Recently in 2010 Election: Local government Category

An hour after the precincts opened today, there was very little evidence that Hope Presbyterian Church on Walnut Grove was a place to cast your ballot.

The Election Commission did its job. There were the appropriate signs identifying it as the Cordova-9 precinct. Even one showing the boundary where campaign workers could stand.

That didn't matter. No one was there campaigning for anyone. And if that wasn't bad enough. There weren't any campaign signs around either. Not for the gubernatorial candidates. Not on the consolidation referendum. Not for any of the other contested races on the ballot.

That held true at many other precincts, including at Richland Elementary.

Enough with the whining over attack ads

Perhaps I'm alone in this, but I've gotten a little weary of the puritanical bellyaching about negative campaigning, attack ads and the like. While I would prefer to hear positive messages, it's absurd to suggest political messages are any more negative or cut-throat than they have ever been. Democracy is not always polite. And, yes, candidates and their supporters really ought to be pointing out ways in which an opponent may be lacking as a candidate/person/representative. Just, you know, be factual about it. Lying about opponents is a problem and voters ought to punish such behavior.

The people at the libertarian-leaning magazine Reason put together this video using campaign messages from that old doozy Jefferson vs. Adams. You mean the Founding Fathers indulged in partisan attacks? Say it ain't so ...

Can local Democrats extend late resurgence?

Today is the final day of campaigning, and Memphis will receive a visit from Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam at Patrick's for lunch at 12:40 in East Memphis (off Park). His opponent, Democrat Mike McWherter, spent almost the entire weekend in Memphis and Shelby County trying to motivate Democratic turnout. As he did most of the weekend, he'll continue to partner with his party's 8th Congressional District nominee, Roy Herron, at events today and gatherings today elsewhere in the state.

As I point out in a story this morning, the final four days of early-voting showed a big increase in participation from likely Democratic voters -- especially those sorted by the Shelby County Election Commission as registered black voters. Many of the local Democrats who sweated the first 10 days or so of early voting, like 9th District incumbent Steve Cohen, are now feeling very confident but still know they need strong turnout on Tuesday. I wrote about Cohen's race against tea-party favorite Charlotte Bergmann in Sunday's paper, and included numbers that our data reporter, Grant Smith, helped me compile applying a precinct-by-precinct analysis based on partisan-voting patterns from the Aug. 5 election.

For the details on how turnout broke down in early voting, check out today's story. Email me for more information.

New York Times visits Tenn-Ark-Issippi

One of top political reporters for The New York Times, Jeff Zeleny, parachuted into the Delta to provide the scene for a more general story on that endangered political animal known as the white Southern Democrat. Zeleny begins: "The Southern white Democrat, long on the endangered list, is at risk of being pushed one step closer to extinction."  Zeleny was in Jonesboro last week when President Clinton visited to stump for Chad Causey, the Democratic nominee in Arkansas' 1st Congressional District (farm broadcaster Rick Crawford is the Republican nominee, though the times had a typo calling him "Rick Scott"); Clinton also hit Little Rock and later was in Oxford, Miss., to help out Democrat Travis Childers (the incumbent who is facing Republican Alan Nunnelee).

Here in Jonesboro, the First Congressional District has not sent a Republican to Washington since 1873. But the retirement of Representative Marion Berry has created the best opening that Republicans can recall, with Mr. Obama and his party viewed with suspicion. Democrats see the district as a firewall if they are to retain a foothold in the South.

Former President Bill Clinton, who spent his career navigating between his party's liberal sensibilities and the far more centrist instincts of Democrats in his home region, visited the district last week, passing through Batesville and Paragould before arriving for a rally in Jonesboro. He warned voters, "You are being played," and urged people to cast ballots with their economic self interest in mind.

"If it's a referendum on Democrats against some imagined perfection, we'll get whacked," Mr. Clinton said in a brief interview. "If it's a real, informed choice, we'll do fine."

At every stop, the Democratic Congressional candidate, Chad Causey, stood at Mr. Clinton's side, smiling as the former president offered a lesson on the economy, a defense of Mr. Obama and a plea for voters not to act out of anger on Election Day. Mr. Causey allowed Mr. Clinton to do most of the talking, but he pledged not to be a rubber stamp for the Obama administration or a Democratic Congress.

