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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Monday, May 28, 2018

Politicians on the Move on Memorial Day

Posted By on Mon, May 28, 2018 at 12:15 PM

The Memorial Day weekend may have been a rest stop of sorts for much of the working world, but not for the men and women hoping for an adjustment of their job prospects on August 2nd, the next election date on the Shelby County political calendar.

Events of the weekend served as reminders that several electoral positions are being fought over with some vigor.

One of these is the Democratic primary race for the District 29 state Senate position which represents a huge swath of Whitehaven, South Memphis, Midtown, and North Shelby County and which is being vacated by Democratic county mayor nominee Lee Harris. The seat is being contested by two currently serving party office-holders — State Representative Raumesh Akbari and County Commissioner Justin Ford.
Akbari with parents at her headquarters opening - JB
  • JB
  • Akbari with parents at her headquarters opening
Both candidates were in evidence over the weekend. On Saturday, Akbari opened her campaign headquarters in a donated upstairs office space on Millbranch Road, and Ford, who plans a headquarters opening of his own in early June, turned up on Sunday  to shake hands at the annual Memorial Day crayfish boil held by Shelby County Judicial Commissioner David Pool on a Pool family riverbluff site. Akbari will follow her event up with a “town hall” event on Tuesday at Abundant Grace Fellowship Church.

There is a Republican contender for the seat, Tom Stephens of Millington, who is unopposed in his primary, but the seat is traditionally Democratic and the main attraction is considered to be the contest between Akbari and Ford, both of whom currently serve districts in the South Memphis/Whitehaven area.
Candidate Ford (right) with David Pool at Pool's annual Memorial Day crayfish boil - JB
  • JB
  • Candidate Ford (right) with David Pool at Pool's annual Memorial Day crayfish boil
Earlier Saturday, Democrat Katrina Robinson was the beneficiary of a meet-and-greet event at Southwind Country Club. Robinson, who owns and operates a nursing school, is a primary challenger for the District 33 state Senate seat currently held by longtime Democratic incumbent Reginald Tate. District 33 adjoins District 29 and takes in much of south-central Memphis along with the Hickory Hill area.

The contest provides a test of whether the likeable Tate may have lost enough appeal with rank-and-file Democrats to be vulnerable. He fairly consistently votes with the Republican majority in the Senate on key issues and maintains good relations with the GOP leadership, to the point that he had served until recently as an active affiliate of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the national organization that furnishes guidelines and sample bills to conservative Republican legislators nationwide.

Among those at the Robinson event making the case that it may be time for a change were longtime activists Jocelyn Wurzburg and TaJuan Stout-Mitchell.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Bredesen's Modest Bio, Common Touch Score with Local Democrats

Former Governor Says Memphis is the base he needs to bolster his Senate race.

Posted By on Fri, May 25, 2018 at 10:02 AM

Bredesen with Memphis Democrats at the Akbari Institute - JB
  • JB
  • Bredesen with Memphis Democrats at the Akbari Institute
Phil Bredesen came to Memphis on Thursday, and, in a meeting thrown together at the last minute by the Shelby County Democratic Women, convincingly reintroduced himself, not as some silver-spooned entrepreneur/politician from Nashville, but as the struggling son of a single-parent family, uprooted from his original home outside Boston when, as he explained, “my father found a woman he liked better than my mother and took off.”

From that point on, Bredesen says he became “a kind of exotic person,’ a child forced as a pre-teen to relocate with his mother — a bank teller — to upstate New York, where they had to live with Bredesen’s grandmother, a seamstress with a fourth-grade education, who took in sewing to make ends meet and had to work the new arrivals into what was already a large extended family of some 12 offspring.

In the nearly 30 years of Bredesen’s celebrity in Tennessee, that brief bit of Horatio Alger autobiography, spoken with the former two-term governor’s customarily diffident delivery but without his sometimes off-putting stiffness, came off as pure revelation to the audience of 40 or so Democratic office-seekers, public figures, and off-the street activists who’d been summoned without much advance notice to a small meeting room of the Lisa Akbari World Trichology Institute, an East Memphis cosmetology enterprise run by the family of state Representative Raumesh Akbari.

As much as anything policy-wise that Bredesen said during the hour or so he stayed with the SCDW crowd — on his desire to create jobs and a universal health-care program, to work across the political aisle if elected and meanwhile to run a positive campaign — his connection with the audience was based on that initial presentation of himself as a modest person, lucky in life, who wanted above all to pass on the opportunity for good fortune to others.

