April 2010 Archives

Profiles in Courage?



NASHVILLE -Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the five votes in the state Senate today against a new 3½ percent state assessment on hospitals - proposed and lobbied by the Tennessee Hospital Association itself as a means to leverage federal money and avoid $659 million in "devastating" TennCare cuts - included the Senate speaker who's running for governor, two senators running for Congress, and two facing potentially tough re-election challenges this year.

The "hospital coverage fee" won Senate approval on a 25-5 vote and now goes to the House of Representatives for debate Monday. The one-year assessment - 3½ percent on hospitals' patient revenues but which by law cannot be passed on to patients - is deemed essential by Tennessee's hospital industry to avoid $659 million in cuts to health care providers July 1. The fee would generate about $230 million that the state could use to draw down about $430 million in federal Medicaid money.

Hospitals large and small are in favor of the bill. Gov. Phil Bredesen said Wednesday the Regional Medical Center at Memphis cannot survive if the fee isn't passed. The bill has bipartisan sponsors in both the chambers. The lead Senate sponsor, Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, said it would attract federal Medicaid dollars at a better than 2-to-1 match. Tennessee would become the 27th state to use a hospital assessment for that purpose, and 12 states are considering similar legislation this year.

The Senate's "no" votes were:
* Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, who is running for governor.
* Sens. Diane Black, and Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, who are both running for the 6th congressional district seat.
* Sens. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, and Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, who are both facing tough re-election battles.
 (Sens. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro and Jamie Woodson of Knoxville did not vote.)

The most striking "no" vote was Ramsey's, in light of his heightened position of responsibility AND his previous remarks about the proposal.

This is what he told reporters last month days after the THA asked the legislature to approve the fee in lieu of deep cuts in TennCare reimbursements to hospitals and other health care providers planned by the governor:

Ramsey: "They (the THA) presented it to the Republican leadership and I think we can see the need for that. There's nothing been put on paper by the Hospital Association so I'm reluctant to comment until we actually have a bill in front of us. But I understand that if these cuts go into affect that the governor has proposed, then it would be devastating to hospitals. And I understand that."
Reporter: "So you're open to that?"
Ramsey: "Um huh."
Reporter: "And it would not be viewed as a tax increase?"
Ramsey: "No because it's not a tax increase. It truly isn't. There are a couple of things that I wanted to make sure of if that happened: Number one, that this is a voluntary assessment by the hospitals -- that they agree to it  -- and they did; they're coming to us with this plan. And the fact that this would not be passed on to patient bills, but would actually be eaten by the hospitals. They'd rather absorb a 3 percent cut instead of a 25 percent cut. And the last and maybe the most important to me right now is that this would not increase the federal deficit. Keep in mind the money has already been appropriated for the state of Tennessee in Washington DC. If we go through with these cuts, that money already appropriated to the state of Tennessee would stay in Washington, so this is really just figuring out a way of getting the money that's already been appropriated to us for our TennCare program."
This was what Ramsey had to say after the Senate vote today:
Reporter: "Did you vote against the hospital fee?"
Ramsey: "I did vote against that."
Reporter: "I thought you were okay with that. What happened?"
Ramsey: "I just don't think the timing was right for me to vote on that right now. And I'm not going to criticize others who did because I understand that within their specific districts, that that was a vote they needed to make."
Reporter: "What do you mean by 'the timing not being right'?"
Ramsey: (jokingly) "It came up at 11:30 and I wanted to wait 'till 11:35."
Reporter: "But as speaker you could have probably prevented that bill from coming to the floor, could you not?"
Ramsey: "There's a possibility."
Reporter: "Is it a coincidence that two others who voted against it are running for Congress?"
Ramsey: "Ask them."
Reporter: "Seriously, you've talked about how this is an important issue, that the hospitals could find this money to avoid drastic cuts. Is the political price so high to vote for this that it's not worth doing?"
Ramsey: "The timing wasn't right for me to do it right now, that's all I'll say."

Harvey for mayor? Not so fast, says commish rival

Today we previewed the Democratic primary for the District 3, Position 1 county commission seat, between incumbent James Harvey and longtime Memphis City Schools principal James Catchings. Harvey has made it well known that he's interested in one day running for city mayor, but Catchings is saying it won't matter because he plans to defeat Harvey in this race. Harvey also said he believes that Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and his allies are supporting Catchings.

Over the summer, Harvey got some attention for meeting with Wharton before announcing he would not run for Memphis mayor. He's clearly got his hands full with Catchings, who barely lost a 2007 City Council race against Edmund Ford Jr.

Wendi Thomas vs. Joe Ford

Wendi Thomas did say a few nice things about Joe Ford in her column today, but let's just say the Ford campaign will not be excerpting much from her take on the Democratic county mayoral primary (but the Deidre Malone campaign certainly will). The headline: 'Let's just say Joe Ford is as good as his word.' The interim mayor is hoping to win what is known in the political business as "earned media" when he holds a press conference this afternoon to focus on the results from the task forces he created as soon as the county commissioners appointed him mayor in December.

Also of note in the county mayor's race is Daniel Connolly's story today on how the budget Ford's administration recommended -- with raises, increased services and no tax increases -- obscures a greater long-term financial situation that would likely lead to a deficit as early as next year.

And from Nashville comes word from Gov. Bredesen that The Med which Ford insists he "saved" in fact will likely not make it if the Republican-controlled legislature does not approve of the bed-tax plan that Tennessee's private hospitals are begging it to implement. And Bredesen, too, hinted that The Med must find ways to attract non-indigent patients, something that county commission candidate Dr. Albert Maduska is emphasizing in his campaign. Maduska told us that he believes The Med could flourish as a hybrid facility with public and private patients if a smaller, modern, more efficient hospital can be approved.

Wharton budgets online


You can now examine every inch of Mayor A C Wharton's proposed operating budget online.

The city posted the 300-plus-page document online Wednesday afternoon.
Wharton presented a $626 million operating budget, up from the current $601 million, to City Council members Tuesday.

As compared to his predecessor, former mayor Willie Herenton, Wharton's presentation was swift and offered few major insights to council members, who will begin detailed hearings on the proposed budget next week.

One key to the budget: immediately refinancing up to $168 million in outstanding general obligation bonds, which Wharton says would free-up around $41 million for the year that begins July 1 to help fund around $50 million the city will give to Memphis City Schools. The refinancing would cost the city nearly $18 million over a series of years.

Because the refinancing would cost the city millions in the out years, and because the "shape, size and density" of the city has changed dramatically over the last decade, Wharton is launching an effort that would reduce the size and scope of city government.

Meeting with a reporter Monday before unveiling the budget, Wharton essentially said council members can't have the budget presented Tuesday, which does not call for a tax increase, without approving changes he will recommend in the coming year to restructure city government.

Wharton will appoint a committee of business and civic leaders to conduct a complete review of city government, including services, benefits and assets.

Wharton will also create a Office of Strategic and Financial Planning, a key recommendation from a $700,000 efficiency study of city government conducted by Deloitte Consulting LLP in 2006.

The efficiency study said that long-term financial planning was absent in the Herenton administration and the lack of vision and planning has severe negative impacts on the city.

Deficiencies in the budget process may lead to funding of programs "that do not demonstrate good performance, " the study said.

The study also said that the budgeting process was out of step with "most major municipalities" and that it needs to be linked closely with important strategic planning initiatives.

Another thing council members will be looking for are increases in fees.

"I believe that citizens should, whenever possible, have to pay for the amount of government they use," says Wharton in the budget book. "Finding a more fair and equitable way to gather this revenue, which may include instituting or increasing some service fees instead of raising taxes, is a critical part of my plan."

The administration asked Tuesday for sizable increases in solid waste and sewer fees, and more increases in other areas of city government are likely.

Council members are currently examining Wharton's proposed $79.5 million Capital Improvement Program budget, which funds major construction projects across the city.

The CIP budget includes funds for improving Elvis Presley Boulevard - where Elvis Presley Enterprises intends to invest heavily in Graceland - continuing the transformation of the city's public housing stock, redeveloping a portion of the Mid-South Fairgrounds and installing more Skycop systems, which allows the Memphis Police Department to monitor locations remotely.

On Wednesday, the council's CIP committee, chaired by councilman Shea Flinn, approved the CIP budgets of the Public Services, Engineering, Public Works and Community Enhancement Divisions.

Wharton in Washington, D.C. to talk predatory lending


Memphis Mayor A C Wharton will testify today during a hearing held by the U. S. Congressional Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

The 1:00 p.m. meeting in the nation's capital is set to discuss predatory lending.

Wharton's invitation comes in connection with his role as mayor of Memphis and formerly Shelby County and the stake both local governments have in a lawsuit against Wells Fargo.

Rep. Steve Cohen serves as a member of this subcommittee.

"The discriminatory acts that once kept African-Americans from renting or owning homes in certain neighborhoods is hardly different from blatant actions from financial institutions that singled out African-Americans with noxious agreements that were rotten to the core," said Wharton. "Simply put, predatory lending is to this generation what 'no lending' to Blacks and Latinos was to a generation before."

In December 2009, attorneys representing Memphis and Shelby County filed jointly a federal lawsuit against Wells Fargo under the Fair Housing Act. The initial filing alleges unlawful, irresponsible, unfair, deceptive and discriminatory mortgage lending.

Earlier this month, the city and county filed an amended complaint to the previously filed suit, highlighting the testimony of Wells Fargo employees who worked in Memphis and described how the company targeted African Americans for predatory and deceptive loans.

City and Bass Pro officals meeting today


City Housing and Community development director Robert Lipscomb is in Springfield, Mo., to continue negotiating lease terms for Bass Pro Shops planned redevelopment of The Pyramid.

While Lipscomb doesn't expect a lease to be signed today, both sides are continuing to make progress, he said.

"We're closer than we've ever been," said Lipscomb by phone this morning.

Bass Pro and city officials are considering an initial 20-year lease on the building, with seven renewal periods of five years each. The Springfield, Mo.-based retailer plans to turn the unused Pyramid into a $100 million regional center with retail shops, restaurants, offices and a Mississippi River exhibit.

Bass Pro and Memphis officials have been in negotiations since late 2005.

In February 2009, the city signed an agreement giving the company until Dec. 31, 2009, to finish planning and gathering the necessary permits before signing a long-term lease.