The story (which also references Roy Herron in Tennessee's 8th) reminded me of the many maps produced after President Obama's victory in the 2008 election, many of them showing that the only counties that increased their vote for the Republican nominee started up in northern Appalachia and swung down through the south. More interesting to me were the maps that showed percentage of white vote (gleaned from exhaustive exit polling) captured by Obama. There was no getting around the fact that no matter the political climate, white southern voters -- especially white southern men -- are not disposed to support Democrats. There are myriad reasons for this and I won't argue them here, but suffice to say that for Democrats to win in the south, they must either make more inroads with white voters -- especially white men -- or make darn sure nonwhite voters are motivated to come out and vote.

And as we have pointed out, so far in early voting here Shelby County, it is clear white voters are much more motivated to turn out (latest report showed 53.6 percent of early voters are registered white voters and only 20.3 percent are registered black voters, with the "other" category at 26.2 percent probably carved up similarly).

Links to maps are below:

Republicans swamping polls, Dems trickling in

Plenty of time remains in early voting -- it's available until Oct. 28 for the Nov. 2 elections -- but early numbers show that even in Shelby County, one of the most reliable Democratic counties in the nation, Republican voters are more motivated and more activated. We ran this story today looking at the numbers from the first three days of early voting, and there is no good way for Democrats to explain them.

Democratic county chairman Van Turner pointed out that the party is making efforts, but even he was already looking ahead to 2012 when President Obama will be on the ballot. Meanwhile, those involved with Republican Charlotte Begmann's challenge of incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen are downright giddy at the numbers, which they say provide empirical evidence that their campaign slogan -- "Charlotte Bergmann Can Win" -- is on the money.

It will be interesting to see if Cohen revs up his campaign, just in case. However, many of the key people involved in his Democratic primary victory over Willie Herenton are no longer involved.

As we also point out, most of the strongest-turnout precincts are in the suburbs, so it raises the question how much consolidation is driving the continued surge of voters from Republican strongholds.

Schools forum & CA's school board endorsements

Speaking of Memphis City Schools, tonight there is a forum hosted by Stand For Children from 6 to 8 p.m. at the MCS Teaching and Learning Academy, 2485 Union Ave. You can RSVP by e-mailing or calling 417-9691.

Our editorial board made its recommendations for those two MCS board seats being contested. I'll not list them here, but click the link -- they provide sound reasoning for picks that might surprise people. That's not to say that, on a personal level, I may or may not disagree, but as a neutral third-party, I can only say there are candidates in both races that had good arguments for getting the vote of this parent of Memphis City Schools students.

Online Voter Guide great resource for Nov. 2 elections

Our news leaders, Michael Erskine and Gary Robinson, shepherded our online Voter Guide into publication, and we have updated it for the Nov. 2 elections. With early voting beginning today and running through Oct. 28, it is a great resource to check out and pass along:

Tough role for Memphis City Schools board members

Our Viewpoint package on Sunday was devoted to the Memphis City Schools board, with a column from Wendi Thomas about the often thankless role played by the nine members and a rundown of candidates for the two seats being contested in the Nov. 2 elections -- At-Large Position 2 currently held by Kenneth T. Whalum Jr. and District 6 held by Sharon Webb. The incumbents in District 2 (Betty Mallott) and District 4 (Martavius Jones) are not being challenged.  We also ran candidate capsules listing background, education and main campaign messages.

Here is Wendi's story, plus some recent columns she's devoted to the issue of Memphis City Schools:
  • From Sept. 2 asking the question, "What is our individual and collective obligation to other people's children?"
  • From Aug. 12 appealing for good people to come forth and offer themselves as candidates for the MCS board. And from Aug. 22 rebutting "claims of conspiracy" that she was trying to target specific board incumbents for ouster.

Don't just complain. Become an election worker.

Today's story advancing the opening of early voting focuses on promises the Shelby County Election Commission is making about improving in the wake of the now-dismissed lawsuit losing Democrats filed over the Aug. 5 county general election, which they alleged was so filled with mistakes that it made the results "incurably uncertain." Chancery Court judge Arnold Goldin ruled they had delivered no evidence showing intentional fraud or illegality, but as voters hit the polls beginning at 10 today, doubts are going to be fresh in some voters minds -- no matter the assertions by Commission officials that elections are more efficient and less prone to error than ever before.