It conferred credibility on his espousal of Memphis — an exciting volatile town like Chicago, he said — as the hotbed of Democratic votes and hopes in Tennessee, and, as the main source of the support he needs to win. (This kind of appeal always seems to work in Memphis, which, however, is by actual measure much less of a dependable Democratic bellwether than metropolitan Nashville, which consistently elects Democratic officials across all racial, class, and ethnic lines at a rate that Memphis cannot match. Bredesen himself is a case in point.)

In any case, Bredesen did in fact seem right at home in the bosom of this representative crowd of Memphis Democrats, to whom he — or, more strictly, one of the young helpers with him — promised to open an office of his candidacy on South Highland, in the University of Memphis area, sometime in the next two weeks.

When he’d heard last year that Republican Senator Bob Corker would not be running for re-election and he started getting telephone calls “from around the state” (and from Democrats around the nation eager to retake the Senate), Bredesen said he had first to satisfy himself that a run would not be a “suicide mission.”

Obviously, he decided it wouldn’t be. And if he truly needed the enthusiasm of Memphis Democrats to kindle his hopes of reentering political life as state's newest U.S. Senator, then — based on the warmth of his reception among the party cadres on Thursday — he seemed to have a good basis for it. 

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Keeping Score in Strickland's Tent at the Barbecue Fest

Posted By on Fri, May 18, 2018 at 9:19 AM

Gubernatorial candidate Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley (left) regaled Mayor Jim Strickland and Strickland friend Tim Moran (right) with tales from the campaign season - JB
  • JB
  • Gubernatorial candidate Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley (left) regaled Mayor Jim Strickland and Strickland friend Tim Moran (right) with tales from the campaign season

The annual Memphis Barbecue Festival is under way downtown, and, as usual, the city’s chief executive — these days it’s Jim Strickland — opened things up on Wednesday night with an opening reception at the big mayoral tent, which, by tradition, was the first hospitality tent on the south end of Tom Lee Park, closest to the Beale Street.

The whole repertory of barbecue — mostly the several varieties of pork but including some chicken and spaghetti — was laid out on serving tables, along with beans, slaw, and dessert fixings. And, as the evening went on, the menu expanded to include an impressive number of movers and shakers on hand to sample the wares, guzzle the beer, wine, and sodas, but mainly just to schmooze and — this being an election year — to see and be seen.

A conspicuous visitor was Craig Fitzhugh, there in tow of some of his staffers — notably consultants Matt Kuhn and Mike Lipe. Fitzhugh was still riding a high from the gubernatorial debate the night before at Nashville’s David Lipscomb College, where he’d blindsided Democratic rival Karl Dean with an unexpected verbal thrust charging that Nashville’s mayor had, at the time of the capital city’s devastating 2008 flood, violated “public trust” by draining some $7.4 million from the HUD disaster relief fund extended to the city, in order to build the Ascend Ampitheater downtown.

During the Tuesday night debate, which for the most part had seemed the usual neighborly forum, with platitudes and candidates’ talking points predominating, Dean demanded time to respond and sputtered out something about how the indicated funds had instead been used for “flood mitigation.” By the next day, Dean rallied with a developed email explanation from his campaign manager Courtney Wheeler, the kernel of which was this:

“Let’s settle this right now with some facts: After the flood, the city received $33 million from a Community Development Block Grant. These funds were in addition to $87.1 million in FEMA assistance and $117 million Small Business Administration (SBA) loans for individuals and businesses. The city set up disaster information centers to help make sure people were applying for all of the assistance they were eligible for.

“Three years later, long after people had stopped turning in applications for assistance, Karl and the Metro Council repurposed $7.1 million of remaining grant money to mitigate against future floods and help our city’s economy fully recover with the redevelopment of Nashville’s west riverfront. This decision was vetted and approved by the Metro Council, MDHA, and HUD through a transparent, public process. As part of the project, the city built a below-ground seepage cut-off wall along the length of Nashville’s West Riverfront Park (where the amphitheater sits). This infrastructure fix slows down the movement of underground water and helps decrease the impact of future floods.”

Meanwhile, Fitzhugh press aide Trace Sharp had put out an email as well, this one extending the original attack:

“With all due respect, building a riverfront attraction with disaster relief does not fit my definition of fiscal responsibility,” said Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “I was disappointed to hear how the Dean administration abandoned flood victims in order to divert over seven million dollars in disaster relief to corporate cronies, contractors and consultants who had cozy relationships with the administration.”

