Thursday, December 1, 2016

Rep. Ellison, Frontrunner in DNC Race, to be Honored Here

Minnesota Congressman's visit, co-sponsored by numerous Democrats and Democratic groups, will occur on Friday, December 9.

Posted By on Thu, Dec 1, 2016 at 4:11 PM

Rep. Keith Ellison
  • Rep. Keith Ellison

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), considered by many to be the front-running candidate to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee, will be honored next week at a “welcome reception” here co-sponsored by the Young Democrats of America and the Tennessee Young Democrats.

The event will take place at the Bluefin Restaurant, 135 South Main St., on Friday, December 9, at 7 p.m. Initial co-sponsors of the visit (listed in order of their appearance on the official invitation for the affair) are J.W. Gibson, Chris Anderson, the Tennessee Democratic Party, A C Wharton, the Shelby County Young Democrats, Brent Hooks, Hendrell Remus, and Vanecia Kimbrow.

Other co-sponsors will likely be announced subsequently.

Ellison was briefly profiled in a Flyer online article of November 13, which included the audio of a stirring address delivered by the Minnesota Congressman to a mixed Minnesota/Tennessee delegation at this year’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Go here for that article.

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Cohen Introduces Amendment to Scrap Electoral College

Memphis Congressman and ranking member of key House subcommittee, proposes action to allow direct election of the President.

Posted By on Thu, Dec 1, 2016 at 2:32 PM


Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen, who is often in the vanguard of controversial or transformative efforts, has done it again, introducing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would, in the words of a press release from his office, “eliminate the Electoral College and provide for the direct election of the President and Vice President of the United States.”

The action by Cohen, who represents Tennessee’s 9th congressional district (Memphis) and is the ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, takes place amid increasing dissatisfaction — especially among Democrats — with the workings of the Electoral College, designed by the Founding Fathers at a time of much more primitive means of communication and transportation.

A case in point: The presidential election of 2016 presents an anomaly whereby the Electoral College loser, Democrat Hillary Clinton, actually out-polled victorious Republican Donald Trump by at least 2 ½ million votes.

Below is the Cohen press release announcing the Congressman’s action:

Ranking Member Cohen Introduces Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to Eliminate the Electoral College

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, today introduced an amendment to the United States Constitution that would eliminate the Electoral College and provide for the direct election of the President and Vice President of the United States.

“For the second time in recent memory, and for the fifth time in our history, we have a President-elect, who lost the popular vote,” said Congressman Cohen. “The Electoral College is an antiquated system that was established to prevent citizens from directly electing our nation’s President, yet that notion is antithetical to our understanding of democracy. In our country, ‘We the People’ are supposed to determine who represents us in elective office.”

Congressman Cohen continued, “When the Founders established the electoral college, it was in an era of limited nationwide communication. It was premised on a theory that citizens would have a better chance of knowing about electors from their home states than about presidential candidates from out-of-state. The development of mass media and the internet, however, has made information about presidential candidates easily accessible to U.S. citizens across the country and around the world. Today, citizens have a far better chance of knowing about out-of-state presidential candidates than knowing about presidential electors from their home states. Most people don’t even know who their electors are.

Congressman Cohen concluded, “Since our nation first adopted our Constitution, we have amended it repeatedly to expand the opportunity for citizens to directly elect our leaders. We have Constitutional amendments that guarantee the right of all citizens to vote regardless of race, gender and age for citizens who are 18 years of age and older, as well as an amendment to empower citizens to directly elect U.S. Senators. We need to also empower citizens to directly elect the President and the Vice President of the United States. It is time for us to fix the anachronistic process of the Electoral College and make our Constitution better reflect the ‘more perfect Union’ to which it aspires.”


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Water Quality Board Rejects Appeal of TVA Plans to Drill Into Aquifier

Vote of 7-0 against comes after all-day hearing; environmentalist appellants mulling over possible further action

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2016 at 8:46 PM

Hearing officer Bob McLean (at microphone) spells out rules of procedure for Water Quality Control Board members. - JB
  • JB
  • Hearing officer Bob McLean (at microphone) spells out rules of procedure for Water Quality Control Board members.

It was a long day at the County Code Enforcement building at the Shelby Farms governmental complex, where TVA’s plans to drill into the Memphis sand aquifier were at stake, but the result — a 7-0 vote by the County’s Walter Quality Control Board against a Sierra Club effort to halt those plans — made unexpectedly short work of an issue that was expected to fester for a while.

Testimony at a Board hearing of an appeal that would have spelled quietus on the final two of five wells envisioned by the Authority began at roughly 9:30 and ended at 5 with a motion from Board member Tim Overley, utilities director for Collierville, to reject the appeal. The vote was by a show of hands at the direction of hearing officer Bob McLean. There were three recusals for various reasons on the 11-member board and one absentee.

The outcome apparently leaves TVA free to continue with its preparations to draw some 3.5 million gallons a day from the aquifier to use as coolant for its forthcoming natural-gas power plant, scheduled to open in 2018 as a replacement for the coal-powered plant it currently operates.

The Sierra Club’s Scott Banbury, backed by a coalition of environmentally minded citizens and organizations, had filed an appeal in September to reject permits issued by the county’s Health Department for the two wells. Three wells had already been drilled — before public notice had been given, said Banbury — but have not yet been outfitted with pumps.

TVA maintained that it needed the five wells to provide the plant’s core function of serving 1.5 million customers in the Greater Memphis area, that alternatives of using water from the area’s Maxson wastewater plant or the Mississippi River alluvial aquifier or even of purchasing water from the sand aquifier from MLGW were all considered but finally deemed insufficient for the purpose.

