Thursday, June 29, 2017

Last Weekend's NAACP Centennial Celebration Looked Back — and Forward

Keynoters Melissa Harris-Perry and Harold Ford Jr.highlighted the event's theme: “Reflecting on the Past, Remaining Focused on the Future: 100 Years of Civil Rights and Human Rights Advocacy.”

Posted By on Thu, Jun 29, 2017 at 12:05 PM



As Memphis prepares for a 4th of July weekend, members and guests of the Memphis chapter of the NAACP are still savoring some moments last weekend from the organization’s centennial anniversary luncheon — particularly from keynoters Melissa Harris-Perry, former MSNBC host and Wake Forest professor, and Harold Ford Jr., the onetime Memphis congressman who now works on Wall Street and keeps his hand in politically, also on MSNBC.

There were notable things happening before keynoters Harris-Perry and Ford took their star turns, of course. Local NAACP president Deidre Malone and MC Mearl Purvis kept things moving from the dais, and a series of local dignitaries, including Ford’s successor, current 9th District congressman Steve Cohen and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, had some trenchant things to say — Cohen about the perils of the Trump presidency, Strickland about the need to boost African Americans’ share of local business opportunities.

Arguably, though, the best crowd reaction early on was to remarks by longtime civil rights activist Jocelyn Wurzburg, 
Melissa Harris-Perry - JB
  • JB
  • Melissa Harris-Perry
who (along with Shannon Brown and Roquita Coleman-Williams) was one of three official co-chairs for the event, held at the East Memphis Hilton last Saturday and devoted to the theme “Reflecting on the Past, Remaining Focused on the Future: 100 Years of Civil Rights and Human Rights Advocacy.”

Wurzburg, recipient of numerous citations and the person for whom Tennessee Human Rights Commission's annual Civil Rights Legacy award was named, conflated two tales. The first was about being embarrassed in her early youth when her mother, without asking, signed her up as a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy; the second detailed her response, during a visit to New Orleans, when a resident of that city lamented Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s recent removal of Confederate memorials, including a statue of Robert E. Lee.

The New Orleans native insisted that Lee had been done an injustice, in that the Civil War, in which he led a Southern army, had not been done on behalf of slavery. Wurzburg countered that, “as a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy, I can assure you it was.”

Harris-Perry, utilizing her erstwhile media chops, would wow the NAACP audience with a deceptively stream-of-consciousness rendition, including flamboyant hand-and-arm gestures, of what was actually a tightly organized dramatic presentation, aptly illustrated by a series of slides.

And along with her mastery of the medium (two actually; that of television and that of the lecture hall) came several provocative messages. One was both powerful and original: Taking off from her declaration that America had elected a president who was both “a racist and a pussy-grabber,” she formulated a convincing argument that racial domination, in its various forms, had depended on a distinctly physical domination of black women.

Slavery, which had involved the calculated and merciless separation of children from their mothers, had continued “through us,” Harris-Perry declared. To maintain the current stratified social system, she suggested, “Black women have to give birth,” and thereby to yield up to others “not only the product of our labor but our labor….The people who run this joint are pussy-grabbers.” That, she said, was “the reality of our wombs.”

Noting the incidence of black domestic servants in her paternal ancestry visi-a-vis the fact that her mother’s side was white and relatively privileged, Harris-Perry identified strongly with the former and with the idea of building “from the bottom,” a moral that she said would apply both to the advancement of the NAACP and the redevelopment of a dilapidated Democratic Party. “You always have to start with the least of these, literally, Jesus said. If you start at the top, you will miss so much. If you start at the bottom, you will miss nothing.”

Harris-Perry was the proverbial Hard Act to Follow, but Ford, who came next and last, managed to do just fine.
Harold Ford Jr.
  • Harold Ford Jr.

Professing that he was “glad to be home,” the former 9th District Congressman (who came within an ace of winning a Senate seat as a Democrat in 2006) executed an artful segue from Harris-Perry. Elaborating on the theme of “the power of women,” he recalled the importance of women teachers in his early education, extolled the helpful role played by “women in this district” in the development of his political career, and did some verbal doting on his 4 ½-year-old daughter Georgia.

Ford then shifted to the subject of change and to what he saw as a geometrically increasing demand for it in the society of today, treating the abrupt shift by American voters to Obama in 2008 and, even more precipitously, to Trump in 2016 as a case in point. The silver lining was the fact, as he saw it, that yet another political shift in a wholly different direction could happen, and relatively quickly.