In December, the City Council agreed to extend the agreement until March 31.
Bass Pro has been paying the city $35,000 a month since signing the 2009 agreement and had committed to paying a $500,000 penalty if it pulled out of the deal.

The state Building Commission recently gave tentative approval to the city's request to allow state sales tax revenue collected in a Downtown "Tourist Development Zone" to help pay for refitting The Pyramid.

The TDZ allocates increased collections of tax revenue from businesses within the zone to specific public-use facilities, such as the Memphis Cook Convention Center and The Pyramid.

The scope of the project has expanded, with Memphis-based Poag & McEwen Lifestyle Centers talking with the city and Bass Pro about redeveloping a portion of the nearby Pinch District.

Former GOP senate leader praises health reform law

Speaking of health-insurance reform, those who accuse Republicans of obstinately opposing President Obama for spite should take note of former Tennessee senator and Republican majority leader Dr. Bill Frist, who continues to praise the Affordable Care Act. From an article at MedPage:

On Monday afternoon he said he would give an "A" grade to the provisions in the law aimed at expanding insurance to an additional 32 million people. Cost, however, is another matter. While most Republicans would likely slap a failing grade on the cost aspect of the law, Frist said he'd rank it a "C." "I like the bill," Frist said during a panel discussion with former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle at the American Hospital Association's (AHA's) annual meeting. "I think it's got lots of positive stuff in it, other than the costs."


The high point for Frist: The healthcare summit hosted by President Obama during which Democrats and Republicans spent a day debating reform until glaring ideological difference made it clear that using the reconciliation process was the only way the Democrats could advance their bill. Frist lauded Obama for his "persuasive charisma" and "command of the subject." "You have a president there who got his hands dirty, but still looked presidential," Frist said.
Per yesterday's post on whether immigration reform might create a split in the Republican party, prominent members of the GOP in Florida are signaling support for immigration reform, former governor Jeb Bush prominent among them. According to this post from Dave Weigel of the Washington Post, whose beat is right-wing politics, Bush will appear Thursday at a rally pushing for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. Bush and Florida gubernatorial candidate Marco Rubio, the newest conservative star, have also both blasted the controversial new Arizona immigration law.

We bring all this up because it is appearing that by the summer, when Tennessee's Republican gubernatorial candidates are going into the final stretch, immigration reform could well have replaced health-insurance reform as the dominant national political issue. There is a reason why they say one day in politics is like a year. Immigration has been very low on the totem pole in the looooong Republican gubernatorial primary, but Bill Haslam, Zach Wamp and Ron Ramsey might want to start testing out their messages and preparing to defend their record on it (Wamp, who as Congressman has consistently voted to restrict immigration, will provide the most fodder).
Want yet more evidence the tea-party groups are having an impact on politics, intended or unintended? Many national political observers believe that Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader in the Senate, has decided to emphasize immigration reform because of a widespread belief that it could torment the Republican Party. The idea is that it will pit tea-party groups against established business and industry eager for immigration reform that may include some path to citizenship. A less cynical motivation is that Democrats want to reward many of the Hispanic voters who fled the Republican party in 2006 and 2008 and are strong proponents of immigration reform -- including a path to citizenship.

We've had a few interesting looks recently at tea-party groups locally, including those in Tennessee with a strong Memphis connection and those in Mississippi.

Voters still snubbing $1 million county primaries

Only three more days remain in early voting for the May 4 Shelby County primaries, and, believe us, there are plenty of touch-screen voting machines just begging for use. Looking at early-voting numbers, we find that some of the 21 early-voting locations are averaging about five voters per hour. For $1 million, county taxpayers are footing the bill for local parties to choose their nominees for county offices through primaries that, it appears, 10 percent or fewer registered voters will bother to participate in. If projections hold, the article points out, the four May Shelby County primaries held since 1998 will have averaged about 66,000 voters, well short of the more than 162,000 voters the county has averaged for August mid-presidential-term elections going back to 1982.

At The Commercial Appeal, we have chosen to focus on those contested County Commission races where the winner next Tuesday effectively wins the seat (barring unexpected write-in challenges).  So, go read about it or check out the numbers yourself at this Shelby County Election Commission link to early-voting data.

Some other stories we've run recently:

County Commissioners Wyatt Bunker and Mike Carpenter, both Republicans, do not like each other much these days, and don't mind airing their grievances. Bunker is doing something very rare in politics, actively campaigning against a colleague in his own party. Carpenter alleges he is motivated by spite more than anything else.

The most recent previews we ran were of county commission races for District 3, Position 3 between appointed incumbent Edith Ann Moore and Justin Ford, for District 4, Position 2 between incumbent Wyatt Bunker, Memphis Police Department veteran Ron Fittes and retired CPA John Wilkerson, for District 4, Position 1 between Jim Bomprezzi, John Pellicciotti (appointed incumbent) and Chris Thomas.
Ever notice how when the Memphis mayor proposes a balanced budget that manages finances in a whole new manner, it doesn't get the comments and pageviews generated when a Memphis mayor calls an otherwise meaningless press conference to do verbal combate with his critics? The CA's Amos Maki at City Hall has the preview of the budget Memphis Mayor A C Wharton will unveil and we will have up-to-date details all day at commercialappeal.com on city and county budgets. This kind of thing is much more important and has a much larger impact on the future of this entire region than the trifling dramas that too often fuel political discussions.

We'll have a fuller report in tomorrow's newspaper on early voting in the May 4 Shelby County primaries, but the easy interpretation comes down to this -- folks who say spending $1 million on a partisan county primary appear likely to have even more ammunition by the time this election is finished. After 10 full days of early voting -- including a full six days at satellite locations last week -- a grand total of 12,739 ballots had been cast, or 2.1 percent of the county's 598,127 voters. Early voting throughout the county continues today through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

If trends continue and about 2,100 people per day cast early votes in the final four days of early voting, about 21,000 people will vote early. Recent elections in the county are showing a solid trend of more than 50 percent of votes coming in early-voting, but even if you double the early vote, that's merely 42,000 votes. Be generous and say 60 percent of votes will be cast on Tuesday, and that's still only 52,000 votes. Be stingy and say early voting will represent 55 percent of the vote, and you get 38,000 votes -- even worse than the horrible 1998 turnout of 40,720 voters, or 7.5 percent.

And this is in a year when there are contested elections at the top of the ballot among Democrats and Republicans for sheriff and Democrats for mayor. Republicans appear to be doing better than expected, with 42.8 percent of voters in a county where Republican John McCain got only 35 percent of the vote. Also of note -- women only constitute 55 percent of the vote (7,012 women have voted vs. 5,726 men), significantly below the traditional 60-plus percent of the vote women often comprise in Shelby County elections. And so far, more registered white voters have made it to the polls (5,049, or 39.6 percent) than black registered voters (4,983 voters, or 39.1 percent), with 2,707 voters either not disclosing race or in the "other" race category.

Alexander defends the filibuster, citing Johnson


WASHINGTON -- Speaking in the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration on the history of the filibuster earlier today, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., argued against making any radical changes.

The filibuster is the right of any senator to hold the floor for an unlimited period. You might recall the scene in Frank Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

"The only thing different about the Senate is the almost absolute right to unlimited debate and unlimited amendments," Alexander said. "If you get rid of that, you get rid of the Senate."

Its advantage is illustrated by history, Alexander said. He noted that President Lyndon Johnson called the Republican leader in the Senate, Everett Dirksen, every day at 5 p.m.

"Now why did he do that? The civil rights bills provide an answer to that. I think it's because the president needed not only to get the bills passed, but, in 1964 and 1968, he needed to get the country to accept them. And we've seen with the health care debate that as soon as it's passed by a bare majority, suddenly, all over the country there is a campaign to repeal it. President Johnson, I think, wanted to avoid that."

Wamp joins Haslam and Ramsey in the gubernatorial campaign's air war


NASHVILLE - U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp went up statewide with his gubernatorial campaign's first TV ad today -- the last of three GOP candidates to do so.

The 30-second spot shows Wamp, shirtsleeves rolled up and tie slightly loosened, standing and talking against a backdrop of the construction of the new Volkswagen auto plant in Chattanooga that he helped recruit. It emphasizes the candidate's focus on creating "production jobs.

"There used to be an old military site here but I helped close it to pave the way for manufacturing," he says. "Now it's Volkswagen's new auto plant. Thousands of new jobs and growing small businesses. All part of the Tennessee Valley Technology Corridor we built in East Tennessee. My '20/20 Vision' is a blueprint to create production jobs like these all over our state. As your jobs governor, I'll be focused on your future. Together we'll build the most dynamic economy in America."
The ad's reference to the site as an old military site refers to the Chattanooga property's former usage as a sprawling munitions plant that was closed down before the federal government gave the site to Chattanooga for redevelopment as one of TVA's certified "megasites" for industrial development. After a competition with dozens of other states and extensive negotiations that resulted in $577 million in federal, state and local tax incentives, Tennessee landed the $1 billion VW plant in 2008, and its scheduled to start production early next year, creating about 2,000 jobs.

The Tennessee Valley Technology Corridor is an alliance of community, business, education and government leaders that promotes technology-based economic development in a corridor extending from Huntsville, Ala., through East Tennessee and into southeastern Kentucky and southwestern Virginia. Wamp was one of its creators in 1995, a year after he was first elected to Congress.

And the "20/20 Vision" is the candidate's campaign manifesto for jobs, education, health care and safe communities. It's available on his website at www.ZachWamp.com

In a press release today, Wamp takes a jab at both of his GOP opponents - Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville. "One of my opponents has a red umbrella, one has a boot, but I am the candidate with a detailed plan to make Tennessee an even better state and create the most dynamic economy in America," he said - references to the red umbrellas in the first of Haslam's three TV spots and the black boots that Ramsey promises in his only TV spot thus far to use to give Washington the boot.

Wamp's opponents gleefully point out that nowhere in the ad -- neither in its graphics nor in his narration -- does the candidate identify himself as a congressman.

Dr. Benjamin Hooks, Republican governor?

I spent the previous two days focused on coverage of the "homegoings" for Rev. Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks, and it was a privilege and an honor to get the assignment. With all the leaders paying their respects to Dr. Hooks, there was also a fair amount of access to political figures.

