the job, he said, “day in and day out” — and extended through part two, which was dedicated to the proposition that Memphis has “momentum” and which allowed the mayor to recount some of what he put forth as recent successes during his administration.

Some of these were the expansion at St. Jude and new jobs through the auspices of Amazon and Indigo, plans for universal pre-K education within two years, reduction of the city’s poverty rate, and increased hires and contracting with the Memphis minority community.

“My job is to celebrate our successes and to be clear-eyed about our challenges,” Strickland summed up in the third and concluding part of his remarks, wherein he issued an appeal to his audience to “get involved” in the task of dealing with the challenges.

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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Another George H.W. Bush Memory

Posted By on Thu, Dec 6, 2018 at 11:44 AM

There have been so many stories from all sides of every aisle reflecting favorably on  the person of the late President George H.W. Bush. I’ll add one:

In 1991 or so, President Bush came to Memphis on some mission, governmental or political or mixed, and landed on FedEx turf, emerging to meet a large crowd of welcomers in a hangar. I managed to be in that crowd and got close to the rope line so as to get a good snapshot of him.

When Bush had got to a point more or less in front of me, I raised my camera, a 35-millimeter sort, to my eye and prepared to press the shutter. The President, observing me two or three ranks back. and imagining me no doubt to be there as a plain citizen, not a news person, interrupted the conversation he was having at the rope line and raised his arms, palms to either side, waving his arms outward in a gesture meant to tell the crowd to move aside, leaving me a good shot-line. Simultaneously, he offered one of the most pleasant smiles imaginable, not the mindless grip-and-grin sort public figures have in such ample stock but one of eye-twinkling complicity (or so it seemed to me).

Just as I pressed the shutter of the camera, the old film-roll sort, I heard the tell-tale sound of the camera’s motor, telling me that I had taken my last shot with that roll and the film was beginning its automatic rewind. President Bush must have heard that whir, too, or perhaps merely read and translated my stricken expression. In any case, he clearly knew what had happened, and his kindly look transformed into one of obvious compassion with my predicament, culminating, seconds later, with a wink and a "so-it-goes" shrug..

That striking display of empathy is what I took away from that day in the hangar, not a photograph but a moment that still remains in my memory as a mini-portrait of the man.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Hundreds Rally to Save Mueller Inquiry

Masses of Memphians brave the cold to sound a warning to Trump after Sessions firing and Whitaker hiring: "Hands off the Russian investigation! Justice will be served!"

Posted By on Sat, Nov 10, 2018 at 9:58 PM

  • Laura Jean Hocking

Hundreds gathered in Civic Center Plaza in Downtown Memphis on Saturday to protest the forced resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the appointment of Matthew Whittaker to replace him by President Donald Trump.

The Rally to Protect the Mueller Investigation was part of a wave of protests that swept the nation this week that sought to bring attention to the dangers of a president who considers himself above the law.

“No one is above the law” was a common chant throughout the rally.

Speaking through a bullhorn on a crisp Fall day, Emily Fulmer told the crowd her group Indivisible Memphis “…is against Trump’s racist, anti-LBGT, anti-woman, anti-worker, anti-democracy, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim policies.”

She vowed to bring an end to “incompetent and hate-filled leadership in Washington. We’ve been working hard to elect replacements for our out-of-touch, Trump-loving representatives here and across the country.”

Fulmer said Trump had exceeded his authority. “This week he crossed the line when he fired Jeff Sessions and picked the most inexperienced, anti-Mueller, right-wing lapdog loyalist he could find, Matt Whittaker, to replace him…This is an unconstitutional attempt to obstruct the Mueller investigation just as the hammer is about to come down. We cannot allow this to happen. Trump is scared. He saw what happened on Tuesday, when the Democrats took back the house. And now he’s breaking the law to protect himself. We are here to remind him that no one is above the law.”

Activist Theryn Bond opened her remarks by saying “We believe in the rule of law, and we have a president who doesn’t. We are here to stand up to Donald Trump. We the people are the ultimate power in our democracy. Donald Trump can’t take that away from us no matter how hard he tries. It will be we the people who will hold him accountable for his abuses of power and corruption, and it is we the people who must stand up to his latest attempt to protect himself, his family, and his indicted associates from being held accountable. The Mueller investigation must continue without delay or interference. President Trump is not above the law.”