The environmentalists supporting the appeal via an organized “Protect the Aquifier” movement spearheaded by advertising executive Ward Archer have argued that the all of the discarded alternatives were feasible and that the Authority’s plan to drill into the sand aquifier was both unnecessary and endangered the famously pure drinking water with the prospect of pollution through rifts in the aquifier’s surrounding clay walls.

That case was made on Wednesday by Banbury, supplemented by supportive scientific documents placed on the record and by the videotaped testimony of Brian Waldron of the University of Memphis, but a rejection of the appellants’ motion for a continuance resulted in the exclusion of direct testimony from Waldron and other experts, all of whom were attending a professional conference in Ecuador.

Appellant Scott Banbury talks with Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland before hearing. - JB
  • JB
  • Appellant Scott Banbury talks with Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland before hearing.
Meanwhile, both the Health Department and TVA were able to boast a full array of witnesses supporting the Authority’s contention that the aquifier wells were necessary, were harmless to the environment, and had been properly vetted through accepted county-government procedures.

Ironically, the Shelby County Commission is due shortly to consider changes in those procedures (a course called for as well on Wednesday by a member of the Water Quality Control Board), and the Memphis City Council has passed a resolution calling for TVA to employ a different method to acquire its source of coolant water. Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen had also weighed in for a change in course.

The appellants had discussed in advance the possibility of appealing a negative finding by the Board through Chancery Court but have not yet decided whether to pursue that avenue.

The hearing on Wednesday was conducted to make it as close to a pure legal process as special hearing officer McLean could make it — complete with formal objections that could be sustained or overruled — and as far as possible from anything resembling a pure policy discussion. The audience — which included numerous members of the “Protect the Aquifier” movement, some wearing identifying T-shirts — was expressly warned against any form of demonstrations.

(For the most part, that injunction held, though from time to time a female audience member in the back of the room would respond with a discernibly sardonic chuckle to what she apparently saw as unintentionally revealing moments of testimony from TVA witnesses.)

A participant on the Health Department/TVA side characterized the process as being one of “rules versus emotions,” and the result of that emphasis was that discussion was steered away, over and over again, from ecological matters per se to the more limited question of whether the Health Department had followed checklist guidelines in making its preliminary decision to grant permits for the proposed TVA wells.

McLean’s conduct of the hearing seemed generally even-handed, particularly in his predisposition toward overruling objections, most of them from TVA lawyers attempting to disqualify testimony or exhibits from the Sierra Club side.

But there were anomalies. Early in the proceedings, Banbury attempted to make a point about the nearness to the Presidents Island TVA plant site of an area pinpointed in a U.S. geologic survey as a weak point in the clay layer surrounding the Memphis sand aquifier.

Asked by attorney Webb Brewer to specify exactly how close, Banbury began to answer, stating as his educated “guess,” based on familiarity with the area, that the exact distance was something like a mile, but was sharply interrupted by McLean, who said, “No guessing, Mr. Banbury!” and discounted the answer.

Somewhat later, Ron Tibbs, general manager of major projects for TVA, was at the witness table, and more than once phrased an answer to a technical question as a “guess” without being similarly cut short.
(One answer by Tibbs, to a cross-examination question from Brewer asking his evaluation of the pollutant nature of coal ash, one of the byproducts of TVA’s current power plant identified by environmentalists as toxic, brought a gasp or two from the audience, along with an instance of the aforementioned stage laugh from the back of the room. “I don’t consider coal ash to be particularly dangerous,” Tibbs said. “I’m not aware of any major concerns.”)

Many of the issues discussed in Wednesday's hearing engendered Rashomon-like differences in perspective by the contending parties. The unusually large energy-producing capacity of the forthcoming new TVA plant — planned to be considerably more than sufficient for the needs of the target population — was explained away by Authority witnesses as being based on redundancy safeguards, while Sierra Club spokespersons have seen it as obvious evidence of TVA's desire to expand its potential energy market beyond the current confines.

And there were intriguing questions left short of full exploration — such as why it was that "gray water" (i.e., treated waste water) was sufficient to cool the Authority's Caledonia power plant near Columbus, Mississippi, but was regarded as out of the question for the forthcoming new plant here.

By and large, members of the Water Quality Board, many of whom held positions of engineering or environmental authority within Shelby County were respectful of the contending points of view at the hearing but, as their occasional questions to witnesses indicated, seemed inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the testimony put forth by experts from the Health Department and TVA.

In any case, their verdict was, as indicated, more a statement of approval that established procedures were followed in the Health Department’s granting of permits for the proposed TVA wells than it was an evaluation of the Authority’s contention that no other alternative existed than the one of drilling into the Memphis sand aquifier.

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Memphians Dominate Democratic Leadership Positions in State House

Six of 12 positions are filled by local representatives.

Posted By on Sun, Nov 27, 2016 at 3:03 PM

Towns (l), Akbari
  • Towns (l), Akbari

Memphis Democrats loomed large in the assignment of state House of Representatives party leadership positions for the forthcoming 110th session of the General Assembly.

Of the 12 positions voted on by the House Democrats’ caucus in Nashville on Saturday, six will be held by Memphis representatives.
Parkinson (l), Camper
  • Parkinson (l), Camper

The Memphis Democrats and their caucus positions are: Joe Towns, assistant minority leader; Raumesh Akbari, House floor leaders; Antonio Parkinson, caucus vice chair; Karen Camper, caucus treasurer; John DeBerry, leader pro tempore; and Larry Miller, one of three House Democratic members of the legislative joint fiscal committee.