“People want change, and they want it now,” he said, noting the pell-mell transformations of public technology, like the ever-escalating rise in photography via cell phone. He recalled being told two years ago that, within five years from that point, “97 percent of all the pictures in the world” would have been taken.

Ford closed on a note of optimism: “We’ve got to be daring and not afraid of change.” He quoted Babe Ruth to the effect that “Yesterday’s home runs do not win tomorrow’s ball games.”


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

5 Attorneys File for Circuit Court Vacancy

State Trial Court Vacancy Commission to meet in Memphis on July 21 to interview candidates and select three finalists for Governor Haslam to choose from

Posted By on Wed, Jun 28, 2017 at 1:08 PM

L to R: Elsea, Faughnan, Lyons, McNabb, Rudolph
  • L to R: Elsea, Faughnan, Lyons, McNabb, Rudolph


Five local attorneys have applied for the Circuit Court vacancy currently held by Judge Robert L. “Butch” Childers, who has announced his retirement as of this Friday, June 30.

The five, who will be interviewed in Memphis on Friday, July 21, when the state Trial Court Vacancy Commission convenes in Memphis, are listed as follows, along with their current law-firm relationships:


*Shannon D. Elsea: Cordova, John Michael Bailey Injury Lawyers
*Brian S. Faughnan: Memphis, Lewis, Thomason, King, Krieg, and Waldrop
*Lewis W. Lyons: Memphis, Glassman, Wyatt, Tuttle, and Cox
*Tabitha F. McNabb: Germantown, Harris, Shelton, Hanover, Walsh
*David M. Rudolph: Memphis, Bourland, Heflin, Alvarez, Minor, and Matthews

The Commission’s interviews with the applicants will be open to the public. There will be a public hearing at that venue at 9 a.m., during which members of the public may express their opinions on any or all of the applicants.

Following the interview session, the Commission is expected to have an immediate vote to select the names of three of the applicants and forward them to Governor Haslam for his consideration.
The Commission is expected to vote immediately following the interviews and forward three names to Governor Haslam for his consideration.

Monday, June 19, 2017

County Officials Seek End of Federal Monitoring of Juvenile Court

Letter from Mayor Luttrell, Juvenile Court Judge Michael, and Sheriff Bill Oldham is follow-up to personal request made to Jeff Sessions on occasion of AG's recent Memphis visit.

Posted By on Mon, Jun 19, 2017 at 10:55 AM

County Mayor Luttrell
  • County Mayor Luttrell
The federal monitoring of Shelby County's Juvenile Court, instituted in a 2012 Memorandum of Understanding with the county, could end forthwith if the Department of Justice responds favorably to a request to end the monitoring from three county officials: Mayor Mark Luttrell, Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael, and Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham.

The officials discussed the matter of ending the federal oversight with Attorney General Jeff Sessions during his recent visit to Memphis  and elaborated on their request in a formal letter to the DOJ.

The DOJ's  MOU with the county and the resultant monitoring procedures began following an investigation of Juvenile Court in response to a request from then County Commissioner Henri Brooks. The Department concurred with Brooks' complaint alleging a series of problems, including administrative inefficiencies and de facto racial bias, and the Memorandum of Understanding followed.

The letter to the Department from Luttrell, Michael, and Oldham maintains that the Court's shortcomings pinpointed in the DOJ investrigation and subsequent order have been fully rectified.

Should the Department of Justice concur with the local officials' request, such action would be in line with a new policy pursued by Sessions, who has called upon local law-enforcement jurisdictions to be stricter in their enforcement of legal penalties.

Local Responses

Reaction to news of the three County officials' request of the Department of Justice generated quick reaction locally -- much of it negative.

One critic was state Representative Larry Miller, speaking as a panelist Monday morning at the National Civil Rights Museum during the kickoff event for a Legislative Black Caucus statewide tour.

Answering a question from the audience about legislative action on juvenile justice, Miller said, "The first introduction to the justice system is Juvenile Court, where the rate of recidivism is 80 percent. Think of it ...I go in, I come out, and I go in again."

He then noted the county officials' letter to the DOJ and took issue with it: "They’re saying, 'We’ve done it, We’ve got it where it needs to be. We no longer need oversight.'" Expressing his disagreement, Miller said, "We're not there yet. The system is based on incarceration of young black men."

During a break in proceedings at the NCRM, Tami Sawyer, a local activist on justice matters and former legislative candidate, also objected.

