Monday, July 15, 2019

Trump Endorsement of Hagerty Senate Bid May Have Force of Edict

Posted By on Mon, Jul 15, 2019 at 11:20 AM

Bill Hagerty in Memphis in 2012 - JB
  • JB
  • Bill Hagerty in Memphis in 2012
The trial balloon sent up last week by 8th District Congressman David Kustoff, along with several others expected to have been launched by would-be Republican U.S. Senate candidates would appear to be grounded by word from President Donald Trump favoring Bill Hagerty, current U.S. Ambassador to Japan.

Trump’s support for Hagerty as a 2020 candidate for the Tennessee Senate seat being vacated by Lamar Alexander was announced in a presidential tweet on Friday that said: "Tennessee loving Bill Hagerty, who was my Tennessee (Victory) Chair and is now the very outstanding Ambassador to Japan, will be running for the U.S. Senate. He is strong on crime, borders & our 2nd A. Loves our Military & our Vets. Has my Complete & Total Endorsement!."

Trump’s tweet came the day after an announcement of non-candidacy from former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, who had been understood to have first dibs on a race for Alexander's seat. After Haslam said that such a race was “not my calling,” Kustoff teased a candidacy of his own, saying,” I've been approached by folks from all across Tennessee encouraging me to run and I look forward to continuing to talk to the people about how to best continue serving our great state."

Meanwhile, such other GOP Senatorial prospects as 7th District Congressman Mark Green and Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett made statements taking themselves out of contention for the race.

Inasmuch as Trump’s tweeted endorsement preceded any statement by Hagerty himself, it amounted to an unusual presidential edict, and it would seem to have, temporarily at least, foreclosed any other candidate activity from state Republicans, though Manny Sethi, a Nashville physician, had already announced his Senate candidacy in early June.

As Green made a point of noting, Hagerty has good ties with both the traditional Republican establishment and its Trump wing. A private equity investor, he served as an economic advisor and White House Fellow under President George H. W. Bush and was national finance chairman for Mitt Romney's 2008 presidential campaign. From 2011 to 2014, Hagerty served as commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development under Governor Haslam.

Lawyer and Iraq war veteran James Mackler of Nashville remains the only serious and declared Democratic candidate for the Alexander seat.

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Thursday, July 11, 2019

Haslam Says No to Senate Race; Kustoff Says Maybe

8th District Congressman teases availability for run at Alexander seat; others are likely to be heard from.

Posted By on Thu, Jul 11, 2019 at 12:49 PM

Haslam (l); Kustoff
  • Haslam (l); Kustoff
If not Bill Haslam, then who? Hmmm, says David Kustoff. How about me?

That was the clear meta-message of a press release from the 8th District Republican congressman Thursday in the wake of former Governor Haslam’s published disavowal of any intent to run for the U.S. Senate in 2020.

The former governor, who would have been an odds-on favorite in the GOP primary and probably the general election, had this to say in an op-ed in the Nashville Tennessean regarding his decision not to seek the Senate seat being vacated by Senator Lamar Alexander:

“While I think serving in the United States Senate would be a great privilege and responsibility, I have come to the conclusion that it is not my calling for the next period of my life. This is a difficult decision because I have loved my time in public service and I believe so deeply in the importance of our political process.”

Kustoff, the 8th District congressman who was first elected in 2016 and was handily reelected last year, promptly teased his availability in the aforementioned press release. It reads as follows:

“Governor Haslam's career of public service is an honorable one, and I am grateful for all he has done for our state. Tennessee is home to some of our country’s best agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism and we need a senator who is willing to work with President Trump to help these industries thrive. It is vital that Tennessee has a senator that knows and deeply cares about the state and its people. I've been approached by folks from all across Tennessee encouraging me to run and I look forward to continuing to talk to the people about how to best continue serving our great state."

There are two hoary cliches on the subject of political office. Those leaving it, whether under pressure or not, often express their reason for doing so as a desire “to spend more time with my family” or something such-like. (Non-existent is the corollary: “I am running in order to spend less time with my family.”)

On the other hand, those about to seek an office customarily say something such as, “My friends have been asking me to consider seeking, etc., etc.” Kustoff’s statement is in that tradition. And, no doubt, he does have friends who have indeed floated the idea with him.

Other political figures, Republican and Democratic alike, have such friends, and one suspects we are about to hear from several others in addition to Kustoff.