Reelected by the caucus were Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley as House minority leader and Mike Stewart of Nashville as caucus chair.
DeBerry (l), Miller
  • DeBerry (l), Miller

Others elected were JoAnne Favors of Chattanooga, minority whip; Harold Love Jr.
of Nashville, caucus secretary; and Johnny Shaw of Bolivar and Brenda Gil more of Nashville, the other two Democratic members of the legislative joint fiscal committee.

There will be 25 Democrats in all in the state House of Representatives.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Keith Ellison, Early Leader to Head the DNC, in a Speech to Tennessee Democrats

Hear his remarks to a joint meeting of the Tennessee and Minnesota delegations at the Democratic National Convention in August.

Posted By on Sun, Nov 13, 2016 at 2:44 PM

Rep. Ellison with Bernie Sanders at the Convention
  • Rep. Ellison with Bernie Sanders at the Convention

In the aftermath of its unexpected and shattering defeat in the presidential race, coupled with a failure to recapture control of either chamber of Congress, the Democratic Party will be looking for new leadership to rescue its hopes.

Among the first imperatives facing the party is the selection of a new chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Whoever holds that position will be responsible for clarifying and overseeing the Democratic agenda for the next several years, leading up to mid-term elections in 2018 and another go at the Presidency in 2020.

One of the all-but-declared frontrunners for the chairmanship is U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who, insofar as his name rings any bells at all, is mainly known as the only Muslim serving in the Congress or,  as a leader of the congressional Progressive Caucus, having been one of the chief supporters of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.

Tennesseans who went to the Democratic National Convention in early August got a more close-up sense of Ellison and his views during a joint breakfast of the Tennessee and Minnesota delegations mid-way of the Convention.

In the course of his quite animated remarks at the breakfast, Ellison had some interesting things to say about Tennessee and its folkways and Memphis in particular, and he recalled one of the painful memories in our local history.

Here, to be heard as he said them, are his remarks to that delegation breakfast:

Friday, November 11, 2016

Dwayne Thompson’s Upset Win

Winner of the District 96 state House was the only Tennessee Democrat to unseat a Republican incumbent lawmaker.

Posted By on Fri, Nov 11, 2016 at 12:19 AM

Artiles (l), Thomson on the WATN set - JB
  • JB
  • Artiles (l), Thomson on the WATN set

It wasn’t just in the presidential election or in the nation at large that surprising results occurred. Republican dominance of public office in Tennessee is virtually complete and become so in the three successive statewide elections of 2010, 2012, and 2014, resulting in a seemingly unbreakable legislative super-majority.

Given that fact, and considering that the 2016 election cycle will have put Donald Trump into the presidency and given the Republicans control of the U.S. Senate and House, it is downright astonishing that Democrat Dwayne Thompson, a likeable longtime party activist in his ‘60s, should have won election to the state House from a suburban Shelby County district. It is doubly astonishing that he unseated an incumbent Republican to do so.

Yet that is exactly what Thompson did in the election ending on November 8, knocking off the well-established GOP state Representative Steve McManus in District 96 (Cordova, Germantown), by a total of 351 votes out of almost 28,000 cast.

“It was a close election, and I expected it to be close,” a relaxed Thompson said on Thursday to WATN-TV anchor Brandon Artiles as they recorded an interview for this Sunday’s Local 24 show, following the regular segment of ABC’s This Week show with George Stephanopoulos.

Thompson’s diffident manner belied the phenomenal nature of his upset win. In the decade of the 2010’s in red-state Tennessee, Republicans do not lose many races to Democratic candidates, and certainly GOP incumbents, like McManus, the long-serving chairman of the House Insurance and Banking committee, don’t lose to Democrats.

And, in fact, McManus didn’t lose to Thompson during the Democrat’s first challenge to his incumbency in 2014. This year’s race was expected by most to be a replay of that one in every respect.

Except it wasn’t. Thompson was the only Democrat to upset an incumbent Republican legislator in Tennessee, and, as he told Artiles during their interview, “maybe in the South.”

It is a truism that once somebody performs an act previously thought undoable, it sets an example for others to follow suit; so Thompson’s feat makes it inevitable that other Republicans, in Shelby County and elsewhere in Tennessee, are liable to get a run for their money in 2018.

Speaking of money, McManus’ war chest, totaling $155,754.59 as of the third-quarter financial-disclosure deadline, dwarfed Thompson’s $5,088.20 as of that date. To be sure, Thompson would later receive an infusion of financial aid from the Tennessee Democratic Party, enough to fund some modest Internet advertising that pointed out, among other things, the fact that he had a military record.

But what really did the trick for Thompson was hard campaigning. In a campaign managed by super-activist Diane Cambron, with assistance from veteran consultant Bret Thompson and a bevy of dedicated supporters from local Democratic ranks, candidate Thompson estimates that his team knocked on 12,000 doors in the district while he alone did 4,000. His campaign had phone banks going full-time, and he greeted early voters at the Agri-Center on a daily basis.

As Thompson explained to Artiles, his immediate objectives in the legislature will be to work on funding for public education, which he regards as under-funded and vulnerable to become more so in an age of charter schools and proposed vouchers to private schools. He hopes also to help revive prospects for Governor Bill Haslam’s dormant Insure Tennessee proposal for Medicaid expansion and to do something about what he sees as Cordova’s serious traffic problems.

And, he said, he wants to spend time getting to know legislators “in the other party and in other parts of the state,” so as to lay the basis for cooperative endeavors.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

In Huge Upset, Trump Defeats Clinton

Posted By on Wed, Nov 9, 2016 at 7:56 AM

The President-elect
  • The President-elect
In what amounts to a greater political upset than the 1948 victory of underdog Harry Truman over Thomas E. Dewey, New York billionaire Donald J. Trump, the Republican nominee for president, defeated the heavily favored Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who had been widely expected to become the nation’s first woman president, a generation after her husband, Bill Clinton, served two terms as the nation’s chief executive.