“These funds were specifically designated to help 2010 flood victims with down payment assistance, rehab assistance and neighborhood clean-up. 52 counties across West and Middle Tennessee were declared federal disaster areas, including rural areas like Lauderdale County where I am from. There were homeowners who needed help and didn’t get it, people who drained out retirement accounts waiting for help that never arrived.”

However the argument gets disposed of in logical terms, it is serving the purposes of Fitzhugh, who, by his own and well as others’ reckoning, had been having difficulty making headway against his better-financed and larger networked Democratic rival.

Discussing the matter in Strickland’s tent on Wednesday night, Fitzhugh and his aides were downright giddy with excitement. “We had to do something to make a fight of this, and this is an issue,” said the candidate.

The other memorable moment from the Lipscomb debate, subject of a fair amount of chatter in Strrickland's tent,  had come when the five participating candidates — Democrats Fitzhugh and Dean and Republicans Beth Harwell, Randy Boyd, and
Bill Lee — were given a “lightning rod” question asking them to specify whether the public anti-gun campaign of the Parkland high school students after the massacre there had been ‘positive” or “negative.”

Everyone answered “positive” except for Lee, whose answer of “negative” was clearly meant to maintain his standing with Tennessee’s Second Amendment constituency. Recognizing in the aftermath that he might have sounded Scrooge-like in his answer, Lee also went the email route, thusly:

“FRANKLIN, Tenn. – Tonight, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee released the following statement after tonight's Leadership Tennessee Gubernatorial Forum that showed a clear contrast with other candidates about gun rights in Tennessee:
“This is common sense: law abiding citizens should not be punished for the actions of criminals. These kids have been through a horrible tragedy. But I’ve been sickened by how the liberal media, the teacher’s unions and the far left lobby have used these kids as props to push their anti-gun agenda.”

Whether the Franklin businessman had thereby dug himself in deeper or solidified his support with the gun crowd remains to be seen. Most of the reaction among the revelers in Strickland's tent was on the downside.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Candidate List filling up for Vacated Spinosa Seat on Council

Interim Appointment to be Followed by August Special Election

Posted By on Fri, May 11, 2018 at 10:31 AM

The resignation, Friday before last, of Memphis City Councilman Philip Spinosa to become a vice president of the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce has created a mad dash of sorts to replace him — first via interim appointment by the Council and thern by a replacement election in August.
Several names have been floated by themselves or others, either as interim appointees or as candidates in the special election or both.
Likely Council candidate Kenneth Whalum chats with supporter John Elkington at last weekend's Rotary—sponsored "Cafe du Memhis" at Tiger Lane. - JB
  • JB
  • Likely Council candidate Kenneth Whalum chats with supporter John Elkington at last weekend's Rotary—sponsored "Cafe du Memhis" at Tiger Lane.
The newest name to get serious currency is that of Ford Canale, golf coach at Christian Brothers College and funeral director at Canale Funeral Directors. Canale is considered a good bet to have backing from the Chamber/business elite group, including FedEx founder Fred Smith that has helped a substantial minority of Council members get into office. (Spinosa, for example).

Paul Morris, another Council hopeful, with children on grounds of Tiger Lane during Rotary's "Cafe du Memphis" - JB
  • JB
  • Paul Morris, another Council hopeful, with children on grounds of Tiger Lane during Rotary's "Cafe du Memphis"
Other names include Paul Morris, scion of a plugged-in Republican family who was recently head of the influential Downtown Memphis Commission; Kenneth Whalum, former School Board member and pastor of Mt. Olivet Baptist Church; Heidi Shafer, the term-limited current chair of the Shelby County Commission; Jeff Warren, a physician who formerly sat on the now defunct Memphis School Board; and Stephanie Gatewood, another former School Board member who just lost a primaery election for the Shelby County Commission.