At the funeral on Wednesday, at Temple of Deliverance Church of God in Christ, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told a story about how someone once suggested to Dr. Hooks he would make a great member of a gubernatorial cabinet. Cabinet? Dr. Hooks said. No, think bigger.

Alexander recalled that Dr. Hooks told him: "I was going to be the first African-American Republican governor of Tennessee. I was going to carry Memphis big and get all those Republican votes in East Tennessee."

At the visitation on Tuesday, at the Greater Middle Baptist Church that Dr. Hooks pastored for 52 years, it seemed somehow appropriate that early voting for the May 4 Shelby County primaries was occurring simultaneously, over in the church gym. There were the usual political signs sprouting like weeds along the drive leading to the church, and many people who paid respects to Dr. Hooks availed themselves of the opportunity to cast votes.

The Shelby County Election Commission's early-voting totals show that Greater Middle had nearly twice as many votes on Tuesday (181) than they had on Monday (97), despite the fact that the opening day is usually one of the highest-volume days. On Wednesday, Greater Middle only had 64 people cast ballots. So far, only 7,790 people have cast ballots in the primaries, putting us on pace for a potentially record-low turnout.

Barbour named "worst" governor


WASHINGTON -- The government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has turned its attention to the states in its "Worst Governors" report released Wednesday and names Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour the worst of all.

The CREW report lists campaign finance irregularities, his decision to turn down federal stimulus funding to expand unemployment coverage, and enriching himself and his family in placing Barbour, a two-term Republican, at the top of its list of 11.

Nine of the 11 are Republicans.

Barbour's press secretary Dan Turner said he would "seriously doubt" Barbour would address the report. Turner himself said: "Anybody can make up a list. You know, all it takes to make up a list is a little bit of imagination...

"If they want to put out lists, that's their constitutional right. Unfortunately some people abuse their rights."

CREW has been involved in a number of high-profile lawsuits to gain access to public information, such as the log books of official visitors to the White House, and has complained of unethical behavior by members of Congress.

Cohen hires campaign manager


WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., has hired Craig B. Kirby, a Clinton administration advance man and former deputy campaign manager for John Edwards' presidential campaign, as his new campaign manager.

More recently, Kirby served as deputy campaign manager for the successful Mark Warner for U.S. Senate campaign in Virginia. He has worked for the Democratic National Committee in several capacities and helped former Vermont governor and presidential candidate Howard Dean become chairman of the DNC, according to a four-page resume.

From July 2002 to June 2003, Kirby served as the Southern regional political director for the DNC and, before that, was deputy director of the Get Out the Vote effort for the Gore-Lieberman 2000 race.

He has also held jobs in government, including stints at the Emergency Management Agency for the city of Washington and as director of the intergovernmental affairs division of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

He lives in Northwest Washington, D.C.

Rufus Washington spoke here


Rufus Washington, chairman of the Metropolitan Government Charter Commission's public safety task force, can add some pretty entertaining statements to the group's meetings.

Several weeks ago, during one of his presentations from the task force, he was referring to fellow member Richard Hodges, the mayor of Millington, and how he learned to appreciate Hodges' approach.

"You're as country as a sack of cotton," Washington said with a nod to the mayor, "but you're a good ol' boy."

When he finally finished his presentation and the resulting debate that stretched well past an hour, Julie Ellis, the commission chairwoman,  congratulated him on getting all but the sheriff's debate endorsed by the full consolidation commission.

"It doesn't matter," Washington said in a deadpan voice, "I was retiring anyway."

Trace Adkins and John Rich for Blackburn


WASHINGTON -- Country singer Trace Adkins, whose first No. 1 single was the memorable "(This Ain't) No Thinkin' Thing," will appear at a Marsha Blackburn re-election event in August, her campaign announced earlier today.

Adkins last week won the "Vocal Event of the Year" with Blake Shelton at the Academy of Country Music awards ceremony in Las Vegas. He also appears on NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice" with Donald Trump, according to his web site.

The Aug. 24 event follows a private concert the day before with John Rich and Friends. The Blackburn campaign E-Newsletter said details will follow.

Cancellation by eruption


A local appearance by former Indianapolis mayor Stephen Goldsmith was canceled earlier this week because of an event halfway around the world.

Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor who is advising Rebuild Government on the benefits of a revamped government, was one of the thousands of travelers grounded by the volcanic ash from an Icelandic eruption.

He was stranded in London when he was supposed to speak Monday at the Holiday Inn at the University of Memphis. Rebuild Government was hosting the event, which also included Goldsmith signing books he's written about  government.

Rebuild Government is a group of citizens and civic leaders promoting small group conversations regarding consolidation. They are forwarding that information to the Metropolitan Government Charter Commission, which is drafting the charter to merge Memphis and Shelby County governments that voters will consider Nov. 2.

Goldsmith already has penned one report on law enforcement, and articles on several other topics are expected.

Tuesday's Morning Fix: Who likes county primaries?

On Monday, a grand total of -- drum roll, please! -- just more than 2,100 people cared enough about casting ballots in the May 4 Shelby County primaries to seek out early-voting locations throughout the county, on the first day the process expanded to early-voting locations. Counting absentee and other ballots, 2,373 votes were cast Monday, pushing the early-voting  total to 3,503  (there were four days of early voting at the Shelby County Election Commission's office downtown at 157 Poplar, Suite 121).

The first day of satellite voting is usually one of the stronger days, so that is not exactly a great indicator for turnout. If an average of 2,000 people show up over each of the next 10 days of early voting and if early-voting comprises about half of the total turnout, we would be looking at less than 10 percent turnout for the primaries -- an anemic showing for an election in which 10 of 13 Shelby County Commission positions will be determined.

We wrote Monday about critics questioning why taxpayers are spending $1 million on that county primary. Our editorial page read the story and joined the chorus, calling for elimination of the primary.

A Tuesday link-o-rama is below:

In a County Commission District 4 race, it's a battle of the 'burbs  going north (Terry Roland) vs. south (George Chism). In District 1, Republican incumbent Mike Carpenter and his surprise, last-minute challenger Joe Baier are talking a lot about Democrats.

From Nashville, The CA's Richard Locker tells us that the Tennessee attorney general indicates the state would defend the dual-majority referenda required for metro city-county merger, despite a challenge from local civil-rights lawyers D'Army Bailey and Steve Mulroy that it violates the one-person, one-vote rule. Rick also reports the state pushed forward plans for Bass Pro to take over The Pyramid with initial OK of sales-tax plan. On Sunday, Rick detailed the cases that will be presented in the Knoxville trial of David Kernell, the son local state representative Mike Kernell, for allegedly hacking into Sarah Palin's e-mail account.

In the suburbs, locals are beginning to grapple with the increasing costs of maintaining or expanding infrastructure as more people move into town. Collierville hopes to avoid raising taxes, and DeSoto County is grappling with jail plans.

Amos Maki updated us Monday on the city continuing to pursue a lawsuit against the company that operates Beale Street.

Those traffic cameras sprouting at intersections? A Knoxville state senator wants to eliminate all of them, despite local officials loving both the revenue and the improved public safety. From the story, testimony from Knoxville showing millions of dollars in new revenue and strong evidence of safer streets:

Knoxville Police Department Capt. Gordon Catlett told The Knoxville News Sentinel the total percentage of crashes at the intersections with the cameras last year was down by 10 percent over 2008, and front impact or side impact collisions declined by 30 percent. Catlett said the fact that collections are going down shows there are less citations being issued because more drivers are stopping at red lights where the cameras are located. "It's made our streets safer," he said. "Public safety has really benefited. We picked the worst intersections based on crash data."

Marsha Blackburn, Democrat?


WASHINGTON -- If at first you don't succeed...

Back in February, the Herenton for Congress web site made its debut with a page showing 11 white members of Tennessee's congressional delegation and asking "What's wrong with this picture?"

What was wrong with it was that the picture for U.S. Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., wasn't Duncan but was U.S. Rep. John Shadegg, an Arizona Republican. The page also listed the Members of Congress as "State Representatives."

Now, Herenton's web site has another illustration under the heading, "This picture looks better." It shows Herenton representing the 9th District currently held by Steve Cohen.

But there's yet another error. U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., is listed as a Democrat.

Voting expands today to satellite voting locations

For those wanting to cast a vote in the early-voting for the May 4 Shelby County primaries, early-voting begins today at sites throughout the county. They are listed at the bottom of the story we ran today questioning the need for county primaries. See below for the same list.

Locations, dates and times are listed below:

Shelby County Election Commission, 157 Poplar, Suite 121
Weekdays: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Satellite Sites
Weekdays: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Agricenter (Rotunda Hallway), 7777 Walnut Grove

Anointed Temple Of Praise (Youth Room), 3939 Riverdale

Baker Community Center, 7942 Church

Bellevue Baptist Church, 2000 Appling Road

Berclair Church of Christ, 4536 Summer

Bethel Church, 5586 Stage Road

Bishop Byrne High School, 1475 E. Shelby Dr.

Bridge at Lakeland, suite 106, 3570 Canada Road

Collierville Church of Christ, 575 West Shelton Road

Dave Wells Community Center, 915 Chelsea

Glenview Community Center, 1141 S. Barksdale

Greater Middle Baptist Church (Fellowship Hall), 4982 Knight Arnold

Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church-Family Life Center, 70 N. Bellevue

Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church (Fellowship Hall), 3045 Chelsea

New Bethel Baptist Church-Family Life Center, 7786 Poplar Pike

Pyramid Recovery Center, 1833 S. Third

Raleigh United Methodist Church, 3295 Powers Road

Riverside Baptist Church, 3560 S. Third

Shiloh Baptist Church, 3121 Range Line Road

White Station Church of Christ, 1106 Colonial Road

Are expensive low-turnout county primaries worth holding?

In county government, there is no more important entity than the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, aka Shelby County Commission. Those commissioners hold much greater power than Memphis's city council, for example, because the county mayor actually can do very little without the Commission's approval. County government is considered what is known as a "weak mayor" form of government, which is to say it is a strong legislative form of government.

And yet, Shelby County elects almost all of its commissioners in a county primary that features abysmal turnout, costs the county about $1 million and encourages candidates to ignore independents, moderates in their own party and voters in the opposition party. After this year's May 4 county primaries, 12 of the 13 commission seats will have been decided -- only the District 5 seat will have a Democrat and a Republican on the Aug. 5 general-election ballot.