"We haven’t resolved the issues of our Juvenile Court system," Sawyer said. "We still have high recidivism rates, the services that are being provided are sub-par, we didn’t have electricity for a week, [and]we didn’t have air-conditioning last summer. How can we say we care about our kids when we don’t want to get the help to support them?"

Characterizing Attorney General Sessions as someone who "in the past has had views that are deemed racist," Sawyer said, "That Mayor Luttrell and Judge Michael and Sheriff Oldham want to take that approach, it seems tome that they just want to check something off instead of really making change."

Another audience member, however, was more accepting of the thee officials' desire to see direct federal oversight lifted from Juvenile Court.

This was former County Commissioner Sidney Chism, now an employee of the Sheriff's Department and a declared candidate in next year's race for County Mayor.

Said Chism, evidently speaking on behalf of Sheriff Oldham: "He has taken the goals seriously and has worked hard to achieve them, and I think he believes they have been achieved."

Two legislators who were on Monday's panel at the NCRM commented afterward to the effect that the Memorandum of Understanding should remain in effect but acknowledged that Luttrell,Michael, and Oldham seemed to have made good-faith efforts to raise the standards in effect at Juvenile Court.


Congressman Weighs In

Later in the day, 9th District Congressman Steve Cohen, noting that he had strongly supported the original intervention by the Justice Department, issued this statement:

“I am concerned about efforts to end Shelby County’s agreement with the Justice Department to address the routine violation of due process and equal protection at the Juvenile Court.

“While progress has been made since 2012, there are still reports of race playing a factor in court hearings and reports of the juvenile detention facilities becoming more dangerous. I was disturbed by DOJ’s initial findings, and I was proud to work with then-Attorney General Eric Holder and others at the Department of Justice to help resolve this matter in a fair and transparent way.

"I urge the Department of Justice to continue to monitor the Shelby County juvenile justice system to ensure the constitutional standards of all children are met.”


MTK

Friday, June 16, 2017

GOP's Vaughan Wins Special Election for House District 95

Republican defeats Democrat Ashworth and two independents with 60+ percent of final vote.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 16, 2017 at 7:54 AM

District 95 winner Kevin Vaughan
  • District 95 winner Kevin Vaughan
With all votes counted in the special general election for state House District 95 (Collierville, Eads, Germantown), Republican nominee Kevin Vaughan has won a decisive  victory over Democratic challenger Julie Byrd Ashworth and two independents, Robert Schutt and Jim Tomasik.

The precinct totals, which include early and absentee vote totals, are as follows:

Kevin Vaughan 3,099
Julie Byrd Ashworth 1,737
Robert Schutt 143
Jim Tomasik 25
Write-ins   3

TOTAL VOTES CAST: 5,007


When formally sworn in, Vaughan, a real estate developer with an engineering background, will become the third person to represent the east Shelby County district within the last year. Former longtime representative Curry Todd was defeated in the 2016 Republican primary  by Mark Lovell, who won that year's general election. The seat became open again in February when Lovell was forced to resign his position amid allegations of sexual harassment.

Vaughan, who finished ahead of six other Republicans to win the April special Republican primary for the vacated District 95 House seat ,l,is an established civil figure in Collierville.

Married with two children, he is both a licensed professional engineer and a prominent real estate developer; he is the towner of Township Development Services and township Realty Service.Vaughan was born in Bolivar and was a 1980 graduate of Bolivar High School. He graduated from the University of Memphis in 1984 with a B.S. in electrical Engineering. He was a Presidential Scholar at he U of M and has been named a Distinguished Alumnus of the University.

For the last 30 years, Vaughan has lived in Collierville, where he has a lengthy record of membership on civic boards and commissions, several of which he has headed up.

He is a member of the Collierville Chamber of Commerce Board of directors, a past president of the town’s Rotary Club and a former Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary.

At present, Vaughan is vice chairman of the Collierville School Board.

In the last couple of years, he has attracted considerable attention (and, in some circles, notoriety) for his proposal to develop a new retail shopping development on currently rural land in Collierville Plans for the development are apparently back on course after it was temporarily withdrawn due to adverse public reaction to Vaughan’s indiscreet statement in 2016 that he envisioned his development in the mode of Wolfchase Galleria, a mammoth mega-mall in Cordova.

The proposed development, which has not yet received preliminary zoning approval from the Collierville Board of Alderman but is under reconsideration, was the subject of a whispering campaign by Vaughan’s opponents during the recent GOP primary, and was the subject of similar criticism in the general election campaign from supporters of Democratic opponent  Julie Byrd Ashworth, a lawyer..