Friday, May 4, 2018

May 1 Election Signals Real Prospect of 2018 Blue Wave in Shelby County

Posted By on Fri, May 4, 2018 at 9:18 AM

Democratic mayoral nominee Harris and campaign manager Danielle Inez (foreground) with celebrants Tuesday night
  • Democratic mayoral nominee Harris and campaign manager Danielle Inez (foreground) with celebrants Tuesday night

The bottom-line message of this week’s election results in Shelby County was that, in a low turnout election, Democrats were out in relative force. Their two candidates for Shelby County mayor — state Senator Lee Harris, winner with 34,081 votes in the Democratic primary over runner-up sidney Chism (10,435) — eclipsed the total vote for three ballyhooed GOP mayoral candidates: Trustee David Lenoir, with 18,408; Shelby County Commission firebrand Terry Roland 8,650, and Juvenile Court clerk Joy Touliatos (3,155). The two Democratic mayoral candidates polled roughly 13,000 more votes in their primary than did the three Republicans, who spent vastly more money and dominated news coverage. Shorter version: Yes, Virginia, there is a blue wave.

There were appreciably more Democrats running in the various primary races overall — an effect that will be duplicated in the August 2nd-round (county general election plus state and federal primaries) when, for example, Democratic candidates will be vying for every one of Shelby County’s 17 state House seats and the three state Senate seats on the ballot, while GOP candidates will be cherry-picking their seats from presumably solidly Republican areas. The memory must surely linger, however, of Democrat Dwayne Thompson’s upset win in 2016 over Republican incumbent Steve McManus in House District 96, a southeast Memphis/suburban collage that was showing residential change. GOP incumbent Jim Coley’s adjacent District 97 seat is being targeted in the same way with an aggressive campaign from Democrat Allan Creasy.

There have been other cracks in the once-homogeneous Republican establishment. Ed Roberson, a prominent GOP financial angel who has served as finance chair of campaigns by former Senators Fred Thompson and Bill Frist, has taken the same position locally with Democrat David Weatherspoon, one of two Democrats running in the Senate District 31 primary with the aim of knocking off Republican incumbent Brian Kelsey in November. One other Democrat in that race has an interesting backstory. It’s Gabby Salinas, a Bolivian transplant who came to Memphis as a child for cancer treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, survived, and vows to throw off Kelsey the same way she did her cancer. First, of course, she’ll have to get by Weatherspoon, who has raised far more money.

There will be more than one contested Democratic primary on August 2nd — a state of things reminiscent of the way Republican ballots looked when the GOP began its march to dominance back in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

The County general election on August 2nd also has the potential of becoming the basis for a Democratic rally. Mayoral nominee Harris is a Yale graduate, a law professor, and a polished African-American candidate with clear crossover potential, as was indicated in his prior victories for the Memphis City Council and state Senate, where he became minority leader of the Democrats’ rump Senate faction. Lenoir was undoubtedly the best GOP prospect to hold the party banner, but, again, this would appear to be a year in which the county’s majority Democratic demographic votes its numbers.

The Shelby County Commision already tilts 7-6 Democratic, and its District 5 bailiwick, now Republican, is shifting into the same kind of swing district that House District 96 became last election. Turnout between Democrats and Republicans was roughly equal during the just concluded county primary, creating grounds for optimism for Democratic nominee Michael Whaley, an educational administrator who is being guided by consultant Steven Reid, who last worked his magic for the winning campaigns of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland in 2015 and 8th District Republican Congressman David Kustoff in 2016.

To be sure, the current four-way fight between Republican millionaires in the gubernatorial race will provide a reservoir of active Republican votes in August, but Democrats have their own game going — with Karl Dean and Craig Fitzhugh — to offset that somewhat.

Again: There’s the real possibility of a blue wave in Shelby County.


Kustoff was the speaker Wednesday at a luncheon of the Memphis Kiwanis club at the University Club, and it became his duty, as a former club member, to recognize guests at the luncheon, calling their names out in turn and asking them to rise for brief applause. One of the guests was John Boatner, a Democratic candidate for Kustoff’s seat. The Congressman said, “Stand up, John,” following that almost instantly with “Sit down,John.”

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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Round One Ends With Lenoir, Harris as Ticket Leaders

Few surprises, but an upset or two mark what was a low-turnout election, with Democrats out-voting Republicans.

Posted By on Wed, May 2, 2018 at 8:34 AM

Republican mayoral nominee David Lenoir faces the press at Evolve Bank on Poplar - JB
  • JB
  • Republican mayoral nominee David Lenoir faces the press at Evolve Bank on Poplar

In the end, there were few surprises. The candidates with the resources and the name supporters — e,g, David Lenoir, the triumphant Republican nominee for Shelby County mayor — won going away. Former office-holders got nominated for another shot — like Regina Morrison Newman, the Democrat who was serving as County Trustee until Lenoir beat her in 2010, or Republican Chris Thomas, the erstwhile Probate Court Clerk who chose not to seek reelection the same year, fearing a Democratic wave in the general election.