University of Memphis law professor Steve Mulroy analyzed the legal situation. “Trump’s appointment of Matt Whittaker is probably illegal and unconstitutional. It was probably done designedly to obstruct the Mueller investigation. And he’s probably got a serious conflict of interest. Other than that, everything’s fine.”

He said, due to the complexity of the situation, “Don’t count on the courts to come riding over the hill to the rescue. This is on us. We’ve got to act…It’s going to be us demanding Congress take action. Organize, mobilize, and publicize.”

The focus turned local for a moment when Cat Allen of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center described her experience of being the subject of surveillance by the Memphis Police Department. “You think traffic is bad, imagine being tailed by unmarked cars. That happens to us every day, and it’s got to stop.”

She thanked the ACLU for helping win a recent lawsuit banning political surveillance by the police. “We told the Memphis Police Department that their job is to protect citizens, not to surveil them.”

The she turned to the defeat of the three ballot measures during last week’s elections. “On Tuesday, we told the city council not the first time but the second time that Memphians want instant runoff voting. We’re not going to stop until we get it. And we mean implemented, not just won. And two terms is enough, thank you very much.”

She promised future action to clean up city government. “We’re going to do this all over next year when we elect a new city council. And I do mean a NEW city council.”

By far the loudest cheers of the day came for Congressman Steve Cohen, who just won re-election by a comfortable margin. Cohen compared the situation to The Godfather, and talked about his experience on the House Judiciary Committee and as the ranking member of the Constitution Committee, both of which are liable to play major roles in the coming political confrontation when the Democrats take control of the House in January.

“The Judiciary committee has been meeting by conference call twice this week with legal scholars. We will be participating, if the Senate does go in, with a legal action to question the appointment of Whittaker. People of standing to bring the action is either Rosenstein for being stepped over or the Senate for not being able to confirm. The house can’t bring the action, but any Senator can, and the House can join with them. We will join with the Senators to come forward. When we get the majority in January, we can subpoena Whittaker. We can subpoena Mueller, and we can subpoena his report.

"We can turn the House of Trump, which is what the House of Representatives has been these last two years, back into what it was supposed to be, the People’s House…I thank you each for choosing me to represent you in Congress and on the Judiciary Committee. I assure you, your thoughts and wishes will be expressed there. We will not let them trample on our Constitution, take away our rights, and hide the Mueller Report. It belongs to the American people. We deserve to know what went on with Russia. You know, Trump’s over in Paris right now, and I understand he’s going to meet with Putin. Putin’s gonna get an update on his account.”

Cohen said the Mueller investigation is in danger from Whittaker, (“He’s the hatchet man.”), and encouraged Democrats in the House of Representatives to sign on the bill he introduced last year to protect the inquiry into the connection between the Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign. 185 Democrats and 1 Republican endorsed the bill last year, and Cohen said he expected a wave of new co-sponsors when he returned to Washington.

The final speaker was high school student Zoe Gurney, who led the ever popular “Show me what democracy looks like” chant.

“March for Our Lives inspired me, like many youths, to fight for our future. We stand here untied to protect the Mueller investigation. To fight for a nation with liberty, equality, and justice. To let it be known that no one is above the law…Social media posts are not enough. This is our future. Get out of your comfort zone.”

Like other speakers, Gurney took hope from the recent election results. “In this last election, participation by first time voters was up by 700% in the state of Tennessee. The youth are the leaders of the future, and we are the face of tomorrow!”

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Rally to Safeguard Mueller Investigation

Posted By on Sat, Nov 10, 2018 at 8:39 PM


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Election 2018: Winners, Losers, and Close Calls

Posted By on Wed, Nov 7, 2018 at 12:00 AM

The thrill of victory was experienced by (l to r) Aaron Fowles, Steve Mulroy, and Racquel Collins, opponents of the losing referendum to repeal Instranr Runoff Voting. - JB
  • JB
  • The thrill of victory was experienced by (l to r) Aaron Fowles, Steve Mulroy, and Racquel Collins, opponents of the losing referendum to repeal Instranr Runoff Voting.
Note: For reasons that remain obscure, the following text, published in the early morning of November 7, vanished from online, to be replaced by an earlier election-highlights brief that was posted on election night itself. I am happy to see the longer piece, like Lazarus, freed from untimely interment and restored. — jb

When the final report was done, the last round poured, the surviving hors-d’oeuvres wilted, the election results locally mirrored those nationally. There were lots of near misses, college tries, and moral victories — mainly among Democrats who had aspired to overturn the verdict of 2016 (or, in many ways, of the last few decades).

