Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Confederate Statue Issue, Millington Fireworks Go Forward

Actions in State Capital on Tuesday

Posted By on Wed, Feb 27, 2019 at 9:22 AM

Greenspace president Van Turner looks over legal notes. - JB
  • JB
  • Greenspace president Van Turner looks over legal notes.

NASHVILLE — Shelby Countians interested in a pair of issues got no final answers to their concerns on Tuesday, as both the still simmering issue of Confederate statuaries and the prospect of legal fireworks sales in Millington advanced another notch toward resolution.

1) The saga of the deposed Memphis monuments that once honored Confederate heroes Nathan Bedford Forrest, Jefferson Davis, and one Captain Harvey Mathes proceeded through one more skirmish on Tuesday as a three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals heard arguments for and against a continued injunction against further action by Greenspace, Inc. to relocate the statues it uprooted last December 20.

Allan Wade represented the City of Memphis in the proceeding, Chris Vescovo represented Greenspace, and Doug Jones represented the Sons of Confederate Veterans Nathan Bedford Forrest Camp 215. The judicial panel — composed by Richard Dinkins, Frank Clement Jr. and W. Neal McBrayer took the case under advisement.

The injunction was issued last year by Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle, per a request by the Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter .pending a final disposition by the Tennessee Historical Commission. Greenspace, inc., is an ad hoc nonprofit headed by lawyer Van Turner, who doubles as chairman of the Shelby County Commission.

The issue of the city’s right to sell the parks containing the monuments to Greenspace has previously been resolved in favor of the sale, though the Confederate side continues to  seek to relitigate that aspect of the matter on further appeal. At some point and in some form the case is almost certain to go to the state Supreme Court.

2) If the rest of the way goes as easy for adherents of fireworks sales in Millington as it did in the state House Commerce Committee on Tuesday, you can expect a fair share of future “rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air” to have emanated from a point of sale is Millington.

As various pro-fireworks individuals looked on in Commerce, HB 106 (by Rep. Barbara Cooper, D-Memphis) was approved by voice vote. The bill next goes to the House Finance Ways and Means Committee for approval. No one spoke against the bill in the Commerce Committee, but, according to Billie Howard of Millington, one of the bill’s supporters, its progress forward has been “something of a struggle.”

It has already passed the Senate, however; so its prospects have clearly improved. As of now, fireworks sales are legal across the state line in Mississippi and in Lakeland, which was grandfathered in before prohibitive legislation was passed some years ago.

Greenspace president Van Turner looks over legal notes. - JB
  • JB
  • Greenspace president Van Turner looks over legal notes.

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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Prospects Exist for Modest Legislative Cooperation between the Parties

But there is no bridging of the gap on major issues -- notably Medicaid expansion and abortion.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 14, 2019 at 1:41 PM

Democrats  Stewart, Akbari, and Camper - JB
  • JB
  • Democrats Stewart, Akbari, and Camper

NASHVILLE — Huge partisan differences remain between Republicans and Democrats on key issues before the Tennessee General Assembly — in particular, Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which Governor Bill Lee and legislative Republicans continue to oppose — but there are glimmers here and there of possible bipartisan cooperation.

As she indicated in two press conferences this week, House Democratic Leader Karen Camper of Memphis is convinced that there are areas of potential joint action with Lee and Assembly Republicans on medical issues. One of them, which other members of the Democratic legislative leadership concurred with in general at a post-session media availability on Thursday, was the concept of the state’s availing itself of closed hospital facilities as centers to cope with the opioid-addiction crisis in Tennessee.

As Democratic Caucus chair Mike Stewart of Nashville observed, there are sufficient reserves available in state's general fund to endow such facilities without the necessity to enact new legislation.

There was no bridging the partisan gap, however, between Democratic support for Medicaid expansion under the A.C.A. and the general opposition to it among Republicans, tempered by proposals that the state seek a waiver from the C.M.S. (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services) to allow distribution of A.C.A. funds to the state as a block grant.

Sen. Raumesh Akbari, of Memphis, the party’s caucus chair in the state Senate, pointed out that there is no legal or congressional basis for distribution of Medicaid expansion funds, and she was seconded on the point by Stewart and Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Yarbro of Nashville. The Democratic leader salso agreed that efforts to allow Governor Lee to act on the issue without the legislative approval now required would be pointless, given his own declared resistance to the A.C.A.

The other point of potential cross-party agreement that emerged from the Democrats’ media availability session on Thursday concerned a bill proposed by Republicans Steve Dickerson of Nashville in the Senate and Michael Curcio in the House on the subject of streamlining restoration-of-voting-rights procedures for released felons. Akbari has offered similar legislation but said she would be willing to subordinate her effort to that of the two Repubicans’ effort, given the gathering support evident for the latter.

Party ranks closed fairly tight, however, against another Republican proposal, this one announced on Wednesday by GOP Senator Dolores Gresham of Somerville and Republican Rep. Susan Lynn of Mt. Juliet. Their bill, supported by the entire legislative Republican caucus, would return Tennessee to a legal position outlawing abortion if and when the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade should be overturned.