There were repudiations of familiar names — as when newcomer Brandon Morrison, flush with prominent suburban backing and lots of cash, easily turned out incumbent Steve Basar in the GOP primary for County Commission District 13; or when another newcomer, Temika Gipson, walloped old warhorse Del Gill by a 3-to-1 margin to become the Democratic nominee for Circuit Court Clerk.

It was something of a surprise when another newcomer, Shelandra Ford, whom most voters couldn’t pick out of a group shot but whose last name obviously reminded voters of a legendary political family that she bears no kinship to, edged out well-known party activist Adrienne Pakis-Gillon in the Democratic primary for Register of Deeds. But it was no surprise when bona fide clan member Edmund Ford Jr., a retiree from the City Council, won a majority vote over a flock of opponents in the Democratic primary for Commission District 9.

In terms of turnout, Shelby County Democrats — thought to represent a demographic majority in the county — finally made their numbers count. As one example of their edge over the Republicans in turnout, the two Democratic mayoral candidates, winner Lee Harris (34,081) and runner-up Sidney Chism (10,435) polled roughly 10,000 more votes in their primary than did Lenoir (18,408), Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland (8,650), and Juvenile Court Clerk Joy Touliatos (3,155).

State Senator Harris thus goes into the general election campaign with some grounds for optimism, as do the Democrats at large, who in the last several county general elections have endured a series of sweeps and near-sweepts from the Republicans.

Other results:

In County Commission, District 1, Amber Mills, wife of GOP County Chairman Lee Mills, won as expected over Melody H. McLeary; Democrat Raxquel Collins was unopposed.

In Commission District 2, Republican David Bradford and Democrat Tom Carpenter were each unopposed in their primaries.

In Commission District 3, Mick Wright defeated Lindsey Massey in the GOP Primary; Monica Timmerman was unopposed in the Democratid primary.

In Commission District 4, Republican incumbent Mark Billingsley and Democrat Kevin Haley were both unopposed

In Commission District 5, Richard Morton beat Geoffrey Diaz in the GOP primary, and Michael Whaley beat Lawrence A. Pivnick.

In District 6, incumbent Democrat Willie Brooks had things to himself.

In District 7, Democrat Tami Sawyer outpointed Stephanie Gatewood and Eric Dunn; Sam Goff held up the Republican end.

In District 8, Mickell Lowery swamped runner-up J.B. Smiley in a crowded Democratic field;

In District 9, as indicated, it was Ed Ford uber alles, with Sharon Webb being the solitary Republican.

In District 10, incumbent Democrat Reginald Milton was unopposed.

In District 11, Democratic incumbent Eddie Jones turned away challenger Eric Winston.

In District 12, Democrat Van Turner was unopposed.

In District 13, newcomer Morrison blew incumbent Republican Basar away, while Democrat George Monger took care of another newwcomer, Charlie Belenky.

In the Assessor’s race, Republican Robert “Chip” Trouhy easily outpointed white nationalist Keith Alexander, while County Commission retiree Melvin Burgess defeated Lorie Ingram.

In the Sheriff’s race, Republican Dale Lane was unopposed, while Democrat Floyd Bonner easily defeated fellow Democrat Bennie Cobb.

In the Trusree’s race it was Democrat Newman over Joseph Lee and Derrick Bennett, while the GOP’s George Chism, ex- of the commission, defeated Dexter L. Orman.

Circuit Court Clerk: Gipson over Gill among Democrats; Tom Leatherwood easily over two Republican opponents

Criminal Court Clerk: Incumbent Richard DeSaussure was unopposed; Democrat Heidi Kuhn beat Carla Stotts Hills and Amanda Scott Hill.

Juvenile Court Clerk: Bobby Simmons over Robert Hill among Republicans; Janis Fullilove over two Democratic opponents.

Probate Court Clerk: Thomas back in over Boyd and George Summers in the GOP race; Councilman Bill Morrison unopposed among Democrats.

County Clerk: Wanda Halbert over the field among Democrats; Donna Creson over two other Republicans.

Current County Clerk Wayne Mashburn shifts over, unopposed; Ford upsets Pakis-Gillon.

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Saturday, April 28, 2018

GOP Mayoral Hopefuls Repudiate White Nationalist Alexander

Prospective Republican Ticket Heads Roland, Lenoir, and Touliatos all say Assessor candidate does not represent their party.