We ran a story today focusing mostly on those who believe the county primary discourages rather than encourages the democratic process. From the story:

Those who argue against the primaries point to the abysmal turnouts that in many cases allow commissioners to be elected by less than 1 percent of the county's registered voters. In 2006, for instance, James Harvey got onto the commission with 4,724 votes in the District 3, Position 1 primary and Wyatt Bunker was awarded his seat on the strength of 3,923 voters in the District 4, Position 2 primary. Winning seats in some of the state's smallest counties can require more votes than it takes to gain power in Shelby County.

What do you think? Should Shelby County Democrats and Republicans agree to end partisan primaries? Do you see any benefits to holding them, rather than just having a county general election in August?

Herenton launches new campaign Web site


Former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton launched a new campaign Web site today in his effort to unseat two-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., in the Dist. 9 Democratic primary Aug. 5.

Some critics questioned the seriousness of Herenton's campaign after his kickoff in February because he had raised no money and included little more than a photo and bio on his Web site. Notably, the new site features a way for supporters to make campaign contributions online.

"During the next 45 days we will commence an intensive fundraising effort to reach our campaign goal," Herenton said, declining to discuss a specific target. "It is interesting to note that in the last couple of weeks we have received greater interest on the part of some of our business and civic leaders to donate to our campaign."

This week Herenton filed a financial disclosure with the Federal Election Commission, which showed he has $5,400 in cash on hand. In the coming weeks, Herenton said, his campaign will have a series of fundraising events in Memphis and in other cities across the country.

"We acknowledge that we will never outspend the opposition in this campaign," he said. "That was never our intent. Nor do we need the significant amount of resources that he has amassed, no. We're going to target our grassroots campaign, which does not require a million dollars."

Luttrell fundraising blows away Dems

As the Shelby County Election Commission posts copies of what it calls "Campaign Financial Disclosure Statements" onto its Web site, we'll give updates on what we find.

Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell's filing shows why many believe the Republican is the front-runner in the county mayoral race, despite Shelby County now being very solidly majority Democratic.

Luttrell's haul blows away the three main Democratic candidates -- $81,550 raised for the period Jan. 16 to March 31, with about $80,000 coming from 112 contributors. That pushes Luttrell's balance on hand to $144,995.62, well more than the best-funded County  Commissioner Deidre Malone, the best-funded Democrat with $8,094.42 on hand as of April 1. That said, it is worth recalling that A C Wharton crushed millionaire radiologist George Flinn at the polls in 2002 despite being outspent by more than 2-to-1.

Among those listed contributing to Luttrell are some prominent and influential names: George Cates, Jayne Creson, top FedEx executive Alan Graf Jr.and Susan Graf, Memphis Orpheum president Pat Halloran II, Knoxville mayor and gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam, Pitt Hyde of AutoZone, Pathmark Transportation CEO Wesley Kraker, former U.S. Attorney David Kustoff, Youth Villages CEO Patrick Lawler, Loeb Properties president Robert Loeb, Saks Incorporated chairman and CEO Brad Martin (and Dina Martin and Rawleigh Martin at the same address for a total of $4,000), McClerkin Motors owner Jesse McClerkin, Allen Morgan Jr. of MorganKeegan, Bayard and Paul Boyle of Boyle Investments.

New day at City Hall?


Something interesting happened at the City Council Tuesday.

The council showed that it could "walk and chew gum at the same time," in councilman Joe Brown's words, when it voted to approve two measures that could restrict aggressive panhandling and help the legitimately homeless.

Instead of taking an either-or approach - approving one law and rejecting the other - the council approved both measures, acknowledging that merging the two proposals would provide a more holistic approach to curbing aggressive panhandling.

"I thought the council recognized that we had to do something about the panhandling and the impact it has on our tourism and quality of life for downtown residents," said council chairman Harold Collins. "But also, we recognize that there are people who by no fault of their own are suffering and need a helping hand, which in some cases is what government should do, assist its people."

The council approved an amended ordinance Tuesday that restricts passive begging Downtown and limits panhandling anywhere in the city.

The measure was sponsored by the Center City Commission in response to mounting complaints that panhandling was hurting Downtown's quality of life and threatening businesses and tourism.

Social justice advocates strongly opposed the amended ordinance and created their own plan, which focuses on access to mental-health resources, substance-abuse rehabilitation and housing opportunities for nonviolent or occasional offenders. The resolution called for strict and consistent prosecution of violent or repeat offenders.

Brown liked the proposal so much that he created legislation based on it, which the council also approved.

The votes were notable because both measures gained overwhelming support and weren't split along racial lines. Over the last two years a divided council has produced many 7-6 or 8-5 votes breaking along racial lines, but that didn't happen Tuesday.

The amended panhandling ordinance was approved 8-2-2, with council members Shea Flinn and Janis Fullilove voting against it and Wanda Halbert and Joe Brown abstaining. Councilman Bill Boyd was absent due to the birth of a grandchild.

Brown's resolution based off the Peace and Justice Center plan was approved 12-0.

"How often do you get me and Joe Brown on the same side of the issue?" said Flinn. "No one injected race and we just discussed the merits of the solutions. We're too often described as having a black-white color line and on this issue it didn't exist. It was one of those moments where government worked. "

Actual Mississippi secessionists disagree

The growing kerfuffle on the issue of some southern Republican state governors proclaiming April as a month to celebrate and honor the Confederacy inevitably leads down a rabbit hole of arguments over actual causes of the Civil War (or, to read our 300-something comments on this article, "War Between the States" or even "War of Northern Aggression"), motives, etc. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is taking flak, including a blistering editorial by our opinion writers in today's CA, for saying the fuss doesn't amount to "diddly" and for not making sure his state's own Confederacy proclamation included unequivocal acknowledgment of the evils of slavery. The AP article quotes an official with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Rev. Cecil Fayard, claiming that the "primary cause" of the "War Between the States" , in his opinion, "was not slavery."

That view -- that slavery was not THE cause of the Civil War, is interesting point of view to take, given the existence of this document, "A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union." In it, the actual Mississippi secessionists of 1861 seem to disagree strongly with Rev. Fayard's worldview. Reason No. 1 for secession: "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery -- the greatest material interest of the world."  It goes on: "Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin."

While pondering whether the Republican party is helping its cause or hurting it with the Confederacy proclamations (and Haley Barbour, oft-mentioned as a possible presidential candidate), you can read the whole document here.
Voters care to varying degrees about campaign finance, but the disclosures for the Jan. 16 through March 31 period due to the Shelby County Election Commission on Monday do provide some insights into some of the races, especially those at the top of the ballot. Here is our article on the filings from Democratic county mayoral candidates Joe Ford, Otis Jackson and Deidre Malone. What to make of them? Malone, the county commissioner, obviously is showing more depth and breadth of support from those willing to give to candidates, including a fair number of donations online among the 87 contributors she lists giving $19,380. Jackson, the General Sessions Court Clerk, had 30 contributors giving $12,250, with 15 of them working inside county government (another undisclosed number gave $1,793), and Ford, the interim county mayor, had only seven contributions totaling $6,200.

Malone, who owns her own public relations firm and is the only candidate with a Memphis residence, made no apologies for loaning her campaign nearly $40,000, saying the difficult economy and low-interest primary makes for a challenging fundraising environment, and that she needed to get out her message early because she has never run for county-wide office. She also stressed she's had three successful fundraisers (including one on Tuesday night in Nashville) since April 1. Her campaign manager, Kevin Gallagher, said her campaign will make the point that Ford's lackluster filing -- which curiously shows less than $30 in expenditures -- demonstrates a lack of seriousness about the primary and indicates he is taking voters for granted in the belief that he's got the nomination sewn up.

Jackson was clearly disappointed with his fundraising efforts. It's yet another challenge for Jackson, who also believes politics are behind the investigations by the county commission and FBI into accounting discrepancies from his office. As to why 15 of the 30 contributors are county employees, Jackson said: "I don't know. I haven't even looked at it. ... I don't know where the contributions are coming from. I looked at the total amount at the bottom and signed it."

Ford said his recent expenditures for office space and billboard advertising will be reflected in a future filing. One interesting note with Ford -- cell-phone tower magnate and real-estate developer Billy Orgel gave $1,000 to Ford and $1,000 to his son Justin Ford's county commission campaign. Orgel is also a member of the Memphis and Shelby County Metropolitan Government Charter Commission, although Joe Ford says he is opposed to the group's effort to craft a charter to merge city and county government.

All three candidates can be seen live tonight at 6 in a News Channel 3 debate.

For more information on all candidates fundraising, go to the Election Commission Web site at www.ShelbyVote.com and click on the Fundraising link at left. Or just click this link here.


The Morning Fix: Early-voting edition

Early voting starts today for the May 4 county primary, but only at the Shelby County Election Commission's downtown office at 157 Poplar Avenue, Suite 121. Voting Downtown is 10 a.m.-7 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Satellite voting begins Monday.

Wednesday's link-o-rama:

By tomorrow, voters will have a lot more information about the three Democratic county mayoral candidates in the May 4 county primary, with a debate tonight at 6 on WREG-TV News Channel 3. Maybe more important, voters can now go online and look at the campaign finance disclosure statements themselves at the Shelby County Election Commission Web site: www.ShelbyVote.com and click on Financial Disclosures. Or just click the links here for them: interim county mayor Joe Ford, General Sessions Court Clerk Otis Jackson, County Commissioner Deidre Malone. Here's our article looking at the disclosures, and we'll have a blog post with more details later today.

At the state legislature, the body got back to what has been its No. 1 priority the last two sessions, loosening restrictions on the right of citizens to carry handguns wherever they go (it got distracted Monday night and Tuesday morning debating nonbinding resolutions on the federal health-insurance reform legislation). According to Richard Locker, our Nashville correspondent, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-2 to send a guns-in-bars bill to the floor, possibly by early next week.

Sure hope somebody bought Amos Maki a drink last night, because The CA's City Hall reporter was all over an epic day at City Hall, with an announcement of what does indeed look like a final accord with Bass Pro Shops to take over The Pyramid, approval of a much more restrictive ordinance on panhandling Downtown and -- oh by the way! -- the approval of $2 million to The Regional Medical Center at Memphis and movement toward asking voters to overturn the ballot measure they overwhelmingly passed in 2007  to save taxpayers money by putting municipal elections on regular even-year calendars (Councilman Jim Strickland believes municipal elections will be lost and made less relevant unless they are in their own odd-numbered years).