Vaughan, a self-styled conservative, is pro-life and an adherent of 2nd amendment gun rights and expressed concern about Governor Haslam’s ultimately successful gas-tax proposal when the measure was being  during the late legislative session.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Gubernatorial Candidate Boyd Stresses Post-Secondary Goals

The former state Economic Development Commissioner, a partner in Haslam’s innovations, talks tech education in visit to Whitehaven campus of Southwest Community College.

Posted By on Thu, Jun 15, 2017 at 11:55 PM



Boyd at Finley Road on Thursday - JB
  • JB
  • Boyd at Finley Road on Thursday
 After a tour Thursday of the Finley Road (Whitehaven) campus of Southwest Community College, in a repurposed former shopping center, Republican gubernatorial candidate Randy Boyd touted a remedial catch-up program underway there and spoke of the irony that Shelby County, with its larger-than-usual poverty base, was experiencing a “flipped” ratio, whereby only 20 percent of tech-school certificates issued in the county are via public schools and 80 percent by private schools..

In the rest of Tennessee, the former state Commissioner of Economic Development said, 80 percent of such certificates are issued through public schools, as against 20 percent by private institutions. The imbalance in Shelby County, Boyd said, was due in large part to the simple lack of both accessible public facilities and adequate training equipment.

“We also need to do a better job of telemarketing,” he said.

The Knoxville-based Boyd was a major force in the development of several of Governor Bill Haslam’s innovations in post-secondary education, including Tennessee Promise, which offers free tuition to the state’s community colleges and technical schools and Drive to 55, which offers incentives for adult Tennesseeans to complete college degree programs left incomplete.

The pilot program in remedial English and math at Finley Road is meant to as a precursor to similar programs elsewhere that are designed to improve the preparedness of tech- and community college students, thereby to raise their graduation rate.. Candidate Boyd envisions further state programs to achieve that goal and has developed two non-profit programs that are potential models to that end, Tennesse Achieves and Complete Tennessee.

Clearly, Boyd intends, if elected Governor, to develop further the kinds of programs pioneered in the Haslam administration..

The former Commissioner professes not to be concerned about the activities of other announced gubernatorial candidates, who at this point on the Republican side include Frankiin businessman Bill Lee, who recently claimed significant fundraising results, or state Senator Mae Beaver, the most recent candidate to make a formal entry. Nor is he preoccupied with the matter of who else might enter the race

“I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the competition,” said Boyd, whose pre-governmental career was that of a highly successful entrepreneur. He recalled having “about 12 competitors” when he was developing Invisible Fences, a tech product designed to contain pets without the use of overtly physical barriers. “I just sold the features, and things worked themselves out.”

Not that Boyd is entirely oblivious to the practical task of dealing with rival candidates. His visit to Memphis included what he expected to be “a significant fundraiser” on Thursday night, and he has already spent a great deal of time criss-crossing the state on campaign tours. And while he runs, he runs. Literally.

Boyd begins each day with a five-mile run. (On Thursday, his schedule was brisk enough that he had to start his morning run at 4 a.m “Believe it or not, it’s my way to relax and compose myself.” he said.

After Shooting, Kustoff Sees "Reset" of Bipartisan Feeling

8th District GOP Congressman is hopeful that partisan rhetoric will now be "toned down."

Posted By on Thu, Jun 15, 2017 at 7:44 AM

Rep. David Kustoff
  • Rep. David Kustoff


David Kustoff, the first-term Republican U.S. Representative elected last year to serve  the 8th District, keeps himself in good physical trim and is known to be a baseball fan, but he was not intending to play Tuesday night in the annual charity baseball game between congressional Republicans and congressional Democrats.

“I’ve been focused on my work,” said Kustoff. But he will definitely be in the full house expected to attend the game, still scheduled to go on at Nationals Stadium despite a gunman’s savage ambush Monday morning of several of his GOP colleagues, who were having an early-morning practice session for the game at a baseball diamond in suburban Alexandria, Virginia.

The attack would leave four victims wounded by automatic rifle fire, one severely — GOP House whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who was in critical condition at a Washington hospital Monday night. The gunman was himself killed, apparently in a shootout with Capitol security guards who were assigned to guard Scalise and with Arlington police, who were late on the scene.

Kustoff, who with other House members attended an emergency session Monday morning that was addressed by House Speaker Paul Ryan and minority leader Nancy Pelosi, spoke of a sense of solidarity binding members of both parties in the wake of the attack said the catastrophic incident had brought about at least a temporary sense of unity.