Posted By on Sat, Apr 28, 2018 at 8:54 PM

Keith Alexander (from a campaign poster)
  • Keith Alexander (from a campaign poster)
The three Republicans vying for the head-of-the-ticket party position in Tuesday’s countywide party primary have all taken note of recent news disclosures of Republican assessor candidate Keith Alexander’s white nationalist background and statements. And all three GOP candidates for Shelby County Mayor — Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland, Trustee David Lenoir, and Juvenile Court Clerk Joy Touliatos — repudiated Alexander for the record.

As pointed out in The Commercial Appeal Sunday in a front-page story by Mark Perrusquia and on the paper’s editorial page, Alexander has taken extreme positions as a former talk-show host on the radio program “The Political Cesspool” and elsewhere.

Some of Alexander’s statements:

“Martin Luther King was really a bad man. In fact, I doubt that very many people in the audience have within their circle of friends and acquaintances a man that was worse than Martin Luther King….[The Communists] had to give him plenty of money to keep him on task because if they hadn’t he would have just gone on into doing what so many black ministers do, which is to, you know, preying on his congregation — and chasing after the women in his congregation, too.”

“[African Americans] can’t solve any real problems like infant mortality or high crime rates or functional illiteracy and illegitimacy, things like that. But they can with the help of certain enablers from a certain religious persuasion start destroying Western civilization and white heritage.” (The remark about “a certain religious persuasion” closely resembles a staple attitude frequently voiced by known anti-Semites.)

Reactions from the would-be Republican standard-bearers to Alexander:

Commissioner Roland: I don’t even take him seriously as a candidate. He doesn’t stand for what I stand for. My record in support of the black community speaks for itself. In these days, we need people who unite rather than divide.

Trustee Lenoir: It does not represent me or anybody else in the Republican party. It surely is not characteristic of what the party is all about.

Clerk Touliatos: I’m shocked that some in the party knew that his opinions existed and didn’t condemn them earlier. His comments and attitudes are not what the party of Lincoln stands for.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Where the Grass Isn’t Greener for the GOP

In Nashville, there are no — count 'em, zero — Republican candidates running for county office.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 27, 2018 at 4:02 PM

People still contend that Shelby County is the nexus of the Democratic Party in Tennessee. This is despite the fact that Democrats, who in theory have held the demographic edge locally for two decades, have had grievous difficulty winning even isolated positions in countywide elections.

This year could be different, of course. There are numerous signs that the blue wave supposedly building elsewhere in the U.S. will inundate Shelby County, as well. It’s a fact that, in the next election coming up, the county general-cum-state-and-federal primary election on August 2nd, there will be more Democrats on the ballot than Republicans.

But Shelby County is not and never has been the center of Democratic Party strength in Tennessee. That distinction belongs to Nashville. Yup, the prideful sister city up I-40, the capital city, the site of a state government that can be pretty damn laissez-faire about what happens in Memphis.

The fact is that, for better or for worse, Nashville is the last place on earth where the old Solid Democratic South still exists, where whites as well as blacks have a better chance of being elected to countywide (in their case, Metro-wide) office as Democrats.

Here’s some instructive proof of the fact — a Facebook post from Don Johnson, a Memphis transplant (and a Republican) now toiling in the vineyard of GOP Governor Bill Haslam.

April 24 at 7:53pm ·

If you are a Republican voter in Nashville you may have noticed that there are *no candidates* to vote for in the May 1 Republican primary.
Not one GOP candidate for any office.
No Republican Judges. No Republican Sheriff. No Republican Clerks. ...
Sure it would be near-impossible for a Republican to win a county-wide race here, but we've just given the Dems a free ride in August without having to even pretend that our votes matter.
The blame falls on all of us who failed to act upon the belief that every voter has a right to choose a conservative alternative.
You should absolutely still vote and make your voice heard - one way or the other - in the transit referendum. You can leave the other boxes blank or write-in your neighbor's cat.
Meanwhile in Shelby County, nearly every office has multiple qualified and competent GOP candidates to choose from. Be thankful for these men and women who have proudly stepped forward and for the dedicated and determined party organization that nurtures and supports them.

(Whereupon Johnson, to illustrate his point, prints out the Republican-primary part of the Davidson County Metro ballot. Below.)