But the inherent limitations of the near miss, the college try, and the moral victory would rapidly become obvious as the reality of defeat and the resilience of the status quo sunk in.

The purest and most unsullied triumph locally was enjoyed by the band of activists in Save IRV Memphis and their sympathizers, who resisted a concentrated effort by the Memphis City Council on behalf of three ballot referenda that, the activists contended, were designed to protect the incumbency of Council members.

To start there, the count was 62,316 for and 104,431 against in the case of Ordinance No. 5669, which would have repealed the prior 2008 referendum authorizing IRV (a method of vote -counting that successively redistributes runner-up votes in a given race until a majority winner emerges). The vote was 67,220 for and 101,607 against for Ordinance No. 5676, which (via language that was ambivalent, to say the least) would have lengthened term limits for mayor and Council members from two to three four-year terms. And Ordinance No. 5677, which would have abolished runoff elections altogether, lost out by a vote of 77,223 for and 91,184 against.
The Democratic candidates, all first-time candidates, who attempted to oust Republican state legislators in the suburbs, made a good run of it, but fell short. In the most avidly watched race, Gabby Salinas, the three-time cancer survivor and budding scientist lost to incumbent District 31 state Senator Brian Kelsey by the relatively narrow margin of 40,313 for Kelsey to 38,793 for Salinas.

Republican incumbent Mark White turned back Democrat Danielle Schonbaum in the District 83 House of Representatives race, 15,129 to 11,376. And incumbent GOP state Representative Jim Coley defeated Democrat Allan Creasy by a vote of 12,298 to 10,073 in District 97.

More decisive victories were won by Republican incumbent Kevin Vaughan over Democear Sanjeev Memula in House District 95 and by the GOP’s Tom Leatherwood (a ballot replacement for the late Ron Lollar) over Democrat Dave Cambron in District 99.

Democratic state Rep. Dwayne Thompson, an upset winner in 2016 in House District 96, retained his seat by a vote of 14,710 over 10,493 for Republican challenger Scorr McCormick.

In the races for Governor and the U.S. Senate, local totals were:

For Governor: Democrat Karl Dean, 173,699; Republican Bill Lee, 105,369
For U.S. Senator: Democrat Phil Bredesen, 188,923; Republican Marsha Blackburn, 95,351.

Those local totals were almost diametrically opposite the statewide ones, which showed resounding victories for Lee over Dean, 1,291,458 (59.3 percent) to 846,186 (38.8 percent); and for Blackburn over Bredesen, 1,224,042 (54.7 percent) to 981,667 (43.9 percent).

Though arguments on the point can and will rage indecisively, the statewide results possibly reflected the natural dispositions of red-state Tennessee in cases where the Democratic challenge is muted by politesse. Dean and Lee reciprocated their gentlemanly approaches to each other, while Bredesen’s acknowledgement of partisan differences was minimal to the point of non-existence.

Bredesen surely qualifies for the 2018 “Oh, Yeah?” award for his mid-race statement to Jonathan Martin of the New York Times: “I’m in the fortunate position that people on the left are enraged enough that they will find almost anything I do, with the D after my name, acceptable.”
Count that as arrogance or as self-deception. It was demonstrably incorrect.

Bredesen’s public embrace of President Trump’s Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh and his suggestion in a late ad that he and Trump (“a skilled negotiator”) could blissfully work together to lower drug prices were downers to his base, whereas Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s throwdown of the gauntlet to Republican incumbent Ted Cruz in the Texas Senate race almost brought him a victory. Texas is clearly no more liberal a place than Tennessee.

The local difference in the gubernatorial and Senate races manifestly arose from the demographics of Shelby County, where Democratic turnout was at levels approximating those of presidential years. The stout showing of the Democratic challengers in legislative races was also buoyed by the turnout, a continuation of sorts of the blue wave that crested so strong in the august election.

The turnout factor was also prominent in the blowout win of 9th District Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen over GOP perennial Charlotte Bergmann, 143,690 to 34,710, though it was not too much help to Democratic challenger Erika Stotts Pearson in the wider West Tennessee expanse of the 8th Congressional District, where Republican incumbent David Kustoff triumphed, 66,889 to 32,578.

More to Come:

There were races in most of Shelby County's suburban municipalities, too — the most dramatic being those in Germantown and Lakeland, where the issues of city spending and economic development loomed large.