In her story about the "extraordinary leadership" between Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, City Councilman Harold Collins and Memphis City Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash, The CA's indefatigable education reporter, Jane Roberts, proved again why she is the one person in the world you want explaining education issues in town. The schools and the city reached an agreement on the ongoing funding dispute, though courts still must weigh in on the matter and if they rule against the city, taxes will likely go up.

Our fine county schools reporter, Sherri Drake Silence, explains that board president David Pickler believes there is a very good chance that the legislature just might push through the bill he so desires, converting Shelby County schools to a special school district, a move that would completely ignore the 9-2 vote of the Shelby County Commission opposing the idea. She also reports from a debate Tuesday night between Pickler and his opponent in the Aug. 5 board elections, Ken Hoover -- who accuses Pickler of guiding the board with an autocratic, non-transparent leadership approach (Pickler, of course, disagrees).

It's movie news and on our GoMemphis.com entertainment site, but make no mistake -- Memphis director Craig Brewer's desire to film the remake of "Footloose" in Tennessee is very much a story about politics and public policy. Georgia offers tax breaks Tennessee does not (hence, "The Blind Side" being filmed there) and it's going to be difficult for Brewer to film the movie here without some creative ways to save the producers money (might we suggest tax breaks in exchange for some tiny percentage of royalties -- so that the state of Tennessee could evaluate movies as potential investments and turn down obvious bombs but go aggressively after potential blockbusters).

University of Memphis president Shirley Raines is in Washington lobbying to get federal money pumped to the city's researchers to create a high-speed fiber optic network linking them together at various institutions and facilities.

In Opinion, the editorial writers give us what we can only call a blistering critique of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour's curious stances on the issues of celebrating the Confederacy while claiming that it doesn't amount to "diddly" that some are taken aback when such proclamations fail to mention the evils of slavery.

More tilting at federal windmills by the Tennessee legislature


NASHVILLE - Not content with the two hours they spent Monday night passing a non-binding resolution opposing the federal health reform act, Republicans in the state legislature spent more hours today advancing two other bills challenging the three-week-old federal law.

Voting largely along party lines, the House Commerce Committee approved the so-called Tennessee Health Freedom Act, which purports to nullify provisions of the federal health reform act in Tennessee, particularly its mandate for individual health coverage of some kind. State Atty. Gen. Robert E. Cooper issued an advisory opinion last week that a court would likely find the state bill is pre-empted by the federal act due under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Cooper also opined that because the state act is likely pre-empted, he can neither initiate litigation to affirm the Health Freedom Act nor defend the state, its officials and residents against federal action for failing to comply with the new federal law - even though the state act specifies that he do both.

Despite that, the House Commerce Committee sent the Health Freedom Act to the House floor for a vote possibly next week. The bill won state Senate approval Feb. 17, before the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act won final congressional approval in late March.

Cooper was not asked to testify before the committee today. Reasoned testimony by the low-key attorney general would likely have interfered with the rhetoric of the day. 

On Monday night, after two hours of the sharpest partisan warfare in more than a year, the House voted 66-29 to approve a non-binding resolution expressing the legislaure's opposition to the federal law and its anticipated intervention into the state's traditional turf of regulating  health insurance.

The Senate, at the same time but with no debate, approved an equally non-binding resolution "urging" the state attorney general to join other states in challenging the constitutionality of the new federal law.

Both of those resolutions were sponsored by Republicans locked in heated campaigns for higher office in this year's elections.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, sponsored the Senate resolution urging Cooper to challenge the federal act; he's running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination and has made opposition to the federal health reform act a centerpiece of his campaign.

State Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, sponsored the House resolution; she's running for the state Senate, against incumbent Republican Sen. Mae Beavers, also of Mt. Juliet, who successfully sponsored the Health Freedom Act in the Senate.

Not to be outdone on the Health Freedom Act sponsored by her primary opponent, Lynn also was sponsor -- in the House Commerce Committee today -- of a proposed state constitutional amendment that purports to ban any law that attempted to compel any person or employer to participate in any health care system.

Finally, the House version of the Health Freedom Act that advanced in the House Commerce Committee today is sponsored by Rep. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, who is also running to move up to the state Senate and also has a GOP primary opponent: former state senator Lou Patten.

Finally finally, a word on tea party opponents of the federal health reform act. Despite an email appeal for tea partiers across the state to show up at the Legislative Plaza today for a show of support for the Health Freedom Act -- which had stalled last week -- less than two dozen members, mostly from a Roane County tea party chapter, made the trip.

UPDATE: First Ramsey TV ad is up



UPDATE: The ad is up. It shows Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey in a dark suit walking up the marble steps in the State Capitol that lead from the first floor (where the governor's office is) to the second (where the legislature meets and where he presides over the state Senate) and talking about -- in his view -- the differences between how government is run in Washington and Tennessee.

"There're two ways to run a government: the Washington way, or the Tennessee way. The Washington way says more spending, more taxes and more debt," Ramsey says. "The Tennessee way says, tighten your belt, be conservative, live within your means. I'm Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey. If you'll hang tough with me, we'll keep running our state the Tennessee way. If those guys up in Washington don't like it.... (Pause while Ramsey snaps his dress-booted foot down on the step) we'll just give them the boot!"

There's no image of Republican Primary opponent Zach Wamp, the Third District congressman, but the message is clear: Wamp's the only candidate for governor whose current office is in Washington.

So, we have Congressman Wamp, promising to "meet them at the state line" if "Washington" comes to impose its health insurance reform on Tennesseans or take our guns away. And now we have Ramsey pledging to give them the boot.


NASHVILLE -- Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey's gubernatorial campaign says it will start airing its first TV ad Wednesday, with a theme that attempts to draw a contrast between Ramsey and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, his chief rival for the GOP primary's most conservative voters.

New campaign spokeswoman Rachel Taylor wouldn't provide details about the size of the ad buy today but said the 30-second spot will appear on cable and broadcast TV in all three grand divisions of Tennessee -- but not every media market.

She said the ad's theme is "two different approaches to governing, the Washington way that represents spending more, taxing more and more debt, and the Tennessee way of being conservative and tightening your belt."

She wouldn't say whether Wamp's image appears in the ad. But Ramsey is locked in a tight battle with Wamp to become the far right's standard bearer against Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam in the GOP primary. The conventional wisdom is that if Ramsey and Wamp split the party's most conservative voters -- as Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary did in the 2006 Republican primary for the U.S. Senate eventually won by Bob Corker -- then Haslam wins the GOP nomination.

To underscore that, the Ramsey campaign has emphasized his showing in a pair of straw polls at Republican county gatherings in Middle Tennessee over the weekend in which he came in second to Haslam but outpolled Wamp.

Until now, Haslam is the only candidate in the gubernatorial race who has aired TV ads.

Ramsey's ad also goes up on the campaign's website, www.teamronramsey.com, at midnight.

Jackson businessman Mike McWherter has no opposition in the Democratic primary.

The May 4 county primaries have not yet come and gone -- it only feels that way with the unseasonably summertime weather hitting in mid-April (where did you go, 72-degree days?). We at Eye on Politics blame those who whined about "cold" March days for the sunny 85-degree-plus days that are already bringing us Code Orange alerts usually seen in the heart of summer.

For those in a big hurry, early voting starts tomorrow downtown, and satellite sites open up on Monday. Your link-o-rama below:

Gubernatorial candidates are coming on strong to Memphis, especially the Republicans and especially since the withdrawal of Bill Gibbons, Shelby County's district attorney, from the field. Chattanooga Congressman Zach Wamp was in town Monday and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam will be here Wednesday and Thursday.

Having covered a lot of college sports over the years, it's hard to believe rival football coaches won't make sure certain African-American recruits are apprised of the controversy starting to hit Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour for omitting mention of slavery in a proclamation marking April as "Confederate Heritage Month."  Barbour also is drawing criticism for saying a similar controversy involving Virginia's governor "doesn't amount to diddly." This all comes after a football season in which Ole Miss's new chancellor, Dan Jones, asked the band to stop playing its mashup of Civl War-themed music ("From Dixie with Love") because students and others would chant afterward "The South will rise again!"

CA county government reporter Daniel Connolly reports from the County Commission, a chamber more marked by naked politics for the last 14 months than great policy success. Appointed interim commissioner John Pellicciotti's attempt to censure his political opponent for a county commission seat, Probate court clerk Chris Thomas, failed again on Monday. The Commission did pass new rules aimed at restricting sexually-oriented businesses.

In Nasvhille, Richard Locker provides the picture of a state legislature bickering and spending a lot of time and energy arguing about a non-binding resolution opposing the recently passed federal health insurance reform legislation. Even the Republicans expressed frustration with the show: "I've been up here 12 years, and this is one of the most ridiculous nights I've ever seen," said Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville. "This is totally asinine."

Today there's a City Council meeting and the folks at the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center are rallying their supporters to show up for the vote on a new panhandling ordinance. Wonder if Downtown residents and workers will show up to provide their view on the matter?

In the CA's Opinion section, editorial writers talk about Memphis Mayor A C Wharton's plan to apply "managed competition", a hybrid of privatization, to the sanitation services provided by the city. CA City Hall reporter Amos Maki first reported on this over the weekend.

There is also an editorial on Daniel Connolly's story pointing out that it's not only General Sessions Court Clerk Otis Jackson who used taxpayer money to hold events for workers and volunteers.

NASHVILLE -- Vehicle license plates have always been advertisements for the issuing states -- think "Wild Wonderful West Virginia." The mountains and lake on our current Tennessee plates do that artfully, even if they ignore the less hilly terrain of West Tennessee.

Thanks to the legislature, our next license plates will carry the advertising a bit further: www.tnvacation.com must appear on regular license plates the next time the plates are redesigned. The bill to add the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development's official vacation website was sponsored by a pair of East Tennessee lawmakers, Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, and Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville. Gov. Phil Bredesen signed it into law Friday, but his successor likely gets final approval on the next plate's design. There's no schedule for a new design but a new governor usually does it after a year or two in office. 

The legislature amended the bill so that "Tennessee" or its abbreviation must still appear separately on the plate. So if that, plus the website and "Volunteer State" must all appear, it might get as graphically muddled as the "BicenTennial" plates we had in the 1990s if the designers aren't careful. Not to mention how lame it is having the "www" prefix.