Monday, April 23, 2018

Weekend Review: Confederate Statues Loom Over GOP Debates

Posted By on Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 8:59 AM

Candidates Boyd, Lee, and Black at Halloran Center
  • Candidates Boyd, Lee, and Black at Halloran Center

If there was a common theme in the two important debates held in Memphis on Wednesday — one for three Republican county mayor candidates at the Marriott East and another for three GOP gubernatorial candidates at the Halloran Center Downtown — it was one that would surely have gratified the ghosts of Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Both sets of Republicans criticized actions by the city of Memphis that resulted in the removal of statues of the two Confederate luminaries from their pedestals last December 20th, maneuvering around an unyielding state law by selling the parks containing the statutes to an ad hoc nonprofit that went on to have them removed legally.

Aside from the unanimity on the point in the ranks of Republican candidates, the most interesting aspect of things was that it was the local candidates — would-be county mayors Terry Roland, David Lenoir, and Joy Touliatos — who went on to justify the harsh action of the state legislature in punishing the city by voting to strike from the state budget some $250,000 previously earmarked for Memphis’ forthcoming centennial celebration. It remains to be seen how much such a stand will cost the eventual GOP nominee in the likely general election race with Democrat Lee Harris.

The visiting Republicans running for governor — Franklin businessman Bill Lee; Knoxville native Randy Boyd, the former state Commissioner of Economic Development Randy Boyd; and U.S. Representative Diane Black of the 6th District in Middle Tennessee — were more cautious, too much on their Ps and Qs to say anything untoward about Memphis (they were here to solicit votes, after all). But they all insisted that the statues should have been left in place and in peace — not as a matter of approbation but as “reminders” of our history. As warnings, if you will.

Right. Like all those statues of Hitler that never were in post-war democratic Germany and those of Stalin that were relegated to a junk yard in Moscow’s Gorky Park after the Soviet dictator’s posthumous fall from favor.

It was the first common appearance by the three GOP candidates to be televised statewide (originating via WATN, Channel 24, locally), and it was billed in advance (and again from the stage) as not being yet another meaningless forum in which everybody would end up restating the same platitudes, but a bona fide battle royal, a “debate.”

It wasn’t. There was little overt disagreement and minimal effort to create it. The Republican “debaters” observed uniformity not only in the politesse of not wanting to punish Memphis for its offing of statuary history, but the three of them — all Middle Tennessee residents — became an outright amen chorus to the idea that Memphis has been shafted by the state relative to other sections of Tennessee.

Black went so far as to say that the city had been the victim of “Nashville neglect,” though her prescriptions for remedying the problems of West Tennessee seemed to focus on doing something about the area’s putative high crime rate. Lee called for tailoring special incentives to West Tennessee, and Boyd, as is his wont, cited statistics to justify his efforts on behalf of the area as former Tennessee Commissioner of Economic Development.

There was a good deal of Pete-and-Repeat to the candidates’ responses on most issues — on their reluctance to consider granting in-state tuition offsets to children of illegal immigrants, for example, or on means of coping with the state’s opioid-abuse epidemic, the three concurring on what Nashville TV anchor bob Mueller characterized as a “treatment-first” approach. (Businessman Lee, who has often invoked his first wife’s accidental death as the impetus for his involvement in public life referred to it in his answer to yet another focusing tragedy, a death in is family from an opioid overdose but declined to discuss any details during his later encounter with reporters in the ad hoc spin room of the Halloran Center.

Some of the candidate unanimity was more apparent than real. When Mueller asked for a show of hands from those who approved arming teachers as a response to gun violence, only Lee shot his arm up right away. Both Boyd and, perhaps surprisingly, Black were more grudging with their immediate responses, each waiting several seconds before raising their hands — and slowly at that.

And Boyd would insist later that he had been more enthusiastic than the other two about pre-K education, allowing for state support of selected programs, whereas Lee and Black were dubious about the “mixed results of pre-K, though each would endorse the importance of “early childhood education.”

In addition to the questions asked of all candidates, the three panelists — Mueller; Richard Ransom of the host station, Channel 24 in Memphis; and Eric Barnes of WKNO-TV, the local PBS station — attempted to nudge loose specific answers with follow-up questions and one round of questions designed for the candidates individually.

Barnes prodded Boyd to explain the lagging development of the West Tennessee megasite (an area on which the former commissioner can expect more gigging from his opponents in time to come). Boyd answered essentially that other industrial sites elsewhere — the Volkswagen site in Chattanooga, for example — had experienced growing pains, too, but had turned out all right. He said that the West Tennessee megasite should be completed by the first summer of his initial term, if elected.