Instead, it will be Trump, who has never before held political office, who will occupy the white House as the 45th President of the U.S.

Trump’s triumph came via unexpected strength in key states, not only the much-mentioned “battleground states” of Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Iowa, but in a tier of Midwestern rust-belt states — Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania — that had been regarded as an impregnable Democratic “blue wall.”

Equally surprising was the fact that Republicans won enough seats to maintain control of the Senate, with at least 51 seats versus no more than 47 for the Democrats in the Congress that will be sworn in, along with Trump and his vice-presidential running mate Mike Pence, in January.

Though the first returns on Tuesday from Florida were ambivalent, auguring a tight contest between Democrat Clinton and Republican Trump, the GOP nominee soon began to pull away finally in the race for that state’s 29 electoral votes. Trump would then be declared the winner in Ohio and North Carolina.

The big surprises would come in the domino-like succession of apparent victories for Trump in Michigan, site of last-minute Hail Mary efforts by Trump, the neighboring Midwestern state of Wisconsin, which had been regarded as safe for the Democratic nominee, and even Minnesota. Contests in such other battleground states as New Hampshire and Arizona also seemed to be going Trump’s way.

It remained to be seen whether Trumpiiu or Clinton would end up ahead in the very close national popular vote.

At some point after midnight, Central Standard Time, Clinton reportedly made a concession call to Trump, who responded with a relatively gracious victory speech to his supporters in Trump Tower, his signature building in Manhattan, several blocks from the Javits Center, from which dejected Clinton supporters were even then streaming.

In his speech, Trump said it was "time to bind the wounds of division....and come together as one people." He said the nation owed Clinton, a former First Lady, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State "gratitude for her years of service." Clinton planned public remarks of her own for Wednesday morning.

Further details to follow.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Harris, Cohen, Bill Freeman in 3-Way Love-Fest

The three Democrats were principals in a GOTV rally last week that had relevance to the politics of 2018.

Posted By on Mon, Nov 7, 2016 at 11:50 AM

Nashville Democrat Bill Freeman, a potential gubernatorial candidate, greets David Upton and Kathy Ferguson at last week's GOTV event and Lee Harris fundraiser. - JB
  • JB
  • Nashville Democrat Bill Freeman, a potential gubernatorial candidate, greets David Upton and Kathy Ferguson at last week's GOTV event and Lee Harris fundraiser.

As the presidential campaign comes to an end in Tennessee as elsewhere, at least local Get-Out-the-Vote event for Democrat Hillary Clinton functioned simultaneously as a prelude to the politics of 2018.

This was a fundraiser for state Senator Lee Harris last Thursday night at the Memphis residence of Linda Sowell. The event, which drew a decent-sized crowd of Democratic activists, doubled as a GOTV rally for Clinton, but it had a third purpose as well: It was a coming-out event for the likely forthcoming gubernatorial race of Bill Freeman, a Nashville Democratic eminence and one of the party’s chief donors.

Besides Harris and Freeman, a chief speaker at the event was 9th District congressman Steve Cohen, who bestowed compliments on both of the other principals — and would receive some as well. The event could accurately be described as a three-way political love-fest.

Introduced to the crowd by Harris as “our very own Congressman…the father of the Tennessee scholarship,” Cohen would say of the state Senator: “I’ve supported Lee in all his elections, except the first. When he ran against me in 2006, I was against him…..But he ran an issue-oriented campaign, and he impressed me greatly…. Lee’s a star up there [in Nashville], and is right on the issues.”

The Congressman described Harris as the “voice in the wilderness” in Nashville that Cohen thought he himself had often been as a state Senator.

An interesting sub-text of this was that Harris had flirted seriously with the idea of opposing Cohen in the 9th District primary this year before deciding against it in January.

The Congressman would also brag on Freeman, a near finalist in last year’s multi-candidate mayoral race in Nashville and a state co-chair for the Clinton campaign whose ulterior motive for being in Memphis was to scout out support for the aforesaid 2018 gubernatorial race. Cohen would say of him, “Bill Freeman might have further plans, and if he offers himself, he’ll be a fine candidate to be the head of the ship of state and do Tennessee proud and the Democratic Party proud.”

When Freeman spoke, he stroked both Memphians. He talked of how, in separate appearances at fundraising events in his Nashville home, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton made a point of asking, “Where’s Steve Cohen?” (Cohen, in Freeman’s telling, was either unavoidably in Washington or at some other event in Memphis.)

Of Harris, Freeman noted the state Senator’s status as Senate Democratic leader and said, “He has risen to the top…. There’s nobody better thought of in Nashville than Lee….The future holds great things for your state Senator. There’s no limit.”

In a summing-up for the evening, Harris mocked Republicans and said of both his special guests, Cohen and Freeman, “They don’t have talent like that on their side of the room.”

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Rep. Cohen Calls on FBI Director Comey to Resign

Memphis congressman and Civil Justice ranking member says that FBI Director had "no basis for action" in reopening Clinton email case and that his injecting a volatile issue into the presidential campaign had been "misuse of an official position."

Posted By on Sun, Oct 30, 2016 at 11:25 PM

The fallout keeps growing  from Friday 's bombshell announcement by FBI director James Comey that the FBI would be reopening its investigation of the Hillary Clinton email affair in view of a reported discovery that a laptop shared by Clinton aide Huma Abedin and her disgraced husband Anthony Weiner might contain emails "pertinent" to the seemingly closed Clinton case.