Among the Republicans rumored to be thinking about running are former U.S. Reps. Diane Black and Stephen Fincher. Current GOP U.S. Rep. Mark Geeen has disavowed any interest in running. Among Democrats, Nashville lawyer and Iraq war veteran James Mackler has been running for some time.

More to come as developments warrant. 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Lee Harris Endorses Council Candidate Davin Clemons

County Mayor’s intervention in city election seen as escalation of battle with Fords.

Posted By on Sun, Jul 7, 2019 at 3:20 PM

Endorsee Davin Clemons and Mayor Harris
  • Endorsee Davin Clemons and Mayor Harris
In a move that had been rumored for weeks, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris has intervened directly in the Memphis city election, announcing on Sunday his endorsement of Davin Clemons, Memphis City Council candidate in District 6.

The move can be — and no doubt will be — interpreted as an escalation of the already festering feud between Harris and Commissioner Edmund Ford Jr., whose father, Edmond Ford Sr., is making an election bid to recover the District 6 seat he once possessed.

Harris and the younger Ford have had heated exchanges of late, with Ford assailing the mayor publicly during commission meetings and with Harris apparently appearing to Ford to have taunted the extended Ford family during a recent appearance on local television.

In an interview with Richard Ransom of WATN, Channel 24, Harris jokingly blamed his troubles with Commissioner Ford on his previous electoral wins over two Ford family members

Ford took Harris to task for the TV remarks, telling the mayor at the June 24 commission meeting: "Don't use any member of my family as backup when you don't have answers. I can't respect you." At an earlier meeting, Ford had done the taunting, accusing Harris of looking beyond his mayoral duties to a projected future congressional race.

In his endorsement of Clemons, Harris may also be engaging in some political outreach. Clemons, a police officer who doubles as a minister, is openly gay and has served as the MPD’s official liaison with the LGBTQ community, encountering controversy here and there.

Clemons once filed a suit against the city for what he said was the department’s discrimination against him on the job, based on his sexual orientation and religion. The suit was resolved via a settlement between the parties.

Technically, the endorsement was not by Harris per se but by the Tennessee Voter Project, which Harris founded. The endorsement statement reads as follows:

Dear Friend,
The Tennessee Voter Project (TVP) invests in candidates who directly engage voters and who promise to expand voter access if elected.
Today, we are proud to endorse Davin Clemmons for Memphis City Council District 6.
It feels like Davin has been in service to this community his entire life. He is a minister, a police officer, a community organizer, and he is homegrown. Davin is a graduate of LeMoyne Owen College and his roots run deep in South Memphis. He is running an aggressive campaign in the same City Council district where he grew up. Because of his stances and proven record of accomplishment, supporting Davin is an easy call. That is why we are endorsing him in this campaign and that is why TVP has already contributed $500.

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Sunday, June 9, 2019

Done Deal! 2019 People's Convention Makes New History

Posted By on Sun, Jun 9, 2019 at 11:22 PM

Stare Rep. London Lamar presents a citation (from Tenn. House Speaker Glen Casada, no less) honoring 1991 Peple's Convention vets Shep Wilbun and state Rep. Barbar Cooper as Rev. Earle Fisher looks on
  • Stare Rep. London Lamar presents a citation (from Tenn. House Speaker Glen Casada, no less) honoring 1991 Peple's Convention vets Shep Wilbun and state Rep. Barbar Cooper as Rev. Earle Fisher looks on

How did the People’s Convention of 2019, held at the Paradise Entertainment Center on Saturday, compare with the seminal People’s Convention of 1991 that launched the successful campaign of Willie Herenton, Memphis’ first elected black mayor? As an apple to an orange, though both were undertaken with the aim of expressing the will of what one of this year’s convention participants called a “marginalized” population.

The 1991 event drew roughly 2,000 participants to Cook Convention Center; this new one drew a smaller number. Estimates range from 200 to 600, depending on the extent of the estimator’s involvement with the event. The actual number of attendees at Paradise probably closer to the low end, but Internet logs of the event, which was streamed online, suggest a far larger cybernetic audience, maybe in the thousands.

Under the umbrella of the ad hoc group, Up the Vote 901, numerous organizations associated themselves with the 2019 event: AFSCME, Black Lives Matter, MiCAH, etc., an extensive land impressive list, and preliminary statements by spokespersons for these groups took up almost two hours of the five hours-plus that the event lasted. Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris was there to add his exhortation as was Mayor Frank Scott Jr. of Little Rock.