Ransom wondered of Rep. Black how her vote as a state Senator to ease the awarding of driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants squared with her "no" answer on the matter of in-state tuition. She had done so at the urging of the Department of Safety, she answered, but had labored afterwards to correct the “mistake.”

The response of attendees at the Halloran Center was, by and large, guarded, in the same way that candidates’ answers had been, with previously known partisan of this or that candidate asserting that their favorite had triumphed but uncommitted persons remaining that way, as well.

It should be noted, however, that Black’s claque in the Halloran Center auditorium made conspicuously more noise when the candidates were first introduced to the crowd.

Sharper Contrasts — and Some Sniping

On the whole, sharper contrasts had been drawn at the earlier debate between Republican county mayor candidates — in the nature of specific answers to questions as well as in the idiosyncratic differences between the candidates. In general, Roland related most matters to his own actions and experience as an eight-year veteran of the county commission, including one term as chairman. Lenoir relied both on what he saw as his accomplishments and in specific, blueprint-like proposals for future action. Touliatos was more general and more attuned to a single theme — that of harmony between components of society and government, which she saw her personality as being well-suited to achieve.

A case in point was the way in which all three principals answered a question about racial and gender disparities in county business. Roland claimed credit for the very existence of a recent county disparity study and the creation of an MBWE program (for minority and women-owned business enterprises) on his watch as chair. Lenoir said he’d “put my money where my mouth is” by investing $30 million of county funds in Tri-State Bank of Memphis, a black-owned enterprise. And Touliatos said the county should provide potential applicants with assistance on paperwork and other obstacles.

On revenues and the stimulation of new economic development, Roland, as is his wont, criticized PILOT (payment-in-lieu-of-tax) arrangements and evangelized for TIFs, which adapt existing tax revenues to developmental purposes. Lenoir said there should be “real tax reduction” and attacked what he said was the “smoke and mirrors” of the 2017 budget resolution, which technically included a tax-rate reduction boasted by Roland but, Lenoir claimed, actually raised taxes on most citizens. Touliatos noted that anything the mayor did would be subject to a commission majority and said she would bend her efforts toward augmenting the relationship.

On that point, Roland said, in effect, that the cause of the ongoing power struggle between the commission and current Mayor Mark Luttrell was that the latter had never served on a legislative body and “never comes down except to fuss with us,” while Lenoir contended that he had worked on building a good relationship with the mayor and other officials.

On relations with Shelby County’s various municipalities and school systems, Lenoir said his preferred mode would be to use the prerogatives of his office to convene and call meetings where agreements could be hammered out. Touliatos said that county government had to “have some kind of control over education” other than merely appropriating money and promised to “talk with the people involved.” Roland said, “Nothing’s going to change in education unless we have overnight and a line-item veto over the school budget.”

All three candidates responded to a question about protecting schools from gun violence by saying beefing up a training security force would help. (Roland noted that sheriff’s deputies already patrol the high schools.) And all three said they would prefer returning to non-partisan elections for county government and abandoning the current party-primary phase of elections.

But there was occasional sniping, even on commonplace matters. Once, after Roland had boasted giving Moore Tech College of Technology funds for a welding curriculum, Lenoir began his answer by saying, “Yes, he gave them your money.”

There were no great surprises in the mayoral debate until there came a question about the best means for local government to resist state encroachments on its prerogatives, like wage and drug policy, matters of discrimination, and authority over local monuments.

That was when the statues matter came to the forefront. Roland said, “Until people quit thumbing their nose at Nashville, there’s nothing we can do.” He said that he and fellow Commissioner Walter Bailey had been working behind the scenes with private interests to remove the bodies of General Forrest and his wife to the general’s birthplace, but that those plans were scotched when the city “came like a thief in the night” to take the monuments down.

Lenoir said that he believed in both limited government and local control but agreed with Roland that the city’s action (technically that of the non-profit to which the city had sold the host parks) in removing the Forrest and Davis statues “late at night, on a Friday, under cover of darkness no doubt sent the wrong message.” And Touliatos agreed that the matter had been handled inappropriately. ‘If you’re going to go against state law, then there are going to be repercussions.”

Statements made at forums can have repercussions, too, and there’s not much doubt that brief moment of discussion about Confederate statues will be revisited, perhaps at some length, during the forthcoming general election. Either one of the two Democratic candidates running — Lee Harris or Sidney Chism — would doubtless make sure of that.

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