Tumult for Tennesseans: Saltsman, Davis, Kelsey Take Flips 

Somebody better check the Seventh House again and see just what is aligning with what and what kind of weird moon is shining - or not shining - on Tennessee. Thursday saw three of the Volunteer State's public careers gone strangely awash.

(1) Chip Saltsman, the former state GOP chairman who managed Mike Huckabee's impressive presidential campaign in 2008, has withdrawn his bid to be Republican National chairman in the wake of his misfired decision to send out copies of a parody CD as Christmas gifts.

(2) Lincoln Davis, a mid-state congressman who had been regarded as a sure-thing Democratic candidate for governor in 2010, announced his own withdrawal from possible candidacy amid recriminations directed at the weekend election of a new state Democratic chairman.

(3) Brian Kelsey, a brash Republican state representative from Germantown, saw himself being accused of extortion after publication of an embarrassing email to his supposed nemesis, state House Speaker Kent Williams.

Saltsman's withdrawal, a day before Friday's scheduled meeting of the Republican National Committee to choose between himself and five other chairmanship candidates, came in the wake of a report in Congressional Quarterly that he had been unable to round up the required six supporters on the Republican National Committee to be nominated. And the Tennessean's exit followed a mere two days after his statement that he expected to win and was "going to surprise a lot of people."

It seemed likely that Saltsman had been a casualty of a backlash arising from his decision to send RNC delegates copies of his friend Paul Shanklin's parody album, "We Hate the USA." The album, like all of Memphian Shanklin's previous ones, mocked prominent Democrats and liberals and contained two cuts in particular that had raised hackles.

One, entitled "Barack the Magic Negro," featured Shanklin imitating the voice of the Rev. Al Sharpton in a take-off on, of all things, a Los Angeles Times column on then candidate Barack Obama's role as a "magic Negro" archetype. Another cut, which had drawn fire more recently, was entitled "The Star-Spanglish Banner."

Shanklin expressed regret Tuesday night at Saltsman's fate, which he regarded as a case of scapegoating. "That's what happens when you quote three liberals in a song," he said, presumably referring to mentions in the lyrics of Obama, Sharpton, and Joe Biden, the latter then a presidential candidate himself.

Davis' withdrawal came in the immediate aftermath of two events, one positive from his point of view, the other negative. In his statement, he cited the former - his recent appointment to the important House Appropriations Committee - as a reason for eschewing a gubernatorial race: "As a new member of the House Appropriations Committee, I will have a significant opportunity to practice fiscal responsibility of our nation's finances and assure the priorities of my rural constituents are heard loud and clear. This recent appointment is an opportunity for the district I represent that I could not easily turn away from."

Another reason why the conservative Blue Dog congressman, once considered the favored Democrat, may have backed away from a governor's race, was what Nashville blogger/aggregator Adam Kleinheider referred to as "the handover of his own party to a radical band of Obama activists in stark rebuke of his wishes." Kleinheider's reference, presumably cast from Davis' point of view, was to last weekend's selection by the state Democratic executive committee of longtime member Chip Forrester party chairman over a candidate favored by Davis.


Kelsey's pickle resulted from the circulation by Democratic legislative leaders of a previously unknown email by the Germantown Republican to a Williams aide, in which Kelsey, a public antagonist of the new House Speaker, said, ""Tell Kent I'm willing to talk about reconciliation if he's willing to talk about chairman of the full committee." That was a day before Kelsey asked for an Ethics Committee investigation of Williams for an alleged former act of sexual harassment of a female House member and two days before Kelsey was named chairman of a House Judiciary subcommittee.

Before any of these events had taken place, Kelsey had emerged as perhaps the most vocal House opponent of Williams after the maverick Republican from Elizabethton had added his vote to that of 49 Democrats to foil an expected Speakership win by Republican House leader Jason Mumpower of Bristol.

The apparent trade-off sought by Kelsey in his email became the subject of ridicule when the email was publicized by House Democratic leader Gary Odom and another Nashville Democrat, State Rep. Mike Turner. More than one media source used the term "extortion" in coverage of the affair. Kelsey himself admitted sending the email but denied he had any quid pro quo in mind.

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