Both presidential campaigns — and their respective supporters — are treating the matter as something 
Director Comey (l); Rep. Cohen
  • Director Comey (l); Rep. Cohen
much more than the proverbial "October Surprise" — rather, it would seem, as something that could wrench the election one way or the other from its seemingly inevitable course. Both Republicans and Democrats seem to believe that while emotional reaction to the matter might or might not open up a pathway for a Donald Trump victory, it could have a drastic effect on the so-called "down-ballot" races for contested House and Senate seats.

Memphis congressman Steve Cohen, an enthusiastic supporter of Clinton's presidential candidacy, is the latest public official to go public with anger over the development. The 9th District congressman is calling Director Comey 's action improper and demanding that he resign.

Cohen's complete statement follows in a press release from his office:

October 31, 2016

House Judiciary Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee Ranking Member Cohen Calls for FBI Director Comey to Resign

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, today called on James Comey to resign as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

"FBI Director James Comey’s recent public comments on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her emails, apparently before seeing any evidence, and against the advice of the Justice Department according to press reports, and even, some have suggested, in violation of the Hatch Act, make it clear that for the good of the FBI and the Justice Department, he should resign his position effective immediately,” said Congressman Cohen. “In the past, even quite recently, I have expressed my appreciation for Director Comey. I appreciated his courage as Deputy Attorney General when he stood up to President Bush’s Chief of Staff Andrew Card and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales when they attempted to persuade hospitalized Attorney General John Ashcroft to reauthorize Bush's domestic surveillance program, which the Justice Department had just determined was illegal. When, in July of this year, Director Comey recommended no criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for her handling of classified information while she was Secretary of State but added his own sidebar of opinions to the announcement, I gave Director Comey the benefit of the doubt, despite the fact that his making such highly unusual remarks was called into question by many."

Congressman Cohen elaborated, "While I cannot know Director Comey’s reasoning for his recent letter to House members notifying them about the FBI’s review of emails that he deemed 'potentially related' to Hillary Clinton's personal server, it was plainly premature, careless and unprecedented in its potential impact upon a Presidential election without a speck of information regarding the emails in question, their validity, substance or relevance. Director Comey stated in the letter that he had no idea of 'the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails' which makes his decision all the more disturbing.

"There is a reason that FBI investigations are not usually made public until they are completed. To do so gives an impression of guilt before all the facts have been determined. That was the case during the FBI’s investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails that led Director Comey to state that there was no evidence that Secretary Clinton intentionally transmitted or willfully mishandled classified information and that 'no reasonable prosecutor' would bring a case against her. In light of that finding and the Department of Justice’s prohibition and practice against influencing elections, it is clear that Director Comey’s actions, no matter his motivations, have called into question his judgment and ethics. That is unacceptable as the FBI Director must, like Caesar’s wife, be above suspicion. I agree with CNN's Paul Callan who, in calling for Director Comey to resign wrote 'Trashing the Justice and FBI rule books in the interest of "openness" is likely to put the FBI front and center in one of the most contentious presidential races in recent U.S. history.’ "

Congressman Cohen continued, "Additionally revelatory is the New York Times opinion written by Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, in which he states:

Absent extraordinary circumstances that might justify it, a public communication about a pending FBI investigation involving a candidate that is made on the eve of an election is thus very likely to be a violation of the Hatch Act and a misuse of an official position. Serious questions also arise under lawyers’ professional conduct rules that require prosecutors to avoid excessive publicity and unnecessary statements that could cause public condemnation even of people who have been accused of a crime, not to mention people like Mrs. Clinton, who have never been charged with a crime.

Congressman Cohen concluded, "The fairness of our electoral system is like the fairness of a trial, and no justice official should act in such a way to potentially influence an election whether intended to or not. Standards must be upheld and an FBI Director needs to investigate, not inject issues into a presidential election when no investigation dictates action or basis for action. At a minimum, Director Comey’s actions are, to use his own verbiage, 'extremely careless' this close to the election and without any apparent substance. If Director Comey cares about the Bureau and the rule of law, as I have felt he has in the past, I'm sure upon reflection of this action, he will submit his letter of resignation for the nation’s good."

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Justin Timberlake Selfie Affair: A Recounting

All things considered, the way the native son pop star did it is cooler than an "I Voted" sticker.

Posted By on Fri, Oct 28, 2016 at 9:30 AM

As most of the Western world knows by now, Justin Timberlake cast an early vote on Monday at New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Germantown. And he posted it a selfie of his vote on Instagram with this message: 
The now famous selfie
  • The now famous selfie

“Hey! You! Yeah, YOU! I just flew from LA to Memphis to #rockthevote !!! No excuses, my good people. There could be early voting in your town too. If not, November 8th! Choose to have a voice! If you don't, then we can't HEAR YOU! Get out and VOTE! #excerciseyourrighttovote.”

It didn’t take long for the media at large to take notice. At some point, Adam Ghassemi, a spokesperson for Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett in Nashville, had this to say:

“We’re thrilled Justin can’t stop the feeling when it comes to voting so much that he voted early in person and is promoting voting to his millions of fans. In Tennessee, using electronic devices inside polling locations to take pictures, videos or make calls is not allowed.

“We hope this encourages more people than ever to vote, but Tennesseans should only use their phones inside polling locations for informational purposes to assist while voting, like our free GoVoteTN mobile app. If polling officials discover someone violating this law they will ask the voter to put their phone away.”

As for taking it to native son Timberlake (who hails from the Memphis suburb of Millington), Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich seems determined to look the other way.

