Getting Started 

Memphis and Shelby County incumbents waste no time in shoring up for election challenges in 2014.

"Dear Friends," began the open-letter email from District Attorney General Amy Weirich, "As one year ends and another begins, we naturally reflect and look forward. As your D.A. (and a wife and mother) I have been doing my fair share of that in the last few days."

The "reflection" that followed amounted to a quick recitation of figures ("217 jury trials and 777 days in trial") designed to show that the D.A. had succeeded in her "mission to pursue the guilty and protect the innocent."

After closing out the communication a couple of paragraphs later, Weirich thought to add a postscript: "P.S. This new year is also a big election year, which means that I have to run for the full eight-year term as our D.A. Don't forget to tell your friends and neighbors about the great work we are doing in the office!"

And, just in case that message somehow missed its mark, Weirich had scheduled an attention-getting extravaganza for this week. She enlisted some unusual helpers. As the headline of her second major email of the week put it, "HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS PARTNER WITH DISTRICT ATTORNEY GENERAL TO BRING THE SLAM DUNK AGAINST BULLIES IN MEMPHIS."

The Harlem Globetrotters?

As the email explained, the reigning clown princes of basketball — renowned for decades for their rare mixture of athletic ability and comedic talent — would be appearing with the D.A. at the Ed Rice Community Center in Frayser to help her dissertate on the "ABCs of Bullying Prevention."

Alas, the lesson was not to take place, at least not on the appointed evening, Monday night of this week. The gods of weather had a perverse prank of their own — in the form of two days' worth of bone-chilling near-zero temperatures, coupled with the possibility of precipitation, which forced Weirich's office to issue yet another email, this one bearing a sad but candid message in the subject line: "Photo Op with Globetrotters and Attorney General cancelled."

Even so, General Weirich surely deserved some points for the uniqueness of her aborted op. The Globetrotters!

Like any number of other incumbents, Shelby County's Republican D.A. — anticipating a challenge from a Democratic opponent yet to be named, in a primary on May 6th — will be doing her best, all the way up to the countywide general election on August 7th, to find every means to maximize her visibility and to advertise her accomplishments.

Once again, it's an election year, a big-ballot election year at that, with local, state, and federal offices up for grabs, including the full panoply of state judgeships, which — like the D.A.'s office — are only at risk every eight years.

Not coincidentally, other incumbents were also doing their best to be front and center as the New Year began.

Shelby County mayor Mark Luttrell, another GOP office-holder sure to face a Democratic opponent this year, also had an occasion scheduled, but, luckily for him, his was scheduled for next week, beyond the reach, it would seem, of bad weather.

The Luttrell event is to be a continuation, as an email from the county mayor's office put it, of "his one-on-one meetings with citizens ... to listen to their comments and suggestions," a little less dramatic than Weirich's evening of roundball but designed for similar effect. As Luttrell, all duty, wrote, "These visits give me the opportunity to speak personally with people about what's important to them and how their ideas might improve our community."

For the record, the next such opportunity is on Tuesday, from 1 to 4 p.m. in the mayor's office in the Vasco A. Smith Jr. Administration Building downtown.

And there was 9th District Congressman Steve Cohen, a Democrat, who had an event scheduled — a "district issues meeting" — on Monday morning of the current week and went ahead with it, cold weather or no.

Afterward, he would say, in language similar to that of Weirich and Luttrell, and, like them, via an all-points email, "Hearing what my constituents have to say about the issues is very important to me."  

Luttrell and Cohen, along with two more incumbents, Memphis mayor A C Wharton and city councilman Myron Lowery, had gotten a head start of sorts in communicating with their constituencies, starting last Wednesday at Lowery's annual prayer breakfast at the Memphis Airport Hotel and Conference Center.

All four, addressing an audience rife with office-holders, candidates, and activists, reached beyond their specific bases with appeals for wider unity. (Unlike Cohen and Luttrell, Wharton and Lowery won't face the voters until 2015.) Luttrell made a pitch for "civility," Lowery cited a need for "trust," and Wharton tried to bridge the current divide between himself and the council with the declaration, "I'm through with whose fault it is." Cohen, with calls for increasing the minimum wage and extolling the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare"), and conscious that his audience included declared likely primary opponent Ricky Wilkins, seemed a mite more agenda-minded, but he, too, cited a need to look beyond narrow partisanship.

Even the congressman's endorsement of host Lowery's resolution of "No Confidence" for current GOP election administrator Rich Holden, the counterpart of a resolution passed last month by the Shelby County Commission, was couched in relatively bipartisan terms.

In any case, the New Year, with its full raft of election contests, is upon us, and there will soon be enough conflict and crossfire — locally, at least — to satisfy the most rabid partisans and pol-watchers.

• Statewide, an element of drama will be lacking. The declaration by Memphis Democrat Sara Kyle, hard upon the New Year, that she won't take on Republican governor Bill Haslam virtually ended Democrats' hopes for something more than a pro forma challenge — if even that — to the GOP's political hegemony in Tennessee.

Kyle, a former member of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority and the wife of state Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle (D-Memphis), had been regarded as her party's last chance. Nor, apparently, is there a serious Democrat to take on the other ranking Republican on the state ballot this year, U.S. senator Lamar Alexander, whose concerns, such as they are, are with state representative Joe Carr (R-Lascassas), his Tea Party opponent in the GOP primary.

The chief contests statewide this year will be regarding three Constitutional amendments on the November ballot — one that would abrogate any abortion rights in Tennessee that go beyond federal law; another that would make a state income tax unconstitutional; and a third that would make explicit the governor's right (which has been contested) to make appointments to state appellate courts.

All three amendments are favored to pass.

• A corollary to the continuing decline of Democrats' clout in Tennessee is the fact of hotly contested Republican primaries, where more and more the real decisions are being made. In Middle Tennessee, U.S. representative Scott DesJarlais (R-4th) has his hands full with a challenge from state senator Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), who is supported by the GOP establishment.

And there is the case of state senator Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), whose views are widely regarded as madcap and extremist (or at least inconvenient) within his own party ranks and is expected to be opposed in the GOP primary by Richard Briggs, a Knox County commissioner, and perhaps by other Republicans.

Campfield, who won national notoriety for numerous bills, including one to forbid the mention of homosexuality in elementary classrooms and another that would withdraw state financial aid from the households of failing students, received a dubious honor as the year got underway.

The website Wonkette bestowed its inaugural "S***muffin of the Year Award" to Campfield "for outstanding achievement in the field of trying to make life miserable for the people of State Tennessee."

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