Tennessee, Shelby Parties Organizing for 2018 

Gubernatorial candidates emerge; Boyd takes dim view of “right-sizing” plan; Kustoff careful with town meetings.

click to enlarge Retiring Blue Cross-Blue shield exec Calvin Anderson, here at a ceremony naming a street for him, will be a cog in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial campaign. - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Retiring Blue Cross-Blue shield exec Calvin Anderson, here at a ceremony naming a street for him, will be a cog in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial campaign.

Last week was a time for members of both local political parties to gather and take stock. The Shelby County Republicans did so with their annual Lincoln Day banquet at the East Memphis Hilton on Saturday night — the highlight of which was an address by former Bush-era U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who, while contending that "we need Donald Trump to be strong," cautiously but firmly took issue with the president's immigration policies. (For a full account of Gonzales' remarks and the evening at large, see "Politics Beat Blog" on the Flyer website.)

The Lincoln Day event drew an extensive field of GOP gubernatorial hopefuls for 2018: U.S. Representative Diane Black (R-6th District); state Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksdale); State Senate majority leader Mark Norris (R-District 32); entrepreneur and former state Economic Development director Randy Boyd; and Nashville-area businessman Bill Lee.

• Even as Shelby County Republicans were gathered at the Hilton to hear Gonzales' sober-sided hedge to all-out Trumpism, some 150 Democrats were making moves to reassert some vision and presence of their own, celebrating "Obama Day" at the Madison Gallery under the auspices of the Shelby County Young Democrats, with Mayor Kelvin Buck of Holly Springs, Mississippi, as official host and Mayor Megan Barry of Nashville serving as keynoter.

The emphasis there was altogether on moving forward afresh, with a new national party chairman, former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez, having been elected in Atlanta earlier Saturday and with visions of stronger candidate efforts for Democrats in the forthcoming off-year election year of 2018.

After months of making appearances up and down the length of Tennessee, former Mayor Karl Dean of Nashville, Barry's immediate predecessor, issued a formal statement making it official: He's a candidate for governor in 2018. Dean will apparently have some good local help from newly appointed campaign treasurer Calvin Anderson, a longtime aide to former U.S. Senator Jim Sasser. Anderson has just retired from several years as a Blue Cross Blue Shield executive (with a street newly named for him adjacent to the insurance giant's Memphis headquarters) and remains well-connected.

And, even though Nashville real estate entrepreneur and mega-donor Bill Freeman, who had been touching the state's bases in an exploratory bid of his own, decided over the weekend not to run, the state's Democrats will apparently still have a respectable gubernatorial primary in 2018, just as in their now vanished years of ascendancy.

State Representative Craig Fitzhugh, the well-liked Democratic House leader from Ripley, has been making it clear for months to any and all who have asked (including ourselves) that he intends to run for governor, and he repeated that resolve for the record on Monday. Though General Assembly rules preclude Fitzhugh's taking formal organizational steps before the current legislative sessions ends in April, he, like Dean, has been out and about, appearing both at the Memphis YD event and a meeting last week of the Tipton County Democrats.

And, yes, Virginia, as previously indicated in this space, soon there will be a new bona fide Shelby County Democratic Party that will try to make good on the local party's revivalist hopes.

State Democratic chairman Mary Mancini of Nashville, who recently appointed 13 Shelby County Democrats to serve as an ad hoc committee to plan a restructuring of the currently decertified local party, arranged for the group's first meeting on Tuesday night of this week in the law office of David Cocke, a vintage Democrat and member of the ad hoc group.

The now completed membership of that core group is comprised of: Cocke, Dave Cambron, Corey Strong, Jeanne Johnson, Van Turner, George Monger, Jolie Grace Wareham, Danielle Inez, Deborah Reed, Emma Meskovic, Clarissa Shaw, Cordell Orrin, and Keith Norman.

• As the General Assembly prepares for the likely return of the Draconian de-annexation measure sponsored last year by state Representative Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) and state Senator Bo Watson (R-Hixson), the voluntary "right-sizing" plan which the Strickland administration hopes to offer as an alternative may be in for trouble on the City Council.

Asked about its prospects following his speech last Wednesday to the downtown Kiwanis Club, current City Council chair Berlin Boyd repeated his determined opposition to the plan, asserting that the city was in no position to give up the $7 million in tax revenues it would lose in the short term. And Boyd said, "There are lots of others on the Council who feel the same way."

• As Congress takes a brief break, the wave of well-attended and often high-tempered congressional town meetings on health care and other issues is likely to continue, in Tennessee as elsewhere, but U.S. Representative David Kustoff (R-8th) has seemingly adopted a strategy that, to some degree, will sidestep them.

Kustoff explained things in the aftermath of his address to a Chamber breakfast at the Crescent Club last Thursday. Pleading the large "footprint" of his sprawling district, Kustoff said he had opted for relatively limited group sessions in sites like Brownsville, Covington, and Jackson, with a pre-arranged cap on the number of subjects to be discussed.

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