Strickland Leads Mayoral Fund-raising Race; TN Lege Rushes to Close 

The four declared candidates for Memphis mayor all released their first-quarter financial disclosures last week, and there was no surprise on the matter of who topped the list — that was incumbent Mayor Jim Strickland, who began the period with a whopping balance on hand of $757,497.96 and would get his total up to $779,916.87 by the end of the reporting period on March 31st.

The surprise might have been in the matter of who came in second, and that would be one LeMichael Wilson, who bills himself as a "small business owner and an active community member" and who remains utterly unknown to most Memphians after a year or so of preliminary campaigning.

Wilson reported receipts of $34,808, which, after disbursements of some $3,366.31 (mainly for modest campaign sundries) leaves him with a balance on hand of $31,441.69.

Meanwhile, the two better-known challengers to Strickland's re-election — former Mayor Willie Herenton and current Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer — are running more or less neck-to-neck in a tie for third.

Herenton reported non-itemized contributions (those of $100 or less) totaling $2,246 and itemized contributions of $23,700, for a total of $25,846. He reported disbursements (itemized, except for a $100 bank service charge) of $25,846, leaving him with a balance of $18,020.88.

Sawyer reported total receipts for the first quarter of $25,907.84, with disbursements of $6,088.74, leaving her with a balance on hand of $19,819.10. Her receipts broke down into $8,987.65 unitemized, and $16,920,19 itemized. 

Sayonaras

The 111th Session of the Tennessee General Assembly said farewell to a number of unsuccessful or uncompleted bills last week, and, while the Japanese expression sayonara, has its appropriateness (the word means something fatalistic like "if it is to be that way") it is probable that the old French and German standbys (au revoir and auf Wiedersehen, both of which mean "till we see you again") are more applicable. For it is dead-level certain that several dropouts, notably the fetal-heartbeat anti-abortion bill, the several bills to amend the proscripted status of cannabis, and a measure to arm teachers with guns, will be returning at some point.

Fetal heartbeat was the most dramatic departure and, in some ways, the most surprising. After all, Tennessee is a red state, its legislature is arguably even redder, and this bill certainly conformed to red-state sensibilities. A version of the bill had even passed the House of Representatives last month, and there was evey reason to suppose that the Senate Judiciary Committee was stocked with enough anti-abortion conservatives, including its chairman, Mike Bell (R-Riceville) to pass the bill on its way to ultimate passage on the Senate floor.

However, enough misgivings concerning the bill's potential legal pitfalls had developed in the Republican leadership and in the councils of the ever-cautious Governor Bill Lee that Bell did the unexpected and pulled the hook on the bill Tuesday, after a lengthy committee session in which witness testimony had been one-sidedly in the bill's favor. Bell's motion to send the measure to a carefully set-aside two-day version of summer study on August 13th drew consternation from Senate sponsor Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) but no great outcry from the panel's GOP members, most of whom went along with the notion.

A carefully articulated statement from Senate Speaker/Lt. Governor Randy McNally following the Judiciary Committee's action paralleled Bell's remarks in stating his motion and made the case for the summer-study proposal:

"I fully support the deliberative approach the Judiciary Committee is taking on the Heartbeat Bill. As someone who believes life begins at conception, I support the bill philosophically. But constitutionally, as Tennessee Right to Life points out, the bill is flawed in its current form. Amendment One put the abortion industry on the ropes in Tennessee. We have done all we can to defund Planned Parenthood. We have put in place reasonable restrictions to help prevent abortion. Passing a constitutionally suspect bill now would give the courts an opportunity to erase the progress we have made. And a losing court fight would likely result in awarding taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood. Protection of the unborn is too important to risk taking a step backward. I appreciate the sponsor bringing this legislation. It deserves the best possible chance for success. But that chance can only be achieved by careful study."

In any case, the fetal heartbeat bill is over, at least until next year, with the two-day summer-study interval in August destined to serve as a likely re-kindling.

Another issue that has attracted a generous share of attention (if not support) involved the several efforts to ameliorate the status of cannabis in Tennessee. Last Wednesday, as a debate on vouchers (oops, excuse us: "education savings accounts") wound on in the Senate Education Committee, Senator Steven Dickerson (R-Nashville) rose to allay concerns about whether things could be finished up in the allotted time for discussion.

"I'll give you some of my cannabis time," said Dickerson, whose SB 572, which would make a legal place on the shelf for medical cannabis, was due to be first up in the next committee, Senate Health and Welfare, scheduled for the same hearing room. It was one of three such bills on the agenda, bearing his sponsorship, and one of even more cannabis bills that had come and gone.

When the vouchers session finally ended on a 5-3 vote to move the measure on, the hearing room emptied out and refilled with Health Committee members, Dickerson, having meanwhile surveyed the landscape of likelihood, rose to make a brief statement:

"So all the bills dealing with cannabis have been rolled, so to speak, till 2020. We continue to get right up to the precipice and this year, once again, we're falling short. I believe Tennessee patients would benefit from this. I believe some of the statements made by law enforcement [have been] unnecessarily inflammatory. But in deference to the committee I will move all those three bills to the first calendar of the next year."

And that was that: au revoir.

Later last Wednesday, in House Education, Representative Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) rose to deliver a benediction of sorts on his HB 1380, a bill that would allow those teachers with carry permits to take their guns to school. The bill had been something of a stealth measure and had unexpectedly squeaked through the K-12 Subcommittee last week. It turned up on the Education Committee menu on Wednesday of both the House and, via its companion measure, the Senate, where the measure had lingered inactively since February.

It had been dispatched to "General Sub" (i.e., limbo) in Senate Education, however, and Williams had had a chance to draw the proper conclusions about his chances in the House as well. So, as the House Education Committee wended its way toward a late conclusion on Wednesday, Williams delivered himself of some lengthy remarks, which involved in part his conversations with such "stakeholders" as: law enforcement, school administrators, and Local Education Agencies.

The upshot: "There's not a whole  lot of time left to modify this bill ... but there's a lot of work left to be done as regards school safety. ... We need a lot of collaboration, and a lot more time to do it and I look forward to working with stakeholders." Auf Wiedersehen.

• Several Democratic litigants have filed a challenge with the state party to the recent election of Michael Harris by a single vote as chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party. The litigants allege that two ex-officio members should not have been allowed to vote and that four "present, not voting" tallies should have been counted, raising the ceiling for a majority vote.

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