There was something of a collective organizing group, though two of the major figures were the Rev. Earle Fisher and Sijuwola Crawford. Unmistakably, Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer was a booster of the convention and was boosted by it in return, to the point that other major candidates — notably Mayor Jim Strickland and former Mayor Herenton — kept their distance.

To note the more sectarian and limited nature of the 2019 convention, as compared to the 1991 original, which arguably spoke to Memphis’ aspiring black population per se, is not to downgrade it, however. This year’s convention drew inspiration and cadres from such earlier grassroots expressions as the Bridge confrontation of 2016 and the Take “em Down 901 campaign against the city’s Confederate statuaries.

The agenda for the People’s Convention of 2019 included attention to a diverse set of issues — including housing, education, public health job creation, justice reform, and voting equity — but its overtly political aims were to endorse candidates willing to “align” themselves with those aims.  Candidate response was somewhat uneven and it remains to be seen how well those who responded to the convention call do in October, and what sort of groundswell can be generated between now and then.

Municipal Court Judge Jayne Chandler, the one candidate present who was enjoined by the Judicial Canon of Ethics to avoid overtly political statements, managed to circumvent that prohibition with some appropriately forceful — and clearly permissible — rally cries:

“‘Wait’ almost always translates to Never!” “They used to feed you chicken and watermelon. Now they feed you crawfish!” (That was a reference to the crawfish fest held by opponent David Pool on the previous weekend.) “I’m not going in reverse anymore.” (That was a reference to Chandler’s response for circumventing a transmission issue, and it made a nifty metaphor.)

The judge was the second of several candidates who appeared as the only participating representatives from their particular election contest (or who, in the jargon of the event, were there to “align” their candidacies with the convention agenda). And she was the first to be acknowledged as a “consensus” choice of those voting.

At that stage of things, the number of people voting electronically (including those present as well as those streaming the event online) had to reach a ceiling of 200 to achieve viability for the outcome. Chandler made the cut, whereas the first hopeful appearing solo, city court clerk candidate Demeatree Givens, had apparently not.

It was hard to tell whether Givens had been adjudged to have fallen short of approval or had been victimized by gremlins in the electronics of voting, carried out via the prescribed website, In any case, the threshold of 200 votes cast was adhered to through the first several candidate rounds but was allowed to dip to 120 by the end of the event, which was in its sixth hour by the time of a culminating vote for a mayoral candidate.

In any event, several candidates would meanwhile get the convention nod — two of whom, Orange Mound activist Britney Thornton for the District 4 seat; Theryn Bond in District 6 — were the sole candidates appearing, but both of whom gave good accounts of themselves.

There were actual contests for successive positions. The District 7 contest would see several aspirants on stage: Michahalyn Easter Thomas, Thurston Smith, Will “the Underdog” Richardson, and Larry Springfield. This was a spirited colloquy, with Thomas and Smith sounding notes of populism and Smith boasting his entrepreneurial know-how and Springfield stressing his personality. Thomas would get the nod.

At this point, heading into the consideration of candidates for super-district city council seats and mayoral hopefuls, time was made for a segment honoring two veterans of the original People’s Convention of 1991, the one that would nominate Willie Herenton as the consensus black candidate for mayor.

As it happens, Herenton, who went on to defeat then-incumbent Dick Hackett and serve 17 years as the city’s chief executive, is once again a candidate for mayor, but he was conspicuously absent from this year’s event. His name was invoked, however, by former Councilman, County Commissioner, and Juvenile Court Clerk Shep Wilbun, one of the two first Peoples' Convention vets being honored. Besides being one of the original organizers of the 1991 event, Wilbun had been an aspirant for the mayoral role himself back then, and he would cite Herenton’s victory at that convention as proof of the objectivity of that event and as a precedent for that of the current one, which, as Wilbun knew, had been widely rumored to be a “setup” for mayoral candidate Tami Sawyer.

The other honoree from 1991, 90-year-old state Representative Barbara Cooper, recalled for the audience her lifetime of “40 years of segregation and 40 years of integration” and drew implicit parallels between the two conventions. In one particular, though, Cooper was at variance with the spirit of the current convention.

Several convention participants, including members of collaborating organizations and some of the candidates for office, had made a point of extolling Ranked Choice Voting (also known as Instant Runoff Voting), a method of balloting that allowed voters to rank candidates for office in order of preference, creating thereby a means for re-assigning the secondary preferences to reach a majority verdict in cases where, on first balloting, none had existed.