In Germantown, Mayor Mike Palazzolo apparently won reelection by the razor-thin margin of 10,240 to 10,113 for challenger John Barzizza, who declined to concede, pending a final certification of results. The main issue in the mayoral contest was Palazzolo’s backing of Thornwood, a mixed-use development on Germantown Parkway.

Meanwhile, Palazzo’s coattails proved unavailing for two candidates he endorsed for city positions: Scott Sanders, a Barzizza endorsee, defeated Brian White in an alderman’s race, while Robyn Rey Rudisill lost a School Board race to angela Rickman Griff. Two other mayoral endorsees, Alderman Mary Anne Gibson and School Board member Betsy Landers triumphed over Jeff Brown and Brian Curry, respectively.

In Lakeland, where the primary issue was Mayor Wyatt Bunker’s development plans, including those for a new high school, Bunker was upset by challenger Mike Cunningham, 2,648 to 2,324.
Apparent winners for the city Commission were Richard Gonzales and Michelle Dial, while School Board winners were Kevin Floyd, Laura Harrison, and Deborah Thomas.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Latest Bogus Ballot

Posted By on Tue, Nov 6, 2018 at 10:22 AM


For the record, the latest entry on the bogus ballot scene is this one, purportedly by longtime pol and former City Councilman Rickey Peete. Billed as an “official” ballot for Democrats, it has no relationship to the Shelby County Democratic Party, whose position on the three ballot referenda is to vote No/Against.

Peete joins a field that at election time consists of ballots by the likes of such entrepreneurs as Greg Grant, Bret Thompson, and M. Latroy Williams — all of whom charge candidates (and, in this, case, backers of referenda) a pretty penny for the honor of appearing on sample ballots that are either handed out or mailed out to voters. It’s an industry.

Some of these balloteers have been the subject of lawsuits for their linguistic efforts to confuse voters about their party credentials. Peete’s ballot is unusually direct and misleading in that respect.

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Monday, November 5, 2018

Cohen, Lowery Hit Council Anti-IRV Ad Campaign as "Deceptive"

The officials maintain that a one-sided Council-backed ad series on behalf of a referendum to repeal Instant Runoff Voting is paid for by taxpayer funds but misleadingly purports to be the work of a private PAC.

Posted By on Mon, Nov 5, 2018 at 12:13 AM

Lowery (l), Cohen
  • Lowery (l), Cohen
Two public officials backing the local opposition to Memphis City Council-backed referenda on the election ballot have charged that “the ‘public education’ campaign” endowed by the city council with $40,000 in taxpayer funds “is actually a one-sided advocacy campaign designed to influence rather than educate.”

In a press release, U.S. Representative Steve Cohen of the Memphis-based 9th Congressional district and former council chair Myron Lowery joined with the Save IRV Memphis campaign to contend that a series of ads advocating the repeal of Instant Runoff Voting (also known as Ranked Choice Voting) purport to be originated by a private PAC but are actually the products of the Carter Malone Group, a local advertising and PR agency the council has contracted with.

“They shouldn’t be using our tax dollars to fund a Vote Yes campaign in the first place, but if they do, they should disclose on every ad, email, and piece of literature that tax dollars are paying for it,” said Congressman Steve Cohen. “And they certainly shouldn’t imply that it’s all coming from a private group.”

The ads — in both audio and video format — are embedded in an email sent out from “," the Carter Malone Group’s email address, and, as the press release notes, “explicitly push a ‘Vote yes’ message in clear advocacy, without neutral public education.” Deidre Malone, who heads the Carter Malone agency, recently confirmed that the council had asked her to handle the council’s paid publicity campaign on behalf of three ballot referenda, including the one that would repeal IRV.

In the wake of Chancellor Jim Kyle’s decision last week not to issue an injunction against the use of public funding for a one-sided advocacy campaign, Council Attorney Allan Wade used the terms “influence” and “educate” interchangeably in discussing the Council’s plans with reporters.

In the required disclaimer as to the source of their funding, the ads list “Diversity PAC,” a private political action committee — a contention that Cohen, Lowery, and the Save IRV Campaign Memphis committee all insist is purposely misleading. “The voters deserve to know when they’re being lobbied by their own money,” Lowery said. “Anything less than full disclosure is downright deceptive.”

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    • Mulroy to Read from New Book on Election Reform

      Event is at Novel Bookstore at 6 on Tuesday. One of the issues covered is the recently (and still) controversial method of instant runoff voting (IRV).

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