Campus Stadium Gains 

Mayoral candidates Morris and Chumney express conditional support.

In weekend remarks, mayoral candidate Herman Morris said "other priorities should take precedence" over Mayor Willie Herenton's proposal for a new football stadium as part of a redeveloped Fairgrounds. But Morris gave his approval to the concept of the state and the University of Memphis pooling their resources and "building an on-campus stadium that would put this university on a par with some of the others in the country."

Morris thereby joined mayoral candidate Carol Chumney in the ranks of those supporting a proposal for an on-campus stadium advanced by university booster Harold Byrd and others. As of now, however, both Morris and Chumney oppose use of city funds to fulfill such a project.

Former Memphis Light, Gas & Water chief Morris also defended his involvement in the utility's $25 million investment in Memphis Networx, a fiber-optics development which he said provided infrastructure that improved the city's "competitive posture to attract industry."

Though he has previously been critical of mayoral pressures on behalf of specific brokers, Morris similarly endorsed the $1.5 billion bond issue that funded pre-payment of MLGW's acquisition of services from the Tennessee Valley Authority. He maintained that the pre-payment deal would eventually pay dividends "somewhere in the nature of $250 million."

  • The latest balloon being floated in local political circles (and on WREG-TV, News Channel 3, Monday night) concerns a possible bid for city mayor by current Shelby County mayor A C Wharton. The reasoning is that local business leaders, many of whom are disenchanted with Herenton, may decide that neither Morris nor Chumney are the right candidates to displace the incumbent and that Wharton is the only candidate who could.

    Wharton, however, said Tuesday that he was "fully occupied" with his present duties and would never run in opposition to Herenton. He might, he said, reconsider a race if the incumbent for any reason decided not to run.

  • Former Tennessee senator and actor Fred Thompson, who has spent his time since leaving the U.S. Senate in 2002 as a principal on NBC's Law and Order, may be a candidate for president in 2008. "I'm giving some thought to it. I'm going to leave the door open," Thompson told host Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, thereby confirming a spate of recent rumors on various blogs.

    Republican Thompson, a 1964 graduate of the University of Memphis, acknowledged that his friend and mentor Howard Baker, another former Tennessee senator, had seriously promoted such a candidacy on the grounds that no acceptable conservative was so far in the running.

    Quoting Adlai Stevenson, a Democratic candidate in 1952 and 1956, Thompson said the paradoxical task of a candidate was to "do what's necessary to become president and still deserve to be president."

    In answer to Wallace's questions, Thompson said he was pro-life, "tolerant" of gays but opposed to gay marriage, anti-gun-control but supportive of campaign finance legislation, and flexible on immigration law. He also said President George Bush's surge policy in Iraq should be given a chance to work and called for a pardon of vice-presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby, convicted last week of several counts of lying to a federal grand jury in the matter of "outing" CIA agent Valerie Plame.

    click to enlarge Newsmakers Flinn and Kurita on the Senate floor last week - JACKSON BAKER
    • Jackson Baker
    • Newsmakers Flinn and Kurita on the Senate floor last week

    Thompson opined that he would safely be able to wait as late as summer before deciding on the matter of a presidential run.

    Nashville blogger Adam Kleinheider suggested strongly last week that state senator Rosalind Kurita, a Clarksville Democrat, had made a deal in advance with current Republican Speaker Ron Ramsey to acquire her current position as Senate Speaker Pro Tem.

    Kleinheider asked rhetorically if this fact was not indicated by Kurita's support for longtime Speaker Wilder, rather than party opponent Joe Haynes, in a Democratic caucus straw vote before the Senate showdown between Wilder and Ramsey. Kurita's vote for Ramsey was the decisive one as he narrowly ousted Wilder.

    Interviewed in Nashville last week about Kleinheider's speculation, shared by many on and off Capitol Hill, Kurita said: "That's a nonsensical question. I voted for Ron Ramsey because I thought he would do the best job for the people of Tennessee. The basic tenet of a democracy is that the majority rules. It's not about putting together 17 votes to pretend we [the Democrats] are in charge."

    The import of her answer would seem to be that the principle of majority vote superseded that of Wilder's suitability to lead -- or Haynes', for that matter.

    Kurita declined even to discuss the option of voting for Haynes, the Democrats' caucus chairman, rather than Wilder in the party caucus. "That's a ridiculous question; that's hindsight. It doesn't have any bearing on how we do good for the people of Tennessee."

    Concerning blogger Kleinheider's suggestion concerning a deal, Kurita said, "He must be projecting the way he operates. It's not the way I operate."

    While presiding in the Senate last Thursday, Kurita's floor duty required her to have brief pro forma interchanges on Thursday with both Wilder, now an ordinary senator in the body he led for 36 years, and Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle, who has made no secret of his discontent with Kurita for her vote on Ramsey's behalf and who recently dispatched a critical letter to statewide Democrats challenging her bona fides.

    She recognized Wilder to note the presence of visitors from Fayette County in the balcony and acknowledged Kyle for the purpose of his making a motion. (Note: Former Lt. Gov. Wilder suffered a fall later Thursday at his Fayette County home and was treated at The Med over the weekend before being released.)

    Asked about Kyle's letter, Kurita shrugged and said, "Well, you know, Senator Kyle's a smart guy, and he's a good senator, but I think anybody who knows him knows that when he's angry, he will lash out at people. And that's what he did. And hopefully in time he won't feel that he has to lash out."

    As for Wilder, who (to put it mildly) had also been unhappy with her, Kurita said somewhat ambiguously, "There's no difference in the number of times we communicate now from a year ago."

    Kurita had some kind words for the former Speaker's method of presiding over the floor: "He tried his very best to be fair to everyone in terms of letting everyone speak." Voters in state Senate District 30 and state House District 92 went to the polls on Tuesday to decide on successors to 9th District congressman Steve Cohen for the Senate seat and county commissioner Henri Brooks in the House. (See Political Beat for results and analysis of those special-election races.)

  • Although considerable doubt existed as to exactly when they were required to leave office (estimates varied from Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. to certification of election results by the Election Commission, and the state Attorney General's Office was being asked to rule on the matter), both interim state senator Shea Flinn and interim state representative Eddie Neal were obliged to move on.

    Flinn, especially, made an impact during his several weeks of service, managing congenial relations with legislators in both parties and both legislative chambers while introducing enough pieces of controversial legislation to delight the progressive Democrats who were the core of predecessor Cohen's constituency.

    "Really, that was my main motivation, to conduct myself as the voters who elected Steve would have expected," said Democrat Flinn, who consulted with Cohen to that end.

    Among other things, he sponsored bills to legalize: casino gambling (this would require a constitutional amendment); wine sales in grocery stores; sales of package liquor on Sunday; voting by mail; and optional state license plates advocating equal rights for gays. Flinn also has been instrumental in crafting a compromise on medical tort reform.

    The youthful lawyer is the son of Shelby County commissioner George Flinn, a Republican, but was the subject of a brief boomlet for Democratic chairman in Shelby County before disavowing interest in the job.

    He also was talked up by fellow Democratic legislators (notably Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle and House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh) to serve as interim House member in Beverly Marrero's seat, should she win her Senate race. Though he has considered that idea, he is leaning against it.

    The one option he has expressed most interest in? Service as a member of the county Election Commission, to succeed Greg Duckett, the body's chairman, who is leaving to become a member of the state Election Commission. (Longtime Duckett friend Calvin Anderson decided to step down.)

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