RCV has been approved by Shelby County voters twice but has been resisted by incumbents on the current city council, who, along with state election officials, have been able to delay its planned implementation in the forthcoming city election.The method was implicitly regarded as akin to the other progressive elements of the 2019 People’s Convention agenda and in addition to the other testifiers, a figure in the RCV movement, Aaron Fowles, had been included in the original lineup of co-sponsors allowed to address the convention.

But Cooper, in her somewhat rambling remarks to the crowd, made it clear that she had bought into a contrary theory advanced by RCV opponents that the method would run averse to the interests of the city’s current black voting majority. “IRV may be good for a minority but I’m not a minority,” Cooper said.

It was a break in the texture of things — a generational one, as clear and obvious as was Herenton’s absence from this would-be re-do of his 1991 triumph, and a deviation from populist idealism in the direction of imagined self-interest — whether a confirmation or rejection of Wilbun’s claim that the two conventions shared “the same agenda,” it was hard to say.

This moment for the elders was followed by a trio of contenders for the Super-District 8, Position 1 seat — educator Nicole Clayburn, lawyer J.B. Smiley, and Whitehaven activist Pearl Eva Walker, the ultimate endorsee. Each was asked to opine on RCV, and each responded without ambiguity: The people had spoken for the process in two referenda, and it — and they — needed to be heeded.

The convention was back on message and would stay that way — through effective solo presentations by Frank Johnson, candidate for Super District 8, Position 2, and Erika Sugarmon, candidate for Super District 9, Position 1.

The stage was set for the two mayoral candidates present — the aforementioned Sawyer and LeMichael Wilson, an unsung but hard-working mayoral entry who in his turn would cover the waterfront of social issues and inner-city concerns.

But it was Sawyer’s day, though she had to wait for hours to claim her moment before a somewhat diminished crowd. In the five minutes allotted to her, Sawyer noted that in the 200 years of its history, Memphis had never had a woman as mayor. Sensing that she was well enough known to avoid having to recount all her activist deeds of the last few years, notably including her spearheading of community efforts to dispose of Memphis’ Confederate monuments, she talked about the need to redistribute the city’s resources “to all neighborhoods” and scorned Strickland for what she said were inadequate efforts on behalf of the whole Memphis population.

She promised to do something concrete about the “school-to-prison pipeline” and to up the percentage of blacks and women benefited by the city’s ongoing MWBE (Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise) efforts.

As expected, Sawyer was named the consensus nominee for mayor by the convention, and by Sunday morning, an icon announcing her as the “winner” was a posted link on Facebook.

There is no disputing Sawyer’s determination, but neither is there any gainsaying the enormity of the task before her — a far greater one than confronted Herenton in 1991. The odds of her accomplishing the miracle of election in 2019 are beyond enormous, but at the very least she has established a head start in community consciousness that could pay dividends in 2023, when Strickland would be term-limited and such other likely candidates as current Shelby County Commission Chairman Van Turner will be making their move.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Casada Backs Down, Will Resign

Posted By on Tue, May 21, 2019 at 12:52 PM

Though his initial instinct on Monday was to respond in the negative to the latest call for his resignation as speaker of the Tennessee House — this time from members of the House Republican caucus — Glen Casada (R-Franklin) has finally capitulated, after indicating in an earlier statement on Tuesday that he intended to remain in office despite a lopsided 45-24 vote against him by his fellow House Republicans.
Glen Casada
  • Glen Casada

The last straw for Casada was Monday’s caucus vote, which was followed almost immediately by a statement from Republican Governor Bill Lee that the governor would call a special session of the legislature to consider the matter of Casada’s tenure if the beleaguered Speaker resisted resignation. "Today, House Republicans sent a clear message," Lee said.

Casada’s first response to the caucus vote was one of continued resistance. ““I’m disappointed in the results of today’s caucus vote," the speaker said. "However, I will work the next few months to regain the confidence of my colleagues so we can continue to build on the historic conservative accomplishments of this legislative session.”

That statement was supplanted on Tuesday by this one: "When I return to town on June 3rd, I will meet with caucus leadership to determine the best date for me to resign as speaker so that I can facilitate a smooth transition.”