At least half a dozen states have state-affiliated websites on their plates. Most have dropped the www as unnecessary. There's Georgia.gov, travelSC.com, myFlorida.com, www.IN.gov, www.Michigan.gov and visitPA.com (which is an improvement over the www.state.pa.us that used to grace Pennsylvania's plates).

We're not normally conspiracy theorists but it may be a plot to get more of us to buy specialty plates, which are excluded from having to carry the domain name. And let's face it: most of us do care whether the license plates that adorn our vehicles are attractive or not. That's why the number of specialty plates has burgeoned.

Staffers, doctors and mules


NASHVILLE -- Senate Speaker and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has hired a communications director for his Republican gubernatorial campaign: Rachel Taylor, who formerly worked in the communications office of U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor of Pennsylvania, the House Republican whip and one of the opposition firebrands during the health reform debate.

A press release today from the Ramsey camp says Taylor graduated from Lynchburg College in Virginia in 2005 with a degree in political science. She's worked for Cantor since college, handling everything from local Virginia press to national media.

   *   *   *
The gubernatorial campaign moves to Columbia Saturday for the annual Mule Day festival and parade, surely one of Tennessee's biggest and most colorful local celebrations.

Of course there are plenty of mules. Political candidates of all stripes ride or walk in the parade. Most hold receptions to meet and greet voters before or after the 11 a.m. parade.

  *   *   *

By late Friday afternoon, only two of the four gubernatorial candidates had confirmed they will attend a candidate forum at the Tennessee Medical Association's annual meeting in Nashville Saturday afternoon. Republicans Ron Ramsey and Zach Wamp plan to participate in the TMA event.

Note to the TMA: in election years, it's best not to schedule your candidate forum at about the same time as Mule Day. Doctors are a very important constituency group and virtually all of them vote, but there will be thousands more likely voters at Mule Day. 


The Morning Fix: Political news-o-rama

For you political junkies, it's another day to run out and get 20 copies of The Commercial Appeal, or perhaps just time to renew that subscription -- elections are coming quick (May 4 county primary, Aug. 5 federal and state primaries and county general and the Nov. 2 federal, state and local general elections) and we'll be accelerating our coverage of politics and policy.

On to the news ...

  • The FBI investigation of General Sessions Court Clerk Otis Jackson seems to be following an unusual course, according to CA reporter Daniel Connolly. And our editorial department weighs in with their opinion that county government "row" offices like clerk, assessor and trustee ought not be elected political positions.
  • U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., appeared on "Hardball with Chris Matthews" Thursday and was his usual shy and timid self. Er, not exactly. He characterized the tea party movement as "99 percent white" and implied white supremacist motivations behind those involved: "Dr. King talked about health care being a right and that one of the great inhumanities was not providing health care to people. Then you have this group, 40 years later, almost entirely white, opposing the U.S. government for giving health care."
  • Speaking of tea parties, Memphis Tea Party founder Mark Skoda is making national news again for his part in an effort to bring unity to the movement. While trying to rebut general critiques of the tea party movement, Skoda took on some of the more harsh criticisms Cohen made last week on a radio show: "Everything from calling the tea party members racist, that we are violent, that somehow we are fermenting another Kristallnacht. These accusations are indeed false and they won't stand," Skoda said.
  • The Tennessee state house took a break from focusing on loosening restrictions on the right of citizens to carry guns to pass a bill that would double prison time for armed robbery convicts.
  • Down Mississippi way, in one of the nation's most closely-watched congressional races, 1st Congressional District representative Travis Childers visited J.T. Shannon Lumber Co. in Horn Lake as part of his multi-week "Jobs and Economy Tour." That reminds us of one of our favorite quotes about politics, from the German "father" of social science, Max Weber: "Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective."
  • Closer to the CA's home office, the Shelby County Election Commission certified the May 4 county primary ballot. Don't forget -- early voting starts Wednesday downtown and expands to satellite locations April 19-29.
  • There will be elections for the Memphis City Schools board this year, so we hope many of the hundreds of Memphis parents willing to wait in line overnight to get their child into one of the system's oft-overlooked excellent schools will get involved.
  • Voters won't see the final document from the Metropolitan Government Charter Commission until August -- and won't vote on it until Nov. 2 -- but the 15-member body is starting to tackle some of the more important issues. They had a long discussion, without resolution, about whether an elected sheriff or an appointed police chief should handle law enforcement. On ethics rules, the body approved the recommendations of the ethics task force, "such as council members being part-time positions and not eligible for a pension, and that no one will be qualified to run if they owe metro taxes. Non-partisan elections and term limits of two 4-year terms were also approved."

In his defense, Heisley didn't write HJR1007


NASHVILLE - Who's gift to whom was that publicly financed arena south of Beale?

The Tennessee legislature today honored Michael Heisley, the majority owner of the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies, for his "outstanding community contributions" - including his charity work like the Memphis Grizzlies House at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Grizzlies Academy and support for Memphis Athletic Ministries.

Heisley, Gene Bartow and the team's furry mascot "Grizz" were joined in the well of the House of Representatives by members of the Shelby County legislative delegation, who presented Heisley with a framed copy of House Joint Resolution 1007, approved earlier by the House and Senate. House Chief Clerk Burney Durham read the 2½-page resolution aloud.

These resolutions - lawmakers approve dozens, sometimes scores of them every day they're in session - are often given to hyperbole, but one whereas may have exceeded even the legislature's standards for that:

"WHEREAS, one of Michael Heisley's greatest gifts to the City of Memphis is one of the crown jewels of the city, the FedExForum, which was completed on time and on budget in September of 2004; FedExForum has become a building that not only serves as an entertainment center for people throughout the Mid-South but also serves as an iconic source of pride throughout the city."

Given the public financing of the $250 million FedExForum, the arena is Heisley's gift to the city? We thought it might be the other way around. Or at least our gift to ourselves?

Still, except maybe for some die-hard Griz fans still aching from last night's 110-84 loss to the Mavericks - the sixth loss out of the last seven games - few can take exception to the resolution's recitation of Heisley's and the Grizzlies' accomplishments in Memphis.

The resolution says, "From the moment Michael Heisley brought the National Basketball Association (NBA) to Tennessee for the first time in the State's history in 2001, his mission was to help build a better Memphis while providing Tennesseans the opportunity of observing some of the finest athletes in the world;

"And whereas in bringing the Grizzlies to Memphis ten years ago, Mr. Heisley immediately injected a sense of excitement and pride into the City of Memphis; and whereas, dedicating himself to giving people throughout the Mid-South a team they could be proud of, he recruited the best of the best in the basketball world to run the team...."

Heidi Shafer, who spearheaded the petition drive that led to a referendum on the public financing (and is now running for the County Commission), was not present.

Heisley thanked lawmakers for "this tremendous honor. I think all of you know that a lot of what has been accomplished by us has been accomplished by a lot of people. And I would just like to thank just a couple of people: one is my associate Stan Meadows, who did more for building the FedExForum than most people know.

"I'd like to thank Pitt Hyde and Staley Cates who have really shown me what philanthropy and charity is all about. They've been a fantastic partner to be with and they deserve a lot of credit for everything we've done. And for Gene Bartow and all the other people behind me here in the Grizzly organization, I've got to tell you that like most organizations it's the people who make it run, not the guy at the head. So I appreciate the honor but I'll take it with those people in mind. Thank you very much."

To read the entire resolution and watch archived video of the presentation: http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/Default.aspx?BillNumber=HJR1007

Morning Fix: Lots of politics in today's CA

All sorts of news for politics and public policy junkies in today's edition of The Commercial Appeal. As Eye friend and colleague Geoff Calkins likes to say, run out and buy 20 copies. Or if you're pressed for time, check out the links below and feel free to post them on your Facebook page, E-mail them to all your political junkie friends. Or jump into the Comments fray and add some intelligence and perspective to the conversation.

Our A1 this morning is dominated by CA county government reporter Daniel Connolly's report from a tense County Commission committee meeting on Wednesday in which commissioner Mike Ritz grilled General Sessions court Clerk Otis Jackson about accounting issues that have triggered an FBI investigation. Jackson is running for county mayor in the May 4 Democratic primary and believes the scrutiny is all about politics, and some commissioners -- OK, Henri Brooks -- suggested race is playing a role.

The CA's Nashville correspondent, Richard Locker, highlights the issues Republican state legislative leaders are most emphasizing -- guns-in-bars legislation and an unrelenting desire to challenge the constitutionality of the federal health-insurance reform act (Tennessee Atty. Gen. Robert E. Cooper's filed a legal opinion earlier this week that the state can't pre-empt federal law).

CA City Hall reporter Amos Maki updates efforts by Memphis and Shelby County to sue mortgage lender Wells Fargo.

Clay Bailey provided an update on the work of the Metropolitian Government Charter Commission, focusing on a task force's recommendation to add tough ethics laws to the proposed charter. On the Viewpoint page, County Commissioner Steve Mulroy and former Circuit Court judge D'Army Bailey argue, as the headline puts it, "Dual vote on consolidation is skewed veto: Segregation-era amendment to Tennessee constitution gives huge, disproportionate power to a small group, and may clash with federal one man, one vote principle."

Our editorial writers discuss state senator Ophelia Ford's latest "rambling," and their view that the attorney general was correct in ruling that "he will not join a cockamamie lawsuit aimed at federal health reform legislation."

Democrats county mayoral forum on Thursday

There is another county mayoral forum Thursday night at 7 when the Shelby County Democratic Party invites the public to join their executive committee as they "vet" the three Democratic candidates in the May 4 county primary: interim mayor Joe Ford, County Commissioner Deidre Malone and General Sessions Court Clerk Otis Jackson.

The event is at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center that serves as the AFSCME union's headquarters, The CA's neighbors down at 485 Beale Street.

And for those interested, there is a mayoral forum tonight (Wednesday) at the Institute for Success Center at 905 East Shelby Drive (second street west of Elvis Presley Blvd. and south of Shelby Drive).

Raw politics continue to define County Commission

The County Commission continues to feature tumultuous politics, with today's move by interim commissioner John Pellicciotti creating the latest firestorm on Main Street. CA county government reporter Daniel Connolly reports that Pellicciotti got no support when he introduced a proposal to censure the Chancery Court clerk, General Sessions Court clerk and the Probate Court clerk for "for failure to uphold their fiduciary duties to the people of Shelby County."