"We all agreed that it was important that the game go on as a signal. All of us are concerned about violence and the tone of our discourse,” the Congressman said. “I think members of both parties are. Rhetoric has been heated, but hopefully it will be toned down, and we’ll see a reset.” The House is, after all, "the people's house," Kustoff said.

He expressed confidence also that Congress can successfully go about its business despite the ongoing crisis atmosphere stemming from the continuing investigation of possible collusion between members of the Trump administration and Russia.

On that point, Kustoff alluded to a remark made by Speaker Ryan. “As he said, we can walk and chew gum at the same time.”


Monday, June 12, 2017

Commission Staffer Gets Award

Posted By on Mon, Jun 12, 2017 at 3:44 PM

Clay Perry, longtime administrative assistant to the Shelby County Commission, was presented an award as "Administrator of the Year" from the National Association of Black County Officials" at Monday's meeting of the Commission. Presenter was Commissioner Terry Roland,

Federal Judgeship Rumored for Norris

State Senate Majority Leader has also been contemplating a gubernatorial race.

Posted By on Mon, Jun 12, 2017 at 11:53 AM

norris_contemplating.jpg


For months now state Senator Mark Norris (R-Collierville), majority leader of the Senate, has been suspended between a long-standing ambition to run for Governor and the possibility of an appointment to a federal judgeship. Norris deemed the latter prospect “an honor” when asked about it by the Flyer in February.

New reporting from various Tennessee media sources would indicate that the honor could be imminent. Both the Tennessean of Nashville and the Chattanooga Times-Free Press have run stories indicating that Norris has lately been the subject of the kind of FBI background check that precedes such a judicial appointment.

Two District judgeships are open, one vacated by Judge Hardy Mays, another by Judge Daniel Breen.
Appointment to one of the judgeships, besides being a career milestone in itself, would make irrelevant an existing dilemma faced by Norris in his acknowledged contemplation of a gubernatorial race.

The GOP-primary candidates already declared — former state Economic Development Commissioner Randy Boyd and Franklin businessman Bill Lee — as well as another possible entry, 4th District congresswoman Diane Black, possess sources of funding, including private wealth, that Norris would have difficulty matching. And state House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville), who would draw on some of the same legislative support as Norris, is also thinking of entering the race.

Under the circumstances, there is little doubt that Norris, trained in Constitutional law and possessor of a contemplative mind beyond his demonstrated skills as a legislator and conciliator, would accept a judicial appointment.

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Friday, June 2, 2017

Early Voting for District 95 General Election Remains Low

Of more than 50,000 eligible voters, 688 had cast early votes as of Friday morning.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 2, 2017 at 10:30 AM

Rep. Dwayne Thompson (r), the Democrats' surprise winner in last fall's race in state House District 96, hopes to transfer his magic to District 95 Democratic candidate Julie Byrd Ashworth, seen here at recent fundraiser in Germantown. - JB
  • JB
  • Rep. Dwayne Thompson (r), the Democrats' surprise winner in last fall's race in state House District 96, hopes to transfer his magic to District 95 Democratic candidate Julie Byrd Ashworth, seen here at recent fundraiser in Germantown.


Early voting in the special general election for the vacant district 95 state House of Representatives seat remains at the low level that primary voting for the seat previously generated.

As of Friday morning, with 8 days to go until the early-voting closing date of Saturday, June 10, the Shelby County Election Commission was reporting 688 votes from the more than 50,000 eligible voters in the district, which includes portions of Collierville, Germantown, and Eads.

The candidates are Republican Kevin Vaughan, Democrat Julie Byrd Ashworth, and independents Robert Schutt and Jim Tomasik.

The early voting period for the general election began last Friday, May 26. Voting totals for the earlier Republican and Democratic primaries in the race were 4,327, or 8.4 percent.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Luttrell Praises Press, Hints at Picking Successor

Posted By on Mon, May 22, 2017 at 6:01 AM

luttrell_at_rotary.jpg


In remarks to a luncheon of the Rotary Club of Memphis on Tuesday, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell made a strong statement in defense of the media’s role vis-à-vis the government, and the term-limited official, who is destined to leave office at the end of his current four-year term, indicated that he intends to intervene directly in next year’s Republican primary to determine his successor.

On the first score, the former Sheriff recounted for the Rotarians a recent case in which a formerly admired and respected sheriff in California had been convicted for instances of corruption uncovered by the media and said, to loud applause from the Rotarians, “That’s what our society should be about – the media holding public officials accountable.”