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Friday, May 10, 2019

Harris Conducts Smooth First Meeting as Dems’ Chair; Other Local Officers Elected

Exec Committee member Memula successfully moves for future meeting to consider disqualification of the chairman for professional misconduct issues and a new election.

Posted By on Fri, May 10, 2019 at 9:44 AM

Harris presiding over his first meeting as SCDP chair - JB
  • JB
  • Harris presiding over his first meeting as SCDP chair

The executive committee of the Shelby County Democratic Party completed its reelection of officers Thursday night in a placid, orderly meeting that concluded in a shouting match over whether its newly elected local chairman, Michael Harris, can continue as party leader.

Harris, a suspended lawyer who has admitted having to live down a formidable list of professional “mistakes,” would, on the strength of commentary from members Thursday night, seem to have ample support on the local committee to continue. But committee member Sanjeev Memula, on behalf of a group of Democrats opposed to Harris’ continuation as chair, was able, amid controversy, to move for a hearing on the Harris matter, coupled with a call for a new chairmanship election.

Harris himself agreed to accept Memula’s motion after a ruling from parliamentarian Larry Pivnick that only the chairman or the executive committee itself, functioning as a grievance committee, could approve the motion. Before that happened, there were calls from several members to purge Memula and two other members publicly opposed to Harris — and a temporary motion to the effect, later withdrawn, from member Williams Brack.

Time and place for the hearing on the Harris matter have, as of Friday morning, yet to be set.

Harris’ professional issues — resulting in a 5-year suspension from the practice of law by the Board of Professional Responsibility and disqualification of him as a bankruptcy petitioner by the United States Bankruptcy Court — have complicated his tenure from the moment of his election, by a single vote over “none of the above” as a stated alternative , in a stormy organizational meeting early in April.

The beleaguered chairman’s conduct Thursday night of his first meeting as chairman could hardly be faulted. It was generally agreed, even by critics, that he seemed smooth, organized, and focused as he discussed a series of items with the membership — including the time and place of future committee meeting (likely to be held at AFSCME headquarters downtown), plans for a forthcoming public event, strategies for community outreach, and possible sponsorship of a mayoral debate during the ongoing city government election.

Memula and other critics of Harris have alleged, however, that his personal issues should disqualify him as a party leader and have brought the party into bad repute. They cite the likelihood that Republicans will be able to exploit those issues for their own purposes, and, indeed, the Tennessee Star, a publication featuring the point of view of right-wing Republicans, has already featured Harris’ problems in a published feature.

Aside from the chairmanship issue, the other standout fact of Thursday night’s meeting was that it included the first fully completed successful use of ranked choice voting in a local election. RCV backer Aaron Fowles was on hand to serve as an advisor on the process, which allows sampling of runner-up votes to determine a winner in multi-candidate races without a majority winner in the first round of voting.
Elected Thursday night were the following:
*Sara Beth Larson, first vice chair;
*Brian McBeidge, second vice chair;
*Regina Perry, secretary;
*Emily Fulmer, assistant secretary;
*Jesse Huseth and Williams Brack, steering committee members

Harris’ appointment of Lucretia Carroll as treasurer was accepted by acclamation by the membership.

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Wednesday, May 8, 2019

New Filing: The Background Papers of the Michael Harris Case

Posted By on Wed, May 8, 2019 at 9:40 PM

The pending intra-party litigation by several members of the Shelby County DemocratIc Party seeking to invalidate the election of Michael Harris
Michael Harris - JB
  • JB
  • Michael Harris
as chairman of the SCDP has been supplemented with an abundance of new documents for the state Democratic executive committee to consider — all this on the eve of the first planned meeting, Thursday night of this week, of the newly elected SCDP executive committee.

As it happened, the local committee, amid an oft-turbulent discussion, took no action Thursday night but agreed, on a decision by Harris himself, to hear out a petition by SCDP executive committee member Sanjeev Memula to hold a new election. Memula's petition asks for the hearing within 20 days, in accordance with local party bylaws.

Before the state party issued its response remanding the issue back to the SCDP, members seeking Harris' ouster had submitted a series of documents:

The first grievance to the state committee, filed on April 10, focused on possible discrepancies in the rules of election practiced by the SCDP executive and grass roots committees on April 6, when Harris, a lawyer who has been suspended from his practice for a five-year period, was elected by one vote over "None of the above."