Finding good workers to put on the election is a big emphasis from the Commission and its administrator of elections, Rich Holden. They didn't say this, but I will -- voters of all stripes are much more apt to whine about the inevitable messiness of the democratic process than to step up and try and make it less messy.

Holden told me: "The most important thing is the elections are conducted by the voters. The No. 1 problem in every jurisdiction in American is getting enough workers -- quality workers -- to conduct an election."

Some of this came up at the trial, with lead Commission lawyer Sam Muldavin basing his opening argument on those nonpartisan Commission civil servants who have worked in some cases for decades with relatively meager resources and relying on part-time workers to conduct elections. In his ruling, Goldin chose to read from the deposition of Dennnis Boyce, the 17-year employee who inadvertantly loaded the wrong database of early-voters into the Aug. 5 Election Day electronic poll books. It's worth reading:

"I want to say this one thing. You know we are a very small staff at the Election Commission, we work our tails off each election and anything that goes awry or anybody that does not double check or anything like that, we are on them all the time. ... We don't mess around. We have an honest staff that works here, some of them have been around a long time, and I just wanted to say, for the record, for us to go through this process and to be claimed to be dishonest in some kind of way, is really a slap in the face. Because we do this all the time. This is what we do."
Holden encourages anyone interested to call the Election Commission at 545-4125 or go to for more information. "I would challenge the voter," Holden said, "that if you walk in to vote and you don't like what's being done on the other side of the table, then change sides, become an election official and solve the problem."
I'll not name the Memphis political insider who linked to this Washington Post article on Facebook with the leadline, "Other black mayors grapple with forces that led to Fenty's downfall." The article focuses on how and why Washington mayor Adrian Fenty went from popular, tough reform-focused African-American mayor to losing primarily because of his unpopularity with black voters. It also mentions Newark mayor Cory Booker and Detroit mayor Dave Bing and the similar challenges they face. A quote from Cornell Belcher, a black pollster who was an advisor to President Obama's campaign in 2008 (and did some work for Nikki Tinker's campaign), gets at the article's core thesis:

"Ethnic politics is still very much alive and well in big-city politics. Can you bridge the ethnic politics, or at least not trigger them in a negative way? Yes. But you have to be strategically cognitive of it. You can't pretend that race doesn't matter, because we are somehow post-racial."
I bring this up because it was hard not to miss the Facebook post's implied "hmmm" aimed at Memphis, which will decide next year whether to re-elect A C Wharton as mayor. That's one of the challenges that landed in Wharton's lap when he was the overwhelming choice in last year's special election to complete the unfinished term of former mayor Willie Herenton -- he only gets two years to prove he is worthy of another four years. Given his popularity and fundraising prowess, it's hard to see anyone giving Wharton much of a challenge, although delusions of election grandeur are deeply embedded in Memphis politicians of all races, genders and parties.

The general gist of the Post article and of an interview that ran this morning on NPR was that black mayors risk alienating the black voter base when they embrace reforms so popular with white (and black) urban policy experts. You could feel that tension recently when Wharton explained to a mostly-white crowd of bicycle-transportation activists that he has been chewed out by people irritated at his decision to staff City Hall with someone focused on bike and pedestrian issues. The city is of course spending a lot of money on other so-called "stuff white people like" -- a skatepark in Tobey Park, the almost-completed Wolf River Greenway in east East Memphis -- and the challenge for Wharton is explaining to anyone questioning the project is explaining how those are amenities for everyone and that, yes, retaining affluent white families will be key to sustaining the tax base needed to help less fortunate individuals and families.

Anyway, another link to The Post article is here, and click here for NPR's conversation this morning. One final quote from The Post article:

The new generation is what Bruce Katz, director of the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program, describes as "uber-pragmatists"-forging alliances with corporate interests and prosperous suburbs, encouraging gentrification, hiring outsiders to fill key jobs, inviting in private foundations that see the inner cities as testing grounds for their ideas.

Philip Thompson, a professor of urban studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, calls them "technocrats," who view most problems in terms of management and resources, rather than culture or politics. 
  • About

As the process for merging Shelby County's schools accelerates into action, we'll provide bonus coverage here at, with a particular focus on the 21-member transition team and the 23-member unified school board. Comment early and often. If you have any tips or suggestions you wish to share, contact Zack McMillin at or 529-2564.

  • Zack McMillin on Twitter