Luttrell touted the “healthy relationship” whereby “we rely on the media to get out message out, and they depend on us….to keep the community informed.” He took note of the ongoing shrinkage of media staff and coverage and said, “We should mourn, we should genuinely mourn for the status of The Commercial Appeal.”

On the subject of partisanship in politics, Luttrell appealed for a situation “where Ds and Rs are secondary and declared, “We used to see it in Washington, we used to see it in Nashville,” but that things had become “so partisan and so divided that it’s increasingly difficult to deal with issues that need to get addressed.”
Asked if we had misgivings about the conduct of “the current Republican leadership in Washington,” Luttrell answer, “Yes…I am disturbed about it —the shrillness of thee rhetoric. I have seen a lack of civil discourse that is very disturbing.”

Asked about the forthcoming 2018 race to succeed him, Luttrell said, “Every incumbent wants to leave a legacy….I am not opposed to endorsing in the primary. I’ll do it if I can find a candidate embracing the same general values and principles that this administration has.”

Luttrell did not name names, but the Republican primary for County Mayor in 2018 is expected to be between County Trustee David Lenoir and County Commissioner Terry Roland, with whom the current mayor has been involved in an off-and-on power struggle. (Luttrell had praised Democratic Commissioner Van Turner, who had introduced him to the Rotariqans and encouraged Turner to run but he said afterward than he would probably restrict any endorsement he gave to the GOP primary.)

On other matters, Luttrell:

*Said he “never felt comfortable” with the erstwhile slogan of “every child college bound” and made a point of endorsing the revival of interest in vo-tech offerings;

*Praised the creative instincts and construction projects of “millennials” and said Memphis’ progress in educational innovations had made it a “Teachertown.”

*Declared that the proposed city “rightsizing” formula for de-annexation posed no threat to county government but said massive de-annexation would create a burden county law enforcement.

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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

State Senate Teases Memphis (Literally) by Updating its De-Annexation bill

The new version, introduced out of nowhere as the legislature headed to closure, seemed originally to contain terms consistent with Mempbhis' proposed "right-sizing" measure, but an overnight update presented the city with a stricter timeline.

Posted By on Tue, May 9, 2017 at 8:20 PM


Watson on the Senate floor Tuesday - JB
  • JB
  • Watson on the Senate floor Tuesday
It’s a fairly gentle nudge (certainly as compared to the somewhat brutal shove of a year ago), but the General Assembly has sent another prompt to Memphis on the matter of urban de-annexation.

This was Senate Bill 641, which was dusted off on Tuesday by its original sponsor, state Senator Bo Watson (R-Hixson) and taken on a quick run-through of two committees before landing on the Senate floor for renewed action (billed with mock theatricality  as “long-awaited and much-anticipated” by its sponsor) as the legislature raced through final measures preparatory to adjournment.

The latest version of the bill — the House counterpart of which, HB 943 by Watson’s fellow Hamilton Countian Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah), remains in committee limbo, making passage this year a moot point — bears a couple of amendments that would soften the blow for the state’s large municipalities.

One is that, while a referendum on de-annexation can, as in the first version, be called via a petition signed by 20 percent of the eligible voters in an area annexed since 1998, the resulting referendum would now have to be submitted to the voters of the entire affected municipality.

That’s a stiffer test.

The other major change would take any municipality off the hook that should, by January 1, 2018,  pass its own version of a de-annexation measure (in Memphis’ case, that would be the still-pending “right-sizing” measure, presented to the City Council by a local task force early this year and now being appraised in forums held around town).

The amendment specifies only that the municipality’s alternative de-annexation ordinance must be enacted by the January 1, 2018, but sets no mandatory  terminal date for the actual fulfilment of the de-annexation process. That means that the 2020 deadline for completion specified by the Memphis/Shelby County task force would be acceptable. [But see changed language in UPDATE below.]

During floor discussion, a question about  the key amendment strengthening the prerogatives  of municipalities  revealed inadvertently that the source of the amending language came originally from Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), though state Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston) was listed as the amendment sponsor.

When state Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) queried Yager about the thrust of the amendment, Yager deferred to Norris for an answer.

Effectively maintaining a certain measure of suspense, senators agreed by mutual consent to postpone voting on the bill  until a final planned Senate session on Wednesday morning.

UPDATE: Kelsey's question resulted in a major -- and, from the point of view of Memphis, perhaps harsher -- turn on the bill.