Lynn had suggested that some Democrats might support the proposal as well. Asked about that on Thursday, there were no takers among the four ranking Democrats — Stewart, Akbari, Camper, and Yarbro —though Camper did say that “abortion is a personal matter, and people have personal reasons for their views,” and she did not discount the hypothetical possibioity of there being a Democrat or two who might support the measure.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Shelby Countians in New Early Education Caucus

Posted By on Wed, Feb 6, 2019 at 1:58 PM

From left: Reps. DeBerry, Ragan, and White, and Senator Gresham - JB
  • JB
  • From left: Reps. DeBerry, Ragan, and White, and Senator Gresham

NASHVILLE —Three Memphis-area legislators are key members of an education-minded group that on Wednesday announced the formation of a new bipartisan, bicameral caucus focusing exclusively on early education policy — concentrating on pre-K through third grade — as a means of enhancing the state’s ongoing efforts to improve public education in Tennessee.

The three Shelby Countians are state Representatives Mark White and John DeBerry and state Senator Raumesh Akbari. A fourth co-founder, state Senator Dolores Gresham, hails from Somerville in Fayette County. Akbari and DeBerry are Democrats; the others are Republicans. White and Gresham are the chairs of the House and Senate education committees, respectively.

White and the others, joined by state Representative John Ragan (R, of Oak Ridge), Ron Gant (R-Rossville), and Dennis Powers (D-Jacksonville), unveiled their intentions at a press conference in the Cordell Hull Building.

The new caucus as yet has no specific agenda, White said, other than to gather as much information as possible on the strategies, new developments, and best practices of early education, from the best speakers and researchers available. He said the inspiration for forming the caucus came from DeBerry, a member of the House education caucus, who, in the face of studies showing that only 37 percent of Tennessee third-graders were reading at their grade level, opined, “We’ve got to go nuclear.”

The Early Education Caucus is open to all members of the House and Senate and will hold its first post-organizational meeting on Thursday of this week, following the week’s final floor sessions.

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Cohen, Blackburn: Contrasting Views on Trump's SOTU

Posted By on Wed, Feb 6, 2019 at 1:51 PM

Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) watched President Trump’s second State of the Union message to Congress on television at his office in the Rayburn House Office Building  in Washington and released the following statement:

“I declined to attend this evening’s address because I want to hear the truth about the State of the Union from a President of the United States. The current president has no respect for the truth and is the subject of numerous investigations regarding his administration, his campaign, his foundation, his business and his inaugural committee. He has disgraced the presidency and does not deserve the respect and attention from Congress and the public that this address has historically received.
Rep. Steve Cohen
  • Rep. Steve Cohen

“We are all for border security but we will continue to disagree whether a $5.7 billion border wall is the answer. Diversity is our strength in this country and the President’s dog whistles about the nation’s golden yesteryears, his call to make America great ‘again’ is a false narrative to millions of Americans who fifty years ago did not enjoy the rights we now recognize for women, for minorities, for people with sexual and gender identity differences and for people with disabilities. We should not go backwards on women’s reproductive rights, voting rights, labor rights or health care.

“The initiative to stop the spread of HIV by 2030 is an admirable goal and I hope that we as a nation achieve it. I’m skeptical however of a plan to deal with this scourge from a President who would cut major safety net programs, like Medicaid, which delivers much AIDS care, and proposed cuts to the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program to give tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy.

“As a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I welcome the President’s call for a major infrastructure plan, but its value will be seen in its details.

“I was pleased to see Alice Johnson of Memphis, whose commutation request I supported, in tonight’s crowd, but I have suggested pardons and commutations should follow a deliberative, prescribed procedure, and be delivered to thousands of people, not to a few dozen people with celebrity sponsors.

“The President tonight called for an end to ‘decades of political stalemate,’ but he has helped create it by attacking House Democrats, Speaker Pelosi and even Republicans like my former Senator Bob Corker who disagree with him. It would be a step in the right direction if members of the President’s own party weren’t routinely blind-sided by ill-conceived, pundit-inspired policies out of right field.

“I’m concerned about the state of the union and hope we can return to making progress on climate change affecting not just our country but the world. We need to have sensible gun reform. We must do more to protect people with pre-existing conditions, those living in poverty and hunger, our veterans and working families. That’s what will keep America great.”

Senator Marsha Blackburn Releases Statement Following State of the Union

Washington, D.C. – Tonight, Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) released this statement following President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address before Congress:

“President Trump conveyed an inspiring message and a hopeful vision for our country in tonight’s State of the Union message. He expressed confidence in our nation’s future and extended a hand to Democrats to work together, in unity, to produce results for all Americans.
Marsh Blackburn - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Marsh Blackburn

“Bringing Knoxville Fire Chief D.J. Corcoran as my guest was a true honor. He and his wife, Wendy, who attended with Congressman Tim Burchett, lost their 22-year-old son, Pierce, in late December when he was killed by an illegal immigrant. The Corcorans are faith-filled Tennesseans who love their country, their family and their God. They have taken the tragic loss their family experienced and spread a message of hope that no American should have to experience the anguish of becoming an Angel Family. I am incredibly thankful they accepted our invitation to attend as our guests.

“As the president communicated in his speech, the state of our union is strong. Our nation is well-positioned to address our challenges in a way that meets the needs of the 21st century. I look forward to continuing to work with President Trump and with my colleagues of both parties to build on our success for the American people.”

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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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