Technically, what the pop star did is a class C misdemeanor and punishable by a 30 day sentence and/or a $50 fine. And someone in the D.A.’s office had issued the following incautious statement: “The Shelby County DA’s Office was made aware of a possible violation of state election law. The matter is under review by the D.A.’s Office.”

But Weirich, who was out of town when the story broke, hastened to put the quietus on that, saying that the statement was issued without her knowledge and adding, "No one in our office is currently investigating this matter nor will we be using our limited resources to do so.

Apparently free of any real possibility of legal retribution, revved-up voting activist Timberlake is entitled, if he chooses, to sing a chorus of “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” And, apropos the message of his Instagram, he certainly got himself heard.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Big River Crossing: A Weekend to Remember

Posted By on Tue, Oct 25, 2016 at 8:23 AM

Memphis congressman Steve Cohen and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson engage in a ceremonial handshake midway on the new pedestrian/bike pathway across the Harahan Bridge. Looking on at left are Scott Moore of Union Pacific Railroad, project founder Charles McVean and Charlie Newman, counsel to the project. - JB
  • JB
  • Memphis congressman Steve Cohen and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson engage in a ceremonial handshake midway on the new pedestrian/bike pathway across the Harahan Bridge. Looking on at left are Scott Moore of Union Pacific Railroad, project founder Charles McVean and Charlie Newman, counsel to the project.

The giant locomotive whistles, the inspiring speeches, the dazzling display of rainbow lighting on the Harahan Bridge at night, and the first treks across the bridge by foot and by bike are all embedded in Memphis history now, after a weekend that won’t be forgotten by those who were there.

It was the weekend of opening ceremonies for the Big River Crossing and the completion of the Main Street to Main Street project that links downtown Memphis with downtown West Memphis, courtesy of a public/private partnership that involved numerous movers and shakers — notably Charles McVean, the veteran trader and investor who conceived of the project and bird-dogged it into being; Jim Young, the late Union Pacific executive who saw its promise; and Memphis congressman Steve Cohen, who used his energy, know-how, and Capitol Hill connections to get the $15 million TIGER grant (for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) that finished up the financing.

The TIGER grants, authorized by Congress in 2009, exist for the purpose of financing “road, rail, transit and port projects that promise to achieve national objectives,” and there’s no doubting that the River Street Crossing and the Main St. to Main St. Multi-Modal Connector Project (to give it its proper name) fill that bill.

On Saturday morning, a sizeable crowd gathered at the Church by the River and on the grounds outside. These were spectators who had registered for the privilege — dignitaries of various kinds, public officials, media,, and various others who had, as it were, got the memo, and were on a checklist that let them get close to the morning’s events.

A large crowd of other were gathered, short of the let-through point, near the railroad tracks just off Channel 3 Drive, and for many of them, train aficionados, that was close enough to see and enjoy the look and overpowering whistle sound of the big steam-engine locomotive, largest of the Union Pacific line, that had come over the Harahan from the Arkansas side as part of the ceremonies.

The city’s most recent mayors were there — current Mayor Jim Strickland with his daughter Kathleen, and former Mayor A C Wharton, both of whom had a major role assisting the project and would get their due when the speeches got started inside the Church. Kevin Kane of the Convention and Visitors Bureau; Jack Sammons, Memphis government’s forever utility man, who was acquainted with all the ground-floor facts; Charlie Newman, counsel to McVean, who was the ground floor, and whose own illustrious pedigree had been committed from Day One. Paul Morris, who as president of the Downtown Memphis Commission had been in on the early planning. And Cohen, of course, the final enabler.

With Joe Birch of WMC-TV presiding, festivities got under way in the sanctuary of the Church, and all the tellers told their tales. McVean, the visionary, was the central figure in each story. Morris admitted he’d thought it was a “crazy idea,” this creation of a bike and pedestrian lane all the way across the river on the old bridge but had snapped to when he realized some vital downtown rehab could be made part of the project, of which he took on the day-to-day management.

Newman gave a brief history of the project and spoke of the vital connection between McVean the visionary who wouldn’t take no for an answer and Union Pacific’s Young, who would buy into it despite his industry’s proverbial sense that “trains and people don’t belong together.” Not on the same pathway, anyhow. Newman spoke also of the people on the Arkansas side who were brought in and who, like Young, saw the prospect of urban rehab on their side of the Big Muddy.

Spokespersons for state and federal government had their say. Cohen, dressed casually with a University of Memphis Tiger cap that fed the metaphor, took his bow and elaborated on Morris’ “crazy idea” remark, linking that to the concept of “thinking big” in Memphis history. It was a team effort, Cohen said, concluding, “Go Tigers.”

Strickland had his turn at the mike, noting the appropriateness of the project’s completion so close to the bicentennial of Memphis in 2019. He noted that the project had resulted from a combination of private fundraising, state, and federal help. Pointedly, he gave a hat tip to his predecessor Wharton and to Councilman Reid Hedgepeth for their important efforts, And he introduced the main man, Charlie McVean, “the Superman of the Big River Crossing.”

People got on their feet for McVean, and deservedly so, though, for someone who had made so gigantic task come to pass, McVean had a deceptively diffident manner. He tossed out kudos to various others who had been involved, spoke of further development of the river levees that would create a giant trail all the way to New Orleans, and recalled a conversation with a Chinese official who compared the river project, in its magnitude, to the creation of the Great Wall of China.

Only this wall would not seal off, McVean stressed. It would open things up. He spoke of conversations with Robert Moore, Speaker of the Arkansas House, who had been justifiably proud of Little Rock’s Big Dam Bridge over a dam on the Arkansas River. McVean was complimentary of the bridge but countered, “Mr. Speaker, I want you to be prepared. We’re getting ready to show you boys over here what a damn big bridge is!”