Subsequent supplements deal with what the litigants believe is the unsuitability of Harris for the position of chairman, given a lengthy and still uncorrected record of professional infractions and misdeeds by Harris. In one supplement, immediately below, the litigants cite these issues in a general way; they specifically seek a public hearing for their evidence, Harris' disqualification, nullification of the election results, Harris' disqualification, and ultimately a new election.

This supplement, like all the others gathered here, speaks for itself:

The second supplement, immediately below, repeats the requests made in the first supplement and cites facts relating to Harris' frequent efforts to claim bankruptcy protection, claims that the United States Bankruptcy Court has now expressly prohibited him from renewing:

In support of this second supplement, the litigants cite the specific efforts made by Harris in his quests for bankruptcy protection, listed below in a timeline:

Next is the order from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court revoking Harris' privileges even to file for further bankruptcy protection:

The next supplement is an itemized record of actions taken by the Board of Professional Responsibility apropos Harris' suspension:

And the final, and most lengthy supplement, is an itemized chronology of the aforementioned infractions charged to Harris during his now terminated practice of law:

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County Commission Backs Censure of Judge Lammey

Posted By on Wed, May 8, 2019 at 5:48 PM

In a dramatic morning session, the Shelby County Commission on Wednesday voted 7-2 “in support of the public censure” of Criminal Court Judge James Lammey.

The move, a response to well-publicized Facebook posts by Lammey considered potentially anti-Semitic and racist and to courtroom actions and attitudes of his widely regarded as prejudicial to minorities, came via an add-on resolution from Democratic Commissioner Tami Sawyer.

Several representatives of established civic associations and religious and ethnic groups — Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Hispanic — spoke in support of the resolution, as did most of the Commissioners on hand for the body’s committee sessions.
Dr. Nabil Bayakly, chairman of Muslims in Memphis, speaks for Sawyer resolution. - JB
  • JB
  • Dr. Nabil Bayakly, chairman of Muslims in Memphis, speaks for Sawyer resolution.

Speaking strongly on behalf of the resolution, Republican Commission and Commission vice chair Mark Billingsley made a point of emphasizing that the resolution should be regarded not as “political” or as either Dermocratic or Republican but as a generalized and necessary statement by the Commission as a whole.

Billingsley went on to successfully advocate for several
Commissioner Sawyer - JB
  • JB
  • Commissioner Sawyer
 amendments strengthening the tone of the resolution.

Two Republican Commissioners, Amber Mills and Brandon Morrison, would nevertheless end up abstaining from the vote — Mills on the ground that the Commission had not yet heard directly from Lammey, Morrison warning of entering upon a “slippery slope” and contending that the Commission as a legislative body should defer on judgmental matters to specifically judicial authorities; she recommended the state Board of Judicial Conduct.

Sawyer, who insisted on a Commission vote, would respond that the Commission could afterward ask its staff to contact the Board of Judicial Conduct for further action. She was clearly infuriated by Mills’ remarks regarding Lammey’s “side of the matter” and indicated she was put off as well by a suggestion from Billingsley that Lammey be invited to respond, either in person or in writing, at the Commission’s next regular public meeting on Monday.
Billingsley speaking for resolution - JB
  • JB
  • Billingsley speaking for resolution
In an extended and emotional speech, Sawyer recounted an online communication she personally had received two weeks earlier from a declared white supremacist, who vilified her, threatened her with physical harm, and announced his intention to make sure her body ended up in the Mississippi River. Comparing that communication with Lammey’s various online postings — which included links to Holocaust deniers and overt racists — and what she described as his overly punitive treatment of immigrants in court, Sawyer said if someone had dared to ask her to consider the “other side” of her would-be attacker’s point of view or had told her the Commission, similarly, would be interested in hearing out Lammey’s, “I would be offended.”

Sawyer received applause from attendees, as did Commissioner Eddie Jones subsequently as he choked up while describing being addressed by a white National Guardsman on the night of Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. The man said “Little nigger boy, where are you going?” and said Jones, “I never forgot those words.”

Voting for the resolution were Republicans Billingsley and David Bradford, and Democrats Sawyer, Edmund Ford, Reginald Milton, Eddie Jones, and Michael Whaley.