After overnight discussions between Kelsey, Yager, Watson, and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, the following change was made in the language of the relevant Yager amendment:

Whereas the original version read as follows:

"The comoprehensive deannexation plan ordinance may call for referenda to approve or disapprove of particular territories identified in the comprehensive deannexation plan.,"
.

the revised version now reads:

"The comprehensive deannexation plan ordinance may call for referenda to approve or disapprove the deannexation of particular territories identified in the comprehensive deannexation plan provided that any referendum called for in the ordinance must be held before January 1, 2019."[Our italics]


When the Senate reconvened on Wednesday, Norris read the new language aloud.

Kelsey expressed his gratitude to Norris for "clarifying the issue," and the new, more stringent language was adopted, 29-1.

The newly revised version of the completed bill itself passed the Senate 29-3, with the dissenters being Sens. Lee Harris and Sara Kyle (both D-Memphis) and Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville).

Cohen Reacts to Comey Firing

Says "our democracy is in danger," calls for immediate creation of independent commission to investigate Trump-Russia connection.

Posted By on Tue, May 9, 2017 at 6:15 PM

Cohen’s Statement on the Firing of FBI Director James Comey   [WASHINGTON, D.C.] —
fired by President Trump, 5-9-17
  • fired by President Trump, 5-9-17


Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Con
cohen.jpg
stitution and Civil Justice, today released the following statement after President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey:   “I have said to my colleagues and to the public for over four months that FBI Director James Comey would do the right thing in the Trump-Russia investigation. I also believed President Trump wouldn’t fire him unless he felt that Director Comey threatened his presidency. This is sadly reminiscent of the Saturday Night Massacre, when President Nixon fired Justice Department officials that threatened his presidency. Two days ago, I tweeted that I hoped Director Comey would be next year’s recipient of the Profiles in Courage Award because of the Trump-Russia investigation, but President Trump has effectively vetoed that award. I call on Speaker Paul Ryan to immediately appoint a bipartisan, non-classified, public, and transparent commission to investigate the Trump-Russia relationship. Our democracy is in danger.”   ###

Friday, May 5, 2017

Mark Green Out as Choice for Army Head

Can Trump’s loss become a gain for the right wing of the Tennessee GOP?

Posted By on Fri, May 5, 2017 at 5:16 PM



Mark Green, the former military flight surgeon and arch-conservative Tennessee state Senator from Clarksville, has withdrawn as President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Army, becoming the President’s second pick for that position to be eliminated, in effect, by adverse public and political reaction.

The reason in Green’s case, according to multiple news reports, was his record of
State Senator Mark Green
  • State Senator Mark Green
 provocative positions on a host of social issues. Or, as Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) put it, the critics of Green’s nomination would include “those who were personally vilified by his disparaging comments toward the LGBTQ community, Muslim community, Latino community and more.”

Trump’s previous nominee for Army Secretary, financier Vincent Viola, was forced to withdraw because of conflict-of-interest allegations stemming from his Wall Street career. Green, by contrast, was hoist on the petard of his remarks and actions as a Tennessee legislator.

One recent case in point was the Clarksville Republican senator’s sponsorship, in the current legislative session, of a measure that would expressly shield from legal retribution Tennessee businesses that took action against their employees based on their sexual orientation.

It was Green’s arch-conservative position on LGBTQ issues (transgender ones in particular), abortion, and other social issues, as well as support from Tea Party activists, that had given him a sizeable right-wing constituency and a platform from which to make a run for Governor in 2018. He had been considered a leading potential candidate for the GOP gubernatorial nomination next year but had essentially taken himself out of the running after Trump tapped the former Special Ops officer to head up the Army

Ironically, the storm of criticism from Democrats and some Republicans that forced Green to withdraw as a potential Secretary of the Army may give him a boost toward returning to the governor’s race, which is expected to draw several name candidates into the 2018 GOP primary.

Green dismissed the reaction of his critics as having been based on “false and misleading accusations,” but the tide of reaction to his nomination by Trump had grown to include , besides outright condemnation from Democrats and human rights organizations, public doubts from key Republicans like Arizona Senator John McCain, who made a point of noting the “controversy” surrounding Green.

The selfsame controversy would presumably follow Green into a hypothetical resumption of his gubernatorial candidacy, but it might also give him a proprietary claim on his party’s ultra-conservative wing, and that, in a multi-candidate race, could benefit him.
>

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Cohen, Kustoff Go Opposite Ways on ‘Trumpcare’

The bill, intended to “repeal and replace” the ACA, passes the House 217-213.