When the ceremony wrapped up, the whole crowd moved down and entered the new bridge walkway that paralleled the railroad track on the northern side of the bridge. These first traffickers were walkers, though a queue of helmeted and eager cyclers waited for their turn whenever the crowd might clear.

That took a while, though. Just as there had been a ceremony on the Memphis side of the Harahan, so had there been one on the Arkansas side. Now members of the two separate gatherings would meet at the halfway point of the bridge. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and Congressman Cohen had the first ceremonial handshake, and then the two bodies of celebrants mingled. So poignant was the moment that nobody was in much of a hurry to clear the walkway.

Eventually the pedestrian mass would clear, of course, making way finally for the cyclists. Much of the crowd would end up across the river at Pancho’s in West Memphis, where one last celebratory event was held under the auspices of the Arkansans involved.

And later that night, at roughly 7 p.m., when darkness fell, the old, rejuvenated Harahan Bridge lit up with pulsating waves of rainbow lighting, courtesy of Philips Lighting. That extraordinary rainbow will appear again at various points on the holiday calendar; meanwhile, the bridge will be lit most nights with a glow that is called, technically, “architectural white.”

In any case, by whatever name and whatever its hues, there is a new light on the river now and, if all goes well, a brighter future for both banks of the Mississippi.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Wagner, Former GOP Chair, Appointed to Circuit Court by Haslam

Replaces retiring Judge Donna M. Fields

Posted By on Mon, Oct 24, 2016 at 1:46 PM

Mary Wagner, former chair of the Shelby County Republican Party, has been appointed by Governor Bill Haslam as Circuit Court Judge for the 30th Judicial District (Shelby County), replacing Judge Donna M. Fields, who has retired.
Mary Wagner
  • Mary Wagner

Wagner resigned her GOP chairmanship earlier this year upon news of her pending appointment to the bench and was replaced as head of the local party by interim Chairman Lee Mills.

In recent years she has been at the Memphis law firm of Rice, Amundsen & Capterton. Her emphases there included family law, non-profit/business organization, personal injury, and probate law.

Before joining Rice, Amundsen & Capterton in 2011, Wagner was at the Leitner, Williams, Dooley and Napolitan firm. She was a law clerk from 2009-2010 for Judge Steven Stafford of the Tennessee Court of Appeals, and in 2008-9 clerked for Judge Robert L. Childers in the Shelby County Circuit Court. She worked as an extern in 2008 with the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Western District of Tennessee.

Wagner received a bachelor’s degree in 2006 from the University of Colorado, majoring in political science, and received her law degree from the University of Memphis in 2009. She was a research assistant in 2007 for Prof. Andrew McClurg during law school.

Wagner is married to Tom Owen, and they have a son, Benjamin.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Fincher Paid to Defeat Flinn in 8th Race, Publication Says

According to the Tennessee Journal, outgoing congressman put $100,000 into late attack ads that may have helped winner Kustoff close the gap and gain the victory in congressional contest.

Posted By on Fri, Oct 21, 2016 at 2:27 PM

Fincher (l), Flinn - JB
  • JB
  • Fincher (l), Flinn

It will be recalled that Memphis physician/businessman George Flinn, a frequent candidate for political office, was edged out in the August Republican primary for 8th District Congress by fellow Memphian David Kustoff, a former U.S. Attorney.

Kustoff’s margin of victory, 2,689 votes, was earned late in the contest, it is generally acknowledged. Both campaigns were aware of polling that showed Flinn, who out-spent all others in the multi-candidate GOP race, was leading in various private polls until the last week of the campaign.

During that last week, a flurry of print and TV ads appeared in the district alleging that Flinn was on record as having supported a Democratic candidate. The Democrat had been Flinn’s son, Shea Flinn, who ran unsuccessfully for a state House seat some years ago, later was appointed to an interim state Senate seat, and still later won and served two terms on the Memphis City Council.

With election day almost on top of him at that point, candidate Flinn, a longstanding Republican, tried to point out the obvious — that he had merely been supporting his own son — but had little time to get that message circulated. Flinn’s people — and some outside observers as well — blame the last-minute anti-Flinn adds for his defeat.

Now, it develops, according to the Tennessee Journal, that those ads were paid for by the outgoing Republican 8th District congressman, Stephen Fincher of Frog Jump in Crockett County. In its October 21 issue, the Journal notes that $100,000 in late contributions by Fincher to Win for American PAC, which technically placed the anti-Flinn advertising, match up directly with the placement-time and amount of the ads.

Flinn had been among several candidates in 2010 who ran for the 8th District seat, won that year by Fincher, and had, as was the custom by all the candidates in the race, run negative ads against his opponents. But Flinn had supported Fincher during the now congressman’s successful reelection runs in 2012 and 2014.

Whatever may have motivated Fincher, Flinn himself seems to have been no stranger to Realpolitik. Though no evidence links him to the expenditures of another group, a 501-C4 organization called Power of Liberty, that group, which was able legally to conceal the identities of its donors, had launched issue-advocacy ads attacking every candidate but Flinn in the recent congressional race.

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Bill Freeman, Likely Democratic Candidate for Governor, Headed Our Way

Prominent Nashville businessman and party activist/donor will be featured speaker at local Democratic rally on November 3.

Posted By on Fri, Oct 21, 2016 at 1:16 PM

Bill Freeman
  • Bill Freeman

For the first time since the Democratic gubernatorial field melted down in 2010 to a single serious candidate, Mike McWherter of Dresden, the state’s Democrats seem able and determined to up the ante and make a valid run for Governor in 2018 against the now dominant Tennessee Republican Party.