A letter to Lammey announcing the results of Wednesdays’s action and confirming the Commission’s wish to give him opportunity to respond on Monday, when the action is scheduled to become official, was dispatched by email to the Judge. It can be seen below:

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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

After Prolonged Debate, State House Passes Voucher Bill; Senate to Vote Thursday

Posted By on Tue, Apr 23, 2019 at 5:00 PM

Although one more vote, on the floor of the state Senate on Thursday, will be required for its ultimate passage, Governor Bill Lee’s measure to provide private-school vouchers (termed “education savings accounts” in the lingo of the bill) narrowly passed the state House of Representatives on Tuesday by a 50-48 vote.

That resolution came after an unusual and prolonged suspension of voting in the chamber, during which supporters of the bill carried out complex negotiations that resulted in a change of vote from No to Yes by Knoxville state Representative Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville). Zachary was said to have bargained for assurances that the bill would cease at some point to apply to Knoxville.

That change, should it actually be reflected in the final version of the bill, would be only one of several that were accomplished during weeks of consideration. Also on Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee okayed a slightly different version of the measure by a one-vote margin, keeping some aspect of suspense alive as to the bill’s ultimate fate.

As it is written now, the bill amounts to a pilot project, applying only to the counties of Shelby (Memphis) and Davidson (Nashville), a fact that drew outraged opposition from representatives of the two areas. Another disliked feature of the bill, involving compensatory payments to school districts for each student receiving voucher money from the state, was altered so as to progressively reduce the amounts of the compensatory payments year by year.

State Representative Jason Powell (D-Nashville) challenged the bill’s constitutionality and its redistribution of funding “away from our children,” while Representative Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis), a veteran campaigner against any and all measures aimed at local sovereignty in education measures, speculated aloud about the lack of responsible curbs on potential fringe institutions that could receive the funds reallocated from traditional public schools.

Lee himself seemed confident that he would soon have a version of the bill on hand for his signature and issued a statement thanking the House for its action.

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Friday, April 12, 2019

Democratic Litigants File Grievance to Nullify Chairmanship Election

Posted By on Fri, Apr 12, 2019 at 6:30 PM

That election for chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party? It may not be over.

A grievance has been filed with the state Democratic Committee by several participants in the recent Shelby County Democratic Party chairmanship election, who contend that the election should be nullified.
Shelby County Democratic Party Chairman-elect Michael Harris - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Shelby County Democratic Party Chairman-elect Michael Harris

The litigants offer several scenarios; the point of each is that, however the number of valid voters might have been determined, the declared winner — Michael Harris — should have been gauged as falling short by at least one vote.

In that eventuality, it had previously been determined, the former chairman, Corey Strong, would have continued in office, pending calling for a new election, with newly elected candidates and a new vote.

The grievance reads as follows:  :

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Tennessee House Speaker's Free-Trip Offer to Israel

Posted By on Fri, Apr 12, 2019 at 1:58 PM

Does the Tennessee House of Representatives conduct a foreign policy — or have a budget on hand for that purpose?

Alternatively, is the House the beneficiary of hitherto unrevealed funding from a foreign nation and/or its supporters?

Is the state legislature mixing church and state in a manner that would be questionable, according to the Constitution?

A fourth, even more remote, possibility: Is Speaker of the House Glen Casada (R-Franklin) able to spend upwards of a quarter-million dollars of his own money to send a legislative delegation to the state of Israel this coming September, in order to present a resolution of support for that nation?

All these and other questions are relevant to an offer Casada dispatched to each member of the House in legislative mail this past week. The kernel of the offer is expressed in the following printed invitation:

And the resolution of support, passed earlier this month is as follows:

So, to summarize: If you're a Tennessee state legislator and want to take a week-long trip to Israel next fall, Speaker Casada has got you covered, to the tune of $2,500. Source of the funding? Unknown at this point.

Late on Friday, Cade Cothern, Casada’s chief of staff, called to say his boss was not the organizer of the trip, that a third party was, and that the trip itself was being offered to legislators as a “state trip,” the one such discounted annual trip that was customary for House members,especially, to take during a given year. Cothern said Casada himself had limited information on the Israel trip and wss probably not going himself. More information as it is received..

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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Bill Barring Cities From Regulating Single-Use Plastic Passes House; Some Hope for Relief Next Year

Posted By on Thu, Mar 28, 2019 at 8:00 PM

House Bill 1021 (Senate Bill 431), which prohibits local governments from regulating, prohibiting, or applying fines to single-use plastic items like straws and retail sacks, made it through the state Senate on Thursday fairly handily, by a vote of 23-7, thereby dismaying various environmental organizations who have deplored the deleterious effects of plastic litter on the natural environment.