Posted By on Thu, May 4, 2017 at 9:05 PM

As the U.S. House of Representatives prepared Thursday for a two-week recess, the two Congressmen who directly serve portions of Memphis and Shelby County were on opposite sites of a crucial vote on the health-care legislation backed by President Trump. The bill, the second try by the GOP leadershiip to fulfill Trump’s “repeal and replace” policy toward the Affordable Care Act, passed by the ultra-narrow margin of 217-213.

Democrat Steve Cohen of the 9th District was a No vote:


Cohen:“I voted against Trumpcare today because it is harmful to the average American and will result in people dying because they don’t have access to quality, affordable health insurance,” said Congressman
screenshot_2017-05-04_at_8.48.48_pm.png
Cohen. “This poorly-thought-out legislation, that has a mere 17% approval rating, allows states to discriminate against patients with pre-existing conditions and to opt out of offering essential health benefits such as maternity care, mental health services, pediatric services, preventative care services, drug abuse treatment and physical rehabilitation services.

“Trumpcare will also force lower and middle-income Americans to pay more for less coverage while the wealthiest Americans receive huge tax breaks. As many as 24 million more Americans would be uninsured and those 50-64 years of age would pay significantly higher premiums and out-of-pocket expenses. It will significantly reduce federal funding for Medicaid, shorten the life of the Medicare Trust Fund and waive annual and lifetime caps now prohibited by the ACA. But without an updated CBO score or time to analyze the flurry of last-minute changes, we don’t yet know the full extent of the catastrophic impacts that this bill could have on our health care system.

“Trumpcare is a wealth care bill, not a health care bill. It puts politics over improving our health care system. This bill is an excuse to give the wealthiest Americans huge tax breaks and proceed towards more tax cuts for the rich in the future. It should be called the ‘Ebenezer Scrooge Act’ because it enriches the wealthiest individuals and harms the less fortunate both fiscally and physically.”


Republican David Kustoff of the 8th District voted Ye
s:

Kustof
f: “I voted for the American Health Care Act because our current health care system is failing T
screenshot_2017-05-04_at_8.53.53_pm.png
ennesseans. We promised the American people we would repeal and replace Obamacare, and today, the House voted to keep our word and provide relief.

“In Tennessee, every single insurance provider has pulled out of the individual market in 16 counties, affecting more than 1.1 million people.

“Health care premiums have gone up  by double digits in 31 states just this year with premiums in Tennessee rising an average of 63 percent. In some counties, premiums have risen as much as 116 percent with no ceiling in sight.

“This bill will protect and ensure access to care for those with pre-existing conditions, and moreover, it will make health care more attainable with lower premiums.

“The American Health Care Act is a first step in a three-pronged process that will give the power back to the states and the American people where it belongs.”



Friday, April 28, 2017

Two Bites from the Thursday Night Smorgasbord

Posted By on Fri, Apr 28, 2017 at 12:09 PM


Thursday night was chock-full of politically relevant events in Memphis and Shelby County. Among them were two fundraisers — one at Wiseacre Brewery for the non-profit group Protect Our Aquifer and another at Sweet Grass for SCS board candidate Liz Rincon.



(l) Ward Archer of Protect Our Aquifer displays some of the sand particles which,  at several deep layers (this sample from 400 feet down) filter the near-pristine drinking water enjoyed by Memphis and Shelby County; (r) Jenna Stonecypher and Linda Archer sell a T-shirt to the Sierra Club's Dennis Lynch. The shirt, bearing the non-profit group's logo, says, "Save Water/Drink Beer." - JB
  • JB
  • (l) Ward Archer of Protect Our Aquifer displays some of the sand particles which, at several deep layers (this sample from 400 feet down) filter the near-pristine drinking water enjoyed by Memphis and Shelby County; (r) Jenna Stonecypher and Linda Archer sell a T-shirt to the Sierra Club's Dennis Lynch. The shirt, bearing the non-profit group's logo, says, "Save Water/Drink Beer."



Getting an early start for the 2018 Shelby County Schools board race is Liz Rincon, candidate for Position 1. Here she speaks with two well-wishers — state Senator Brian Kelsey (l) and Fire Fighters Union official Joe Norman — at her Thursday night fundraiser at Sweet Grass. - JB
  • JB
  • Getting an early start for the 2018 Shelby County Schools board race is Liz Rincon, candidate for Position 1. Here she speaks with two well-wishers — state Senator Brian Kelsey (l) and Fire Fighters Union official Joe Norman — at her Thursday night fundraiser at Sweet Grass.

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