As the Tennessee Journal has reported, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has been making the rounds statewide as a prelude to a likely run for Governor two years from now.

And the Flyer has learned that Bill Freeman, well-known Nashville businessman and prominent donor and activist in Democratic circles, is seriously intending a gubernatorial race as well.

Freeman, currently serving as co-chair of Hillary of Tennessee and a member of Democratic presidential candidate Clinton’s national finance committee, will be the “special guest” and principal speaker at what is being billed as a “Reception for Sen. Lee Harris & Rally for Our West Tennessee Candidates,” to be held in Memphis at the home of Democrat Linda Sowell on November 3.

The affair, which is co-sponsored by a number of prominent local Democrats, will double as a Clinton for President rally. And Freeman’s role in it is related as well to his quest to develop a local base for a proposed gubernatorial run.

Freeman was previously a candidate in Nashville’s 2015 mayoral race. He outspent all other candidates and barely missed making the runoff in a contest ultimately won by current Mayor Megan Barry.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

C-SPAN's Coming!

Leave your selfie sticks at home. You won't need 'em. The longstanding chronicler of live-as-they-happen events will be on the scene at CBU and Arkansas State next week.

Posted By on Thu, Oct 20, 2016 at 8:21 PM

The C-SPAN Campaign 2016 Bus — On its Way!
  • The C-SPAN Campaign 2016 Bus — On its Way!

All right, you political junkies, you folks who forever have been the soul and support of the indefatigably televised live and uncensored political coverage that only C-SPAN can provide: it’s time for an early Christmas.

C-SPAN itself is on the way! The long-standing TV service which prides itself on airing un-refereed and unedited public events in their entirety will bring its Campaign 2016 bus to Memphis and Northeast Arkansas next week.

Let’s let the C-SPAN folks themselves tell it:

WASHINGTON (October 20, 2016) – C-SPAN’s award-winning, 45-foot customized Bus will visit Christian Brothers University and Arkansas State University-Memphis on October 28th. The C-SPAN Campaign 2016 Bus visits schools, universities, and political events across the country to engage students, educators, civic leaders, and the community through on-board multimedia technology that showcases C-SPAN's programming and resources dedicated to showing the American political process.

Through interactive exhibits, visitors will learn about the public affairs network’s in-depth coverage of the U.S. Congress, White House, federal courts, and its signature political program, "Road to the White House," which provides access to all of the Campaign 2016 presidential candidates and their events from the campaign trail, all without editing, commentary, or analysis. C-SPAN representatives will also gather visitor responses on this year's election to share via social media as part of its C-SPAN "Voices from the Road." (#cspanvoices)

"In this unprecedented election season, C-SPAN's 'Road to the White House' gives you a front row seat, unlike any other, to Campaign 2016," said Steve Scully, C-SPAN's senior executive producer and political editor. "C-SPAN's footage takes you from the campaign announcements, to the town hall meetings and rallies, as well as the policy speeches, party conventions, and now the upcoming presidential debates — giving viewers the absolute best coverage on what the candidates are saying and how this historic race is unfolding along the campaign trail."

Civics and government educators will also learn about C-SPAN’s free comprehensive online educational resources including, C-SPAN Classroom, and C-SPAN’s nationwide documentary contest, StudentCam, open to students in grades 6-12.

StudentCam encourages middle and high school students to think critically about issues that affect our communities and nation. This year, students are being asked to create a 5-7 minute documentary on this year's theme, "Your Message to Washington: What is the most urgent issue for the new President and Congress to address in 2017?"

EVENTS (press invited):
Friday 10/28 9:00AM-10:30AM
Christian Brothers University- 650 E Pkwy S, Memphis, TN 38104
Bus will park in In front of Canale Arena

Friday 10/28 11:00AM-12:30PM
Arkansas State University- Mid South
2000 West Broadway Avenue, West Memphis, AR 72301

Visitors to the Campaign 2016 Bus will experience the following through engagement with
C-SPAN representatives and on-board interactive technology:
• Campaign 2016 App populated with candidate video from the campaign trail
• In-depth public affairs programming and educational resources
• Touch-screen quizzes on C-SPAN and the three branches of government
• Mobile devices demonstrating C-SPAN resources on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and mobile apps
• HD cameras and production equipment capable of producing public affairs programming aboard the Bus is a searchable, video-rich site that has every C-SPAN program aired since 1987. The public can access this extensive online collection — over 220,000 hours of public affairs programming — for free, and share user-generated video clips by email and social media.

In Memphis, C-SPAN programming is provided by Comcast Cable on channel 6/1125 as a commercial-free public service, with C-SPAN2 on channel 84/104, and C-SPAN3 on channel 217. All funding for C-SPAN operations, including Bus visits, is provided by local TV providers.

“Comcast is proud to partner with C-SPAN to bring the C-SPAN Campaign 2016 Bus to Memphis,” said Evangeline Parker-Guest, External Affairs Manager. “We are dedicated to sharing educational opportunities with our community and value the programming and resources that C-SPAN offers.”

About C-SPAN
Created by the cable TV industry and now in nearly 100 million TV households, C-SPAN programs three public affairs television networks in both SD and HD; C- SPAN Radio, heard in Washington DC at 90.1 FM and available as an App (Android, iPhone, Blackberry); and a video- rich website offering live coverage of government events and access to the vast archive of C-SPAN programming. Visit Visit for coverage and schedules; like us on Facebook/cspan and follow @cspan on Twitter.


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