The probate court clerk, of course, is Chris Thomas, who so happens to be Pellicciotti's opponent for the District 4, Position 1 County Commission seat. The FBI has confirmed it is investigating General Sessions Court Clerk Otis Jackson's office, in a story Daniel first reported on Tuesday. 

Pellicciotti already has caused controversy by even running for the seat after promising commissioners that, if appointed, he would not run for the seat they were choosing -- which is still District 4 but is instead Position 3. Pellicciotti defends his decision to run by saying that even though it is the exact same district with the exact same voters, he is literally running for a different seat.

Check out Daniel's story for the details, including some strong words from Chris Thomas.

We published a story today looking at how interim Shelby County Mayor Joe Ford is showing sympathy to the concerns of suburban voters -- despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of voters in the May 4 Democratic primary will be citizens of Memphis.

Ford's explanation: That he's a straight shooter and that as mayor of Shelby County he will make decisions that are best for Shelby County as a whole. A more cynical analysis -- Ford really does believe, as he told us last week, that he's already cruising to a primary win and positioning himself to compete for county votes against Republican Sheriff Mark Luttrell in the Aug. 5 general election.

It definitely creates a sharp contrast for voters sizing up Ford and his most formidable opponent, Shelby County Commissioner Deidre Malone. General Sessions Court Clerk Otis Jackson is also running, but the most attention he has been receiving lately has come from investigators -- including the FBI -- applying scrutiny to his office.

On the issue of single-source school funding for Memphis City Schools, Malone took a leadership role in an ad-hoc committee that eventually recommended Shelby County take over all funding responsibility for MCS by gradually taking over the additional funding the City of Memphis has historically provided (and that courts have ruled must continue to be part of the MCS funding mix). Ford said he is opposed to single-source funding and believes that transferring city responsibility to the county would unfairly raise taxes on county taxpayers (though it would effectively lower them for Memphis taxpayers).

Ford has also come out opposed to consolidation, an issue supported by a majority of Memphis residents but strongly opposed by suburban constituents. Malone was a leader in bringing about the the formation of the Memphis and Shelby County Metro Charter Commission that is charged with creating a charter for a metropolitan government that would merge city and county governments. Malone and Luttrell have each said they will wait until that document is created in August, in time for the Nov. 2 ballot, before making a commitment.

Here is the -- how shall we say? -- money quote from Ford (who now lives in a house in Bartlett worth $391,000):

"Look out in Germantown and Collierville; the sizes of those houses and $300,000, $400,000 and $500,000 homes -- they are already paying triple the taxes citizens of Memphis are paying," Ford said. "County citizens don't ask for much. What do they get for their taxes? Nothing other than the schools."
He went on: "In the county, they don't use the jail. They don't use The Med. They don't use those facilities."

Mayoral forum Wednesday in Whitehaven

We'll have a story in Wednesday's newspaper on the Shelby County mayor's race, focusing on differences between the Democratic candidates when it comes to issues important to city voters.

You can ask questions for yourself Wednesday night at a forum hosted at the Institute for Success Center at 905 East Shelby Drive (second street west of Elvis Presley Blvd. and south of Shelby Drive). Mayoral candidates will participate in a forum from 6 to 8 p.m. You can E-mail candidate questions to electionquestions@live.com. Try 396-6300 for more information.

8th Congressional District finance reports filtering in

NASHVILLE -- The first campaign financial disclosures - to be precise, the press releases summarizing them - from the 8th Congressional District race are arriving today. Thus far, Democrat Roy Herron leads Republican Stephen Fincher in the all-important cash balances in their campaign accounts.

But excluding the $250,000 Herron loaned his campaign, Fincher has raised more campaign cash overall. Fincher launched his campaign last September. Herron switched from a run for governor to the race for Congress in early December when Democratic U.S. Rep. John Tanner of Union City announced he would not seek re-election.

The other two Republicans, Dr. George Flinn of Memphis and Dr. Ron Kirkland of Jackson, had not issued first-quarter fundraising statements as of this afternoon. Nor had independent Donn Janes, who calls himself the tea party candidate.

The details and exact numbers won't be available until the campaigns file their official disclosures with the Federal Election Commission, due by April 15. But campaigns rush to publicize the rounded-off totals in advance of the formal filing as a show of campaign strength.

Herron, the state senator, lawyer and former Methodist minister from Dresden, is reporting raising over $1.1 million, including about $490,000 in the first quarter of the year, and an account balance of "more than $1 million." The fundraising total includes the $250,000 he loaned to his own campaign.

Herron held a fundraiser last week in Dresden hosted by Tanner and his wife, Betty Ann, at which former governor Ned McWherter also spoke.

Fincher, a farmer, small businessman and gospel singer from the Frog Jump community of Crockett County, reported raising "in excess of $1 million" since the campaign began but did not report how much he raised in the January-through-March period. He reported a campaign cash balance of $820,000.

U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee that is backing Fincher's candidacy to the exclusion of his GOP rivals, hosted a reception for Fincher in Memphis in February that raised a reported $30,000.

Sheriff's forum seeking questions from public

The League of Women's Voters of Memphis is seeking questions from the public for the Shelby County Sheriff's candidates forum it is holding on April 19.

From the League of Women:

The League urges voters to attend and to submit questions to the candidates. Questions can be submitted to the League by E-mail lwvshelby@comcast.net or by Fax (901) 327-4864 or in person during the forum. Questions must be written and will be reviewed by a League panel to ensure they are compliant with the forum guidelines: (1) Only issue-oriented questions are allowed. (2) No personal, redundant, or derogatory questions will be accepted. (3) Questions or challenges by one candidate directed toward another are not allowed.

The forum is 6:30 PM on April 19 (a Monday) in the Council Chambers of the Municipal Center, at 1930 South Germantown Road.

The Democratic candidates for Sheriff are: Bennie L. Cobb; Reginald French; Larry Hill and Randy Wade; the Republicans: James E. Coleman; Dale Lane; Bill Oldham and Bobby Simmons.

Here is a story on the Democrats. And here is one on the Republicans.

Tenn. congressional races draw national attention

The national media is growing increasingly fond of West Tennessee's congressional races, and the attention only figures to grow as the Aug. 5 primary elections and Nov. 2 general elections grow near.

There is, of course, the 9th Congressional District race between incumbent Steve Cohen and former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, with race as a subtext, though whether it will become a real factor remains to be seen. One local poll commissioned by Sheriff and Republican county mayor candidate Mark Luttrell indicated little desire among likely voters to be drawn into a race-based campaign, but the Aug. 5 primary is several months away.

And then there is the 8th Congressional District, the fingers of which reach into Millington and parts of Frayser and Raleigh. It is considered one of only 19 "toss up" districts nationwide, with Republicans hoping to turn the district red after the retirement of "Blue Dog" Democrat John Tanner. Throw in the fact that the National Republican Campaign Committee's chosen candidate is a high-school educated gospel singing farmer named Stephen Fincher, from a place called Frog Jump, and it is like catnip for national publications. It only adds to the intrigue that Fincher is being attacked by Mid-South TEA Party candidate Donn Janes, who is running as an Independent, for relying on farm subsidies and campaign contributions from other subsidy-reliant farmers. Soon enough, the national media should glom onto the fact that the 8th also features two Republican physicians -- Shelby County Commissioner George Flinn and Jackson Clinic chairman Ron Kirkland -- as serious candidates. And Democrat Roy Herron, who may have the strongest religious credentials of anyone in the race, makes for an interesting candidate, as well.

On Monday at the Clifford James/Odell Horton Federal Building, those races collided, with Janes and TEA Party members protesting comments Cohen made on a nationally-syndicated talk show describing the Republican party as hostage to its most extreme right-wing elements and hostile to diversity.

Most observers believe 7th Congressional District representative Marsha Blackburn is safe, but she appears to be facing her strongest Democratic opponent yet in Austin Peay State University college professor Greg Rabidoux.

Last week, The Washington Post looked at the 8th District race with a Frog Jump dateline, and Roll Call focused on the NRCC's efforts to bolster Fincher at the expense of Kirkland.

From The Washington Post:

But for one important detail, Stephen Fincher could be a perfect "tea party" candidate: a gospel-singing cotton farmer from this tiny hamlet in western Tennessee, seeking to right the listing ship of Washington with a commitment to lower taxes and smaller government. The detail? Fincher accepts roughly $200,000 in farm subsidies each year.

Some tea party activists say Fincher, a Republican candidate in Tennessee's 8th Congressional District, isn't "pure" enough to deserve the backing of a movement built on the idea that government must spend less. But others have pledged their support, highlighting a division over what constitutes orthodoxy in the amorphous cause -- and who gets to decide.

As congressional primary campaigns gear up across the nation, tea party activists face some of their first big choices since coalescing last year in opposition to President Obama, health-care reform and growing federal spending: picking candidates. In many cases, they will have to decide between purity and pragmatism, between ideals and organization. And their choices will provide clues to the long-term fate of the movement. Will mainstream Republicans, with their bigger budgets and more polished candidates, harness the tea party's energy at the expense of home-grown activism? And for whom would that be a victory -- the Republicans, the tea party or both?

From Roll Call:

Fincher's opponents say they are noticing a pattern and that Fincher is letting his supporters in the state party and on Capitol Hill do his political dirty work for him on the campaign trail. "I don't understand why the candidate is not speaking," Kirkland said Thursday. "Congressmen and political kingmakers in Jackson are speaking for him."

But Westmoreland [Georgia congressman Lynn Westmoreland, an NRCC vice-chairman] indicated that Kirkland should worry more about his own words and deeds. "It seems this doctor Kirkland was for the health care plan before he was against the health care plan," he said.

Westmoreland was referring to comments Kirkland made at a July 4, 2009, Tea Party event in Jackson, where Kirkland indicated he was in agreement with "most of what's contained" in the version of the health care bill that was working its way through the Senate Finance Committee at the time, with "the singular exception of the public health care option."

New releases show Haslam continues fundraising domination

The Commercial Appeal's correspondent in Nashville, Richard Locker, also contributed to this report about the latest fundraising filings in the Tennessee gubernatorial race.

