Busting Some Moves 

Democrats work the suburbs; Reginald Tate withdraws from ALEC; Commission hires Allan Wade to combat Luttrell suit.

click to enlarge Craig Fitzhugh addresses a Collierville crowd. - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Craig Fitzhugh addresses a Collierville crowd.

Shelby County Democrats are continuing with their efforts to spread their party's influence. The most recent instance was a fund-raising dinner Sunday night at the 148 North Restaurant in Collierville featuring several speakers — including state Representative Craig Fitzhugh, the state House minority leader and currently a candidate for governor; James Mackler, candidate for U.S. Senator; Floyd Bonner, candidate for sheriff; state Senator Lee Harris, now running for Shelby County mayor; John Boatner Jr., candidate for the District 8 congressional seat; and Sanjeev Memula, candidate for state House District 95.

• Another local gathering attracting a sizeable number of political figures was the Christmas party of the Tennessee Nurses Association, held Monday night at Coletta's in Cordova. A good mix of Republicans and Democrats was on hand, including District 33 state Senator Reginald Tate, an inner-city Democrat who confided that he had felt compelled to resign his longstanding affiliation with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a national organization, largely funded by conservative donors, which grinds out sample bills and disseminates them to state legislatures.

Tate, who had been listed as a member of ALEC's Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force, told the Flyer he had been pressured by fellow Democrats to sunder his ties with the organization, for which he expressed no particular ideological affinity.

• The confrontation between a Shelby County Commission majority and County Mayor Mark Luttrell over the circumstances of proposed litigation against distributors of opioids went up another notch on Monday. 

An eight-member commission majority — Republicans Heidi Shafer (the current commission chair) and Terry Roland, and Democrats Van Turner, Willie Brooks, Justin Ford, Reginald Milton, Melvin Burgess, and Eddie Jones — are supporting a Shafer initiative to force Luttrell's hand on proposed litigation by the county against an extensive network of physicians, pharmacists, and others involved, both legally and illegally, in distribution of opioids, which, in the estimation of Shafer and the commission, have resulted in damaging levels of addiction in Shelby County.

Chancellor Jim Kyle recently ruled that Luttrell, who sued to block Shafer's unilateral engaging of a law firm, had rightful authority over litigation by the county but declined to intervene in the lawsuit itself, now in limbo in Circuit Court. The chancellor suggested that the suit was in the public interest but recommended mediation between the commission and the mayor.

Meanwhile, Luttrell, who has floated the alternative idea of deferring to a statewide legal action against the opioid network, is still in formal (if suspended) litigation in Chancery Court against the commission. The eight-member coalition at odds with the mayor on the matter voted Monday to hire Allan Wade, who represents the Memphis City Council, as its "special legal counsel" in the matter.

That action carried, but it aroused opposition among a five-member commission minority consisting of Democrat Walter Bailey and Republicans Mark Billingsley, George Chism, Steve Basar, and David Reaves.

Typical of this group's sentiments were Billingsley's complaints that outside attorneys were enriching themselves at county expense and that the proposed ongoing action against the alleged opioid-distribution network was too extensive, involving well-established name-brand companies like Johnson & Johnson.

Roland, among others, responded that the proposed legal actions against opioid distributors were pro bono and would cost the county nothing, while Luttrell's action did in fact "cost the county."

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