But opponents of the bill had some hope that that relief might be on the way next year.
Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis)
  • Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis)

Among the minority of senators protesting the bill was Senator Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis), who said she understood the argument for uniformity of various policies under overriding state authority. But she observed that state government had not set any policy on the matter of plastic litter disposal. And she deplored the increasing tendency of state government to “take away local control” of matters which local legislative bodies have been elected to keep a close watch on. “We shouldn't get in other people’s kitchens when we don’t know the recipe,” she said.

Senator Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) agreed with Akbari, noting that every year the General Assembly seems to approve more “pre-emptive” measures.

Two East Tennessee Republicans added at least some moral support for Akbari and Yarbro. Senator Frank Nicely (R-Strawberry Plains) told a story about a friend in the cotton business who complained about plastic litter getting into cotton fiber and spoiling various products. “Yellow Dollar Store bags are worst of all,” he said.

And Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville), calling himself a “retro guy” favoring paper products for the sundry items now using plastic, said he would not object to the current bill and promised to introduce legislation in the next session that would set a so far nonexistent state policy on the issue.

Elaborating, Briggs says he's going to consult the National Conference of State Legislators this summer for an idea as to what other states have done. He indicated he favored some sort of ban or restrictions on the use of plastics and invited the Sierra Club and other conservationist groups that opposed the bill passed on Thursday to “buy into” his proposal.

Asked about the prospect of legislation such as what Briggs suggested for next year, Senate Republican leader Jack Johnson indicated that the major issue resolved by the bill’s passage was avoidance of contradictory policies by local governments that might affect companies’ doing business in Tennessee, and that a uniform state policy on environmental issues might be worth consideration. (Briggs had said he wanted to hold businesses to their claim of favoring a uniform state policy as against scatter-shot local measures. Yarbro welcomed the statement as a counter to the Senate majority’s “hypocrisy,” but defined the main issue as being “controlling the locals vs. local control.”

Asked about Briggs’ suggestion, Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally, the Senate speaker, was lukewarm at best, saying that he would probably be hesitant about favoring such a state measure, on grounds that a restrictive state police on use of plastics might increase the price of items to the consumer.

In any case, for at least a year, the state ban will hold. SB 431 is identical to the House version, already passed by the other chamber.

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Friday, March 22, 2019

If It's a Thursday Night in March, There Must Be Candidate Events

Posted By on Fri, Mar 22, 2019 at 12:15 PM

  • JB
Above: Super-District 9, Position 1 City Council competitor Cody Fletcher (2nd from right), a development officer at the University of Memphis,  greets attendees at fund-raiser/reception at the home of Leslie and Ted Townsend on Forrest Avenue.
Below: District 4 Council candidate Britney Thornton (right), teacher and director of Juice Orange Mound, schmoozes with attendees at a reception for her at the Young Avenue home of Liz Rincon (in doorway).

  • JB
Another reception was held on Thursday night for Chase Carlisle, also a candidate for a District 9 council position. And 8th District Congressman David Kustoff was the beneficiary of a fund-raiser as well.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Mulroy to Read from New Book on Election Reform

Posted By on Mon, Mar 18, 2019 at 3:47 PM

Author, attorney, and founding father cosplayer, Steve Mulroy
  • Author, attorney, and founding father cosplayer, Steve Mulroy
Former Counrty Commissioner and mayoral candidate Steve Mulroy (here rocking a period wig and mugging the camera) is not a Founding Father. He just plays one (James Wilson, by name) in the  Tony-winning musical, 1776, now playing at Theatre Memphis though March 31. Mulroy, whose day job is that of law professor at the University of Memphis, is also the author of Unskewing the System: Rethinking U.S. Election Law, which he will read from and discuss at Novel Bookstore on Tuesday at 6 p.m.

As the title suggests, he book treats any number of proposals — including Instant Runoff Voting — for making the American electoral system fairer and more accessible.

Attendees will have the opportunity to acquire a volume by means of a special author’s discount.

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Friday, March 15, 2019

Tennessee General Assembly Honors John Kilzer

Posted By on Fri, Mar 15, 2019 at 8:20 PM

In what was the last legislative act of last week in the Tennessee General Assembly, state Representative Bo Mirtchell (D-Nashville) offered the following resolution of tribute and commemoration in honor of the late John Kilzer of Memohis, whose death was announced during the week. It was approved unanimously by the chamber:


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