When it comes to fundraising, Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam continues to dominate his competition in the Tennessee gubernatorial race. By about 25 minutes, Haslam became the first gubernatorial candidate to release his first quarter campaign fundraising totals today, just beating Chattanooga congressman Zach Wamp, one of his three opponents in the Aug. 5 Republican primary. The general election is Nov. 2.

But the more important numbers were not nearly so close.

Haslam reported receipts of $1.3 million in donations from Jan. 15 through March 31, pushing his total fundraising effort over the $7 million mark.

Wamp was not apologizing for raising more than $500,000 in the 10-week period, putting out a release boasting that "Wamp sails past $3 million fundraising mark." He has raised $3.2 million and reports that there remains nearly $2.2 million cash on hand.

As often happens, the candidate not in the fundraising lead often talks about not needing "the most" money, just needing "enough" money: "This election is about ideas, vision and passion and how to make Tennessee even better, not just about money. So we don't need the most money to win but just enough to carry our message to more voters all across Tennessee."

Wamp's campaign quickly changed the subject to his success in straw polls that have been conducted at various county-wide GOP gatherings. Wamp feels very confident he's winning among grass-roots conservatives, although the other Republican in the race, state senate spearer Ron Ramsey, has been going after that claim, painting Wamp as a career Washington politician with a poor record on fiscal discipline.

Haslam's campaign emphasized the depth and breadth of his fundraising success, with more than 9,000 contributions, and that has allowed Haslam to avoid dipping into his considerable personal wealth for a campaign loan. After spending nearly $1 million on a get-to-know-him advertising campaign during the Winter Olympics, the Haslam camp began airing its second TV ad last week, a 30-second spot on cable only that focuses on his family.

The release from Haslam, whose wife was raised in Memphis, used a quote from Memphian Brad Martin up high: "The broad-based financial support Bill Haslam has received is indicative of Tennesseans' enthusiasm for his unique combination of successful private-sector and public-sector executive experience." Haslam is also planning what the campaign calls a "three-straight-day" stop in the Memphis metropolitan area May 5-7 to focus on voters and issues here.

The other Republican in the race, state senate speaker Ron Ramsey, had not released his numbers as of 4:30 p.m. Monday, though he is constrained by rules limiting fundraising during legislative sessions. The only remaining Democratic candidate, Jackson businessman Mike McWherter, also had not released his numbers; McWherter is doing an old-fashioned campaign fly-around today. He's due in Memphis at 4:55 p.m. at the Tennessee Technology Center's administration building, 550 Alabama Avenue.

POTUS, FLOTUS and "Green Eggs and Ham"

Our Washington correspondent, Bartholomew Sullivan, sends along today's pool report from The White House. The morning event was covered by Sam Youngman, a former reporter for The Commercial Appeal. For those unschooled in the press abbreviations, "POTUS" refers to President Obama (President of the United States) and FLOTUS is of course Michelle Obama (First Lady of the United States).

POTUS reads Dr. Seuss's "Green Eggs and Ham," (for obvious reasons, a favorite of your pooler's). About 25 children gathered around (they were warned before hand to "keep our tushies on the ground or in our seats") to hear POTUS read. When he turned to sit, Sasha had taken his seat but gave it up for her father.

"I guess they figured I'm too old, and I gotta sit down," he said.

POTUS noted the excercise theme of the day but told the kids "you've got to exercise your brain just like you exercise your body."

POTUS called "Green Eggs and Ham" "one of the classics, adding: "I'm going to try to do the best rendition ever of Green Eggs and Ham."

POTUS gestured wildly as he read and included the kids in a call-and-response type reading of the book.

After the lively reading, POTUS said the point of the book is to try your vegetables because you might like them.

"When your parents tell you to eat your broccoli, you don't know whether you're going to like them or not. You've got to try it," he said. "When your parents tell you to eat your peas, eat your peas."

POTUS got up to leave FLOTUS and the first daughters to participate in another activity -- "I gotta go play basketball." FLOTUS began reading "another favorite in the Obama White House," "Horton Hatches the Egg."

Pool was escorted out and heading to the Nats game. Will be on jeans watch.

Deidre Malone ads taking subtle digs at Joe Ford

As the headline on our Sunday story about the race for Shelby County mayor aptly put it: 'Democrats' Shelby County mayoral battle is personal'

You don't have to listen too close to County Commissioner Deidre Malone's campaign messages  to hear subtle digs at Joe Ford, the interim county mayor. While Ford is emphasizing the "calm, poised" leadership he said he has provided since becoming interim county mayor on in December, Malone is using words like "morals" and "standards" and "discipline" in her new radio and TV commercials.

As is well-known by now, Ford is running despite repeated promises to commissioners that, if they voted to appoint him over J.W. Gibson, he would not, would not, would not run. As he told us during the voting process, "My last day of politics is August 31, 2010, and I won't ever seek office again." Ford also got votes from commissioners despite revelations that he was the target of multiple lawsuits for debts into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Ford believes his campaign is building momentum and that the media is more concerned with his decision to change his mind and run for mayor than voters. He also doesn't believe voters will hold his personal and business financial situation against him: "Whether I pay my light bill on time or phone bill on time, it's none of anybody's business," Ford said.  

Voters who choose to cast ballots in the May 4 county primary will choose between Ford, Malone and General Sessions Court Clerk Otis Jackson in the Democratic primary.  Check out the story from Sunday -- there is some good back and forth on the issues from the candidates.
Referring to comments Steve Cohen made in a talk-show interview last week as "racially charged," local TEA-party congressional candidate Donn Janes is holding a press conference this afternoon with members of The Mid-South TEA Party and the Fayette County TEA Party. At 4:15 p.m., they will be at the Clifford Davis/Odell Horton Federal Building, where Cohen's local 9th Congressional District office is located.

Janes is running as an independent in the 8th Congressional District, and one of the Mid-South TEA Party's leaders, Jim Tomasik, has been helping the Janes campaign. It seems like an odd tactic, attacking a candidate running in a different election, but perhaps Janes, who lives in suburban Brighton but works at Hilton Hotels Corp. in Memphis, believes he can add much-needed name recognition by portraying himself as Cohen's foil.

Cohen's interview with The Young Turks radio show has attracted national attention because of his strong comments, though his office would take issue that his comments were racially charged. In the interview, Cohen suggested that TEA Party members are motivated by a fear of diversity.

Cohen's answer to the first question:

The Tea Party people are kind of, without robes and hoods, they have really shown a very hardcore angry side of America that is against any type of diversity. And we saw opposition to African Americans, hostility toward gays, hostility to anybody who wasn't just, you know, a clone of George Wallace's fan club. And I'm afraid they've taken over the Republican Party.

Cohen's answer to the second question:

I think it's cultural and these people are ready to be led by the nose and they're being led, and it's just to be against Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel and the different people, the diversity that's exhibited in this present White House. And it could've been any issue, it could be immigration, it could be cap and trade, whatever it is that could get them off. And they'll push them to, whatever levers it is, and they just, their world is changing, and they can't understand it. They don't like it.

Cohen's actual opponent in the Aug. 5 Democratic primary, former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, said he can "understand some of the anxieties and frustrations that some Americans have with our policies. But I don't share them." Herenton also said: "They're angry. And they're expressing it, perhaps, in ways in which do not represent civility."

For Stephen Fincher, the farmer and gospel singer from Frog Jump who is the National Republican Congressional Committee's chosen candidate in the 8th Congressional District race, Janes's attention to Cohen might come as a relief. Janes and the Mid-South TEA Party have been relentless in attacking Fincher and his family for taking millions of dollars in farm subsidies, as well as his campaign's reliance on fundraising from other farmers who have received millions of dollars in farm subsidies.

Will candidates make real commitment to The Med?

We decided to follow the lead of the Shelby County Commission and ask the four remaining major Tennessee gubernatorial candidates about The Regional Medical Center at Memphis. More precisely, we wanted to hear how Republicans Bill Haslam (the Knoxville mayor and wealthy inheritor of Pilot truck-stop business), Ron Ramsey (state senate speaker) and Zach Wamp (congressman from Chattanooga) and Democrat Mike McWherter (wealthy Jackson businessman, son of former Gov. Ned McWherter) and would respond the the specific commitment commissioners want candidates to make -- whether, as governor, they will return to The Med all of the federal funding Tennessee receives based on billings the safety-net hospital generates off uncompensated-care claims.

From the story:

According to County Commissioner Mike Ritz, The Med generates $81 million in federal funding for the state based on its uncompensated-care billings. But instead of shipping back to Shelby County all $81 million, say Ritz and his fellow commissioners, the state has given the hospital just $29 million to $39 million each year. And it is the governor who ultimately determines what portion of the federal funding goes back to The Med and what is redistributed. "It is at the governor's sole discretion," (commissioner George) Flinn said. Even with recent improvements in efficiency and finances, The Med insists it needs an additional $32 million each year to operate and make necessary capital improvements.
Commissioners who supported sending out the pledge (it goes out mid-April) admit it doesn't solve anything, but it does force candidates to either make a direct commitment to something tangible which they would control as governor . . .  or choose to finesse the question. Candidates always offer all kinds of reasons why they will save The Med, but the county commissioners who have been dealing with the issue believe the one way the next governor can most change the dynamic involves how those funds for uncompensated-care billings are distributed.

"We are asking them to make the statement that The Med will get back its fair share," Flinn said.

We didn't go into some of the other issues that candidates like to discuss when it comes to The Med, because, frankly, every candidate who has ever tried to win support from Shelby County voters concerned about The Med gives some version of the same ol', same ol'. It goes like this: "What we're going to do is, we're going to get all the stakeholders in a room together and lock 'em in there and bang some heads together and get some results. Then we're going to go to Arkansas and Mississippi, and we're going to make them pay their fair share. Also, efficiency. Unlike all the other people who have had to deal with The Med, we're going to wave a magic wand and find savings nobody else was able to ever notice. And did we mention we're going to make Arkansas and Mississippi pay their fair share? Don't forget about the part where we get all the Tennessee congressman and senators together. That one sounds especially good."

Check out the story to see how the candidates responded.
  • About memphisnewsblog.com

As the process for merging Shelby County's schools accelerates into action, we'll provide bonus coverage here at www.MemphisNewsBlog.com, 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 zmcmillin@commercialappeal.com or 529-2564.

  • Zack McMillin on Twitter